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.)

paper-doll-family

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?

GreentreeMiniLogo

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.

Choosing to Weep

nyc

It’s an interesting Advent season at best, as the call for justice and equity rises above the hope of a silent night. The voices, long unknown by many, have grown loud enough to spill over into unsuspecting homes this December.

Do you hear them? Do you see them?

Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

The beauty of city streets donned in lights and holiday bliss serves as the backdrop for masses chanting and marching and looking anything but peaceful. The scene clashes over and over. NYC window displays. A Seasons Greetings banner spread over a Ferguson street.

Silent night. Holy night. All is not calm. And all is not bright.

And maybe the chanting hasn’t reached your neighborhood, but do you see the irony that’s all of our story?! We wrap ourselves in beauty this season when God chose to wrap Himself in fallen flesh. We illuminate our homes and garages with lights as He chose to descend into darkness. We spend and buy and party away when He chose to join a mortal family with nothing.

He descended among those oppressed by Roman rule. He saw the victims and fully embraced the Rescue Plan.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:14

But there was more, so much more. Their captivity was greater and deeper than even they knew. He descended for those in spiritual oppression whose hearts were aching and longing during that forever Advent. But He descended here for the numb souls, too. He came for those who were never satisfied but didn’t know why. For those who couldn’t name their ache.

Some were captives of their own doing. Some were reaping consequences of their own sin. Some were bound by wounds inflicted from family and neighbors and the system and society at large.

He came to the mess. In fact, the mess was the reason He came. He came to the mess that couldn’t come to Him.

Maybe the chanting and the marching and ache for truth is more like the first Christmas than we’d like to think.

Israel’s call for justice. The heart’s cry to be rescued from a world we weren’t created for.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

And might we strike that balance, too? The balance between grace and truth? Truth and grace?

Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Do you hear the voices? Regardless of your interpretations on why there’s weeping, do see a nation suffering?

Give us the courage, Lord, to enter the uncomfortable. 

Come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captives… 

 

 

Photo source: Huffington Post

Why I Open My Eyes During Communion

communion

I see them all.  Watch them all.

… the girl with the anthropologie dress and the perfect shade of lipstick
… the white-haired couple
… the barista
… the awkward thirty-something man, limping, the object of jokes in high school
… the workaholic who just lost her job, just lost her identity
… the dad who yelled at his kids on the way to church
… the janitor
… the middle school boy in a football jersey
… the woman battling weight-loss, again
… the writer who hates his own story

They make their way to the front — all of them — to someone holding mercy.  Taking the bread, they dip it in wine and hear grace. “This is the body of Christ broken for you. 

Broken for you.

Broken for you.

And I can’t close my eyes, for the picture is too beautiful.  For a fleeting moment, I see the crowd through the eyes of Christ.  I see deep into individuals with broken hearts, poor choices, regrets.  I wish I could do this all the time — see them this way.

I forget what they’re wearing.  Forget their money.  Forget their success.  Forget the way society has categorized them.

All hungry.  And desperate.  All with a story.  It’s a beautiful scene.

I grew up in a row, passing the communion plate, with my eyes shut tight.  It seemed like the reverent thing to do.  I pondered His broken body, pondered my sin, for as long as it took the ushers to sweep the church with forgiveness.  With redemption.

And I closed my eyes the whole time.  The spiritual ones seemed to always have their eyes closed.

But not anymore.  I grieve my own brokenness, and repent, and surrender — again — and then look up to drink in the scene.

And as we approach Thanksgiving, the forgotten holiday, maybe the Redeemer will do a miracle in my heart and rescue me from misconceptions and my useless, harmful judgements.

Maybe someday I’ll take this scene with me when the Season of Gratefulness has passed, or simply when Sunday mornings are over, and I’ll live my life radically.

The gas station.  The drive-through.  Starbucks.  The book store next to the university.  Cyberspace.  Anywhere.  Everywhere.  Give me the eyes of Christ.

God, send grace.

 

photo source