Race at School

Within a few days of each other, all three of my children shared with me similar experiences at school.

My children go to a public charter school here in the City of Buffalo.  Like most city schools its student population is a mixture of racial groups.  Our kids classes are almost half black, and half white, with a smattering of other ethnic groups mixed in.  Like most city schools, the staff population is almost completely white, and overwhelmingly female.

My kids came home talking about the way the black kids and the white kids act, and how they act different from each other.  They came home talking about the way the teachers treat the black kids and the white kids, and how they don't get treated the same.  They also came home talking about how some of the black kids accuse some of the teachers, and white classmates, of being "racist."

This is, of course, a wonderful opportunity for us to engage our kids, to talk with them, and to help them gain some tools to use when they are adults.  In particular, we are trying to help them understand the following:

Culture Exists

Your culture is like the rules to a sport.  Everyone on the team knows where to be and what to do to participate.  Once you learn how to play the game, you never really have to discuss the rules anymore.  You just play.

When people engage across cultures, however, its like a group of two dozen kids playing together; except the first dozen think everyone is playing soccer, and the second dozen are trying to play basketball.  They have different expectations, and don't have a common language to use to explore those different expectations.  There is pain, offense, and confusion, without any real understanding as to why the other kids won't just play by the rules.

But in spite of the oftentimes painful results nobody is actually doing anything immoral.

Bad Behavior Exists

Sometimes people break the rules, and they know full well that they are breaking them, they just don't care.  This is true for white kids and black kids.  Sometimes they just do bad things.  This also applies to bigotry.  Sometimes people just mistreat people because of their race.

Neither one of those things is okay, and no one should get a pass because of their skin color, no matter which color it is.

Institutional Racism Exists

The simple truth is that our school, and most schools, are run by white people.  The power dynamics aren't just.  Its hard to see if you are white, but painfully obvious if you are not.  What is more, those power dynamics are the product of a really painful history.  While the events that caused the pain might be generations in the past, the pain of those events, and the institutions created by those events, persist into today.

This means that no one is presently doing anything immoral, but the immoral actions of people from the past, are still doing damage today.  It may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility to change it.


Finally, its really important that we help our kids discern the difference between these three things.  Cross cultural interaction can be beautiful, but often its like someone stepping on your toe and breaking it.  Then the question becomes, did they do it on purpose?  or on accident?  Or maybe, just maybe, its my fault for putting my foot where it didn't belong!

Show up against TERROR!

What in the world is going on?

The same people who are horrified at the rhetoric surrounding Islamic terrorists, and Syrian refugees, are now bringing us... ?

...their own horrifying rhetoric that paints whole people groups as terrorists because of the actions of a few of its members!

I vote we "Show up Against People who can't Think for Themselves" and reject the rhetoric of fear, hate, and prejudice on all sides that the politicians are using to divide us.

I vote we begin to tone the rhetoric down on all fronts.  If you are a liberal, it is your job to tell your fellow liberals to stop the craziness.  If you are a conservative, it is your responsibility to tell your fellow conservatives to put an end to the divisiveness.  Lets engage in thoughtful conversation and productive action.  If you really can't resist the urge to be provocative try engaging in friendship with your enemies.


Church Draft

Hanging out with football geeks means you talk about the best player in each position, drafting your best 'all-time' football team. Hanging out with church geeks means you get to do the same thing for a church leadership team. Who would be the best preacher ever? The greatest worship leader? Here is my list:

  1. Director of Church Discipline - John Calvin
  2. Military Advisor - Joan of Arc
  3. Science Advisor - Ken Hamm
  4. Dance Team Coordinator - Herodias' Daughter
  5. Women's Ministry Coordinator - Mark Driscoll
  6. Youth Pastor - the Prophet Elisha and his bear
  7. Biblical Scholar and General Cultural Advisor - President GW Bush
  8. Senior Pastor - Balaam's Ass
  9. Nursery Worker - Bob the Tomato



I heard an interview on the radio recently.

The woman was a scriptwriter or a playwright (not sure which, maybe both) who had recently written a story about life in impoverished American ghettoes.  She talked some about the genesis of her new work, and she talked some about the characters and the story itself.  She talked even more about the realities of life in America's impoverished inner cities.

I was, of course, interested.  She was talking about where I live, and what I care about.  We live in a neighborhood where most kids grow up seeing violence, addiction, and illegal activity as normal parts of everyday life.  Our neighborhood is improving, but you can still find needles on the ground in front of the school, you can still see the prostitutes walking the main thoroughfare, there are still young men standing at the corners making more money in an afternoon than a roofing job pays in a week, and you can still hear gunshots in the night.

Then she began to talk about why she wrote it and what she hoped it might accomplish.

"I hope it will motivate people to do something, give some money, change how you vote, just DO SOMETHING."

I was a little frustrated.  In her defense, she is a playwright; an artist, not an activist, or an advocate, or even a scholar, but I would have hoped for a more educated response than this.  Throwing money at our problems, and giving power to professional blowhards (regardless of their political stripes), will never serve to accomplish anything helpful.  In point of fact, one of the largest contributing factors to the perpetuation of American poverty is precisely our unreflective need to just do something.

Helping the less fortunate by giving money and voting for certain politicians is actually an abdication of our personal responsibility to engage in helping our fellow man.  Not to mention it's counter productive.  Don't get me wrong, throwing money and votes around works well if our goal is to make ourselves feel better, it just doesn't change anything for those in need.  Indeed free money is often the reason why better solutions fail.

What is needed is personal engagement.  Instead of throwing money at the latest cause, while simultaneously climbing up the social ladder, try climbing down the ladder instead.


On Race

1) The politicians are hurting us:Our political process is such that we give power to those who can whip up social support.  This is much easier and effectively done by exciting people's fear, anger, and pain.  Thoughtfully engaging with complex problems to find comprehensive solutions doesn't get you votes.  This drives the whole conversation in divisive and simplistic directions.  Politics divides us along conservative/liberal lines, but it also divides us along racial lines, economic lines, etc. We need to stop taking our cues from the politicians, and start taking our cues from Scripture, and the wisdom of the church (the global-historical church, not the 21st century American church).

2) Everyone needs to stop talking and start listening:The single largest problem is not that we don't understand each other, its that we don't recognize that we don't understand each other!  Just like in a marriage: its not the places where we recognize our misunderstandings, its the places where we think we understand each other (but we don't) that cause the most damage.  It is a rare conservative that understands liberals, and vice versa.  It is a rare white person that understand black culture, and vice versa.  It is a rare rich person that understands poor people, and vice versa.  But we all think we understand each other!

3) Demonizing your opponents will only make things worse for yourself:Our society will not be able to move beyond our current situation without active participation and engagement from everyone.  Simply put, if we want to see an end to social unrest like what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, the black community needs to feel included in the consciousness and concerns of white americans.  If we want to see a change in the systemic racial disparities that plague our nation, the white community needs to have their fears and concerns addressed.  Neither of those things will happen if conservative voices continue to paint the black community as criminal and lazy, and liberal voices continue to paint the white community as racist.

4) Liberals ought to stop calling everyone racist:While racism still exists in some individuals and communities, it is no longer acceptable, or prevalent.  As a matter of moral integrity, most white americans are committed to the notions that black and white people are of equal value, that black and white people are deserving of equal opportunities, and that black and white people ought to live together as friends.  Again, this is not universal, but it is the dominant paradigm within white communities, particularly conservative communities.

In recent decades, liberals have shifted the conversation towards issues of systemic racial injustice.  This is proper and good.  The problem however, is that the language of racism has continued to be used.  White people are being accused of racism when they aren't racist.  Again, systemic injustice is real, but it isn't being caused or perpetuated by the bigotry of white individuals.  Its cause lies elsewhere.

This is where liberals need to listen to the voices coming from conservative communities.  Listen and attempt to gain understanding.

5) Conservatives ought to stop denying and/or justifying racial disparities:White conservatives look into their own hearts and think, "I don't dislike or mistreat black people," and then stop thinking about what else might be going on.  Their individualistic view of humanity and society blinds conservatives to the ways in which systems not only exist, but largely benefit white, middle-class, communities; indeed they often do so at the expense of impoverished minority communities.

Conservatives are conservative because they believe in the power of individuals to make their own destiny, as well as find solutions to larger community problems.  Because of this they are reticent to look to government to solve social problems, and this drives them to treat all social problems as driven solely by individual action.  This blinds them to the reality of social forces, both the social forces that marginalize impoverished communities and the social forces that empower middle-class communities.

Even more, this is where conservatives tend to ignore the anecdotes of black experiences of systemic injustice.  Conservatives view them as unique instances divorced from a larger social fabric of attitudes and experiences.  What needs to happen is a willingness to listen to the experiences and perceptions of the minority community.

6) We need to call people to personal engagement in cross-cultural relationships:The real path forward is the path laid out in Galatians 2; namely cross-cultural table fellowship in light of our common allegiance to Christ.  I am convinced that this is the closest thing to a silver bullet.  In many ways table fellowship is both the means and the end of the reconciliation process.  A commitment to maintaining unity in spite of difference, or misunderstanding, is the bedrock upon which understanding and communion can be built.

7) Racism isn't the real issue:The real issues driving the problems surrounding race in America are not overtly racist individuals, subconscious bias, or overtly racist laws; the real issues driving these problems are #1 the social/political/economic systems and infrastructure that were built by racists of a bygone era that persist into today #2 the generational effects of historic racism on the Black communities of the present #3 the apathy of middle-class whites to confront the status-quo if any sacrifice on their part is required.

The reason I believe liberals need to stop crying 'racism' is that it is a misdiagnosis.  If I am convinced the problem is that you are racist, then I will try to convince you to change your attitudes towards other people groups.  If I am convinced that the problem is that you are lazy and unwilling to sacrifice to help your fellow man, then I will try to convince you to change your attitude about your own personal responsibility towards those in pain.

8) The playing field isn't level:The reality of life in America is such that white and black individuals do not have the same opportunities.  The various statistical differences between white and black communities with regard to income, violent behavior, education, family commitments, incarceration rates, addiction, etc. are not to be ignored.  This is, however, one of the places where conservatives and liberals talk past each other and to their own constituents.

I have found that conservatives are very uncomfortable talking about an un-level playing field, but they are susceptible to hearing about the plight of children in poverty, and are concerned about injustice.  For many conservatives, so long as they are not considered the cause of the injustice, they are willing to consider taking responsibility for ending injustice.



I was recently invited to my first UNITE NY meeting and was deeply moved...

One of the most significant pieces of practical wisdom God has granted me in the past years is about the role of business-people in the Kingdom of God. As a pastor I am compelled by my theology to believe that all people have gifts and callings to use for the edification of the Church and the advancement of the gospel in our world, but normal church practices often make that nothing more than pretty words.  In our 'normal' way of thinking, the Kingdom is manifested most gloriously in the church, the church is most evident in the Sunday worship gathering, and the Sunday worship gathering is all about what the pastor says and does.  In short, what the pastor does is Kingdom work, what everyone else does is pay for the privilege of observing the pastor 'doing Kingdom work.'  This is, of course, not what God had in mind...

 God has opened my eyes to the role of business-people, in large part, through my relationship with one person.  My friend is a retired businessman who, several years ago, decided to include me in some of his projects.  Through him I have learned the value of business-minded people working for Kingdom purposes outside of the walls of the church.  He has his hands in endeavors of all kinds, job training programs, ministry training programs, housing renovation, job creation, refugee resettlement programs, medical services, college education for the poor.  In all of these he brings his passion for the Kingdom, his crystalline focus on results oriented praxis, his drive to make every effort as effective and efficient as possible, his creativity and experience, and his intolerance of silly religious games.  He also brings his wallet, his schedule, and a profound willingness to sacrifice for what he believes in.

In collaborating with my friend over the years, I have come to see the tremendous value in partnerships between kingdom-minded business people, and kingdom-minded pastors.  This value goes well beyond the financial resources of the business community.  The value is in the skills, practices, and paradigms of the business world, when those skills, practices, and paradigms are used under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and in partnership with other kingdom-minded people, to accomplish God's purposes in the places where we live, work, play, and worship.

While at the UNITE NY meeting I appreciated the encouragements of the speaker, and the opportunity to network, but I was moved most deeply simply by a room full of kingdom-minded business-people.  I walked into a room full of people like my friend, and I couldn't help but get excited!