The Weekend Wanderer: 5 October 2019

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.

guyger-hugging-01-abc-jt-191002_hpMain_4x3_992“Extraordinary act of mercy: Brother of Botham Jean hugs and forgives Amber Guyger after 10-year sentence imposed” – Forgiveness is complicated and powerful. There has been a lot of discussion around Brandt Jean’s response to Amber Guyger, but there is no doubt that it is powerful to see the extension of forgiveness to an offender. We saw something similar to this after the shooting of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Different people respond in different ways. Justice is required because all lives are equally valuable as made in the image of God. We must admit that justice and forgiveness apply in overlapping arenas of the public square and interpersonal relationships. Justice and forgiveness do not exist in an “either/or” dilemma perpetually at odds with one another. We must continue to debate the appropriate and equitable application of justice in these situations. We must also continue to learn more about forgiveness until we see the Author of forgiveness face to face.

 

SheepAmongWolvesII_6.16.1“Iran has world’s ‘fastest-growing church,’ despite no buildings – and it’s mostly led by women: documentary” – A friend passed this article along to me about a new documentary, Sheep Among Wolves, exploring the dramatic growth of Christianity in Iran. This dynamic growth is fueled by discipleship and not by structures. I have had the privilege of talking with movement leaders in this part of the world, as well as with the Iranian diaspora, and it is fascinating to hear about this surging work of God. While I haven’t watched the nearly two-hour documentary yet, I look forward to doing so.

 

Ghostly figure leaving the interior of Sanahin Monastery, Debed Canyon, Armenia“Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?” – One of the biggest discussions amongst religious folks these days is the decline of religion in America, particularly Christianity, and the rise of what is known as the “religious nones.” I am increasingly convinced that this at least partially a result and symptom of (manipulative?) messaging in the public square more than it is about theology and decline in religious desire. Derek Thompson writes: “Religion has lost its halo effect in the past three decades, not because science drove God from the public square, but rather because politics did. In the 21st century, ‘not religious’ has become a specific American identity—one that distinguishes secular, liberal whites from the conservative, evangelical right.” Now, that will make you stop and think for awhile. You will wonder to yourself, “Is that true?” And you will read the news, and you will say, “That may just make sense.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 11.06.51 AM“InterVarsity can require its leaders to be Christian, judge rules” – In a headline that seems obvious, we return again to the contested crossroads of faith and the public square, this time in relation to student groups on university campuses. If fraternities and sororities can choose for their participants to be only men or women (which is already debated), can social or religious groups not also limit their members based on affiliation? Thankfully, a judge in Iowa used some basic common sense here in relation to a lawsuit filed by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship against the University of Iowa. One could ask the searching question, “Why would someone want to be part of the leadership of a group that stands for something they disagree with?” The answer to that may lead us into deeper questions about hidden motivations and some aspects of the entire contemporary social project aimed at eliminating all limits and differences between individuals and groups.

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 11.19.16 AM“The Miracle of Canticle – I don’t remember when I first read Walter Miller’s post-apocalyptic novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, but I do remember not wanting to put it down. What was it that captivated me within this quirky series of three novellas depicting a world ravaged by war and scavenging for lost knowledge and wisdom? Was it the central role some aspect of faith plays in the form of a resourceful monastery at the heart of all three stories? Was it the author’s ability to weave together meaningful conversation about reason, faith, war, and loss in the midst of fascinating science fiction that feels contemporary? It’s still hard for me to put my finger on it, but as the work celebrates sixty years since publication, I don’t mind joining Daniel Kennelly in savoring it again.

 

Music: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” from Ella and Louis.

[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.]

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.

Five Steps for Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8In my previous posts on Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima‘s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, I summarized their key assumptions in the book, the definition of the dark side, how the dark side develops, and five dark-side issues leaders often encounter. In this final post on the book, I turn to the third, and most hopeful, part of the book: “Redeeming Our Dark Side.” If reading my posts up to this point has made you despair of growing beyond your dark side, please make sure to read this part. As the book concludes, McIntosh and Rima suggest five steps to overcoming the dark side of leadership, which I’d like to summarize below.

  1. Acknowledge Your Dark Side (165-171): “Though it may sound simplistic, if we want to overcome our dark side, we need to start by acknowledging its existence and understanding the shape it has taken over the years. For many people who have spent a lifetime in church, this is not quite as easy as it sounds” (168). Christians tend to blame our failures on “the enemy,” minimize issues by saying “I’m forgiven,” or rationalizing our dark tendencies. However, until we name the dark side for what it is we will never grow through and beyond it. Like David confronted by Nathan the prophet, we must say here the hard words, “I am that man,” and then move through authentic repentance to growth.
  2. Examine the Past (172-180): “We are the sum of the experiences in our lives. The most successful and effective leaders recognize this and are able to separate fact from fiction in their childhood memories while understanding the role these memories have played in their personal development” (174). Because our past experiences often shape our deepest drives, an appropriate reflection on our past history with the guidance of the Holy Spirit can help us see motivating factors and historic patterns that shape us positively or negatively. This may lead us into a season of repentance, a need for conversation with someone in our lives, or inviting God into the broken places of our past. Ultimately, “gaining freedom from the power of your dark side involves extending forgiveness in some form” (179).
  3. Resist the Poison of Expectations (181-198): Expectations shapes our lives. Some are helpful and necessary, while others are imposed upon us by ourselves or others in ways that create a legalistic sense of obligation or a debilitating craving to proves ourselves that can be destructive. “If we are to overcome the power of the dark side, it will require resisting the poison of extrabiblical, unrealistic, legalistic expectations in favor of God’s liberating grace. We will need to identify the numerous sources of the expectations that bind us and then soundly reject then. Be warned. It will not be an easy task for those who have lived under their weight for many years” (196).
  4. Practice Progressive Self-knowledge (199-212): “In addition to the previous three steps, gaining any measure of control over our dark side will involve the ongoing process of fathering knowledge about ourselves through the practice of specific disciplines and the use of certain tools” (199). We must engage in spiritual disciplines such as Scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, or journaling to know ourselves in God’s presence. Along with that, other tools, such as personality profiles professional counseling, personal accountability groups, or formal performance evaluations, can help us to know ourselves better so as to avoid ignorance of our dark side.
  5. Understand Your Identity in Christ (213-219): “Ultimately all of the previous four steps will leave us feeling frustrated and empty if we do not understand and accept our true identity in Jesus Christ. We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power that we wield. Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future. Without the grace of God that is found in his son, Jesus, Christ, as Isaiah the prophet declared, our best efforts and most altruistic acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). Everything we might learn about our dark side will be without significant benefit if we fail to find our value in Christ” (213).

What do you think about these five steps to overcoming our dark side?

Is there something that’s missing, or does this cover it?

Which of these are most difficult for you?

Which of these have you benefited from?

Praying as a Forgiver [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

The second part of the words on forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer relates to the way we treat others. Notice that there is no exhortation here to pray that God would help us to forgive others. No, there is merely the recognition that those who are forgiven also appropriately extend forgiveness to others.

Once, when Jesus was in the midst of a meal at a religious leader’s house, a woman of questionable reputation came in to the house. She drew near to Jesus, wept over His feet, wiped them with her hair and then anointed His feet with precious ointment. In the midst of this socially tense situation, Jesus offers forgiveness to the woman and uses it as a teachable moment for the religious leader, named Simon.

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:40-43)

Returning to the situation before Him, Jesus summarizes the teaching in this way: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (7:47). The truth is that before God and through Christ all of us have been forgiven greatly. When we understand the depth of God’s grace toward us, the natural overflow is great love toward God and toward others, including forgiveness of their indebtedness to us.

Has someone wronged you at work this week? Has someone spoken ill of you in your apartment complex or neighborhood? Has a sharp word pierced your soul from a loved one in your own home? Let Jesus’ words speak to us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

As we ask God for forgiveness, our hearts become contrite. When we receive forgiveness from God through Christ, our hearts grow soft with gratitude. This softness of heart should lead us outward with forgiveness toward others as well.

How many times should we forgive others? Let us hear these words of Jesus in response:

If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. (Luke 17:3-4).

Lord, I thank You for Your grace
in forgiving me of my sins.
Help me to extend that forgiveness
toward those who have wronged me.
I choose – by the Holy Spirit’s power in me –
to forgive as You have forgiven me.  

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying for Forgiveness [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“And forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12a)

The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer centers upon our relationship with God and with others. Specifically, it is a request for forgiveness. This request forces us to recognize that often we are not the sort of people we would like to be, others would like us to be, or God would like us to be.

Unfortunately, we are often dishonest in our lives, and this dishonesty can sometimes creep into prayer. Dishonest prayer does not lead us anywhere helpful, but inadequately hides us from God like Adam and Eve sheltering behind fig leaves. Jesus’ teaching on prayer, however, confronts us with the bare reality of who we are and who we are not.

When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he turned from hiding his sin to uncovering it before God. Psalm 51 is the record of that uncovering within prayer, which we call confession.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

This psalm expresses the cry of a heart that knows its debts and calls out for mercy. John the Apostle offers words that respond meaningfully to our confession of our sinfulness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, let us run to Our Father, holy and merciful, uncovering our sinful indebtedness with boldness and humility in prayer.

Search through my soul, O God.
Reveal my hidden sin.
Cut through my self-deception,
and cleanse me from within.
Apart from You our souls are lost.
We’re blind to our wrong ways.
We trick ourselves to walk a path
that leads to our disgrace.
So lead me on the path of life,
and purify my soul.
I kneel before You;
I give myself to You.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenThis past weekend in my message, “Reconciliation,” I quoted from Célestin Musekura‘s book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven which he co-authored with L. Gregory Jones. Here is the quotation I referenced, where Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ:

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.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?