Race, Culture, and the Church

(Happy to be writing over at the new blog of Greentree Community Church today. The original post is published there.)

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Jesus’ human lineage teaches us that the unconditional love of God is limitless and without prejudice. – Tom Ricks

“Some of us in the 5th Grade Sunday School class think the new Greentree logo looks broken,” my eleven year-old daughter confessed as we walked out of church May 16.

We were walking to our car, and we were excited to dig in, branch out, and live it up. We could sense the enthusiasm of the Greentree staff that morning. Yes, after almost twenty years, God is still working at Greentree. And our leaders are responding to an ever-changing culture and community, seeking to be relevant within Saint Louis.

“It does look broken,” my husband agreed. “And that’s perfect, don’t you think? Brokenness is a theme here at Greentree. Really, it’s a theme of the Gospel. I’m glad we’re at a church that admits we’re broken and need a Savior.”

My mind went to my own interpretation of the logo and my love for the different shades of green displayed. Is God calling us to more? I wondered. Could He be challenging us to get comfortable with diversity within Greentree Community Church?

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And I couldn’t ignore it — the brokenness and the cross, well, they were right there in the middle of diversity. I see it every time I look at the new logo. I can’t help it.

We serve a God who is in love with diversity. He created it. He decorated the earth with over 23,000 types of trees. We know there’s at least 15,000 species of fish in the sea and the list keeps growing. There’s countless variances in mountain ranges spanning the globe. Our Maker intentionally fashioned a dwelling place for people that bursts forth with variance in the natural world. And in the human race.

But it’s been quite a year here in Saint Louis, yes? Painful experiences untold for years are finally surfacing around dinner tables and locker rooms and office cubicles, and I hope, churches. Have we been too quiet?

Discussions on race and culture usually force us to dance to the rhythms between hurt and healing, resentment and forgiveness, misunderstanding and reconciliation. We’re at a point now where we have to choose our path. Are we going to ignore? Or are we going to walk toward deep self-reflection as it pertains to relationships and living in community? There are our neighbors, and our co-workers, and the family at the pool, and yes, even our relatives. Some of them look like us and some don’t. Sin has stained our country’s history and we’re still sorting through the fragments. It’s uncomfortable. It’s our reality. It’s necessary.

“Jesus’ human lineage teaches us that the unconditional love of God is limitless and without prejudice,” challenged Tom Ricks as we explored our spiritual family tree last Advent season. Our counter-cultural God — He woos me out of judgements and man-made religion.

Can you see our spiritual ancestors — the murderer, the adulterer, the prostitute, the forgotten — all in desperate need of a Rescuer? Can you see God choosing people with heaps of baggage? Can you see Him bringing together diverse people taught to hate and mistrust one another as He writes His Rescue Story for generations to come?

The Gospel message, well, it’s different than what we’ve sometimes made church out to be. The Gospel extends beyond masks of perfection, beyond man-made neighborhoods still segregated by race and class, beyond our enslavement to what others think of us. God intentionally wove people into His ancestry whose aches left them longing for the cross.

Are you aching, too? Join us then.

On Saturday, June 6, we’d love to have you at Greentree’s forum “Kirkwood, Race, and the Church”. We’ll gather at 6pm in the North Kirkwood Middle School cafeteria, 11287 Manchester Road, 63122. Together we’ll choose to not look away, avoid conversation, or isolate ourselves. Together we’ll simply listen. We don’t know what we don’t know. The panel will even include a few African Americans who’ve been asked to reveal their experiences of living in Kirkwood and Saint Louis. How can we better engage with those who have different cultural experiences? How can we live intentionally? We’re thankful for all the panelists who have graciously agreed to share their stories with us.

Hurt People Hurt People

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Hurt people hurt people.

We’ve all heard it before — that explanation for another’s behavior. That justification for wound-inflicting words. That “place of acceptance” begging us to extend grace.

I’ve walked the road of forgiveness only to walk it again. Have you gone on the journey twice — or maybe several times — because you can’t quite dwell at the destination? Because your heart’s so restless you can’t rest in that renewed place? Yeah, me too. It’s like we’re all travelers clutching our own bags — our own baggage — back on that same path to letting go.

I’m walking that path right now, but it’s no one’s doing but my own. I’m walking the road toward forgiving myself this time, and gosh, I hate the journey even more. I’ve cried at being the victim, but the shame of being the perpetrator is so heavy it wrenches tears out of me I didn’t know I had.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, my people say. I even whisper it to myself, Hurt people hurt people. It’s just sort of unavoidable.

But we were made for more.

I was hurting, and my pain got the best of me. It dulled me to all things beautiful. And when you can’t find beauty, our souls wrestle in angst, and our mouths just sort of follow. And we lose perspective. And we mindlessly react. At least I do.

Finally, Peter writes, Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, a humble mind.

Peter, the former racist. Peter, the one with a crazy temper. Peter, the wound-giver. The guy you would have wanted to avoid collapsed into grace and started challenging us to live in community.

We stare from afar with our pointing fingers and feel good about ourselves for a moment — until we dare to look and see ourselves in the drama, too.

I’ve chosen to talk when I should have remained silent. I’ve chosen to talk when I should have remained silent. Have your grumbly thoughts ever spilled onto others? You feel relief for a second before you’re carrying the burden again for days. Complaining is exhausting. Grumbling is draining.

Has Satan made his way into your “authenticity”? He weaves himself into my conversations and before I know it, he’s blown everything out of proportion. And yes, I’m trying to be real, but if I don’t watch it, my enemy even distorts that, too.

My fleeting moment of venting wasn’t so fleeting after all. And I find myself worshiping what I complain about.

In these moments, my realness, my transparency, is doing anything but fostering unity and sympathy and love and tenderness and humility. My words hang out there, picked up by whomever is hungry, and then twisted and repackaged and delivered to a whole new audience.

Unity and sympathy and love and tenderness and humility — its all so random. But maybe not.

When we take a risk and dare to heap on sympathy and love, somehow unity is unavoidable. My eyes open up to the big picture, and my quiet rage and unforgiving spirit and grumbly heart don’t seem so useful anymore.

Somehow I can see the forest through the trees again, and my perspective becomes much bigger than my own drama. My grumbling and my complaining, well, I see them for what they really are — tools to help others lose perspective, too.

It’s hard to discipline our minds, to hold fast to the larger perspective, and to be led by humility. But in those moments, I’ve found sympathy and love and tenderness for others in the deepest places of my heart.

Hurt people hurt people.

Yes, I’ve been hurt. And yes, I’ve done the hurting. But by His wounds I am healed, and He heals those I’ve hurt, too.

Thank goodness. Thank goodness for the cross.

I may just walk that road toward forgiveness my entire lifetime. There’s always something to forgive. Always. But the longer I journey, the more resting I do. I find crevices of His grace wooing me to linger in His restoration, pausing in His redemption, a little longer each time.

Photo source | Israel Sundseth


This post can also be viewed as a guest post on the blog of Greentree Community Church (St. Louis, Missouri).