Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Need to Keep Talking

Talking about race can wear you down. I'm growing weary of talking about race myself. It hurts my heart, wears out my soul and sorely tests my patience. Yet, as I've had the opportunity to observe many heated conversations regarding race in light of events in Ferguson, MO, I've reached a stunning conclusion - we need to keep talking! Let me start with an assumption - as dangerous as those are - that most folks reading this essay have a heart for racial justice - or justice period. The perspectives and points of view may differ, but the hearts of each of you long to see a day when people,especially people of faith, somehow approach their potential for loving across all barriers, especially barriers of race. Language does not help us in our discussion, especially the words racist and racism. They are highly charged words that lead us down a path of blame and guilt which are at the core of America's race issues. In his book "Disintegration" Eugene Robinson establishes a helpful framework to get beyond the blame/guilt tennis match. First, Robinson uses a term that I believe helps address the issue without finger pointing in the process. He states that the US is "racialized". What does that mean? It means that due to our deep and complex history regarding race, the issue of race impacts almost every aspect of US life. That impact may be negligible, subtle, obvious or debatable, but it is very present. The particular issue in view at any given time may be seen from different perspectives, but all involved will know that race is a factor, though individual and corporate experiences may hinder the various perspectives owned from being understood by others. This fact is a necessary starting point in discussions of race. Our experiences and perspectives differ by virtue of our ethnic, social, economic and even linguistic backgrounds. This difference in perspective reminds me of a Classic Star Trek episode where due to a transporter problem, Capt. Kirk finds himself in a parallel plane with the crew. They can all see the bridge of the ship, but they can only see each other at certain instances and even then, they cannot hear each other and can only communicate by hand signals. Racial experiences in the US are a lot like that. We all share a common space, but simultaneously different experiences. When our paths cross regarding racial issues, we're all passionately communicating from our perspectives, frustrated that we cannot communicate what we're experiencing and not understanding the lack of communication when we share common space at the same time! Well, the complex and yet simple answer is we live in parallel universes, sharing common space at a common time, yet having particular experiences within that framework that are real for us but largely unknown to those around us of a different background. Why is this so critical? It's critical because we need to understand our starting points before we attempt to engage in meaningful conversation and then we need to talk to each other and keep on talking. We need to share some stories - as painful as that can be - to at least get a grip on why our passions run so strong and our hurts are often felt so deeply. We need to de-politicize this issue and "gracify" it, giving and receiving much grace as we share the truth in love. After almost 400 years of strife, this battle will be one we fight to the grave. Nevertheless, until we can consistently talk to each other, as tiring as it is, no progress will be made. We'll spin our wheels on the treadmill of blame and guilt until Jesus comes back...and He won't be happy.

Friday, August 29, 2014


My brother in faith Glenn Sterrett got me to thinking about qualifications for leadership and service this morning. We often hear people say, "God doesn't call the qualified but qualifies the called." I contend that a more careful analysis of those called shows that God, Who knows the hearts of people, knows true qualifications for leadership and service that others may have overlooked. Let's take David, the shepherd boy for instance. David didn't have combat experience with humans so Goliath and everyone else ASSUMED David was inexperienced. Here's the citation no one bothered to read: "PFC David engaged a lion in hand to hand combat, retrieving a lamb from said lion's mouth, then grabbing the lion by the mane and slaying it with his knife. In like fashion, PFC David subdued a bear with small arms, expertly employing his sling shot to fell the animal. On numerous other occasions, PFC David distinguished himself in combat service, at great personal risk, protecting his flock and vital assets to the Kingdom from deadly predators. PFC David brings great credit to himself, his Kingdom and his God." If Goliath and the others had read this commendation, and understood the Power behind David's experience, they all might have considered a rather different outcome. God had actually highly qualified David in experience and character, He just used a different school system. I contend that The Lord generally doesn't call unqualified people, especially with respect to character and faith. He just may have trained and prepared them for the call in a way that has not been widely observed. It is the responsibility of those choosing spiritual leaders to do extra careful work, making sure not to impute character qualifications on highly educated yet spiritually unqualified persons while not overlooking folks of stellar character and high leadership ability who may have been prepared in a manner off of the beaten path. Is there anyone you've underestimated today?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From My Heart - Tired of Talking and Writing - Committed and Engaged to Love In Action

A dear friend shared links to a blog that collected a number of perspectives regarding the troubles related to Ferguson, MO. I couldn't read them. Reading the offerings of that blog was emotionally akin to what the D-Day veterans of Normandy experienced who attempted to watch the intro to saving Private Ryan. Luz and I have been engaged in what was called "Racial Reconciliation Ministry" when we first began our vocational Christian Service as a couple - a movement that now has morphed into various titles. Whatever you call it, we have pursued it since the beginning of our ministry largely by way of necessity as an ethnically and culturally blended family united by faith in Jesus Christ. We are on the journey still, but it is excruciatingly exhausting at times. We experience the pain on a personal level that we also must address in ministry at a professional ministerial level. We have to process our personal pain while the on-going strife of our nation rages on. We must engage in personal dialogue while being called upon to offer opinions or insights on Landmark Incidents that will either stir up guilt, or satisfy perspective. It is tiring to "wash, rinse and repeat" this cycle of "dialog and opinion" with few practical, take away results and little dynamic change. The arguments are nauseatingly familiar and deja vu sets in with such ferocity that one feels as if permanent residency in the Twilight Zone has been established. I am weary of the talk, weary of rhetoric, weary of explanations, weary of excuses and perspectives whether I agree with them or not. I long for a day when Jesus' people love each other and others period! I yearn for a time when people who call themselves Christians treat each other with dignity, respect and equity and love neighbors who aren't Christians as themselves! I ache for the day when the Christian community in the United States is so characterized by love across all barriers that those who don't follow Jesus will long to be part of that community too. Why is that SUCH a difficult undertaking for Jesus' people? Why is love and equality so tough to realize for people who are filled with the Spirit of the Living God? Though a big part of us is weary from the battle, Luz and I are committed and resolved to die trying to demonstrate this love for the rest of our lives. I only pray we'll experience even a taste of this community truly enjoined and realized before the Lord calls us Home. Nevertheless, even should we not see it and the remainder of our lives is punctuated with seemingly never-ending Ferguson-like scenarios, hear me: We are commmitted to love everyone that crosses our paths across racial barriers and any other barriers, in spirit and in truth in our everyday lives, for the rest of our lives, every day of our lives - to the death! With all the love within me, Your Brother and Friend, Sam

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Good Harvest

32 people (pictured standing in the front of the sanctuary in the picture) were stirred by the life and testimony of Krystal McCain to the point of making decisions to follow Jesus at the conclusion of her funeral, preached by her father. The words of Jesus from John 12:24 come to mind, "I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat." Krystal's life will be producing an on-going harvest for years to come. Make your life count so that even when you die, others may be stirred to life and carry on your legacy of faith!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bearing the Unbearable

Bearing the Unbearable

Joana appeared upstairs suddenly. Her face was a puzzling mix of pain and shock.  Then the tears came.  I just hugged her knowing something really bad had happened.  “What is it Sweetheart?” Luz and I inquired.  She choked out words that impacted our hearts like a sledgehammer, “Krystal...she’s gone…” We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. Krystal McCain, Joana’s friend since the 4th Grade and the daughter of people we deeply admired and cherished was dead.  We asked all the natural questions, “How? When? Where? Are you sure!”  There were no answers. This nightmare was real and no one knew why. 

Our thoughts immediately shifted to her parents and family – Pastor Henry and Brenda, her sister and two brothers. The thoughts of what they were enduring – the loss. The pain. The situation seemed unbearable.  After a long week, we headed to Detroit to pay our respects and support our friends.
Today was the day. Nearing the church, it was clear that this family was well-loved.  The turnout was immense. Parking occupied several city blocks.  The line for greeting the family during family hour resembled the line for a state funeral.  Entering the door I received a pamphlet.  It was an invitation.  As I read the pamphlet, I realized I had already accepted this invitation and I smiled.  Even in their grief, this family was reaching out to others inviting them to be blessed by walking in faith with Jesus and they have and I have.  

Upon reaching the sanctuary, I saw the family on their feet, greeting every single visitor with a hug and a blessing.   I witnessed a family in the midst of gut-wrenching grief resolved to make a statement to all who came to grieve alongside them. They were resolved to live out the reality in their lives of Christ in them, the Hope of Glory! My turn came and hugs were shared with energy and strength.  I was blessed by the very people I came to bless, but the best was yet to come.

Hebrews 10:32-34 says that when Jesus followers suffer, they become spectacles. 
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,  partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.”

The McCain family willingly presented themselves as a sanctified spectacle of transparency, tears, laughter, grief, joy, struggle and victory as they shared the reality of their pain through the security of their faith.  The siblings shared their memories, loss and confidence in the Lord.  The grandparents shred wisdom born of years of struggle and called everyone present to a deeper level of commitment. Brenda shared her thanks, her love and her confidence that Krystal would be well pleased with the event held in her memory.  Pastor Henry, her father, displayed a trust in the Lord and strength in the Spirit that touched me and all present in the deepest places of our hearts.  There were times I was so stirred by the vitality of the faith on display that I literally wanted to shout affirmations aloud as if my favorite team was winning the Super Bowl. 

This family invited us into the inner sanctum of their unbearable experience and by doing so, left us all stirred, encouraged, emboldened and empowered to demonstrate our own faith with more gusto as we left the sanctuary than when we entered it. So powerful was the call to faith that a strong contingent of attenders not only left stirred, but departed the experience forever changed as they themselves embraced the way of following Jesus. The McCains were willing to bear the unbearable to honor a beautiful child and to glorify a Marvelous Savior.  I will never forget beautiful Krystal.  Neither will I forget the amazing family of which she is a part and the gift they gave hundreds of mourners on this never-to-be-forgotten Saturday afternoon.