Tag Archives: Jesus

How My Faith Survived Growing Up Evangelical

Growing up in an evangelical church, I learned at an early age that following Jesus was obeying rules. Why did God send all those plagues to Egypt? Because Pharaoh disobeyed God. So you know, obey the rules kids unless you really like frogs. As I got older, I learned that teenage boys’ lust problems were my responsibility and if I didn’t dress “modestly”, they were going to have to gouge out their eyes, and it would be all my fault. So make sure your shorts go past your fingertips or those guys will go blind.

If you make a mistake, don’t let it show. Don’t admit fault. If someone calls you out — which probably won’t happen because in the South passive aggression is an art form — deflect. Deflect like a Jedi facing destroyer droids. Don’t deal with problems. Just pretend they don’t exist. And above all, don’t rock the boat. Everything is tidy and neat. Don’t mess it up.

Somehow, I’m still into this whole Jesus thing.

So how did my faith survive? Short answer: by the grace of God.

Long answer: I had the privilege of becoming part of a few communities that were deeply committed to living out and sharing their faith in the messiness of the world. Far from retreating into a Christian subculture or attempting to police the world according to Biblical morals, they faithfully lived and loved people who didn’t fit neatly into Church life. They had grace for others, but what astonished me the most was that they had grace for themselves. They could admit fault, repent, and seek forgiveness. It was just one of the rhythms of the community. I had never seen that lived out before, and it was so freeing.

The things I had always read in the life of Jesus finally started to make sense in light of a community trying to live them out. Jesus forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery and in the process infuriated and humbled the religious elite. Another time, he revealed his nature as God incarnate to a woman trading sex for rent and a whole town believed in Him.

While there are ways in which the Lord used my childhood church in my life for good, it took leaving it to see the place of grace in Christianity. And this grace opened my eyes to the beauty of forgiveness. Being around people who truly believed in the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ taught me that I could live in that forgiveness as well. I could be free from trying to hide my failures. It also meant that I was free to forgive others and not attempt to hold the world up to my standards. There was grace. And with grace, I could breathe. And for the first time, I could begin to learn to love others.

It is so tempting to tidy up our communities. To retreat from the sinful world and make sure our church is a nice place to be. But, oh how high the cost! The nice veneer covers the withered soul of a community more concerned with maintaining appearances than with following Jesus into the needy crowd.

If we make following the rules an official or unofficial prerequisite for membership in our faith communities, then we never get to see the transformative power of grace. If the prostitute isn’t welcomed to our pews and homes when she dresses like a prostitute, then how can we communicate the love of Christ to her where she is at? What hope do we have of inviting her into the freedom and joy of following Christ when we do not live in that freedom and joy ourselves? Moreover, if we need to put on a happy face when we’re with our church family, what hope do we have of Christ healing the brokenness in us?

So let’s rock the boat. Let’s let our mess show. Not for the sake of vulnerability — as if that is an end in itself — but in the hope that being honest about our faults ushers in the grace of Christ and the transformative power of his love. If we are familiar with our own sin and our need for Christ, then we can extend the love of Christ to those around us, both within the Church and to those who have not experienced the Grace of Christ.

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Racial Justice in the Church

I care a lot about racial justice. One of the main reasons is that, for a long time, I had no idea I was racist. I was living comfortably in mostly white community and thought blissfully that racism was a thing of the past.

Sometime in high school I started getting the feeling something was off, but I didn’t call it racism until college. And only then because I went to a particularly diverse college (yay UTA!), studied Anthropology and Linguistics, and took classes in Sociology.

Let me repeat that. In order to recognize the racism all around me and in me, I had to take college courses about language, culture, and society while living in a unusually diverse community.

If I had lived in that community and studied nursing or engineering, I might not have had my eyes opened to racism as abundant as oxygen. If I had studied those topics at a mostly white university, I might have been able to maintain the idea that racism was a thing of the past and not something going on inside my own heart.

It still took time. I shutter when I think about some of the things that I said in class discussions in my first few years of college. Yet these are things I still hear white people saying: “reverse racism”, “White privilege isn’t real”, …

Racial Unity is in the Heart of God

Another reason is that I care about the unity of the Church. Around the time I was learning about racism in our society, God was mercifully opening my eyes up to his heart for unity within his Church. John 17 wrecked my understanding of the priority of unity. (It hadn’t made my list of important things before.) Jesus spent the last night before his cruxifixction pouring out his heart for the unity of his Bride. Unity is a priority in the heart of God.

Around that time, I was blessed to learn from people who had been working toward unity for a long time. But the focus was the denominational unity. While denominational unity is important and should be worked and prayed for, it falls short of the fullness of the vision of unity in Scripture. It is good and difficult work, and I don’t want to for a moment discount the value of people who have spent years forging partnership and friendship between leaders of different denominal backgrounds. Jesus is so in that, and so blesses the communities that emerge from that work. And he uses them to bless others.

But Revelations does not paint a picture of a multi-denominational church before the throne of God. It’s multi-ethnic. It’s multicultural. It’s multi-racial.

That picture is not reflected in the church in America.

Unity is Humility

Racial justice demands deep humility, especially on the part of white people.

We will need humility to see that the way things are is not ok. We will need to let go of our comfort — a comfort that is derived from white voices shaping evangelicalism to the exclusion of our brothers and sisters of color. We will need to let go of the ”colorblindness” that assumes our own perspective is neutral and not influenced by our whiteness.

We will need humility to learn from people and contexts that make us uncomfortable not because of the message being shared, but because of the way it’s being shared.

For example, I’ve been reading about the different traditions of preaching in white churches and black churches. First, I have to realized that the style of preaching I am used to — which has been deeply formative in wonderful ways in my life — is simply a style. It is not the only way to talk about the truths of scripture. It is derived from a culture I am comfortable within, therefore it seems neutral to me.

However, whenever I hear a black preacher preaching in a style that is derived from the culture of the Black church (in reality a variety of cultural traditions, but all of them so different from my own that I have trouble seeing the nuanced differences in them — not a issue I have within the variety cultures of white churches), I have trouble following the train of the sermon. Though I can recognize sound doctrine and have been blessed by hearing sermons, it’s more work for me learn from these sermons.

That’s on me. Not the sermon.

Do the Work of Learning

I care about racial justice, especially within the church. But more and more, I am learning that while talking about racial injustice is of vital importance, I also need to be actively seeking out my own blindspots and doing the work of learning.

Learning not in an effort to appear more woke. Learning not in an attempt to become an expert in the Black experience. (How could I?) But learning because I care about people. Learning because I see that my own culture, while historically dominate, is not more valuable than other cultures. And learning because my own spiritual growth is hobbled if I don’t learn from people different from myself.

Seeing this takes a measure of humility. Pressing into it and continuing to learn, will take more than I think I want to face from where I’m at right now. However, because I care about racial justice and unity within the Body of Christ, press in I must.

The unity Christ died for is at stake.

Hate Doesn’t Have to Win

Hate won on Tuesday. People who voted for Trump may not feel like they voted for bigotry and hate, but nonetheless, hate won.

I have heard arguments for Trump ad nauseum that his presidency would be better for small businesses, or he’s better because he’s not from the Washington establishment, or “he tells it like it is” (translation: says things you want to hear). However, these arguments only stand if you have the convenience of privilege. If you and those you love are not a person of color, an immigrant, Muslim, Latino, part of the LGBTQ community, a woman, or disabled, then you have the freedom to ignore the vile rhetoric that regularly spews from Trump’s mouth. From a position of privilege, you can ignore the misogyny, racism, and hate because it doesn’t affect you.

But for Christians, there’s a problem with this: we are called to love our neighbors. And our neighbors include people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, members of the LGBTQ community, women, and the disabled. So even if we sit in a position of privilege (like I do), we cannot, in good conscience, ignore the demeaning way he treats people who are not straight, white, able-bodied men.

Many Americans feel forgotten in our current political and economic environment and voted for Trump because they fear their way of life is dying. But Christians must not be primarily concerned with preserving of our way of life; our foremost aim must be loving God and loving others. Trump did talk about issues, and one or more of those may have resonated with you.  However, the most consistent thing about Trump’s campaign was hate speech. If you voted for Trump — whatever your intention in casting that vote — you voted for the normalization of hate speech.

However, what’s done is done. We must figure out how to best live in the reality we have sown for ourselves.* And the best way we can live in any circumstance is to love people. To love people who are marginalized and oppressed, to love those who fear for their lives and safety. Cook a halal meal for neighbors who are now scared to wear the hijab. Ask a person of color or an LGBTQ friend if there is anything you can do to make them feel more safe. Listen to the fears and concerns of your friends and neighbors. And pay them the simple respect of believing them.

But do you see a potential snag with the above examples? Read through them again if you need to. Each of those examples assume you have a friend that feels threatened by Trump’s election. I’m guessing many people who voted for him don’t. Or maybe they do, but they don’t know that friend well enough to know or think about the fear and uncertainty his election brings. So if you are seeing the marches, protests and petitions happening across the nation right now in response to Trump being elected, and you personally don’t know anyone who might take part in those things, I’m asking you to withhold your judgement of the many who are. I’m asking you to listen and attempt to empathize with people whose experience of living in America is very different from your own. Seek out their voices. Listen to their stories. Consider their narratives, however much they differ from your own.

However, listening isn’t enough. It is a wise — and probably the only effective — way to start, but it is not enough. In these coming four years and beyond, Christians will need to live with winsomeness, love, generosity, and boldness, sacrificing our comfort in order to be a friend and ally of the oppressed and forgotten. We need to remember that Jesus had only venom for people who used their power to oppress, and had compassion for those who were oppressed.

Hate may have won the day on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it has to win for the next four years.

*Please understand me here. I am not asking those who are deeply hurting as a result of this election to buck it up and move on with this new reality. You deserve the space to grieve and figure out your life in the midst of this madness at your own pace. I am talking to people like myself whose privilege insulates us from fully understanding or experiencing your pain.