Systemic Racism What is it?

During the week in which Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five officers in Dallas were killed, a friend of mine emailed me and wanted to discuss a phrase that I had used on social media quite a bit.  That phrase was “systemic racism.”  He wanted to know what was meant when people used it because it could be interpreted in lots of different ways.

Considering the kind of responses that we all saw on social media that week, the respect and kindness that was shown by my friend was a breath of fresh air!  So I spent an hour or so writing out how I define “systemic racism” and why I define it that way.  I’m no expert by any means, but this is an issue that I care a lot about.  So…

Here’s what I wrote (with a few minor edits and a few links included):

 

 

I think you picked the right place to start — “systemic racism.”  …  It’s not often that the term is defined carefully and even when it is, not many people listen.

Here’s the way I define it: Our system as a society in the United States is bent against people of color, especially black people.

It began before there was a United States with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and continued through Antebellum slavery.

After the Civil War when black folks were free, they had few places to go. This period, called Reconstruction, was a really trying time for most black people.

Many black people, if not most, ended up moving to northern cities looking for work or because they were forced out of the their homes in the south.  Since very few white people (both in the north and south) wanted to live with them, they were forced (sometimes by law) to move into downtown areas.  These areas were devoid of jobs that they could do.

Other groups already living in those areas (most notably immigrant groups), especially the Irish, Italians, and various Asians, have had an easier, but still quite difficult, go of it in our country.  And when black folks moved into the inner-cities, many of these other groups moved out (at least those who could afford to often did).

That left very little work for black folks and not many other people groups cared.

In the midst of this horrid situation, it’s natural enough that crime began to rise.  People needed money for food and shelter.  Eventually the criminal element began to organize, just like it did with the Irish, the Italians, and other groups before.  (Side note: for whatever reason, we call black organized crime “gangs” and that of other groups “the mob” or “the mafia.”)

Anyway, while this was going on almost no laws were made to assist, aid, or protect black people.  They were slaves and then they weren’t.  Black folks were set off on their own.  And when some of them weren’t succeeding, people (especially white people) said, “work harder.”  And many, many black foks did just that.  Or that tried to…but many couldn’t find work.  And even for those who found work, it was almost never a “good enough” job to help get them out of their predicament.

But no one really cared.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  A few people cared a lot…so much so that they worked tooth and nail to ensure that black people continued to have a hard time.

Many cities and counties passed laws limiting where black people could live, where they could be educated, whether or not they could vote, etc.  This is what we all call the Jim Crow era and these laws and policies are called Jim Crow laws.  Some people even hated black people enough to kill them for little or no reason.  Public lynchings were happening fairly often in the south and, for the most part, most of the murderers were never caught, tried, and brought to justice.  As if they needed another reason, but most black people at this time had no faith in the governments of the cities, counties, states, or even of the US.

Then, as you might expect, in the 1950s and 60s black civil rights advocates began to rise up, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Rosa Parks, and others.  They were demanding that people look at the plight of their community.  They were demanding that they be treated with equality and justice.  They were demanding that the color of their children’s skin shouldn’t impact whether or not they had a shot at making it.

And what were they met with?  Death threats.  Church bombings.  Stricter laws in some places limiting their freedoms.  And more lynchings in some places.

What it took for America to begin to wake up to the overt racism of so many people was live video footage of police dogs being sent to attack black folks, including children and black folks being beaten unconscious by “peace” officers.  The public perception of the civil rights movement began to shift, but overt racism wouldn’t let go.  Civil rights leaders were assassinated, more acts of terror were leveled against the black community, and even white allies were assassinated too.

After the various Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts were passed, it became more or less a major social faux pas to exhibit any overt racism.  The KKK and other white supremacy groups eventually shrunk.  The use of the n-word decreased to some degree, at least in polite company.  Not serving black people in a business became a crime, etc.

For most white people, this is when they think that racism in America ended.

If only that were true.  If you ask individual persons of color, especially black folks, about their experience of race in the US, some will tell you horror stories of overt racism and virtually every single one will tell you stories of the results of implicit racism, what many people call “micro-aggressions.”

Implicit racism would include things like women clutching their bags when black men walk by, people touching black women’s hair, and people asking a Latino graduating from college if they are the first in their family to do so (a question almost no one would ask a white person).  Most people don’t mean anything nefarious by these micro-aggressions, but people of color notice them and many are hurt by them.

These hurts add up over time.  They make people of color feel white people view them as other, something different, and, to some, as less than fully human.

The problem is that people who represent authority are guilty of implicit racism too.  (So are people of color, of course, and so are people of color who are in positions of authority.)  What does this look like?

Well, when I worked at Best Buy as security personnel I was way more likely to watch a black teenager on the monitor, even though in all my time there we never caught a black person stealing anything.  (Side note: I caught employees and lots of white people stealing.)  But my first instinct was to watch the black teen.  And my implicit bias against black people isn’t just something that I have.  Many black people report being harassed while shopping.  It even happens to “well-dressed, respectful, and articulate” black folks.

Hiring managers, as famously reported by the Freakonomics people, are much more likely to favor applications that have “white sounding” names to those with “ethnic sounding” ones.  This implicit bias more or less goes away when the applicants are in front of the hiring manager, presumably because he or she is trying to be equitable when seeing a person of color face-to-face.

And, unfortunately, police are victims of implicit racism too.  Multiple studies have shown that people, all people, tend to prefer images of lighter-skinned people, while at the same time being more threatened by images of darker-skinned people.  This same implicit bias has been seen in numerous studies of police officers too, though they tend to do better than the general public.

Thus, for many police officers, black people, and especially black males, are implicitly more threatening, will be watched more closely, etc.  This can be seen in the evidence from the NYPD about how black people (as well as Latinos) are much more likely to be stopped and frisked and why “driving while black” is a reality, since black drivers will, generally speaking, be watched quite a bit more closely.

(Please note, implicit racism is not the fault of a given individual.  It’s human nature.  It’s part of our basic tribalism that says members of “our group” are better than members of “their group.”  And black cops are also likely to exhibit implicit racism against black people as white cops are.)

But a more important part of systemic racism today has less to do with implicit racism and more to do with the residue of our explicitly racist history as a country and some explicitly racist laws and policies.

What do I mean?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, after the Civil War many black people moved into inner-cities.  Those that didn’t, those who stayed in smaller towns, were more or less forced to move into neighborhoods that were comprised almost exclusively of other black people.  And these boundaries were often set into law or official housing policies.

Even liberal Pasadena, CA (where I live) in liberal Southern California has some of these policies in its past.

And, unsurprisingly, many black people still live in these very same neighborhoods today (unless they’ve been pushed into even “worse” neighborhoods thanks to gentrification, property prices rising, zoning policies, and imminent domain abuses, etc.).

And, unsurprisingly, these communities didn’t have the best services, the best stores, the best schools, etc.  And between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act, these communities were heavily policed by largely white police forces because of the realities of organized crime and because of overt racism (just go back and listen to some of the recordings of Bull Connor, the infamous sheriff in Alabama [like this one]…they’ll make your skin crawl!).

So folks in these communities started way behind the starting line in comparison to where others in the US started.  And black families who “made it” had such a harder and longer road to hoe, even than white families who began at similar levels of poverty due to explicit and implicit racism.

During the 70s things seemed to be getting a tiny bit better.  It was during this time that the rise of the black middle-class happened (which is basically gone today, by the way), thanks in part to government jobs, especially those at the post office, sanitation control, and the like.

Then the 1980s came with the “war on drugs.”  Some of the policies set in place during this time period by the federal government, as well as state and city governments, really harmed black communities.

How so?  Cocaine.

The rush of cocaine into the US during the late 1970s and 80s really hurt lots of people.  In fact, it seems that people of all ethnicities were using cocaine in more or less equal percentages.

But the laws surrounding cocaine disproportionately affected black people.  Crack cocaine was punished much more harshly than powder cocaine, though both are equally bad, equally addictive, and equally dangerous.  And black communities tended to use crack over powder.  Sentences for crack cocaine were much longer than those for powder.  Drug-free zones were set up in communities affected by crack cocaine, but not those for powder, which meant that a drug conviction in a drug-free zone was more harshly punished.

So when a black person was caught using cocaine, he would be sentenced to a much, much longer sentence than a white man, sometimes dozens of times longer, since he was likely to be using crack in a drug-free zone.  And since the police were more likely to police black neighborhoods (due to the number of calls, population density, and implicit racism), black people were much more likely to be caught using and possessing cocaine.

It was so bad that black users of cocaine would go to jail for much longer sentences than the white people who sold it or whomever trafficked it into the country!

And this war on drugs, which targeted black communities (intentionally or not, doesn’t really matter), really hurt these communities.  Many children in these communities had to grow up without fathers since so many black men were incarcerated on drug charges.

Some neighborhoods were so bad that only a very few men ever made it out alive or without being incarcerated.  One of my mentors, who happens to be black, grew up in the neighborhood where my wife and I currently serve and he tells the sad story that of the 20 boys that grew up on his street, only four or five aren’t in prison or dead today.  His story is not uncommon in neighborhoods like mine, one that is labeled a drug-free zone and has a large black population.

(Quick aside: many of the crack-specific sentencing laws and policies have been altered or overturned, but, in general, crack convictions still carry longer sentence than powder cocaine today.)

And with the massive influx of people (mostly people of color) being incarcerated for drug charges, jails began to fill up.  State and federal monies were used to build more.  Then these new jails filled up.  It got so overcrowded that many states gave many of their prisons over to private, for-profit companies who run them.  These companies make millions and millions of dollars incarcerating people.  They often get paid by the number of full jail cells they have.

In other words, these companies have a vested interest in keeping their beds full, so they do what any successful business would do, they lobby to keep laws and policies in place that keep their beds full and their profits growing.  And their money is in the pockets of politicians on the left and the right, thus ensuring that the industrial prison complex remains full of people, mostly on drug charges.

And a very disproportionate number of these people are people of color, thus furthering the problems of their communities since it means that parents (especially fathers) are literally taken out of the equation.

And all the while, white people use drugs at about the same rate as blacks (some studies indicate that white folks use more drugs) and yet white people are not arrested as often and when convicted serve shorter sentences and once in prison are more likely to receive parole.

And it’s not just drugs.  As the horrible Brock Turner (the swimmer at Stanford that was basically given a slap on the wrist for sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster) story reminds us, white folks are often given the benefit of the doubt and/or shorter sentences.  For example, a Vanderbilt football player, Cory Batey, committed a similar crime as Brock Turner, and he was sentenced to a much, much longer sentence — 15-25 years.

Then you take a look into the public schools which serve black students and see that they are much, much worse than those that serve white communities.  In fact, according to some recent research, a case can be made that our public schools are more segregated now than they were during Jim Crow.  And, unsurprisingly, the schools that serve black communities generally stink.

And the list could go on and on.  Black graduates of college are less likely to land a job than white graduates.  Etc., etc., etc.

And, unfortunately, the data shows that a given black person is much more likely to die at the hand of the police than a given white person.  All of the factors above play into this sad statistic.

Just to be clear, in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases I don’t think that black people are more likely to die during a police interaction due to explicit racism.  There are really so few people who are jerks like that anymore.

But implicit racism and its effects are real.  And the residue of the explicitly racist policies and laws of the past and some of the current policies and laws that disproportionately impact black people are real too.

If we’re going to move forward as a nation, then we need to admit some things.  Here are a few of those things:

We need to admit that we live in a country in which our Declaration of Independence calls a group of people “savages” and the 13th Amendment of the Constitution repealed a compromise that argued that black people are 3/5ths as valued as other people.

We need to admit the horrors of the Jim Crow era and the violence committed against black people during their fight for civil rights.

We need to admit the impact of the war on drugs on black communities.

And we need to admit that doing nothing about the current plight of the black community will only make the resulting problems worse.

That’s systemic racism.

Systemic racism is not a fiction. Systemic racism is not an excuse. Systemic racism is real and its effects hurt black communities like the one where my wife and I serve.

But you may be wondering, why talk about systemic racism on a blog about being missional, that is, following Jesus in the real world?  Well, the answer is pretty straightforward — the real world is messed up and unjust and Jesus calls us to care about matters like this.  He says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice” (Matthew 5.6)

I know, you memorized “righteousness” as a kid.  So did I.  But “justice” is an equally valid translation of the Greek word that is found here and the context in which this word is found leans toward folks who are oppressed and thus longing for justice.

So I guess that’s really the question then…when we, as followers of Jesus in the real world, see a problem such as systemic racism, do we hunger and thirst for justice?  Or do we try to deny the evidence, invalidate the experiences of people of color, and effectively perpetuate the injustice through our silence and inaction?

What do you think about the way I defined and discussed systemic racism?

What do you think we can do about it?

What can you, as an individual, do about it?

Let me know in the comments below.

And be civil.  I will be monitoring these comments closely.  Anything that deem disrespectful, racist, or rude will be removed.

#WagePeace: New Wine Podcast #023

I’ve been thinking about #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile, #DylanNoble, and the #DallasPoliceDepartment tonight.  Here’s my question: How do we respond?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Bring in the Clowns…

Lately I’ve been reading a short but very good book entitled Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today.  It’s written by Dr. Mark Labbeton, who just so happens to be the president of the seminary (Fuller Seminary) where I am a PhD student.

In a section about how there’s a crisis of vocation for followers of Jesus, Dr. Labberton writes these hard-hitting words:

Our calling has become encrusted, buried under layers that lack significant evidence of life.  Viral cat videos seem to touch our humanity and longing more than many church services do.  I have felt caught in this vortex.  The temptation in the church is to bring in more clowns and light the sparklers, but the real solution is what the Bible declares is our calling: to live out genuine love that shows up in the face of real need. (Page 20)

Amen!

Our solution can’t be more of the same (even if what is “more” is “better” or “more relevant” or “slicker” than that which came before it.

The only solution to the issues that the Church faces in North America today is following Jesus.

Actually.  Following.  Jesus.

That means living the life of Jesus in and through our own lives, by the power of the Spirit.

So, since Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life away for others, we ought to as well.

Since Jesus cared more about those who were cast aside and oppressed than he did those who were self-righteously religious, we ought to as well.

And since Jesus’ entire life was centered around love, ours ought to be as well, individually and collectively.

 

What do you think?  Did Dr. Labberton hit the nail on the head?  Let me know in the comments below!

Bread of Life Radical Nourishment

Jesus is the bread of life.

Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.

How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?

Let’s explore this together!

bread of life

cheeseslave [photo credit]

Bread of Life in John 6

As we’ve already seen, John 6 is an exciting and challenging passage!  Jesus revealed himself as a provider, as divine, and as a chaos calmer.  How awesome!

So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?

Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.

Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion.  Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”

And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.

Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks.  And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.

And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What’s so radical about this statement?

Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary.  God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt.  And that image was sacrosanct!  Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.

But the radical-ness goes deeper.  For John’s original readers this statement was radical too.  It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection).  More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.

And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.

Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today

Let’s think about this in our day and time.  Who provides our bread?  (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.)  Two ideas instantly pop into my head:

  1. America claims to be our bread of life.  Think about it.  How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider?  Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.”  And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!!  If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
  2. We claim to be our own bread of life.  On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families.  Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications.  So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this.  We can take care of ourselves.  And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough.  They are undermining what we’ve accomplished.  And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant!  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.

Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life

So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives?  Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  • Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life.  As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we.  In fact, our families aren’t either.  Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams.  Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
  • Turn to Jesus first.  So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus.  To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us.  Of course they can!  But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
  • Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone.  So, instead, let’s do it together!  We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more.  But even community and accountability aren’t enough.  We need an infusion of divine aid!  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life.  So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need.  By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things.  Amen.
  • Rest on God’s grace.  Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail.  We are humans after all!  And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up.  Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.

So that’s it!  Jesus is our bread of life!

Now the hard part — let’s live like it!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life?  What are we tempted to put in his place?  How can we more and more turn to Jesus first?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

#ChurchLeaderTypes: New Wine Podcast #022

According to Ephesians 4, what kind of leaders has Jesus gifted the church with?  And what are these leaders like?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

A Proper Approach How to enter into gospel-centered relationships

How we approach people as we seek to be missional is important.

This simple truth reminds me of all the movies I’ve seen over the years in which a pilot is about to land their plane and they get ready to make their approach.

They have a checklist to go through, a way to be prepared.

And they know that if they do all that’s on that checklist, then they will be much, much more likely to land the plane safely than if they went about it all willy-nilly.

Why do we think being and sharing the good news of Jesus would be any different?  Our approach matters too!

Sure, we might not have a checklist that we must work through each time…but there are some tried and true ideas to help our approach be much, much more likely to succeed!

Why Talk about Our Approach at All?

This notion of writing about this topic became self-evident last week.  I wrote a blogpost called “5 Reasons Not To Be Judgmental” that got shared around on Facebook a little bit.

The response was what I expected.  Several people were in agreement with me that being judgmental is a bad thing and that, among other things, it hurts the way we present ourselves to those who have yet to follow Jesus.  And many, many more people were angered by the post, claiming that I had gone too soft or too liberal or had become too tolerant.

Despite the fact that I should have known better, I waded into the comments to duke it out with the latter group.  In one particularly tense comment thread I found an unexpected ally, Sam.  I don’t know much about Sam other than he seems to be somewhere on a path toward Jesus.  I don’t know where he might be on that journey, but I’m pretty confident that he’s on it!

Sam decided to make his voice heard in a conversation where one commenter was saying that any preaching of the gospel should include an strong effort to convince the hearers that they are “wretched sinners.”  And while an awareness of sinfulness and repentance is certainly part of responding to the good news of Jesus, it seems to me from a lifetime or reading and studying the New Testament that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin and lead them to repentance.

This is where Sam stepped in.  Here’s what he said:

approach

I was impressed by what Sam shared!  So I asked him if I could use his comments.

approach

And Sam replied:

approach

And he concluded with this zinger:

approach

I was left more or less speechless by what Sam had shared!  And from that day until now all I could think about was sharing Sam’s words on this blog.

So, there they are — the wisdom of Sam, highlighting the importance of having a proper approach when being missional!

Boiling Down Sam’s Ideas about Approach

So, how can we get the most out of Sam’s words?  Well, I think it might be good to look through them and find the best nuggets.  Here are the results of my mining efforts:

  1. We must have an audience that’s willing to listen!  If our approach is too aggressive, too judgmental, too churchy, or too negative overall, then no one will listen.  So if we are hoping to share and be the good news where we work, live, and play, then we MUST find ways for folks to listen to us!
  2. When we share we should be “positive and accepting.”  This is going to feel like watering down the gospel to some folks.  But stick with me for a minute.  The word “gospel” literally  means “good news.”  It follows logically then that we would want to have “good” things to talk about when we share the “good news”!  And simply because we’re in proximity to or having a conversation with someone whon our church culture deems as a “wretched sinner” doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone whatever sinfulness that is present.  Instead it means that we are trying our best to be like Jesus, who was infamous for being friends with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 9.10-11, 11.19; Mark 2.15-16; Luke 5.30, 7.34, 15.1).
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Sam implores us to let our loving and selfless actions do the talking as we make our approach instead of talking about how others are evil for their actions.  What kind of actions should we engage in?  I love how Sam starts at a really simple level — just asking if everything is okay or if we can help in anyway.  I’m pretty sure that all of us can take those two steps!  And in so doing we will be more likely to move the relationship closer to Christ.
  4. Our actions in the community are noticed.  Sam said, “It’s really hard to shut out any group who displays positive work in their community, who supports groups of people who are otherwise ridiculed and discriminated against, even if they don’t agree with them.”  There it is, in plain English.  How we treat people in our neighborhoods is a known commodity.  People see us.  They see us as individuals, families, small groups, congregations, and as the Church as a whole.  So, wouldn’t we want what they see to be attractive instead of repulsive?
  5. Following Sam’s approach can lead to people feeling impressed, inspired, curious, and respectful.  Aren’t these reactions much better than the way that people tend to think of us today, namely as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too political?  And in so doing, wouldn’t the person we are sharing with be more likely to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom?

Our Approach Should Be Like Jesus’ Approach

But those of us who are Christians follow Jesus and not Sam!  So how did Jesus do this?

Much could be written about Jesus’ approach but I only want to explore one little story here: the calling of Matthew.

A little background would be good.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry he has gained a reputation for being a good teacher, a worker of miracles, and a friend of the unlovable.  One group that was certainly unlovable by the vast majority of Jews living in Palestine in the first century was tax collectors.

Now when we think of tax collectors today we might think of IRS agents with their carefully pressed suits, calculators, spread sheets, and complicated tax codes.  But Matthew was a different sort of tax collector.  He was more akin to the member of a gang who shakes down local businesses for protection money.  In other words, Matthew had more in common with mob muscle than pencil pushers.

And Matthew did his work publicly.  Everyone knew who he was and what he did.

So when Jesus started his approach with Matthew, all of these things were true and everyone, Jesus and Matthew included, was aware of them.

Here’s how it went down:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9.9)

Notice what Jesus didn’t do.  He didn’t judge Matthew.  He didn’t tell him to shape up before he would be able to follow him.  He didn’t care much about the opinion of anyone other than Matthew.  And he didn’t try to convince Matthew that he was a wretched sinner.

Instead Jesus just said “follow me.”  Jesus asked Matthew to join his community, to become one of his traveling band.

How crazy!

Jesus’ actions certainly don’t line up with our typical approach.  We tend to tell people that they have to behave and believe correctly before they can belong to us.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He told people that they belonged and then taught them through his own life how to behave and believe!

 

Friends, let’s follow the advice of Jesus (and Sam) and let’s fix our approach to sharing the good news!

 

What do you think?  How can we fix how we approach sharing the good news with someone who has yet to follow Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Biblical Hospitality — Brad Brisco

In this short video Brad Brisco (missional thought leader, church planter, and church planting coach) breaks down the idea he calls “biblical hospitality.”

I love the idea of hospitality in the Bible being “love + stranger.”

That’s something that can inspire me to action!
What do you think?  How do you live out biblical hospitality?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

#DivisionOfLabor: New Wine Podcast #021

How should the division of the labor in the church between leaders and congregants be lived out? Who should be doing the work?

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Also, if you’d like to help support the creative process that helps bring this podcast to life, then please check out my Patreon page (http://patreon.com/JMatthewBarnes).  There are some fun rewards there for folks who pledge support although any level support will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

Chaos + Jesus = ?? Jesus walking on water gives us a clue...

Chaos.

Many of us today claim that we live in the midst of it.  Some of us say that we thrive on it and others of us are petrified by it.

But in reality we’re all scared by chaos.  Why?  Because a chaotic situation can’t be defined easily and certainly can’t be predicted.

So in the face of chaos we might not be able to make informed decisions.  We might fall flat on our proverbial faces.

And no one wants that.

Others of us still face real chaos in our lives.  Our living situations are complicated, messy, and even dangerous.  Our ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is equally unpredictable.

So, for those of us who follow Jesus, how can we respond to chaos?  Better yet, how does Jesus respond to our chaos?

John 6 and Chaos

I think we begin to get an answer to how to deal with chaos (or how Jesus deals with it) in John 6.16-21.  Here it is:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

In order to understand the full force of this passage we need to know something about ancient views on large bodies of water.  Unlike most boat-going occasions today, in the ancient world one’s life was put in literal danger by entering a boat and setting off.  Why?  Because many, many people died in the ocean, in rivers, and on lakes.

Boats were not nearly what they are today and safety measures (like life preservers) were not invented and commonly used yet.  Thus, the weather turning bad and the waves getting big were truly life threatening!

Thus, for many ancient people large bodies of water represented chaos and they feared them greatly.  We can see this in the descriptions of heaven in the book of Revelation.  In the heavenly visions the sea is described as “crystal,” meaning that it was calm.  In other words, in heaven God causes all the chaos to subside.

With all of this in mind, this story from John 6 feels a bit more dire than at first glance.  The disciples are alone and they are on the Sea of Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee).  Already we know that they may be feeling the pressures of the moment (though maybe not for the fishermen among them).

But the weather turns bad, turning up the chaos meter to 10!  I can only imagine what they all must be thinking — Jesus left us after feeding all those people and now we’re going to die out here on this God-forsaken lake!

But they didn’t die that day.  The chaos didn’t win.

Jesus came to their aid by walking on the water!  Before they could respond to this crazy feat, Jesus identifies himself by saying “It is I” or, as translated as in Exodus 3.14, “I am.”  I’ve written about Jesus’ words here before, but it almost goes without saying that Jesus is making a bold claim about his deity here, both with his words (“I am”) and his actions (walking on water).

But I don’t want to hurry past what it meant for Jesus to walk on water.  By doing so Jesus was indicating that chaos had no control over him.  He could literally put it under his feet and walk all over it!  This must have spoken volumes to his disciples!

Then he continues his demonstration of mastery of chaos by speeding along their efforts to cross the lake.  John makes it sound like Jesus has performed another miracle by saying the “immediately the boat reached the shore,” as if walking on the water wasn’t miracle enough!

In other words, the disciples where facing extreme chaos in this life-threatening boating adventure but when Jesus showed up, everything was taken care of in short order.

Does Jesus Help Us with Our Chaos Today?

That’s all well and good that Jesus walked on water and helped out his disciples.  But can he do similar sorts of things for us when we face chaos today?

The short answer is this — Yes!  The longer answer is — Yes but in his way and with our participation.

Here are a few principles from this passage to consider:

  1. The chaos the disciples faced came as they were on mission with Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong…Jesus can and does help us when we’ve caused our own problems.  But there is a pretty consistent picture painted in the Gospels of Jesus extending help to his disciples when they were obeying him.  In this case the disciples had been on a preaching and healing tour with Jesus and were returning to their base of operations in Capernaum.  This chaos was not of their own making; it happened upon them as they were seeking to follow Jesus.  Where does our chaos originate from?  Does it come because we’ve carved our own paths or because we’re on mission with Jesus too?
  2. The chaos the disciples faced didn’t cause them to freeze up or panic.  Seeing that many of the pictures we have of the disciples in the Gospels are of them bumbling their way through life, this story is a bit different.  There’s a scary storm that is causing large waves.  And the disciples could have just stopped rowing and started whining and complaining.  But they didn’t do that.  They continued rowing.  Friends, chaos will come into our lives.  And many of us are tempted to sit on our hands when this happens, fearful to do anything.  But we have standing orders.  We are to love God, love others, and make disciples no matter what — chaos or otherwise.  Will we be willing to continue to do what we know we ought to, even when chaos seems to be reigning supreme in our lives?
  3. The chaos gave the disciples a unique opportunity to welcome Jesus.  There’s a small line that’s easy to miss in the story of Jesus walking on water.  Here it is: “…they were willing to take him into the boat…”  After Jesus identified himself (both as Jesus and as divine), the disciples made the smart choice of letting him board their boat!  And once he did, he helped them through their chaotic situation.  Will we accept Jesus as he comes walking on our chaos?  Or will we be too upset, distracted, and disheartened even to see him, much less welcome him?

To be clear, following Jesus is not a “get out of trouble free” card.  No.  Instead it’s a “walk with Jesus through the chaos” kind of thing!

Are we willing to turn to Jesus in the midst of our chaos?

 

What do you think?  How does Jesus help us in our chaotic moments?  Let me know in the comments below!

5 Reasons Not to Be Judgmental Though Many More Could Be Added!

Something that I say all the time is that when young adults think of Christians the most common word they associate with us is “judgmental.”

Not only do I say it…but I’ve written about many times and I’ve even recorded a podcast on it as well.

And add to all of that the fact that one of my favorite Christian authors and missional practitioners, Hugh Halter, wrote an excellent book on the topic called Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.

In other words, I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately.  And the question I’ve been pondering lately is this: Why should we not be judgmental, especially since we’re so tempted to be?

Defining “Judgmental”

Before we can really dig in, we must figure out what it means to be judgmental?

I intend for this post (and the blog generally) to be most useful for followers of Jesus, so my comments will be colored by this intention.

With that said, I think it will be helpful to say a few things that I DON’T mean when I use the word “judgmental.”

  • I don’t mean holding a fellow believer accountable if s/he has asked you to do so.  This arrangement is agreed upon by both parties and is intended for mutual benefit.  So it’s not judgmental to mention something about the actions, habits, and language of someone who has agreed to be held accountable by us.
  • I don’t mean having strong opinions about what is sinful and what is not based on various texts from the Bible.  That’s perfectly fine and it’s helpful for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus to know what may or may not please him (the key phrase there is “for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus”).
  • And lastly, I don’t mean observing cultural patterns and then identifying which ones are edifying for you and your family and which ones are not.  As a follower of Jesus, it’s your right (and duty even) to ensure that your family is exposed to the right sorts of things.  But, again, this sort of social sorting and labeling should be reserved for internal use as followers of Jesus.

What do I mean by “judgmental” then?

Being judgmental as a follower of Jesus is applying the expectation of obedience to biblical ideals that comes with following Jesus on those who do not yet follow Jesus and/or calling out the actions, habits, and language of a specific, fellow follower of Jesus without having entered into an accountability agreement.

Why Is Being Judgmental to Be Avoided?

While there are many, many, many reasons, here are five good ones!

  1. Being judgmental doesn’t work because we don’t have all the info. If someone is doing something that we deem wrong and we say something about it to them, whether they are not yet a follower of Jesus or not in an accountability agreement, then we are presuming that we know the whole situation.  We are pretending that we know their backstory and all the antecedent decisions that led up the current situation.  We’re also assuming that we know their intent, i.e., their heart.  Let’s be honest, the one huge problem with being judgmental is that in so doing we are presupposing a bunch of knowledge to which no human being has direct and easy access.
  2. Being judgmental is overstepping our job description as followers of Jesus.  Who told us that it was our collective and individual duty to pay attention to everyone else and be sure to point out all the things that we find wrong or inappropriate?  We do, however, have a pretty clear job description in the Bible.  Jesus tells us that we are to do three primary things: 1) love God, 2) love others, and 3) make disciples (Matthew  22.36-40, 28.19-20).  Nowhere in that job description exists the idea of being judgmental.  In fact, there is one who has the job of being the judge, and that person is Jesus (2 Timothy 4.1).
  3. Being judgmental fails the Golden Rule quite horribly.  In Luke 6.31 Jesus sums up much of his teaching in one tight little thought: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Thus, let’s ask ourselves this question: Do we want someone peeping into our lives like a creep in order to catch us in a mistake or sin, intentional or not?  What about this question: Do we want to be held to a standard we haven’t agreed to or be put under scrutiny that isn’t consensual?  Friends, if we don’t want these things done to us (and no one really does who is being honest!), why then do we feel we have the right to do them to others?
  4. Being judgmental breaks a direct command in the Bible.  In Matthew 7.1 Jesus says these famous words: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  So when we judge others we are actively going against a direct command from Jesus!  And besides that, we’re inviting the judgment of others on us as well (“or you too will be judged” and all of verse 2!).  So instead of breaking this clear command, wouldn’t it be better for all of us to zip our lips when it comes to judging others?
  5. Being judgmental really kills our ability to be and share the good news.  Think about it: If we want someone to respond positively to the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, wouldn’t we want NOT to judge them?  Because if we are judgmental, they will sense it, and just like us, they won’t like it.  And they ARE sensing it.  Remember that study I mentioned at the beginning of this post?  In it the researchers found that 87% of young adults thought that Christians were judgmental.  87%!  That’s insane!  If we keep it up at this pace we’re never going to be able to share the good news with anyone because they’ll be so tired of all the bad news we keep spewing!

 

What do you think?  Why shouldn’t we be judgmental?  Let me know in the comments below!