Category Archives: meetings

The Line

When are we allowed to start hating someone? This was the question raised by our speaker. A couple of weeks ago DOOR’s Beloved Community Council met in Chicago. This is an annual gathering that brings together DOOR staff, board members, and participants to talk about diversity.

This year we invited Jeff Chu to be one of our presenters. Jeff’s book Does Jesus Really Love me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, was certain to stir up some controversy and uncomfortableness among this group. One of the things that I have learned during my time at DOOR is that all of us have a breaking point, where diversity shifts from something to be admired and sought after to sin. This is especially true among people of faith. Currently sexual orientation is that hot button issue.

I did expect some in the circle to be uncomfortable. What I did not expect was for me to be uncomfortable. Part way through Jeff’s presentation he started talking about Westboro Baptist Church, a church known for its extreme ideologies. While researching for his book, Jeff spent a few days with the church and its leader, Fred Phelps, conducting interviews and trying to understand how they came to believe what they believe. In many ways this is a congregation that unites both the liberal and conservative sides of the church. Everyone is uncomfortable with their tactics and hate messages.

Quite frankly I expected Jeff to join the chorus of people who have condemned this fringe group. Instead Jeff showed a picture of a 6 year old holding a sign that stated God hates gay people. Then he went on to describe this boy, during his time with the church he got to know the boy. This boy was just starting to read; he really didn’t know what he was holding. He only knew the adults in his life approved, like any 6-year-old he obeyed his parents and held the sign.

This is when Jeff asked the question. When is it OK for me to start hating this boy? When he can read? Once he reaches the age of accountability? When he is 20? Is there ever a time when people of faith get a pass on extending grace even to those who would do us harm?

When does someone else’s “diversity” or “difference” give me permission to hate or exclude? Usually at this point someone will respond with “the Bible clearly states,” this in turn becomes a reason to exclude. This quickly becomes an unwinnable argument, not because we are right, but rather because we are stubborn. History tells us that every time people of faith come up with reasons to exclude, eventually they end up seeking forgiveness for their hate. I suggest that Scripture is abundantly clear about our need to love the other, even when they are different. I have yet to hear about people who ask forgiveness for loving too much.


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Filed under A New Kind of Christian, Beloved Community, Christian, community, cultural insensitivity, culture, experiencing god, faith, grace, label, labels, language, meetings, ministry, multicultural, racism, respect, sinner, theology, Uncategorized

A white issue

Two years ago I was asked to join the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) advisory board. SCUPE is a ministry committed to educating leaders to revitalize congregations and community organizations to transform cities towards becoming just, inclusive and peaceful communities in accordance with God’s vision for the world. This particular board gathers twice a year to hear reports and dream about future possibilities. During the Advanced Latino/a Theological Education (ALTE) Program report a person made the thought-provoking comment that fundamentalism is a white person issue.

Normally I would have just ignored the statement but Martin Marty, a well know writer on the subject of fundamentalism, was in the room and he didn’t raise any objections. For those of you who have heard the term but are not really sure what fundamentalism is, here is a quick refresher. It stresses the infallibility of Scripture in matters of faith and morals and as a historical record. These are the people who get stressed out about the theory of evolution.

I am not sure that I grew up as a strict fundamentalist, but it certainly shaped my view of God, the Bible, and the kind of choices I needed to make in life. It is never fun to discover that deeply held commitments are more a matter of culture than a universal Christian understanding. Facing this reality is uncomfortable and has the potential to be disruptive. We all want to believe that our Christian understandings are culturally neutral. Quite simply this is not the case, and never has been the case.

Our understandings of God are always culturally influenced. One of the only ways I know of moving beyond my particular culture is to put myself in places where other cultures and understandings have a voice. This isn’t easy. For many of us difference has and continues to equal sin. Allowing for difference can very quickly become uncomfortable. How do people who believe in a literal six day creation worship together with those who understand evolution to be true? Evolution versus creation is child’s play when put alongside questions of sexual orientation. Difference is not easy.

Can you imagine a church where difference is celebrated? Being with a group of believers who hold wildly different understandings of who God is and how God works? Potentially uncomfortable, certainly messy but also freeing.

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Filed under being wrong, Christian, church rules, control, culture, distinctives, diversity, Evangelical, ideologies, inclusion, meetings, multicultural, novel idea, religion, religious system, White Privilege

Thoughts on immigration

“Mr. Obama, tear down this wall.”

Can you imagine Enrique Peña Nieto, the 57th President of Mexico, giving this speech?  How would Americans react?  Don’t we have the right and responsibility to protect our land?  To keep our people safe from invaders who would take our jobs and abuse our social systems?

I am old enough to remember when in 1987 then President Regan issued a similar challenge to Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall.  Interestingly not many folks took notice when the speech was first delivered; in time this became the prophetic moment of the Regan Presidency.  Within a few years the wall came down and western style freedom spread like wildfire through much of Eastern Europe.

Last week Mennonites from all over the USA gathered in Phoenix, AZ to discuss where they are as a denomination and where they are headed.  The theme was “Citizens of God’s Kingdom.”  I believe that this theme also has the possibility of being a prophetic moment, not only in the life of the Mennonite Church but also in the life of the American Church.  It was a theme which affirmed citizenship in the kingdom of God and the notion that Christianity and the Christian community crosses all borders.

Without a doubt immigration is a controversial political issue.  I sort-of get why, but as a Christian matter I am not sure that there is much controversy.  After all, Jesus calls us to a new understanding of family.  Blood lines no longer define relations.  It possible to say, “Our unity in Jesus trumps blood, borders and anything that would separate us from one another.”  As we all know families need to connect, get together, and fellowship over meals.  Anything, including politics, which prevents this from happening, needs to be called out.

So maybe it is time for a new speech, this time from people of faith – “Mr. Obama tear down that wall.”

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Filed under Beloved Community, church, citizenship, denominations, immigration, meetings, mennonite, Mennonite Church USA, President Ronald Regan, speech

Next week

I did it again.  I have agreed to lead a seminar about privilege.  Two years ago at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Pittsburg I led this same seminar – “Crossing the Bridge of Culture and Race.”  Once again I have been tasked, this time in Phoenix, with leading a discussion on White Privilege, the ultimate “elephant in the room” topic.

Talking about white privilege means owning the fact that King’s world, one in which people are judged only by the content of their character has not yet arrived.  I have the privilege of leading a ministry that is diverse in almost every way diversity can be used.  We are young and old –actually I prefer people with life experience and those without; men and women; American and Immigrant; conservative and liberal; married and single; white and colorful; athletic and couch potatoey; high church and earthy church; straight and gay.

Quite honestly I find this this level of diversity to be prophetic, chaotic, affirming and draining all at the same time.  As the person charged with giving leadership to this organization, I am oddly qualified to talk about privilege, especially at it pertains to being male, white and tall.

Admitting that I am afforded privileges simply because of my skin color is uncomfortable.  The level of discomfort increases when I think about the people I work with.  I want us to be equal co-laborers in the kingdom of God.  In this context privilege is not easy to talk about. On one hand I enjoy the privileges of being a white male.  I have never been stopped by the police because of my race.  I can travel to Arizona, where I will be presenting this seminar, without worrying about having to produce documents proving my legal status and I am not even an American citizen.  On the other hand it is embarrassing to just have this privilege.  I did not do anything to earn it.  I was born white and will die white, this privilege just is – a type of unearned power.

How do I talk about something I didn’t ask for, but certainly benefit from?

Maybe the first step is to own the privilege.

And the second step is to create sacred spaces – to talk about the issue and hear the stories of people who have been negatively impacted by white privilege.  These spaces are rarely comfortable places for white people to be.  But occupying the space, hearing the stories and owning the privilege creates a possibility for a new world – a world where people are judged by the content of their character.


Filed under Beloved Community, God questions, immigration, meetings, mennonite, Mennonite Church USA, ministry, multicultural, questions of church, racism, racist, religion, responsibilities, speech, theology, transforming

Relationship or meeting?

It is almost funny how my comfortable world can be shaken at the most unexpected times.

Last week, while visiting with a pastor in Washington, D.C., he made the following observation:

“You Mennonites are good at getting together and having meetings and you tend to think that having a meeting equals building a relationship. Simply put, this isn’t true.  As a black pastor, I have been part of the Mennonite church for over 20 years.  I am tired of going to meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, you people run good meetings,” he said, then continued.

“I wish folks would take the time to get to know me.”

Here I was, visiting with him, asking questions—so I could be better prepared for a meeting.

This pastor, elder and bishop had lovingly and gently rebuked me.

Is it possible that we use meetings and consultations as substitutes for building healthy, trusting relationships?

Meetings allow us to be professional.   They provide a stage to strut our stuff.  Meetings allow us to connect without getting too personal.  If the church was a business, this would be appropriate.

The church isn’t a business.

The church is that place where a new family is being birthed – the family of God.   Families are not defined by well-ordered professional relationships.  Families, when they work well, are messy and wonderful, intimate and accepting.  They are safe places where warts and bad habits are tolerated, and sometimes even celebrated.  Once you’re a part of a family you’re in, no matter what.

Maybe it is time to have fewer meetings and more family reunions – family of God reunions.  We might not get much business accomplished, but we might start looking and acting like a family.


Filed under meetings, mennonite, ministry, partnership, relationship, urban ministry, urban pastors


John 13, the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, is one of those passages I keep coming back to.  In 20 short verses, the good, the bad and the ugly of ministry is laid out.

Jesus gets to spend one last intimate meal with his closest friends, his best friend Peter still does not understand purpose of his ministry, and Jesus will wash Judas’ feet in one last effort to keep him from committing treason.

What a picture.

After three years of intense teaching, no one “gets” what he is doing and one of his own is ready to betray him to the enemy.

If Jesus had trouble getting his team on the right page, should we be surprised when we face the same set of obstacles?

Is it possible that ministry is not so much about getting everyone on the same page as it is about offering grace to those we work with?  Maybe that is the message of John 13.  In the middle of everyone focused on their own agenda, Jesus keeps offering a second chance.

Nowhere in scripture is it ever recorded that Jesus complained about his disciples.  He believed in them even when everything they did seemed to point in a different direction. But I can imagine Jesus washing Judas’ feet, hoping and praying that he would change his mind.

Those who take up the mantle of full-time vocational ministry must be people capable of offering grace regardless of the evidence.  Make no mistake, this is not easy.

Are you the type of person who would wash the feet of someone who you knew was going to betray you?

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Filed under grace, meetings, ministry