Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"A Time To Speak": Where Do We Go From Here?

Photo courtesy of Kainos Movement
A panel of black and white Christian leaders gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee last night for a discussion about race and the Church that was carried live on the Internet. If you it, you can watch a recording of the panel discussion by visiting

I joined with a diverse group of over 30 leaders from Cru at our Orlando headquarters to watch the two-hour livestream together and to participate in a 90 minute discussion afterward.

I won't attempt to comment on all that happened during the event (a couple of worthwhile summaries can be found at Reformed African American Network (RAAN) here and here) but, overall, I was pleased that this type of discussion was taking place. I would have preferred more woman on the panel and greater diversity in the ethnic and theological backgrounds of the panelists but those that participated did an admirable job.

In a country that has been historically divided along racial & ethnic lines, many of our churches have often trailed behind the broader culture in responding to racial injustice and actively moving towards unity across ethnic lines. I appreciated the emphasis that was placed on the importance of individual action and friendships in order for us to see healing in the Church. Although most panelists acknowledged the existence of systemic injustices, there was agreement that we each have a role to play.

In live-tweeting the event, there was a number of good comments that I captured. Here are a few that I felt were particularly poignant:
  • "Real change will happen around the dinner table. We have to do it where others may not necessarily see it." @trillianewbell
  • "Our immaturity as it pertains to the gospel and race has been exposed." @pastoremase
  • "At the end of the day, we don't know each others' stories. If we lack proximity, we will lack empathy." @bcloritts
  • "We're here at the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated not because we've gotten it right but because we've gotten it wrong." @alberttate
  • "What changed for me? My friendships with African Americans has grown exponentially." @MattChandler74
  • "If we can't have those conversations in the Church, how can we expect the world to?" @darrinpatrick
  • "These stories are American stories. Our collective stories." @ThabitiAnyabwil
  • "The Church has allowed our racialized society to influence us more than the Christ." @DerwinLGray
  • Preempt the issues on abortion, on racism, and others, biblically. Go there first, and capture the vocabulary.” @JohnPiper
On a personal level, I was especially encouraged that a number of Cru leaders participated in this event within the context of multi-ethnic community. We had a healthy discussion after the livestream concluded and I trust that those dialogues will continue and, ultimately, will result in positive action. The discussion was great but the its true effectiveness will be measured in changed hearts and increased friendships across ethnic lines.

For me, I've already seen positive results. Just this morning at a men's small group Bible study through my church, we had a vigorous discussion about "A Time to Speak" and the current realities of race in America. As we shared our opinions, I realized that one of my friends in the group held a much different perspective than me. We had a tense, yet respectful, interaction where our perspectives were shared. 

After the group was over, this friend and I took the time to talk further. We listened to one another more fully and sought to understand where the other was coming from. We looked for common ground and challenged one another's assumptions. Our conversation ended with him asking for suggestions on practical ways that he can learn more about these issues with different perspectives than his own. 

It was a gracious dialogue between two Christian brothers with differing viewpoints yet both seeking to understand the other. Though we share the same ethnic background, we do not view these issues in the same manner. But we were able to talk about it and, hopefully, it will result in greater understanding on both our parts as we relate to those that live in different worlds than our own.

And that is my hope for what happens after "A Time to Speak." That honest and vulnerable dialogue will translate into greater empathy for one another. And that, eventually, that empathy turns into concrete loving action where people of various ethnicities build real and lasting friendships with one another. 

As much as I support the fight against unjust systems and structures, we could end up on an equal playing field yet still hating one another. Yes, let's fight inequality and injustice, but let's do so spurred on by the gospel and in the context of friendship and Christian brotherhood. We'll be all the better for it.

[If you're interested in learning more about what led me into caring so deeply about these issues, please check out a previous post of mine, How A Small Step Of Faith Started My Journey Into Ethnic Minority Ministry.]

Friday, December 12, 2014

In Our Broken World, Our God is With Us

Photo taken from 'The Nativity Story' (
Something took place over 2,000 years ago in a tiny Middle Eastern town that changed the course of human history. The biblical text tells us that the soon-to-be mother of a little child was told that the boy she was carrying was special. His name would be Jesus and He would be the Savior of all mankind.

There is a longing within the human heart for the Hebrew concept of Shalom, when peace reigns and all is right with the world. Our hearts ache for something better as we grapple with the heartbreak, pain and death that life often brings our way. We wonder if we are all alone is this world that we inhabit. We question if there is someone greater than us that sees and cares and will respond to our needs.

The birth of the baby Jesus answers this query. The angel that foretold his birth said that He would be known as Immanuel, which means "God with us." Previous to the birth of Christ, God's Spirit was present but in a much different way. With the coming of Christ (Advent), God took on human flesh -- the incarnation -- and came to live among us. He experienced what we experience and saw what we see. He experienced pain. He knew hunger and tiredness. He lived under an oppressive regime. He even went through a painful death. He endured the same kind of temptations and struggles that we do, but didn't sin. It's quite amazing once you stop and think about it.

The fact that "God is with us" means that there is hope. We do not walk through life alone. Even with economic challenges, the unjust deaths of children, women and men and the threat of war ever before us, our God is among us. His Spirit is present and He lives within those that are His true followers. As I think about the uncertainty that tomorrow brings, I take comfort in the reality of Immanuel.

One of my favorite modern Christmas songs is Our God is With Us from Steven Curtis Chapman's first Christmas album, The Music of Christmas. May the truths contained in this video bring peace to your heart.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Black Lives Matter: White Evangelicals & The Importance of Empathy

Photo Credit: nefer | media
"How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted." ~ Habakkuk 1:2-4 (NIV)

Black Lives Matter
Protests have swept across the United States in response to the death of black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement. Thousands have proclaimed refrains of "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" and "I Can't Breathe" in order to emphatically state that Black Lives Matter.

For those of us in the Christian community, calls have gone out from our African American brothers and sisters to join them in their fight for justice. Sadly, these calls have gone largely ignored. Although there are a number of non-black Christians that are seeking to bring attention to this important issue, many of us within the majority culture simply aren't paying all that much attention to what is going on. 

Why is that? I'm sure there a number of factors that contribute to this but one primary reason is that we're largely incapable of offering an empathetic response to those in the black community. Even though white and black Christians claim the same faith and read the same Bible, our worldview, which is shaped by our life experiences, cause us to interpret issues of race and culture quite differently -- see Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith for further insights into these realities.

Empathy & Friendship
Empathy is simply "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." It is stepping into the shoes of someone else to see the world through their eyes and seeking to experience what they are feeling. Brene Brown offers a compelling description of empathy in this video:

The dismissive response that too many of us as white Christians have offered in light of these protests indicates that we are not seeking to understand those in the black community. Instead of asking, "Why are so many people so upset about this?" we instead decide that the protesters, even the majority that are doing so peaceably, do not have a right to do so. Though we've never spent a single day as a black person in America, we assume we can speak to the experience of those that have. This is not empathy.

In seeking to develop this kind of empathy, one of the best ways that we can do so is to develop friendships with those of different ethnic groups. While not able to fully understand what it is like to experience America as an ethnic minority, we can gain a greater appreciation for the realities of those from ethnic minority groups through honest and humble dialogue and spending time with them in "their world." This can aid us in seeing systemic injustices that ethnic minorities may experience -- helping us to see that racism is often experienced beyond individual events or people.

Alternative News Sources
Another great way to grow in our empathy is to expose ourselves to alternative news sources. We tend to spend the bulk of our time listening to those voices that we know we already agree with. This limits our growth and hinders our ability to be challenged. Our stereotypes and biases remain unchanged and we continue on with our lives not knowing where our perspectives may be misguided.

There have been scores of well-written responses from Christian leaders to what has transpired in Ferguson, New York City and other cities across America. While not exhaustive, here is a handful of articles that I've found helpful for me as a white evangelical in gaining a greater understanding of these important matters:
In addition to these blog posts from Christian sisters and brothers, I've found that websites that include a variety of African American perspectives on current events have been especially useful. Among the sites from which I regularly receive my news are:
There is Hope
By seeking out different voices to listen to, especially from those that have experienced the world differently than I have, I find that I grow in my ability to see the world through different eyes and to truly experience empathy with others. As mentioned previously, I don't think I can fully appreciate nor understand what it's like to live, for example, as a black man in America, but I can allow God to do a work in my heart so that in my listening and teachability, I might grow in my empathy for others.

Though a lot of Christians have remained silent about racial injustices throughout the history of our country, there is a growing number that refuse to stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are mistreated and disregarded. We believe that how we treat one another is a reflection upon how we view God.

As we live to see a just society in our service to the Prince of Prince, I hope and pray that we can agree with God's response to the prophet Habakkuk's lament that opened this post: "Look at the nations and watch -- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why Do The Detroit Lions Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Photo Credit: guyfromlargo
The Detroit Lions and Thanksgiving Day games go together like turkey and stuffing. As a lifelong Lions fans, I've always looked forward to the opportunity to see the Honolulu Blue & Silver in a nationally televised game. For many years during my lifetime, Thanksgiving has been the only time that Detroit would be featured in such a game.

Even though the Lions have been more successful in recent years and feature NFL stars such as Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford, most Americans would probably prefer to see another team replace the Lions on the regular Thanksgiving Day schedule. But for those of us that consider ourselves devotees of the Lions, we hope the tradition continues.

So if you're wondering why the Lions play on Thanksgiving, here's a little history from the Lions' website:
"The [Thanksgiving Day] game was the brainchild of G.A. Richards, the first owner of the Detroit Lions. Richards had purchased the team in 1934 and moved the club from Portsmouth, Ohio to the Motor City. The Lions were the new kids in town and had taken a backseat to the baseball Tigers. Despite the fact the Lions had lost only one game prior to Thanksgiving in 1934, the season’s largest crowd had been just 15,000. The opponent that day in 1934 was the undefeated, defending World Champion Chicago Bears of George Halas. 
The game would determine the champion of the Western Division. Richards had convinced the NBC Radio Network to carry the game coast-to-coast (94 stations) and, additionally, an estimated 26,000 fans jammed into the University of Detroit Stadium while thousands more disappointed fans were turned away. Despite two Ace Gutowsky touchdowns, the Bears won the inaugural game, 19-16, but a classic was born. Since 1934, 69 games have been played with the Lions holding a series record of 33-34-2 (.493). And each game, in its own way, continues to bring back memories of Thanksgiving, not only to Lions' fans, but to football fans across the nation."
In addition, the Dallas Cowboys have also been featured on Thanksgiving since 1966 and a third game, featuring rotating teams in the evening slot, was introduced in 2006.

Viewers of last year's Detroit/Green Bay game witnessed a Lions victory, 40-10 -- the first time the country saw a Detroit win on Thanksgiving since 2003. Historically, the Lions overall record on Thanksgiving games is 34-37-2.

Their 2014 match-up features the 7-4 Lions taking on NFC Central Division rival, the Chicago Bears (5-6).

While time with family, giving thanks for God's blessing and enjoying a large feast are probably the highest priorities for most Americans on Thanksgiving, watching NFL football is another Thanksgiving tradition that many of us look forward to each year. Go Lions!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Looking For Models Of Grace In A Society In Dire Need Of It

Photo Credit: Viewminder
In the increasingly polarized society in which we live, it can be easy for those of us that call ourselves Christians to carry ourselves in the same kind of manner as those that don't consider themselves to be followers of Christ. By either treating others the same way they treat us or by simply living lives that don't look much different than everyone else, we can miss out on opportunities to demonstrate the difference that Jesus can make in our lives as individuals and in society as a whole.

In a recent interview with Leadership Journal's Paul Pastor, author Philip Yancey challenges us to consider the role that grace can play as we interact with our culture. Here's a highlight:
"The Barna Group has documented that ordinary Americans, especially the "nones" who have no religious commitment, view Christians much less favorably than they did even 20 years ago. Books like unChristian spell out why. Outsiders to the faith see Christians as judgmental, self-righteous, right-wing, and anti—anti-gay, anti-science, anti-sex—the usual stereotypes. 
I'll leave that field to the pollsters and sociologists. As a Christian, I'm more interested in how we in the church contribute to a crisis of grace. To me, much of the problem stems from the uncomfortable reality that American culture has moved away from having a solid Christian consensus at its core. Certainly a strong majority of people believe in God, and a strong minority attend church on a semi-regular basis, but the culture has grown increasingly secular compared to the recent past.

Recently I heard the writer Amy Sherman describe three possible approaches: fortification, accommodation, and domination. Fortification: some Christians hunker down in a defensive posture, insulating themselves against the broader culture, creating a bubble around the subculture. Accommodation: some follow the script of the world, watering down the message so that it no longer offends. Domination: some fight to "get our country back!" by electing Christian politicians and working to pass laws that reflect the moral values they cherish.

Each of these approaches involves pitfalls, as Amy Sherman pointed out. Fortification? Jesus sent out his followers as "sheep among wolves," not as sheep locked safely in the barn. Accommodation? Jesus never watered down the gospel message and its implications for how we should live. Domination? One of the main reasons for a decline of faith in Europe traces back to the days when church and state worked together to dominate culture; though a coercive approach may work for a while, inevitably it produces a backlash.

For a better model I look back to the early Christians, who were seeking to live out their faith in a culture far more hostile and arguably more immoral than our own. We think NFL football is violent; Romans watched gladiatorial murder for sport. Abortion is bad enough; in the cruelest form of birth control, the Romans abandoned their full-term infants to wild animals. Homosexuality? Sophisticated Romans practiced same-sex pederasty with children.

So how did the early Christians respond? As a tiny minority, they showed a watching world a different way to be human. They adopted those abandoned infants and nursed them back to health. Risking their own lives, they stayed behind to nurse plague victims whose families had fled. They lived out a new standard of sexual purity.

As anyone knows who cruises the Internet, watches television, or votes in elections, our culture is becoming increasingly polarized. I look for models of how to bring grace back to a society in dire need of it. American Christians have been spoiled, in a way, with our religious heritage. Historically, we're the outlier. More often the church faces situations like the early Christians faced in Rome—or like the church in China and the Middle East faces today. With our strong infrastructure of missions, education, and service organizations, I hope we in the U.S. church can demonstrate to the rest of the world a new model, of pioneer settlements showing the world a different way to live, a bright contrast to the violent, competitive, self-indulgent culture around us."
To read the rest of the interview please click here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Finding Hope In The Disappointments Of Ministry

Photo Credit: Long CHUNG
I really appreciated these words from Mandy Smith in Christianity Today:
"A former student of mine just left the ministry. Totally walked away. I understand why. She had been doing good but hard work in a place where she rarely saw results. It’s only natural to be discouraged. 
It has made me think about the times I want to walk away. 
Strangely, it’s my imagination that usually brings on the discouragement. Things are never as wonderful as I imagine they could be. I see the brokenness of the world. I believe God cares about it, and I believe God is powerful to do something about it. So I set out to fix it, making grand claims on God’s behalf, imagining all the miracles I’m about to see. I’m like a child—throwing myself fully into what I’ve dreamed up. But the outcome is often less spectacular. So I put away my dress up box, and decide it’s time to grow up. I go small. I stop imagining. And then the depression sets in as the brokenness and limitations overwhelm me. I stop talking to God, stop hoping. 
This is one of the hardest ministry skills: finding that somewhere-in-between where I can trust in God’s power but at the same time not be discouraged when it doesn’t show itself in the fullness I had imagined. 
The Stockdale Paradox has an interesting application here. You may have heard the story of James Stockdale, who spent 8 years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp where he was tortured over 20 times. Unlike many of his fellow prisoners, he survived the experience emotionally and went on to be an influential leader. When asked what made him different, he pointed out that often the ones who didn’t make it out of prisoner of war camp were the optimists: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be,” (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 85). It’s not our call to be pessimists or optimists but realists. Especially if reality and truth are the same thing. Our reality is this: God is good and all-powerful and the world is not as it was created to be. These together are truth. These two realities co-exist, at least for now. 
I wonder if James Stockdale was familiar with the book of Revelation. The lamb looks slain—but he stands. The two witnesses seem to be overpowered—but then they rise again. Like the little scroll that John is told to eat, life is sweet in our mouths but turns sour in our stomachs. We can never lose the faith that we will prevail in the end. But that doesn’t remove the most brutal facts of our current reality. 
Life is a sweet and sour sandwich. 
This is living counter-culturally in a way much bigger than the morality of the movies we choose to watch. This is choosing to see the world through God’s eyes, as broken but ultimately redeemed. And living into that reality although it’s not yet fully true."
To read the rest of this article please click here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Richest Americans Donating Less, Poor Give More To Charity

Photo Credit: Tax Credits
"In the wake of the Great Recession, the richest Americans are donating less to charity, while the poorest are giving more, according to a new study. 
In a report released today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Americans who earned at least $200,000 gave nearly 5% less to charity in 2012 than in 2006. 
Higher-income people tend to give proportionately less during tough economic times, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 
“The downturn was a shock to so many of them, and they’ve been nervous and cautious,” she says. 
The shift has likely meant less money flowing into universities, hospitals and cultural institutions, which the wealthy tend to patronize. Lower- and middle-income donors often give to social service organizations, Palmer says. In part because these groups have had fewer dollars to give, those organizations have still faced a squeeze. 
Unlike their wealthier counterparts, low- and middle-income Americans — those who made less than $100,000 — gave 5% more in 2012 than in 2006, the Chronicle found. The poorest Americans — those who took home $25,000 or less — increased their giving by nearly 17%. 
“Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard,” Palmer says. 
Religiosity is another factor driving up giving among low- and middle-income Americans, she says. 
Wealthier Americans still gave more in absolute terms, increasing their donations between 2006 and 2012 by $4.6 billion, adjusted for inflation, to $77.5 billion. In that period, the collective wealth of Americans on The Forbes 400 soared by $1.04 trillion. 
Those who earned less than $100,000 gave $57.3 billion in 2012."
To read the rest of this article please click here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Authentic Is American Chinese Food?

Photo Credit: yorkd
From Mental Floss:
"If you showed one of these iconic white pails to people in China, they might scratch their heads. The little boxes were patented on November 13, 1894 in Chicago by the not-so-Chinese inventor Frederick Weeks Wilcox (who wanted to improve the wooden oyster pails commonly used to transport raw mollusks from fish markets). They’re distinctly American—as is the takeout packed inside them. 
Chinese restaurants first started popping up in America in the mid-1800s when immigrants—mostly from present-day Guangzhou—flocked to California during the Gold Rush. The eateries spread, and by the 1920s, Chinese restaurants were featuring two menus: one with traditional fare; the other an Americanized version. The latter menu, which featured foods doused in sweet, salty, syrupy sauces, became a cuisine all its own. 
For example, the broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, and yellow onions found at American Chinese restaurants aren’t part of traditional Chinese cooking. (Tomatoes and broccoli aren’t even native to China!) That General Tso’s chicken you adore? American. Those fortune cookies? Not just American, but based on Japanese crackers. Chinese food is so ingrained in American culture that there are more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s."
What we view as culturally authentic may really not be when distinctiveness is sacrificed in order to gain mass appeal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

2014 Demographics for U.S. College Students

Photo Credit:
The nation's college students are growing in number and our campuses continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac and the Open Doors Report, the following statistics from the 2012-2013 school year contain some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:
  • There are approximately 21 million college students studying within the United States.
  • Of those 21 million students, 4 out of 10 are American ethnic minorities and international students. 
  • Within the state of California alone, there are almost 2.7 million students. This is an amazing 13% of the country's total! Of these students, nearly 1.7 million are American ethnic minorities and international students. 
  • Texas has over 1.5 million students in the state, including nearly half a million Hispanic students. 
  • Primarily due to the presence of New York City, close to 1.3 million students attend college in the state of New York. Almost 600,000 of them are American ethnic minorities and international students.
  • The number of Native American students across the country is approaching 200,000. 
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander now number close to 1.2 million students. 
  • There are 2.8 million African Americans on our campuses, over 13% of all students. 
  • Hispanics and Latinos are rapidly growing in number and influence and now comprise well over 13% of all students, totaling over 2.8 million students. 
  • The number of international students currently studying in the U.S. is nearing one million. 
  • In demonstration of the country's increasing cultural diversity, almost half a million of America's college students define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
  • Another 1.3 million students do not self-identify as belonging to any particular ethnic group nor do they define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
  • Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 11.2 million. If current trends hold true, however, there will be no ethnic majority within the next few years.
What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches that will effectively reach: 1) students of color; 2) those that speak a primary language other than English; and 3) those in our major cities. The world is here. How will we respond?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Are The Most Diverse Campuses In The United States?

Photo Credit: IOE London
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the west coast is home to many of our nation's most ethnically diverse campuses. Utilizing a "diversity index" (which measures the probability that any two students at an institution are from different racial or ethnic groups), 36 schools from California and 14 from Hawaii made the Chronicle's list. New York is the next closest state with 10 schools on the list.

Here's the breakdown by types of 4-year schools:

4-year public
1. University of Hawaii at Hilo
2. University of Hawaii Maui College
3. University of Hawaii - West Oahu
4. University of Hawaii - Manoa
5. California State University - East Bay
6. New Jersey Institute of Technology
7. City College of City University of New York
8. Rutgers University at Newark
9. University of Houston
10. San Francisco State University
11. San Jose Sate University
12. City University of New York Bernard M. Baruch College
13. University of California at Los Angeles
14. Seattle Central Community College
15. City University of New, New York City College of Technology
4-year private non-profit
1. Hawaii Pacific University
2. Chaminade University of Honolulu
3. Holy Names University
4. La Sierra University
5. Houston Baptist University
6. Andrews University
7. Pacific Union College
8. Otis College of Art and Design
9. Remington College at Honolulu
10. University of San Francisco
11. Southwestern Adventist University
12. Menlo College
13. Nyack College
14. New York Institute of Technology at Old Westbury
15. University of Southern California
Whether campuses are considered to have high ethnic diversity or not, we in Cru seek to trust the Lord to see movements everywhere so that each student from every culture has an opportunity to connect with Christ on their campus and in their community.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Is True For The College Freshmen Of 2014?

Photo Credit: Novartis AG
Each year at the start of the new school year, Beloit College releases what they call the Mindset List -- a list of important facts and events which influence the worldview and perspective that this year's college freshmen class brings with them.

This year's list, which is made up for the graduating class of 2018, represents those students who were born in 1996. As you can see, this year's list highlights advances in science, changes in technology, significant world events, the role that social media now plays and the evolution of societal views on human sexuality and religion.

You can read the complete list here but I've included some entries below that I found particularly interesting:
  • During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
  • “Press pound” on the phone is now translated as “hit hashtag.”
  • Celebrity “selfies” are far cooler than autographs.
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always been the only news program that really “gets it right.”
  • The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
  • In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
  • Hong Kong has always been part of China.
  • Hello Dolly...cloning has always been a fact, not science fiction.
  • Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA.
  • Hell has always been associated less with torment and more with nothingness.
  • There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
  • They have never had to hide their dirty magazines under the bed.
  • Attending schools outside their neighborhoods, they gather with friends on Skype, not in their local park.
  • “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.
  • Since Toys R Us created a toy registry for kids, visits to Santa are just a formality.
Please remember to pray for the 22 million U.S. college students that are starting classes over the next few weeks. They are part of a changing world...and they also have the opportunity to influence how the world changes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Lesson From Ferguson: All Life is Valuable

It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri and we still don't know what exactly happened. Witnesses say one thing; the police say another. Whatever it was that transpired, the black residents of Ferguson, along with a number of their allies, have responded with protests as they demand that local police share the truth. Local and state government has answered with an increased show of force as they seek to restore order in their community.

For many of us that are not black, we may have a difficult time understanding the anger that is behind what happened in Ferguson. We ask, "Why is the death of Michael Brown drawing so much attention?"

[Timeline: For a timeline of the events in Ferguson please click here.]

It could be that one of the reasons that what happened in Ferguson has so gripped the attention of the African American community is because, for them, this is not an isolated incident. According to a Pew Research Center study, 80% of African Americans feel that this case raises important issues about race. Only 37% of white people feel the same. For many black people, this situation brings reminders of a troubled history within this country and an uneasy relationship with law enforcement.

In just the past few weeks, at least a handful of unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police. So the anger that the residents of Ferguson are expressing is not solely on the behalf of the death of Michael Brown, although that is a big part of it. It is on behalf of all the black men that have lost their lives unnecessarily at the hands of the powerful and privileged. It is on behalf of all the black men that live their lives knowing that they could be mistaken for a criminal at any moment. It is on behalf of all the black mothers and grandmothers that stay up at night in prayer that their children will make it home safely. It is on behalf of our own humanity.

As new revelations have come to light regarding the incident in the convenience store prior to the shooting, we may be tempted to think that the shooting of an unarmed man six times is undoubtedly justifiable. But in a television interview from the other night, actor Jesse Williams offers another perspective on how this tragedy can be viewed. Here's the clip:

For those of us that are white Americans, it could be easy to ignore the events of Ferguson. In reality, many of us are doing just that. We turn our attention to other matters and don't concern ourselves with these things that take place in our own country because, well, we don't have to. When we look at this dead young man and the crowds of protesters, we don't see ourselves. We see someone else.

And this is part of the problem of living in a sin-stained world where the human tendency to value the lives of those that look like us over those that don't has been seen throughout human history. For those of us that are Christians, this should give us pause to look deep within our own hearts to examine the ways that we view and treat others in ways that devalue them as people created in the image of God.

What is going on in Ferguson matters because it demonstrates that we as a country still have a ways to go to achieve liberty and justice for all. I really don't claim to have the answers but I think listening and learning and praying is at least a good place to start.


There are a number of Christian writers that have weighed in on this developing story. Please consider reading these posts for additional perspectives:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shedding Light On The Differences Between Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Photo Credit: Mike Hiatt
Here are some helpful insights from Marque Mathias Jensen on the unique differences on how we define race, ethnicity and culture:
"Here in the USA,  people often assume that the race of a person defines also their culture, ethnicity, and even class, this lie is the fruit of racism learned and internalized.   If instead, we see race as a social construct that only has the power assigned by society, we can begin to appreciate ethnic differences and culture uniqueness without allowing the lies of race to force us into making false assumptions. 
Our Latino American neighbors often have less of a problem with this as they know that a Honduran,  Puerto Rican, Brazilian or …  could have any type of skin pigmentation.   Ignorance that believes that race = ethnicity = culture,  is where conversations around these categories often become awkward and difficult. 
For example working in multi-cultural services in colleges I observed the following multiple times: 
The young student, who as an infant, was an adoptee into a wealthy European-American home, from, for example, Uganda or Korea. While the parents have usually tried and done their best, this student will often struggle with identity, and their peers struggle to know where they “fit” into the categories we’ve been trained to assign people. 
WHY? Typically, people would tend to visually categorize this person as: 
     Racially: Black, or Asian, and then assume they are also... 
     Culturally: African-American or Asian-American. 
But for this student, often raised in a small accepting community they are more aware that they are: 
     Ethnically: Ugandan or Korean, and having been raised in mainstream culture... 
     Culturally: European-American. 
For some reason we think if we can know what box they fit into we will better know, or not need to know, that person. 
It is proof that to some extent we have bought into the lie that one’s race tells can tell us something significant about a person. It is proof that we all have been impacted by racism, by benefiting from it or by internalizing it. 
However the lines of race, ethnicity and culture are blurry and frequently very imprecise. It is important to know the culture and ethnicity one identifies with, but will we allow people to define themselves, even when they defy the standard stereotypes? The cultures and ethnicities of our world are beautiful and complement each other in ways that can strengthen and expand us all, yet what happens when  no traditional category fully encompasses how they view their own identity?"
To read more of Marque's thoughts on this topic please click here.

(HT: Christena Cleveland for the link.)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Widening Gap in U.S. Between Older Whites & Younger Minorities

Photo Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões
From Don Lee of the Tribune Washington Bureau:
"As the U.S. population ages and becomes more ethnically diverse, the country is seeing a widening demographic gap between older whites and young minorities — a shift with significant social and economic implications. 
Non-Latino white Americans made up almost 79 percent of the country’s population of people more than 65 years old, as of last July, but the white share of residents under age 15 slipped further, to 51.8 percent, according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data released Thursday. 
By comparison, Latinos accounted for 7.5 percent of people in the U.S. over 65, but almost 25 percent of those under 15. The large population gains of Latino and other minority youths mean nonwhites not only will have more voting clout in the years ahead, but will also constitute the labor force of tomorrow. 
Yet this racial generational gap, particularly large in California and the Southwest, also points up the potential challenges as the U.S. relies on younger minorities to pick up the slack of an aging nation, including supporting social programs for a mostly white senior population. 
“What we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg as white baby-boomers continue to retire, and whites make up ever-smaller shares of the childbearing population,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed the annual census data on population by age and race. 
“It suggests that even greater priority should be given to providing these young minorities education opportunities and other resources to be successful as members of the labor force,” he said. 
The new census release shows how economics can drive population and migration trends. The nation’s foreign-born population grew by 843,145 people from July 2012 to last July, down about 5 percent from the previous 12-month period. The drop came mostly from Latinos, whose immigrant population growth has been overtaken by Asians. Part of the decline in the foreign-born Latino growth reflects demographic and economic changes in Mexico, said scholar Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda."
To read more on this story please click here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do You Know What Juneteenth Is?

Photo Credit: ניקולס
Today, June 19th, represents a significant day in American history. On this day in 1865, news finally reached Galveston, Texas that the Civil War had ended and that the slaves were freed.

Here is some history from
"Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. 
However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. 
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question   For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory. 
General Order Number 3 
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with: 
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer." 
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. 
Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date."
There are some striking parallels between what happened on June 19, 1865 and the spiritual condition of many people today. It was in January 1863 that President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the Confederate. Their freedom had been granted by the man in authority to do so...but no one had told those in captivity.

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ made a way for us to have our sin forgiven and cleared a path for us to enter into a relationship with God. He has done everything that needs to be done for us to be free. But many people have not heard this good news. They need a messenger to tell them that they can be free if they place their faith in Christ.

Who can you help set free today?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Last Remaining Navajo Code Talker Passes Away

"The last of 29 Navajos who developed an unbreakable code that helped Allied forces win World War II died in New Mexico on Wednesday of kidney failure at age 93. Chester Nez was the last survivor of the group of Native Americans recruited by the Marine Corps to create a code based on their language that the Japanese could not crack. His son, Michael Nez, said his father died peacefully in his sleep at their home in Albuquerque. 
“He had been battling kidney disease, and it seems like the disease won,” Michael Nez told Reuters. “He’s the last of a great era, a great part of history.” About 400 Code Talkers would go on to use their unique battlefield cipher to encrypt messages sent from field telephones and radios throughout the Pacific theater during the war. 
It was regarded as secure from Japanese military code breakers because the language was spoken only in the American Southwest, was known by fewer than 30 non-Navajo people and had no written form. The Navajos’ skill, speed and accuracy under fire in ferocious battles from the Marshall Islands to Iwo Jima is credited with saving the lives of thousands of U.S. servicemen and helping shorten the war. Their work was celebrated in the 2002 movie “Windtalkers.” 
In his memoirs, Nez said he knew he made the right decision to join the fight. “I reminded myself that my Navajo people had always been warriors, protectors,” he said. “In that there was honor. I would concentrate on being a warrior, on protecting my homeland. Within hours, whether in harmony or not, I knew I would join my fellow Marines in the fight.” 
In 2001, when the surviving Navajo Code Talkers were invited to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their service, Nez told Tribune Newspapers that their operations did not always run smoothly. were mistaken for Japanese,” he said. The death in 2011 of Lloyd Oliver made Nez the last surviving member of the unit. The president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, said he had ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of Nez. 
“It saddens me to hear the last of the original Code Talkers has died,” Shelly said. “We are proud of these young men in defending the country they loved using their Navajo language.” Last November, the American Veterans Center honored Nez for bravery and valor above and beyond the call of duty, awarding him the Audie Murphy Award for distinguished service. 
“I was very proud to say that the Japanese did everything in their power to break that code, but they never did,” Nez said in an interview with the Stars and Stripes newspaper the day before receiving the award. Nez and his fellow recruits were called communications specialists by the Marines and were taught Morse code, semaphore and “blinker,” a system using lights to send messages between ships. 
The code they developed substituted Navajo words for military terms. CHAYDA-GAHI, which translates to “turtle,” came to mean a tank while a GINI, “chicken hawk” in English, became a dive bomber. America was NE-HEMAH, “our mother.” The Code Talkers served in all six Marine divisions, and 13 were killed in World War II. Nez also volunteered to serve two more years during the Korean War. He retired in 1974 after a 25-year career as a painter at the Veterans Administration hospital in Albuquerque. 
Shelly said the Navajo Nation was drafting a proclamation in honor of Nez that it plans to present, along with the Navajo Nation flag, to the Code Talker’s relatives. Nez is expected to be buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery next week."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sudanese Woman Sentenced To Death For Christian Faith

Photo Credit: Glen Van Etten
From Christianity Today:
"Given until today to recant her faith by a Sudanese court, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim instead declared she remained a Christian at today's hearing. The judge at the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum then confirmed her sentence of 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for apostasy. 
"I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim," Ibrahim told the judge after a Muslim scholar spent 40 minutes persuading her to recant, reports Morning Star News, which first broke the news of Ibrahim's case. In response, the judge told her, "The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead." 
However, the sentence is to be carried out two years after her second child's birth later this month, not shortly after the birth as previously reported. 
Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirmed the death sentence in the case drawing international attention, calling the ruling a "violation of the Sudanese Constitution and of international conventions to which Sudan is party." 
Middle East Concern reports that Ibrahim's lawyer is appealing the ruling. Ibrahim's husband was also not permitted to witness the hearing, and has been denied visitation rights to see his wife and son while they are detained in prison. 
Ahead of today's hearing, Amnesty International condemned Ibrahim's death sentence and called for her immediate release. According to Manar Idriss, Amnesty International's Sudan researcher: 
"The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is abhorrent and should never be even considered. 'Adultery' and 'apostasy' are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of "most serious crimes" in relation to the death penalty. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law."
World Watch Monitor reports more background on Ibrahim's case, including how her brother first notified authorities about her alleged adultery."
To read more on this developing story please click here.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Embracing Diversity Involves More Than Meets The Eye

Photo Credit: United Way of the Lower Mainland
Diversity is a bit of a buzzword these days but I wonder if most of us fully understand what diversity truly means. I fear that for many Christian organizations and churches, diversity simply means that a few people from cultures other than the majority culture are represented in a group.

But true diversity -- biblical diversity -- means much more than that.

For a Christian community to truly refer to itself as one that is Christ-honoring in its diversity, I believe that means that each person that is part of that community, no matter what their ethnic background or cultural experiences, is able to bring their FULL self in their pursuit of God's glory.

By Their Strange Fruit, a blog that I enjoy reading, offers some good thoughts on the topic of diversity. A highlight:
"Diversity cannot be the end goal, just like counting heads in pews isn't an end in itself. They're merely metrics. Diversity is simply a measure on the way to richer engagement and equality. Diversity is about quantity. As followers of Christ, we must also be interested in quality. 
We cannot pretend that getting many different faces in the room alters structural injustice. Going beyond diversity means setting aside our own agendas. It means asking how we may serve the priorities of those around us. We must share power, and set aside our privilege. Diversity itself does not assure these things. 
Too often white-dominated organizations (read: churches) seek people of color simply to validate their own structures and plans. They want diversity in their brochures and their stats. But they want 'just enough'--not too much. They don't want to be fundamentally changed from the dominant-culture organizations they are. If we believe our own way of running things should be the standard, then we are allowing our own hubris to get in the way of the Church that Jesus envisioned. 
We like diversity. We say we value it. We attend training events for it and put it in our mission statements. We like to pat ourselves on the back if we obtain a certain percentage. But have we served the purpose of creating a more just and equitable society? 
There is a place for diversity. It helps us be mindful of our group composition and avoid homogeneity. Sometimes we struggle even to attain nominal levels of diversity in our environments, so it remains one of our many goals toward racial justice. 
But diversity itself does nothing if unjust polices remain unchallenged. It is useless if voices remain silenced or certain opinions are not valued. It is pointless if we remain oblivious to crucial social issues outside of our cultural bubble. Diversity itself cannot change the deeply rooted inequalities at play in our society. For that, we need press further.
Embracing diversity involves much more than getting those of minority groups to adapt to and fit in with majority culture. Embracing diversity means to pursue a radical inclusiveness where justice is pursued, equality is valued and love reigns supreme.

To read the rest of the post from By Their Strange Fruit please click here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Both Social Justice & Evangelism On The Rise For Millennials

Photo Credit: Merrimack College
According to recent research from the Barna Group, the perception that Christian Millennials (those born in the early 1980's through the early 2000's) are big on social justice but wary of evangelism might not be accurate. Here is what Barna found:
"They've been called "the social justice generation," and for good reason—Millennials are actively taking up the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. Yet the most common critique leveled at this surge in social compassion is that it comes at a great expense. Sure, skeptics argue, they might feed the hungry and free the captives in this life, but what about the next? According to this view, Millennials are elevating physical needs over spiritual needs and forgoing evangelism altogether. 
Yet the latest Barna research reveals this is not the case. 
In fact, in answer to the question of evangelism on the rise or in decline, Millennials are a rare case indeed. While the evangelistic practices of all other generations have either declined or remained static in the past few years, Millennials are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Their faith-sharing practices have escalated from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013. 
Not only that, but born again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians. 
Since tracking began in 1996, the data show born again Busters, who are currently in their thirties and forties (63%), were evangelizing at an all-time high in 1998. However, evangelism practice among Busters is down to 48% today. Among the Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), nearly two-thirds of born again Boomers (65%) shared their faith in 2007, but today, this has dropped to less than half (49%). The outreach efforts of born again Elders (ages 68 and older), on the other hand, have remained fairly steady over the past several decades. Today, Elders (53%) share their faith just about as much as the average born again Christian (52%)."
I'm thankful that I have the privilege to invest in the lives of this generation of young people.

To read the rest of the findings please click here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How The Gospel Radically Affects Our Relationships

Photo Credit: Gerry Balding
The men's small group Bible study that I'm a part of through our church is nearing the end of our time in Tim Keller's Galatians study. Pastor Keller has the ability to help the biblical text come alive in a way that speaks right to the heart. I also think his understanding of what the gospel (good news of Jesus) represents is unparalleled.

Look at what he has to say about how a true understanding of the gospel will affect how we view ourselves and our relationships with others:
"The gospel creates a whole new self-image (Galatians 5:26, 6:3-5) which is not based on comparisons with others. Only the gospel makes us neither self-confident nor self-disdaining, but both bold and humble. Because of the gospel, we neither earn our worth through approval from people nor through power over people, so we are neither overdependent on others, nor afraid of commitment and vulnerability. That works itself out in relationships with everyone. 
The gospel is the only thing that addresses conceit, the vain-glory. To the degree I am still functionally earning my worth through performance (i.e. to the degree I am still functioning in works-righteousness), to that degree I will be either operating out of superiority or inferiority. Why? Because if I am saved by my works, then I can either be confident but not humble (if I am living up) or humble but not confident (if I am not living up). In other words, apart from the gospel, I will be forced to be superior or inferior or to swing back and forth or to be one way with some people and another way with others. 
I am continually caught between these two ways, because of the nature of my self-image. But the gospel creates a new self-image, as we have seen previously. It humbles me before anyone, telling me I am a sinner saved only by grace. But it emboldens me before anyone, telling me I am loved and honored by the only eyes in the universe that really count. So the gospel gives a boldness and a humility that do not eat each other up, but can increase together. 
We have seen previously that there are two equal and opposite errors that oppose the gospel: “legalism” and “antinomianism” which we can call here “moralism” and “hedonism." How does the gospel provide a “third way” in relationships?  
Moralism often makes relationships into a blame-game. Why? The moralist is very consciously trying to earn salvation through performance, and that includes relationships. Moralists must maintain a self-image of being “a good person.” Now some moralists do so by laying the blame on others, by being very judgmental and by always insisting that they are in the right. There is a lack of teachability, humble admission of error or listening. But moralists can also play the blame-game by laying the blame on themselves. Moralists can “earn their salvation” and convince ourselves we are worthy persons through being very willing to help others. This kind of self-salvation superficially makes the moralist look very open to listen, very humble, very teachable. 
But this can be co-dependency, a form of self-salvation through severely needing people’s approval or through needing people to need you (i.e. saving yourself by saving others). So moralism works through either blaming others or blaming yourself. Either way, it makes relationships torturous.  
On the other hand, hedonism reduces relationships to a negotiated partnership for mutual benefit. Hedonism says: “A relationship is fine as long as both people are helping each other reach their goals.” But as soon as a relationship entails major sacrifice, the hedonist labels it dysfunctional and bails out. (There are dysfunctional relationships but only when the sacrifice is being done out of needy selfishness and not out of fullness of love.) So, for the hedonist, you only relate to another as long as it is not costing you anything. So the choice (without the gospel) is to selfishly use others or to selfishly let yourself be used by others. But the gospel leads us to do neither. We do sacrifice and commit, but not out of a need to convince ourselves or others we are acceptable. So we can love the person enough to confront, yet stay with the person when it does not benefit us... 
Outside the gospel we are either confident (if achieving) or humble (if failing), but in the gospel our new self-image produces a bold humility that changes all relationships. Without the gospel, your self-image is based upon living up to some standards — whether yours or someone’s imposed upon you. If you live up to those standards, you will be confident but not humble. If you don't live up to them, you will be humble but not confident. Only in the gospel can you be both enormously bold and utterly sensitive and humble, for you are both perfect and a sinner! Paul shows us that this new, unique self-image changes all relationships. “Don’t be conceited — provoking or envying each other.” (Gal.5:26). 
Because we are humbled by the gospel, we don’t “provoke” or approach anyone with a sense of superiority. Because we are powerfully loved in the gospel, we don’t “envy” or approach anyone with a sense of inferiority. The gospel keeps us from being either codependent on, or independent of, people. Both approaches are essentially selfish ways to earn our value through relationships. Now we do not need to have people serve our needs nor to serve theirs. So we are free to sacrifice and commit, but also to love the person enough to confront."
This gospel is the good news that "we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” (Tim Keller)