Wrestling with White Privilege

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Image used from Scene on Radio, Episode 37’s page.  Composite image: Chenjerai Kumanyika, left; photo by Danusia Trevino. And John Biewen, photo by Ewa Pohl.

Chenjerai Kumanyika is an ongoing partner on the podcast “Seeing White,” a series by “Scene On Radio.” In Episode 37 (part 7 of the “Seeing White” series) Kumanyika, a black man poses a question to the host John Biewen, a white man. He asks John if he feels any responsibility for what other white people do? This question has sat in my soul like a splinter deep in the bottom of my foot.

Kumanyika goes on to explain that as a black man there is a black identity that exists, a connection felt between black people. When he received his Ph.D., he said that he thought it was a victory for all black people, not just himself. When he sees a criminal that is black, he feels that he is part of that failure. He is trying to remove himself from thinking like that, but it is hard. For white people, here in America, we do not have that same connection to the events, situations, and actions of other white people.

The splinter in my foot, the question gripping my soul, is should we? Should my whiteness be attached to the actions of other white people in our society? How would our culture, society, and community change if I, and all white people, personally felt attached to what other white people do?

The truth is I never have and I am sure most of the white people reading this never have either. What I have started to understand this is one aspect of white privilege. I don’t have to look at the actions of Dylann Ruth, who murdered nine people at church and feel any attachment to his actions at all. I feel horrible that he did it but I wasn’t connected on a racial level with him.

The same is true with the actions of the people in Charlottesville, VA this last week. I never really felt connected to other white people who carried Nazi and Confederate Flags while chanting hateful, horrible things about other races. I don’t feel connected to James Alex Fields who drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

I am starting to feel connected. No, I do not agree with their ideology, their twisting of scripture, and the despicable ways they view the world and those who live in it. The connection I am feeling is that I have to limit my own privilege to remove myself from them. I can’t ignore them or their actions by simply saying, “Well, they have a horrible worldview and they are not me.” They are white Americans. I am a white American.

I have to start to acknowledge that as a white American, I have a historical advantage over people of color. Our country has in its foundation, given an advantage to people who are deemed as white. I have been born into and part of this privilege, like it or not, claimed or not.

What claiming this connection can do is to help start naming where it goes wrong or acknowledging the systems that existed and still exist today which continue to hold up this ideal.

Naming these systems, acknowledging our privilege, pulls the sins of the past, present and future, into the light. It gives a voice to what I’ve ignored, out of ignorance and privilege, for a long time. As we name these realities and shed light on the pain they caused, we can work towards reconciliation and equality on deeper levels in our society.

I don’t have answers. I’m simply naming the reality of my soul as I feel the weight of the privilege I never understood I had…until now.

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AiR_E011 – Missions with Brad Hopper

air-logo-bannerCLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FIRST EPISODE OF SEASON 2.

dsc_02621 In this first episode of Season Two of Adventures in Revland, I sit down with a good friend, Brad Hopper.  Brad is the Missions and Family Ministries pastor at Matthews UMC in Matthews, NC.  I talk with Brad about his work in the mission field and what draws him to help those who are outside the borders of his community.

He shares about his time on Mercy Ships and other journies overseas.  We talk a little bit about football…aka soccer.  Brad, also pushes the standard of what it means to be in missions with someone.  Do we, as churches, do missions for our own sake or to truly help those they are serving.  Thank you for listening and please leave a rating a review on Apple Podcast.

Here are some of the links Brad talked about
Youth with a Mission
Mercy Ships
Global Impact Mission at Matthews UMC

Podcast – Season 2

IMG_1511On August 7th I will be releasing the first episode of season 2 of my podcast, Adventures in Revland.  In this season I will have some great conversations with people doing amazing things in ministry.  What does a person with a heart for missions,  a divorced clergy, a surfer helping young adults hear their call, a cartoonist and a District Superintendent have in common?  They are all guests for the first half of this second season.

Episode one – Missions with Brad Hopper – will be released on August 7th.  Then every first and third Monday of the month a new episode will come out.

Please, to help spread the news about this podcast, if you liked it or don’t, leave a review on Apple Podcast.

Also, listen to Season One by clicking here or by following the links below.  Thank you for listening and peace be with you!

S1E01 – Casualties – Ben Williams
S1E02 – Authenticity – Rob Hill
S1E03 – New Ground – Amy Butler
S1E04 – Politics – James Howell
S1E05 – Children – Vanessa Myers
S1E06 – Multi-Racial – David Swanson
S1E07 – Refugee – Innocent Justice
S1E08 – Camp – John Isely
S1E09 -Theology – Wes Smith
S1E10 – Overseas – Kara Cooper

Discovering and Celebrating Your Own Voice

I am turning 40 years old this month and it will also be my 15th wedding anniversary.  It is a big month.  15 years ago, on my 25th birthday, I also graduated seminary.   I’ll be 40 now, a new decade and a new box to check on forms.  I’m no longer a young clergy.  I’m, I guess what you call, middle-aged clergy?  Since I am on the downhill sprint of my second decade of ministry, I have been reflecting on my journey so far.  That is what people in middle age do, right?  We reflect on where we have come from and where we are.  It is a natural piece of adulthood.

Now you have to understand, I was dragged into this whole preaching thing.  I would much rather help with worship anywhere else than behind the pulpit on Sunday.  Speaking in front of people was and still is a fear of mine.  It is a heart pounding, sweat inducing fear.  It happens every Sunday.  I have learned though that the fear is rooted in embarrassment and lack of confidence.  I grew to know that preaching, this task, and art form, was something I could do, but it wasn’t my choice.

These past 15 years have taught me that life in ministry is all about looking past people’s expectations.  When I meet people and they find out what I do, they assume I am like the pastor they know.  I am just like their brother who is the pastor of a Free Will Baptist Church out in the country.  I’m just like that Catholic Priest who made life hell for them in Catholic School.  I must be outgoing and wanting to be the life of the party just like the previous minister of the church.  When I meet people they heap onto my shoulders the expectations of their experience with clergy.

I am a manuscript preacher and I need my notes every Sunday.  Yet, some say I should step away from the pulpit because that is what the TV preachers do.  I’m an introvert and so after two hours of fellowship at a wedding reception, I’m done.  Yet, some wonder why I would rather sit back and not work the crowd like the previous pastor.  There is a lot I don’t do like other people because this is the number one lesson I have learned over these 15 years of ministry, I can only be me.

I too had an expectation of what a great preacher looked like and it looked like those famous preachers.  Those outgoing, extroverted, extremely scholarly, and quick thinking preachers who were everything I wasn’t.  I learned that I was placing unrealistic expectations upon myself.  What I have come to realize is that I can only be me.  God’s breath resides in my soul.  Preaching isn’t my choice it is my calling.  God chose me to be a mouthpiece to the people of the world.  God called me…me.  ME!

Don’t miss interpret.  I push myself.  I attempt to grow in my preaching, leadership, and spirituality.  I am constantly looking into different ways to do things or pushing my comfort zone.  However, I have also learned that I have to do it my way.  The more I learn about how God created me, the better I have gotten on being me.

I understand my strengths and weaknesses better now then I did 15 years ago.  I know when to ask for help, when to say “I’ll take care of it,” and more importantly when to say, “No.”  I am more comfortable in who I am and who God has created me to be than I ever have before.

My wisdom to pass down to those who are 25 and are just starting a career of any kind is to get to know who you are.  Learn who and how God created you.  Don’t be afraid to be who you are but also don’t let that be an excuse to keep you where you are.  When you are honest and authentically yourself you let the light of Christ shine through you because that is the divine spark illuminating the life God has called you to.

Go and be you, the God created and inspired you.

 

This post is my article as a guest contributor on James Burrough’s website, jlburroughsiii.com.    

I Am

I am currently involved in the Institue of Preaching, which is given through Duke Divinity School.  If you are in the Western North Carolina or Flordia Conference of the United Methodist Church, I highly recommend this program.  It is eye opening and has raised my quality of preaching.

During our last session, we were asked to think about where we have come from.  We looked at a poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.  We took almost an hour to look deeply at our past and contemplate where we have come from.  We were then asked to write our own, “Where I’m From” poems.  Our pasts construct our current selves and I find great power, confidence, and the fingerprints of God’s grace when I look back at how far I have come.

I am the sweat-soaked middle-schooler
the garbler of Shakespeare
creator of giggles with my stumbles

I am fear, deep fear
a concrete tongue weighing heavy
in a shriveled mouthpiece

I am the shouter, “Bad spellers untie!”
my hand is stacked heavy and high
the call is buried, in the darkness, deep
but the coals are still red.

I am the product of Paul
Peter formed and Bruce forged
a story penned in pulpits
handprints left in Glencoe, Laboratory, and the Rougemont Charge

I am prayed over in the crypt
thriver of musty sanctuaries and dam exercises
the receiver of gracious, wrinkled smiles

I am a child, bowing before the Father
giving in, succumbing, tired of the fight
willing, finally, to go because of the one who sends.

I am a sweat, soaked preacher
bestower of laser beans of grace at the perfect 45 degrees
striving, always striving, towards transparency

I am a preacher
I am a preacher
an alien phrase to a 9th-grade mind

I am here, behind the pulpit
not for me but because I am called.

Limiting Reactive Preaching

Should preachers preach sermons that speak to the reality of what is happening in the world?  YES!  Absolutely.  We should and need to preach about things that happen in the world and to give a Christian view of them.  We need to speak to the reality of evil after 9/11 or Sandy Hook.  We need to share where God is during and after natural disasters.  We need to preach the Biblical reality of what it means to love your neighbor and take care of the least of these.

I have been wondering recently, should or shouldn’t we use reactionary preaching in small doses?  Karl Barth is famous for saying, “We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”  (for younger readers a newspaper were the blogs of the 10th & 20th century)  However, which should influence which?

I am not suggesting that when we rewrite our sermons on Saturday night because of the events of that day we are neglecting the Bible and God’s teachings. We need to do that but the more I think about it the more we need to do it occasionally.

2017, so far, has seemed jam packed with emotions, frustrations, and panic on the political front. It seems every morning I wake up and watch the news to find something that boils divine anger within me.  I am now curious what the new normal is.  What situations or events demand Saturday night rewrites and which don’t?

My fear is that focusing on reactive preaching can turn preachers into hypocrites.  What we are telling people in our pews is that the current President’s policies demand sermon rewrites whereas the last one didn’t.  For example, how many preachers on Oct. 18, 2015, preached a sermon that discussed the fact that 90% of President Obama’s drone attacks killed innocent people (reported by the Washington Post).  Why was this not sermon rewriting worthy and the Presidential refugee ban was?  Aren’t both examples of questionable abuses of Presidental power?  You don’t have to stretch your brain too far to start to see the preacher’s political leanings.  And once that view is uncovered, can someone still reach a congregation full of people with differing views?

If we preach the message of God’s salvation found in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, we will go against the culture.  The gospel message is counter-cultural and dangerous.  It will speak against the evils of this world naturally.

Therefore, I am hesitant, rewriting sermons to speak to the current events of that week.  There has to be a good mix or else the prophetic voice will only yell to deaf ears and whispers of “here we go again.”

I find the pastoral prayer can handle a lot and is a great place to speak to God and the congregation about current events.  How often do you do rewrites to include current events?  Do you speak to them in different ways, outside the sermon?

Refugees: They are a Biblical Issue

I am disappointed again in a “famous Christian.” The media runs to certain ones all the time for quotes about the Christian perspective on issues. Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, is one of those people. He once again has opened his mouth and inserted a shoebox.

Franklin Graham had an interview with the Huffington Post in which they asked him about “the White House’s plans to prevent refugees fleeing war-torn Syria from entering the United States.” Graham replied that it is simply “not a Bible issue.”

I have disagreed with many things Franklin Graham has said over the years but I think he must be reading a different Bible. There really isn’t an exact word for refugee found in the Bible so this may be what he is thinking of. However, the words in Hebrew and Greek that refer to people like refugees are called immigrants or sojourners or foreigners in the Bible. They are foreigners coming to a new land.   The Bible doesn’t get specific about on the reason for their travels or why they are searching to live elsewhere.

With that said, there are a TON of scriptures that talk about foreigners, immigrants or sojourners. Over and over again, in the law, God reminds Israel that they were once immigrants/foreigners in Egypt and so that need to treat the immigrants or foreigners in their land well. The Hebrew word used to describe what we call immigrant or foreigner today is “ger” and it is used 92 times in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

For more see the following Scriptures found in the Hebrew Bible: Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12; 1 Kings 8:41-44; Job 31:32; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5.

What about the New Testament? Does Jesus or Paul say anything about how we should treat the strangers among us? Yes. Franklin Graham is very aware of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan because that is where he took the name for his ministry, “Samaritan’s Purse.” Here is their purpose, as stated on their website, “Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid with excellence to victims of war, natural disasters, disease, famine, poverty and persecution in over 100 countries.”

Samaritan’s Purse is living out the parable it is based on, by helping those around the world who are in desperate need. That is wonderful…but why is it unbiblical for these people in need to be helped by letting them come to our own nation?

This seems to smack against Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. In that parable, Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (v.35, CEB) The word “stranger” is the Greek word “xenos” which can be translated as “a foreigner, a stranger, alien, one who receives and entertains another hospitably.” It is used 14 times in the New Testament.

There are more New Testament scriptures that talk about the stranger or immigrant or foreigner: Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Galatians 5:14 and of course the Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:29-37.

Even if we take out all the other references to the stranger or immigrant or foreigner we still have the mandate of Jesus’ Commandments. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39 CEB)

If our neighbor’s house burned down how many of us, good Christians, would welcome them into our homes as they get back on their feet. How many of us reach out to our neighbors when there is a death in the family, divorce, or sickness? How many of us attempt to do all we can to live into the second part of Jesus’ command?

Then you may ask, “who is our neighbor?” To find that answer you will have to read the parable of the Good Samaritan…Luke 10:29-27. I’ll give you a slight spoiler…it isn’t the religious leaders or the ones set apart by birth to do great things for God…right Franklin? There seems to be ample biblical examples, so I do believe this is a biblical issue.

The truth is it is our Christian imperative and Biblical mandate to be open and welcome in those who are in need no matter if they are from here or come here. This is the way we show the love of God.