Monday Morning Moment – Steps Forward in “We the People” Becoming True for All Americans

Photo Credit: Flickr, gnuckx

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it…”from The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson

We are coming off a very different 4th of July (Independence Day) weekend here in the US. Protests are continuing into a second month following the killing of George Floyd. Violence erupting, in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, has taken more lives.

Confederate monuments in our city are coming down, but until they do, they are the focal points of what is going on here. Public reaction to George Floyd’s death and the racial injustices of decades past.

What can we do? What can be done in our country to right these wrongs or, at the very least, prevent future wrongs? With more than sad and angry words spray-painted on signs and statues. [Please don’t hear me say anything other than that…the change may need to start right here…right here on Monument Avenue…but it has to continue from here to wherever we all live, work, and go to school…]

Ben Peterson, a brilliant doctoral student in political science, recently published a definitive essay on this topic, entitled Social Control and Human Dignity.

I quote heavily from his article below, but if you can tackle the whole of his scholarly piece, please do. If you don’t have the time or choose not to take time to read the quotes below, then please read my own bullet points on his take (and that of Dr. Glenn Loury). Dr. Loury, by the way, is an esteemed educator, a professor of social sciences and economics at Brown University. He writes prolifically on both economy and on race. I am thankful to have found his voice recently.Photo Credit: Dr. Glenn Loury, Wikimedia Commons

My takeaways from Ben Peterson’s article:

  • Violent crime is a serious social problem, but punishment alone (especially through mass incarceration) will not alter our course as a country…or keep all our communities safer. In fact, such punishment with no other provision/recourse is damaging to those communities who bear the brunt of mass incarceration.
  • We must hold people accountable for criminal behavior, but with dignity and humanity. We have responsibility in this to assure laws and punishments are fair, and to search out any elements of racism in our laws and punishment.
  • We can strive for the perspective of “we, us, and our” in thinking of persons and communities, instead of “they, them, and their”. In so doing, we press for laws and punishments that we can morally support for our own brothers, husbands, and sons…and that of our neighbors.
  • If a community is struggling, we must treat it as our own, not seeking only punishment for crime, but also developing pathways for restoring those previously incarcerated fully back into their families and neighborhoods. Listening to the leaders in these communities is priority. They live there; they know the strengths; they know the needs.
  • We put reforms in place for law enforcement and education, such that we all benefit from the best our country has to offer. No matter how vulnerable our community is.
  • Racial indifference is not an option for us, if we truly care for our neighbors and this country.

Those were my takeaways. Below you will find some of the powerful and salient quotes from Ben Peterson’s article. I hope I get to vote for him some day.

“…young black men commit a disproportionate amount of the violent crime that persists in this country. That fact surely helps explain why police disproportionately apply force against black men and interact with black men. It also helps explain why our prisons disproportionately house black men. That’s a critical point, but I don’t think we can stop there.”

“…we as a society have chosen to deal, or perhaps not deal, with the persistence of crime in poor black communities.”

“…violent crime is a much greater threat to black lives than police violence, by the numbers.”

“[Loury] argues that our method of social control has damaging effects on many of our communities and the people whose lives the criminal justice system touches, effects disparately borne in poor black communities. These effects are such to make the method of social control we have adopted a systemic injustice that demands the attention of policymakers and leaders around the country. Loury’s analysis is distinguished from others in that he insists on applying moral categories and acknowledging personal agency. He sees the problem in its multidimensional entirety: not simply as a crime or mass incarceration problem, but a problem of social control and ultimately human development. He calls us to a greater sense of social responsibility than our policy since the 1970s has exhibited. We should heed his message.

“…part of treating people with respect and dignity is to hold them accountable for their behavior. One theme in [Loury’s] analysis of race and inequality is that black people have agency and are not mere victims of systemic racism. This is a deeply humane argument, for to deny a person’s agency is to deny his humanity. Loury argues that black leaders and communities have to exercise this agency and find a way to effectively condemn and control immoral behavior in their own communities.”

“While he insists on personal agency and accountability for behavior in black communities, he does not absolve the larger polity of responsibility for the ills of high-crime black communities. He insists that Americans need to shift our thinking, so that we don’t treat the problems of poor black communities as the problems of “those people.” He argues that racism played a role in the development of our policy of social control.”

“…systemic injustice, or a social injustice, [is] a legal and accepted social practice that fails, on a wide scale, to render to each person his or her due…our incarceration system and treatment of people formerly incarcerated, fails to adequately respect the human dignity of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and communities.

“The charge of injustice is based not on the fact of punishment, but on the reality that the total result of our method of social control is a failure to prevent crime in many communities, a failure to rehabilitate offenders and integrate them back into society, and a failure to leave poor minority communities better off…That argument is certainly debatable, but I would at least submit that many white people don’t see struggling black communities as our own communities.

Racial indifferenceThe problem is not so much with what we do as what we fail to do, which is to allow for the human development of many people and communities, overly relying on a punitive justice system to control the results of social dysfunction.”

“First, we need reforms in the justice system to encourage more dignified treatment of suspects, prisoners, and the communities who the system affects.”

“…find and amplify what’s working well in high-crime communities, offer models for consideration. We may need public funding and more involvement on the part of community members, especially churches and other institutions, in similar efforts aimed at strengthening those bedrock institutions in struggling communities.”

“We need to give more attention to our educational institutions and finding real solutions for lagging academic performance.”

“While we cannot ignore the behavioral problems of the so-called black underclass, we should discuss and react to those problems as if we were talking about our own children, neighbors, and friends. It will require adjusting ways of thinking on both sides of the racial divide. Achieving a well-ordered society, where all members are embraced as being among us, should be the goal. Our failure to do so is an American tragedy. It is a national, not merely a communal, disgrace. Changing the definition of the American “we” is a first step toward rectifying the relational discrimination that afflicts our society, and it is the best path forward in reducing racial inequality.Glenn Loury

___________________________________________________________________________

Finally, I want to close with a story about a person very dear to me who found himself on the wrong side of the law. As a young man, he got swept up into drug addiction (naive in ways at the recreational use of drugs and then too soon addicted). Without details, he would make some choices, affecting no one but himself, that would lead to him being charged with a felony. Even with the best legal counsel money could afford, he ended up with a felony conviction. He served some jail time, but he never had to go to prison. Again, thanks to financial support that allowed for a drug rehab program rather than incarceration. He benefited greatly from the rehab program where he was treated with dignity and respect. Unless the laws in his state change, he will be considered a felon the rest of his life…not right. There’s too much “not right” in our country, but not so much that “we the people” can’t work toward change.

The Glenn Show – Glenn Loury and John McWhorter and Others“make space for serious people of all races interested in understanding and discussing problems of race, police, and crime in a holistic way that does not force them to deny obvious facts.”

Embrace Communities – “strengthening and empowering communities from the inside out” – love this organization’s ABCD methodology of community development [What organizations can you recommend to us? Comment please.]

[Below is a short video on anti-racism. I found it helpful.]

Sunday Blessing – The Church Segregated – Black & White – Erskin

Photo Credit: Church Leadership

[From the Archives, 2017. Today we are going through a raw and painful season, hopefully that will lead to real change in how we extend love to one another and how we work to heal the hurt in our society. I made very few adjustments in the text…because it is as true today as it was then.]

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
 – Galatians 3:28

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.Ephesians 2:14

Racial segregation in the church must break the very heart of God. How is it that we, who love Jesus and want to live as He modeled and taught us, continue to live and worship apart from one another racially?

We live in a racially complex city. Richmond, Virginia, was once the capital of the Confederacy. Even now, the racial divide is shamefully wide. The church, both black and white congregations, has Christ’s mandate to come together. To be reconciled. To live at peace with one another. To enjoy community together.

My family is part of a church that has a vision to reach Richmond. Our city is ethnically diverse. To reach Richmond includes figuring out how to not just be another white church in the neighborhood.

Erskin Anavitarte is a Christian songwriter. On his website, he also identifies as a diversity spokesman and adoption advocate. He is a Kingdom builder and a reconciler. This is a man who calls us to enlarge our lives and our churches to include one another.Photo Credit: Erskin Music

He wrote a little song Black & White which really touched my heart this week. Simple and yet profound lyrics.

“One song may not make much difference, but my prayer is that we remember that God made us all and perhaps bridging the gap begins by focusing our eyes on Jesus. That’s the message of this song.”Erskin Anavitarte

After our country’s last election, I was burdened afresh how racially polarized we are as a nation, and even in the church. This can’t be the case, in daily life, for Christ followers. Not in daily life. Not in corporate worship. How do we come together?

As we worship the Lord today, we ask Him for wisdom and for opportunity. We ask for compassion and understanding. We determine to “love beyond the limits of our prejudices…to speak love and embody love” (Rev. Michael Walrond, Jr.).

Today, God loves both the black church and our essentially white church, both in the same neighborhood. Oh God, help us – to join together with each other – with those who love God also…and who love this city in a way that can stretch our own love…Maybe it could go beyond the reach of either of us. Just maybe.

[Let’s close in worship now. Check out the super helpful links below, later.]

Worship with Erskin and me, would you?

The most segregated time in our country

Is Sunday morning 11 o’clock

Black churches, white churches

Right next door

They’re on the same block.

Both with hands raised high for Jesus

Still a million miles between us

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

We all want to walk with Jesus

We all want to be about His will

How do we break down the unseen walls

Where bridges need to be built

This song may not change your mind

Jesus won’t let me keep it inside.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Maybe it all begins

By not focusing on ourselves

Fixing our eyes on Him

Living our lives as friends.

Black people; white people

Remember the God who made you and me equal

Not some people but all people

Remember the God who made you and me equal.

Photo Credit: James Estrin, The New York Times

YouTube Video – Erskin – Black & White – Official Lyric Video

A Shift in Demographics at a Church in Harlem – Samuel G. Freedman

YouTube Video – Global Spirituality: Pastor Michael Walrond at TEDxHarlem

They’re Playing Our Song – The Secret Multiracial Churches Know About Music – Michael O. Emerson

7 Key Characteristics of Diversity-Oriented Churches – Brian Leander

Racial Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia? – Wendy McCaig

[Links below showcase Christian comedians who help us with some of the things that unnecessarily make us uncomfortable with each other’s church cultures…although I couldn’t find one that caricatured white church worship for blacks. Could someone help me?]

YouTube Video – Gary Owen – My First Time at a Black Church

YouTube Video – Unwritten Black Church Rules – KevOnStage

YouTube Video – Black Church Phrases Explained – KevOnStage

Monday Morning Moment – Searching Out the Truth in All the Voices

Photo Credit: Dunk, Flickr

I was talking to a friend recently about longing to be in dialogue where I can actually sort out what is true in all the public outcry.

She said, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” It went right to my heart. I would find out later that this quote is credited to social activist Maggie Kuhn.

My shaky voice has kept me from writing, and even speaking on some of the issues we are facing today. Yet, the voices all around us are getting louder and louder.

We are in a season (I’m determined it is a season and not a new normal) where voices on the streets, messages on signs, even on facial masks are persuasive and divisive.

I’m committed to listening and searching out the truth of what people are saying…but.

Here’s the but:

As long as I’m still free to choose, I can’t support an organization or movement that seems to stir up hatred as part of its strategy. That might not be the intent, but…hatred bubbles up. Hatred for those seen as enemy, as culprit, as guilty with no presumption of innocence.

In the last month, my understanding of our society has grown enormously. Too many times, I’ve had to acknowledge: “I didn’t know.”

Watching the documentary 13th was riveting. This feature-length film exposes how after the passing of the 13th amendment on the abolishing of slavery, and then, decade after decade, the governmental and cultural undermining that decision right through to today. [If you aren’t inclined to watch “13th”, then take 10 minutes and watch Ryan DavisThis Is America.]

I have started realizing that the truth is although I wasn’t consciously racist, somehow culturally and spiritually, I have enjoyed privilege and have been indifferent to many in our country who are hurting.

This broke my heart. Even after years of working in a large public hospital in Atlanta, years working in community development, and years of what could be called Christian service. I lacked the compassion and critical thinking that, ironically, should have been clear and obvious in a life of following Jesus.

So where does that leave me…us? Have you struggled with the cultural messages you are hearing…about yourself, in particular, if you’re white? Have you wholeheartedly agreed with the messages? That we are at fault for all the terrible suffering we are seeing now (if we didn’t see it before), and we have to make it right? I don’t have an answer here…only more questions.

Systemic Racism Explained – Ryan Davis

I am so ready for an advancement of good in our country.

Dialogue. Civil discourse. Reasoning together. Searching for solutions…sustainable, dignifying solutions.

Here’s where I am right now. Listening to friends. Asking questions. Watching news reports and reading commentary. Looking for people who are speaking on the problems in our country, without power or profit agendas. People who seem to care, truly care, for the hurting, but who refuse to go the way of hatred.

An example of what helped to clear confusion for me was discovering the operating strategy of cultural Marxism.

“A collectivist application of Marxist class warfare along a far broader spectrum of identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to solely along class lines; intersectionality.
First, Marxism only spoke to the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but now men oppress women, whites oppress blacks, heterosexuals oppress homosexuals, the able-bodied oppress the disabled, & cisgendered folk oppress trans folk; WHO you are is irrelevant, all that matters now is WHAT you are, which groups you are a member of, your personhood reduced to your arbitrary characteristics, to that of an object; this is Cultural Marxism. –  Urban Dictionary

That is what I’m seeing in the loud and angry voices in the public arena right now. Class warfare. One group against another group. This is not the disruption that will enlarge any of us as Americans. We are all objectified by this kind of identification/definition. No justice in this. Only destruction and disunity.

The video below by theologian educator Dr. Voddie Baucham was enormously helpful for me to understand cultural Marxism. [I will warn you: he takes issue with the politics of a very popular US president.] His teaching actually gave me hope. Truth sets us free.

Be encouraged.

We can be a part of a redemptive work. Even with shaky voices and shaky knees. Our only recourse is NOT what the loudest voices call for…but we do need to listen to those who genuinely represent the hurting. And, most urgently, the hurting themselves.

Before closing, here are some of the voices that have encouraged and emboldened me in recent days. They are not all alike in their message, but they speak reason, love, and hope.

Rayshawn Graves. Bryan Stevenson. Scott Sauls. Anthony Bradley. Rolland Slade. Glenn Loury. Bevelyn Beatty. Senator Tim Scott. Darrell B. Harrison. Virgil Walker. Karen Swallow Prior. David Lyle. Jackie Hill Perry. Coleman Hughes. Jared Burwell. Tim Keller. Shelby Steele. Michael Catt. Keith Smith. John McWhorter. Voddie Baucham. Just to name a few.

I’d love to close with a few of the lyrics of Andrew Peterson‘s A White Man’s Lament for God’s Beloved:

“…the mercies of the Lord
Will be the chords to every song…
…it begins as I repent
And bow my head as I lament this broken world
‘Cause every victim, every villain
Was a precious little boy or little girl
This is me and this is you
This is the truth, if you believe it or not
You have always been beloved
They have always been beloved

George, Breonna, Ahmaud
All beloved of God

5 Ways Christians Are Getting Swept Into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment – Natasha Crain

Sunday Blessing – The Lord Bless You & Keep You – He Is the Waymaker

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”  – Numbers 6:24-26

This wall art (in English and Arabic) hangs beside the door we use most often, receiving and sending out friends and neighbors. It reminds us of the goodness and faithfulness of God and how He means for us to also be His blessing on others.

In this season of listening and learning from God and many voices crying out over our nation in its time of crisis, I got a notification which moved me to post this. It was a Jesus March in the Bronx, New York. It was an event organized by At the Well Ministries, founded by Bevelyn Beatty and Edmee Chavannes. As we listen and learn, we are not going to agree on all points. It matters that we hear the heart.

These two women are Christ followers. They are publicly and sacrificially pro-life. They are all about saving the lives of black babies and loving on the women (and men) who find themselves in the rock-and-hard-place of seeking abortion.

This is not what today’s march was about. Today they marched for the police in the Bronx. They marched to raise the name of Jesus over their city and over those in law enforcement there and all around our country.

Watch minutes 25:35 – 35:25 for their prayer for the Bronx police and others…and their praise of a way-making God. [At the very end of that segment you will see Bevelyn and Edmee – beautiful sisters.]

If you would like to sing in prayer and praise, below is a lyrics video of these two beautiful songs – The Blessing and Way Maker:

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Verse]
The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going

In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

[Chorus]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

[Bridge 1]
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

[Bridge 2]
May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

[Bridge 3]
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

[Refrain]
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

Whatever our politics, whatever our opinions…they don’t matter today. What matters is that we reflect the glory of God in our lives – to extravagantly love those who are hurting all around us. In particular, right now, our black neighbors and our law enforcement officers. May we see God work to bring healing. His purposes are not thwarted.

Worship Wednesday – If I Stand – Rich Mullins

Blog - Rich MullinsPhoto Credit: azquotes.com

[Adapted from the Archives]

In these turbulent days, we are called to take our stand with or against. No middle ground. Seemingly no choice in the matter but with or against. Our culture seeks to define our choices. As believers, we once experienced the drawing of the Holy Spirit in a choosing of a loving Lord. Now we choose every day to shut out the noise that draws us away from Him, and to listen to that still small voice to choose life…to choose love…to choose Him.

This morning I want to focus on those in our lives who reflect this great God to us. Those who’ve gone before and in our lives today. Influencers. Not the ones in our culture who seek to tear down and condemn…but those whose own loving and steadfast hearts remind us of Jesus.

We stand “on the shoulders of giants” (attributed to Isaac Newton, but not original to him, standing on giant shoulders as well). How thankful I am for praying women, Godly teachers, sincere encouragers, true friends, and kind strangers. Among these as well are musicians who wrote and sang about the God they knew.

Worshipping God is something I long to do better. He is worthy of so much more. Fortunately for us, He has given heartsongs to a faithful few songwriters who put words to how we know, or want to know, God. Keith Green was one of those influencers in my life. I actually remember where I was when he died – working on a construction site in Surigao City, Philippines, over 30 years ago.

Another such influencer is…was Rich Mullins. His songs always help me shake off self and soar to worship God. He also died young in 1997. His legacy to us is song after song of gut-honest worship and wonder. He struggled in his own personal brokenness and that of our world. Yet he turned that into praise to a God who created all the beauty of this world for us and lavished His love on us, no matter what. Listen to this worshipper speak truth to you himself:

“The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart…It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice — it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.”  ― Rich Mullins

“God did not give Joseph any special information about how to get from being the son of a nomad in Palestine to being Pharaoh’s right hand man in Egypt. What He did give Joseph were eleven jealous brothers, the attention of a very loose and vengeful woman, the ability to do the service of interpreting dreams and managing other people’s affairs and the grace to do that faithfully wherever he was.”Rich Mullins

“I had a professor one time… He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway’.”  ― Rich Mullins

“And then he [Job] went to God and wanted to know why the righteous suffer. And Beuchner points out, God never gave him an answer. That God merely gave him Himself. And when Job had encountered the Almighty, the questions lost their power over him. And I think that a lot of us are real interested in some easy answers, and some ‘Wow, if I can, if we can come up with some kind of an easy answer to make life comfortable…’ We’re much more interested in answers than we are in the Truth. And the Truth is always going to be a mystery. It will always be a paradox. It will always be a little beyond our grasp. And if we’re uncomfortable with that, that’s okay, because a little bit of discomfort will keep us moving.” — Rich Mullins

“Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t also cost you yours.”Rich Mullins

Worship this beautiful, loving, just and merciful God with me:

There’s more that rises in the morning
Than the sun
And more that shines in the night
Than just the moon
It’s more than just this fire here
That keeps me warm
In a shelter that is larger
Than this room

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the giver
Of all good things

CHORUS:
So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

There’s more that dances on the prairies
Than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean
Than the tide
There’s a love that is fiercer
Than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother’s
When her baby’s at her side

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the Giver
Of all good things

CHORUS(2x)

And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home.

“Like Thoreau, I love to suck the marrow out of the bones of life.  People want to know God’s will for them. In one of his most explicit statements on the subject, Christ said, ‘I come that you might have life and have it abundantly.’ One day it won’t make any difference how many albums I sold, but I will give account of my life to God. What I think He’ll be most pleased with is to see that we truly lived, that we were the person He created us to be.” Rich Mullins

Please share, in a comment below, someone who has influenced your experience of God because of how he/she knew Him. Thanks.

Blog - Rich Mullins 2Photo Credit: azquotes.com

Film- Ragamuffin – the True Story of Rich Mullins

Rich Mullins’ Biography – Wikipedia.com

*Rich Mullins’ Biography – ChristianMusic.com

YouTube Video – Interview with Sheila Walsh – 16:32 Rich Mullins talks about truth and comfort and then the extraordinary experience of the love of God. Don’t miss this vulnerable and personal look into the God who transformed his life…and music.

5 Friday Faves – The Grounding Nature of Music, Finding Our Voice, Ignorance Remedied, Performative Allyship, and Friends in the Fray

Welcome back, y’all. Let’s jump right in. Oh, and there are a couple of lengthy faves, so be aware and choose with care. [The words helped me; I hope they help you.]

1) The Grounding Nature of Music – No matter our preferences, there’s something both soothing and settling about music. Whether a college fight song, a rally call, or national anthem, we are drawn together by a common loyalty…a community, no matter how diverse, that agrees on some one thing.

Nathan Mills (of Beyond the Guitar) makes a commitment to his Patreon supporters of two arrangements a month. He has made good on that for a long time now. I think about his community sometimes – those 200+ patrons that help to support the music Nathan posts on various music platforms. Benefiting the thousands who listen and watch.

Whatever social significance his music has in this chaotic world of ours, Nathan brings some of us together to enjoy, reminisce, take heart. A quietening in our thoughts. A respite in a troubled time.

I would never have thought arrangements of TV, film, and video game themes rendered on the classical guitar could have such an impact. Thanks, Nathan. Keep making it happen…music for our souls.

His most recent:

Uncharted 4 – “Nate’s Theme”

The Last of Us

2) Finding our voice – I haven’t been able to write much lately. So many voices already out there…so necessary just to listen, sift, and determine action. A friend on Facebook pointed to this post, and with permission, I’m sharing it here:

Struggling to write lately.
Most days now I just feel myself wondering if my heart and soul belong in this world anymore? Every shocking post I read or attack on others or news story.. hurts. I start to see people with a lens I never would have before. It hurts to see friends called out as racists when I know their hearts and that just can’t be. It’s hard to see calls to abolish police, especially by such young people who just really don’t have a concept yet of the world they are creating. It’s hard to see those who want to pretend racism doesn’t exist when it clearly does. It’s damn hard to also see the rise in hatred for our military. What scares me the most is the realization that we are actually creating a world that is MORE black and white. We paint people with such a wide brush. We all seem to find ourselves suddenly on one side, or the other, of a line drawn in the sand. There is no room to question or to grow or to change. You either stand with something 100% or you are wrong.. no room in the middle. Not just about race or police. But politics, faith, love, quarantines, borders, you name it! We have just become a nation drowning in the extremes. In the drowning, many of us feel like we are begging to be thrown a life preserver but somehow feel we have to prove our hearts deserve to be rescued from the water.. and we can’t. Because we don’t fit on either side of the line. Not the black, not the white. The “gray” among us are drowning. Because we stumble and we don’t always know what we feel fully. We, the gray, are learning and listening and trying and praying and pausing to learn and hear truth. How do you prove that? Prove that you cry for the police who are being hunted down for the uniforms they wear, regardless of the heart that beats beneath it — even as you weep reading story after story of racism, and the inequity that is costing the lives of black Americans at an astonishing rate. The narrative will tell you that if you don’t scream for the hatred of all police and hold up the banner of defunding them, then you are, by default, part of the problem. Same for gun control. Or politics. Or borders. Vaccines. State government. Violence in sports. Parenting. Public school or homeschool. Pharmaceuticals or Homeopathic. You can’t be unsure or pause to understand…choose a side or you are just, well, wrong. (Being called wrong would be the most gentle thing you will be called.)
I’m tired. I’m scared for the nation of extremism we are watching form right in front of us. I’m scared for the hearts, like mine, that take it all in too easily and become too quickly overwhelmed. I worry about how my future grandchildren can possibly grow up into healthy adults who learn, who form opinions, who love people, just as they are? For future generations, this Nation of Labels, will have presorted every human they meet as “friend” or “foe” before a conversation is had or a relationship started. I am scared at the amazing level of hate and disrespect our young adults have right now and spout so freely. I’m scared these younger generations have learned it is easier to swim with the current — so they won’t be labeled “wrong” — and their raging opinions are not formed from any solid foundation of truth or life experience.
For so many years the cries for “love everyone” and demands for acceptance of.. ourselves, our fellow citizens, people of other faiths or backgrounds, people for who they really are and not a presumption.. have rung out across this land. This is no longer what I hear.
Hate and more hate seems to be creating a deafening roar that is shaking the very foundation of this country. I’m not doing well within the shaking. I don’t think I am the only one.
We are creating a vortex of hate that seems to be growing stronger as it pulls in the gathering darkness.
We will reap what we sow.
That truth should terrify us.
What you sow, you will reap in time.
That should terrify the future generations.
I want to believe in better days and hope for the future. I still cling to God’s promises because I know feelings lie. But it is so hard.

3) Ignorance Remedied – It’s definitely a work in progress.

Over the last few weeks, I have had to confront my own ignorance on hugely important matters. Relating to racial bias in our country and its detrimental fallout to a minority people in our population. Blacks, African-Americans.

I had the privilege of a great education. Scholarships (on need more than merit) and post-graduate opportunities. On topics of race and racism, I’m weary of having to process the reality of “I just didn’t know.”

Here’s one example (I posted earlier on Facebook):

#Juneteenth – I grew up in the South. My high school was integrated in the late 60s. I don’t know what I was thinking in those days, but it never seemed to occur to me that white and black children going to different schools might be wrong. My mom grew up very poor. She went into labor with my older brother while picking cotton – delivered him in a cotton shed in the field. She raised us to be color-blind, thinking that was the most loving way to deal with the racial hatred she had seen as a child. She was the most Godly woman in my life growing up. She didn’t know that being color-blind somehow would make us look past people…somehow.

It took me 5 sittings to get through the Netflix documentary “13th“. Now I’m very suspect of revisionist history, so considering those things taught in school, I try to get as many takes on it as possible…to find what might have really happened; what might have been true. As gripping as this film was and as much as it gave me, I had to pray through it for God to separate out the truth from the political twists.

“13th” taught me things (which I have since researched) I was never taught in school – even all those years ago. About slavery, about laws biased against blacks, about private industries who profit off of those incarcerated, about how people who can’t afford bail and refuse to “take a plea”end up in jail for months (years?) without a trial. People who may be innocent but remain jailed…because they are poor.

I learned again how costly a felony is. Don’t get me wrong, if a person commits a crime at the level of a felony, he should get a punishment that fits that crime. Just when is the payment finished? When he has done his time in prison? Paid for his crime as required by the court? No. A felony conviction lasts forever in most states. “Collateral civil consequences” are many, including the right to vote.

I am still learning. My Bible has seen much more wear in the passages on justice, mercy, and love. I think of the parable Jesus told about a Good Samaritan who cared for a man robbed and left on the side of the road. That man would have left him untended if tables had been turned…they were enemies. This is the kind of love Jesus taught and modeled for us.

This is the kind of love I want to have for people not like me. Jesus had that love for the sinner I am.

How I came so late to the understanding growing in me now is a puzzle. I am about as conservative politically as a person can get without becoming a person you might find loathsome. Some of you anyway. For those who, like me, might have grown up, just somehow not figuring out that we were missing hurting people on the side of the road because we turned aside (those others who passed, not like the Good Samaritan)… there is still hope for all of us.

And I’m pretty positive the Good Samaritan wouldn’t have identified with our favored political party…whichever it is. Jesus made sure to describe him in a way that he had nothing to gain.

There is everything to gain, however, in seeking God’s face in this painful place we find ourselves. My city (Richmond, Virginia) is a mess right now. We have policemen friends who are excellent people. We have black and brown friends who are hurting. We have seen the deep wounds in our city cut by “bad apples” and inciters, haters, and criminals.

God calls us to love all people, even our enemies. Not in just word but in humble and wholehearted deed.

This is #Juneteenth – never knew what it was until this week… https://calendar.eji.org/racial-injustice/jun/19…

If you judge me…God knows my heart. If we judge each other, we come under the same judgment. We have to figure out how to listen and learn from each other and stand with those who hurt, without supporting those who still want to hurt (even when their “righteous” double-speak sounds more like hatred). They need Jesus, too…

Photo Credit: Facebook

3 Things Schools Should Teach About America’s History of White Supremacy – Noelle Hurd

4) Performative Allyship – What a phrase, right? A good one to understand, and activist writer Holiday Phillips brings it to light.

“To understand performative allyship, let’s first look at what real allyship is. An ally is someone from a nonmarginalized group who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group. They transfer the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it. Performative allyship, on the other hand, is when someone from that same nonmarginalized group professes support and solidarity with a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful or that actively harms that group. Performative allyship usually involves the “ally” receiving some kind of reward — on social media, it’s that virtual pat on the back for being a “good person” or “on the right side.””

Performative Allyship Is Deadly – Here’s What To Do Instead – Holiday Phillips

Phillips spurs her readers on – how to avoid just reacting but rather to act in ways that are sustainable and increasingly impactful. She does emphasize that any allyship is better than none.

She gave me hope.

[Phillips talks about BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – I didn’t know that acronym so if you’re like me, I saved you a step in looking it up.]

Photo Credit: Flickr, John Englart

Outrage Isn’t Allyship – Common Traps in the Quest for Racial Justice and What To do Instead – Holiday Phillips – So helpful!

5) Friends in the Fray – These last two weeks have been heavy. I wish it was a Friday where we could talk about summer thunderstorms, or family visits, or just plain excellent news. We fortunately do have some of that, but to get through the heavy, I am thankful for friends in the fray. Those who stand with us with gentleness and understanding, without judging, and bring us along in areas where we are struggling.

Who are your friends in the fray?

Local pastors Jared Burwell and Rayshawn Graves have been those sorts of friends in these days, posting often on their social media pages – here and here, for example. In the video below, and Rayshawn encourages and equips us to lean in rather than pull back.

Photo Credit: Rayshawn Graves, Facebook

 

Friends in the Fray – Jennifer Benson Shultd

Granted – Adam Grant – also recommends resources in this post

Tim Keller’s 8 Qualities of a Healthy and Prosperous City and Community – Brian Dodd

Stevenson: “”We Have to Find Ways to Create More Equality, More Opportunity, More Justice” – Harvard Law Today

That’s it! If you read this far, you are my hero. Thank you. Until the next time, blessings!

Bonuses:

Monuments all over our country are being vandalized or brought on. Here’s one in South Carolina that might have been well-intended but speaks to the strange nature of our country’s civil war:

Photo Credit: Angela Sanders, Facebook, Ft. Mill, South Carolina

How Poverty Changes the Brain – Tara Garcia Mathewson

Frances Frei: How To Build And Rebuild Trust

What Can You Do When You Are Flattened by Depressions? – Plan for It – Daryl Chen

200+ Highly Recommended Black-Owned Businesses To Support

The Blessing

 

Photo Credit: Frank Sonnenberg

Worship Wednesday – You Will Never Stop Fighting For Me – Riley Clemmons

Photo Credit: Mazur, Flickr

“For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” – Deuteronomy 20:4

“Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” – Deuteronomy 3:22

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I have struggled to find voice in recent days. We are bombarded, in recent weeks, by images of violence and hatred, of grief and bewilderment. Unbelievable the unrest in our country right now.

To what ends? Clearly something must happen to prevent further wrongful deaths…we have to figure out how to prompt change without destroying our neighborhoods. Fear is palpable. Fear and anger. Confusion and chaos.

As the church we are called to stand with each other, to show love without bias, to right wrongs, and to reflect the personhood of a holy and just God.

In our current situation, how to do this is not so clear. Even as clear as Scripture is. As clear as the life of Jesus is for us to follow.

Today, though, I have found some words. Hope has stirred. While the rioters burn, loot, vandalize and criticize, real transformative conversations are happening all around…beyond the noise of agitators. The church is listening.

A 60-minute Conversation on Race in America – SBC Executive Committee – Facebook

Our greatest hope comes from this: even though we might have thought being “color-blind” was a way to show love, even though we came late to understand something of the pain that others feel in this country, even though we rejected that we were racist or had “privilege”…God is showing us the way through to a reconciliation with Him and with each other. We may not outright hate people, beautifully made in His image, but indifference and closing our eyes to the pain of others is its own sin for which we need repentance. (Romans 12:3-5, 9-18)

God is faithful. He loves us. He stands up for us. He gives grace when our strength is gone. He forgives. He is for us, and He fights for us.

As we look to Him, we will see each other as He sees us…and we can love and stand with each other, as He does the same with us.

Worship with me to Riley Clemmons‘ anthem of praise to the God who fights for us and stands with us:

I need the kinda love
That can outlast the night
I need the kinda love
That is willing to fight

When the going gets tough
And my strengths not enough
I see You showing up like never before
This battle for my heart
You took on from the start
You are the peace when my mind’s at war
And oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me

In the perfect timing
You make all things right
You paint a silver lining
In this heart of mine

When the going gets tough
And my strength’s not enough
I see You showing up like never before
This battle for my heart
You took on from the start
You are the peace when my mind’s at war
And oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me

Your love
Is winning me over
Your heart
Is pulling me closer
Your love
Is winning me over
Your heart
Is pulling me closer

You will never stop fighting for me
Fighting for me
Every word is a promise You keep, oh

You will never stop fighting for me
When I can’t fight for myself
Every word is a promise You keep
Cause You love me like nobody else
You stand up for me in the darkest night
When my faith is weak You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me*

Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance–and this is from God. Philippians 1:27-28

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus John 13:35

*Story Behind the Song Fighting for Me – NewReleaseToday – Kevin Davis

YouTube Video – Riley Clemmons – Fighting For Me – Piano Version

When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders That “The Lord Fights For You” – Debbie McDaniel

Worship Wednesday – Taking Heart in the God of Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Photo Credit: a worship service in Richmond, during recent protests Jared Burwell, Facebook

I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.
I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard [him] and saved him from all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.Psalm 34:1-9
Our city has been rocked with shock and grief in recent weeks. The resulting waves of protests, vandalism, and looting have turned everyone’s attention to the brokenness here and elsewhere.
Some say the church has finally found its voice in this conversation. The church is finally showing up where it should have long ago.
We struggle. All of us. With understanding and a willingness to lean in where there is pain. Whoever caused the pain or was complicit in ignoring pain, we as believers come under the lordship of a God who leans in.
I am still without words (you who read my blogs, thank you. You noticed and I am grateful). Fortunately many more articulate people are writing and speaking about what is going on in our country and how we can respond…as Americans for some, as believers for others.
I want to respond as a believer, and I am listening.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir‘s Psalm 34 really touched my heart this week, and I wanted to share it with you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfW2mkkMTAg&feature=youtu.be
Our church is not very diverse in its congregation, but we have (or maybe want is a better word) a heart for loving all peoples. I am thankful for our leadership for nurturing that. Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, has been multi-cultural for many years…as is its leadership.

The Pastoral Staff of Brooklyn Tabernacle

I think it’s safe to say that right now the church is trying to figure out how to show up for those hurting in our country and around the world. What that will mean in the days ahead…in the years ahead…is yet to be seen. How it turns out will be impacted by how we walk with the God of Psalm 34.

Worship together:

I sought the Lord
And He answered me
And delivered me
From every fear
Those who look on Him
Are radiant
They’ll never be ashamed
They’ll never be ashamed
This poor man cried
And the Lord heard me
And saved me from
My enemies
The Son of God
Surrounds His saints
He will deliver them
He will deliver them
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Oh taste and see
That the Lord is good
Oh blessed is he
Who hides in Him
Oh fear the Lord
Oh all you saints
He’ll give you everything
He’ll give you everything
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever…

Worship Wednesday – Standing Firm, Side by Side, Not Afraid – in God’s Strength and His Salvation

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. – the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church Philippians 1:27-28

God’s Word is powerful and freeing. We are emboldened and sustained by it – for life, for love, for forgiveness, for endurance.

When I read this passage again a few days ago, a charge from these words sizzled through me like electricity. Goosebumps and all.

Another translation of Paul’s writing introduced the above Scripture passage with the phrase “Just one thing”. We are living in confusing and shaky times, but God is unchanged. His truth is as riveting and reliable as when first written for us.

For months now, we have been kept apart by the social distancing of COVID-19. Since last week, we have been brought together by the terrible loss of George Floyd. Brought together and at the same time torn apart. Protests and a pandemic. Racial unrest and a radical disease.

A group of friends and I are going through a Bible study together which has turned out to be incredibly timely. We can’t be together so we meet over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kind of thoughts that spiral downward taking us with them. The text she takes her readers through is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He was in prison and yet wrote this short life-transforming letter to encourage the church experiencing its own hardship.

In confusing and chaotic times, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. We juggle the “what if’s” until they become more than we can manage. We question what’s right, what’s true, what’s our place in all of it…what’s God’s place. We become suspicious of others’ motives, and even sometimes our own. We grow weary of sorting it all out. We can withdraw…making six feet apart way too easy.

Jennie Allen reminds us that we have a choice; we can flip the downward spiral. We can make our aim, in all things,God’s glory and His headship. Keeping our focus on God, we then seek peace, do justice, love even our enemies, and trust God with our lives (whether the threat is COVID and or violence in the streets).

“As theologian and emeritus professor D. A. Carson has observed, People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”Jennie Allen
So how do we avoid that drift Dr. Carson talked about above?
In community. Standing firm, side by side, not afraid – in God’s strength and His salvation – Philippians 1:27-28.
However, even if community is shaky, God never is. We remind ourselves and each other that He is our refuge and we never have to be shaken...no matter the situation.

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

For the choir director; according to Jeduthan. A psalm of David

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken.

How long will you threaten a man?
Will all of you attack
as if he were a leaning wall
or a tottering fence?
They only plan to bring him down
from his high position.
They take pleasure in lying;
they bless with their mouths,
but they curse inwardly. Selah

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge. Selah

Common people are only a vapor;
important people, an illusion.
Together on a scale,
they weigh less than a vapor.
Place no trust in oppression
or false hope in robbery.
If wealth increases,
don’t set your heart on it.

God has spoken once;
I have heard this twice:
Strength belongs to God,
and faithful love belongs to You, Lord.
For You repay each according to his works.Psalm 62

Monday Morning Moment – Protests, Pleading, and Prayers

Photo Credit: John Englart, Flickr

What kind of world do we call home where we can actually watch a man die in minutes, in handcuffs, begging to live? George Floyd died May 25, 2020. We hear of such things in other nations – public murders, executions – but to see them in the US awakens us more to the injustice and the utter wrongness of such situations. No wonder there is so much outrage right now. How we respond to that pain and anger matters…moving us either toward needful unity or worsening division.

How do we respond?

1) Protests – In the US, we have the Constitutional right to right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.  There is a way to protest that gives pause; that rivets our attention; that demands a hearing. A protest that doesn’t destroy its very own cities.

Photo Credit: David Sanabria, Flickr

In Richmond, Virginia, friends on the police force see themselves on the streets, during these protests, there to protect the protesters. So they may be heard.

Whatever turns the protests to violent, destruction raids on businesses and neighborhoods makes the loss of George Floyd and others even more painful.

That’s Not Going to Bring My Brother Back’: George Floyd’s Brother Calls for End to Violence – Janell Ross

Atlanta is where I was born. Hear from this city’s police chief:

2) Pleading – As a mom myself, I’m so thankful for other moms who use what platforms they have to cry out against the evil in this world and call us together for the sake of our children. So many are doing this right now. We have to put our politics aside. People matter more. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms used her office to plead with her fellow Atlantans to “go home”. Don’t miss her impassioned appeal below.

Dear White Moms, Here’s What I Need You To Know – Jehava Brown

Now, I don’t believe Senator Susan Collins is a mom but she is a  fearless advocate for change, standing her ground for what she believes is right. Here she is speaking from the Senate floor on killing of George Floyd:

3) Prayers – The Scripture gives us clear direction in this response to the division in our country right now: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14

We need to take God’s call to prayer seriously. He calls us to come to Him. He will listen. He will act.Photo Credit: Needpix

Songwriters Andy and Rachel Graham, on a visit to our own divided city, wrote this beautiful prayer song in response:

Cry Out – Susan Lafferty

Photo Credit: Facebook, We Are That Family, Brick House in the City

“Oh God, help us to listen. To You. To those in so much pain around us. Help us to listen. Our words take up space that needs to go to others right now. Help us to listen, Lord. Right now, we see in the news the chant “Take the knee” as police and protestors confront each other. Heavenly Father, we would all do well to take the knee, in humility, before a just and loving God. Forgive us our sin toward each other. Forgive our sin toward You. Thank You for the life of George Floyd. Have mercy, Lord. We need You now. We’ve always needed You…in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Monday Morning Moment – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Where Are We Now? – Deb Mills

Today’s reading with our grandchildren…