The two things you can count on experiencing in nearly every church you step foot in on a Sunday are: some singing and a sermon. The choice of songs or message of the sermon might be different church to church, but every one has them, they are our sacred cows. I’m sure there is some more accurate history, but it seems to me we just sifted through Acts 2 and picked the parts we thought folks could handle, being preached and and singing together, and we decided to call that church. Seems like a pretty haphazard and incomplete way to do things if you ask me. Why can’t we mixed it up a little?
What if we spent Sunday morning participating in service projects all over the city? Actually putting into practice the teachings we are inundated with every Sunday. What if the sermon was only 10 minutes long and the rest of the time we spent building cross-ethnic, cross-generational relationships? Churches could more quickly be the true deep communities we claim to be. What if we actually spent time figuring out the needs of our church and selling our possessions to meet those community needs?
I’m not suggesting we kill the sacred cows, I recognize singing and sermons both seem to have their place in the church and aren’t going anywhere. I think I’d just like to see us spend the primary time Christians gather together, Sunday morning, become more interactive and more encompassing of all the aspects of Christianity including service, and sharing and fellowship.
MLK Day seems to be one of the few National holiday’s I find myself appreciating. In our country, in modern times, I think Dr. King is one of the few examples of what the church should look like in this day and age. His words, many actual sermons, are so inspiring and moving, they have had a lasting impact on my life. I’ve been to MLK events in most of the cities we’ve lived, and there is something so encouraging about standing amongst others recognizing both the strides we’ve made (and the impact committed people of faith can have) and acknowledging the road ahead.
Enough of my words though, I want to strongly encourage you to take in and read and listen to the words of Dr. King. If you’ve never heard the I Have A Dream speech in it’s entirity, I suggest you listen to it. But, whether you have or not, what you really should do is read and listen to his other speeches and sermons. I’ll put some links to audio, videos and text below.
This is a inspiring audio/visual piece about MLK that I think is worth a watch. Just ignore the first part about Bush, the stuff about Dr. King is really motivating:
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam?
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves.
Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance.
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.
Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.
Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?”
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn’t sneeze.
I tend to be quite the critic of churches, including most I’ve attended, discrediting them as often nothing more then a spiritualized country club. Well, this year, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and getting involved in helping to change things. I asked, and have been given the opportunity to join the “Community Design Team”, basically just the group of volunteers that oversees community groups and maybe more. I’m not sure what my role will look like or if my ideas will gain any traction, but I’m excited about the opportunity to give input in a real and tangible way.
In this new role, I’ve tried to be intentional about thinking hard about what community really looks like in a church setting, particularly a large, Sunday-service focused church like the one I currently attend. One thing that came up out of a discussion group on the topic a few months ago, is that I see community as much more organic then programmatic or hierarchical. What does that look like in practice? I’m not totally sure yet, but to me, it means less top-down, ‘official’ group and event creation and an attempt to empower members to form community opportunities around their interest and passions. Figuring out what that actually looks like is the hard part.
Here’s where I need your help though, I need some thoughts, some ideas. Share some of your brilliance. If you were in charge of building community at a semi-large church, what would you do?
Is there any Biblical precedent for putting “family first?” I would submit that this is a myth and a hindrance to true Biblical stewardship. In my knowledge of scripture I can’t think of an example of any biblical commands that would say that we are to put our families needs above the needs of others. Yet, I see plenty of biblical mandates to put others needs on par with our own: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” “whatever you do for the least of these, you’ve done unto me.” “if you have two coats, share one.”
I’m aware there are stories in the Bible of families lovingly sacrificing for one another, but there are also plenty of examples and commands of caring for those we are not related to, indeed even our enemies. The reason I think dispelling this myth (if indeed it is) is so important to the topic of stewardship is that I think it is commonly used as a justification for a life of stewardship that is directed primarily at our immediate family.
If we believe in “family first” as a command then we feel justified in spending time, energy and money making sure our kids go to the best schools, live in the “safest” neighborhoods, and have a significant college fund saved up. But what about the other kids? What of our neighbors, whom we are supposed to love as ourselves?
I am not suggesting we neglect the needs of our children to serve others, but rather seeing our neighbor (locally and globally) and their needs with the same heartfelt conviction and commitment that we do our families needs.
Since March of this year, I’ve had a draft blog post tentatively titled “Yelling from Outside the Church Doors” sitting unpublished. That post was mainly about my inability to find a place where I fit in the church context in the past three years. The same church struggles and disconnectedness are to blame for my writing less then 20 blog posts here since April when I used to write several a week. I’ve been a bit disillusioned the past few years as to where I belong in this “body” we call the church.
I should saw right off the bat that this hasn’t been the source of depression or anything, I’m loving life and all that I’m doing. I just couldn’t find a way to join the church club so I’ve got involved elsewhere. But this post has a bright spot. I think I’m beginning to find a place in the body again. I’m not sure quite what that will look like in the end, but I’ve found it refreshing to be included .
Being part of the conversation is the reason for me coming out of this blogging hiatus. In April, I’d made the shift to focusing Trying To Follow to be just about faith topics and suddenly I felt like I had nothing to say. This blog has always been a place to process my thoughts, but it was mostly an extension of conversations I was having in real life. Lacking those lately on topics of faith and Christianity, I had little thoughts to process in blog form for a while.
All this is just to say two things: 1) I’m getting involved in our church a bit more and I’m enjoying it. 2) I’ve got thoughts to share on this blog again. So stay tuned for more. I’ll probably still keep it to once a week, so look out for next week.
When our daughter was born we hadn’t settled on a name, but in those moments after she entered into the world, we knew we wanted her to be a strong women; her name means “Mighty and Strong” in Hebrew. It’s a sobering reality that this is a difficult world for the female half of the population. Women across the globe face terrible oppression, and have for centuries, despite their indispensable role in bringing forth life and continuing the human race.
I want my daughter to know she has infinite value as a female and I want my son to know that females are every bit as capable and worthy of praise as men. It will break my heart if I ever her my son say “you throw like a girl” as an insult or see my daughter avoid trying something because it’s been regulated for “boys”. It’s with this desire to empower my children and instill these values that I start to get uncomfortable with some of the realities of Christianity. There are three specific things that trouble me: The Bible’s lack of valuing women, the churches history and current practices, and the churches silence on modern day injustices.
No matter how you look at it, the Bible, “God’s Inspired Word” seems to stray little from the cultural norms of the history which it is written in. There are maybe a handful of examples of esteeming women, but by and large it is a book written by men and about men with stories and laws that do not value women the way we inherently believe they should be valued. If we believe the book is inspired by God, I think it should at least give us pause. Considering the majority of sermons week in and week out are preached out of a book that largely ignores the women in the pews, it shouldn’t simply go unmentioned or swept aside.
As some churches move toward a more empowering view of women, others seem as set in their ways as ever. Even the progressive churches are barely keeping up with secular society. It’s not just about ordaining females or blessing them to work outside the home, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that woman were forbidden to wear pants, let alone the right to vote. If I want a place that esteems women as much as it does men, churches seem like the last place to look.
“Loving your neighbor” doesn’t always just mean touchy-feely charity, it also means acknowledging injustices and working hard to right those injustices. The idea that they will “know we are Christians by our love” should include love for the women in the pews as well as those in the community and across the globe. There are real injustices that many women silently face in our own community, from the wage gap to domestic violence. Churches should be on the front-lines in addressing these issues as they impact many of those in the pews. And on a global scale the church has a role supporting our fellow sisters in Christ, many who face terrible oppression in their communities from slavery and sex trafficking to iron deficiencies and lack of schools to gain an education.
I’ve only barely scratched the surface on each of the above topics, but I hope it paints at least an adequate picture of the concerns I have when thinking about raising my children in church. I think most parents, liberal and conservative, share similar values of desiring their daughters to grow up feeling valued and esteemed, and for their boys to grow up also esteeming women. My hope is that together we can all take a step back and think critically about how we are instilling these values and how the church can do it better.
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” -Matthew 25:45-46
Much of what modern day Christianity in the United States seems to be about is the after life. The big question being “where will you go when you die?” The general belief by most Christians is that the answer to that question has something to do with whether or not you believe you are a sinner and Jesus died for your sins and you accepted him as your Savior. There are plenty of nuanced disagreements on the details of how that works (ones churches have split over and others have been burned at the stake because of), but that is more or less the general agreed upon answer. I won’t disagree with that conclusion. What I would like to do is simply present some words of Jesus that at the least complicate matters a little. The verse above is from the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which in my opinion, seems to be the longest and most clear cut statement Jesus makes regard the after life.
It seems to be a pretty straight forward statement that: how you treat the “least of these” determines where you go at the end of your life. Or, to put it more succinctly, “Feed the poor or go to hell.” Yet, anytime I’ve heard these verses mentioned, in a church sermon or elsewhere, the salvation/afterlife piece disappears. The story and the verses are used as a calling to serve those in need. Maybe as an appeal to spend one night a month in a soup kitchen or to sponsor a child. Never though, do we talk about the call to give to those in need as if our very salvation depends on it.
I know we’ve pieced together a pretty solid collection of verses to create your typical salvation message. You can breeze through Romans Road or the 4 Spiritual laws, but it troubles me a bit that Jesus says our salvation has at least something to do with how we treat the “least of these” and yet I’ve never heard a salvation message that even mentions it. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t anyone else just a little bit concerned about getting to the pearly gates and finding out the prayer asking Jesus into your heart when you were six just doesn’t cut it?
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:39-40
If there is one verse I think we, Christians, continually get wrong, it’s this one. It helps that Jesus thinks it’s in the top two. If every sermon ever preached dealt only with this command, “love your neighbor as yourself,” I think we might be in a better place then we are now.
Instead we have a sort of Bipolar love. We spend all kinds of time and energy loving ourselves, and barely any loving others. I’ll buy myself a luxury item before I’ll make sure my neighbor is fed and clothed. That’s the truth of the matter. If we take the command at face value and evaluate our lives accordingly, I think all of us will find we aren’t living up to it. But, that’s not even really my point, I don’t expect us to actually live up to it (I can hear some jumping in, “we’ve all sinned, that’s why we need Jesus!”). The truth is, we aren’t even trying. Jesus says it’s the second greatest commandment in all of scripture and rarely is there a church or sermon that is even making an attempt.
Maybe because I’m a parent, or because discussing a bipolar individual will get confusing, but I think using the analogy of love for your children is an easier way to discuss this. Imagine for a moment that you have two children, and you say you love them both, our commanded to love them both. However, this is what your love looks like. For first child you not only feed them, but pay for them to enjoy dinners out, and daily luxury drinks. The other child you feed just once a day, a small meager meal, not enough to meet his basic nutritional needs. You not only send the first child to school, you buy them new clothes, a backpack full of supplies, pay for all their field trips, but them educational toys and books and everything else they need to be successful. The other you might allow to go to school, if there is a free option available, but you send them wearing their only tattered outfit, no supplies, no support. You can say you love them both, but your actions tell a completely different story.
This is what our bipolar love looks like. We are the first child and our neighbors the second. Nobody would say that is loving your neighbor, it’s not even attempting to love your neighbor. It’s true that we are not even close, but worse, we haven’t even started trying.