Back Soon…

It’s been a busy season, as I know it has been for many of you. I’m currently thinking through a special “Year End” blog or series of blogs, but time is tight. Let me know what you think have been some of the most important ecclesiological/theological issues of the year. I’ll be back writing soon.

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On another front, Young Life is experiencing some troubles, particularly in Durham, you can read about it here.

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You all know that baseball is my favorite sport. I was saddened by the recent Michell Report, but glad it was done. I think all guilty player should confess (that mean you, Roger Clemons). It’s good for your soul and good for the game.

1968 & Finding a Prophetic Voice

Six years before I was born was the crucial year of 1968. I’ve always been captivated by the 60′s — the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evars, the Kennedys, Vietnam, the moon missions, Motown, etc… — so much was happening. I’ve probably thought of it in more romantic terms than the experience of it could have lived up to. Nevertheless, a lot happened in those crucial years, so I tuned in last night to Tom Brokaw’s special about 1968.

One of the most important things that happened in 1968 that Brokaw did not cover were the Nashville and Atlanta Racial Reconciliation meetings involving ministers and leaders in Churches of Christ. I’ve recently done some research on the topic and had conversations with some of the men who participated in those gatherings.

In truth, not much came from Atlanta and Nashville in terms of institutional change. Churches of Christ (my tribe) aren’t a heck of a lot more integrated than they were then. But two things became crystal clear to me as I was researching and writing.

First, very few things are as exciting as men and women who live and sacrifice for their convictions. Some of the preachers urging the church to move toward integration and lose its racist tendencies paid for their convictions with their careers and/or reputations.

Second, our churches — and other groups as well, I suspect — seem woefully lacking prophetic voices calling the church to a deeper embrace of its identity as the body of Jesus.

In world where according to Dave Kinnaman in his book un-Christian, non-Christians see Christians as judgmental, antihomosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered, what could be better for the mission of Jesus than prophetic people who can speak to our communal values — equality, graciousness, generosity, care for the poor and disenfranchised, etc…?

May the Lord grant the church people who are, as friend Jim Spivey says, not “addicted to appropriateness.”

Christmas @ St. Francis’ House – Redeaux

This is a reprint of one of my favorite — and longest — post.

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A friend of mine tells a story about walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Here in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only, inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before I came to the church where I currently serve, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree. A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was good. It had nothing to do with Jesus. In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event. It was purely secular!

I remember asking my fifth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar. No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing! Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible. That’s true, I suppose. However, I knew that my grandmother as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledge her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught all us kids that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: the stuff!

And that teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing sexy – no iPods or new cars. I tell myself that I don’t need anything, and don’t want anything and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans. Suddenly things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement. Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately. So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness Christmas sales are right around the corner.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world and the healing of our broken relationships with each other and our broken relationship with God becomes a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience?

Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously). Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After and illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings. He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor. As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated! His father took Francis to court and asked that the bishop force him to give back all the money he gave away. Equally irritated, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism. Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders. Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property. In short, they had no stuff! For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things he detested money above all. From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Could you imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment, who married Lady Poverty for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” –the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales. Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus? Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little. Maybe he would say that during Advent, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty. Of course, there are a lot of us that give to good causes year round, but that’s not the kind of poverty I’m talking about.I’m talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way that many Christians exercise no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians. I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves. I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them. I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole. We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year. We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven. If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.

4 Years Ago

4 years ago tonight God blessed our family with a beautiful rose, Malia Rose. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years. Sometimes it feels like much more than four, most times it feels like much less.

Malia’s 4th BirthdayMalia is more than I could have ever imagined. In many ways, the last four years have been the hardest of my life, but thanks to Malia, I’ve never smiled more. She is the light of my life. My joy! My peace! I’m prouder than any right person should be, and she is an unashamed Daddy’s girl!

Happy Birthday, sweet girl.

Quote of the Week

From 30 Rock:

“God, I want to kiss you on the mouth to stop you from saying such ridiculous things.”

– Jack Donaghey