Yes, Our "Food" Is Killing Us (and we knew that already)

We must be clear that the wages of sin is always death; but everything that kills isn't always immediately lethal. And even the harm sometimes isn't visibly apparent until it's too late. Our animal-based diet is the perfect example of how our desire for instant gratification in money and stuff trumps reason and human decency.

Our "food" is killing us. And the food industry knew that a long time ago. Books like The Omnivore's Dilemma or farmer/activists like Will Allen and Joel Salatin like spoke out a long time ago. The WHO's report is another volley to the front pages of websites and newspapers that will soon be wiped away with sleek ad campaigns and well-compensated health professionals that will say in too many syllables "keep eating what you want, we can't really prove that there are consequences".  The chief problem is that massive food companies like Kraft, Cargill, Nestle and McDonalds make more money than they ever have so they will never tell us the truth. The truth doesn't earn compound interest, lead to better quarterly earnings, and certainly wouldn't raise consumer confidence. So, unfortunately, much like the disposable clothing and electronics industry that exploits millions of workers around the world and commercial sexual exploitation that commoditizes vulnerable women, men, and children, we will choose profits and pleasure over people and the planet to fill our insatiable need for more.

When my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, my family researched every form of treatment possible. Doctors and documentaries agreed on a few things but not many, so certainty on treatment was hard to find. And when my mother was diagnosed with cancer a year later, the search for options other than chemo was even more frenetic. Ultimately, my mother and father-in-law passed away from the cancers that overtook their bodies. But something that my mom said to me after she read Forks Over Knives, The China Study and began to eat differently was, "why would people do this if they know it makes people sick. It's just cruel." And it is cruel, isn't it?

Isn't it cruel that ranchers had Dorothy Stang, a nun who defended the poor and indigenous people of Brazil, killed so that they could burn down millions of acres of forest per year to make more room for cattle ranches unchallenged?

Isn't it cruel that farmers, scientists and activists willing to ask hard questions of the massive food industry are stripped of their livelihoods and threatened with violence and lawsuits? All of this in an attempt to protect the profits of rich and powerful people who intend to use their power to become richer still.

It boggles my mind how much money goes into lobbying senators and representatives, crafting custom legislation, and prime time advertisements to keep us hooked on sugar, salt and fat at the cost of billions of lives around the world and the planet we all inhabit.

It is a lie that we need to drink cow's milk to have healthy bonesIt is a lie that we need meat and dairy are necessary to have a complete diet. Aaron Simpson, Sammy Ray Foxworth and Serena Williams seem to be doing just fine.
It is a lie that men must eat tons of meat to be more masculine. Sammy Ray does CrossFit professionally and Sammy Ray is a pro-MMA fighter so I don't think any of us would question their manhood.

l believed all of these lies and more but as I began to lose weight, sleep through the night, not have gas after eating, have regular bowel movements, get clearer skin, and more I realized that eating meat and diary wasn't helping me, it was harming me. I am now in better physical health than I was in high school. And can own the sins I committed and those done on my behalf that have detrimental effects on people and the environment. And it is confession and repentance that presses me to pursue stewardship and push hard against the tide of consumption because I believe we were made for much more than this.

Romans 1 says that we will create new ways to sin against God and one another and isn't that exactly what we have done? Where we don't care who or what is hurt down start of our actions as long as we are protected, profitable and don't have to "see" the person, animal or environment that is destroyed because we couldn't say "no" to a sirloin, porterhouse or pork chop. Lord have mercy.

Praise God that His commission to us in Genesis is still our commission today. To flourish, work, rule and create to seek shalom, peace between all relationships. Not to dominate, deplete, degrade and destroy creation to suit our own gains. Actions and reactions that go against the purposes for which we were created are sin; so we will pursue that which is fixed on God's original intentions and His redemptive ends. That includes the food we buy, prep, cook and eat! 

We must take stock of the clear difference between the offers of God and all other propositions. Jenny Craig may give you practical steps to change your diet but God is giving you an invitation to transform your life and the lives vulnerable plants, animals and people. Instead of organizing our lives around ourselves, orient ourselves around Christ, His love and His sacrifice to love and sacrifice likewise that all people and the planet around us may flourish. Romans 14, where we help one another not to stumble is more gracious than Weight Watchers; and stewarding Local*, Green*, Organic*, Fair* and Free* food and resources is not just sustainable, it's the participation in the shalom that God intended in the first place. 

Now if you just read this and you're like, I love burgers though Jonathan! Please know, I love burgers too! Especially burgers with cheese.

I just have to ask myself, "am I willing to live with the consequences of my continued exploitation of the planet and people for my immediate benefit but to the detriment of my physical health?" And sometimes the answer is yes. That is where I believe we must be gracious with ourselves and those around us and grateful that we even have the choice to eat what we want when we want it. And then, start again to do the sanctifying work of stewardship that God has called us to. In 2011, things began to change and today, almost 4 years later, meat and dairy are almost completely gone from my diet. Here are some resources that helped me along this journey. I hope that you will take the invitation to personal, relational and systemic transformation seriously and slowly eliminate animal products from your diet because you actually don't need it.  

How To Minimize Black People and Hinder the Spread of the Gospel

It is excruciating to have my pain turned into an undone task on a to-do list, slide off an agenda, and be left out of a strategic plan. Somehow, modeling reconciliation for students, faculty, congregants, and non-believers is seen as superfluous compared to the more integral parts of following Jesus like prayer, studying the Bible, and evangelism. But reconciliation and biblical justice must be central to our Christian witness because the gospel of which we are called to bear witness is the only cure for racism and injustice. - Read the entire post here!

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Playboy, Lamar Odom, Amnesty International and the Value of Women

This week, Playboy announced that because it is no longer profitable to photograph and print pictures of naked women in their magazines, they won't do it anymore.  Wait, what? 

The value of a woman's nude body has been reduced to a dollar figure so low by producers of pornography that they decided to stop taking pictures of them for the pleasure of men and boys. That means that material for masturbation, self-gratification, and "helping myself" is so common, so a part of our every day reality that a major media company said, "ehh guys, it costs to much to do this, so we are going to invest elsewhere." This has to be supply and demand at its absolute worst as no one questions (at least from what I could find) that this is horribly sad. Not because an iconic magazine changed a decades old tradition; but because if I have a daughter one day, a man looking at her puts her butt and breasts on a stack of hundreds of other images on the hard drive of his brain.

Couple that with the reality of Lamar Odom overdosed at the largest known compound for sexual exploitation in the country. And we are focused not on the women that are there who were recruited from foster care, histories of abuse and generational violence and were groomed for this "industry" as pre-teens and children. Instead we are Tweeting thoughts and prayer emojis for Lamar's recovery and wondering if he and Khloe Kardashian can "hold it together." Now I am all for strong marriages and family and men overcoming drug addiction to lead and love as God intended. I am wondering though how come no one asked the question (at least from what I heard on CNN and other news outlets) "what about the women and the destructive business on which Lamar Odom was spending thousands of dollars."

And I wish this was only a pop culture problem but the personal choices that we (men) make about the consumption of women is de facto legislation and could be legislation if Amnesty International gets their way. Wait, what? We won't give amnesty to undocumented immigrants who flee war, violence and poverty for a better life but we want to freedom from prosecution to men and women who would provide children, women and men for other women and men to pay to rape. 

Read that again. We won't give amnesty to undocumented immigrants who flee war, violence and poverty for a better life.  But we want to ensure freedom from prosecution to men and women who would provide children, women and men for other women and men to pay to rape. 

And that is called good leadership, celebrated by activists and lauded as progress when it couldn't be further from the cesspool of mindsets that now guides our actions that auction women and girls. 

I wanted to find a large scale media effort to reference these thoughts but I can only find fringe articles and people who most folks (liberal and conservatives) would call radical. So I stopped searching. Then I realized it would take me less than 5 seconds to find THOUSANDS of images of naked children involved in sex acts and women and men from any genre of commercial sexual exploitation with which to pleasure myself. I type what I want (not a "who" I want at this point) and it is delivered to me. And if I try to escape this distorted reality, the world of advertising is bent towards reminding me that this devaluation of the male and female is worthy of my time and money. This exploitive theology bombards me on TV, movies and commercials and still some magazines - just not PlayBoy. Lord have mercy. 

What does it profit a man, woman or country to have any sexual fantasy he or she wants and lose the ability to see a woman or man before them as beautiful apart from the size and ability of them to use their private parts for pleasure. It profits us nothing, but Playboy and others ministers of sexual exploitation are soundly invested in this growing market to the point that they will ensure that men, women and children who want to see other men, women and children choked by penises, penetrated by inanimate objects, gangraped or abused by their step-parents - that they will stop taking pictures and printing them to make sure there are more resources for that. 

And since we see exploitation as sound business practice to feed our insatiable need for pleasure, we will celebrate them and continue giving time and money to decreasing the value of men, women and children to holes they have and how often someone puts themselves into them. 

So no wonder no one asked about the women at Cathouse and why they were on a ranch like cattle. And I can't sit in my hotel room tonight and get away from the temptation to want a woman other than my wife. 

Society says it is okay for me to desire, select and posses any woman or man  that I want sexually and then discard them after I've climaxed. And that is to be accepted and celebrated as forward-thinking, progressive and true freedom by acclaimed educators, activists and even theologians. No wonder we "blame the victim" because pimps, traffickers and abusers are simply doing what we are supposed to do - consume. Our words and subsequent actions are the fruit of what we truly think and feel. How profoundly sad it is that mass media provides no compassionate words or actions for the women, men and children who suffer under our "need" for more. 

Jesus, forgive us and have mercy on me.  I can't unlearn what I know or forget what I've seen. I am frustrated, sad and angry and want to drop kick every taxi touting a strip club or peep show and spray paint ads I never asked to see that bombard me daily. I stand in opposition and shout silently at magazine racks that "I never asked for this" but wrestle because I'm being told by the everyone that "this is what you want." Selah. 

God help us to see one another rightly. That women are not bunnies and ball players are people and companies have an opportunity to create systems and structures that build people up or to crush them. 

Prayers for Howard Schultz, Starbucks and Their Shareholders

Would you pray with me?

Father in Heaven in the mighty, transformative name of Your Son Jesus, I plead your redemptive blood over the coffee industry and exploitation on plantations all over this world. I beg for your transformative power to come into the lives of under-paid baristas and employees all along their supply chains that can't make ends meet. Lord have mercy Jesus. We grieve the physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse that we perpetuate with our purchases and investments and ask your forgiveness for our apathy and inaction. Help us God to do all in our power to ensure that just as we are able to flourish, work, rule and create that those around the corner and around the world who supply us with beans and beverages are able to do likewise. Jesus, You came that all would be made right and then sent us out as ambassadors of reconciliation. You taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven". So, God would your kingdom come in the life of Howard Schultz. Would your kingdom invade shareholder and board meetings at Starbucks. Would there be a fundamental reorientation of their hearts towards the purpose that you intended for them and the resources You have given them. We pray for a personal salvation that leads to relational and systemic transformation. Would scales fall from their eyes and Howard, the Schultz Household and the businesses that you have given him charge over be made instruments YOUR GLORY God, and not glorify wealth and powers in this world. You are able to do exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we can ask or imagine, so would you make Howard Schultz and Starbucks an instrument for your redemptive freedom in the Coffee industry and beyond. For Your sake, Jesus let it be so. Amen! 

What We Can Do After We Pray About Another Mass Shooting

So, once again in the wake of the horrific tragedy at Umpqua Community College, we will storm the gates of heaven asking God to be present, to move, to speak and to act on behalf of those who are suffering, will suffer and could suffer at the hands of the Enemy ruling and reigning in this community and others. And before God can speak to our hearts and bring conviction about how we perpetuate these occurrences by not building genuine relationships that address mental health and gun violence and press for policies informed by these relationships we are up off our knees and on to the next thing. 

Followers of Jesus are really good at telling God what we would like for Him to do and horrible at hearing and obeying what He tells us to do. Especially when it comes to actually changing personal behavior that will drive social change if not outright upheaval. 

The latest massacre in Oregon is sadly not isolated but just another domino falling in our marriage to prayerful inaction and our endless clinging to surface conversation and comfort of the status quo. 

Our LoGOFF Movement to transform consumers to stewards suggests 4 P's to respond to this massacre and God forbid the next one. 

Pray

Get by yourself or with a group you feel comfortable, grab your bible and journal and call on the name of the Lord. If you don't know how to pray, here's an interactive experience to help you out. And this includes taking to God all of our pain, confusion, anger, disgust, rage, sadness, jadedness and every other seemingly positive or negative thought, word or emotion we have. He is God and He is big enough to handle it.

Please pray alone AND in community before Our Father in Heaven, in the name of Jesus, filled with Holy Spirit with believers who desire likewise and non-believers who desire more than the status quo. Lament, confess, repent and listen to what God is saying because surely after you stop speaking and weeping God will not be silent.  Hebrew and New Testament scriptures promise He will respond.

Purchase

After you speak and LISTEN to God, evaluate ALL of the TIME, TALENT and MONEY that you have to offer back to God on behalf of those affected. 

Could you educate yourself on how to break the stigma of those suffering from depression, PTSD and other forms of mental illness? 

Could you spend more time talking with your friends and family members who suffer from mental illness? 

Could you take the time educate yourself on the realities of gun violence in America?

Could you give $25/month to a ministry, fund or advocacy organization honoring those slain, attending to the needs of those living with the tragedy or working to stop the next one?

Could you volunteer your talents in organizing, accounting, communication or art to take an internship for a year, or join a local group pursuing the values you hear from scripture, prayer, and biblical teaching? 

Look at ALL of the time, talent, and treasure before you (not just the EXTRA you THINK you have) and give it back to God because He gave it to you! 

Partner 

With the time, talent and treasure you brought to God, look for partners where you can leverage them for the poor, marginalIzed and oppressed - and then follow through! Just because someone doesn't respond to your email the first time or the link doesn't work or a secretary doesn't get back to you doesn't mean, "I must not be meant to do it." Just because something is hard doesn't mean God isn't in it. Justice is hard-work, long-term, and full of triumphs and tragedies alike. Our success is not in the progress but the obedience to the God who loves us. 

Policy-Making

After prayer, building relationships, and investing our time, talent and resources can we be adequately informed and formed to protest, petition and participate in political advocacy and activism necessary for systemic transformation.  It is a theological impossibility to look at the whole of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation and claim that God does not want to renew every corner of Creation and bring the Shalom He intended. And those who propose otherwise, I would say are more married to power, privilege, money and comfort than pursuing the teachings of Jesus and nurturing his or her  personal marriage to Christ. And therefore do not possess spiritual authority necessary to stand on principles that will end senseless violence around the corner and around the world. 

I agree wholeheartedly with President Obama that thoughts and prayers are not enough. Though I would push and say that we are not actually praying because sadly our prayers are grossly one-sided if we are just leaving the man upstairs voicemails.  We invite you to truly Pray, Partner, Purchase and Policy-shape so that personal, relational and systemic sin is met with people who seek personal, relational and systemic transformation redemption rooted in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

The Truth About Brodnax, Virginia

Brodnax, Virginia is where I grew up. The land had to be purchased by a white man willing to buy it for my black great-grandfather who wasn't allowed to bid on the 200+ acres my elders would call their own.  I didn't have "neighbors", I had aunts, uncles and cousins. I didn't know what it meant to buzz into an apartment or use an intercom. You don't have to do that when you can yell and all the doors are unlocked. I didn't know "the rules" for pick-up basketball included picking teams and waiting your turn. Every house on our road had its own hoop and our tournaments were just as important as those at Rucker Park in my grade school mind. 

I thought it was those things and others like it that were the reasons I repped Brodnax so strongly when this town of 300 isn't worthy of the weather map on the 6 o'clock news. But when I drove down to the end of Allen Road for the first time and my mom was not waiting to tell me where to put my bags, in which room I was to sleep, and that I was to clean out the gutters, I realized that home was not special because of where it was; it was special because of who was there. 

I feel a certain lostness now - a sense of belonging is gone. The pride that I once held is now a mess of debt consolidation, legal papers and ashes waiting to be scattered. The person that I need to unlearn to lean on so strongly has been replaced by projects that require my attention. I am struggling under to-do lists and estate statutes and am stuck in a new reality shrouded by complicated tasks to be completed once in a lifetime. So, this is not something I will repeat or a matter at which to excel because the hardest things we ever do, we only do once like losing a mom.  Everyone tells the  easy truth that I only have one life. The harder part is that everyone else only has one life too. And when those around you pass away, the significance of place sometimes passes with them. 

I thought that Brodnax was my refuge, the smell of green gave me peace and all of this was seasoned with my momma's presence. But with that narrative permanently disrupted by endometrial cancer the words of Jesus resonate clearly and its meaning goes even deeper. 

Heaven is not a place, it's a person.  John the Baptist was not heralding a new city or government, but testifying to the coming of Jesus.  This was made profoundly clear to me as I studied Matthew and it repeatedly says, "The Kingdom of God" and then proceeds to not describe a physical place but often a person. The Kingdom of God is like a wealthy landowner He says in Matthew 20, generous, forthright and trustworthy.  And when He commissions the disciples to go and preach, they testify not of a heavenly hotel but of the very presence of God being with us. Heaven does not have an address but instead it has a healing hand to touch, hold and arms to hug. In the same way I don't want the mailbox and mansion that God makes for me, I don't want the pancakes, eggs and rolls my mom used to make for me. I want her smell, laugh and metaphors from left field. I want her presence at Thanksgiving and her phone calls on long drives. That's what I need, that's what I'll miss. 

So in my heart I will hold the joy of the past  and the ache of a present without her presence here not just a town or location.  And just like I await the coming of Jesus - not just the city where He will take us - I wait in faith-filled expectancy for the trumpet sound when I will see her face again. 

Three Lies I Believed About My Mom

I thought my Mom was super human. I thought my mom was the Messiah. I thought my mom was the one who held everything together; and I treated her that way. On September 13 around 3:30am, Ma or "Pauline Allen" as I called her, died at Retreat Hospital in Richmond, Virginia and these lies that undergirded our relationship ascended painfully to the surface.

I thought that my momma was impervious to pain, fear, and striving. I didn't think that she could be sad, afraid, or impacted by the post-segregation community we lived in, the poverty of the children in her rural classroom and a household broken by the struggles of rejection, marriage, addiction, and the fake-ness that infects so many families. I treated her like she had some type of magic touch with my injuries, our money, and her inner pain. And seeing her lying there, unable to verbalize the pain she felt, not wanting food and her eyes with a gaze longing for some distant shore fractured that reality. I truly wish I treated her more human, than the super I believed her to be. 

As my Aunt Wilma shared personal anecdotes on their plight and triumphs raising children in Brodnax, I believe these two women, one alive and one dying exemplified this passage in 2 Corinthians 4:

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

I hope you didn't skip the scripture just to get to the second lie that I believed about my mom because the first one is the foundation for the other two; because the Madea myth of the super-human black woman that will always rise up is actually crushing an entire cross-section of society. I ask God's forgiveness for buying into the clay, instead of the potter and giving praise to the paint brush in lieu of the artist. Selah. 

I didn't just believe that Ma was super-human and stop there. I believed she used this power to hold everything together. No matter what force attempted to divide us, she would rise up with a metaphor, money or meal that rose beyond the occasion. When I wanted to publish a book, she "made it work" mortgaging the land my Grandfather left her that held our home. When my siblings scattered she prayed fervently and exuded an expectation that "it'll all be alright" and we believed like we perceived she did. 

I believed lies about my Mom that were actually true about Jesus. Colossians 1:15-20 says: 

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

Simply put, Jesus holds everything together, not my Momma and to put her on that pedestal betrayed her humanity and idolized her in a way that didn't allow her to be her lovable, flawed, true self. Lord have mercy. 

Third and most destructive was that I believed my super-human, peace-keeping Mom was supposed to save us. She was the Messiah of her siblings after the death of her father and she swooped in over and over as the foundation of our nuclear family shook under the weight of lies and financial instability. She went back to college in her 40's, worked three jobs for a decade and NEVER complained while raising four children. She did not utter a disappointed word to us when there were no Christmas gifts or when we found rat droppings in our discounted cereal. We treated her like a savior and that's unfair, sinful, and the weight of "saving" was never meant for any woman or man. 

It is true that John 3:16-17 says this "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

God sent His Son into the world to save it, and my Momma here to experience joy and receive love as a wholly accepted daughter of the King. Hers was not an immaculate conception, nor her birth heralded by angels and not because she was just some average woman. No! She was a stellar woman of God, dedicated and effective educator, lover of plants and walking barefoot in the woods. But these qualities don't qualify her to be Savior of the world. 

The last real words my Mom said were actually sung from Psalm 27. "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear."  She did not fear death because she knew that she was human, that Christ held everything together and that the Savior of the world was Jesus. I pray to God that He gifts me with the same faith and I stand on and in the truth that one day I too may rise when the trumpet sounds and go home to live with God and those who love Him.

The Other Counterfeit Jesus We Love to Worship

Daniel Darling recently wrote an article titled "10 Counterfeit Jesus Figures We Should Stop Worshiping". I read the article and agree wholeheartedly with its words, sentiments and appreciate its wisdom, scriptural basis and dusts of humor. 

Something that I believe was missing in the list was the  "Jesus Looks Like Me" Jesus. Often this Jesus shows up in segregated Sunday morning services, bible studies and  prays the "right way". This Jesus is White, Black, Latino, Asian, First-Nation or Post-Racial in the photos we display. This Jesus isn't just shaped by location but by ethnicity and the culture of our families of origins because of privilege, oppression and illusions of racial and ethnic supremacy. 

Each of the Counterfeit Jesus claims that supposed followers of the Biblical Christ seem to worship have roots in colonialism, oppressive missiology and/or sinful patterns of our families of origin. 

It is well-documented that as Christianity spread in the modern world, abuse, violence and imperialism were often right alongside it - except in the actual Book of Acts where the Gospel cast a living vision of the Kingdom of God and modeled, as best we can on this side of Glory, what a community given over to Jesus looks like. 

Stephen in Acts 6 was a man full of the spirit and obedient to God. And because of that faithfulness to the risen Savior who preached the Kingdom of God, he was stoned by the worshipers of the Legalist "Messiah" and tried to be talked out of sacrificial love by the Guru, American, Dr. Phil, Prosperity and BFF Jesus followers.  He was abandoned by Post-Church folks for clinging too literally to what Jesus said and by the Left-Wing Jesus followers for only clinging to the teachings of Jesus. The Red-Letter Jesus people got an Old Testament clinic and those Braveheart followers saw what true courage actually looked like. 

Stephen was willing to treat members of a different race - a social construct that divided Hebreic Jews and Hellenistic in the eyes of man - like they were actually made in the image of God and worthy of all the things that Jesus promised and offered humanity through His virgin birth, death, and bodily resurrection. Stephen went against his family of origin, the friends of him home culture for the sake of the Real Gospel of Jesus.  He was willing to do what Jesus said and do what Jesus did with radical efficacy. So much so that they had to kill him. And ain't nobody who worships a White, Black, Latino, Asian, or Indigenous Jesus rooted in racial and ethnic segregation got time for that. 

There are churches that break barriers of class and status on 6 continents (not sure about Antarctica). There are powerful gatherings of believers that preach scripture, pray in faith, worship in the Spirit and experience transformation rooted in the real, living Jesus; but unfortunately, few of those congregations are racially diverse, reconciled communities pursuing a justice rooted in God's plan for His Church laid out in Acts. May God tear down the idol of racial and ethnic segregation and we worship Jesus for who He truly is, was and will always be. Amen! 

 

Do We Need Hope to Fight For Justice? - Sarah Ngu

The short answer for me is a resounding "yes!" But Sarah Ngu does the hard work of explaining exactly why that is through wonderful examples like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

 "Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the first Christians that come to mind when we think of role models for resistance. A bright, young German pastor and theologian who initially went to America to escape the rising Nazi regime, he quickly returned to Germany because he felt that he had to "share the trials of this time with my people." He was later imprisoned in 1943 for conspiring to rescue Jews, and executed in a concentration camp a few weeks before the Allies liberate it.

This is what he writes, while in prison, about who will stand fast in the face of evil:

“Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue....”

It is not that Bonhoeffer is against moral principles. On account of them, he condemned Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, America’s treatment of African-Americans, and so on. For Christians, moral principles matter a lot, for they are not the abstract creations of humans, but the very structure that, by the Creator’s design, undergirds the world. But Bonhoeffer led a complicated life in Germany: he had to lie and deceive almost everyone in his life to play his part as a double agent in a larger conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. So for him, his resistance went beyond standard moral principles."

Read the rest of Sarah's post, here

Something in Common: Black Americans Using the "N"word and Whites Who Wave the Rebel Flag

Black Americans (and other people of color) who use the word "nigga" and White Americans who fly the conferedate flag have more in common than they do different. 

Both groups avoid the pain of the past by side-stepping it and instead attempt to redefine words or symbols of hatred and exclusion as signals of comradery and empowerment. Black Americans must deal with our pain of rejection, abandonment and generational subjugation. And White Americans must face the painful, ugly portions of their collective identity and the fear of what would happen if power was actually shared among all people for the good of all people.

"Only we can say it" or "it's okay, it's us" is a pitiful attempt to take one of the most hateful words ever invented by humans to denigrate, corrupt, and control a group of people and use it to somehow build community.  What we instead should do is face the pain, subjugation and rejection that the word originally intended and is still used for today. I wish Harriet Tubman or Nat Turner could sit down with a kid from Harlem, Liberty City, Montgomery, or Dallas and have that child say, "what's good my nigga". The ensuing beat down (physical and verbal) would go viral. The personal, relational and systemic injustice of using that word is what's TRUE and no amount of rap music is going to somehow rid the N-word of its priniciple use for degradation. That is what's true. It is absolute, timeless and more powerful than the microphone of any artist or producer. It is not and never will be empowering because it is the antithesis of what it was meant to be in the first place. 

Similarly, I wish that some of my White American friends who long to fly the "stars and bars" and detach it from racism, hatred and intimidation that still persists today could sit down with John Calhoun and other leaders of the confederacy - or even Dylann Roof. Extensive historical writings, recorded narratives and Roof's manifesto clearly articulate the original purpose of the confederate flag and the foundation of the South pre-Civil War was white supremacy; and the continued subjugation of black slaves (and all others) at all costs. To say, this flag is part of our (I'm from the South) culture and something we hold dear is to say that the 350 years of slavery and 160 years of voting disenfranchisement, lynching, unlawful arrests, sexual violence, and hate crimes is "just how we do things down here". 

We cannot take words or symbols and decide what we want them to mean and at the same time deal with the pain of rejection and abandonment (black folks) or the fear of what would happen if we face faults and successes alike and used our power for something other than keeping it (white people). 

This same logic goes for men who degrade women by calling them s***, c***, b***** and other words that are verbally abusive. Or the derogatory names that we ascribe to people  that are indigenous and Native American, or Latino/a and Asian. No matter what argument those doing the hurting make, these words are painful and destructive. And when we don't apologize, ask how we can better serve one another, and then do what is in our power to do and instead dig in, get defensive and try to justify our bigotry, sexism and ignorance, we are doing a gross disservice our brothers and sisters made in the image of God. 

Similarly, i believe that the "we can call ourselves that but you can't" argument is a painfully misguided attempt at claiming a safe place to stand because we find no refuge from those in power so we opt-in to the oppression because it's easier than perpetual defeat. 

Feeling powerless, afraid and under attack sucks. And right now, as a Black American man I feel that way. And after a conversation with a white conservative male friend from South Carolina, I know there are White Americans who feel that way too.

"Why We Still Trust the Police and the NSA" by Sarah Ngu

This following article is written by Sarah Ngu and was originally featured on michaelrwear.com

"According to recent polls, around half of the American public still approves of and trusts the NSA and law enforcement, despite recent revelations of wrongdoing and abuse by both institutions. Why?

I am sure there are many reasons, but it might be as simple as this: We just do not want to think about it too much. After all, our system is structured such that istheir (NSA and police officers) job to handle, not ours.

We have been criminalizing homelessness at a rapid pace. Over 50 cities have passed laws against feeding the homeless; ordinances prohibiting sleeping in cars have doubled nationwide since 2011. In Rikers Island, a large prison in New York City, mentally ill inmates make up 40% of the population. An estimated half of the people killed by a police officer have some type of mental-health problem. We are consistently asking the police to deal with the people we do not want to take care of, to make sure they don’t sleep on benches, get too crazy, or stink up a subway station—to contain the problem of homelessness, mental illness, drug abuse, etc., and make sure it does not spill into our lives. 

So when the police make mistakes, and we get mad, the truth is that we are being a bit hypocritical. The fundamental problem is not “how do we fix the police,” but why are we, as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it, trying to solve all our social problems with a “hammer” (police). When we get frustrated at the police for not doing a better job, we are really frustrated with them for not being a social worker, drug counselor, father-figure, and law-enforcer all at once.

The same goes for the NSA. We might feel a vague irritation that we are being spied on, but we do not really want to spend time thinking about terrorism and why some extremists do not like us. We just want them to not bother or harm us. If you look at Pew Research Report’s data from Spring 2014, the facts are revealing. 42% of Americans approve of the government’s collection of phone and internet data, and 54% disapprove. Given that, you would expect that Americans’ top concern about the government’s anti-terrorism policies would be its restriction of civil liberties. Actually, that is our second concern at 37%. Our top concern, at 49%, is that our government has “not gone far enough to protect the country.” So while we do feel vaguely irritated at the NSA’s breaches of privacy, when the rubber hits the road, we still primarily want them to do the job we have asked them to do: take care of us, and contain this “outside” problem so it does not affect our lives."

To read the rest of Sarah's article, please click here.


Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer and an alumni of Trinity Forum Academy and Columbia University. Based in New York City, she blogs regularly on faith and culture, and produces thought leadership for businesses.  

Bear Hunt (The Bear That Wasn't)

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

    I was challenged at a poetry slam to share one thing on social media about myself. I’m trying to honor that challenge, but I’ll have to lay down some context first. Here goes.

    There's a book I used to read as a kid, “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt”, where a band of youngsters and their leader go out on a hunt in search of a bear. They traverse many obstacles, a gate, mud, trees, mountains, and rivers which they determine to either go around the obstacle, through it, under, or over it. Then they finally find a cave, stumble around in it, and find a fuzzy bear within. As soon as they find the bear they freak out and run, all the way back through the rivers, the mountains, the trees, the mud, the gate, and all the way back into the safety of under their bed. All the time, they declare that they are not afraid and then they ask the reader and each other “are you?” I realized quite quickly, that indeed I was, I am very much like the leader in this story, denying my fear but in reality, terrified. More on that a little later.

    There's also a book I just read called a “The Bear That Wasn’t". It's a children's story yet the reality of the message was profound. I identified with this bear immensely. I wrote a poem recently about it and “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” and to summarize “The Bear That Wasn’t” I'll write it out as if the bear is me.

There once was a bear, tan skinned and fair

Who woke up in a factory one day

And the foreman walked over with style

And told him, “Kyle, why aren’t you working?”

And Kyle replied, “I’m a bear. I don’t need to work in this factory.”

“You’re not a bear.” The foreman said, “You’re just a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

But Kyle didn’t believe him, so he took him to the 3rd vice president, who said the same thing

“You’re not a bear. You’re just a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

And so did the 2nd vice president, the 1st vice president, and the president himself

And then they took him to the circus, to see that bears were only there or in the zoo

“You’re not a bear. You’re just a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

So what else could he do? The Bear That Wasn’t, decided he wasn’t.

    The bear lost his identity because people told him he wasn’t a bear. Like this bear, I have lost my identity. I am The Bear That Wasn’t. I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. That’s who I actually am. But someone told me I was an unfinished painting with the potential to be a Picasso, and that I’d be failure if I ended up as anything less. Something like “Kyle, you have the potential to be the Michael Jordan of anything you want to try your hand in. It’d be a shame a real shame if you ended up as Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, or Karl Malone. Great but not great enough.” You can be Peyton Manning Kyle, it’d be a shame to end up as Eli. (Not that I think he’s very good, I loath Eli for beating my Patriots in the Super Bowl, TWICE!!!!! )

    Regardless, I believed them. I believed them, I believed them, I believed them! And through my perceived failures to reach “The Greatest of All Time” status, I stopped being sad because otherwise I was going to be sad all the time and I’d be exhausted. I stopped being angry because The Mount Rushmore of Christian leaders? I felt like I never saw them be angry. The only time my father, one of the most amazing men I know, was angry, I saw the pain and destruction it caused in our family, the ripples it caused. So I didn’t want to be angry, and so I felt that I had to be like “them”, a happy, charismatic, never sad, never angry, Christian leader..

    Living in New York this summer and working at NYCUP, I have been challenged to actually delve into those emotions that I’ve actually felt. Despite all my machinations to stuff my emotions in my soul, I still couldn’t escape them. They were still churning up my insides and their affects on the external world. As I begun to delve into the emotions, to find my lost identity, I realized that what I found scared me. In “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt”, the travelers go through mud and are covered in it. Then they go through a river and presumably get clean of all this mud. This is the process I attempted to go through. I got covered in mud, my struggles with lust, with pride, with judgement of others, an unkind spirit, anger and deep sorrow, and I tried to baptize myself in water, put on a smiling face, do good works, hard works, all for the glory of God. All on my own strength, all on my own power. I am exhausted. I am exhausted now, and I always have been, working to create a false self. On my quest to find myself, I was hoping to confirm that in fact, my false self was my real self, that I really was “a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.” 

   The scary reality was that my false self was just that, a false self. It wasn’t reality. The actual reality was that I was deeply broken and this made me afraid. Could God still love me? If he looked at Kyle? Looked at me? Me? This person who has lusted after everything wrong and was proud because he did it? Because I did it? 

The answer is yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Romans 6:6-7

"6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin."

2 Corinthians 5:13-21

13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b]for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. God has saved me. I am his son. That is truly my identity. If life is a bear hunt, I’ve been searching and Jesus has just pointing at me saying “You already found one!”. I was looking at the sin, blinded to the fact that God, King Jesus, has pardoned me, died for me, and reckoned his perfect life as if it was my own righteousness. I am praying that God will continue to mold me, show me my brokenness, allow me to cry, be angry, and then show me that he has already won. If life is a basketball game, Jesus just dropped a million points in the first quarter while also healing the sick guy in the first row and drinking a glass of wine he made from the Gatorade cooler because he wanted a relaxing drink. I am praying for the renewal of my mind so that I might understand this.

 

 

 

 

   

This Is Why I'm NOT Afraid of the Police

police.jpg

I am not afraid of the police because I am a child of God. I am not afraid of being pulled over or stopped and frisked illegally because my citizenship is in His Kingdom. I no longer have fear of unlawful search and seizure because the Creator of the Universe knows my name. I am no longer paralyzed by the prospect of unecessary arrest because I am covered by the love and blood of Christ. I will not be afraid of Meherrin Baptist Church burning to the ground, my children being dark skinned, or going to South Carolina because I place no hope or trust in the wretched heart of any woman or man or the kingdoms and countries we construct on sandy foundations.  If I am shot dead on the front porch of my home or another house while seeking help or standing in a stairwell, aisle in Wal-Mart, or park with my friends or playing with my son, I will place my heart in Jesus' hands and receive His perfect peace - and go home rejoicing. 

I pray that same peace for my undocumented, refugee, and stateless brothers and sisters  that call no country home. May you cling to the radical, transformative, protective, fear-destroying love of God that is more powerful than any ICE officer, embassy, consulate, border agent, drug cartel, war lord, court, corporation, or militia.  

God sees all people and declares, I love you! You are made in Our Image, He proclaims and dances over you with unbridled delight. Do not be afraid! My indigenous and aboriginal brothers and sisters need not fear multi-national mining corporations and the economic interests of the U.S., China, and other wealthy nations nor those others guided by greed.  The Maker of Heaven and Earth sees and will not be silent. Fear not my kin in Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  No barrel bomb, boots on the ground, royal family, dictator or drone can blow up, dispossess or in any way separate you from the peace-inducing, fear-disabling love of God. 

Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord and that debt He will surely repay. To you who sits in solitary confinement stripped of your humanity and you awaiting death via injection or electricity - you are seen, you are loved. To you scrubbing yourself trying to get him or her off of you. To you suffering in silence with no vision of liberation. To you on the street, eyes down with a sign while passersby are blind to your despair. To you who lays in your sickbed or lives assisted with no hope of a visitor. Would you open your hands and your heart and receive the love of Jesus and citizenship in the kingdom of God. 

The Gospel is caught up in this: Jesus, the Son of God, Second in the Trinity, knew no sin. Violation, abuse, death, violence, disease, poverty, evil and oppression are not present in the presence of God. And He left that. He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He experienced betrayal, loneliness, fear, abandonment and murder that we might experience abundant love, joy, peace, acceptance and delight - for eternity. He entered into our suffering to liberate us from it.  So that we wouldn't spend our days in constant striving but in continual reception of blessings as co-heirs with Him. It is this sacrificial love that drives out fear. It is that love that makes me and any one who receives this love and follows Jesus, a child of God. I am no longer a slave to fear because I have surrendered to God's love. I am no longer a slave to fear for I am a child of God. 

I am a child of God

childofgod

I have been challenged to share something real about myself on social media. I quickly realized that in order to be real I needed more space than a status update or 120 character tweet. So here’s a blog post, we'll see where it goes.

The past several months I have been tired, I’ve struggled out of depression (Praise God), and I’ve been sitting with the guilt, fear, and weight of years of perfectionism. Simultaneously I have sat in joy, delight, and overwhelming pride in the ones I love. Just a typical year in the life of an imperfect human, you could say.

My attention to or care for social media has grown to dismally low since I learned I was depressed. Because “What’s happening?” is my life cracking apart. And “What’s on my mind?” is ‘I’m not good enough’ on constant repeat. But I can’t post those things…can I? No one wants to “share” my sadness or “like” my anxiety. No one wants to see an imperfect me…right? Plus I want to only live in happy moments. I want to hit “refresh” on my life and get a new set of stories. I want to “repin” the pretty things and “unfollow” the ugly. But I can’t. And I won’t.

I’ve learned a lot about what I can’t and won’t do these past several months. I can’t change the circumstances of my childhood. I can’t will my dad to choose me over substance abuse. I can’t go back in time and protect my mom from pain and brokenness. I can’t tell 14 year old me to just say ‘No!’ to her boyfriend. I can’t erase the brokenness in my heart. I won’t erase the brokenness.

I won’t let the guilt, fear, and weight of perfectionism burden me any longer. I won’t let the pain of this world overtake me. I won’t live on edge that the world will scoff at my imperfections. I won’t believe, for even one more day, the lie that I am not good enough. I won’t be silenced anymore.

 I will choose to shed my old self. I will shake off the dust of hopelessness. I will dive into living water, refreshing and exhilarating to touch. I will not be bound by the weight of my past. For, I am no longer a slave to fear. I have been given new hope. I am clothed in strength.  I know to whom I belong. I am a daughter of God. [Ephesians 2]

 

"Forgiving Dylann Roof-Is it Christian or Racist?" by Sarah Ngu

The following article was written by Sarah Ngu and is featured on OnFaith

"When the relatives and friends of those Dylann Roof killed in Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church offered him forgiveness, many, especially Christian leaders, applauded their selfless virtue. Others, however, were more skeptical, not necessarily of the forgiveness extended, but rather the forgiveness expected by the public.

“Why is it that the parents of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and the widow of Eric Garner were all asked in interviews if they’d forgive the white men who killed their loved one?” one person asked. “After 9/11, there was no talk about forgiving al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden.”

Some wondered if the public, particularly white America, is obsessed with forgiveness because we want absolution. We want to be able to say, “What a beautiful ending,” and move on with this story without examining our own complicity in racism.

Forgiveness should not be “cheap grace”

Please click here to read the rest of Sarah's article. 


Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer and an alumni of Trinity Forum Academy and Columbia University. Based in New York City, she blogs regularly on faith and culture, and produces thought leadership for businesses.  

Responding to #Charleston

The article referenced in this post is written by Sarah Ngu was originally featured on michaelrwear.com.

In seeking wisdom on how to respond to Charleston, this line from Sarah Ngu captured my attention:

"Maybe this means that when we pray, we will not just lament, 'Dear God, please intervene and save me from this, for I am full of flaws,' but, 'Dear God, I am full of flaws. Help me become whom you made to be.'"  

Constantine leveraged his power in response to the radical love of God.  What if we were to do the same? Check out the entire piece here


Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer and an alumni of Trinity Forum Academy and Columbia University. Based in New York City, she blogs on faith and culture, and produces thought leadership for businesses.  

If We Repent, Then We Can Talk About Marriage

If Christians actually modeled intimacy in singleness and marriage and not fake pictures of happiness and how-tos on managing loneliness, then maybe people would want to know the Christ that we profess and the marriage He defines. 

We are clanging gongs and cymbals that are a nuisance to the world, and not an oasis in the desert.  We are a loud group of individuals shouting to non-believers, the truth we think we know instead of a community committed to knowing God and one another intimately in an ever-deepening union with Him through Jesus and the abiding of Holy Spirit. We are exclusionary and unattractive instead of exclusive and inviting. This is not the Church that God intended. 

We are unable to bear witness to Christ out of our humanness because we're not able to accept that Jesus is the messiah who saved us and not we through our rule-following that saved ourselves.  The church constantly calls for repentance but we have forgotten how to confess that we are broken messed up people, unworthy of judging and ostracizing others. And if it had not been for the grace of God we would be outside of His presence now and for eternity. It is as if Christians think we have our hands on the velvet rope to the kingdom of God when it could not be farther from the truth. We are wretched people - jealous, greedy, judgemental, sexually deviant and prideful. There is nothing good in me or anyone else on the planet. But because of Jesus we are made blameless in the sight of God, accepted because we have been washed clean by the blood of the lamb. It is He who tore the veil and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. Not me, not any leader or pastor in the past, present or future of mankind. And because of this unmerited favor, we obey the God who loves and live accordingly to His will and not our own. 

Instead of calling for America to repent and shouting for revolution "out there" because of the Supreme Court. Perhaps there should be a revolution in our households of faith and the hearts in pews every week. We have no integrity on sexuality because we won't hold those who abuse others accountable. We consume pornography and divorce, commit adultery, and have pre-marital sex at the same rates or higher than non-believers. We have no standing on gender because we can't celebrate women and men and are intellectually lazy when engaging the subject in scripture. We have no pulpit to preach from on racial reconciliation because we won't acknowledge institutionalized racism, the burning of church and sit in segregated pews on Sundays.  Believers and unbelievers alike that are women, people of color, poor, unemployed, mentally ill, and otherwise hurting and imperfect find no universal welcome from God's people but can be sure to find more condemnation than kindness in our midst. Lord have mercy. 

I am comforted in this, John 3:16 begins For God, so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. He did not send Mike Huckabee, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther or Mother Teresa or me or you. He sent His Son, that whosoever believes and trusts in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. Praise God for that! It was, is and forever will be His station to save the world. Hallelujah! 

The next verse is where we draw our model for humility and gentleness. It is the next verse that gives us reason to love and obey this suffering servant savior. John 3:17 says, for God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Jesus did quite a few things but He did not condemn. And there is no one more qualified to do so than the Son of Man Himself. So if Jesus did not shout down words of condemnation on the woman at the well, Pilate, the lepers, or blind Bartameus, who are we to preach a gospel of condemnation and shout, picket and protest the LGBT community. It is the Gospel of Grace and Salvation through Jesus that is good news. It is freedom from sin through Jesus that is the cure for what ails us. Not the garbage that fills mass media and social media circus and gets ratings on cable television.

Would we, the people of God, repent of our wicked ways, receive His forgiveness and step into the role of evangelists and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed with power. Would we step out of our political and religious affiliation that are unworthy of our allegiance and cannot bear the weight of our identity. Would we truly be ambassadors of a different kingdom, embrace the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called, and love those to whom we have been sent because He first loved us. Oh God, let it be so. Amen.

A Serious Thank You to Jon Stewart & the Daily Show

Dear Mr. Stewart and the Daily Show, 

Thank you. Before watching your monologue this morning I was numb. Perhaps it was after the Walter Scott video was shown over and over again or the pending repeat of the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic. I wanted to but I couldn't feel anything after twitter notified me of the deaths of 9 praying Black Americans. I grew up in a church much like Emanuel yet could not grant myself access to sadness. But you helped me get there. Thank you. 

Your sadness, disgust, anger, disdain and willingness to name the elephant in the $&@"$;!/@ room and point majority culture towards it was the door I needed to enter my own hopelessness and sorrow. So, thank you for leveraging your platform not just to joke but point those with power and privilege towards a better way of living life. A way that actually makes space for those pressed further into the margins.

If you actually read this, I would love for you to answer a question. Where did you learn to lament? Who taught you to empathize and come alongside marginalized communities in their grief, pain, struggle, and utter desolation. I am a follower of Jesus and I long to lead people well. And it would be a privilege of mine if you would tell me the source of your compassion, the beginnings of your empathy and the origin of the resurrection power that gives you hope. Being a missionary here in New York, stories of hope is what keeps me going. And hearing yours would be a gift. 

Your last show is August 6 and that day again I will grieve again. Because unfortunate statistics say two unarmed black men will be killed that day and I won't be able to hear what you have to say the next morning. And that will be tragic too. 

So I hope we're friends on August 7th and we can cry and then talk about how next to look into abyss, respond with forgiveness and love and lead others to do the same.

More Salt in the Wound #Charleston

I was already reeling from the video of Dominican citizens cutting the hair of a Haitian man with scissors as a crowd ridiculed him in the street for his dark skin. I prayed that the baseball bats and machetes would not be swung. 

I was already struck speechless by the report of an undocumented detainee found with a sock down his throat and 200 others on hunger strike protesting their incarceration  at a for-profit prison in Arizona. 

I was already burdened by the pain from #transracial, the estimated 500 people who could die in police custody this summer alone, and the truly tragic state of Black and Latino men in the prison system in America. 

And then, I was setting my alarm to go to sleep last night and I heard what happened in Charleston. At first no one was reporting the shooting and then the stream of details turned into a river as the rest of world caught of up with the reality of racism in America. 

I am sad. 

I'm so sad I didn't know what to do when friends reached out. So sad, I didn't know how to respond to Twitter feeds and sympathy. So sad because I'm so tired of shouting that we are being killed and no one seems to notice. 

So if this is the first time you're taking a look at the plight of black Americans in this country. Here are some things that would be really helpful.

1. Acknowledge that is not an isolated incident.
Please know that the violence against and within the black community didn't stop with the end slavery, it has been constant since our extraction from Africa. There are systems and structures in our country and the world that perpetuate pain and brokenness worthy of our anger and lament.

Here are two great resources.

What is Systemic Racism?
What is Cultural Appropriation?

2. Please stop talking and listen.
Take a moment to listen to those people in pain and who are immobilized by grief and wrestling with anger and rage because of the unrelenting flow of events against black and brown people in the world. The greatest gift that you can give is your silent, attentive presence. 

3. Ask yourself, "why didn't I respond earlier??
Take a moment to ask yourself, why didn't I care about this earlier? Why didn't I ask these questions when Trayvon was killed? Or Michael Brown? Or Walter Scott? Or Tamir Rice? Or Amadou Diallo? Or Sean Bell? And the list goes on...

And please don't say, "those were different" and minimize our collective suffering. (See point 1.) 

Ask yourself the following:

What fears, assumptions, or cultural narratives have kept you from exploring your own ethnic identity and the stories of those different from you?

How have you actively participated in or passively allowed systems of oppression to continue against marginalized people?


4. Lament and Repent.
Cry. 

Write down what you are angry, sad, and afraid of and weep. Because Susie Jackson, an 87-year old woman who lived through Jim Crow did not deserve to die at the hands of Dylann Roof. 

Ask God for forgiveness. It is a violation of our purposes in this world as people  made in the image of God to flourish, work, rule and create when we crush the image of God in other people implicitly or explicitly by actively participating in systems and structures oppress the poor and marginalized or passively allowing them to continue. 

God of all mercy. We confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.

5. Pursue Racial Reconciliation
Take a moment to explore your own ethnic identity and celebrate the gifts that God has given you. To say you don't have an ethnic identity is a lie. And to say you're just going to pick on is to be disingenuous. 

Follow the steps from this amazing article by Cristina Cleveland, "How to Actually Fight For Racial Reconciliation."

6. Learn to forgive and be forgiven.
You will hurt people and say ignorant and hurtful things. And then you should ask for forgiveness. 

You will hear hurtful and ignorant words and be hurt. And then you will extend forgiveness. 

Extending grace and receiving grace is the right response to the radical grace that God extended towards us. It is a difficult, sacrificial one, but the only one that leads to peace and reconciliation.

I am still sad but I am comforted by these words which I believe wholeheartedly to be to be true. My prayer is that you would believe them as well. Because my only consolation is knowing that this world is not all there is and Jesus has much more in store for those murdered praising His name. 

1 Thes 4:13-16

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

"What's Missing from the Evangelical's Response to Caitlyn Jenner?" by Sarah Ngu

This article was originally featured on faithstreet.com

"After Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman and captured the public’s heart overnight, there remains one central question many Christians have been wrestling with: How should we respond to someone like Caitlyn Jenner in our church?

Much of the evangelical Christian response has pointed out that while it is important to be compassionate and loving, it would be reckless — if not immoral — to cast off the “natural design” of our bodies in favor of our internal ideas and feelings about ourselves.

Russell Moore, head of the ethics organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, first lays out an important perspective:

We do not see our transgendered neighbors as freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women . . . In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be.

He then goes on to say:

But neither should we fall for the cultural narrative behind the transgender turn. The narrative is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the ‘real’ self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being . . . We are not machines, to be reprogrammed at will; we are creatures . . . We are born not out of self-effort but in the pure providence of our creator.

Before we start going down the “this smells like Gnosticism” road, let’s pause. Consider this from J-Baker Johnson, the trans man behind transchristians.org:

Separating mind from body is illogical from a scientific perspective. The brain is an organ, just like any other. But psychology shows the mind directly affects the brain and vice versa. I say all this to demonstrate that the mental/spiritual is inseparable from the physical and the mind from body.

In other words, he agrees with the critique of Gnosticism. He goes on:

Then also, gender is an expression of the body just like everything else. Somewhere in my own brain some neurons are shooting electric charges forming my conscious thought right now that my body is both male and female. Those neural pulses come from my brain cells, which are part of my physical body. You can tell me those feelings are delusional or errors and that’s fine. But they exist.

What Johnson is saying is that, phenomenologically or scientifically, the experience of being trans is not really mind vs. body, but body vs. body. We can’t neatly separate things into “mind” or “body” and view trans people as people who are trying to will their bodies into re-definition.

Here’s the main difference between Caitlyn Jenner and, say, Rachel Dolezal (the white woman who pretended to be black) — aside from Dolezal’s deceit: while one can be attracted to the features, history, and culture of another race, there is no such thing as racial dysphoria, no sense of tension within your biological body as to which “race” you really are — which is the case with gender.

(Some trans people, in fact, eschew bodily modification altogether, believing that changing their bodies would inevitably confirm the belief that you are only female if you look female, the very belief that they are trying to subvert.)"

Please click here to read the rest of Sarah's article to find out what she believes is missing in our response as evangelical Christians to this particular conversation. Please email us at nycurbanproject@gmail.com with any questions! 


Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer and an alumni of Trinity Forum Academy and Columbia University. Based in Brooklyn, she blogs on faith and culture, and produces thought leadership for businesses.