Uncategorized

Why I Can’t Educate You Further on Racial Issues

(Editor’s Note #1: My wife and I recently traveled to Quest Church in Seattle to hear a guided conversation with Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. It was an excellent conversation (as is the book, I’ve been listening to it on Audible), and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the author, along with theologians and pastors Brenda Salter-McNeil and Gail Song Bantum, as they discussed the issues. In the Q&A section, Ms. Brown made a statement that is very similar to the one that I’m making here, so out of respect I’m citing her as a source, albeit not a primary one.)
(Editor’s Note #2: If you’re in a hurry and want to skip the first half that explains how and why I felt the need to answer this question in this way, scroll down to the picture labeled “My Response Below.”)

So I there I was, arguing about racial issues on Facebook.

Again.

(Those of you who know me well should not at all be surprised by this.)

Okay, actually, arguing is a bit of a misnomer, because I’ve actually resolved to do less of that on Facebook. (I was going to say, “I’ve stopped doing that,” but I work as a pastor now, so the consequences of lying in a blog post are even greater than before.)

What I was doing, though, was having a spirited exchange with a few people (mostly mutual friends, or friends-of-friends) on the topic of racial injustice, which is where I spend a significant portion of my time on Facebook. I also do a lot of normal Facebook type activities, but because this particular online forum is the only place where I can interact with people who are both ideologically or politically opposed and honest enough about their beliefs to articulate them (as opposed to most church communities, where people are either unchallenged in their beliefs or far too polite to ever get into such discussions), I tend to have these kinds of discussions often, and almost exclusively on Facebook. I readily admit that talking about highly-charged political and/or emotional topics online is less than optimal, but in our segregated America, my choices are usually either to talk about it on Facebook or not talk about it at all (which in many cases is how we got into this terrible situation to begin with). So, as in many other situations, Facebook conversations about race seem like the best of several bad choices.

Uncategorized

An Open Letter to Blockbuster Sermon Church

(Editor’s Note: This post is a response to an actual job listing for a pastoral position. I chose for the headline a nickname for the church (from a website they referenced and/or created) rather than the actual stated church name. I did this in the hopes that, should they abandon this particular branding experiment, my post will not be the first thing people read about their church when they search for it online.)

To Brad and the good people at Blockbuster Sermon Church:

I hear you’re looking for a pastor! How’s that going?

I’m not available or anything, I was just curious. I saw your job listing for a pastor when a friend of mine posted it to Facebook, and — okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I did laugh at it. Several times.

I’m not proud of that, I’m just admitting it because it’s truth. My friends and I, we often use Facebook as a form of entertainment, and sometimes that entertainment comes at the expense of others, especially others in churches.  You might’ve done this yourself. Sadly, the combination of smartphones, social media, and churches has created an ever-flowing stream of cringeworthy content.

(If you’ve ever laughed at the “Jesus Is A Friend of Mine” video, you know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, this section of the job listing is what caught the eye of my friend, and it’s what I want to talk to you about (yes, I know you’ve since changed some of the wording here, but I think your first draft was more honest, so I’m going with that):

Here is our concept. If a worship leader can take a song from Chris Tomlin and play it just like the album and that is 100% accepted in the church why can’t you, as a pastor, copy or do word per word of a sermon from Craig Groeschel and add 10% of your own style to it just like the band does. This concept would work great mixed with your own sermons about 20% of the time.
Meaning let’s give Blockbuster Sermons to the people. Proven messages or hit sermons then add 20% to 50% of your personal sermons based on a mutual agreement and or the congregation response. Test it out and see how it goes.

So Brad… can I call you Brad? … I salute you for being willing to experiment and try things that other churches aren’t doing. Being a West coast guy myself, I salute your sense of adventure and what I think could a willingness to move in whatever direction the Spirit of God is leading.

Nevertheless, I need to object.

Uncategorized

Lifting Up Jesus Isn’t Always What You Think It Is

Sometimes all it takes to properly contextualize a verse of Scripture is to read the next one.

This is John 12:32 (NIV):

 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I grew up hearing preachers and worship leaders quote John 12:32, and the application was, “we need to lift Jesus up on our praises! Honor him with your songs and your prayers, and God will use that to draw others around you into relationship.”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t think that’s wrong in the sense that it’s untrue… I believe we SHOULD lift Jesus up on our praises, and I believe God *does* sometimes use our public displays of affection as ways to engage others into relationship with him.

It’s a tricky thing, though, because, while Jesus did encourage people to pray and give privately to avoid showiness, he also publicly blessed the woman who showered him with expensive perfume. There’s a tension to be managed… it’s less of an either/or than a both/and situation.

Cause a lot of times, outward displays of piety come off as phony and calculated, like we’re doing it more to impress others with how holy we are. Or worse, trying to impress God! To Jesus, these displays are ridiculous and sad, akin to Ted Cruz trying to court Indiana voters by referring to the “basketball ring.”

Uncategorized

Black Panther, Blackest Movie Ever, Is Ironically Quite Conservative

One of the great ironies surrounding the phenomenon of Marvel’s latest cultural behemoth Black Panther is that a lot of Bible-believing, white evangelicals would really love it, if not for the fact that its name is remarkably similar to the revolutionary socialist political party of the 1970s.

(I’m guessing the Wikipedia Black Panther disambiguation page is getting a pretty good workout right about now.)

I’m serious. If it weren’t called Black Panther, if it was called T’Challa’s Triumph or Game of Thrones: Wakanda or something similar, even more white people would love it than already do.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, this movie is a huge freaking deal for a black people, and our people are seeing it in droves, but African-Americans cannot solely account for its record-setting box office numbers. White people are supporting this movie, if for no other reason than it’s the next hit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Even Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, after screening it for the first time, told director Ryan Coogler, “that’s the best movie we’ve ever made.”

Uncategorized

What Traffic Cops Can Teach Us About NFL Protests

So yesterday, on the way to church, I received a citation for speeding.

It happened while I was listening to a song from my middle school years, in a blast of nostalgia. The weather was nice, I was grooving along, and before I knew it, red and blues were flashing behind me. 75 in a 55, with my wife and two nephews in the car. My interaction with the officer was civil, if not pleasant. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think he pulled me over because I was black and driving a nice car (though the thought did cross my mind). Not my finest hour, but I’ll take the penalties and try to do better.

What’s interesting is that at church, our guest preacher also had a story about being pulled over by police. Except it wasn’t for speeding, but for continually driving in the left lane, a practice that is illegal in the state of Washington, several other states, and in my opinion, should be illegal everywhere.

Uncategorized

Conservatives, Just Substitute Corporal Punishment for Protesting the Anthem And You’ll Get Colin Kaepernick

You probably already know this, but just in case you haven’t been paying attention, here is a breakdown of the main facts surrounding Colin Kaepernick:


  • Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last summer and fall when he chose not to stand during the national anthem that precedes every NFL game.

  • His quiet act of protest (which he had done without incident several times before reporters asked him about it) sparked a firestorm of controversy and a series of similar protests from several other NFL players, continuing the ongoing national conversation about incidents of police brutality that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement

  • Kaepernick went on to have a fairly uneventful year on the field. His team went 1-10, but his individual performance was decent; he threw for 16 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, earning a total QB rating in the bottom third of starting NFL quarterbacks (pay attention to that word: starting quarterbacks).

  •  Now, on the eve of another NFL season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by any NFL team, despite not only being better than most (if not all) of the QBs signed ahead of him as backups, but according to star cornerback Richard Sherman, better than several current starting QBs as well.

  • This collective unwillingness to sign Kaepernick (some call it blackballing, but whether it’s a coordinated effort or a series of risk-averse GMs choosing not to court controversy, the net effect is still the same) has sparked unrest among African-Americans, and several have called for an NFL boycott, including evangelical pastor Leroy Barber, a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan.


Now… whether Colin Kaepernick is truly elite, whether he’s washed up, whether it’s a good business decision to sign him for NFL franchises or not… none of those are the main concern of this post.

No, my main concern is to address the main criticism I see lobbed at Colin Kaepernick from conservatives who feel that his protests were disrespectful. One Facebook acquaintance said that many veterans feel like it’s “a slap in the face” to disrespect the flag or the anthem.

The inference here is simple: Colin Kaepernick must not love America, because if he did, he wouldn’t be protesting.

Allow me a brief thought experiment while I demonstrate my moderate habit of switching ideological teams…

Uncategorized

Today’s Racial Microaggression Courtesy of WinCo [UPDATED]

In case any of you doubt the existence of racial micro-aggressions:

I was shopping at WinCo today, and when I went to pay for the $150 or so worth of food on the checkout counter, the young lady at the counter told me that “I’m sorry, it came up declined.”

I was taken aback by this, but I didn’t want to get defensive until I checked my bank account on my phone, so I did so.

“Huh. I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of money on that card,” I said, as I pulled up my app and waited for it to load.

Uncategorized

In Praise of the Get Out Brotherhood

By now you’ve no doubt heard about Jordan Peele’s hit film Get Out, the satire that inverts genre tropes to show an African-American perspective on horror. It wildly exceeded its opening weekend earnings estimates, and has enjoyed a strong buzz from the cultural cognoscenti for its rich, layered portrayal of liberal racism in both interpersonal and institutional forms.

And Lord knows we need more discussions about revealing and deconstructing racism in America… [cue Stephen A. Smith voice] howeva… I just need to stop and give thanks for what was, for me, the most life-giving aspect of the film: the friendship between the protagonist Chris and his friend Rod.

(And yes, I realize how ridiculous it sounds to refer to a horror movie as “life giving,” but stay with me.)

Uncategorized

Get Out: Why Evangelicals Should See It

Get Out is a taut horror thriller from Jordan Peele, famous as half of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy duo Key & Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes his debut behind the camera, directing fresh-faced Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Sicario) and Allison Williams (The Mindy Project) with his original script. But rather than comparing it to horror classics, I found it instructive to compare Get Out to another story with a relationship at its center – 2015’s film adaption of the hit musical The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. They’re both masterful in the way they use characters to hone a sense of perspective.  And Lord knows, when it comes to racial issues, evangelicals could use a healthy dose of the black perspective.

Uncategorized

What Traffic Can Teach Christians About Racism

So one of the problems I see in our political discourse, is that we often use the same words but mean different things.

And nowhere is that problem more vexing than in our discussions about race. It’s been a problem for a long time, of course, but ever since the election of Donald Trump, there have been a fresh round of arguments springing up on cable-news pundit panels, message boards and social media feeds. And the typical argument goes something like this:

 

Progressive: [Insert recent news story] is a clear example of racism! That [incident, action, statement or idea] is racist!

Conservative: No, it isn’t! Why do you make everything about race? That had nothing to do with race. [Insert person at the center of story] is not a racist!

Progressive: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your denial of racism is racist!

Conservative: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your accusation of racism makes you the real racist!

Rinse and repeat.