Race Relations: My Journey

2018 Race RelationsWhat follows is just what the title suggests, my personal journey with race relations as an American-born United States citizen.

I was born just after the “end” of what history has come to call the Civil Rights Movement. Greenville, South Carolina, a town with its own infamous history of racial tension, was my birthplace. From there I travelled with my parents to start a church in rural Tennessee. Our next stop was coal country in West Virginia. All of this happened in the first five of years of my life. And though each of these regions had their own story, as most children are, I was blissfully unaware of any tension connected to one’s racial identity.

My first full year of school would open wide a door of opportunity for which I am eternally grateful. We moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Chicago’s suburbs were beginning to fill with immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants from around the world. The tiny slice of reality that I shared with my family and a handful of others was still almost exclusively white. The geographic area around me was beginning to change. Throughout my elementary years I would begin to know new friends who did not look like me. This very slow growth continued at the same pace into my college years. And as it does in many ways for many people for many reasons, my life would be altered forever for the better.

Lest you think that my university experience was anything different than it was, let me explain it to you. I attended two different universities during my college experience. Both of them had less than 1% of anyone other than caucasian. So, needless to say, I did not acquire my epiphany there. Those places did cause me to wonder how the country around me was diversifying, but the people around me were not. My epiphany sadly came in a horrific religious context. I do not remember all of the particulars – after all, it’s been almost 30 years – but I do remember the significant impact of this one experience. I was part of a small team that would go to public schools and invite students to come out for a night of games and noise and fun. The intentional climax of the evening was always the sharing of the gospel and an invitation to follow Jesus. The majority of our tour was throughout the southeastern United States. At each stop a local church would sponsor our team and provide a place for us to host our outreach. This particular week I was told that we were only allowed to invite white students. I do not remember exactly what I said, and I’m sure I was very disrespectful in the way I communicated it, but I distinctly remember a very heated conversation with our team leader. This event changed the trajectory of my understanding of race.

Honestly, not much changed for me right away. I went back to my 99% caucasian university and later transferred to a school that was almost 100% caucasian. The year was now 1993. As a newly-married couple with few job prospects, my wife was offered a job back in my hometown near Chicago. We dropped everything and moved to Illinois. The change was still in me. And when I was approached about an opportunity that would have seemed ludicrous to me just a few years before, I jumped at it. A friend of mine had been giving temporary support to a local Chinese church as they were without a youth minister. He had a full time pastoral job and asked me if I would consider taking over. It was very part time and paid little. I happily said yes! Within months the Chinese Gospel Church had asked me to come on full time. I did. My wife and myself, and soon our first daughter, were the only caucasians in this otherwise all-Asian congregation. We were accepted unconditionally. I learned more things about the way it is supposed to be than I have time here to write. We are still connected to many of those students. It has been my great joy to watch them continue to develop in their faith.

At each of our subsequent stops we continued to develop and practice diversity. From the shadows of Washington D.C., to Phoenix, Arizona, and even in the farmland of Kentucky we tried to model one race… the human race. Our final place of residence, prior to where we are now, was St. Joseph, Michigan. St. Joe was probably 98+% caucasian itself. But it’s “twin city” next door was Benton Harbor, which was probably 99+% black. The two were twins in no meaningful way. Over the years of serving there we were given occasions to partner with various Benton Harbor ministries. The single takeaway that I learned from those days was that coming in as a “white knight” to save the day was offensive and counterproductive. So we learned to come in and take the lowest place and serve the black leadership and thus, the black people. This posture taught me more about reaching people than any other experience.

Fast forward to 2008. Our time in Michigan was coming to an end because I began sensing that God wanted us to start a church. But where would we go? As we trained and studied and prayed, one thing was clear… we wanted to go to a place of diversity. After many months we chose Atlanta, Georgia; more specifically, Duluth, Georgia. The main reason we chose Duluth was its diversity. At the time Duluth was at least 25% Asian, African-American, Latino, and Caucasian. That’s about as beautifully diverse as it gets. And I can tell you ten years later, that choice continues to shape our lives. Our friends, our kid’s friends, our environment is multi-ethnic, multi-racial.

As I usually do, allow me to offer a few takeaways from our journey:

  1. It was a 30+ year journey. No matter where you find yourself in this discussion, begin. The famous Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just start. More about that in a moment.
  2. Ask yourself hard questions. Especially in the early going, my own biases and insensitivities were regularly assaulted by hard questions. Questions like, “Why do I feel it is appropriate for me to think or feel this way in this circumstance?”
  3. Listen. As important as it is to ask yourself important questions, it is more important to listen to others who don’t look like you. This is not just “a white thing”. This is just a thing. If each of us will take time to listen to those not like us, we will begin to hear that what makes us different is so much smaller than what makes us one.
  4. Be tenacious. As you learn and grow in your understanding, be dogged. Apply what you are learning. Refuse to allow racist behavior in and around you.

What Would You Do For A Job?

I’ve been asking myself this question recently on a number of levels. In just a moment and in unusual order, I’ll start with the answer and work backwards.

First you need to know that I have been unexpectedly unemployed for the last three months. For the first time since I was 14 years old I found myself without a job.

So what would you do for a job? Would you shave for a job? For me, this was a more difficult question than you might imagine. I’ve had a beard (more or less) for the 9 years we’ve lived in Georgia… and other times before that, too. Ultimately, the answer was, “Yes.”

I love a number of things pretty deeply. Sticking with the reverse order that we’ve already established, they include things like baseball, my friends, my life’s work, my family, and following Jesus. So what does any of that have to do with the original question? Everything.

Ok… maybe not the baseball part, but everything else. It is not by mistake (for me) that #’s one and three (in the above reverse order scheme) are inextricably linked. If you’ll allow me a moment of pause, I’ll deal with #2, which will allow me to close this strange reverse-order loop. #2 is my family. A bit strange to put family second? Well, only if you don’t know how connected I am to Jesus. My relationship to him literally informs all of my other relationships. So the somewhat obvious answer to the initial question as it relates to reverse-order #2 (my family) is… just about anything… as long as it is legal and does not compromise my connection to #’s 1 and 3.

All of the above banter leads me happily back to a discussion of the real answer to the posed question. And leans into another simple question… why? Why was I willing to do pretty much anything to be employed again? One, because I love my family and I am responsible to help provide for them. But the biggest reason I was willing to do just about anything was because I believe that doing what you have to do helps pave the road for where you really want to go.

That #3 thing about my life’s work is tied directly to #1. I believe that God placed me on this earth to do and be something unique for him. My desire has always been to help Christians grow in their faith by better understanding the Bible and learning to live it out in real time. I have a different way of seeing life that has allowed (no, demanded) me to have friendships with many people who do not see faith the same as me. So, everything in this post before this sentence is completed by this simple statement. I would do just about anything vocationally that enables me to pursue my life’s work. Whatever that is for you… do that.

As of tomorrow morning, say hello to the newest Event Planner at Publix Store #560 in Peachtree Corners, GA.



Ferguson and Immigration: Root v. Fruit

roots1So I had a mostly-written article on immigration that I started over the weekend and then on Monday evening came news from Ferguson, Missouri of the the grand jury’s decision. I opted to scrap much of what I had written and lean into the heat of the Ferguson situation, as I see them both in much the same way. News sources and the internet are ablaze with fruit. There is little talk of what is at the root of all of it. Because my audience is largely Christian, my appeal in all of this is to seek the roots for Jesus’ sake. Not only “what would Jesus do?”, but “what did Jesus do?”.

As is unfortunately usual, most Christians fall right into the laps and traps of anger-mongering newscasters bent on pedaling their version of truth. We argue the specifics of what’s going on (fruit) and deflect any conversations that address the why’s (root). Allow me to suggest a better path… likely not easier… or more simple, but better in that it deals with the root.

Position Not Pigment
This first part is huge. For better or worse I don’t think the primary issue is simply the color of one’s skin anymore. Racism has evolved into classism. Don’t believe me? Follow your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and watch what is being said about these two issues (left or right). Better yet, who is doing the talking? The voices that are being pedaled seldom come from a position of poverty let alone proximity to Ferguson or immigration. Because most people on the street do not care about the voices of people on the street. We want to know what our favorite famous talking head is saying. And it happens equally from both sides of the aisle. So if this is the offense, what are we to do about it? Jesus was constant in message and practice that our focus should be on the least and the last. What if we applied that reach to these two issues? What would need to change?

Do Ask Don’t Tell
American Christianity is primarily focused on results. Ask pastors what is the first question they are asked by other pastors at “________ Really Awesome Christian Conference”. I guarantee the answer to that question has something to do with a focus on outwardly visible and measurable results. Because of this reality, much of our approach as Christian leaders has been to come up with a plan that fixes said problem and produces the kinds of results that are visible and measurable.

When it comes to these types of conversations I am deeply stricken with my own lack of knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like to grow up in daily legitimized fear of the police. I don’t know what it feels like to risk everything to leave my country of origin in hope of a better way of life for my family. My results-orientation has often forced me to pretend that I do know. I must come up with some kind of solution.

I think we need to stop trying to tell the disadvantaged how to think/act/be. What if, instead, we adopted a position of asking. Yes, I realize that this removes us from a position of authority and jeopardizes our grasp of tangible results. The hardest part of this for most of us is that we don’t really know anyone in either of these two categories. That would be a good first step. Get to know someone that experiences the things that you and I do not. Ask them what they think needs to be done. Listen.

Penitence Over Politics
One of the truths that I have been changed most by in recent years is this… if Jesus matters, he has to matter in context. My observation is that in discussions of this nature, Christians – like anyone else – are most likely to go to their respective political corners before returning to the middle of the ring to duke it out. This is backwards. I’m not saying our politics do not play a role in our faith, but it is our faith that should inform our politics, not the other way around.

Asking “what does the law say?” is not necessarily a bad question. I just don’t think it’s always the most important question. The most important question for a Christian is always “what does Jesus say?” Certainly Jesus did not address either of these issues specifically or as we understand them in our American context. He did, however, often speak about and act upon seeing all people through the same lens… his children in need of his redemption. That’s me, too.

A Better Path
Often my default response is silence and inaction. But what if we began to head in a different direction than our basest impulses? What if we sought a better path? Certainly this would be more difficult than following the masses. Certainly it will be hard work. Certainly following the aforementioned types of suggestions are in keeping with the spirit of Jesus. Ready. Set. Go.

Scrapping My Plans

blueprintWe were asked to write in my senior yearbook about what we thought we’d be doing years down the road. I don’t remember the assigned numeric value of said reach. Of course answers ranged from silly to sillier with a dash of serious. Without searching through dozens of boxes for the exact words, I can tell you that my attempt was a mixture of the silly and the serious. I predicted that I would be taking over the 700 Club from Pat Robertson. That was my plan… or some version of it.

Truthfully I spent a good portion of my adulthood as the anarchist who revolted against planning. I took pride in the fact that I was a go-with-the-flow guy. This began to change when I became a leader of leaders and learned that my style did not translate to the majority of those I was attempting to lead. They wanted to know the plan. Where are we going? How do you expect us to get there? These became questions that would simultaneously frustrate me and mature my ability to lead.

The older I become the more I value planning. I try not to get uptight about it, but I do my homework, pray about it much, and read incessantly to help me formulate my plans. This was certainly my practice in getting ready to start a church. I read every book that was even suggested to me, interviewed dozens of guys who had done it, and even learned from people who had rejected faith for a variety of reasons. I had a plan. In all the ways that matter, my plan worked. My greatest boast is that there are a few dozen people (most of whom are still in my life today) who have a different impression of Christianity because of the actions associated with those plans. But in May of 2012 it was time to stop. In the ultimate sense, depending on your perspective, the plans had either run their course or they had not worked. I choose to think the former.

In the days since – and for the better part of 2 years – I have been learning to work through that unplanned reality. I haven’t really written about it until now because I have not been ready to write. Last night I was watching the DVR of the season finale of Criminal Minds and this quote was the sendoff…

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

Yes. Yes. And, yes. This is what I’ve been learning. Admittedly I have had a tough time moving on from this life event. But as I rewound and replayed that quote last night I felt a freedom in my spirit that has been mostly absent. Sometimes we have to let go of the things we had planned so we can get on with the things that are yet to come. Be free. These verses from Scripture say mostly the same thing.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

For now I continue to work as a salesman for my day job and am starting to serve again through our great church that we’ve been called to be part of at The Bridge.

I Hate Valentine’s Day

Valentines DayToday is a day I wish I could use Google Analytics to see the variance in numbers between male and female readers. Speaking in general, I think it is safe to say that a majority of women look forward to Valentine’s Day. And perhaps an equally overwhelming majority of men, do not. My reason(s) for not caring for Valentine’s Day actually stem from the fact that I consider myself somewhat of a romantic. I suppose you’ll have to ask my wife for verification. I don’t want anyone – not even the calendar – telling me how, when, or to what degree I ought to love my wife. There are more specific reasons, too… among them are these:

Love Is (often) Silent
Some of the best ways to say “I love you” do not need words. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. And as it relates to love, I know most women would rather SEE “I love you” than merely HEAR it. This is where the concept of Love Languages (click on the link to find this amazing guide) has been so valuable to me in my personal life and in my counseling.

Love Is Consistent
If most of us (regardless of gender) were honest, I’m pretty sure we’d rather feel loved 365 days than 1. While I will be the first to admit that my average is less than perfect, I try to live this way. Love as a lifestyle instead of love as an assignment.

Love Is Creative
Consistently over the years, the gifts that have meant the most to my wife were those that included me listening and investing time and effort to obtain them. Don’t get me wrong, she digs chocolate and flowers as much as the next person (and I try to purchase both throughout the year). I just find it wooden and plastic that every February 14 people all over the world feel loved and appreciated if they have these kinds of things. You’re worth more than that.

So, ladies, don’t settle for 1 day. Find a guy who is willing to love you better than that. And, guys, the only way this works – us saying we hate Valentine’s Day – is if our women know that we love them much more frequently than one prescribed day on a calendar. Go!

PS: We’re still going out to dinner tonight.

Preparing for the Holidays

Christmas DayThe holidays are upon us. I’d like to challenge all of us to consider now (at the beginning of the season) how we prepare for these days of wonderment. My heart is that you and I could enjoy the trappings without falling into the traps that so often come during this time of year. Allow me to suggest a few actions that will help us prepare.

Avoid Extremes
There is a beautiful sacredness that accompanies this season. There are also plenty of secular traditions that have an appropriate place in our hearts and lives. Be ok with both. Don’t get trapped into meaningless arguments about the wording of our greetings, etc. If “keeping Christ in Christmas” is important to you, then do that. That has nothing to do with secular people inserting the name of Jesus into a greeting. It has everything to do with those of us who believe keeping the person and work of Jesus alive in the way we talk about and operate in this season.

Our western culture could not possibly be more different from the eastern culture of which Bethlehem was and is a part. We tend to think that the more, the better. Packed schedules. More gifts. What if we made active attempts to simplify this year? What if you just applied it to those two things? Try to clear your calendar instead of fill it. Give fewer gifts that have deeper meaning. However you choose to analyze simplification, you are almost certain to benefit from its consideration.

With this final thought I am not so much thinking of mainly corporate worship, though attending special Christmas services can be an excellent push in the right direction. I’m thinking more of personal, private, and daily reflection on the coming of Jesus. What it means. Stand in awe. Let the incarnation of Jesus blow you away again the way it did the first time you understood it. Be thankful. Be humble.

But none of these things are likely to happen by accident. Some of them are downright difficult. All of them have value and rich reward if we will just prepare for the holidays.

Hitting the Wall Can Be A Good Thing

Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex JrHitting the wall is almost always seen as a bad thing. Certainly in auto racing it is. Baseball players try to avoid it. And in the world of writing it even has its own pet name… writer’s block. So for the last two weeks I have been in one of those places. Stuck. Just not wanting to write or think. Usually when I hit one of these walls I may stop writing for a significant amount of time. It has often been multiple weeks, even months. Usually I will read an article like this one – http://michaelhyatt.com/13-idea-starters-for-stuck-bloggers and get back to work. But this is a different season and I have seen writing become a more significant part of my personal life as well as my “ministry life”. So my viewpoint of this wall-hitting has also been different.

I love to sing. More than a few times I have even considered it as a career. For any aspiring musician their becoming is all about finding their voice. What makes them unique. What they have to say and how they say it that sets them apart. Which brings me to this particular wall. Even 40+ years into my journey I am becoming. In this season of life I have found myself asking questions of myself (and God) that I have not asked in a very long time. Yes, I am familiar with the whole mid-life crisis thing. And this may have something to do with that at some level. But it’s more than that. I’m finding my voice. I’m in a place of discovering what God has wired me to do in this next season of life. To be honest, I’m sure I do not know all of what that means. But as the weeks pass I am becoming increasingly convinced that it will have something to do with writing and speaking.

What about you? Yes, you. You are helping me find my voice. It’s only fair that I help you. What has God uniquely wired you to do? You think it’s too late for that? You’ve hit the wall in a dead-end job? Then you’re in the perfect place to ask that question! Get to it. Find your voice.

Prejudice and A Better Way


Recently there was an important document drafted called An Open Letter from the Asian American Community to the Evangelical Church. Two of my good friends (one since childhood and the other pastors in the denomination I am proud to be part of – the EFCA) are signatories. What follows is a re-post from this summer and my two cents on the subject.

While it was very difficult (actually, almost impossible) to find an adequate header picture for this post, unfortunately, most of us have a very clear picture of what prejudice looks like. Vernacularized, prejudice is unfairly forming an opinion about someone. Almost certainly, we all know someone that fits this description. Maybe it’s a co-worker or neighbor. Sadly, many times it is a family member. It may even be you. Many I have spoken with this week about the issue of racism have pushed for (and rightly so), a deeper discussion on the topic. In my view, the reality and roots of prejudice are the heart of the issue.

The Reality of Prejudice
We need to go back to the heart of what it means to be prejudiced. Likely we do not need to redefine it… we just need to reapply the definition we already know. Let’s apply this to prejudice related to race. Racial slurs, ethnic jokes, negatively-connotated nicknames, assigning negative stereotypes to an individual without even knowing them… these are among the realities that prejudice has made unfortunately normal. And for the Christian, participation in such is nothing less than sin.

The Roots of Prejudice
Until we understand some of what is behind prejudice we may never get to the stranglehold that is needed to defeat this ugly beast. There is a mountain that has been formed by the  reasons we prejudge. This will not be an exhaustive list… it can’t be. There are too many reasons. Let’s hit some of the recurring ones that seem to be the largest offenders:

  1. Fear. For some people their natural reaction to anyone or anything that is different from them is to be afraid. While there is nothing wrong with legitimate caution, we cannot allow our interactions with other to be driven by unsubstantiated fear that frankly leads us to often-horrible places in our treatment of someone who is different from us.
  2. Ignorance. In this case (and many like it), ignorance is not bliss. In fact, this ignorance may even be the greatest contributor to the discussion at hand. This also may be the worst excuse in the bunch. “I didn’t know”… is simply not acceptable.
  3. Education. Even though this trait seems to conflict with the one before it, we know it to be true. Whether our education is loud or silent, we have a history of lessons that are taught to us on this subject. It is not an excuse for how we behave, but often a factor in it.
  4. Pride. All of the above will be challenged by our own sense of entitlement… and that is precisely what pride is. When I make generalizations and stereotypes based on the color of someone’s skin or their geographic origin I am saying, “I’m better than you.”

A Better Way
If the way of Jesus means anything, it has to work in real time. Being a follower of Jesus demands that it impacts real world issues like prejudice. When we are part of a faith that is as the writer of Hebrews says, “living and active”, it must affect our prejudices. What part of this discussion within yourself do you need to attack with the power of the Gospel and the heart of Jesus? Maybe it’s something not even mentioned here that has caused you to pre-judge another based on the color of their skin. No matter what it is that has led you to that place, it’s time to confess it as sin and allow the very Spirit of God to heal that place in your heart.

Determined: to Live Healthy

determinationI want to follow up on this post from two months ago. The very fact that I first wrote about it two months ago and am only acting on it now, is testament to how difficult this subject can be. It is also a testimony to the fact that if you press through… you can do it!

First of all, please know that health-wise I am above average in all categories. Peter Pan really has nothing on me. Often my wife will say that she has 5 kids… numbering me as one of them. Especially when I shave my beard, I almost always get carded… still… at 43. The not good side of that is I love to stay up way later than anyone in the house. I love knowing about all that happens in a single day until that final grain of sand hits the top of the pile in the bottom half of the hour glass. Physically you know when you are not right. Getting enough sleep and always feeling tired are not supposed to go together. The fact is we all know when we are not where we want/need to be with our health.

The pastorate is not generally thought of as a healthy occupation. Let’s face it… we have tons of private stress that must remain, well, private. We listen to and carry the burdens of others (not to mention, our own) and often have no (earthly) place to lay those burdens. For most pastors it is a fairly sedentary office – not an excuse, just a reality. Then there is the “pastoral culture” itself. I do not wish to name names, but think of the pastors you have known. How many of them took care of themselves physically? Unfortunately I think there are more negative examples than positive.

For me the unhealthiness became very apparent as we went through the pain of closing Process Church. I initially did not manage that experience well. And in the last 2 years I have added almost 20 lbs. to an already overweight frame. I knew I was in bad shape and needed to fix it. So a little more than a year ago I started running. I was really getting in to it… having fun and firming up. Then we had to move (locally) and that completely threw me off my my game.

Getting right will look different for all of us. I knew for me that it was not really about a number on a scale or on a tape measure. For me it was a mindset. Up to this point I really didn’t care. As a result, this thinking began to not only take its toll on my body, but on my family and even my own way of seeing things. For me this journey was about getting to one word. It eluded me at first but now I’m on the path… DETERMINED. I will get back to healthy living. This week was a huge test and so far, I’ve passed. More about that later.

The Original: Why We Only Like New Stuff (sometimes)

I find it interesting/strange/bothersome that modern Christianity often seems to be waiting in the wings for the “next big thing”. As a community, evangelical Christianity seems inextricably linked to the new and now. The questions we ask often have little to do with actual historicity and focus more on “how old it is”. Why is this? Why are we so attracted to the new?


Perhaps we have mistakenly bought into the notion that newer is automatically better. Couple that with the fact that youth generally distrusts age… and now we’re on to something. But why are we afraid of the “tried and true”/old ways? In part, there is almost always an (unwarranted) arrogance that accompanies youth. This moxie is also part of what keeps them on the front edge of change and improvement. Yet often with youth comes a false sense that anything old is… well… old… and worn out and therefore, useless. That is simply not the case.

In terms of our spirituality, we would do well to lean back and study the past. In doing so we can see repeated patterns. We can begin to observe that ours is not the first generation to deal with a particular issue or see things in a certain light. And even more importantly, as we view the more modern (and ancient) history of the Church we can see that all of us were/are really just trying to model “the original”.

What things would today’s church do well to re-visit? What things existed in the early church that we find missing today? To quote one of our more famous poets, perhaps we should “get back in time”!

Friends: A Place to Start

itsastartAlmost all of the images that were coming up for starting were showing runners on their mark and at the ready for a sprint. I can tell you right now that this kind of friendship is much more like a marathon. Forming new friendships almost always demands much of us. Then add to the mix that the push here is to befriend people who don’t share your perspective on matters of faith, and many of us are simply unwilling to invest that kind of time. But if you are up for it, where do you begin? These are very personal insights that I gained almost exclusively by trial and mostly error.

First, and there is no substitute for this one, you simply have to want to form these kinds of friendships. If you do it out of duty or for any other reason, I can almost guarantee that you will ultimately fail. Because it’s hard. Because of the great differences. Because, let’s be honest, most of us are accustomed to taking the easy way out (especially relationally). But if you are driven by an honest desire to befriend someone outside your “usual circle”, this desire will come to your aid when, for whatever reason, the going gets tough.

I thought about ending this post with that one statement about wanting it. I also thought about giving the whole fire hydrant of what I’ve been learning. The more I considered it, I realized that it has taken me 5 years of learning to get to where I am today. So, for today, let’s talk a moment about what not to do. I think there are several approaches that will almost automatically sabotage our attempts to forge this kind of friendship. Let’s look at a few:

Seeing someone as a project instead of a person. The few Christians I know who are engaged with people who believe differently than they do (or don’t believe at all) seem to be primarily interested in proselytizing. This is usually made obvious when said “friend” rejects the message and the friendship ends or changes dramatically. This obviously raises questions of motive. Do we befriend others simply to attempt to convert them to our way of thinking? I hope not. To this very point, recently one such friend said, “Thanks for being our friend unconditionally.”

Making it more difficult than it is by trying too hard. You know what I mean. Remember that middle school-aged kid who was trying to get up his nerve to ask Miss Suzie Q to be his girlfriend? Of course he means well. Of course he genuinely cares about her (as much as a thirteen year old can), but he falls on his face because of nerves and the likely false notion that this may be the woman he spends the rest of his life with (I know there are rare exceptions). The point is… just be yourself. More about this one in the next post. This may be the most important aspect.

Believing the lie that if said friend remains an unbeliever you must relationally move on. Show me the precedence for that mindset in Scripture. This alienation and polarization is already rampant in the culture. Those of us who believe should be on the cutting edge of relational loyalty to demonstrate that true Christian love is without condition.

So, as with any topic, beginning includes a look at what not to do. How are you doing? Do you need to work on any of these sometimes lifelong and built-in tendencies? It’s a good place to start.

Unintended Results of Isolation

IsolationIn the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character is stranded by himself on an island for the majority of the film. What makes this movie most captivating is the exploration of how isolation eventually affects even the most well-disciplined mind and life. So what does that have to do with anything remotely (pun intended) spiritual? Socially and spiritually, and in almost every way possible, we were not meant to be alone.

A disclaimer of sorts (though unnecessary for those that know me well). I am not condemning those that may pursue holiness. That should be the pursuit of all who follow Jesus. I am simply attempting to address the lengths to which we isolate (or separate) ourselves from those around us that need our influence most.

Particularly in some iterations of Christianity there has been a specific bent often referred to as the “holiness movement”. Again, this likely means slightly different things to different people, but the main idea is that one of the main ways we show our identification with Jesus is by the outward ways in which we are perceived to be visibly different than the world in which we live. Taken most literally are issues like attire, entertainment choices, and the like. In my upbringing it was often quipped that good Christians… “don’t smoke or chew or go with those that do”. While this was used somewhat humorously, it was an apt demonstration of a specific understanding of what it meant to be Christian.

I’ve written and re-written this one more than once. I know that I am certain to offend some who grew up similarly, but know my heart. I am not saying that all of these issues can or should be summarily dismissed as issues of any importance. What I am saying is that the “holiness movement” as a whole has unintentionally done more harm than good to the cause of Christ in the world. The so-called separation which was meant to be, in the main, internal is forced into near-constant personal interpretation as to which and to what degree external things should isolate us from the culture to show our loyalty to Jesus. What follows are a handful of observations I have made as to the negative effects of isolating oneself from the culture in which we have been placed.

1. the point we mean to make doesn’t land… Obviously we want it to be known that the reason we do not participate in ______________ said cultural practice/activity is because we are intending to show that we are not participating because we are “holy”. But the only ones who understand this personal significance are those who share the same values… those who see things the way we may. Not to mention that more often than not, there are no biblical mandates related to the issue in question. Which leads to #2…

2. trying to make issues of things that the Scriptures don’t, weakens the power of the Scripture to those outside of faith… Clearly there are things to which the Scriptures, and at times, even Jesus himself speak to directly. However that list is probably not as long as any of us wish it to be and certainly does not contain many of the “religious talking points” of many conservative Christians today. And when we pretend that Scripture is loud and clear when it is, in fact, not, we weaken its power to those that have grown accustomed to associating it with _______________ said cultural practice/activity.

3. we don’t need Christian versions of ____________, we need Christians who are willing to participate meaningfully (Christianly) in the culture… I had to repent of my earliest tone for this post. Instead of participating in our culture and showing them the power of Jesus, we have created pockets of and even an entire strata of sub-cultural existence within our culture. I won’t link to any, but you can literally find “Christian” versions of everything from music to coffee to kitchen products to… you would be amazed. What this world needs to see is that Jesus calls his followers to be the largest contributors to those around them. There should be little doubt that when any follower of Jesus is involved in ______________ cultural practice/activity it is always made better because of their influence. That’s the way he played it himself.

I’m not saying there are never times when it is appropriate and even necessary for us to withdraw from _______________ cultural practice/activity. What I am advocating is that those times be few and far between and when we must, we do so with great remorse.