How Silence Destroys Cross-Cultural Trust

I will never forget it. My junior year of college was one of the most racially charged time periods in my life, much like what we are experiencing today across the United States.

Five events took place in one month at the University of Texas at Austin:

  • The Martin Luther King Statue was egged on MLK Day.
  • UT Police Department confirmed the surveillance camera for the statue wasn’t recording but was put in place to appease Black students.
  • A majority-white fraternity held a “ghetto” themed party. People dressed up in black face, wore several gold necklaces and shirts with hand-written notes saying “I love watermelon”.
  • Racist flyers were passed around campus by a non-UT affiliated group which read, “White women: Do not have sex with Black men. They all have AIDS.”
  • A Black student, who was my classmate and fraternity brother, was almost arrested for playing the piano on a public floor in a student union building. The police said he looked “furtive,” and after confirming he was a UT student, proceeded to check his driver’s license for any warrants.

All in one month. End of January to the end of February, 2003.

It was a tremendously rough time for us. Black students gathered at an InterVarsity Black Campus Ministry for bible study, and then it happened: the moment that forever changed my view of every culture, the kingdom of God, and what racial reconciliation can look like. Our campus minister, Corey Tabor, said, “I have a surprise for you,” and the over 150 students poured into our room.

Black students were surrounded by White, Asian, South Asian, and Latino students. They all had flowers in hand and several had tears in their eyes. Sabrina Chan, Corey Tabor, Fara Choi, and Eric Vogt, who were part of that diverse team of campus ministers, stood in aisles. David Hanke, the white former Austin Area Director who now pastors in Arlington, VA, came to the front of the room. I saw someone who was a prolific speaker stand in front of us with trembling hands and voice and an endless stream of tears.

David looked at us and said, “We are here tonight because we are your family. I want you to know I am so sorry this has happened to you. I want you to know we love you and you are welcomed here. We simply want to pray for you and give everyone a flower.”

We were all in tears. It spoke to wounds we have buried and forgotten we had. Wounds we live with everyday.

That was it. David, Sabrina, Corey, Eric, Heather, Lanee, Rebecca, Nathan, Fara and all the other staff there gave us a picture of racial reconciliation and one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

I wish we had more responses like that today. Sadly, we do not.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Silence-Quotes

Today, there is a tremendous cross-cultural misunderstanding that takes place whenever incidents occur as in the cases of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Eric Garner…

Today, these incidents occur and there is tremendous silence in and outside of the church, and especially within too many multi-ethnic contexts, and people are starting to notice. I have White, Asian, Latino, South Asian friends who are starting to look at their own people and get angry at their silence.

I have Black friends who have wept saying, “So many people not Black challenge me about being diverse and engaging in multi-ethnic ministry, but when these events occur, they say nothing. How can they be opinionated about everything but this? I keep waiting for them to say something. I say something. They say nothing.”

I know some may find it difficult to speak to their friends on the topic. You may struggle to find the words to say. That makes sense, but that is not what is communicated.

Friends, let me share with you three things your silence communicates:

  1. You are unaware.
    1. The danger: It says you have not attempted to be incarnational, to walk in the shoes of a people group you want to do life with. Their culture and experience doesn’t matter. You just want them in the room.
  2. You don’t think your voice is needed.
    1. The danger: It says you are apathetic and would much rather wash your hands of the situation than be a bridge-builder and agent of healing.
  3. You don’t care.
    1. The danger: It says, “You, your people, don’t matter to me.”

I am quick to speak up about a South Asian Miss America or a Hispanic kid that sings the national anthem when they are ridiculed simply because of their ethnicity. I speak up because I care. I speak up because I have been there. I speak up because I know what silence communicates.

When we are silent:

  • It breaks trust cross-culturally.
  • It builds a tolerance for injustice.
  • It communicates to your friends, “If this happens to me, no one will say anything.”

So, I implore you…please…

Say something.

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Black and White Truth

CNN has posted an article stating the events in Ferguson have re-energized a conversation black parents have with their children about race relations and police interaction.

Here’s the link for the article: http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/15/living/parenting-black-sons-ferguson-missouri/index.html

It begs the question, “When does something become true?” When a black person says it, or when I white person says it or sees it?

This goes beyond racial tension. This is common American philosophy. Take Miley Cyrus for example. She twerked at the music awards. Suddenly, a new dance was revealed and a new word was added to the dictionary. Not that I affirm any of this, but black girls have been dancing like that since I was in middle school. The Yin Yang Twins made a rap about it over a decade ago, and nothing changed. Miley did one dance, and it is now truth.

Black families have never stopped talking to their children about race relations. We have never stopped warning our kids about the police. We never stopped saying we are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, killed, overlooked, underrepresented, misunderstood, and ignored.

The only difference this time is….people of all cultures finally listened.

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The Tipping Point

Back in January 2001, an episode of Stargate SG-1 aired entitled “2010.” (I am a sci-fi fan and will attempt to dial down the “nerdiness” to communicate my point.) The episode featured the earth team meeting an alien race with advanced weapons, technology, and medicine they were willing to freely share and simply wanted to live among us. All of earth’s intergalactic enemies were defeated and life was peaceful. The new alien friends even offered medicine to extend our lifespan. It was 9 years later the people of earth started to realize something was wrong. People were living longer, but no one was having children. They discovered the medicine to help them live longer was also simultaneously making them sterile, and slowly killing the population. Their peaceful allies were wiping them out with a smile. One or two people had said over the years something was wrong, but their voices went unheard. The tipping point in the episode was the overwhelming reality that the “help” they were receiving was the cause of their undoing.

Today, we are once again dealing with race relations in the United States. African-Americans are outraged and hurt. News stories, politicians, police officers, and community leaders will tell us again “things are getting better” despite the killing of another unarmed pedestrian black teenager. The defense of these actions will be that Black-on-Black crime is high and never addressed—which is partially true but a deflection and excuse to not deal with the present situation. We have the same conversation when the same events happen every few months. What will be our tipping point? What will it take for us to wake up as a people and as a nation and realize just because you change the laws doesn’t mean you automatically change the people.

Perhaps it is time to accept the fact that integration failed. Our parents and grandparents marched for laws to change giving equality to all. Laws were changed. National integration was both made legal and encouraged. Yet, here we are in 2014, with a:

Lack in Education.

- Our HBCU’s are chronically underfunded. Many of them are across the street from major universities with overflowing budgets and multi-million dollar scrolling marquees purchased by alum who were admitted during a time when African-Americans weren’t, and made significant wealth through businesses endeavors African-Americans weren’t allowed to have.

- Our inner city schools are underfunded and underperforming. This crosses culture, but schools in predominately black neighborhoods do not have the resources to educate Black students at the level where they will be able to compete on state and national levels.

Lacking in Economics.

- Our Black businesses practically non-existent. Race riots of the early, mid, and late 20th century around the nation destroyed them and because of the lack of economic capital in the Black community, those businesses closed and were unable to rebuild. The few that exist, because of cross-cultural ignorance and fear, are not frequented by anyone. We aren’t trusted to do business with excellence, and even more, we don’t support our people. The NAACP reported, “Currently, a dollar circulates in Asian communities for a month, in Jewish communities approximately 20 days and white communities 17 days. How long does a dollar circulate in the black community? 6 hours.” In the non-profit world, Black businesses are grossly underfunded, and in majority white non-profits, most Black staff struggle with being underfunded their entire careers. The expectation to perform at the same—if not higher as you advocate for yourself and your people—levels while getting paid less is a problem we have been addressing since…the end of slavery.

Lacking in Equality under the Law.

- Our children are still policed by everyone with minimal legal response. Trayvon couldn’t walk down the sidewalk in the rain. Michael couldn’t walk down the street. Jordan couldn’t listen to music at a gas station. Eric’s size made the police believe he had to be subdued like a professional wrestler and not a civilian with Miranda rights. If we are stationary or moving, driving or walking, college-bound or headed home, we are not safe. Not always, but what has been the case lately, none of these Black teenagers broke the law. Yet, the media searches under every rock to find previous misbehavior and arrives at the conclusion, “If they weren’t guilty now, they were then and therefore it’s ok.” If you are rich, you can run over and kill four people, be arrested alive, and sent to counseling. You can shoot there president and be arrested alive, and found mentally incompetent. Our elders have said it before, but it bears repeating, “A Black life is not seen as valuable in the United States.” I would add “unless we have a ball or a microphone in our hands.”

Lacking in Diversity in majority white organizations.

- Google, Apple, and Twitter have all given recent reports their organizations are mostly White male and Asian. (We need a whole website to address and affirm the ladies.) Integration in businesses and our churches, looks like two—yes, two—Black people in the building. Sometimes, they are married…to each other. They are in every picture, staff meeting, and publication as “pictures of diversity.” The overwhelming majority of the time, we are not developed academically or professionally, and we are not hired. What will be the tipping point? The wake-up call that enough is enough? We need take seriously the issues within our own community like Black-on-Black crime, and the issues outside of community like seasonal murder of unarmed African-Americans?

Finally, I ask, what will be the tipping point for our non-Black brothers and sisters?
How many African-Americans have to be killed in news stories before we face the reality that the system is broken. We are quick to go to Iraq, Syria, and Russia (and rightly so) to fight injustice there, but still are dealing with Dr. King’s reality in Letters from a Birmingham Jail, where we are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice…prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension [over] a positive piece which is the presence of justice.”

How many times will watch us be killed in streets, sidewalks, gas stations, and on the news? When will the encouragement to us that “things are getting better” stop and the advocacy of “treat them as you treat us” begin? When will I not be afraid for my friends, family, classmates? When will I stop being afraid for my mother? When will I stop fearing every time a police officer pulls behind me at a red light or on the highway? We need your voice, your advocacy, your support today. It is needed now, while the rest of us are still breathing.

I don’t believe Black people are supposed to run away from other cultures. Nor do I believe any other culture is the problem. Each culture adds unique value to all, and in order for European, Asian, African, African-American, Latino, and all cultures to be there best, we need every voice at the table. Every voice treated equally, respectfully, and justly.

That episode of Stargate SG-1…It ends with the remaining people on earth being wiped out. The main characters on the show used the classic sci-fi plot device: time-travel to undo the episode.

That’s not a luxury we have.

Unlike the show, this is reality. The past cannot be changed, but we must learn from it or it will continue to be repeated? What say you? Is this the tipping point, or do we need to discuss this again in a couple of months?

My fear is that one day there will be a remnant of other cultures that had positive experiences with other Black people and they will reminiscence about their Black friends that are no longer around. “What happened?” They will ask.

Only we won’t be around to answer.

 

SMW

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I’m Tired of Unarmed Black People Being Killed

Normally, I would have a post written, but, after reading LZ Granderson’s CNN post (found here), I think I will let this man speak for me and my community. He says it best:

“I am tired.

Tired of our streets being peppered with dead, unarmed black people. Tired of listening to armed assailants describe how they feared for their lives. Tired of being told “this has nothing to do with race.”

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

I am tired of having to march to have murderers arrested. Tired of worrying about my 17-year-old being gunned down by some random white guy who thinks his music is too loud. Tired of knowing the same could happen to me.

I am tired of seeing a hashtag in front of a victim’s name on Twitter. Tired of seeing Al Sharpton speak on behalf of a family. Tired of waiting for verdicts and hoping for justice –as if hearing “guilty” can ease the anxiety of knowing a police officer shot and killed a 22-year-old black man while he was lying face down and with his hands behind his back.

I’m tired of the cynics who are quick to extend the benefit of the doubt to a gunman but hesitant to do the same for an unarmed teenage girl who had been shot in the face. I am tired of seeing images of police officers with snarling dogs threatening a crowd of black protesters and not knowing if it’s from the 1960s or last week.

In the case of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s the latter. Witnesses said he was shot multiple times from 35 feet away after his hands were raised. Again, he was unarmed.

I am tired of the U.S. Department of Justice having to closely watch local authorities. I am tired of local authorities advocating for Stop and Frisk one minute and dismissing the notion of racial profiling the next. I am tired of the charlatans who chase the bodies of innocent victims the way sleazy lawyers chase ambulances. I hate black looters at peaceful rallies the way I hate the KKK.

I don’t want to get shot by a police officer.

I’m tired of unarmed dead black people being put on trial.

And I’m tired of thinking that each time one walks [drives] by.

I don’t begrudge anyone who has the luxury of not knowing what that kind of siege feels like. I just hope they have the decency not to characterize the socioeconomic disparity along racial lines as a card to be played but rather recognize it as a looming element of our cultural fiber.

For example, from 1934 to 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. Because of an appraisal system that deemed integrated communities financial risks, less than 2% of those loans went to minorities.

When you consider that home ownership has long been the prerequisite for the average American to acquire wealth, there is little wonder why white Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks. That is not a card being played. That is math. And I’m tired of having to explain that.

Just as I’m tired of watching the video of Eric Garner being placed in a chokehold by NYPD, listening to him say “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” and then watching him die minutes later.

But I need to keep watching because apathy is a clever hunter. It cloaks itself with FBI statistics and slips into the system between runs to Starbucks. Then one day as you’re sipping your grande decaf mocha, you see a headline about an unarmed black man being shot and killed by police and think nothing of it.

Or worse yet — assume he did something to deserve it.

I’m tired of unarmed dead black people being put on trial. I’m tired of politicians visiting our churches for votes but skipping out on these funerals

I’m tired of hearing mothers and fathers weep for children who did not have to die.

But most of all I’m tired of the people who are not tired like me.”

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Opening Reflections on “The New Jim Crow” by: Michelle Alexander

You’re probably thinking…wait…Sean still blogs? Yes. I still blog. Life has been insanely fast the last year and blogging fell off the list of items I could fit in to my schedule. As it slows to normal (whatever slow and normal are these days), I needed some space to reflect on The New Jim Crow, which I started reading last week. I have only read the introduction and the first chapter. This blog deals is a reflection of my thoughts based on the aforementioned parts of the book.

Image 

This book has been out four about 4 years now, and while I have owned it, I didn’t start to read it until a few days ago. I am of the opinion that whenever there are books, movies, and other biopics on the African-American experience are released, while it is information for other cultures, it is often painful for African-Americans. It is a reminder of the past (and in some cases present) plight of our communities. I often tell people who are surprised that I didn’t run to go see 12 Years as a Slave or Lincoln, “I have to be in the mood.” Many of those biopics tell a story I know too well. They remind me of the gaps in my culture that I see at home, in my community, my church, my job, etc. The New Jim Crow is not that at all. 

I am completely blown away by Alexander’s explanation of history from the end of slavery to the present. Her chilling description of racism being the primary factor for higher incarceration rates among Blacks and Latinos is down right appalling and frightening. She tells a remarkable story of how the US simply renamed its prejudice, rather than dealing with it.

We all see in some respects. If you don’t, I encourage you to drive to a neighborhood different than your own. I feel it when I try on roads that are cracked in the ghetto, and newly paved in the suburbs. I see it when I visit my old high school, look at the sink in the science lab, and can see the floor. Then I drive to a nicer neighborhood where the schools have iPads for every student to use.

Segregation legally ended in 1954, but few people actually re-integrated. Our jobs, churches, neighborhoods, and schools still remain separate…and still unequal. What I didn’t expect, was to read the reasons why. I knew systemic issues existed in the country, but not that systemic issues were chosen to ensure racial inequality. Even more, she provides historical evidence from police, college professors, and Presidents of the United States.

While it is painful–but not shocking–to read that illegal drug activity is significant in the Black community, it is shocking to see the statistics of arrests of Blacks addicted to/selling crack-cocaine with those of Whites addicted to/selling powdered cocaine. What is shocking is prisons are filled with Blacks and Latinos, quite a few we are discovering–after years of incarceration–were unfairly arrested and not allowed due process. That the “War on Drugs” really was an attempt to arrest as many Black people as possible. 

I must confess, I almost ran past her defense of Blacks, drugs, and high arrests. I kept thinking, “Why are drugs so rampant? Even if the arrests go down, we still have a drug problem.” But, then she said it, or quoted someone who did: “Drugs aren’t the problem. Unequal education, housing, jobs, inequality in the country is. It isn’t drugs. It is class.” As long as we afford groups of people opportunities for economic empowerment and opulent lives at the expense of another, nothing will change in the country. 

I wish we could switch sides for a week. I don’t want to live like a millionaire (although I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity). I want the wealthy, the elite, the upper-middle class, the people who never drive through “the hood,” who lock their doors at red lights, to live for a week in the lack that exists in the inner city.

I am convinced the compassion of Christ would flood hearts and complete the change our forefathers set out to do 150 years when slavery ended, and again 60 years later. I wish we could see how the other half lives. 

I think everyone would stop critiquing, complaining, comparing, apologizing, delaying, well-wishing…and would work to end racism and poverty at the level of urgency it has deserved since those first African indentured servants came to the coast of Virginia in 1619.

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Why “Man of Steel” Is Not the Jesus We Wish Jesus Would Be; He’s Not Even Superman

If you have been living on planet earth, you have been paying attention to what’s been happening in Hollywood: It is the Age of Superheroes. Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Dark Knight Trilogy, the list goes on. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to tackle the first superhero—my favorite and arguably the greatest of them all—Superman. (Shout out to Ram Sriharan for helping unlock my dissatisfaction with the movie and preaching Jesus at the same time!)

Man of Steel is that attempt. I call it an attempt because while it is a good movie, it does not feature the Superman we all know and love, and therefore does not show how much Superman parallels Jesus. In the attempt of Zach Synder to modernize the hero, he ceased to let Man of Steel be Superman. Much like pastors who attempt to make the Gospel “culturally relevant,” you simply can’t. The Gospel of Jesus is counter-cultural. It goes against the current of the culture. Likewise, so does Superman. He goes against the grain. That’s the only way true hope and faith can be birthed. They stand alone, stand out and stand strong as beacons of what the world could be.

False Hope
The movie gives us that initial false hope. Krypton is about to be destroyed. Jor-El sends Kal-El away from the destruction. (El in Hebrew is God so we maintain the “coincidence” of God the Father sending God the Son to earth.) We see snapshots of our hidden hero saving lives: the oil rig staff, his elementary school classmates, that intrepid reporter Lois Lane when she follows him onto his spaceship and a soldier. We hear that the Man of Steel at 33. “You were sent here to change the world,” Jonathan Kent tells his son.

Then it ceases to be Superman and simply becomes a good movie.

There’s that strange scene where Kal-El goes to church(?) to get advice from a minister—for a nice sermonette—when Zod appears, but it doesn’t make sense! (Go see Jor-El when someone evil from your planet shows up!)

Like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, the rest of the movie pins Jesus themes into that are a nice nod, but are easily dismissed by the plot of the movie.

We hope that he becomes Superman, but he never does. We subconsciously look for parallels to Jesus, but they are forced and give only false hope.

True Superman, True Jesus
In order to get a clear picture of Jesus and Superman, we must look at Scripture and the classic Superman movies.

1. Superman does not confuse action and inaction. Neither does Jesus.
In Superman (1978), there’s a pivotal scene in the beginning of the movie. Jonathan Kent is racing his son back up to the barn, when he suddenly has a heart attack and dies. (They did something similar in season 5 of Smallville.) Not in Man of Steel. In Man of Steel, we see our “hero” stand still and watch his father die.

No.

Jor-El dies to save Kal-El. Jonathan doesn’t do it, too. He doesn’t have to. What makes Superman, Superman is his response in the first movie, “All these powers, and I couldn’t save him.” He learned the significance and limits of his great powers. It’s a defining moment for him that forces him to confront his destiny and the finiteness of people. I don’t want a Superman that would rather let someone die—even at their own request—just to protect their secret identity.

Besides, it’s not a secret in Smallville. (NO ONE IN SMALLVILLE CAN KEEP A SECRET! Lois goes to see Pete Ross and he sends her directly to the Kent farm!?!) It’s clear the entire town knows who he is. There’s no point in Jonathan dying.

In John 2, we read about The Wedding at Cana in Galilee. They run out of wine and Martha…uh Mary, knowing who Jesus is, tells them of this problem. His reply: “My time has not yet come.” Essentially, it wasn’t time for Jesus to reveal himself to the crowds. It’s simple for him (like Clark speeding to get dear old dad), but the cost would be high. Jesus performs turns water into wine, the servants put their trust in Him and amazingly the word about Jesus doesn’t spread until later.

Mythically accurate Superman that resembles true Jesus doesn’t confuse action and inaction. He acts when he is supposed to, and he holds back when he’s supposed to, which leads to my second point.

2. Superman cares about people. So does Jesus.
In Superman II, while Zod and the gang are attacking downtown Metropolis, they have an epiphany: “I have found his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for them.” They pick up an overflowing bus and Superman gives that amazing line, “No! The people!!” He then puts himself in harm’s way to save them, to stop the bus when it is thrown like a toothpick. After accessing the scope of the battle, he retreats not to run from the fight but to get the fight away from the city. In cartoons, comic books and movies, Superman is always looking to get the fight away from people. He wants to save people. Everyone.

We do not see this in Man of Steel. He gets into a fight in downtown Smallville, knocking robots and super-villains into filled IHOP’s and businesses. The terraforming machines are wreaking havoc and for suspense, they are allowed to blow up the city. Superman punches Zod through offices, buildings, streets, even while people are running in the background. Metropolis at the end of the movie is practically destroyed. (Level 5 nerds put the damage at much higher than real-life 9/11 Attacks.) Not once do we see the Man of Steel trying to move the fight away from the city. What about the town? What about the people Man of Steel?

If one person dies, Superman is grieved. Just one. Doesn’t matter if it’s dad, a villain or a civilian. Superman doesn’t want anyone to be hurt. He cares about presidents and pedestrians, because it’s dangerous being a president. It’s dangerous being a pedestrian. Ask Trayvon Martin. (Preach Ram!) Hawkeye and Black Widow saved more people from a bus in Avengers than Man of Steel in his epic return to the big screen.

I won’t parallel Jesus here. I don’t have to. Read any of the New Testament and we see on the surface—without the need for any interpretation or translation into Greek or Hebrew—that Jesus cares for people. He healed people. He touched people. He taught people. He fed people. He died for people. If nothing else, whether Christian or not, all can agree that Jesus cares for people.

That’s Jesus in life. That’s Superman in the comics. He would give his life rather than take it, which leads me to my final point.

3. Superman. Does. Not. Kill. Ever. Neither does Jesus.
At the conclusion of the movie, we see the fate of the world being decided by a fist fight. We land in a library and Zod, who has learned to master his powers, is reduced to using his eyes to kill when Superman has him in a chokehold. The Man of Steel is left with no other choice but to break Zod’s neck. Superman kills Zod.

No.

Superman doesn’t kill. Heroes don’t kill. Specifically, Superman never kills. If the comic has a bad writer or low sales and he does kill someone, he either gives up his powers completely (see Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?) or is curled up in the fetal position for months until another hero comes along and convinces the truth (you know…villain isn’t really dead, villain has been resurrected, it was a set-up by Lex Luthor, etc.). Not Man of Steel. One hug from Lois and he’s back to knocking satellites out of the sky and smiling like everything is normal.

Something changed with Batman Begins. Heroes were suddenly allowed to kill the villain, or at least like Batman said, “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” Iron Man did it. Two-Face falls to his death. Bane is killed by Catwoman(?). Talia al’Gaul falls to her death after Batman blasts her with missiles for 7 minutes.

Question, if you will kill, if you won’t save, why are you wearing the cape and symbol? Why are you out there fighting? Heroes believe the best of people. They want to change actions, but hearts. They believe everyone can change, and therefore everyone is worth saving. Not Man of Steel. (Preach Ram, pt.2).

In Superman II, Superman has Zod and the crew back at the Fortress of Solitude. What happens? He doesn’t kill Zod. He outsmarts him! He makes Zod defeat himself. That’s what Superman does. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t kill Satan. He outsmarted him. He made Satan defeat himself.

Superman is subtly Jesus. This forceful parallel of Jesus to Man of Steel takes away from the mythos of Superman and even more, the reality of Jesus.

I will end my soapbox with a couple of final thoughts. First, this is the Superman that our children are being introduced to. A Superman, a generation of heroes that kill the bad guys. That concerns me immensely. Heroes are supposed to be counter-cultural. They allow us to escape to a world of mythical people with amazing moral strength that can do the impossible but never the line of that villains cross regularly. We don’t have those heroes anymore. Second, as Christians we must preach the true Jesus when “modernized” versions of Him appear on television, film, etc. I read one atheist use this movie to say this Man of Steel is more like the Jesus we want.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jesus that acts when he is not supposed to is not a Jesus I want to follow. That Jesus gets down off the cross. He doesn’t choose to say up there. He would choose to save Himself.

A Jesus that doesn’t care for people doesn’t heal when He’s tired. That Jesus gets angry when the sick touch Him. That Jesus wouldn’t go to Jerusalem. He’d just keep preaching and teaching.

A Jesus that kills wouldn’t be selective in His killing. We think Jesus would kill “the bad people, the villains.” Well, if Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, and He wants to kill bad, He would kill us all. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He wouldn’t save anyone. He wouldn’t believe that even the worst of us can change.

I would rather a Jesus that rather than kill me He takes my place so that I may live. That’s the Jesus I believe in. That’s the Jesus I look for. That’s my Savior.

That’s Jesus. That’s the hint we see of Him in my favorite hero, the greatest of all, Superman.

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Reflections on Being a Black Man in America

ImageI have been sitting at my computer screen trying to figure out how to put into words what is swimming in my head and churning in my heart. I have started, stopped, deleted and begun again several times. I don’t think there are words, but here they are nonetheless.

As a Black man, who grew up around Black people most of my life, who majored in African-American Studies in college, who works with a Christian non-profit to help reach Black college students, I must confess, I am torn:

- As a Christian. My heart goes out to the Martin family. Their son is gone. Nothing will change that. Travyon’s life has been cut short. His departure for an Arizona Tea and skittles from the store would be the last time his parents would see him alive. No parent is meant to bury a child, regardless of ethnicity. Their faith remains but so does the pain. My heart goes out to George Zimmerman as well. I do not believe he is as guilty or as innocent as he is made out to be (more on this later). His life, too, will never be same. He will have to move, change his appearance, virtually disappear from public for the rest of his life. The venom that spews on social media pages when the names of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman are mentioned is appalling. It is a chilling reminder that both “we war not against flesh and blood” and that “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” All sins, even the ones we don’t like must be laid at the foot of the cross of Jesus. It is my faith that I must hold on to as I am a Christian first, and then whatever society has chosen to label me.

- As a Campus Minister. I believe college is a pivotal moment in a person’s life. People are wet cement in college. Learning, discovering who they are and who they want to become. Ages 18-22, people are soaking in everything, but soon thereafter, that wet cement will harden and most will become who they will be for the rest of their lives. I work to advance ministry to Black college students in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. My hope and belief is God has sent me here to accomplish this task. Trayvon was 17. He didn’t make it to college. We don’t know if he would have. Mainstream media has portrayed him as a marijuana-using, quick-tempered “troubled youth,” and probably not a college candidate. (I know and had classmates that did “worse” than Trayvon in character and accomplished more during and out of college than I have.)
How do I reconcile that? As I pray for the class of 2017, I pray knowing there is an empty chair in a classroom, a bible study he will never fill. How do I mentor students I serve that are his age? How do I help the staff I serve have these conversations with Black students?

- As a Black Man. My heart is heavy. It was five years ago I wept when the nation elected a bi-racial president whose skin complexion resembled mine. It was an achievement of a dream I didn’t believe possible. It was a time when Black grandparents and parents wept with joy because the road of integration, civil rights and equality culminated with a bi-racial man married to the descendant of a slave being sworn into the highest office in the land, on steps that were laid by slaves. Five years later, I see and hear those same parents and grandparents being reminded of what life was like for them when they were Trayvon’s age (17) and my age (30).

I am not here to argue the trial or the court’s decision, but to extrovert the consequences.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his timeless classic, The Scarlett Letter, says in the first chapter, “In our nature, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of the pain to which he endures by its present torture, but by the pang that rankles after it.”

Life will return to normal for many people in a few days. Conversations will be had this week on if people agreed or disagreed with the court’s decision and why. We may discuss the strangeness of Florida (i.e. 2000 Presidential Election, Casey Anthony, now George Zimmerman—no disrespect Floridians as Texas has some strange cases, too).

But life as a Black person, particularly me as a Black man, will never be the same. This court case has reaffirmed that I cannot go alone into environments where I am the only Black person, especially at night. I must dress my best at all times, even when I go to buy candy from the store. If someone questions my presence at any location, they are now justified to be the police. They can follow me (even when the police say not to), question me, and I cannot do anything. If I become angry for being followed, if a fight for whatever reason begins, my life can be taken away without consequence.

Black people didn’t rally behind the Martin family simply because they were Black. We…I rallied behind them because I have been Trayvon. I am followed in the grocery store, department stores, the mall, neighborhoods. I am regularly pulled over, followed by the police more times than I care to comment (in different cities, too…and no tickets or accidents in over 5 years). My first day in Austin, Texas a UTPD police officer walked toward me with his hand on his gun to confirm I was an enrolled student at the University of Texas at Austin as he thought I was robbing my white roommate of his bicycle. He confirmed my identity and never asked for my roommates.

I am not oblivious to the plight of young Black men today. Many of them are without fathers, angry and have a host other issues that I have dealt with and deal with daily. I do not believe George Zimmerman was a prejudiced man looking for trouble. I do believe there was an innocent, unarmed teenager who was followed by someone carrying a gun and felt it was his civic duty to protect the neighborhood where the police had failed. He bought into what the media sells, which is a kid in the hoodie has to be up to no good. Escalation, a fight, and now there’s dead teenager at the hands of a man who claimed self-defense. As one pastor said, “How cool would it be to live in a world where Zimmerman offers Trayvon a ride home to get him out of the rain that night?”

After the court’s decision, I was up until 1:30am talking with four other friends—Black friends—about our experiences on cross-cultural interactions—the good, the bad and the downright painful.

Reading books, having conversations, these things are helpful, but much like they limit how much I can learn about one culture, so too do they limit what it means to be Black in this country.

Being Black in America means there is a consistent, negative portrayal of our culture in the media. We are dehumanized, portrayed as out of control, uneducated, dangerous menaces to society—only. Rarely positive, never accurate portrayals of the totality of Black culture. We are violent and prone to riot, but can be killed if someone…anyone feels we are in the wrong place and their lives are in danger. It means a proclivity towards higher arrests (not that Blacks commit more crimes as they make up only 11% of the US population), but because we are arrested more frequently and sentenced for lengthier terms than our white counterparts (read The New Jim Crow by: Michelle Alexander). It means changing my clothes, my walk, my very speech pattern when in cross-cultural environments to honor those around me at the sacrifice of my own culture, regardless whether that sacrifice is higher in some places and lower in others.

It is an invitation to be misunderstood at every level, in every conversation.

And it is the cross we as Black people are called to bear.

My fear is that we will have to bear this cross in its entirety, until the return of Jesus himself.

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Stephen/Lazarus. New Life or Stay Dead? Let God Decide!

What Situation Are You Facing: Lazarus or Stephen?

I am reading CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” his incredibly vulnerable journal entries in dealing with the passing of his wife. In chapter 3, he wrestles with his longing for his wife to return to life but invites the question I want us to wrestle with: which is better, Lazarus or Stephen?

Death is a part of life. It is unavoidable. Death can be physical death, but also the end of a dream, job, a relationship. Because this world is finite, ALL things must and will eventually end in death. Our faith gives us the assurance Jesus has conquered death, the grave and with that, has resurrection power. Let’s be honest: do we really want/need some situations to be resurrected? Take the two men whose experiences with death are incredibly profound.

- Lazarus (John 11). He is sick and dies. We see Jesus delay, cause tremendous grief for Lazarus’ family–Mary and Martha–who now struggle with believing in Jesus because “He was late.” Jesus comes, resurrects Lazarus from the dead. People who panicked and doubted realized their house of faith was really a house of cards and classic Jesus always shakes the ground we stand on to show us if our faith is built with bricks or cards. It’s a great story, but we often forget Lazarus died again. He is not walking the earth right now. His resurrection helped people, gave Jesus more followers, deepened the faith of others, and sent Lazarus down a road he had already travelled and probably didn’t want to again.

- Stephen (Acts 7). One of the first deacons. Peaches powerfully, is arrested, stoned and is the first martyr of the Christian church. His death revealed another classic: the paradox of the kingdom. Persecution of Christians didn’t destroy the church, it was the catalyst for conversion and growth of Christianity. His death, albeit terrible, began a chain of events that led to you reading this blog-post!

What am I trying to say? Be mindful of your thoughts and prayers.

We long for peace, harmony in this world. At times The Lord is gracious and gives them to us, but is never permanent. This is not heaven. We [Christians] have been promised trouble, deliverance from trouble (meaning we will experience….trouble) and a place is heaven at our death or his return.

Truth be told though, when pain comes, we tend to lean more towards Lazarus. We want the job, relationship, time, we want it all restored, back the way it was. Sometimes God is gracious and does that. Sometimes, God lets some things die in our lives because it is the only way we will grow.

He’s the gardener. He does the pruning. But I am the grass, not the gardener. We are the clay. He is the sculptor. We are the story and He is the story-teller.

Let Him lead, end, resurrect situations as He sees fit.

Posted in Personal, Spiritual | 1 Comment

Great Leadership: It Requires Three Pillars

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“Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools because we settle for good schools. We don’t have great business because we settle for good business. We don’t have great churches because we settle for good churches.” That is a paraphrase of the opening to Jim Collin’s Good to Great. In the world we live in, as Christians, greatness must be assessed on two tiers: what is greatness and what does it take?

Biblical greatness is never achieved by our own methods. We see this perfectly explained in Genesis 11 and 12. In Genesis 11, people attempted “to make a name for themselves” and God confused their language. Dr. Maurice Watson calls Gen. 11, “The Irony of Greatness,” for the very dream they were pursuing was destined for destruction before the first brick was ever laid. In the very next chapter, God tells Abram, “I will make your name great.” Biblical greatness is never the result of the work of our hands, the fulfillment of our plans but is the result of obedience to the Lord’s call.

 

great leadershipWhen it comes to great leadership, one of the best resources I have seen is Antony Bell’s book: Great Leadership: What Is It and What It Takes in a Complex World. In it, Bell states three things are needed for Great Leadership:

1. Organizational Leadership (Vision).

What is the vision of your organization, your team, your fellowship, your ministry? You need a leader to carry the vision. Someone who charts the course, steps up front and clearly communicates the direction you are headed. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr….Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden. Whether for triumph or tragedy, good or evil, there has always been a leader up front always casting vision and direction for what’s ahead.

Do you have this person on your team? Are you this person? Where can them?

2. Operational Leadership (Tasks).

“What are the day to day tasks that need to be accomplished? Are you a workaholic with no boundaries and working yourself into burnout regularly–and those around you? (Remember, if you do 12 hours of work every day, it means your team will have to do 12 hours or work to keep up the demands.) Are you a procrastinator, waiting until the last minute to accomplish tasks? How do you know which tasks to prioritize? Which are urgent, important and which need to be delegated to someone else to get done?” That’s the role of this leader in your life, to help you make sense of the responsibilities that come across your desk.

3. People Leadership (Personal).

Big Vision is huge! Tasks are important. SO WHAT!!?! Are you growing from either of those? Probably indirectly, but you and I need direct leadership. Direct influence. Someone pouring into us, meeting us where we are, asking us the difficult questions, and making sure we are doing the soul care we need so ministry remains a place of joy and never (err…rarely) a burden.

I like how Eugene Peterson says it in his great book: Working the Angles, The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. He states that ministry is like a triangle. There are three lines: preaching, teaching and administration. However, there are three angles: prayer, scripture and spiritual direction. If we don’t work the angles, we can end up anywhere as ministers of the gospel.

What keeps good leadership from becoming great? Focusing only on one or two pillars only. Organizational leadership alone is good but it is not enough. How will you accomplish the vision? Are you developing the people around you as you work towards the vision?
Operational leadership alone is perhaps the worst of all by itself. It has no vision. It does not develop people and reduces them to their usefulness and not their value.
Personal leadership is not enough. Develop the people around you, but for what purpose? What strategy and projects will you use to cultivate the learner in them?
There you have it: Organizational, operational and personal leadership. We need all three in order to be great leaders. They do not guarantee your name written on billboards or thousands of folks joining your ministry. They do, however, guarantee a greater level of excellence efficiency…and beyond that, with a healthy dose of accountability, prayer and confession, it also guarantees what we all long to here from the Greatest Leader and Boss of All: “Well done good and faithful servant.”

 

Go be great leaders!

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Sean’s Ministry Update

Friends,

 

Click on the link below for my latest ministry update!

March 2013 Prayer Update

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