John Perkins and the Lives that Really Matter

All LivesDo all lives matter? The answer seems easy. All of us would say that all lives matter. And the fact is, you would be right. But the reality that we live in today does impose a hierarchy signifying that certain lives matter more than others.  Throughout American history we have seen many times in which certain people’s lives were seen as less significant than others. This is the heart of what John Perkins is getting at in his book “Do All Lives Matter?” John states early in the book that “if we are going to make progress with regard to behaving as if all lives matter, we need to make a genuine effort to understand others and the realities and struggles they face.” (p. 25).

This is not a book advocating for violence to advance it’s cause although we need to be sympathetic to why someone might act out from a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Although John has faced a lot of discrimination in his life he reasons that the solution is not to fight violence with violence but to fight it with love. He says that “We need to work together to create a climate that clearly acknowledges that all lives matter. All people have inherent dignity but many don’t know it, feel it, or believe it.” (p. 32)

John goes on to illustrate within our history when indigenous lives, women’s lives and black lives have been and still are being treated as lesser than others. It is important that we understand our history and the ripple effects that are still being felt by our treatment of the marginalized. In making the case for the continued marginalization of black people, John states that “Yes, African American people – as all people – ought to take personal responsibility for making the right choices, even in the midst of an uphill battle. But this is easier said than done. To relegate the slavery era and subsequent generations of racist legal and social policies to the past is not just logically absurd but is at the least insensitive if not immoral. Centuries of discrimination continue to shape the lives and limit the choices of African American people in our country today.” (p. 43)

The goal that all of us essentially wants is to live a life of peace and love knowing that justice is fair and balanced for all people. Instead of causing more reasons to fracture and splinter us as a society, we need to strive for wholeness, equality and reconciliation for all. And the majority should not sit back and ignore the problems of the minorities and marginalized but instead, work together so that everyone has hope and equality. Do all lives matter? Absolutely! Is it a reality in our country though? No. So we have work to do to build bridges and unity between groups so that we can eventually say that all lives really do matter. And might I add that the church should be the leader in modeling what this looks like to the society and helping to implement change in the larger culture.  Perkins reminds us that “Laws might change behavior but they cannot change hearts. A true revolution in our country – one that claims victory over violence and eliminates all exclusions to the proclamation that all lives matter – will come only as hearts are changed and as we recognize who our neighbors are and learn to truly love them as ourselves.” (p. 71) It is the church’s responsibility to live this out as kingdom believers recognizing and living out our unity in Christ. Jesus made a regular habit of identifying with the marginalized by bringing hope, healing and restoration into their lives. It is up to us to do the same.

Where Does Science Fit Into Faith?

 

AndrewRoot

Whenever I read something form Andrew Root, I know it is going to be deep and I am going to learn a lot. His latest book “Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science” did not disappoint. Andrew begins the book with a story about a youth pastor and his teens who ask some deep questions about trying to relate faith to science.  Andrew makes the case that Science and Faith are not diametrically opposing fields. Instead he shows how Faith sometimes oversteps its boundaries by forcing the Bible to speak for Science, and how sometimes Science oversteps its boundaries by making Faith claims. So Faith and Science are not opposed to each other but they can not take over one from the other. Instead, Andrew Root sees a significant overlap where Science and Faith can learn from each other.

Andrew makes a case for theistic evolution throughout the book. He shows how Creationists are forcing science into the text of Scripture and misreading it for how it is supposed to be interpreted. But he also shows how some scientists use their field to make comprehensive faith claims that overstep what science is supposed to do. Andrew also shows how many of the sciences were birthed out of Christianity as Christ-followers wanted to study different aspects of God’s creation and discover how it expands and complements our faith.

Andrew also tackles an interpretation of Genesis 1-2 in light of other pagan creations stories that Israel would have been familiar with. Israel took these stories and crafted their own which showed a personal God who wanted to have  a relationship with us as opposed to a Zeus-like god who created humanity to serve the gods.

Much of what this book tries to do is show how, with a proper understanding of what science and faith are about, they can complement each other. Too many teens are taught the Bible as if it were science, only to leave for college, take their first Earth Science class, and walk away from the faith seeing many of the contradictions that they were brought up to believe as “Science”. We need to have a better understanding of the sciences and how they can help us have a stronger faith. And we need to allow our faith to speak when considering what we can learned from the sciences. Throughout history there have been several times where the church believed something as fact because of how they were interpreting certain passages in Scripture only to have science show that that particular view was wrong. An example was that many believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it, until Galileo came along and proved that the Earth actually revolves around the sun. This rocked the world of the church and it caused them to eventually rethink how their theology speaks to the truth of the cosmos. I believe we are in a similar time where science has discovered that the earth has actually been around for billions of years and we have evolved over time, yet there are those in the faith community who oppose that based on their view of a literal translation of Genesis 1-2.

This was a fantastic book and I would highly encourage anyone who is curious about the relationships between faith and science to read this. If you are a Young Earth Creationist my bet is that you won’t like this depending on how firm you are in interpreting Genesis 1-2 as literal science. But this book may help you to see a different perspective in how faith and science can live in harmony with each other and actually complement each other.

So I Heard This Switchfoot Song

PerkinsI am a big Switchfoot fan. I have loved their musical throughout the time I have been in ministry. It has been fun to see them evolve as artists. But there was one song that stuck in my head called “The Sound”. The reason was because of this lyric:

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight.

I remember at concerts wondering who this John Perkins guy was that they were referencing. Well the time has finally come where I did my research and got some of his books and I am now diving into his story. The first book I started with was his biography. It is titled “Let Justice Roll Down”. And wow was this an incredible read. I finished it in two days. I could stop reading it!

The story began with John’s childhood and teen years in rural Mississippi back in the 1940’s and ’50’s. He was a witness to his brother being wrongfully shot by a cop. As his story unfolds it is clear how racism has affected his family. He states that “prejudice in the South is both paternalistic and antagonistic. What most Southern whites what is for blacks to be part of the Southern system, to have a ‘proper’ relationship to the white Establishment. That’s why independence for a black in the South is a worse crime than merely being illegal.” (p. 34)

At one point in his story, he ended up moving out to California where things were much different. He became a Christ follower and fully gave himself to practicing the faith. He eventually believed that God was calling him back to Mississippi to help the people he knew who were still living under a system of oppression and racism. John helped to build up the community by investing his time in starting faith groups, better quality education and local businesses that would help to employ African Americans. John says that the problems rest in the fact that “Two-hundred years of slavery, followed by two or three generations of economic exploitation, political oppression, racial discrimination and educational deprivation, had created in black people feelings of inferiority, instability and total dependency. The implanting of such negative values in a people deprives them of any true sense of self-worth, or any real sense of self-identity. And the end result of negative values is negative behavior that is self-destructive in its effect. Dehumanizing values only and always produce destructive behaviors.” (p. 101)

John goes on to explain how he took a stand to get many of his black community to get involved in being registered voters. The local law enforcement did not take to kindly to what they were seeing so they set up John and his friends to be arrested and brutalized by the cops. At this point in the story I could see how easily it would be to want to become violent back at the aggressors. It would be so easy to succumb to hate and want to fight back. Instead John reflects that “I couldn’t hate back. When I saw what hate had done to them, I couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I didn’t ever want hate to do to me what it had already done to those men.” (p. 158). Not surprisingly John and his friends who were brutalized by the police did not receive the justice they deserved.  But as a result of his faith, John learned to forgive those men and give it over to God, not giving into hate and violence. Through it all he came out stronger than ever as a force for good, continuing his efforts in evangelism, Christian education, justice reform, social action, and economic reform.

John concludes by claiming that “if sin can exist at every level of government, and in every human institution, then also the call to biblical justice in every corner of society must be sounded by those who claim a God of Justice as their Lord” (p. 185). We must not turn a blind eye to what minorities are struggling with but instead, we must engage within the system to fight for justice, equality, and fairness for all.

This book was excellent in helping me to better understand racism, social injustice, and how the system is stacked especially against minorities within our country. But it also showed a compelling view that, as a result of having faith in Christ, we need to take a stand against corruption and injustice and create a better world for ALL, where everyone can have dignity, respect and worth simply for being a human being created in the image of God.

Do We Really Believe That God is Love?

SinnersDo we worship a schizophrenic God? A flat reading of the Bible seems to suggest that.

When we look at the God of the Old Testament He seems violent, vindictive, angry and wrathful. But then when you get to the New Testament we see God in Jesus forgiving sinners, loving the lost, and forgiving his murderers. Did God change? Traditional Christian theology claims that God is immutable. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. If that is true then why is it that a flat reading of Scripture seems to suggest that God does change?

Brian Zahnd in his book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News” lays out his interpretation of Scripture in that Jesus is the climax of the story of God and the full revelation of who God truly is. God is LOVE. Brian begins with this premise and then goes on to show how this fleshes out in his theology. He tackles such topics like: Did God kill Jesus? What is the significance of the cross? What is the Kingdom of God and how is it relevant to the present? What is hell and who goes there? How do we interpret Revelation?

I found this book to be incredibly refreshing. I have often struggled with how to understand the God of the Old Testament in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Any thinking Christian must wrestle with this. Brian offers up a well-thought out theology that sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is: He is sacrificial love. And Brian does not just isolate one or two verses but he heads right into many of the questions and struggles people have with trying to understand the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This would be a great book to study as a group and have a dialogue with friends as you read through it. You may not agree with everything he is saying but boy would it be a great discussion.

There were three times in my life where I came to a realization of who I thought God was and what He wanted me to do about it. The first time involved getting the crap scared out of me watching a 1970’s movie version of “Left Behind”. So fear was my first experience.

My second spiritual awakening was when I came to the realization that I was a sinner. This happened when I was in my early 20’s. It was a powerful experience and it set me in the direction of going into ministry.

But my third spiritual awakening was in my late 30’s when I attended a weekend retreat called the “Walk to Emmaus”. This was the most powerful of the three. I truly felt like no other time in my life that God really did love me. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. And it is with that experience that I really fell into what Brian Zahnd was writing about in this awesome book.

Being White in America

I recently read “White Awake: An honest look at what it means to be white” which helped to bring much clarity to issues within our country related to race. Author Daniel Hill begins by telling his story on how he wanted to create a multi-ethnic church in Chicago. While he had good intentions, the results for diversity were abysmal. Much of his congregation was just as white as he was. In attempting to find out why he was unable to attract a multi-ethnic crowd he decided to visit with a hand full of local non-white clergy. In doing so, he was humbled to realize how little he knew about culture that impacted people of color. His mentors exposed the fact that almost every possible influence in Daniel’s life was from white culture. Daniel realized quickly that people of color have many different experiences as a minority culture in contrast to the dominate influence of white culture in America. What seems normal to most white people is not necessarily what people of color experience. All throughout our 200+ history people of color have been judged as “less than” in comparison to white culture. Daniel states that “When the journey begins to feel like any combination of scary, confusing, disorienting, or even painful, we have a privilege that people of color do not: we can walk away; we can go back to ‘normal,’ if we choose.” (p. 38)

The author then takes us on a journey to process the reality of white culture in contrast to the experiences and culture of people of color. Daniel Hill goes through the various steps of understanding as we go through encounter, denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening and active participation. As you go through these levels you become aware of the fact that what seems normal to white people is not the same as people of color in America. Daniel says “I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved. It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced . . . through acts of racial terror.” (p. 57). While the institution of slavery was defeated, the effects and ideology continues to live on throughout American history to the present. The author articulates the importance of seeing ourselves, as well as everyone else, as image bears of God. As children of God, we are of equal and extraordinary value and we are all apart of the kingdom of God.

But we must begin with denial and recognize all the ways in which white culture has harmed people of color. We all too often sugarcoat our history and do not face up to the reality of how people of color were negatively impacted by white culture. A recent example of that is in the fact that if a person of color commits a crime against Americans it is typically labeled as terrorism. But with all the white guys committing acts of gun violence rarely is it labeled as terrorism. Instead we learn about how troubled their past must have been to commit such a crime and that they must have suffered from mental illness. Daniel hammers away in saying that “our citizens do not share a common memory. People of white European ancestry remember a history of discovery, open lands, manifest destiny, endless opportunity, and American exceptionalism. Yet communities of color, especially those with African and indigenous roots, remember a history of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, boarding schools, segregation, cultural genocide, internment camps, and mass incarceration.” (p. 79)

I remember my first history classes at college. My professor prided himself in telling us that he was going to expose us to the history that our parents and schools hid from us. I took a class on the American Indians and another one about African American history. Needless to say I walked out of those classes feeling shame and anger for how people of color have been treated by the dominate white culture. But in “White Awake” the author doesn’t stop with just an awakening to the truth but he moves us to feel lament in solidarity with people of color. Daniel says, “Lament gives us resources to sit in the tension of suffering and pain without going to a place of shame or self-hate. Lament allows us to acknowledge the limitations of human strength and to look solely to the power of God instead.” (p. 112)

The author then goes on to caution the reader against feeling self-righteous towards those who are not at the same level of understanding as you might be. If we fall into this trap we are as guilty as the Pharisees. Instead we need to repent when we fall into the trap of categorizing people into us vs. them.

The final chapters explain the importance of seeing ourselves as kingdom people created in the image of God. It is the kingdom of God that is at war with the powers of this dark world (Eph. 6:12) and we need to fully realize this. The hierarchies of race and categories we put ourselves in to feel superior over others is wrong, demonic and not of God. We need to see how our present culture implements these to separate and divide us. And our response needs to be to live as kingdom people knowing that we are all created in the image of God. Through Jesus we can find redemption, forgiveness and unity as kingdom people.

I highly recommend this book. It’s time we awaken to the ways in which our history and culture has divided us from people of color. We need to step out of our white superiority and live into the kingdom of God with all people. We need to acknowledge how sin has divided us, and through repentance and reconciliation, we can find true restoration as kingdom people.

Are You Rapture Ready?

raptureexposedI remember my first experience praying to ask Jesus to come into my life. Unfortunately it was not because I was stricken by God’s love for me or impacted by the message of Jesus. Instead, I did it because I was scared shitless after watching an “end-times” movie called A Thief In The Night. This movie took a literal view of the book of Revelation interpreting it in its popular dispensational view that Jesus will rapture all the Christians out of the world and those “left behind” will have to fend for themselves as things go from bad to worse before Jesus decided to fully return to establish his kingdom and send all evil-doers to eternal punishment. I was overwhelmed with the terror and wrath of God and out of fear wanted to make sure I would go to heaven. Of course, growing up with the “left behind” type of theology there were moments of sheer terror when I walked into the house to find none of my family, thinking that God snatched them all up and I was not! But then all of a sudden a person emerged from another part of the house so I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the rapture didn’t happen.

It wasn’t until latter in life that I discovered that the popular dispensationalist view of interpreting Revelation is not even 200 years old. And on top of that, there are other ways of interpreting the apocalyptic passages of Revelation that have been around for thousands of years. Instead of being a negative view of doom and gloom, it was a message of hope to its original recipients. This was not some science-fiction book interpreting our distant future, but instead a letter that John wrote to a specific group of people which applied to their current situation. It was then that I realized that your eschatology can have a big impact on how you think the “end times” will take shape. Some believe that the world is going from bad to worse and Jesus needs to eventually snatch us out of here before things get really bad. Yet others believe that Satan was defeated at the cross and that we have been entrusted with the task of carrying out the Great Commission to advance the Kingdom of God before Jesus returns once and for all.

With all this said, Barbara R. Rossing has written The Rapture Exposed which helps to give some historical background to the various views of how to interpret the apocalyptic passages within the Bible. She exposes the fact that how we look at Revelation can have significant effects on how we look at God’s creation, non-believers, culture, politics and the current nation of Israel. The literalistic, dispensationalist view leads to some very negative consequences that simply do not line up with the rest of Scripture. Rossing calls it a theology of despair, and rightfully so. She also points out that the actual word “rapture” is not even in the whole Bible! She goes on to show the Biblical gymnastics that the dispensationalists need to accomplish to make their interpretation work for them. Instead of looking at the simple message of certain Scripture passages, they instead stretch it to say things that just aren’t there. In her own words, she states that “the hope of the book of Reveation is that God’s Lamb, Jesus, is already victorious and that God’s people will be faithful to the Bible’s vision of life. The hope is that we will follow the Lamb, renouncing all the seductions of imperial injustice and violence, so the threat of plagues will be averted. God loves the world. God does not desire earth’s destruction.” (p. 85).

If you have grown up with the “Left Behind” interpretation of Revelation I would highly recommend that you read this book and realize that that view has only been around for a while and the implications of that view lead to a tremendous amount of poor theology. Instead, understood in its context, Revelation is a wonderful message of hope for people who are being oppressed by Empire.

The only thing I would have liked is if this book had a followup chapter on our current day situation with politics and world events. But maybe it is too soon to comment on that. Either way, this is an important book to help understand apocalyptic literature in the Bible and how it should be interpreted. I highly recommend it.

Stories of Homelessness throughout America

I just finished Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski. This book details a journey that lead Mike to spend several months of his life living on the streets of major cities throughout the country. Mike states that according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the United States has more than 3.5 million homeless people at any given year.

Mike began his journey by first finding a traveling companion. Sam signed up for the challenge and off they went to their first big city, Denver. They spend about a month in each city they travel to. This gives them time to acclimate themselves, and figure out how to find basic resources for themselves. They go from Denver, to Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego. These two catalogue their journey as they panhandle for food, make friends with other homeless people, encounter danger, dehydration, hunger, and rejection from others. They both come to terms with the safety and security that we all try to strive for so that we would not normally ever have to come in contact with homelessness. Their experience helped to humanize those that we typically ignore or dehumanize.

Scripture became real to them as they were reminded that Jesus led by example in caring for the poor, the sick, the diseased and the sinner. They also realized the importance of taking care of peoples’ basic needs instead of just preaching at them. They understood that they needed to see the image of God through the homeless just as much as anyone else they would encounter.

Mike and Sam had quite the experiences with different types of churches and missions. Some where positive and some where not. It was hard to read some of the stories of churches behaving badly toward the homeless. But it was also a reminder that of all the places that a homeless person ought to find help it should be a church or mission that claims the name of Jesus.

The final chapter of the book details Mike and Sam’s assimilation back into their “normal” lives. They soon realized that their experience changed them forever. They quickly became uncomfortable with comfort. They began to see how many in the church have an easy time enjoying the blessings that they have but forget to share their resources with others. When you lack nothing and have just about everything you want, that in itself becomes a trap that can close ourselves off to the needs of the world and our ability to help. Also, they realized that on the streets they learned what it meant to really depend on God to help meet their basic needs. And finally, they discovered that if you truly understand how much God loves us while we were still sinners, we would be more intentional about sharing his love with others, even in the little things: a smile, a drink, some food, recognizing someone’s own humanity and dignity. We are not supposed to be about our own feel-good, warm-fuzzy religiousity but instead we are supposed to go out of our comfort zones and love others just as Christ has loved us.

Another great resource to help understand poverty is A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne.

The Very Worst Missionary

This was a fascinating memoir written by Jamie Wright who shares her life’s journey that led her to becoming a missionary. What is captivating about her story is how she deconstructs the idea of what it means to be a missionary and the reality of what is actually happening. Evangelical Christianity has a tendency to put those called to be missionaries on a very high pedestal. But through her own experiences and her honesty, Jamie recalls the dichotomy of what she could portray of herself on the internet as a missionary and the reality of what the experience was actually like. She is honest about her own experiences, her own shortcomings and mistakes, and what she observed about the missionary culture in Costa Rica. She pulls back the covers on the evangelical church’s culture and how it emulates missionaries. Jamie describes how she went with great expectations to change the world but instead found out that the reality of her experience did not match up. With brutal honesty she started a blog titled Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, where she doesn’t hold anything back but begins to critique herself and her experiences with missions. Anybody involved in any type of mission work needs to read this book but be ready for some hilarious stories, “salty” language and some harsh truths that critique our modern day concept of missions. If the rose-colored glasses of your Christian faith are smudged and cracked from your experiences with church or missions then this book helps us to be honest with ourselves and the reality of our brokenness, individually and as a church.

Still Christian

I just recently read a great book by David P. Gushee entitled “Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism”. It is a story that details the authors’ personal journey through modern day evangelicalism as a leading Christian ethicist. This book details the story of a educator who found his roots in the conservative church but over the course of time found himself on the outskirts of the evangelical world. The book details the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist denomination as well as the evangelical quest for political power through the election of Trump. Eventually the author comes to terms with supporting the LGBT community through his essays detailed in his book “Changing Our Minds”. Gushee also highlights the negative reactions he got from his tribe over this change of heart.

I really enjoyed reading this book because many of Gushee’s insights into modern day American evangelicalism resonated with me and the journey I have been on since I was a child. I would highly recommend “Still Christian” to anyone who has journeyed through conservative American evangelicalism and finds themselves asking questions, having doubts about what they are seeing from their church or denomination, and struggling to keep the faith. As a side, I would also highly recommend “Changing Our Mind” for anyone interested in following the steps that led one of the leading Christian ethicists of our time to have a better understanding about LGBT people and how the church should respond to them.