Emanuel, Charleston, Forgiveness and the Future

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Last night I had the chance to view Emanuel, a documentary directed by Brian Ivie (The Dropbox), about the shooting on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel A. M. E. Church in Charleston, SC, in which 9 people died. I attended with one of my sons, and we participated in a talk-back after the movie to reflect and process what we had seen.

For me, the movie highlighted three things that are part of my own journey and also things I hope to continue working on:

  1. The power of forgiveness – The documentary focuses largely on the power of forgiveness in the lives of those who lost loved ones through this trauma. On the one hand, there is the power of forgiveness to release the one who inflicted wrong into the hands of God but also the power of forgiveness to release ourselves from bitterness. This is no simplistic journey, but overall I felt the film did a good job of showing how there is spiritual strength that gives us the ability to forgive, but also how everyone processes forgiveness differently and according to different timelines. As followers of Jesus who live in light of God’s forgiveness through the Cross, we know the power of forgiveness. As Célestin Musekura says: “Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.”
  2. The need for racial healing – At various points during the film, attention is given to the racialized history of Charleston and the United States. Charleston served as a hub for the slave trade in colonial America and South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union in what led to the Civil War.By interspersing these hard realities, we are reminded of the need for racial understanding and healing in the midst of the contemporary moment in our nation. From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Oakland to Milwaukee, we cannot ignore that slavery, “America’s original sin,” has left a legacy of racial inequality, pain, and violence that cannot be ignored. We need to take steps forward both in facing into the realities that are here, as well as cultivating both personal and institutional healing of racism.
  3. The importance of stopping racial violence before it starts – While the documentary did not directly address ways to stop racial violence before it starts, it hinted at the reality that a wayward, lonely young man found a narrative of white supremacy that filled the gap of meaning and belonging in his life. This grabbed my attention as I considered afterwards how we might work intentionally on stopping racial violence before it starts. Where are those at the fringes of society who find belonging in sickened narratives of prejudice, injustice, and violence? How do we find them and interrupt their stories with grace, love, and shalom from God? While not easy to address, it is vital that we work as a society, as the church, and as Christians to overcome both the fruits and the roots of racial violence.

For the past six years, I have worked across racial lines with other pastors on developing ways to make a difference in our city through The Milwaukee Declaration and other organizationsEmanuel reminded me that in stepping forward with this work there is great challenge and greater hope, great darkness and greater light.

Just this morning I came across an excerpt from journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes‘ recently released account of the atrocity in Charleston in her book Grace Will Lead Us Home.  There, Hawes relates how after the atrocity, Reverend Kylon Middleton, an African American pastor and husband of one of those killed, was invited to a historically white congregation to preach.

Middleton had grown up in this city, a divided one, and knew well the significance of a black pastor in a white pulpit. He approached with a ready step. When he got there, he beamed. “I never imagined in a million years coming to Second Presbyterian Church!” Sunday, he noted, remained the most segregated day of the week.

But why? They all served the same Christian God, the same one who’d brought them all together here tonight.

“Faith becomes the equalizer!”

In many ways, this was the most important change in race relations to come from the shooting. Friendships and familiarity had been born, especially within the Holy City’s largely segregated churches.

May God give us grace to step forward with such grace before more violence happens and before wounds overflow into riots, that we might meet at the foot of the Cross where healing, humility, understanding, and forgiveness can be found.

 


 

Emanuel is in theaters for a limited time. If you want to see it, there are still showings for Wednesday, June 19.

Six Pastoral Reflections on the California Synagogue Shooting

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This past Saturday, a 19-year-old man opened fire in a synagogue near San Diego, Chabad of Poway, killing one and injuring several others. This past fall, a similar shooting occurred at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, taking even more lives.  Since Saturday’s events, I have been reflecting on how we should think about and respond to this situation as followers of Jesus. Let me offer six basic responses here.

1. Lament – Paul the Apostle encouraged the early Christians to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). One of the greatest gifts we can offer to another person in grief is to sit with them in mourning. This was, in fact, the best gift that Job’s friends offered him in his distress. Let us, too, mourn with those in mourning and, as opportunity arises, share comfort with those in mourning from the overflow of comfort we have received in our own lives (2 Corinthians 1:4).

2. Rebuke hate – As Christians we follow a Savior who brought God’s grace and truth and embodied God’s love to the world (John 1:14; 1 John 3:16). Because of this, we cannot countenance hatred, whether within us or others, whether toward other Christians or those who do not share our beliefs. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and even more mild forms of prejudice have no place within those who name Christ as Lord. Valid disagreement about beliefs do not give us permission to hate, whether passively or actively, those with whom we disagree.

3. Be a peacemaker – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We can be peacemakers because, as the Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). James, that advocate for faith manifesting in good works, exhorted early Christians, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). We have an amazing opportunity in the midst of strife and danger to actively move forward as people marked by Jesus’ peace.

4. Advocate for change – Gun deaths in the United States surpass that of other nations, not just in numbers, but in percentage of our population. While I have many friends who are strong gun-rights activists, I have also talked with others, from gun shop owners to those who have lost loved ones to gun-related deaths, who agree that something needs to change in the legal processes by which guns are purchased and regulated. As Christians, who value the dignity of each human life made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and seek to be peacemakers (James 3:18), we must advocate for better gun legislation.

5. Look to ourselves – Early reports indicate that the young man accused of this shooting was a church attendee at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church just twelve miles away from the synagogue he terrorized. While the pastor of that church has appropriately distanced the congregation from this egregious event, all of us who follow Jesus must enter into a time of self-reflection about ways in which our own faith or congregational life might, even inadvertently, give rise to such hatred. God’s grace is sufficient for us to face into hard truths about ourselves. Peter tells us that judgment begins in God’s household (1 Peter 4:17), so we should humbly pray, “Search me, God, and…see if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).

6. Pray – There is always power in prayer. God has given us the gift of prayer that we might reach out relationally to Him but also so that we might reach out to the world through Him. Every action listed above requires great wisdom, compassion, perseverance, and strength. The best way to move forward with all of these actions is from the foundation of prayer and trusting God with the results. There is not an either/or that must exist between prayer and action. Ideally, prayer and action fit together as two parts of the Christian response to any calamity. Certainly we can agree with the Apostle Paul: “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Ajith Fernando, “Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings”

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I first heard of Ajith Fernando when he was the morning Bible expositor at Urbana ’93, which I attended when I was a college student. Since that time, his writings have continued to be an influence in my life and ministry, whether his books The Supremacy of ChristReclaiming Friendship, or Jesus Driven Ministry.

When the bombings occurred this last Sunday in Sri Lanka, after reeling from the devastation of these events, I wondered to myself, “What does Ajith Fernando, as a native Sri Lankan, have to say about all of this?” Thankfully, it did not take long for Christianity Today to reach out to Fernando, whose important reflections are posted on their website under the title: “Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings.” I would encourage you to read the entire article, but here is a quick summary.

I have thought of at least six necessary responses from Christians to what has happened:

1) Lament Loss
Christians must join the nation in lamenting and mourning over our losses. Protestants have been somewhat lacking in espousing a theology of groaning (Rom. 8:23) that opens the door to lament (though that seems to be changing)….In addition to Easter time, April is New Year in Sri Lanka and most Christians have cancelled their usual festivities because of what has happened.

2) Condemn Evil
The Bible is loaded with condemnation over the wrong that takes place in a nation, and the ministries of the prophets are a good example of this. Where possible and appropriate, we need to strongly condemn—with no reserve—the barbaric acts that have happened. Like the prophets, we may also need to denounce the failure of our national leaders to take appropriate steps to protect the people in response to intelligence reports.

3) Alleviate Suffering
Part of the Christian answer to the problem of evil is action to alleviate suffering, as people made in the image of a God who works. The Bible is loaded with advice to care for those who are wounded and vulnerable. We must look for opportunities to help. Some of these are more formal projects done in an organized manner by groups—Christian or general community efforts….Visiting people in the hospital, donating blood, transporting the needy, providing meals, keeping people in our homes—these should be standard Christian practices which become part of the Christian lifestyle.

4) Leave Vengeance to the Lord
In our hearts we must apply the principle of God’s “holy-love” as we think through the situation. The Bible is clear that our holy God punishes wrong. The reason we are to “never avenge [ourselves]” is because we “leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19)….We must let justice take its course. But even if it doesn’t take place on earth, we know that it will at the final judgment….

5) Don’t Bear False Witness
The Bible is severe in its condemnation of false accusation and harming the innocent. Racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice often comes from lumping large numbers of people alongside a few radical members of the group they belong to….in Sri Lanka, for centuries we have lived harmoniously with Muslims. I often feel that my Muslim neighbors are better neighbors to me than I am to them. If we lump all Muslims under the category of terrorist sympathizers, we do many of them a huge injustice which is abhorrent to God….

6) Pray
While it may seem foolish to spend time praying during a crisis when there is so much to do, this is the most powerful thing God’s people can do in a national crisis (1 Kings 19). We need to mobilize individual and corporate prayer among Christians. Leaders must take the lead in calling for prayer….

October 12 Update on the Release of Pastor Andrew Brunson

LX7EOIGOEQI6RI7GITNKHU263YInternational news reports indicate that a Turkish court ruled today to release Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained for the past two years and has been remanded to house arrest since July due to health concerns. As I have followed this case over the past two years, it is clear Brunson has been used as a pawn in the midst of political tensions between Turkey and the United States. Throughout his detainment, Brunson has denied any validity to the charges that he is connected to organizations working against the Turkish government. You can read the full news report below.

ALIAGA, Turkey (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Friday that the American evangelical Christian pastor at the center of a row between Ankara and Washington could go free, a move that could be the first step toward mending ties between the NATO allies.

The court sentenced Andrew Brunson to three years and 1-1/2 months in prison on terrorism charges, but said he would not serve any further jail time. The pastor, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was put in prison two years ago and has been under house arrest since July.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has imposed sanctions on Turkey in an attempt to secure Brunson’s release, tweeted: “PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!”

Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, the North Carolina native wept as the decision was announced, witnesses said. Before the judge’s ruling he had told the court: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus, I love Turkey.”

After the ruling, Brunson’s lawyer told reporters he pastor was likely to leave Turkey.

The diplomatic stand-off over Brunson, who had been pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, had accelerated a selloff in Turkey’s lira, worsening a financial crisis.

Brunson had been accused of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.

Witnesses told the court in the western town of Aliaga that testimonies against the pastor attributed to them were inaccurate.

After the judge questioned one witness, Brunson said the judge was asking about incidents Brunson had not been involved in. His wife Norine looked on from the visitors’ area.

‘GREAT CHRISTIAN’

Trump has scored points with evangelical Christians, a large part of his political base, by focusing on the Brunson case.

The pastor’s release could boost Trump’s ability to spur such voters to vote in large numbers for Republicans in the Nov. 6 elections, which will determine whether they keep control of Congress.

The heavily conservative constituency voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. He has called Brunson a “great Christian”, and Vice President Mike Pence, the White House’s top emissary to evangelicals, has urged Americans to pray for Brunson.

U.S. broadcaster NBC said on Thursday that Washington had had done a secret deal with Ankara to secure Brunson’s release.

The lira stood at 5.910 to the dollar at 1336 GMT, little changed on the day after firming 3 percent on Thursday on expectations that Brunson would be released.

Relations between the two NATO allies are also under strain from disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the jailing of a Turkish bank executive for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

With Brunson’s release, attention may now turn to the fate of a Turkish-U.S. national and former NASA scientist in jail in Turkey on terrorism charges, as well as local employees of the U.S. consulate who have also been detained.

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 September 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

83478“She Shaped Me: 10 Exemplars of Faith” – “Throughout history, God has used faithful women in powerful ways for the good of the church and the world. They are women of character and virtue, women who struggled and made mistakes, women who took risks and devoted their lives to answering God’s call. Above all, they are women who deeply loved God. Here, ten contemporary women reflect on the examples of ten women from Christian history who have significantly influenced their own faith in Jesus.”

 

fear“Fear Factor”John Wilson reviews Martha Nussbaum’s The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis in his typically insightful fashion.  “The Monarchy of Fear is deeper and more subtle than many current accounts of fear, but at the same time (as the title suggests) it is even more sweeping in its assertion of fear’s role in our common life: ‘It is both chronologically and causally primary, getting its teeth into us very early and then coloring the rest of our lives to a greater or lesser degree.'”

 

_103598823_man2“Ethiopia’s Meskel festival: Bonfires, robes and crosses” – Ethiopians are celebrating the annual Meskel festival, the first big festival of the Ethiopian religious year. According to Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition, the national holiday marks the finding of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. Thousands celebrated the eve of the festival, known as Demera, by gathering in Meskel Square in the heart of the capital city, Addis Ababa.

 

larry norman“The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock” – Kelefa Sanneh reviews and interacts with religious historian Randall J. Stephens’ exploration of the relationship between Christianity and rock and roll in The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll. Walking through the history of American Christianity’s relationship with culture, Sanneh touches upon Martin Luther King, Jr., Larry Norman, contemporary worship music, and Imagine Dragons, just to name a few. And if that last piques your interest, well, you may just want to read the article over at The New Yorker.

 

83607“Azusa Pacific Okays Gay Romance (But Not Sex and Marriage)” – Azusa Pacific University (APU) made changes to their human sexuality policy that attempts to be more general and not shine the spotlight in a discriminatory manner on same-sex attraction or those with gender dysphoria. However, it seems the impulse creates a tension within the statement in relation to what is allowed and what is ideal that is not necessary. This further highlights the challenge to a united stance within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) on such issues. “APU dropped the section on ‘Same-Sex Relationships’ from its Student Standards of Conduct. It earlier read: ‘9.0 Same-Sex Relationships: Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship.’ In addition, it made several revisions to its sexuality statement.” You can read further reporting on this, including various opinions on its significance, and the original statement at Christianity Today.

 

painIn light of the challenges to the church and failures of leadership, Alan Jacobs’ brief reflections on the difference between inconsistency and hypocrisy are invaluable. “We’re all inconsistent (in my case quite often): we hold certain values but don’t live up to them all the time; we want always to act in certain ways but manage to act in those ways only occasionally. That’s the universal human experience. Hypocrisy is something different. Hypocrisy is deceptive: the hypocrite pretends to certain virtues that he doesn’t hold and doesn’t even really want to hold.”

 

autotune-header-edit2“How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music” – Over at Pitchfork, Simon Reynolds takes us his readers into “An in-depth history of the most important pop innovation of the last 20 years, from Cher’s “Believe” to Kanye West to Migos.” I have occasionally enjoyed the bizarre uses of auto-tune, such as Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak or Bon Iver’s recent work with it, but usually you will find me bemoaning the ways that auto-tune has ruined music forever. From what I read, Reynolds and I could probably commiserate about this together.

 

atlanta“Busiest Airport’s in the World” – “It’s not just you: Airports really are getting busier.
Close to 104 million passengers passed though Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2017, making it the world’s busiest passenger airport for another year.
That’s according to 2017 travel data released Thursday by Airports Council International.
Globally, there were significant increases in passenger numbers, air cargo traffic and total aircraft movements.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Making a Daniel: Alan Jacobs on counter-cultural catechesis

daniel-in-the-lions-den-briton-riviere.jpgIn light of my recent exploration of the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church (see “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith), Alan Jacobs’ blog post earlier this week seemed well-timed for me. Jacobs interacts with Adrian Vermeule’s review of Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, in which Vermeule offers an alternative to Deneen’s plea for a renewed localism, and to the related counsel of Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option. He writes:

So a key question arises: If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.

What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable to carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.

I appreciate Jacobs’ suggestion of a counter-catechesis but empathisize with his questions of “who will do that?” and “how will they do it?” As I suggested in my first message in our series from Daniel, “Faith in Exile,” we must give attention to the role enculturation and socialization in our faith and discipleship. The counter-catechesis that he suggests is something that goes so much deeper than most of us realize. The book of Daniel seems to be a perfect primer on this, combining both the narratives of exile faith (chs. 1-6) and the visions of an apocalyptic imagination (chs. 7-12) as two halves of the necessary aspects of living as a people transformed at the deeper level of social imaginaries for more meaningful engagement with the culture around. This helps us to develop a different grammar flowing from a different imagination.

Somehow, we must live in the tension of our double identity as “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20) who also “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

82813“Do Church Plants Drive Neighborhood Change?: Why gentrification seems to correlate with the opening of new urban congregations” – Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast recently featured a conversation between José Humphreys, associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and associate theology editor Caleb Lindgren. Topics include “the catalysts behind church plants entering under-resourced neighborhoods, what separates church plants from the storefront churches, and if people should move into the neighborhoods in which they worship.”

 

merlin_141183912_74bede79-04fa-4d49-9a84-12478039e11d-superJumbo“The Quiet Death of Racial Progress” – Social commentator David Brooks reevaluates the idea that we are making racial progress in America. He writes: “The deeper I dug into the evidence, the more I came to doubt the idea that we are still making progress on race. For every positive statistic indicating racial reconciliation, there was one indicating stagnation or even decay….We’ve fallen into a bogus logjam in which progressives emphasize systems of oppression and conservatives emphasize cultural norms. Both critiques are correct. If we’re going to do something about this appalling retrogression on race, we probably need to be radical on both ends.”

 

Oswald ChambersA friend from church shared this article by Patricia Raybon on racial tensions entitled “The Dead White Man Who Could Fix Our Race Problem: Oswald Chambers.” Drawing from Oswald Chambers’ life and ministry, Raybon highlights four key insights from Chambers that are relevant today for race relations in the church and our culture.

 

flag“State of the Nation”John Wilson, in his column at First Things, addresses the current challenges in our divided nation, particularly the immigration debate. “This reluctance to offer shelter, very much at odds with America’s self-image, has not been characteristic of our entire history, but it hasn’t been limited to a handful of episodes either. We should be honest about that. To do so doesn’t require us to agree with those who are saying that the US today is a ‘hellish dystopia.'”

 

US-Mexico-border-fence-at-beach-in-Tijuana-e1530628968728Taking this a little further, Alan Cross pointedly addresses the realities of the current immigration debate and Christian faith in “Migration, Security, and the Witness of the Church.”  He writes: “People all over the world are engaged in spiritual conversations about the value of human life, what it means to live in community, and who they really are. The church must speak into that biblically, not first as citizens of their nation-state, but as the people of God.” Cross offers specific attention to the recent Southern Baptist resolution on immigration as one way forward on this contentious issue.

 

Attendees of the Qingdao International Beer Festival taking a selfie with a smartphone, Shandong province, China, August 2015“In the Depths of the Digital Age” by Edward Mendelson is a review of six books on technology and the digital age from a couple of years ago with invaluable insight. By engaging with the thoughts of the authors, Mendelson offers a series of profound questions and reflections on the realities of contemporary life, touching upon topics including surveillance, the pace of life, solitude, reading, polarization, anxiety, and changing social mores. Technology is one of the most important areas of discipleship in our current era, so we do well to understand the variety of issues at stake. [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.]

 

2018_3-summer_auden_02Since Edward Mendelson is the literary executor of W. H. Auden, this seems like as good a time as any to share Danny Heitman‘s essay, “The Messy Genius of W. H. Auden: A disheveled poet crafted verse of exquisite order.” Auden is one of those writers who has intrigued me since my days as an undergrad and for whom my admiration has grown as I have read his work more widely, including his expansive collection of essays, forewords and afterwords. Heitman writes: “Auden’s personal contradictions make him a difficult man to fathom. His poems, like the poet himself, can defy easy understanding, too.” That could be said of many writers, but Heitman’s exploration of Auden’s messiness is delightful.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]