Sunday, September 28, 2014

ccda day three: engaging CCDA in a LGBTQ conversation

I joined eighteen people for a two and a half hour conversation today about the intersection of Jesus's Church and homosexuality.  Guidelines and boundaries were set for the dialogue, and we had a tremendous facilitator who interjected gracefully, but also firmly, if anyone dominated the conversation or said something disrespectful.

As we introduced ourselves, we could see that people were bringing strong emotions and convictions, painful experiences, questions, and fragile relationships into the conversation.  There were people with conservative views and liberal views, others who were gay, some who had family members and good friends who were gay, one whose roommate had come out as gay and then killed herself not long after.   

Two takeaways for me from this experience:

- It was probably the most respectful listening community I had ever been a part of on such a divisive issue.  No matter one's beliefs and convictions, there were a lot of voices really being heard well around that table.  I thought about how these kind of dialogues are needed in our communities over the tough issues.  It's a sad day when social media wins out over people giving the gift and respect of listening well to one another in the company of one another.  Even when there is a lot of internal wrestling and angst going on, we need to turn toward the angst to pray, read, ask questions, learn, and listen.  This diverse community of believers around the table who offered a breadth of experiences and sharing with one another offered a picture of some hope to me.

-The group agreed that the differing views in the Church were not likely going to come under some unified voice in the future.  With that said, we did begin to ask one another, "How can we find common ground?"  "How can we move toward love and reconciliation in the midst of disagreement?"  "How can we hold Jesus as center, love one another, and show genuine care for the LGBTQ community despite other differences in regard to this issue?"  

I left the conversation both very pensive and very grateful for the opportunity to sit with this group of folks.  Often in situations of listening and reflecting in the hard places, God does a great deal of growing in me.  I welcome His Spirit's work in my life.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

ccda day two debrief

We were able to gather our whole group last night for a brief time of sharing about our experience at the conference so far.  Everyone has much to bring to the conversation, and everyone is taking much in from others as we listen well to such a great spectrum of voices here in Raleigh!  

ccda day two: on progress toward reconciliation

Curtiss De Young spoke at last night's plenary session.  De Young spoke about the first century church when the dominant Roman Christians entered the homes of the Jewish Christians.  They joined the faith community and became marginalized.  People lost family and friends.  They left power and privilege at the door.  The ethnic minority, the oppressed folks were the church leaders. The dominant culture gave up status and joined the community.

De Young shared his narrative of growing up "very white in a very white context" and talked about the turning point in his life when he began to attend and later to preach at an all black church in Harlem in the 80's.   He challenged those who were white in the room to learn from people in struggle.  To be trained.  To come under the submission and leadership of someone of color.  To go and stand with those who are not in privilege and power.

"If we are going to do the work of reconciliation, we need to experience mentorship from the marginalized."

Marshall Hatch also spoke last night.  He talked about why race still matters in America.

"At the heart of the Gospel is Christ the King and the interest of poor is central.  And you can't talk about poverty without talking about race in America."

He urged us to live these three principles..

1.  Put the Kingdom of God first.

2.  Repent from racism with fruit that demonstrates repentance.  "Repentance is never a word you say, it's a life to be demonstrated."

3.  We must pair evangelism and activism together.

ccda day two: action tank

I joined a three hour action tank today for the purpose of "developing processes and steps for implementing conversations on race in our local communities and in CCDA".

With eleven of us in the room, we spent time 1. setting up the space for dialogue  2.  describing the questions and tensions that caused us to enter this conversation  3.  considering what's needed to work toward forward movement in our communities.

I appreciated the comment of one gentleman in the room who responded to another participant's suggestion that one of our points of covenant for the conversation should be to create safety for dialogue.  This gentleman suggested that we can't assure safety with such a topic, and he suggested that instead of "safe space", could we have "courageous space"?   I liked this a lot.

We presented the following questions and tension spots that need addressing in the dialogue:

1.  Why do we use the term "race" rather than ethnic identity?

2.  The absence of the need for indigenous voice.

3.  Working with white organizations who are serving people of color.

4.  How do we break down the power dynamic?

5.  How can we challenge those in privilege to accept leadership from those without?

6.  Where is the space for the immigrant voice in this conversation?

7.  How do we present this conversation with two realities...the spiritual and the structural/societal?

8.  How do stand with those in struggle and confront the privilege/power?

9.  The glamorization of relocation and categorizing calling.

10.  People of color relocating/returning back to their communities.

11.  How can we talk about privilege without trying to gain power?

12.  What is the role of racism in our political/economic structure?

13.  How do we bring Micah 6:8 into all perspectives not just as a conversation.

14.  The Church identifying racialized sin.

15.  What are our theological frameworks for this conversation?

Three hours went quickly.  We didn't solve these fifteen tension points, but I did so recognize my continued need to sit at the feet of people whose life experiences are much different than mine, who continue to educate me about the sin of racism, the effects of racialized sin, and the work ahead toward racial equity, reconciliation, access, voice, power for those who have been pushed down and locked out in our society.

ccda day two: on prosperity gospel

Yesterday morning, a tremendous panel addressed the conference's theme "Flourish" in the context of how such a word/idea could be misunderstood as prosperity theology.

Dr. Kate Bowler, author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel gave us a brief look at the origination and nature of the prosperity gospel.

Dr. Luis Carlo, Vince Bantu, and Dr. Terry LeBlanc all weighed in on questions asked by the panel facilitator, Chanequa Walker-Barnes.  I didn't take many notes but am buying the DVD of this session...such an important dialogue to share with some of my friends back home.

A few quotes I did randomly commit to the notebook:

"When the church becomes the church of the empire, we lose our way.  The Church has lost her identity.  we identify with the wrong thing."

"If you want to be prosperous, someone else is going to pay the bill for it."

"We are part of the sin we're preaching against."

"Who are the exiles?  We are.  Who are the oppressors?  We are."

"Not 'we are' because 'I am', but 'I am' because 'we are'."

John Perkins Bible Study #1

John M. Perkins and Wayne "Coach" Gordon shared from the stage yesterday morning about the centrality of God's Word and about being born again into the family of God.

Perkins talked about how we cannot separate faith and works.  He talked about the dichotomy that came about when we preached only to save people's souls and left their bodies behind.  This lean on proclamation without demonstration accommodated racism, injustice, allowed people to live in poverty, addressed the soul of a person and not the "whole" of a person.

On the other end of spectrum, it's good to remember that good works will not save us.  It is not by works of righteousness...

"We got a lot of people doing CCD without redemptive work. You gotta be born again.  You must be born again.  Gotta be born into the family of God.  The families of the earth failed.  They couldn't do it.  Old Testament families failed to father justice, to reflect God's Kingdom, they killed the God of glory.  You're not going to save the world through your good works.  We have a Redeemer.  The just for the unjust."

I had the privilege of running into Dr. Perkins at Starbucks this morning.  We had a brief conversation about where I'm from, and then Dr. Perkins shared a few words with similar flavor to today's Bible Study.  He talked about his speaking schedule, the critical times we're living in, and though he thinks he should slow down his travel itinerary at 84 years old, he finds it too crucial to be out encouraging the multi-ethnic church plants happening and to instill in them a CCDA DNA so that they don't become so one-dimensional (that one dimension being the worship service). He then jumped to the other end and talked about how those churches can't just go be about works righteousness, either.  I asked Dr. Perkins, "Why do you suppose we tend to keep falling into the polarized places?"  His answer, "It's because we try to remove the struggle.  We try to remove the struggle."  

I love this man.  He embodies the Good News of Jesus and is a living, walking testament of his own words, "We are to be the outliving of the inliving Christ."

ccda day one: on jeremiah 29

I was challenged by Leroy Barber's message on Wednesday evening at CCDA's opening large group session.  He spoke on Jeremiah 29: 1-11, and took us away from "the precious moments" usage of Jeremiah 29:11..."For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

He reminded us that there were two stories at the beginning of Jeremiah 29. The first story is one of Babylon.  Babylon had just won, and it was full of itself.  They had just plundered Jerusalem.  This story is the one of prestige, power, empire, arrogance.  The second story is one of Jerusalem.  The people were beaten, tired, worn, and called to walk to Babylon as exiles, a journey of 800 miles. They had lost most everything; they had family and friends who had died and would not make the journey.

One of these stories would fall, one would last.  To which people did the Lord speak His community development plan, his missional call?  It was to the tired, worn, weary people of Israel along their journey to Babylon.

God tells these folks to go into Babylon- their captors, their oppressors- and to build and settle, plant and eat, marry, make a living, and to seek the peace and prosperity of the land, for as it prospers, so would they also prosper.  In the 70 years that God would require the Israelites to live in exile in Babylon, He tells them to commit to the flourishing of the city so that they too might flourish.  He doesn't tell them to commit to the ways of the Babylonians, but instead to commit to singing the song of peace that they represented in Jerusalem.

Barber went on to contrast power and struggle:

"Power is not friendly.  We can't handle power.  Power conceded nothing until it is confronted.  Power wants to operate from strength.  Power will re-group.  Power offers small gestures and trinkets, not system change.  Power masks itself in our churches and Christian ministries.  Power doesn't wake up in the morning and say, 'How do I share myself today?' We can't handle power without accountability and community.  

Power, however, exerted in sacrifice will lift people to life.  Your life as a follower of Jesus in this world is centered in struggle.  You won't get justice and not have it cost you something.  Salvation is free, not justice."  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ccda day one: on reconciliation

Cheryl Miller, executive director of Perpetual Hope Home, Inc., came on stage and shared two pictures at the beginning of the CCDA conference in Raleigh, NC.

The first picture was of her recent trip to the border of Texas-Mexico, where she not only witnessed the many unaccompanied children being detained at the border, but also witnessed bitter polarization on the issue, and the polarization was among believers.

In the midst of the polarization Miller sees happening across our country on so many issues, she shared a picture of reconciliation.  She quoted, "When seeking truth meets speaking love, justice can be ushered in."  Miller leads a restorative justice effort in which she's walked with over 1,600 victims and offenders to bring healing.  Last night, she shared the story of Jonni, the mother of a murdered child, and his killer, Chacto, and their visit together in the prison where Chacto resides.

During their visit, Jonni asked the toughened Mexican Mafia member if he was going to ask her for forgiveness.  Miller, listening, was a bit confused as to why Jonni asked that of Chacto because years before, at the end of the trial, Jonni had faced Chacto and told him that she forgave him for what he did to her son.

Chacto received the question.  As tears rolled down his face, he said he was sorry, and he asked her forgiveness, in which she promptly replied, "I forgive you."  They ended their visit, hands raised to touch through the glass, with tears flowing on both sides.

After their visit, Cheryl asked Jonni why she had asked Chacto if he was going to ask for forgiveness from her.  Jonni responded, "I did it for him, not for me."  Cheryl asked what Jonni was feeling that would compel her to do this.  The response, "I think it was love."

Miller went on to say that the law can't bring justice. But love can.

Forgiveness doesn't negate the wrong, but it restores humanity to the situation.

ccda day one kicks off with lament

Leader Noel Castellanos' opening welcome at the CCDA National Conference in Raleigh was not one of cheerleading, affirmation, and encouragement to stay in the trenches, continue the good fight. It was not a ra-ra start. Nope, he opened on the starting line where all followers of Christ should begin.  Lament.  Grieving the broken world.  Hearts broken by the brokenness that grieves God's heart.  Holy discontent.  Looking (literally at photos) at the pain and agony on the faces of God's beloved children across the country and world.

God heard the cries of humanity, and he came down, in the flesh, to engage the pain.  To dwell among us.  To serve sacrificially, even unto death, in order to redeem and make new.  He heard.  He saw.  He grieved.  He acted.

Lament: the appropriate place to begin.

Monday, September 22, 2014


"We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony..." song lyrics from "Overcome" (Jeremy Camp) taken from Revelation 12:11.

Thank you, Ruby, for sharing your testimony at Picnic in the Park yesterday!  Why is it I can too easily lose expectant faith and quickly develop amnesia regarding the power of Jesus Christ today to miraculously, dramatically, and radically turn lives around?   Your testimony encouraged me, Ruby, as you pointed to the great power of Jesus at work transforming your life as you walk closely with Him in faith.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

my "books of the year"

I'm reading two critical books simultaneously that are so, so good together.  Reconcile by John Paul Lederach, and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.  Do you ever read high impact books that cause you to want to order a whole case and hand them out to friends and family so that you all might engage them together?  That's where I'm at with these.  They are the "current books of the year" for me.  I have much to learn and practice through them.  Admittedly, my deficiencies loom large in these texts.

Reconcile:  Embracing and growing through conflict, learning to turn toward and love, even sacrifice, for those we consider "other"  and "enemy".  Learning how to better wrestle with self, other, and God through conflict in order to move toward peace making.

Crucial Conversations:  Conversations that happen where emotions run strong, stakes are high, and opinions different.  Our defaults when conversations turn crucial are usually one of two responses:  silence (avoid, withdraw from sharing "meaning into the pool ", shut down) or violence (forcing meaning into the pool, attacking, punishing).  This book gives tools and skills to create safety for dialogue so that we can all give and receive in hard-to-go-to conversations.

I'm heading to the Christian Community Development Association's National Conference in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina next week.  One thing I love about CCDA is that it is centered in the reconciliation found in Jesus Christ and invites a great big diverse group of believers and thinkers to worship Him in oneness and dialogue about living out and sharing our faith in this world.  CCDA doesn't shy away from approaching crucial conversations...conversations on race, immigration, homosexuality, privilege and power, to name just a few.  I'm praying for these crucial conversations this week. Maybe I should take cases of these books to distribute at the conference.  Better yet, maybe I should focus on how I can practice some of the skills found in these books.

Product Details

Sunday, September 14, 2014

nobody's perfect, everybody's welcome, anything's possible

I tune-in weekly to Menlo Park Presbyterian's sermons online.  Recently, I watched a message where they shared  their three values:  Nobody's perfect, Everybody's welcome, Anything's possible. I've since googled those three catchy phrases and learned that several churches around the country are using them.

I like those memorable phrases.  In fact, I've been saying them often as I encounter a small group of folks that I tend to want to judge quickly.

Nobody's perfect quickly frames up our common, universal humanity.  It instantly reminds me that we are all broken... every. last. one. of. us. including. me.

Everyone's welcome reminds me that this is indeed the Good News of the Kingdom of God!  Jesus sees us all broken, but He also sees us all-redeemed in Him.  He knows each person as His treasured Creation, and He invites ALL into right relationship with God through Him.  He invites ALL to live in the we were created to do.  Our world does not make everyone welcome.  Jesus does. Will I?

Anything's possible gives me hope, anticipation, and a great sense of adventurous faith as I consider that anything is possible through Jesus Christ.   He changes hearts and lives today.  He blasts through our doubts and unbelief, and he moves in surprising and miraculous ways today.

Repeating these three phrases silently has helped me several times in the past few weeks to move into a Kingdom of God mindset and out of the world's mindset.  See if you don't also find yourself repeating them in upcoming days.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

God goes before us

I was listening to one of our leaders this week share of a visit to Orchard Hill Church made a year ago from a land owner from Maine who leases farmland locally to some of our farmer friends who use the crop profits from the land for ministry efforts within our church's partnerships in Haiti, Mozambique, and the Walnut Neighborhood.  During his visit to the Cedar Valley, this land owner took a tour of the Walnut Neighborhood and exclaimed with surprise that his great-grandfather had been a pastor at a church in this very neighborhood and had prayed regularly for the neighborhood.

I wonder how many people over time, like this great-grandfather, have been called to the neighborhood, obediently playing a part in the larger, unfolding drama of Christ's restoration plan through the course of years.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, God called a group of visionaries to birth the Walnut Neighborhood Association as part of an effort called The Village Initiative.  God also called a group of people to start a Christian Community Development Board at that time in the Walnut Neighborhood and to launch its first program- a transitional home for homeless moms and children called The House of Hope.  I was a young youth director in the neighborhood at the time, and I involved our youth in some of the Village Initiative and House of Hope projects, all without really knowing or clearly understanding much vision of such efforts.

Fast forward twenty years to 2014, and God has filled me with dreams, hope, and passion for Christ's restoring work in lives and in this neighborhood through church-based Christian Community Development.  I would never have planned this call with all of the brainstorming time you could have given me.  I could never have connected any of these dots. I wouldn't have imagined owning a home in the neighborhood.  I wouldn't have imagined this journey into Christian Community Development.  But, I am so grateful for it and for the journey in better "seeing" God, others, and myself.  I'm thankful for whatever part God has for me to play in His plan.  I want to be obedient in that call and recognize that my primary role is to keep scattering Kingdom seed while God Himself, in His timing, will be the grower and harvester.

So many people have come and gone in the Walnut Neighborhood over the past hundred years, but one thing remains constant- God's presence, God's faithfulness.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

white privilege and systemic injustice 101

Until I was in my 40's, the terms "white privilege" and "systemic injustice" were foreign and unknown to me.  They were terms and concepts that I, without effort,  kept from entering my thoughts because in my sub-conscience, they just "belonged to people who were interested in that stuff." Though far from my conscious thought, they were, in fact, very close in my experience; a large part of my operating system. I just didn't know it nor think it relevant...until God let me know otherwise.

As a follower of Christ, in order for His heart to grow within me and for my actions in the world to reflect Jesus, I MUST begin to have an understanding of white privilege and systemic injustice. Why?  Because so much of how I live and what I think about people has been shaped by these forces, and God wants to transform how I live and what I think about people into a Kingdom order rather than a worldly order.

I've heard friends of color tell me that I have a responsibility, as a white person who has begun to consider the nature of both white privilege and systemic injustice, to help others grow in awareness and understanding of the same.  This is tricky and difficult, especially since I am now just considered "one of those people who are interested in that stuff" by so many who are like the earlier me.

I'm curious what has helped others begin to understand white privilege and systemic injustice. What experiences and learnings were most impactful for you? 

A friend sent me a blogpost entitled "What my Bike has Taught me about White Privilege" that was excellent in describing white privilege.  Read it here!

What are some of your learnings and experiences that brought awareness or understanding?  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Willard Wednesdays

My son and daughter were at a national youth conference this summer in Colorado where Alex Harris, author of Do Hard Things, spoke to the crowd of three thousand teens.  The event was streamed live, so I had the chance in Iowa to hear Alex as well.  During his message, he encouraged teens to "make friends with dead people".  Harris suggested that we all need mentors, but so often our living mentors have busy lives and might be difficult to sit down with very regularly.  On the other hand, spiritual giants who have lived and died but have left behind some of their books and writings make excellent mentors for us as we walk with Jesus.

I "amen"-ed loudly as Alex shared.  One such mentor and spiritual director in my life is Dallas Willard. Willard directs me to the heart of Jesus and the Kingdom of God so profoundly.  When I listen to Willard teach on the Kingdom and on spiritual transformation, the Holy Spirit taps into my deepest longings and helps me to better understand what a life lived in the Kingdom of God looks like.  I decided that I'd dedicate Wednesday blog posts to some Willard thoughts, quotes, links the rest of this year.

Below are quotes from an interview between John Ortberg and Dallas Willard at a Catalyst Conference.  You can see the whole 6 minute clip here.

Ortberg:  You've been in the church 70 years.  What has the church not been getting right that you think God is calling this generation of church leaders to get right...what needs to be gotten right?

Willard:  ...their problem is with their message..what is their central message....the inability to make touch with what Jesus himself presented as the central message undermines all of the efforts of the church.  Unless you understand that Jesus invites us through faith in him-that means putting your confidence in Him-to actually live in the Kingdom of God now, there will not be a basis for discipleship and transformation.

Ortberg:, if the Gospel of Jesus isn't primarily 'here's how to make sure you get into Heaven when you die', what is Jesus's Gospel?

Willard:  It's how to get into Heaven before you die.  That why the New Testament routinely treats you as if you have already's because you have made a transition from a life on your own to a life that God Himself is living in His Kingdom.  You get to be a part of that.