Monthly Archives: October 2013

I Think I’m Racist!


Don’t get me wrong.  Most people would look at my life and the people I hang out with and never suggest that I am.  In fact, for the most part, I wouldn’t say that I am.  But, there are these small little pieces in the secret places of who we are; and it is in there, that I think I am racist.  And, I am hopeful I will have the courage to press publish when I am done writing this.

Recently there were 3 Questions that really challenged me:

Two of them took came recently at a conference in NYC called Movement Day 2013.  I hadn’t been to Movement Day before and didn’t really know what to expect.  All I knew what that it seems that here in Kalamazoo God is doing something great and is generating a Gospel Movement to transform our little city, and that Movement Day is a conference about exactly that.  I went to the conference hoping to get some ideas to bring back, and understanding of how to steward such a movement, some practical tools and inspiration.  I got all that (it really is an amazing conference), and a whole lot more.

Already God was working on me in regard to what is happening in Kalamazoo and what needs to happen.  And then during the pre-conference it seems God really set me up.  Sitting with my friend Keith, we were to look at the current reality of Kalamazoo and identify what is missing.  It was clear to me what was missing – involvement from some of the African American churches.  In my head I am asking the question, “how do we get them to get involved in what we are doing, and why aren’t I doing anything about it?

Question 1

Moments later one of the African American leaders from another city talked about racial division and what racial collaboration can look like.  He shared how it first starts in relationships and finding the courage to meet one another on each others’ turf.  That troubled me.  I already knew it was about relationship.  And, I thought I had really good relationships with some African American pastors/leaders.  But…  I also knew, deep inside, that I hadn’t done anything to build a relationship with the pastors on the “north side.” Why haven’t I bothered?

Deep inside I was pretending I knew why I hadn’t. I’m too busy.  They’re too busy.  You know, the usual bull.  I looked at Keith and made a commitment to begin to build those relationships…

Question 2

One day later, in the middle of the conference, I am confronted by a very raw dialogue by Connally Gilliam (white and resourced) and Sherry Jones (african american & not as resourced) about their relationship and cross racial collaboration.  In that conversation Connally confessed to some areas of racism that I just hadn’t even thought about.  She said she realized that she believed “That Christianity was somehow a white religion and others got to just come along…” Some ways of just being in the world are inherited in a white, middle class, resourced life.  And I began to ponder with God…. What do I really believe?

I didn’t set out to be racist.  My parents certainly didn’t set out to raise me to be racist.  But I grew up in an all white little town in the middle of a mostly white state.  Wait…!   Remember the commitment I made to Keith – to build relationships?

The Monday morning after the conference I get an email from some guy I have never met.  It was an invitation to the prayer breakfast hosted by the Northside Ministerial Alliance.  Really God? I had never been to one of their meetings and I had never before been invited.  Clearly this was God’s way of opening a door for me to begin living into a commitment I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep.dr wright2

But God wasn’t done.  The featured speaker at the prayer breakfast was none other than Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.  The Dr. Wright who made headlines because of harsh statements made about the United States and white people in general as a spiritual advisor to President Obama.  You know, the guy who made national news out of Chicago!

Thanks God.

I show up for the breakfast knowing I will get to sit with some other peeps I know from the community.  People from another nice suburban church.  What I didn’t know!  I didn’t know I should have dressed for The Oscars not my jeans and untucked button down.  I didn’t know I would be sitting right in the middle of the very front for everyone to look at – even as a high extrovert I was a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t know God wasn’t done bringing stuff up out of me.

Question 3

Dr. Wright gave a great message based out of Lamentations 4:17  and looking for help where there is no help to be found.  He was funny, sharp, brilliant and seemed to hit me hard.  In the middle of his talk he ran through a litany of where the Africans and then African Americans had looked for help in places it cannot be found.

In the middle of that litany I found myself feeling a wide array of emotions from anger, sadness, hopelessness, bitterness, etc.  I also found myself wanting, but unable, to distance myself from what he was saying. I didn’t want to hear in his voice the pain of the African people.  I didn’t want to hear from him the stark reality of the current situation.  My life is pretty squeaky clean and I like it that way. Why don’t I want to know the story and pain of the African American?

I love my life.  I have an amazing wife and family.  I get to do the kinds of things I know God has wired me and given me deep passion for.  I don’t like being racist.  And it isn’t that I have a dislike or hatred for anybody.  What I am discovering is that there is a part of me that loves the version of the American Dream I get to live.  I have been discipled by a white middle class version of the American Dream more than I have been discipled by Jesus and fear of stepping out of that keeps me stuck.


The good news is this.  God is reconciling all things and people to himself and the Spirit is alive!  And, I have a good friend, James, who has promised to help me. He wouldn’t have, however, if I hadn’t found the courage to authentic with him.

We Can Be Better?


I grew up in a family with three boys.  I am the middle child.  Most middle children are peacemakers.  I am not.  Those of you who know me are shocked I’m sure!  Something I remember clearly from childhood are the fights with my brothers.  Sometimes they were physical.  You know how that would work right?  My older brother would beat me up and not being able to retaliate effectively, I would beat up my younger brother.

Sometimes the fighting was with words.  We were creative users of the English language my brothers and I.  We could sling mud and insult one another as if we were a Hollywood portrayal of 17th century parliament. When we really got going, we often stopped thinking about the language we were using and THAT would get Mom’s attention.  And not in a good way.

When we used language we weren’t supposed to use, we were given the opportunity to clean our mouths – with soap.  Hard, white soap doesn’t taste good.  I don’t know about the soft soaps that smell nice from Bath & Body…

Over the last two days I have been dismayed by the Christian community’s use of language.  

I have read words from Christian leaders, many of whom I really admire, using hateful, warlike language to describe those politicians they dislike.  I have read words describing our leaders (democrats, republicans, the president, etc.) as terrorists, bullies, the enemy, the antichrist, thieves, hostage-takers, and the list goes on.

Jesus is really clear.

Jesus didn’t beat around the bush about how we are supposed to talk to and about one another.  In fact, in Matthew 5:21-22 he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment. Again, anyon who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ (an Aramaic term of contempt) is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Words matter.

When I choose to stay in my anger and to villainize another person, it is impossible to have meaningful dialogue.  When politicians villainize one another, it is impossible for them to have helpful dialogue enabling them to lead our nation.  When the Church villainizes others, it is impossible for us to be on mission with God.

Let me say that again, maybe a little differently.  When we, the Church, villainize others and use combative language, we are not advancing the Kingdom, the Shalom, of God.  Jesus is really clear about that.

Church, what if we walked humbly, lived missionally, loved profusely and prayed deeply?  Would we reflect more the image of Christ and his love for this world?

Lead like Christ.

Now is an opportunity like no other for the Church – to lead and live in the way of Jesus.  Be prophetic filled with love.  Speak authentically words seasoned by grace. Live courageously like Jesus joy-filled lives designed for integrity. Through the power and presence of the Spirit, be different. Lord, during these times of distrust and deep division, may we, your body & bride, be experienced differently by the world and may they see hope.

I love being right.  More than being right, however, I want to live with integrity and love.  I want to live into the design God created me for and to lovingly see the Kingdom of God reign in my world.  So, as much as I want to be right, I’m not going to call you names when you disagree with me. That way we can talk about it.

Blame: from Government Shut Down to Life…


It’s automatic isn’t it?  There is this feeling we have.  Deep.  Inside us.  Powerful emotions get triggered and we feel threatened, angry, afraid.  

Somewhere along the way in life, we don’t get what we want.  Our children don’t behave the way we want. We don’t get the promotion we want. The driver in front goes slower than we want. The train comes at a time we don’t want. We are later to a meeting than we want. The girl we want to date says “no” (not in my case, of course, she said “yes” even after praying I wouldn’t ask her out…). Somewhere along the way in life we don’t get what we want and deep emotions are stirred.  The Senate and the President won’t budge on healthcare and the House won’t budge on not funding it.  The government shuts down.  We don’t get what we want.

So – what do we do with those deep feelings?

Let’s be honest, we don’t like feeling those deep negative emotions.  I know people deeply passionate on both sides of the whole budget/obamacare issue.  They are feeling deep negative emotions.  And I know if I ask them, they will tell me they don’t like feeling the way they do.  

When we feel deep negative emotions about people or circumstances we want to do something with those feelings.  We feel like a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke that has been shaken for hours and has also had a roll of Mentos dropped in (try it, it’s fun!).  We feel so deeply and powerfully that we find we need to off load those feelings.

Blaming is how we often deal with our negative emotions

Our children don’t do what we want, others see it, we are embarrassed (because they behaved like children?) and so we blame. The traffic runs slow or the train stops us in our tracks and we are late for work – in order not to look bad, we blame the drivers and train.  We are late for the meeting because the elevator stopped on every floor.  

We blame.  We blame our children, the people around us and the circumstances around us. We off load our negative feelings by pushing the responsibility away from ourselves.

Politicians blame too!

The House is blaming the Senate. The Senate is blaming the House. The President is blaming the House.  The Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans.  

There is an interesting phenomenon taking place in our brains when we feel strong negative feelings.  Chemicals are released that help us become more reactive and less responsive.  In other words, we don’t think very well when we are engulfed in negative feelings.  I have a friend who says we become stupid.  I think I agree.

Blaming keeps us stuck in a pattern of compromised thinking.  Blaming keeps us in a cycle of feeling negative emotions toward others or the circumstances we are faced with because we continue to highlight the negative role they are playing, which keeps us trapped in thinking about how miserable they are making us feel, etc…

We blame too!  We are doing it today.  Depending on what you want, you are blaming somebody for the government shut-down.  You either blame the House for trying to defund Obamacare, or you blame the Senate & the President for not being willing to budge. 

When I am blaming others for the circumstances I don’t like, I am not thinking….very well. When I am stuck not thinking very well, I am not taking responsibility.  

Our elected officials carry a lot of responsibility but are not living into that responsibility when they are playing the Blame Game.

We carry a lot of responsibility too.  And we are not living into that responsibility when we play the Blame Game.  

Interestingly, I think we carry as much, or maybe even more, responsibility for where we are as a country than those in Washington.  We not only live within a system, but are deeply part of that system.  And as part of that system, we have elected Senators, Representatives and Presidents.  We have placed them in office and then blamed them when “Washington doesn’t work the way we want.”  

We put the Representatives into the House, we put the Senators into the Senate and we put the President into the White House; and yet we expect a different result than the one we are currently getting? I am part of that “we.” 

The kind of people we elect to office matters!

I am a part of this world and I deeply believe that how I live either helps bring the Kingdom of God, or the Shalom of God, to bear in a way that restores and reconciles places of brokenness; or I am contributing to that brokenness.

I can contribute to the brokenness of a dysfunctional government by letting my anger or fear drive me to blame; or I can take responsibility.

I wonder what it looks like to take responsibility for big things when I don’t feel I have the capacity?