Missing in Action: Where Are You, Church? A guest post

June 17, 2015 was just an ordinary Wednesday. When twelve people attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night, not one had a clue it was their last. They kissed their families goodbye, grabbed their keys and started their engines.

The shots rang out across the nation as the nine fell, the nine to match the Little Rock Nine, nine taking a stand before nine fell. Five more than the bombing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1963.

Those of us fortunate to have pastors who are sensitive to these things mentioned them in our prayers, said their names one by one, and prayed for strength and courage and kindness. Our country’s president spoke boldly about America and its pain, these chains of racism that still shackle our feet.

America, for the first time in nearly 50 years, is tentatively opening the door to this conversation once more.

And the majority of white churches across America remain silent.

 

Read the rest over here.

I am Jacob: wrestling with God

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We gathered on Monument Circle in the dripping rain, hoods pulled up over our heads, bright umbrellas popping up like daisies. There was something electric about the atmosphere, buzzing with the passion we all shared for change. You don’t go to a protest if you don’t care about change.

And so we marched. And I found myself listening to their chant, the sound of determination over and over. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Was repeated until it branded itself into my mind.

I find myself here, drawn to the passion, still not sure what we’re begging for, but knowing that the pressure will give one way or the other and I know where I want the rocks to land.

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I have found myself inexplicably drawn to different people from the Bible in my life. I have been David fighting his Goliath, Gideon as he doubted his worthiness, Ruth as she laid herself vulnerable before a man she trusted. I have been Peter screaming over the waves, Noah as he prepared for rain, Mary as she treasured up all these things in her heart.

But this season. This season is different.

I have always known what I believed. I have never been one to hang around with uncertainty for very long. I like to know what I want. And for the very first time in my life, the world has been grayer than I have ever known it to be and I don’t know to do. The uncertainty makes me feel shifty and conflicted.

And I think about Jacob. The leader of God’s people. Israel. The man who wrestled with God. He and I, we wrestle with what it all means, with the problem and the solution and the how do we bring change for those who feel unheard? What is the right answer here? What do I do if I’m wrong? And what do I do if we’re right?

I see people on both sides of this fight that I deeply admire. I have seen people I respect up to their ears in bias, and others so heated with the anger of injustice that they couldn’t see straight. And I knew I didn’t fall in either party. I was going to have to pave my own way.

And so I march anyway, even if I’m not sure, because people are hurting and that’s enough. That’s a good reason to support them. I can’t afford to wait until I know it all, because I know the most important thing: black lives are always going to matter.

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We marched with the people, John and Zack and I, until we turned to each other with conviction and John said: we need to go back. We need to be at our university tonight. We need to start this conversation in a place where we can see it through. And Zack and I nodded, knowing our voices were needed most where we were known the best.

And so we went back. And we showed up. And we stood, holding a banner – some of us white, some of us black – proclaiming that black life matters. And no matter what happens with each individual case, no matter who happens to be responsible in Ferguson or Staten Island, black life is always going to matter. Always.

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photo cred (above): Logan Evans

Tables in the Wilderness: A spiritual upheaval

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I know very, very little about Christianity. It’s almost embarrassing how little I know. I was raised in a Non-denominational church, memorized the Bible verses, knew the Sunday school answers, and worked the system flawlessly.

I always assumed when I graduated college and settled down I would go to a church like the one I grew up in. I never considered that I would want anything different.

And then I read A Table in the Wilderness. And I was challenged to reconsider.

Preston Yancey is young to be writing a memoir, but that doesn’t mean his words don’t have value. You don’t have to be a Millennial to be moved. He tells the ageless, time-told story of finding everything and realizing you have nothing. Watching it all slip through your fingers, and then rebuilding your life brick-by-brick.

Preston is the most honest writer I know. I am continually moved by his courage to paint himself in a less than respectable light, because that is what makes me trust him. He is a reliable narrator, freeing us to read without doubt. He tells the story of the disenchanted, the hardened, and those who have been wounded by the flaws of the Church. Those of us who have thought we were alone can find a place in his story.

Because of stories like Preston’s, I have been given permission to seek. And I will, until I find the place I’m looking for.

I pray I will know when I get there.

 

 

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

From apathy to empathy: why we must press on

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There is so much to be discouraged by in our world right now. Can I get an amen? Child brides, terrible education systems around the world, racial and sexual oppression, the economy, the Church…we have every reason to feel disheartened.

The Church has not been good to us. And we find ourselves in these same circular conversations, over and over. We are not reaching each other, we are not understood, and so we give up and turn inward. The world has been sitting heavy on our shoulders lately, beckoning us into despair. We are tired. It makes sense to throw in the towel.

It’s hard to keep loving and investing in the people who are making the decisions that hurt us so deeply. But we can. not. stop.

In a culture of apathy, it is our job to care. In a world that has numbed itself to the pain of others and ourselves, we must shoulder the burden of feeling. We must claim ownership of the world and do what we can to make it beautiful. We are designed to bring beauty, and so we will bring it with everything we have until there is no more beauty left to deliver.

We are the deliverers of God’s message of love to all the Peoples of every nation, and we must go on fulfilling our call until we are no longer able. We must speak for the voiceless, give to those who have nothing, love the unloved, speak truth in the faces of liars, and we must never give up. This is what we’re made for. We were designed to be disturbed and hurt by injustice. Our hearts were made to break with the dying, we were meant to feel the hunger of the starving, we were created to share in the pain of the wounded as a motivator towards change. If we bury our compassion, we bury what makes us humans and not monsters.

Oh, it hurts, to care. It hurts when people think you’re too passionate, but what other appropriate response is there when you read about a woman selling her body to feed her family? When you see the faces of thousands of starving children?

There is no appropriate response other than the ache. And so we must lean in and bleed together, because discomfort is always at the root of change.

We must never stop trying to be understood and to understand. We cannot afford to let the conversations die.

 

photo cred: Bill Phan

I am in awe of the mystery

All the angels cry out

“Holy is the Lord”

All the earth replies

“Holy are You”

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People are standing, hands outstretched, reaching for something they cannot touch with their fingers.

I’m standing among them, hands grasping the chair in front of me, tapping the rhythm of the music. My eyes wander, watching these people who are so focused on their own worship that no thought is given to judging the people around them. There is a freshness, a realness in the air that makes me breathe lighter.

I am taking Biblical Literature II over the month of January, which means I spend every day studying the New Testament for a grade. No surprise, then, that by the weekend the last thing I want to look at is my bible. Last week covered all four of the gospels, and as I spent each day studying Jesus’ character and passion, he came alive. He leapt off of the cartoon picture bible I had as a kid and became living, breathing, feeling. He became human to me for the first time. He was a person I was beginning to understand.

It is the first time I have been to church since the beginning of the January term. My head and heart are both here, listening, processing. It is the first time I have been fully present in church for months–maybe even years. I have fought and struggled to reconcile the God I am supposed to know in the church, large and powerful and demanding of our respect, to the friend, artist, and companion I know when I leave the building.

I realize I am finally making progress.

The worship draws to a close and the pastor asks us to pray with him. He closes his eyes and begins to speak earnestly, and I shut my eyes.

And I think, about this Jesus who had no qualms about rocking the boat and the status quo, so much so that people would rather see him dead than feel the way he made them feel. A man who defied gender roles and challenged authority. Whoever believed Jesus had no fire in him was definitely wrong. Jesus wasn’t fireless, he simply knew how to channel it.

I close my eyes and try to connect them, this human I have grown to know and love more than I ever have before, and the king of the heavens that created gravity and invited the world into being.

And suddenly it clicks. And the tears burn under my eyelids as I stand in awe of the heavenly man who gave everything, even himself, to push us and grow us and love us with more ferocity than we ever knew love could be.

Love runs through his veins, pulsing for us. He will rant about our stupidity and be (rightly) furious with us, but the love never stops.

The love never stops.

This is my worship, tonight, this awe.

Worship with me?