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Posts Tagged ‘Racism’


When you say the name “Pedro” many people think of Napoleon Dynamite and “Vote for Pedro”. For me there is really only one Pedro: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez tells his story, along with Boston Herald writer Michael Silverman, in the simply titled Pedro. This is a generally interesting book. As the Boston Globe noted on the cover, “Pedro the book is as smart, funny, and diva-esque as Pedro the pitcher.” This captures Pedro’s personality well.

A few years ago I read Mariano Rivera’s autobiography. That also captured his personality well. These two men, from similar backgrounds and similar dominance at their position at the same time had very different personalities.

Pedro contains more of his views and fewer of the details of his career. Mariano was a bit more factual in regard to the game, and didn’t focus as much on his views. Perhaps Pedro figured most of us had seen his career and wanted to know a bit more about what drove him. Pedro found ways to motivate himself. Every slight, real or imagined, was the catalyst to drive him harder and farther. He speaks much of how the Dodgers didn’t believe in him. Lesser accomplished pitchers with less talent were called up ahead of him. This was added to the chip that was growing on his shoulder. Contract negotiations would water that chip and help if grow. He’d imagine someone had kidnapped and threatened his mother to pitch better (this is a reality many Hispanic players have had to deal with).

This book is more earthy than Mariano’s. There are more cuss words (I don’t recall any in Mariano’s book), and colorful language as well as his greeting for new managers. Liking to be naked in the club house, he’s jump on a bench and “wiggle (his) johnson”. Yes, don’t believe what you heard, locker rooms are sometimes places with behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.

Pedro speaks a little about his faith but it is very vague. Mariano is more specific about his faith. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, and I’m just making an observation. Mariano comes across more like you’d expect a professing Christian to sound. Pedro less so. Yet, as I preached this past Sunday, Christianity is about the heart and not man-made rules or traditions. I’d put the language in the file under man-made rules. But not knowing what he believes makes it harder to know. You know?

Pedro focuses on his family of origin, particularly his parents and his older brother Ramon. Pedro loved playing baseball but never thought of making a profession of it until Ramon got his signing bonus and bought the family their first refrigerator. Think about that. Pedro, like the big brother he idolized, wanted to provide for his family. We see glimpses of his providing for others, particularly under-privileged kids in the Dominican Republic and the US. This, I imagine, is part of how his faith influenced his life. We read very little about his romantic life aside from his first romance as a minor league player in Montana until he mentions his relationship with Carolina until they won the 2004 World Series. She and his kids figure far more prominently in the epilogue and afterward.

Riveria also talks about his life in poverty and his family of origin. His wife and child factor in his book more frequently, however. They factored, it seemed, into more of his decisions.

They are very different men. But what made them famous was their ability to throw a baseball. Pedro mentions the people along the way that helped him to pitch better. He didn’t learn to toe the rubber until spring training. During his first All-Star appearance while with the Expos he sat and talked with Maddox and Glavine and learned how to pitch, which helped when he lost his velocity. Unlike Schilling, who wrote it all down, Martinez kept hitters strengths & weakness, tendencies all in his head.

There are some unflattering stories about others. Most of them have to do with the racism he experienced. Or at least cultural insensitivity. Anglo coaches often didn’t realize what life had been like for many of these  young Hispanic men from other countries. In one case, while in the minors his first year, the players were told to hurry up and get on the bus. He and another player went straight to the bus, not wanting to disappoint the coach. They didn’t realize they were expected to shower first (the coach didn’t say that). The coach lit into them and called them dirty as in lacking good hygiene.

Pedro really didn’t like Joe Kerrigan. He was Martinez’ pitching coach in Montreal, then Boston and eventually his manager in Boston. From a distance Kerrigan seemed like a good pitching coach. When he took over for Jimy Williams it all went south from the outside. But Pedro’s relationship with him was burned in Montreal when Kerrigan tried to fit Pedro into his box instead of figuring out what worked well for Martinez. He wanted no stars, and his own way. From Pedro’s perspective Kerrigan tried to take credit for other people’s success. If you are the start pitcher and you watch the coach who really had nothing to do with your greatness get accolades, you understand. There were also rumors of how Kerrigan stabbed Williams in the back. Needless to say, Martinez was not disappointed with the new ownership group fired Joe and hired Grady Little which earned a wiggle of the johnson that Grady probably could have done without.

Pedro mentions a number of players, but very little about what happened behind the scenes. He criticized Mike Piazza at times for his play, but he avoids naming names when it came to steroids. He is no Jason Giambi.

I wish there was more about the 2003 & 2004 Red Sox. Every Sox fan wants to know more about the Idiots who broke the curse.

A few events stood out to me. Martinez talks about a series in NY against the Yankees in 2001. The first game was rained out and rescheduled in June. As a result, Pedro’s next 3 starts were against the Yankees. I had tickets to that rained out game with one of my best friends who lived in the area at the time, and the woman who would become CavWife. She and I ended up at the Cheesecake Factory after we’d driven all the way to the Bronx and parked in a garage before hearing the game was canceled.

My friend, Eddie, and I went into the city on Thursday for the travel day game that afternoon. We didn’t have tickets and the box office said they were sold out (lots of season ticket holders who didn’t show up). We finally found someone selling tickets on the street (remember, this is when there was not Stub Hub). We were in the nosebleeds but I think this was the only time I saw Pedro pitch live. He pitched well, but lost that day. Certainly better than when I went to Fenway (I haven’t been back since) and saw the wrong Martinez, Ramon, get rocked in another day game while I baked by the Pesky Pole.

The other memorable event was his final negotiations with the Red Sox. I read this as another Boston legend, Tom Brady, hit free agency. John Henry, Tom Warner and Larry Lucchiano all wanted to sign Pedro. Theo had his computer with all his graphs and projections that indicated that Pedro had about two good seasons left in him. Pedro wanted at least 3 years (he got 4 from the Mets which the Sox refused to match). I just thought of Bill doing the “math” in his head indicating Brady was declining and having to deal with an owner who likely would do anything to keep Tom. Like Theo, Belichick made the unpopular but hard call. Theo was right. Time will tell if Bill was. Brady may be the next Roger who really wasn’t in the twilight of his career after all.

You get a picture of a man whose greatest strength was also his weakness. This is true for most of us. The anger that drove him to get better caught the attention of the Dodgers and a reason for some of them to question his character. But it was a book that left me wanting more. You can certainly say worse things about a book. And a great player always leaves you wanting to see more. He left us memories of 3 Cy Young award reflecting incredible dominance in the steroid era, his incredible 1999 All-Star game performance, and that gutsy relief performance against Cleveland while hurt in the playoffs. Such greatness and glory is fleeting, so watch it while you can.

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Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]

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If you are white you have probably struggled with it. “I didn’t do it.” In a sense, you are right. I was raised in the northeast, and Roman Catholic, and born during the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws. When we are asked to confess and repent of sins that aren’t personally ours we struggle.

I get that. But we can’t stop there. When we hear these words in our own minds, or from the mouths of our church members, officers and fellow Presbyters we can’t just go, “okay.”

Monday morning I opened my Bible. In my personal reading I was nearing the end of 2 Samuel. There in chapter 21 is a story from David’s reign that addresses this for us.

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

There was a famine in Israel. It stretched on long enough for David to seek God about it. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like what he heard back. It was all Saul’s fault. Way back in the days of Joshua the Gibeonites had tricked Israel into making a covenant of protection. Instead of voiding the covenant, they kept it but the Gibeonites became their servants. During his reign, Saul slaughtered most of them.

God was not happy at Saul’s covenant breaking and murder. He did not immediately judge Saul for this. In fact, He apparently didn’t include this when Saul died in battle for his various sins. The bloodguilt remained.

David was the new king after a period of struggle. This is probably many years into his reign. But God said it must be dealt with NOW. It must be dealt with by YOU. David didn’t do it. Saul did. Saul who was long dead.

When it comes to the covenant community God apparently doesn’t care that you personally had no involvement in the corporate sins of the community. Just as you share in Adam’s sin, you also share in the sins of leaders of the covenant community.

So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?”

David sought out the remnant to see how this could be made right. Note how Saul’s sin is characterized. His zeal was for “his people” and he struck down the Gibeonites. Sound vaguely familiar?

In my previous post I laid out some of the ways the Southern Presbyterian Church, including what would become the PCA, had sinned. Kevin Twit noted that at its founding the leaders of the PCA stressed they were the continuing Presbyterian Church. This is why Sean Michael Lucas’ book is about the Continuing Presbyterians, aka the PCA. They viewed the PC (US) as having departed from the faith, but they were continuing in it. They also continued in some sinful ways. Travis Hutchinson lays out some of the evidence for this on his blog. He points to a book, written in 1987, that is a history of the PCA up to that point which espouses racist viewpoints. This book was given to the denomination so proceeds of its sale could go to the denomination. Yeah, let that sink in. He also shares some personal stories that reveal that racists be among us.

Will we continue to say “It’s not our problem” or will we be like David and say “How can we make this right?”

Ultimately the seven men descended from Saul put to death point us to Christ who bore the full burden of our sin, including racism, indifference and hardness of heart. We can admit we have done wrong, that we share in the guilt of our fathers (like Nehemiah did!) precisely because Christ bears our guilt. We can be honest instead of pretending. The doctrine of justification matters! We can say “We failed you and we are sorry. How can we move forward?” Like David we should seek the blessing of the heritage of the Lord through repentance.

Here is the protest that many of us signed.

We the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA (the undersigned) understand that repentance is not merely a statement, but steps of faithfulness that follow. Allowing that more time is needed to adequately work on such a denominational statement, but also the need for action now, we recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period. We commit ourselves to the task of truth and repentance over the next year for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. We urge the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek truth and repentance for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

 

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Thanks to Augustine hope and despair have been on my mind. In the wake of the recent events in Ferguson, I’ve had many thoughts about all if it. Like most people I’ve read lots of musings on the situation, some of them good and some not so good. I find that most commentators hit one aspect of the situation. That is okay as long as we don’t expect them to speak exhaustively. As I’ve turned this over in my mind I see so many angles to it.

On Sunday I used Isaiah 9:1-7 for my sermon text. I’d already planned on that text well over a month ago. It proved very appropriate in the wake of a week like last week.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Light arrives in the midst of darkness. Here we see the darkness of injustice and oppression. The Son of David would come to end injustice and oppression. His reign is one of justice and righteousness. We who are Christians affirm the NT teaching that this child is Jesus the Light of the World and the Son of David who sits on his eternal throne now.

Scripture and history point us to an already/not yet understanding of this text. Jesus has already come to redeem His people. Jesus already sits upon the throne. Jesus has not yet removed all injustice and unrighteousness. That awaits His second advent. The kingdom has been inaugurated, continues and awaits consummation or completion.

This means we live in the time between times. We, as Christians, have the capacity to treat others with justice and righteousness. But we live in a society that is marked by injustice and unrighteousness. This should not surprise us. We see this in Hebrews 2:

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

Nothing, it says, is outside His control even though it may not look like it. There is still rebellion within His realm. Remember, we were numbered among the rebels. It was His role as the Lamb of God that removed the guilt of our rebellion. We, too, deserved the just wrath of God for our part in the unrighteous and injustice of the world. Those who suffer injustice often respond with injustice and unrighteousness as well. There is a dark, vicious spiral involved. It requires the grace of God to break it. First He breaks it in individuals. Those individuals can work to break it in society by seeking just laws or enforcing just laws. Those who have been oppressed need to share in the power, not to bring an opposite form of oppression but pursue righteousness and justice.

Christ holds off His return, as I mentioned Sunday, to apply the redemption purchased to the elect. This is what is going on behind 2 Peter 3:

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

We see that God is working out a number of purposes, seemingly in conflict with one another. He is bringing grace to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is showing justice to some of the oppressed and oppressors. He is working out judgment and salvation, as well as guiding His people into righteousness all in the midst of the darkness of this world.

“Often times the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors. We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governors that the nature of actions will possibly bear.” Richard Sibbes

Many of us see this and are tempted to despair. We see these eruptions of injustice and violence and fear that we’ve made no process. Despair can kill us. We can give up and just let the situation continue unabated. We can give up in a deeper sense and either forsake the truth or fight the monster and become the monster in the process.

There is some cause for despair, in a good and not giving up sense. While we have been justified, Christians are not fully sanctified.This means we still sin. We still have blind spots (race issues can be one of them!). The gospel has already begun to transform us into the image of Christ but has not yet finished its work.

Note what Calvin says about us:

Let each of us go on, then, as our limited powers allow, without departing from the path we have begun to tread. However haltingly we may travel, each day will see us gaining a little ground. So let us aim to make diligent progress in the way of the Lord, and let us not lose heart if we have only a little to show for it. For although our success might be less than we would wish, all is not lost when today surpasses yesterday. Only let us fix our gaze clearly and directly on the goal, trying hard to reach our objective, not fooling ourselves with vain illusions or excusing our own vices.

This sentiment found its way into the Heidelberg Catechism.

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

If we cannot act with perfect righteousness and justice how can we expect an unbelieving world to do so. So, we should despair or give up hope in human governments accomplishing this. As Isaiah 9 notes, only the zeal of the Lord will accomplish all this. Hope, as Red noted in The Shawshank Redemption, is a dangerous thing. If our hope is in earthly perfect apart from the return of Christ, we will experience the bad form of despair that resorts to resignation or violence.

“A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope.” Richard Sibbes

Let us set our hope on God’s promises to be fully accomplished upon the return of Christ. This hope can sustain us in the midst of the continuing darkness. It also helps us to rejoice over the modest gains as we see people exhibiting righteousness and justice. We need to remember that God works on the behalf of those who wait for Him. Such waiting is not passive. For instance, William Wilberforce longed to see England free of slavery. He worked for years, first to end the slave trade and then to end slavery. It took decades, and many setbacks, but he saw God bring this about. Yet there was still much work to be done in the human heart which is “naturally” filled with evil and inclined toward unrighteousness.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3

Righteousness and justice do not come easily or quickly. It times waiting for them feels like we are dying. We want everything to change now. A rightly understood hope enables us to wait. And suffer while we wait if need be.

16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4

Peter, who watched Jesus suffer unjustly, suffered unjustly. We do well to receive his counsel to the early Church. If we suffer we should entrust ourselves to our Faithful Creator and Redeemer. Instead of a useless rage or foolish resignation, we trust. As we trust, we continue to do good.

Doing good can have many faces. It includes forgiving those who acted with injustice. This prevents bitterness from growing and corrupting your response to injustice. It includes helping those who have been harmed by injustice. You can help them pick up the pieces of their lives. It can mean running for office or seeking a promotion that enables change.

Let us remember that there is a despair and a hope that can kill us. There is also a form of despair and hope that can grant life as we lean upon Christ.

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I’ve been trying to not say anything about Ferguson. There are too many problems at work (obstruction, militarization of the police, racial profiling, riots & looting, racism, media manipulation, social activism …) and our culture has a tendency to be reductionistic. There is also a problem of a lack of knowledge (what are the facts?) as well as understanding.

Let’s start by saying that I am writing this as the white father of a black son (and daughter). I have concerns about when they are older and not with me or their mother. At this moment we don’t live in a community with many African-Americans. The racial issues seem to be more about the white vs. Hispanic or white vs. Native American populations. I grew up in a place where the most common minorities were Puerto Ricans (usually poor) and French Canadians (often middle class).

These realities color my perspective. I understand that. So while I don’t want unarmed teenagers gunned down by police or citizens, whether they are black or white, I have seen too many times when our country has been burned when more facts come out. I remember the Tawana Brawley hoax (thanks Al Sharpton), the fact that Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic” and not just Hispanic who was physically assaulted. I remember the false accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team who while not angels were not rapists either. In other words, there is a growing list of false accusations by one community (and the press) against the other. As a result, I withhold judgment precisely because we’ve been through this before.

As a white man, I see knee jerk reactions (fed by the media AND the police who routinely refuse to release information that could defuse situations). I do want accurate, timely information. I completely understand a community’s desire to get information. I see peaceful protest, like Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated, as the best option. Too often I see violent protests and looting (they make for good headlines, I know). Frustration is vented in the wrong directions, and it ends up looking like Do the Right Thing, Part 2. Misplaced rage is an ugly thing and the wrong people get hurt, financially or physically. I still remember the clips of the Rodney King riots when the man was pulled from the truck and beaten with a cement block.

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