BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rise Up...and Build!

The following is adapted from a brief address given at the 2017 All People Conference in Columbus, OH. The theme for the event was based on Nehemiah 2:18--"Rise Up...and Build!"

UM Church for All People (C4AP) grew out of the relationships formed in the Free Store. It is through these diverse relationships of mutually and accompaniment that we believe we will come to know God better

And it was out of these relationships that the church was formed. Folks began praying together, and worshiping together. And so in 2002, C4AP was born. And it grew.

We host the All People Conference over a Sunday on purpose so that you can get take a deep dive into experiencing the palpable energy of the koinonia in this place. Our pastor is a bit of a Greek scholar so he uses words like that when describing C4AP. Best I can tell though, the literal translation of koinonia must just be “holy chaos,” because that sure can be what it’s like around here.

If you get a chance, I invite you to experience C4AP on a Sunday morning…and you got experience it to believe it. But I want to describe it a little bit for you here, in the meantime.

One of the other ways that’s reflected is in the worship music. We have an excellent band that can play hymns, Black gospel, CCM, Appalachian bluegrass, and much more. We worship with all kinds of music because we want to represent the full range of who we are, and indeed who we are yet to be become…either for the next visitor that walks through the door, or for when we join together with the heavenly chorus.

And this comes with it’s challenges. Rev. James Forbes notes that “a truly diverse congregation where anybody enjoys more than 75% of what’s going on is not thoroughly integrated.” If everyone’s always comfortable, that’s not integration…that assimilation. That’s cultural hegemony disguised as unity.

Too often the multicultural church owes its success to the people of color in the congregation simply willing to 'take it for the team' and give up their own beautiful heritage for the sake of white folks being comfortable.

So what are the rest of us willing bring as a sacrifice of praise?

This also means that if I’m doing my job as minster of music, no one is happy with me all of the time, but everybody is happy with me some of the time.

We are a Church for All People. But not all people like all people.
But we have to move from tolerance to acceptance, to affirmation, yes even to love.
We have to take these elements into ourselves and learn and grow from them.

The world will teach us tolerance…and that’s fine, there’s a place for that.
But the cross calls us to so much more.

When I come home at the end of the day I do NOT what my husband to say “baby, I tolerate you.”
Maybe that’s the truth. Sometimes tolerance is a good place to start.
But’s not what scripture says.

"Tolerate your enemies"
"Tolerate your neighbor as you tolerate yourselves."
"Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you."

No. Christ calls us to love.
But sometimes loving is hard. It’s uncomfortable.
Nobody said church was supposed to be comfortable.
It sooths, it nourishes, it comforts…but it’s not comfortable!

Here’s another distinctive element that sometimes makes our guests uncomfortable at C4AP: the sharing of joys and concerns. That’s right my friends, brace yourselves, we pass the mic! And that can bother our middle-class, and time-oriented culture friends in the room.

But let me tell you, it’s the high holy moment of the service. More than the sermon, sometimes even more than communion. It is a moment when folks that do not often get their voices heard. And they’re not voiceless...just unheard. But its a holy moment where those voices are lifted together in prayer.

It matters that someone can stand up and share that her gas is cut off, and winter is coming, and she's scared. And's she's not necessarily asking anyone to fix it, but asking for us to pray with her about it. And then the very next person may stand up and tell us that their last kid just went off to college, and their excited, but their also sad because now they're empty-nesters. And they know no one can fix it, but they're asking for us to pray with them about it. It matters that these two prayers are lifted equally before the ears of God.

And every week we also pray the Lords Prayer. That's not so special, lots of churches do that. And we, like you, pray “give us this day.” But I have to tell you tell you I don’t really believe that prayer. I never have. I believe I went to school, got a degree, got a job. I get a paycheck and go to the grocery store. I give me my daily bread. But it matters that I'm in a pew next to someone who doesn't necessarily know where dinner is coming from tonight, but for a fact that it's God that is providing it. And they're teaching me that it's just as true in my life as well.

I sit next to folks in worship that are diligent and practiced in relying on God, when all I know how to do is rely on myself. We worship with folks that know how to listen for God’s still small voice, and how to wait upon the Lord.

And so when my back’s against a while and I’m in my troubled times, I know who I’m turning to to ask for prayer. Every single person that walks through these doors is poor...some of us are just so poor that all we have is money.

So some folks come to C4AP because they don't feel welcome through the doors of any other church. That’s a travesty, friends. Some folks come out of deep desire to be of service for an under-privileged community. Which is good too.

Confessionally, I came for more selfish reasons. I have not come to serve the poor. I have come to sit at the feet of those that can show me the face of Christ. I come to C4AP out of a conviction that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds only deprives our own souls of God's majesty.

Rich, diverse community is how we will know who God is.
In that regard, I am really spoiled at C4AP.

Every Sunday morning, I have the privilege of worshiping with a beautiful body of believers.
We worship with old folks, young folks, wealthy, unemployed, folks who’ve done time, PhDs, GEDs, physical illnesses, mental illnesses, addictions, many races, many nationalities, many sexualities,
many backgrounds…And a whole lot of joy in the Lord. It’s holy chaos.

And I am convinced that in doing so, we draw nearer to God.
In a time when mainline denominations are wringing their hands about declining membership
and aging…buildings. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the answer is simple. I joined this church because it was a church actually, doing, the work of a church. Being what the church was supposed to be

In Rev 7:9 we see a picture of what heaven will be like someday, that "every tribe, every tongue, every nation" will worship before the thrown. So why not start now? Indeed, don’t we also pray each week, "let it be on earth as it is in heaven."

And our Triune God is our model: diverse, and unified as One. Isolation within our own groups is not what God would have for us.

My husband and I moved onto the block in a hard-living neighborhood on the South Side of Columbus to be in relationship with the surrounding community. And we adopted a value of downward mobility, not as a charitable endeavor, but as one fundamental to our own souls. And it is fundamental to life of Christ’s church on earth.

As Christians, we should be on the forefront of inclusively, not limping along in the rear.
What message does it send the world when we will not unite together to worship our Jesus?
What witness does it give when someone is more welcome on a street corner than they are in a pew?
What does it say about Christ if meth dealers are less discriminating than our churches?
What does mean when hate groups run better outreach campaigns?

As Christians, we all love Jesus.
But maybe we need to relearn what that means.
Are we Christians that love Jesus…as long as He sticks to our social norms, and knows how to behave? And knows how to put on a good face? And knows how run a meeting using Roberts Rules of order.

What about when Jesus smells funny, or speaks with a slur? Do we love him then?
Or when his music too loud, his clothes are too baggy, or his body is pierced….oh wait, it was.

Do we love Jesus when it puts our own egos is at risk?
When he ask us to lay down our own self-importance, our own desire to save the day?
Sometimes we just like to fix things, more than we actually like to love.
Do we love Jesus if we’re not called to fix it?

You may serve food at a soup kitchen, but have you eaten at the table as well?
You may pray for the poor, but do you ask for their prayers as well?

What I hope to convince you of before you leave the All People Conference this weekend is that community development is congregational development. Too often we separate service and salvation, as though that 'love thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time.

If your church disappeared tomorrow, would your neighborhood notice that you were missing?

It matters that nearly 1,000 people walk through the doors of our church each week. And it matters that we sit in in the pews together as we pray about what God has next for our community. It matters that it’s those same folks that are serving produce in our Fresh Market, and shopping in our Free Store, and working in our bike shop.

In a church where most folks make less than $20,000 per year, we see the widow’s mite go into the offering plate every single week. And it’s out of those pennies, and nickels, and dimes that we’ve done $60 million in affordable housing. We absolutely believe that. We just do.

We take the relationships that we have formed and we invest them in building the inclusive body of Christ, which then has an energy and a momentum, a holy chaos, that we are able to invest in whatever God is doing next.

We contend that we will draw nearer to God when we are in fellowship with the fuller range of God’s people. And when you draw nearing to God, powerful things start to happen.

Don't talk to me about the dying church. All this wringing of hands is driving me crazy. Let us live, and live abundantly! Isaiah 61:4 says "they will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

We’re at a critical moment in this neighborhood, indeed in this country. We’re being told it, can’t be done. That’s people cannot come together, cannot bridge the divided.
This is a moment for the Church

Th church can cast the vision for the diverse and inclusive body of Christ and then boldly live into it as a beacon to the world.

We can build a Church for All People, we can build a Columbus for All People, and dare I say it…an America for All People. Let us rise up...and build!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Local Elections: Vote!

Tuesday is another election day.
Are you registered? Do you know your polling place?

I've always made it a point to vote in all elections, local and national, that were available to me, just on basic stubborn principle. Recent years have emphasized to me how truly important local elections are, even as a matter of life and death.

In Ferguson, Police Chief Thomas Jackson was appointed by the elected mayor (via city manager). The St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, was also appointed by elected officials (county executive and city council).  In Beavercreek, the Ohio city where John Crawford was killed, the elected city council members, city manager, and city mayor were the ones to appoint the Chief of Police Dennis Evers and the ones who determine police budgeting allocations. These are the folks overseeing the police force chains-of-command that establish protocols, that train their officers, that give the orders, that the lead internal investigations, and that buy military equipment for their departments.

And state-level elections matter too. The special prosecutor for the Crawford shooting, Mark Piepmeier, was appointed by State Attorney General Mike DeWine. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was elected to office in 2008 before famously failing to convict George Zimmerman of murder, even while prosecuting Marissa Alexander to the fullest extent of the law. And it was Florida Governor Rick Scott who first assigned Corey to the Zimmerman case.

County executive? Attorney General? City Council? County Sheriff? State Attorney? When is the last time you paid close attention to who was elected to these offices? But these are the elected positions that had direct influence on the most prominent racial cases of recent history.

Though the narrative is sometimes convoluted, it's the local ballot elections that are at the center of most racial justice issues today. They determine who will be prosecuted under New Jim Crow laws, which legislatures might propose a new Kill-At-Will bill or a mandatory sentencing law. It's the county commissioners, governors, and state officials that determine how your local taxes are spent, whether on police militarization or on public transportation. It's the school board members that decide whether to feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline or to actively reverse systemic educational disparity. It's also these local elections that regulate housing affordabilityenvironmental justice, and discrimination laws--all decisions made at the local level, and with immediate consequences for racial justice.

But as important as off-year voting is, it's not always made easy. Municipal elections are often held during odd-numbered years (as is the case in Ferguson and Beavercreek), those without major national elections, and thus with lower expected voter turnout. States may enact restrictive laws that reduce voter participation (see post: The Trouble with Voter ID Laws). While Ohio, like most states, allows for early voting, the law is getting more prohibitive, the Supreme Court having recently eliminated all evening voting hours and reduced weekend voting from 24 to 16 hours.

Clearly, laws such as these disproportionately affect working-class folk who hold one or more jobs to make ends meet. Of note, it is also elected local officials, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who regulate the elections themselves.

Shouldn't we laud an increase in voter turnout rather than trying to suppress it? Shouldn't we want more citizens to become engaged in electoral proceedings, not fewer? How does decreased participation enhance the democratic process?

Perhaps there is a fear of allowing more people to vote in a democratic society. But if a political party makes gains from voter suppression, what does it say about that party’s platform? Clearly not that it is formed with the benefit all citizens in mind.

Years of disenfranchisement leads to a foundation of legal precedent and accumulated power that perpetuate disparity and injustice. It’s no coincidence that that the Senate is still 94 percent white. As Christians, we know God says to “choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13), but some groups are still embarrassingly absent from our leadership.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.

This year, make plans to ensure that you cast your ballot for local elections. Most states allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which means you can vote in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch (allowing you to research each of the names and issues that appear on your ballot as you go). As mentioned above, most states also allow for early in-person voting, which means you can find a time to vote that is convenient for your schedule. No excuses this year.

So, check yourself: are you registered? Is your registered address current? Do you know the ID requirements in your state? If you're all set personally, help ensure that your friends and neighbors also understand their voting rights and the importance of local elections. Organize a trip with your church to go vote together, or volunteer to help shuttle voters to the polls on election day.

As Christian voters we have an obligation to “discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good” (Job 34:4). We tend to pay attention to the Office of the President more than any other elected official. But our voices have the most influence on our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, when we make sure to vote locally.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Fruit (11/3/17)

Image result for Altar de Dolores" , Maria IzquierdoOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Costumes

'Tis the season for a reminder...

There are plenty of articles about racially inappropriate costumes, yet every year folks perpetuate appropriationcaricature, and humiliation as Halloween sport. It is annual affliction, so I guess it's worth making the point yet again...

Using a culture, race, or ethnicity as a costume is not appropriate. Ever. 

On Halloween, we get the opportunity to disguise ourselves as something 'other,'something different from normal, something bizarre. That people of color might be one of these costume options is tragic and offensive.

As Lisa Wade notes, Halloween outfits basically come in three flavors: scary, funny, or fantasy. Real cultures shouldn't fit into any of these categories. By using people's identities as costumes, we imply that they are 'not one of us,' or not even fully human, belonging instead to the realm of ghouls and goblins.

In the U.S., we spend the entire year marginalizing people of color, maintaining low visibility on TV, in movies, and in the media, but then suddenly become hyper-interested in 'appreciating culture' for one offensive night (as though dressing as a Hollywood version of what you think a culture is has anything to do with appreciating it).

When we claim that it's all 'good harmless fun,' we reveal our privilege never to have to face the consequences of such stereotypes in our own lives. We reveal the power we hold to dictate who defines 'harmless' and 'fun.' We reveal how loudly our own voices are heard, even as we silence others. We reveal our capacity to imagine fantasy worlds for real cultures, while ignoring the historical baggage that makes us feel uncomfortable.

 Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University began a poster campaign to educate folks about the hurtful nature of racist costumes with the slogan "we're a culture, not a costume." All of the costumes they depict are real, and are perennially reprised. They get big props for concisely and clearly communicating what many of us have been frustrated with for years.

So, before dressing up this year, refer to Austin C. Brown’s guide to finding culture-appropriate costumes. And if you are looking for some clever alternatives, check out Take Back Halloween, and try some new themes this year.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Creation Myths: Christopher Columbus

What we now accept as the true history of the United States in reality is comprised of decades of creation myths. After the American revolution, having separated ourselves from the rich history of Europe (and having sneered at this continent's indigenous histories to the point of annihilation), the newly formed United States found itself without a heritage with which to construct its new civilization. We were left without a history, without heroes or cultural icons. And the void needed to be filled.

As a result, we now have a cultural reliance on several sacred stories of our foundation. We revere the country's holy texts, and ritualistically repeat the essential creeds to our children. The stories of Jamestown, the pilgrims, and Plymouth Rock can be piously recalled. Yet none of the modern tales match the actual reality of our past. James Baldwin notes, "what passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors."

And we have made heroes out of our cruelest ancestors, not the least of which was Christopher Columbus. After first encountering the Arawaks, Columbus realized "with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." Thus was born America's true founding legacy.

To take advantage of Columbus's 'discovery', Spain declared that "with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us."

The crimes that followed Columbus's landing set the stage for centuries abuse and atrocity, the legacy of which continues today. Much of these works were carried out in the name of Christ. Consider that the first English ship to carry enslaved West Africans to the New World was named JesusFor hundreds of people this was the first encounter with God's Son, He that had come to 'set the captives free,'

Many of us already know that the stories we heard in grade school are myths. But white America perpetuates and clings to them anyway. Why? Perhaps we are too afraid to look straight into the face of our generational sin. White Americans continue to benefit from our ancestors' actions, and it's time we owned up to the implications.

That Columbus is lauded as a hero is shameful and embarrassing. We need to rethink what stories we tell. Begin by watching this video, and consider who and what we celebrate on Columbus Day:

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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