[At least that’s what I decided. Are you still imagining what it would’ve been like to be in my shoes? If so how did it make you feel? What would you have done? Thanks for considering and contemplating one of my memories of an experience I had as the “token black guy”.]
Note from the author: I wrote this post a year ago for a church blog but we decided under the circumstances that it would be best for the women to have the voice exclusively. Hear we are a year later with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the trending of #MeToo on social media, and I thought it might be a good time to share this on my own blog site.
We have had nearly a week to process and digest the very disturbing viral video of Donald Trump describing how he knowingly and intentionally makes unwanted sexual advances against women with impunity. To say that it has triggered massive amounts of trauma developed from lived experiences of women is an understatement. The amount of energy being expended by he and others to defend what he said, or diminish his shocking confession to little more than lewd words, is confounding. All leading to the virtual dam of silence cracking at its foundation as women are telling their stories of unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment assault and rape. History may look back on the release of that video, and see it as a tipping point in so many realms of American society. Hopefully one of the areas of our society in which it will serve as a tipping point and catalyst for long overdue change is the church.
There is so much one could say about the fact that Donald Trump has received not simply endorsements, but moral imperatives from prominent Evangelical Christian leaders and thinkers to Christians to vote for Trump (Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Dobson among them). In essence they are saying, “If you don’t vote for Trump you are sinning against God.” Some have seemingly come to their senses and issued a wholesale revoking of their endorsement of him (Wayne Grudem).
However, I believe this all says less about Trump, and less about the decline of the Religious Right, than it does something else far more significant and in need of change. I believe the past five days says so much more on how we are long over due for women to have a more prominent role, and voice in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is long past time that women truly share in the leadership and authority in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is time for the ceiling of children and women’s ministry and the mission field be removed. It is time for more churches to appoint female deacons and elders. It is time for women to be given the chance to be executive, lead and even teaching pastors.
For too long the church has demeaned the full imago dei of women because Eve listened to the serpent.
For too long we’ve been ignoring the biblical narratives of God elevating women alongside and even in front of men, not simply because there was a void of male leadership but because they were chosen by God and they were the most qualified.
For too long we’ve given women the title of director instead of pastor in fear of offending the old guard.
For too long we’ve stifled the radicalness of Jesus affirming Mary’s choice to shun the kitchen in favor of sitting at the feet of Jesus, not as some star struck groupie but as a disciple. If Jesus believed Mary could learn to do what he does, then what is stopping us from letting them do what he does (Luke 10.38-42)? In reality it shouldn’t even be an issue of giving them permission. If not are we then guilty of ignoring what Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” If Paul believed that a new expansive understanding of how we are to see ourselves in light of the work of Christ included a loosening of conventional gender roles, “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3.28) have we crafted a subversive gospel message for women to get them saved and keep them in their place?
I don’t say all these things and pose all these questions to sound controversial. I say them because I’m convinced that we weren’t meant to be steeped in centuries long marginalization of women in the name of patriarchy in which the church has been complicit and often taken the lead. Then it wouldn’t be so hard for us in the church to know how to respond to Trump and those who defend his demeaning of women because women who lead alongside men in the church would be right at the forefront of our response (which is why this wasn’t posted when it was originally written because we wanted the reply of women at the forefront). Their voices would be heard from the nursery and from the pulpit. Their unique stories and lived experiences would be shared in first person before communities of men and women of all ages together. It’s not too late though for us to finally begin to model in the church what Paul says in Ephesians of submitting to one another in Christ. But this I am certain, it is long past time for it to happen.
Never has there been a time in human history where more can be known about an individual without actually and very rarely experiencing their full relational presence. We just like God can be right there without others in the room sensing and experiencing our true presence.
In the 1970s, Astral Projection and OBE (Out of Body Experience) became a big thing, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that it coincided with a lot of drug experimentation. This illustration to introduce the concept of God being omnipresent, fully present everywhere all the time, was lost on many of my middle school students. They couldn’t quite get past what would happen if your body needed to go to the bathroom while your spirit was floating around Antarctica watching the penguins march. I suggested that it would be advisable to only practice astral projection while sitting on the toilet just in case. While I don’t actually give much credence to OBE, you have to admit it resulted in some of the Beatles best work. Still, my students have a point. If your soul really could float away from your body for a brief jaunt it would be a very disconnected experience. Your body would sit there like a vegetable while your spirit is just floating around eavesdropping on the world, neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once.
In reality what I just described above is not all that different from our current cultural phenomenon of social media. Instead of Astral Projection we now have Digital Projection. Our bodies are walking, working, eating, and even interacting with others while our spirits are floating around the digital dimensions eavesdropping on the world. Neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once. I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions having a virtual out of body experience detached from what was happening right in front of me because the deepest parts of me were consumed with the digital dimensions I inhabit.
I’m not suggesting that we throw off social media and all the things that divert our attention from what is happening right in front of us. Social media is not evil and will not be the catalyst to the decay and demise of human society. However, I do find it interesting that we live in the very same tension with one another that we as Christians often struggle to understand about God. “If God is fully present everywhere all at once then why doesn’t he step in more often?” It’s haunting how often that can be said of us. Never has there been a time in human history where more can be known about an individual without actually and very rarely experiencing their full relational presence. We, just like God, can be right there without others in the room sensing and experiencing our true presence. The question we must ask ourselves at any given moment is why we don’t step in more often?
This past Sunday I was at the memorial service for a friend who has passed on. It was a lovely service because quite simply she was a lovely person. All four of her children took turns speaking and everything they said was beautiful, full of love and gratitude for having her as a mom. I had never met any of her children, all of whom are just a little bit older than me if not the same age, but none of what they said was at all illuminating. It was not illuminating because all the wonderful attributes of compassion and investment of time they described had been experienced by myself and pretty much every adult sharing the same pew, all of whom are young enough to be her child. When I think of Christ centered community I think of Tom and Jeanne Gould.
When I was a college student at Spring Arbor University I served in the worship ministry of a local church as a vocalist and volunteer in the youth ministry. This church didn’t have a college or young adult ministry and yet I felt right at home as a young adult college student because families of students, other volunteers, and fellow worship team members showed an interest in me, and welcomed me into their homes. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Andy, Trish, Janine, Taryn, and Scott.
The first church I began going to without my parents started with getting involved with the youth ministry as a Senior in High School. They had a college ministry, but that’s not where I felt most at home. I felt most at home with Vaughn and Marilynn, so much so that most Sunday afternoon’s and evenings were spent in their home. A good number of Friday nights were spent hanging out with them as well as going to the movies and getting something to eat. Sure they had two kids my age, but our friendship deepened when their kids where away at college and I was still in town. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of the Lipperts.
All of us are looking for community. Many leave churches because they can’t seem to find community. I’ve heard many people lament the absence of a college ministry, or young adult ministry, or a young married ministry, or you name it ministry. There isn’t a ministry where they can get easily plugged into and get community. Then there are others who find the ministry for them, their demographic, and still leave because real community evades them even within the group.
Even though I wasn’t a student at the University of Michigan (I went to the local community college) I was looking for community and thus began attending Campus Crusade meetings with friends who were students. I never quite got plugged into that group even though there were some friends I made that I could hang out with probably because I wasn’t a student and though I lived in town I didn’t live on campus. Oddly enough the place where I did find community was also on the campus of University of Michigan, Athletes in Action, which was basically Campus Crusade for the athletes. Not only was I not a student at UofM, but I certainly was not a division I athlete. Yet just this weekend I connected with a friend that I know through AIA that was in town on business because we’ve been friends ever since we met thirteen years ago. When I was in Chicago two years ago on a Conference I was able to catch up with a friend who lives there for coffee that I met through AIA. I was invited to go on my first overseas mission trip with AIA in 2001. My reply was, “but I’m not even a student here much less an athlete.” The reply I received was assurance that despite those things I was definitely a part of that community. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Donte, Robyn, and Bruce.
The point I want to make with all of these stories and illustrations is this… If you want to find and be apart of Christ-centered community you have to be willing to go beyond affinity. If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve probably been conditioned to settle for affinity. From the time we are infants to when we are Seniors in High School our community in church is shaped around primarily being with people who are the same age and life-stage as our self. We unconsciously look for the people like us. It’s no wonder that most college students and young adults won’t even consider attending a church that doesn’t have a ministry for their age group and will eventually leave a church if they age out. Affinity is not bad it just has a way of robbing us of true community if we’re not intentional. It’s comforting to have “likeness” but we may find that something is missing without some diverseness and depth. Moreover, if we refuse to take a risk and invest relationally in someone else because they aren’t the same age or life-stage as us we could seriously miss out on some beautiful relationships. Even amongst those who are the same age and life-stage as us we often discover that there can be a disconnect because we haven’t discovered the deeper more significant and lasting affinities we have with people. And there is no deeper more significant affinity than having Christ in common. How else could I be friends with a raging Ohio State Buckeyes fan like Tom Gould?
When I first came on staff at Church at Charlotte I tried to help breath some life back into the 20s-30s group. It worked for a little while before things fizzled out again but when I think of that group I think of the couple who were well past their 20s and 30s by about twenty to thirty years that invested in that community. Even after the group fizzled out Tom and Jeanne continued to invest in many of the disbanded members. Tom led a Bible study with many of the guys, and together they went out to eat with and hosted many of the women in their home. Therefore there was a whole pew of people with whom the words of Jeanne’s children at her memorial service resonated with because they experienced the same kind of relational investment.
If you’re someone who is struggling to find community in a local church it might be time to go beyond basic affinity of same age and life-stage. If you’re someone who is well connected in a local church within a homogenous group it might be time for you to start going beyond affinity so that others can find community. Go beyond affinity and go deeper to find meaningful and lasting relationships
August is upon us which means another crop of incoming college freshman are about to descend upon their college campuses all over the country the next few weeks. The summer after graduating from high school before my freshman year of college may have been the best summer of my life (the summer after graduating from college right before starting my career and the summer I got married rank up there too). As the summer weeks wound down closer to the time I would be leaving for college I tried to recall all the things that people told me to expect when I went to college. For the most part I could remember all the encouragement, warnings and things I could expect for how college was going to be different than anything else I had experienced.
I appreciate that people tried to prepare me, but honestly nothing they said made that much of a difference because the information in advance paled in comparison to the actual experience. Simply put the information gave me an awareness of what to expect, but in a lot of ways it didn’t prepare me because it was just so different from High School. I remember thinking I won’t bother telling incoming college freshmen all the things I was told cause it just didn’t prepare me. Well now that I’m a youth pastor I feel a little obligated to give some advice or heads up. So here are a few things for you all to keep in mind before you go off to college.
“You’ll Have Way More Time On Your Hands”—This is the one thing that no one told me that I wish they had. If there is one thing that I failed at in my first few years of college it was time management. The best way I can describe college is that you have way more time than you know what to do with. This is especially important to note if you are a procrastinator because you’ll have more time to do just that. Interestingly enough a student I had coffee with this summer had the opposite problem, “I got so used to being in school seven hours a day, and doing homework until at least ten o’clock at night that the first few months of college I never left my room because I thought I should be putting as much time in as I did in High School even though the professors didn’t assign much in the way of homework.” First things first, is the key principle to practice regardless of which camp you fall into. When I finally figured that out, with the exception of the occasional project, I never did homework and studying past eight o’clock and had plenty of time to hang out with people without having it in the back of my mind that I still had work I needed to finish.
“Free T-shirts Are the Doorway to Debt”—most schools that I know of have an orientation at the beginning of the year where you can find out about all the different student organizations on campus. Inevitably there will be one booth set up with the offer of free t-shirts. Well free if you fill out a no obligation application first. More than likely this is a credit card company getting a bunch of broke unemployed college students to sign up for a credit card by baiting them with a free t. Personally I think it’s kind of unethical for credit card companies to prey on college students who don’t have a real job will have an enormous debt awaiting them upon graduation to get into even more debt before they have the means to handle. But they can do it because you all are technically adults so just no what you’re getting into before you sign up to get the free t.
“Find Christ-Centered Community Immediately”—Over the years most of the students I know who maintain a vibrant growing faith in Christ through college are the ones who don’t waste time getting plugged into a on-campus Christian ministry. I know of very few colleges and universities that don’t have either a Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity. Both ministries have a great reputation nationally. One recommendation I would give though is to go a step further and find a local church to get plugged into. Look for a local church where you can form healthy adult relationships and serve. You’re going to be with people your age and life stage all the time. The local church is a great place to branch out and go beyond homogeny. In all likelihood there’s bound to be a church near your campus that does a great job of recruiting families to ‘adopt’ a college student. During my college years the churches that I felt most connected to and a part of were not the ones that had a college ministry but the ones that I served and formed relationships with other adults.
“Drunkenness is a Moral Issue. Underage Drinking Is A Legal Issue”—So just don’t do it. Even if you have the discipline not to abuse alcohol and become drunk you are taking a risk with the law when you choose to drink as a minor. If you get caught your parents aren’t going to be around to smooth things over with the authorities, and you can actually be kicked out of school if it becomes a problem. [Sidenote–It goes without saying that I’m not condoning it, but girls if you choose to drink at a party I strongly advise you get your own drinks and literally eye ball your drink into the cup to assure that it hasn’t been tampered with]
Don’t Rush To Rush—The only Christians I have known that entered the Greek system and didn’t compromise their morals and lose their identity to the identity of the fraternity or sorority are those who approached it with the mindset of doing ministry; to be salt and light. I don’t want to come across as completely bashing the Greek system because they still do good things, but let’s just call it what it has largely become; a place where you can get easy acceptance and identity as long as you can pay the dues, and become a part of a community that for the most part is about partying, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity with the occasional service project thrown in. Sure they’ll have made connections that often prove to be advantageous when they enter the workforce, but at what cost? Not to mention that similar connections can be gained by getting to know at least one professor or administrator and a handful of fellow students in the department you’re majoring in. What was once a culture of developing and nurturing future leaders has become a culture of recklessness. I believe the culture of the Greek system can and should be redeemed but it will require people who enter it with a missional mindset (And if that is your aim I know some people I can refer you to for mentoring on how to do it and what to expect). So if you’re going to rush, rush for the right reasons.
In Closing—As a youth pastor I want to give students the opportunity to take ownership of their faith. In a lot of ways the college years is the proving ground of whether or not they’ve done that. I can’t take too much credit for how they turn out because there are so many variables. That being said, no matter what ups and downs they encounter at college and university over and above all that stuff above I hope my students know where they can find me.
Most people agree that there has never been a generation quite like this current one of teenagers and young adults. More than ever this generation is more in touch with individualism, which is just a nice way of saying they are extremely self-centered. Sociologists have deemed this group of young people the Me-Generation describing them as confident, assertive, entitled and narcissistic.
Over the last one hundred years there has been subtle shifts in the widely held philosophy of parents to raising their children. Simply put each generation has had a different approach to raising their children based on what they wanted for their children thus determining how they reared them. These descriptions are sweeping generalizations that I believe are indicative of the shifts in our society and culture.
WWI, WWII, and Depression Era (1900-1940s)
This generation didn’t have much growing up. Survival of the family unit depended on everyone playing their part. Discipline was very authoritative and you didn’t question it. It is also important to note that the adolescent stage of human development had just begun to be recognized by sociologists and was considered to last approximately 18 months from the age of 14 and a half to sixteen. With the industrial age in high gear this generation ended up being able to do more than just survive they began to succeed.
Civil Rights And Free Love Era (1950s to 1970s)
The previous generation was expected to listen to and respect those in authority without questioning it and play their role in order to survive. They survived World Wars a depression and had come out on the other side successful. The American Dream took flight as more and more people were becoming the first person in their family to attend and graduate from college. Instead of parenting with unquestioned authority they wanted their children to learn to make good choices that would lead to them being successful by emphasizing the consequences good and bad that came with choices made. They were able to provide for their kids more than just the necessities of life that their parents often struggled to provide. Now they wanted to give their kids the things they never had.
Excess Era (1980s to 1990s)
This generation of parents had gotten things and opportunities that their parents never had. They also had questioned the prevailing standards of the day in the Civil Rights Movement, and the prevailing wisdom and morality with the Free Love Movement. They felt limited and constrained by society that had all kinds of expectations on them. This is the first generation that started to do and try things in that were once not thought wise or prudent in the name of self-discovery. Nothing was held back. They raised their kids in a similar fashion where few things were held back and the self was emphasized. They wanted their kids to have everything they didn’t have or had to fight to get.
Post-Modern Era (2000s to Present)
This generation of parents had gotten everything and they still weren’t happy. They had more opportunities and more things than their parents or grandparents, and they still weren’t fulfilled and satisfied. Authority had gone from being absolute, to being questioned, to being relative. They just wanted their kids to be happy. Right and wrong are no longer about what was best for the survival of the community and family unit. Right and wrong were no longer about what the consequences of the choices that were made. Right and wrong were now about what made you as an individual happy, and didn’t offend or harm others in the process. Self discovery has never been an issue with this generation as they have an innate sense of self that enables them to be a little more direct about what they do and do not like, and will or will not do.
Long story short in a hundred years we have gone from a parenting style that was dominated by absolute unquestioned authority, where survival was of the utmost, to a parenting style that can be characterized by parents trying to make sure their kid(s) happy. A better life a hundred years ago was largely about being hard working, dependable, and responsible. The better life narrative today is about living life to the fullest moment by moment, which is characterized by the slogan YOLO, you only live once. A hundred years ago, even thirty years ago young adults knew they would have to work hard to get ahead and be successful. Even the way products were marketed played heavily on the “you deserve this because you’ve worked hard and become successful” line of thought. Today marketers just tell us you deserve whatever it is without telling you why. And yet the pressure on kids to perform and excel at everything is higher than ever, because elements of hard work, achievement, and success have still been passed along from generation to generation. Or could it be that the happiness of the parents is now wrapped up in the achievements and exploits of their children. Therefore not only do parents want their kids to be happy but also their own happiness is contingent on the happiness and achievements of their children.
When I talked about this in the past it has been with my team of small group leaders in order to think through how we relate to students as adult mentors in Christian living, and yet assert our authority at the same time so they don’t walk all over us. Some kids respect our authority better than others. Some of us had an easier time asserting our authority than others when kids acted out of line. My guess has been that how we were raised and how they are being raised has a lot to do with it.
More recently I have used it as a way of explaining to parents why I suspect that kids seem to be more entitled than ever. There is a number of books on the subject and many of them talk about the transitions and shifts over the last one hundred years in how kids are being reared, and what has been the active objective of parents; survival, have more, have everything, or happiness. Of course we can’t overlook the role of marketing and advertising and how they sell products. Today more often than not we are told that we deserve these things even though they never tell us why or what we did to deserve it. Maybe that is because the American Dream is less about success and achievement today and more about the pursuit of happiness. Just a hunch.
In the last 24 hours I’ve had two people, one in person and the other via facebook, ask me to explain my perspective on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. As one of them put it, “You are using a rational approach to expressing the same thing I have seen expressed much less rationally but still do not understand.” I imagine there are others of you who are struggling to understand why people—in particular, black-Americans—are at the least disheartened and at the most enraged that George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder as well as the lesser charge of manslaughter.
First let me clarify that I totally understand why George Zimmerman was acquitted. In a case with no other witnesses aside from Zimmerman it is extremely difficult to provide substantial evidence that he was lying, omitting facts or details, or otherwise twisting the truth. The justice system worked the way it is supposed to. Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty and the prosecution had very little to work with. I am not God nor do I presume to be. The problem I have is: in a way, someone or something else was acquitted right along with Zimmerman. In the minds of myself and many others racial profiling aimed at black men was excused as well.
It was bad enough that black men have had to be concerned about being profiled and pulled over by police or profiled by security in malls and stores. Now the outcome of this trial has now a green light for civilians to profile pursue and detain black men they deem suspicious. We know better than to get mouthy or defend ourselves against police officers and security personnel, even though we’ve done nothing wrong. The outcome of this trial means that in at least 25 states with Stand Your Ground Laws, we can no longer defend ourselves against civilians who would find us—as we say—“under the suspicion of being black” and attempt to question or even detain us. That is where we feel the justice system failed us. That is where we feel the sting of inequality.
There are some making genuine attempts to look at this case objectively who would balk at my assessment because it is rooted in my and others personal experiences of being profiled. Many would suspect us of playing the race card and allowing our paranoia of racism and prejudice to shape our interpretation of these events and experiences. Many don’t understand why we assume that the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was racially motivated occurrence. However, it’s not just black people who are greatly concerned about what the verdict of this trial means for racial profiling. There is a growing generation of white-Americans who have skin in the game.
Here is a snippet of what a friend, who is white, posted as they tried to sort through their emotions, “Right now I’m teaching all four of my children to fight back, scream for help, bite, kick or whatever they need to do to resist an attacker. But one day, when they’re older, I need to tell two of them to do the opposite, and not defend themselves because it’s too dangerous. Two of my sons are black so I’ve been reading and listening for years to black parents—who’ve lived through profiling by police, store clerks and their neighbors—that I need to teach my twins as they mature NOT to resist or fight even if they’ve done nothing wrong because it’s too dangerous. They must completely submit lest someone decide to issue their own form of justice and end their lives because they look ‘suspicious’.”
Let me reiterate I am not God nor do I presume to be. I don’t know anymore than anyone else whether or not George Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night is completely true or a lie. Nor do I presume to know what the intentions of his heart were that day. In a lot of ways, this isn’t even about Zimmerman and Trayvon anymore. Our society has packaged sold and promoted an image of black men that is overwhelmingly negative and brews fear, mistrust and suspicion. I am sure of this because I have even found myself to be suspicious of black men for no other reason than they were black all in the name of being safe. It’s an awful feeling to realize that you would be suspicious of yourself if you saw you in a different part of town and dressed differently. Popular media such as music, movies, TV shows and especially the ten o’clock news anywhere near an urban area reinforces the message that black men are a menace to society. I had a sinking feeling about the verdict not because I was convinced that Zimmerman was guilty, but because I felt as though the justice system acquitted a culture that says I’m a menace and suspicious. I feel as though the justice system justified the people who stare and keep an eye on me when I’m out with my wife or out in public with students in my youth ministry (just about all of whom are white). And that is why many of us who are fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters, neighbors and co-workers of black men are concerned about what this verdict means. It justified the caricature of black men in pop culture that is one of the root causes of the suspicion people have about them.