Judgmental — A Fair Critique?

One of the most common complaints about Christians is that we are judgmental in the way talk about and treat others.  In fact, in a recent study, the Barna Group found that 87% of people between the ages of 16 and 29 find Christians to be judgmental.  That was the the top characteristic on the list, just ahead of hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

What should we do about these perceptions?  Is there anything we can do?  Are we doomed to being poorly perceived or can we take steps today to improve the way people see us?

 

Mixed Messages

Part of the problem is we are sending mixed messages.  We say that everyone is welcome but when certain kinds of “everyone” come we treat them differently.  We preach that God loves everyone and then we treat people as if he doesn’t.  We believe in grace but act in judgment.

Recently my wife and I went hiking.  On the drive up to the trail head we drove by a strange drive way.  It caused us to do a double take, to reverse the car so we could look again, and then to take the picture you see below.

judgmental

Conflicting Messages

Let’s unpack this photo a bit.  There’s a beautiful arrangement of flowers just to the right of the driveway.  The flowers seem to communicate something like “Welcome!  We’re glad you’re here!”  But the sign on the post screams the exact opposite message: “KEEP OUT! YOU’RE NOT WELCOME!”

Friends, this is a perfect metaphor for what we are saying to the watching world today.  Some of our words, music, programs, etc. say to people who don’t follow Jesus yet that they are safe to explore and to learn and ultimately to meet Jesus and find meaningful community.  But some of our words, postures, attitudes, etc. say to people that people like them aren’t welcome here among the people who supposedly have it all together.

 

Judgmental: A Few Examples

You may be thinking, “No way!  I’m never like this!”  And you may be right.  But my experience and my own failures tell me that it’s likely that we’re all unintentionally being a bit more judgmental than we think.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Believing and Behaving before Belonging: This example is very pervasive; you’ll see it everywhere if you open your eyes.  We constantly communicate to people who don’t know Jesus yet that they need to think correctly about some things and to clean up their acts before they can be part of our community.  Stop and think about that.  What we’re unintentionally saying is that we believe everything correctly and that we behave perfectly.  And let’s be honest, we know this isn’t true; we aren’t perfect!  But by communicating in this manner we are telling people that they have to earn their place among us and by extension with God too.  Oops.
  2. Holding Non-Christian Organizations to Christian Standards:  This is another one that’s uber-common.  Here’s the best example I can think of: We get all up in arms when Hollywood produces a movie with bad language, violence, and nudity.  Should we keep track of the things that we consume as followers of Jesus?  Absolutely!  But why would Hollywood cater toward this desire of ours?  They simply want to make money; in fact, that’s their job.  And since most Hollywood production companies are not Christian organizations, why should we expect them to live up to our standards?
  3. Holding Non-Christians to Christians Standards:  We do the same thing with people too.  When we learn that one of our friends or family members who doesn’t follow Jesus has done something that the Bible calls sin, we act all surprised and we may even try to shame them!  Think about that for a second.  Why would someone who hasn’t agreed to a covenant with God be held to the covenant standards of a follower of Jesus?  That doesn’t make sense at all!  And yet we do this all the time…just ask someone you know who doesn’t follow Jesus yet.
  4. Not Controlling our Non-Verbal Communication: This one is a bit more subtle to notice on our side, but it’s obvious to the person observing us.  Imagine this scenario: You’re talking with a friend and she tells you that she’s living with her boyfriend.  You make a slight face.  She then says she’s pregnant.  Your face gets a bit more obvious.  Now she tells you she’s considering an abortion.  Your face shows shock and outrage!  Don’t get me wrong, it would be best for this imaginary friend to wait to have sex until she’s married and abortion isn’t part of God’s design when it comes to human reproduction.  But by being shocked while having the conversation, all we are communicating is judgment.  This same scenario can be played out in a thousand other situations: drug-use, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, political choices, etc., etc.
  5. Speaking Christian-ese:  Here’s my definition of Christian-ese — the insider language that Christians speak among themselves, often incorporating biblical and theological terms (such as “repentance” and “sanctification”).  If there’s any chance at all that a new believer or someone who doesn’t follow Jesus yet may be hearing our language, we should leave these words out.  Why?  Because including them creates an “us” and “them” barrier.  And there’s little worse in life than feeling excluded!  Just remember back to being picked last in a game on the playground!

 

What Can We Do?

  1. Stop Being Judgmental:  This one is obvious but it needs to be stated plainly.  Here’s the biblical support if you need it: 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?…God judges those outside.”  There it is in plain language — It’s God’s job to judge those who don’t follow Jesus yet, not ours.  Let’s stop trying to do God’s job!
  2. Create Belonging before Requiring Believing and Behaving:  What did Jesus say, “Follow me!” or “Think right and act right, then follow me!”  He said the former but we tend to say the latter.  How do we expect folks to learn what to think and how to act?  Here’s the truth: the best way for people to believe rightly and behave in godly ways is to be in community with people who are learning to do the same!  None of us will ever believe everything just so and none of us will ever behave perfectly.  So we MUST stop requiring “full” belief and “correct” behavior before we are willing to be in community people seeking to meet Jesus.
  3. Start Being More “Shock-Proof”:  If our postures and attitudes toward others whenever they reveal their lives to us sours them on the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, then we have to do something different!  Here’s step number one: we need to work at being “shock-proof.”  When we find out something about someone’s life that doesn’t line up with what we think is good or right, we must do our level best not to react negatively!  This is difficult and will probably always be so.  But the first step is awareness.
  4. Be More Hospitable in Our Language: When we meet and talk to folks who don’t know Jesus yet, we need to begin to use normal, human language.  We can’t use language that creates an “us vs. them” situation!  Instead let’s start doing the hard work of translating our Christian-ese into the vernacular so that people can meet Jesus in language that they can understand!

 

What do you think?  What can we do to be a bit less judgmental?

 

Mission: Make Disciples

For the last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of processing.  Specifically I’ve been thinking about mission.  What’s my personal mission?  What’s my family’s mission?  What’s my small community’s mission?  What’s my Sunday School’s mission?  What’s my church’s mission?

What’s the mission of a follower of Jesus?

And, to be honest, for a follower of Jesus the answer to all of these questions is relatively straightforward: to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20).  The rub, of course, comes with how one defines these things.  What is a disciple?  How is one made?  And what does it mean that our mission as a follower of Jesus is to make disciples?

What would this look like?  How would we get from the places where we find ourselves to the places we think we should be?

Honestly, however, there are a ton of people who have written or spoken about this.  Most, if not all of them, will do a better job than me.  And most, if not all of them, will probably have more experience.

However, I still think there’s some wisdom to be found in simply following the ways of Jesus as we see them in the Scriptures, whether lived out in Jesus’ own life or in the lives of his earliest followers.

 

Mission: What Are We Aiming For?

Zielscheibe target aim

As I was doing some of this self evaluation, I ran into some common denominators.  Here they are:

  1. Comfort — At a really core level I want to aim for things that won’t rock my various boats too much.  I want stability and safety.  And other things I’m involved in appear to be bent toward this end as well.  I mean, really, who wants to intentionally do something that might be uncomfortable?  That’d be crazy, right?
  2. Autonomy – And not only do I want to be all cozy, but I want to have choice in how I make myself cozy.  And if I don’t have choice, I want to at least feel like I have choice!  I want to be the master of my own destiny.  And as I look at the things I’m involved in, the organizations and the people within them all want autonomy too.
  3. Accumulation – Lastly, I will tend to accumulate stuff that I choose to make me comfortable.  I have this gadget and that gadget and the other one too.  Each one supposedly makes my life better, but the gadgets are building up.  And this desire toward hoarding stuff shows up in the programs, buildings, etc., etc. that our churches accumulate.

These are the things that we tend to aim for.  And doing so seems to place us right in line with typical American/Western behavior.  But are these things the things we should be aiming for?  Or are we way off?

 

Mission: Perception vs. Reality?

But before we answer the question of what our mission should be, we have to honestly take stock of what our mission appears to be.  How would we figure this out?

  1. Time — How do I spend my time?  What takes precedence?  It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to make cool things that will attract people to me or to the communities I’m part of.  If I build it, they’ll come…right?
  2. Money — On what sorts of things do I spend my money?  Where do the material resources I have go?  All too often my money is spent on maintaining my comfort and on stuff that does so.  And all too often the money in our Christian communities goes toward the big gathering on Sunday, programs, salaries, and buildings.
  3. Dreams — What do I dream about?  What kind of vision is cast?  It seems to me that in my life I dream about my immediate future and the happiness and peace that can be had there.  And in communities our dreams tend to be about the glory days that we’re so sure are right in front of us if we just tweak this one thing, have an expert speak into this one area, or focus on a particular market audience.

 

Mission: Jesus’ Way

It’s not my way or the highway…it’s His way is the HIGH way!  And what is Jesus’ way?

  1. The Kingdom of God — Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15).  He did this preaching through the use of his words and by embodying it for the sake of others.  And what is the kingdom of God?  Much ink has been spilled trying to define this phrase.  But I think we’ve overly complicated things a bit.  The kingdom of God is what happens when God is in charge.  So, when God’s in charge people repent from their sins and follow Jesus.  When God’s in charge people begin to live like Jesus did, centering their lives on the kingdom of God too.  When God’s in charge his clear desire to reach out to the most in need will be lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers.  When God is in charge Christians won’t look, sound, and behave just like their neighbors; they’ll be different.  It will be obvious; it won’t be subtle.
  2. Loving God and Loving Others — Jesus was asked once what it’s all about and he said loving God and loving others (Mark 12.28-31).  So love God by praising him, praying to him, learning about him, spending time with him, obeying him, etc., etc.  No brainer.  And we love others by putting their interests above our own (Philippians 2.3-4).  Hard as all get out; but a no brainer too.  Jesus’ way is all about love!
  3. Being Agents of Reconciliation — Lastly, Jesus’ way is to turn us all into his ambassadors of divine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18-21).  Jesus didn’t take on our sin so that we can be saved but live like we’re not!  He did this for us so that we would be set free to live the lives he made us to live — lives of reconciliation.  This reconciliation, which is just a fancy word for the mending broken relationships, is dual-directional: up toward God and out toward other people.  In other words, it’s our job, all of our jobs!, to help people have their relationships to God mended and to help folks mend their relationships with one another.

 

Mission: Make Disciples

So the summary of what it means to live out the fact that Jesus is Lord can be stated like this: make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.

  1. But what’s a disciple?  A disciple in the first-century world was a student of a teacher, especially a traveling teacher.  Carried over into our context a disciple is a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus.  A disciple is centered on the kingdom of God.  A disciple loves God and loves others.  And a disciple is an agent or reconciliation.
  2. How is a disciple made?  Well, in the first century a disciple was made by literally walking behind the teacher, imitating what he does, learning from what he says, and emulating his attitude.  Today this process is a bit different since the risen Jesus, though alive and real to us through the inner working of the Spirit, is not tangibly present.  So we have to learn what he does and says in Scripture and imitate it.  And we have to watch as trusted disciples exemplify the ways of Jesus for us and then do what they do.  And we have to help others meet and follow Jesus in the Scriptures and in our lives.  Making disciples can’t easily be accomplished through programs or preaching.  It has to be life on life, apprentice-style.  Think about how a blacksmith trains an apprentice.  He teaches him what to do with his words and actions.  That’s what we need to do.  Person to person, all throughout the body of Christ, teaching one another how to follow Jesus.

 

And that’s it.  Our mission is to make disciples.  As we examine our behaviors and see that our mission appears to be something else, then we must change it to THE mission!  There are no other choices.  There is no getting around this.  This isn’t just for the super-Christians or the paid church staff.

Making disciples is the call on the life of each and every follower of Jesus.  That includes me.  And that includes you.

 

What do you think about the mission of your life as a follower of Jesus?  As a community?  As a church?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Mistakes, Humility, and Learning

Mistakes are part of what it means to be on mission with Jesus.

How do I know this?  Read the Gospels and look at the dozens and dozens of mistakes that the disciples make as they try to follow Jesus.  Mess up, after mess up, after mess up.  Confusion on top of confusion.  Mistakes galore.

How else do I know this?  Because I have experienced this more often in the last few months of my life than I would like to admit.  And these last few months have been filled with my wife, my community, and I making attempts to be on mission with Jesus.

 

Mistakes

Why is this the case?  Why do we seem to make a bunch of mistakes when we try to be on mission with Jesus?  I think there are two primary reasons:

  1. Following Jesus Is Risky — To be on mission with Jesus means that we put our safety and comfort aside for what really matters.  And what’s that; what really matters?  God’s will, that’s what.  And what is God’s will?  Friends, this is not trick question and it’s not that complicated.  Really.  From the beginning to the end of the Bible we see it.  Namely, God’s will is to be involved with reconciling all things to God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5.19).  In God’s economy there nothing of more worth than this!  This goal is worth risking everything.  And as we risk stuff, we will make mistakes.  Maybe we’ll risk the wrong thing.  Maybe we’ll focus our attention in the wrong place.  Maybe we’ll hurt lots of feelings by focusing on one thing and not on another.  The point is this: being on mission is risky and with risk comes mistakes.
  2. Following Jesus is Messy — If being on mission with Jesus means being involved in the reconciliation of all things to God in Christ, then this is going to be messy.  Why is that?  Simple: fixing broken relationships is hard.  Just think about the last time you hurt someone and needed to make things right with them.  How’d that go?  Was it easy?  Was it nice and tidy?  Probably not.  I’m sure it was a mess.  And in the midst of that mess we’re going to make a ton of mistakes.  We just will.  We’ll try our best and we’ll still mess up.  We’ll have the best intentions and yet we’ll still hurt people that matter to us.  We’ll be actively engaged in reconciliation and we’ll actually damage the person or people we’re trying to reconnect with.  And our mistakes will be in our behavior, our words, and our postures.  Reconciliation = mistakes.  That’s a universal law right there with gravity.

Humility

So there are a few responses to making mistakes:

  1. Pretending – We can act like we’re perfect and that we never, ever make mistakes.  Some of us are so used to doing this that we don’t even recognize it anymore.  It’s just part of our lives.  We lie.  Let’s just call it what it is.
  2. Shutting Down — We make mistakes.  We try again.  Then we make more mistakes.  Then we try.  Mistakes.  Try.  Mistakes.  Etc.  So, eventually we just quit trying.  We shut down.  We quit.
  3. Getting Defensive — So we make some mistakes and some of us defend ourselves.  Maybe we’ll make some excuses.  Maybe we’ll tell the person or people we have hurt all the reasons that they are wrong about how they feel and that the mistake we made is actually not really a mistake at all.  If this sounds familiar to you, then you’re a lot like me.  Yay for you!
  4. Becoming Humble — This is the goal that we should all be shooting for.  When we make mistakes we ought to humbly accept our responsibility and begin to make amends.  We shouldn’t lie.  We shouldn’t quit.  And we shouldn’t get defensive.  Instead, we should be humble and seek to continue the reconciliation process.

 

Learning

And the great news, of course, is that if we’re humble we can begin to learn how to make less mistakes.  Now don’t get me wrong; we’re always going to make mistakes.  We aren’t perfect.  But we can begin to learn how not to make the same mistakes over and over again.

In so doing we’ll hurt the people we love and are trying to be reconciled with a bit less.  We’ll build trust.  We’ll demonstrate our love.  We’ll embody the good news of Jesus.  And we’ll begin to engage more fully in doing God’s will of reconciling all things to himself in Christ.

Some of this learning will be natural, trial-and-error type of learning.  Some of it will be gained through studying.  And much of it will be through listening to people vastly different from us so that we can learn from various perspectives.

 

Mistakes aren’t going away.  So we better figure out what to do when we make them!

 

Friends, how do you deal with making mistakes?  What role do humility and learning play in that process?

Missional Solidarity

During the discussions about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, many words and phrases have been thrown around, and not always with care.  Some of these words are pregnant with historical importance and some of them are technical words from academic studies of race and power.  Some of them sound familiar but have been said so often that their meanings have slipped into the ether.  And almost all of these words have engendered confusion and frustration in some readers and hearers.

Here are a few examples: white privilege, oppression, systemic racism, white supremacy, radical reconciliation, Jim Crow, apartheid, cultural racism, prejudice, and solidarity.

Even though each of these words demands attention, I want to focus on the last one — solidarity.

Solidarity

Every Life Matters

 

Solidarity: What Is It?

A common solution that is given for the tension in the aftermath of something like what happened in Ferguson is that various groups should stand in solidarity with one another.  What does this mean?

The dictionary definition of the word goes like this:

Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support from within a group.
~Oxford Dictionaries

This term is used in many different settings and academic disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy, religion (especially Catholic theology), race and ethnicity studies, the study of labor movements, etc.  As such, it can have many different shades of meaning.  Unsurprisingly, the usage of the word “solidarity” ramped up during the 1920s during some significant labor movements in the English-speaking world and then again from the 1950s to the 1970s during some of the most divisive decades with regard to race in the United States and in Europe.

There are two aspects of solidarity that I want to explore here: 1) what it means within Catholic theology; and 2) how the phrase “solidarity” applies to Ferguson and racial reconciliation in general.

 

Solidarity in Catholic Thought

The study of Catholic Social Teaching is rich and complex.  Whatever I say here is a simplification and I am aware of that.  However, some of the basic concepts, such as solidarity, are fairly straight forward and will hopefully prove to be helpful.

Here is one example of how solidarity is thought about in a Catholic context:

Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights, and the common path of individuals and people toward an ever more committed unity…
~Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2005), No. 192

There is so much in that quote that is worth unpacking.

  1. Each person has intrinsic value.
  2. Each person should be afforded equal dignity and rights.
  3. Individuals and people groups should be allowed to walk the path toward unity.
  4. And solidarity is one of the ways in which these things come about.

Pope John Paul II wrote often about solidarity.  Here’s a poignant section from one of his writings:

It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world in its economic, cultural, political, and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category.  When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a “virtue,” is solidarity.  This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far.  On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all.
~Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, No. 38

Again, there is a ton worth noting.

  1. Solidarity is all about interdependence.
  2. Solidarity is a virtue.
  3. It is not feeling sorry for someone or for a group of people.
  4. And it’s not the feeling of pain or distress at the misfortunes of others.
  5. Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.”
  6. We’re all responsible for each other.

In other words, Cain’s timeless question (“Am I my brother’s keeper? [Genesis 4.9]) has a definitive answer — YES!  And if you aren’t convinced by Pope John Paul II’s words, that’s okay.  His words are based on the teachings of Jesus (read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10) and Paul (who explicitly says that the Spirit works among us for the “common good” in 1 Corinthians 12.7).

But importantly, feeling sorry for someone or getting sad or angry at the pain of someone else is not necessarily solidarity.  Perhaps these things are the early stages of compassion or empathy but they certainly don’t demonstrate “persevering determination”!

 

Solidarity and Ferguson

With all of these definitions and what not in mind, what’s an appropriate response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the vast underlying issues of race and ethnicity that it brought to the fore?

Let’s start by thinking about what some inappropriate responses might be:

  1. “…………………”  We all know that silence in situations like this is wrong.  We all know that inaction is wrong.  How do we know this?  Because we all will begin making excuses as to why we’ve been silent or why we haven’t acted.  We’ll say that we don’t know the facts yet.  We’ll say that we don’t know what to do.  We’ll say that the problem is too big to deal with.  Blah, blah, blah.  Each of these excuses indicates that we know what we ought to be doing.
  2. “Get over it” or “Leave the past in the past.”  How is this attitude demonstrating a desire for the common good that the Apostle Paul talked about?  How is this demonstrating our intrinsic human interdependence?  How is this sentiment demonstrating the Christ-like attitudes of humility and concern for others (Philippians 2.1-11)?  The answer to all three questions is the same: it’s not.
  3. “That sucks for them; now where’s the next cat video?”  This response (though the last part is clearly tongue-in-cheek) is pretty common.  We see something horrible, such as the killing of Michael Brown, and we feel sad.  But we don’t want to feel sad so we try to move on quickly.  This is the “vague compassion” that John Paul II was talking about.  It doesn’t do anyone any good.
  4. “THIS %&^&$ MAKES ME ANGRY!”  Should the killing of an unarmed teenager evoke emotions?  Absolutely.  But if those emotions don’t result in action, they are pointless.  I said that very directly and I know that can sound crass and uncaring.  But it’s true.  Anger about injustice is simply not enough.

So instead, what can we do?

  1. Listen and learn.  If you’re white, talk to your friends of color.  Ask them how the situation in Ferguson makes them feel.  Ask them about what it is like being a person of color in your culture (especially if you are in a culture in which white people have tended to be in places of power).  Read books and blogs about the issue, especially those that might challenge your usual point of view.  Look again at the history of racism in the West, whether by reading some books or watching some documentaries (I highly recommend the BBC’s three-part series, History of Racism).
  2. Feel.  It’s perfectly okay to feel compassion and anger in moments like these.  In fact, these emotions can help inspire us toward action.  But don’t get stuck here…and it is easy to do so!
  3. Stand in solidarity.  With persevering determination, be committed to the common good.  Move beyond just thinking and acting on behalf of yourself, your family, and people like you.  Begin to think and act on behalf of all people, especially those different than you.  There are a thousand ways to do this, many of which are already in motion.  Do some research, find an organization you trust and love, and connect yourself with them by giving of your time, energy, and money.
  4. Walk with community.  Don’t do any of this alone.  Don’t listen and learn alone.  Don’t feel alone.  And don’t stand in solidarity alone.  Lean on each other.  Bring people different from you within your community.  Learn, grow, and act in support of the common good together.

Lastly, this issue of standing in solidarity is central to what it means to follow Jesus.  If we want to be on mission with Jesus, meaning participating in the reconciliation of all things to God in Christ through fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, then we must stand in solidarity with those who are suffering.  Being missional without adopting the virtue of solidarity is a farce.

Why?

Because every life matters.

 

How do you and your community stand in solidarity with those who are hurting?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Previous post: Michael Brown, Ferguson, and the Police

Michael Brown, Ferguson, and the Police

Michael Brown and Ferguson: Perception and the Police

When I was a child I was taught to respect the police. I often went on field trips in school to visit law enforcement stations. I always had positive interactions with the police in those settings, in my communities at large, and in general. My perception of the police as a young white man was that they were there to do their stated mission: to protect and to serve.

However, I’m becoming aware that this is not the prevailing perception of the police with everyone, especially among people of color. For various reasons that are difficult to encapsulate in any quick way, people of color, especially black Americans, often view the police as a threat and with suspicion. Some view the police as out to get them by actively profiling them. And both anecdotal stories from my black friends as well as research about the rates of arrest validate some of these concerns.

It’s in this context, the context of the perception of the police, that the story in Ferguson, Missouri of the fatal shooting of an unarmed young man named Michael Brown takes place. In other words, this story is not happening in a vacuum. This story is not happening outside the context of race and ethnicity. This story is not happening outside the realities of American history. And this story is not happening outside the decades and decades of racial tension in American cities like Ferguson.

The Church’s Response

The question that I want to wrestle with a little bit is this: what is the church’s response to situations like the one in Ferguson? What should we do?

First, we should not be silent. Churches all over America will probably not mention this story this weekend at all. Many of these silent churches will be primarily white (though it should be noted that historically black churches are sometimes silent on social issues also).

There is another piece of evidence, albeit anecdotal: my social media feeds. Despite the fact that I have numerous Christian friends online, almost none of them who are white have mentioned the story in Ferguson at all. This may be due to fear, or confusion, or whatever else. On the flip side many of my black friends, my Asian friends, and my Latino friends have been mentioning this story often. I’m sure it’s not just my social media feed that looks this way.

And, in my humble opinion, this is a disgrace. White Christians should also be involved in issues of race and ethnicity. We should stand on the side of justice. This should not be something that we ignore because it’s difficult or complicated. We should not shy away from these sorts of topics because we are scared that our white brothers and sisters may not understand where we’re coming from. And we can’t let our fears of being called “liberal” or something of that sort prevent is from standing up for what’s right.

And if the media reports are correct that Michael Brown was unarmed and that he had his hands raised whenever he was gunned down, then what happened was not right. This is true regardless of his past, his affiliations, or any other things about him. He was unarmed and his hands were raised according to reports. If those things are true then the way he died is unjust. And we Christians, all of us Christians, need to stand on the side of what’s right and just.

And second, we need to be reminded that the Jesus of the Gospels stood on the side of those who were marginalized. Specifically Jesus often went out of his way to include people who were different than him, especially the Samaritans. And we see this continuing in the book of Acts as the good news expanded outside of the bonds of Jewish ethnicity and extended into Gentile world. We read this in Paul’s letters, in the other epistles, and all throughout the Old Testament. This notion of including all people is a common theme in all of the Bible. And yet at some point we have limited the Bible to be only about me and people like me. Now that “me and people like me” in my previous sentence could be people literally like me, middle-class white people, or maybe people like you, whatever your social location.

The truth is that the gospel is not just for people like me or people like you. It is for all people. And as such those of us who claim to follow Jesus should begin to live like Jesus lived. And one of the chief ways that Jesus lived was for the other, especially the marginalized other.

Friends, in America there are marginalized people. One of the ways that people are marginalized most often is through race and ethnicity. And it is high time that we in the church took a hard stand for those who are marginalized. For whatever reason. Especially if we are white.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve written here in the comments below. But the comments need to remain civil and respectful. Any comments that I deem otherwise will be removed. Thank you for your understanding.

Robin Williams and Depression

The news of Robin Williams’ passing is incredibly sad. He’s always been one of my favorite comedians.

It may not be surprising to anyone who knows me but I love stand up comedy.

Number one: it’s funny. I love the way that comedians look at life. They see the absurdity and irony of things and they find humor in life that many of us never could. Number two: it’s taught me so much about communication. I’ve often thought that doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night would be a great way to improve my communication skills. The way that comedians are able to get their ideas across to the audience is simply amazing. And I’m not sure there was anyone who was better at it than Robin Williams. He packed more jokes into a smaller space than just about anyone else.

With all of that said it’s understandable why his passing is really difficult for many of us. Robin Williams was a man that many of us loved. He brought us joy. He made us laugh. He made us think.

And yet at his core it appears that he did not have joy. It’s been widely reported that Robin Williams was depressed. As a depressive person myself I can understand where he’s coming from. Even though he was receiving adulation from millions of people in the world, he apparently had a hard time believing this for himself.

Depression and the Church

The depression that Robin Williams may have suffered from is not necessarily something that can be willed or prayed away. For some of us depression or being depressive is just a matter of our brains’ chemistries. It’s something that we have to live with and learn how to manage our whole lives.

Unfortunately in the church depression is still a major stigma. People often think that those who suffer with depression just haven’t realized or accepted the joy of the Lord. They just haven’t prayed the right way. Maybe there’s some sin that they just can’t get over. Etc., etc., ad nauseam. Those of us who suffer from depression or who tend to be depressive often hear all this nonsense. In fact we hear it so much that we are hesitant to reveal that we’re depressive or are in the midst of suffering from depression.

So in light of Robin Williams’ untimely death I think it would be wise for us to think again about how we as the church approach mental illness, especially depression. We can’t turn a blind eye anymore. And we can’t just relegate it to the category of those bad Christians who simply don’t pray enough. Depression and mental illness are realities that we need to take seriously!

One of the ways that we can begin taking them seriously is by removing the stigma from depression and other mental illnesses. We need to be people who are open and accepting of all people and all of their baggage. Our churches need to be safe havens for people who suffer all kinds of ailments, whatever they may be. If we did this, then I think we would be more known for our kindness and compassion than for our judgmental attitudes!

Another thing that we need to take away from from this situation is the following: Take helpful action!  If any of us are having suicidal thoughts or if any of us know those who may be having suicidal thoughts, we need to seek help. If we are depressed or know someone who is, it may be time to think about visiting a professional. There’s nothing wrong with seeking counseling or medication if necessary. And as the church we need to do a better job of not judging people with mental illness.

Friends we need to remember the Scripture where Jesus said that he came for the sick and not for the well (Matthew 9.12, Mark 2.17, Luke 5.31). There are many different kinds of sicknesses, one of which is mental illness. And Jesus came for folks who suffer the way that Robin Williams suffered.

Let us do a better job of caring for those in need.

 

How do you think the church should approach depression?  Let me know in the comments below.

Missional Leadership: Listening

“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Sit down and listen Matt!”

Sadly I’ve forgotten who exactly said this to me.  I do know, however, that it was a teacher of mine in seventh grade.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m uber-talkative.  Especially when I’m sleepy.  And when was I not sleepy as a seventh grader!

But this aphorism from my teacher speaks volumes.  While its reliance on anatomy and physiology is cutesy; the truth behind it is solid.  Listening is important, even more important than talking.

listening

By: Travis Isaacs
Listening is a skill that needs to be developed.

Listening Is a Thing of the Past

Think about this — there are four primary types of communication: 1) writing, 2) reading, 3) speaking, and 4) listening.  Formal education in the West centers almost completely on writing and reading, with a tiny bit of speaking thrown in, such as in a public speaking course here or there.  But there is almost no training for an average student with regard to listening.  Almost none.

Isn’t that crazy?  One of the most important human skills is completely left off the educational menu!  One of my favorite leadership thinkers, Michael Hyatt, says that listening is a lost art, and it appears he is right!

The Impact of Our Lack of Listening

What kind of impact has this oversight had on us, our culture, our leadership skills, and our capacity to be missional?

  • Listening is THE major component of oral communication, thus if we aren’t doing it well then we aren’t communicating well.  And if we aren’t communicating well then our friendships, families, jobs, neighborhoods, churches, etc. are all negatively impacted.
  • Listening is a required skill of anyone who wants to learn about and from a new culture.  Taking on the role of a listener helps us stay humble and explicitly reminds us that we are here to learn.  Moreover, there’s no better way to learn about something then to listen to the people who experience it most keenly!
  • Listening is essential in leadership.  How can we hope to lead people well if we aren’t in position to hear their concerns, hopes, wishes, and desires?  How can we be trusted to take the reins if we aren’t willing to bend our ears toward others?
  • And lastly, our lack of listening is extremely detrimental to our missional efforts.

Missional Listening

So, what are some ways that listening will help us as we seek more and more to be on mission with God, accomplishing his will where we work, live, and play?

  1. Contextualize: We will be able to contextualize the good news of Jesus better if we listen.  One of the first steps that any good missionary should take is listening.  We should intentionally become a learner of culture so that we can see how best we can communicate Jesus and his kingdom wherever we find ourselves.
  2. Empathize: Being in the regular habit of listening will also show others that we care, that we empathize.  I love the word “empathize.”  It means, at its core, to understand, feel, and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.  It necessitates that we learn through listening.  And by listening to others we actively demonstrate that we care.
  3. Humble-ize: Despite how hard it is, being humble is the only way truly to listen.  And if we humbly listen well, then folks will trust us more.  And as people trust us more, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom will become more and more attractive to them.  And as Jesus and his kingdom become more attractive, communities will change for the good.

 

Therefore, friends, we need to become more effective listeners!  What are some ways that you think you can become a better listener?  Let me know in the comments below.

Small Talk with a Purpose

Are you like me; do you hate small talk?  When chatting with a complete stranger (which is another thing I tend to avoid!), is the idea of idly chewing the fat about the weather just about the worst thing you can imagine?  Or, while at a party, do you cringe at the thought of having to word vomit about nothing with people you barely know for two or three hours?

If you answered affirmatively to any of these question, then one of two things may be true about you: 1) you’re an introvert  (yay!); or 2) you really hate small talk.  It should be noted that both of these things do not have to be true at the same time, though they certainly can be (and maybe they usually are?).  The hatred of small talk can by shared by introverts and extroverts alike!

Small talk

Does the thought of small talk make you want to poke your own eyeballs out?

 

But is there any place for small talk, idle chatter, barely-scratching-the-surface speech?

 Small Talk on Mission

A friend of mine recently said that she didn’t like small talk at all.  However, at a gathering we had, she engaged in some small talk and felt quite a bit differently about it.  What changed?

Her words were that the small talk at the party was meaningful — it was small talk with a purpose.

The gathering we were at was a party that consisted of some folks who knew Jesus and some who did not yet.  It wasn’t pushy, religious, weird, or anything like that.  Instead it was literally just hanging out.  It was us creating some proximity space for some of our friends to get to know what Christians are really like.

So when my friend engaged in small talk, she knew it had a larger purpose.  Each “What do you do?” and “What do you think about the weather?” was centered around the gospel.  Each awkward second had the possibility of representing a tiny step closer to someone she cared about meeting Jesus.

That’s small talk I can get behind!

 

What do you think of small talk?  Let me know in the comments below.

How to Make a Friend

Making a friend can be hard.  Well, for some of us it can.

In fact, I recently heard a friend say that at the school he went to there was a required non-credit course about how to have a conversation.  This made me laugh because I thought it was ridiculous.

And then, and then, and then…

And then I realized how poor many of us are at having conversations.  And then I realized how many of us really stink at making friends.  And then I realized how poor many of us who claim to follow Jesus are at creating a real friendship with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus.

Stuff got real, real fast.

How good of a friend are we?

Tonight I was reading Growing Local Missionaries: Equipping Churches to Sow Shalom in Their Own Cultural Backyard and in it Dan Steigerwald makes an amazing point.  Here it is:

I am convinced that a big part of the Church’s missional formation across America must now involve getting back to the most basic level of motivating and equipping Christians to have natural relationships with normal people!  That is a pretty startling reality. (61)

Did you catch that?  He is saying that we followers of Jesus really don’t know how to make friends in this world where we live.

So, what do we do in response to this?

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a New Friend

Welp, here’s some helpful advice from missional thinker Mark van Steenwyk (from his article called “Incarnational Practices” in Next-Wave from October 2005; found in Growing Local Missionaries by Steigerwald [65]).  Oh, and by the way, this framework could probably have been from my friend’s class on how to have a conversation.  It goes like this:

  1. If you see someone at your favorite place a few times, you have permission to give them the “nod” of recognition (or subtle waive).
  2. If you’ve recognized their presence a couple times, it is socially ok to say “hello.”
  3. Once you’ve said hello to someone once or twice, it is ok to make comments like “hey, it sure is nice today” or “is that book you’re reading interesting?”
  4. After you’ve broken the ice, you can introduce yourself.
  5. Once you’re on a first-name basis, you have social permission to have normal conversations with them, and things develop from there.

Got it?

 

Is it just me, or is it sad that we have to have a guide like this in order to know how to make a friend with someone different than us?  What do you think?