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Posts Tagged ‘Francis of Assisi’


I had been meaning to read Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Ministry Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions for quite some time. I think the subtitle says it all in many ways. I also have had the conviction for a long time that we need to see minorities rising into positions of power.

Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions

The book is edited by Kings’ College professor Anthony Bradley. CavWife is an alum. Bradley is ordained in the PCA (and a number of people have caused him to wonder why periodically). He tells his story in the General Introduction and then provides his vision, so to speak, in the afterward. The rest of the book is by a number of contributors who tell their story and make recommendations about how to change institutions.

As a white man this can be a difficult read. Most of us are unfamiliar with stories such as theirs. We can often find ways to write them off. It is important that we listen.

Any compilation like this is prone to be uneven. Yes, some essays are better than others. Carl F. Ellis Jr.’s chapter in particular is quite valuable in my estimation. The contributors are African-American, Hispanic, and Asian. They have all felt left out, unwanted and resented during their time in white institutions.

A few frustrations. When some data doesn’t match up with my personal knowledge, I have a hard time. Perhaps one of us doesn’t have our facts straight. If it is me, no big deal, I would have to learn. If it is them, then it could undermine the overall argument in the eyes of some people.

Disputed Issue #1: Bradley, in his introduction, refers to Peter Slade’s Open Friendship in a Closed Society for the following:

On December 4, 1861, the representatives of forty-seven Southern presbyteries formed an Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA).

I don’t dispute that, but it lacks historical context. It neglects to mention the passage of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions that were passed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America in May of that year. The situation was nobody’s finest moment. Spring and the other presbyters confused loyalty with the United States with loyalty to Christ. Yes, Romans 13 indicates we are to submit to the State unless it violates the Law of God. The southern presbyteries had to choose between the greater magistrate and the lesser magistrate. Imagine, for a moment, a church having to reject the state in which they exist. While I don’t agree with their view on slavery, they were placed in an untenable condition by the Gardiner Spring Resolutions. The context of their forming a new denomination was more complicated than that little blurb leads us to believe. Makes you wonder, will the rest of the book also smooth over historical complexities?

Disputed Issue #2: In Orlando Rivera’s chapter he notes that “the seminary and the denomination it represented…” I attended that seminary. Orlando was in the class before mine. The seminary is not a denominational seminary. Yes, it is most closely tied to the PCA since it assisted in the foundation of the denomination. But officially it is non-denominational. We had professors who were in the SBC, American Baptist and more. Students came from a variety of backgrounds. The retired pastor who assisted in placement was in the RCA, not the PCA. He was a good and godly man, but I was shaking my head when he told me “youth ministry is the mail room of the church.” I’d already worked in a mail room, and really didn’t want to work in the church’s mail room. This doesn’t mean that Orlando Rivera didn’t experience these frustrations, misunderstandings and disappointments. I’m sure he did actually. Both of us would love to see changes in the PCA. One sign of hope is the adoption movement among PCA members and pastors. Many of us are adopting children of other races. My prayer is that they will be among the future leaders of the denomination. Time will tell.

On the flip side, Orlando Rivera’s recommendations were very interesting. They may help increase minority enrollment and success in educational institutions. That is a worthy goal and I hope more institutions try to implement his recommendations.

Carl F. Ellis Jr.’s chapter was on discipling urban men. In this context he gives a brief history of black culture since the civil rights movement. He addresses the differences between the achiever class, the under class and the criminal class. This information would help many of us who didn’t grow up in black urban culture understand the cultural context of many current events. I also found a number of his statements with regard to discipleship helpful and challenging.

The Issue of White Privilege

Often when white people hear about white privilege they either don’t understand the concept, or have no clue what they are supposed to do with or about it. We often just feel some kind of guilt.

Anthony Bradley talks about this in his afterward. He thinks we are stuck trying to reconcile and need to begin moving forward.

“But I am convinced that the church will be able to lead society on race only if it moves beyond reconciliation and pursues racial solidarity, which means embracing our common human dignity … and respect differences between ethnic communities for the common good.”

That solidarity means sharing power with one another instead of one group trying to hoard all the power. Reconciliation doesn’t address the issues of white privilege. It never forces us to unpack the ways in which white people are more advantaged in our culture than others. We white people tend to think we are normal, and that everyone enjoys the same reality we do. It is hard to admit they don’t. Bradley has a higher purpose for that privilege than forsaking it like Francis of Assisi left his father’s wealth behind.

“On the contrary, the point of discussing white privilege is to help whites see how God can use those advantages and freedom from certain burdens as a platform for blessing those without them. In other words, whites may be missing opportunities to use their privilege redemptively in the broken world.”

When I read this I thought of my professor Richard Pratt. His Third Millennium Ministries seeks to provide educational resources to church leaders all around the world for free. He longs to build indigenous leadership. He’s using the resources of our white western world to do it.

The afterward is quite helpful to understand why Anthony Bradley assembled these essays. It really pulls the book together and gives us a better vision for the future. I’m glad I read it. Perhaps you will be too.

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Being on vacation we were able to spend an evening, or two, with CavWife’s sister and her husband. Since we had Netflix available on the iPad we decided to watch a movie. CavWife and I have been wanting to watch Ragamuffin and they hadn’t seen it yet.  Since it was over two hours long, and the sisters are not night owls, we turned it into a miniseries.

Ragamuffin is based on the life of the late Rich Mullins. I used to have his first album on vinyl years ago. I still own Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth and A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. He had a prophetic bent that was similar to mine. We shared an appreciation for Francis of Assisi who turned his back on wealth to follow Christ much to the frustration of his father. As Calvin would say, “To scorn this life is not to hate it.” In the movie he seemed to not only scorn it but hate it. You can hear in his music that Rich struggled with this world and its allurements as well as his own sin. As a result, the latter album in particular would encourage me during times of suffering , disappointment and loss.

I still remember being at David Castor’s house when Lenore came in and let us know that Rich had died in a car accident in September 1997. We were all stunned and saddened.

There was a disagreement about this movie along gender lines. The women loved it and the men while appreciating much of it struggled with particular aspects.

Ragamuffin focused on Rich’s fractured relationship with his father. It portrayed him as haunted by the negative statements of his father, like “Why is it that everything you touch breaks?” This inability to connect with or please his father profoundly shaped the Rich portrayed in the movie.

He was also bitter about a relationship with a woman that didn’t turn out the way he wanted. She had a strong sense of what she wanted from life, and while attracted to him recognized that he had a different calling she wanted no part of. Their engagement is not even a part of the movie. At times it seemed as though he wanted no part of it either. He is portrayed as an exceedingly unhappy man.

I don’t mind if a movie shows a man’s weaknesses and sins. That he struggled with alcohol and smoked cigarettes didn’t bother me. What bothered me was his portrayal of a self-absorbed jerk. In the movie you wonder how he could have any friends. He would blame bandmate “Justin” for not being there. There was an unstated need for Justin to keep an eye on him, and protect him from his own temptations.

You wonder how fictionalized this story was. I wonder what his good friends, particularly Beaker aka David Strasser. As I look at biographical information, Justin is probably a version of Beaker who also left their life on the road to start a family. His relationship with Beaker seemed far more significant that portrayed in the movie. While introducing “Hold Me, Jesus” during a concert, Rich talks about listening for Beaker to snore so he could feel tempted in Amsterdam. That was the night he claims to written the song. They apparently shared a room on the road and were best friends by all accounts. In the movie Justin is more of a guitar player, lackey and nearly silent travel companion (though he didn’t “introduce” Rich to Brennan Manning via a sermon tape).

On the other hand, Mitch McKeever who was also a long-time friend portrayed himself in the movie. He was the man in the Jeep with him that night in September 1997. So maybe the portrayal of Rich in Ragamuffin is accurate. Maybe.

If I remember the movie sequence correctly, Rich sings “Hold Me, Jesus” in concert prior to meeting Brennan Manning. This is significant, perhaps, since “Hold Me, Jesus” is on A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. This term, Ragamuffin, was one he got from Manning. As a result, I got the sense that they played a little lose with the chronology to fit their narrative for the story.

His relationship with Brennan Manning was significant in helping him resolve his struggle with God (at least in the movie). I remember hearing Brennan speak at the New Sound Festival (89? The Charlie Peacock Trio and the Choir were among the performers that year) and being brought to tears. He had a profound message of grace and the love of God. Part of what was refreshing about Manning was his honesty about his struggle with alcohol.

There is a key moment in the movie, after Rich drank far too much, that Brennan invites him on a retreat. Rich had been struggling since his father’s death. One day Brennan asked Rich to spend the night alone and write a letter from his father.

What happened next was also seen differently based on gender differences among us. They used flashbacks to those painful moments in his relationship with his father. Then they completed those flashbacks, without explanation. Were they completed memories he had neglected as he focused on the negative, or were they simply what he wished his father had said? The women didn’t really care and found it “emotionally powerful.” The men cared. Was his father a better man than he remembered, or was this just psychological manipulation on his own part?

Our memories matter. We can distort the truth by focusing on part of the memory. These memories then color our relationship either appropriately or inappropriately. We can used them to nurse our bitterness, or grow in appreciation.

In the past my relationship with my father was more complicated than it is today. I focused on particular memories. I grew bitter regarding his very real failures. But those failures are not the sum total of my father. I had to remember other, better, memories too. I am faced with this again as I think of my mother and try to mourn now as Alzheimer’s has largely erased the women I knew.

In the movie there is great ambiguity about these memories. I didn’t really like the ambiguity. But this sequence is used to resolve his father issues so that Rich dies in peace, so to speak.

The movie had a number of scenes in concerts in which Rich is talking. This man comes off a cynical and bitter. Additionally there seems to be little church life except playing concerts. He seemed to have no connection to the church. But during the credits they showed some video of the real Rich Mullins talking during a concert. He seemed very different than the man in the movie, more like the guy I think of when I remember Rich Mullins: funny, not full of himself and pointing people to the church as community. As I think about Ragamuffin I wonder, where was THAT guy? Is he a figment of my imagination or is Ragamuffin a figment of theirs? As the old Tootsie Pop commercial says, the world may never know.

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After the introductory chapters on gospel and community, Total Church authors Chester and Timmis begin to practically work them out in a variety of important areas.  They start with evangelism and social involvement.

“Our conviction is that Christian are called to a dual fideltiy- fidelity to the core content of the gospel accompanied by fidelity to the primary context of a believing community.  To ignore or minimize either is not merely to hamstring the task of evangelism; it is effectively to deconstruct it.”

Their thesis is that evangelism focuses on the gospel word within the gospel community.  A phrase often attributed to Francis of Assisi, (apparently falsely) “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” has wrongly separated gospel preaching and words.  The gospel is a message, so words are necessary.  Sometimes actions are too!

Too often we think of our need to do evangelism individually.  We all have a personal responsibility.  But we all have strengths and weaknesses that should be balanced out in the context of the community.  Not only that, but as the gospel community “incarnates” the gospel, people have an easier time grasping the power of the gospel.

Their vision is to have people bringing people to social events where the gospel is lived and proclaimed by the community.  This takes some of the burden off of us to think we have to answer all questions, address every concern and close the deal like some cold call salesman.  Some are better at building relationships with others and inviting them into the community.  Others are better at discerning the particular gospel issues that need to be addressed.

Does this happen automatically?  No, but the goal is to create a culture of gospel intentionality where the community works together to proclaim the gospel.

“If church and mission are redefined in relational terms, then work, leisure, and family time can all be viewed as gospel activities.  Ordinary life becomes pastoral and missional if we have gospel intentionality.  Watching a film with friends or looking after a burdened mother’s children can simultaneously be family time, leisure, mission, and church.”

The gospel is also about the marginalized (economically, socially, racially etc) experiencing acceptance in the community because of the gospel.  This means that the gospel community is involved in society’s problems.  It does not merely do good, but connects it with the gospel.  We show love because God is love.  We show compassion because God is compassionate.  We offer acceptance because Christ has torn down all dividing walls to create a new living temple.  The grace of God is at stake, as we see in places like James 2.  The church is to be an economically, socially and racially diverse community.

“If our congregations are full of respectable people, then it may be that we have not truly grasped the radical grace of God.”

They make three assertions:

  1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities.
  2. Proclamation is central.
  3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable.

As with evangelism, Chester and Timmis advocate a healthier, more biblical approach to social action.  We act together, rather than as individuals.  In this way people are connected to the community, and not just an individual.  As a result, the full reality of the gospel is make known from the outset- God saves us into community.  This also protects us from creating a disconnect between evangelism and social action.  The social gospel movement merged the two, losing the distinction and usually the gospel.  Fundamentalism separated the two, often abandoning social involvement in a knee jerk reaction to the social gospel.  We are to distinguish them, but ultimately not separate them as we do the 2 natures of Messiah as well justification and sanctification.

Total church is on the right track here.  It is here they lean on their Reformed heritage rather than the Anabaptist influence which has been more characterized by retreat from society (understandable since they were persecuted greatly in Europe).

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