Hope… A 4 Letter Word

H.U.E PodcastRedeeming the Race Narrative

Heal. Unite. Engage. – Cultivating transformative unity in our homes, circles of influence and churches through informed, Christ-centered, cross-cultural perspective and actionable faith.

 

H-O-P-E… A 4 Letter Word

HOPE is a four-letter word. It’s risqué and can be spoken with anger or disgust. The difference is that the meaning is not crude. Webster’s dictionary defines HOPE as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  But if you study the biblical definition of HOPE the meaning is far more dynamic. There are two parts to the definition:

 

  1. The essence or very nature of a promise (Acts 26:6); An act/action (Acts 26:7); Requires belief in potential or promise (Romans 4:18); Expectancy (Acts 28:20); Produced by character (Romans 5:4); Deliverance (Romans 8:20)
  2. Reliant/based on God (Acts 24:15), Does not disappoint because of the love of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5); Wait for it through the Spirit, by faith (Galatians 5:5)

 

 

If this is what HOPE is then why do we ever develop a love/hate relationship with the word? When I heard about the latest police shooting of an African – American, particularly Philando Castile, I was done with hope. The reality was I was bitter. And finished with the church in all her good intentions – especially my white brothers and sisters.

 

You see when all the events around ethnicity had been tearing our nation apart I saw an overwhelming number of responses from non-white friends. But in contrast, the vast majority of white friends on my Facebook feed or in conversations were painfully quiet, it was like the absence even of white noise – just still.

 

I raged to God and asked what’s the point of starting a podcast? Of meaningful, constructive conversations when sincere Christians I know, respect, admire & love are so oblivious or disengaged? The level of disengagement made me question my conviction, what I saw with my own eyes. I thought: well maybe things aren’t that bad, or maybe it isn’t wrong, or maybe it isn’t injustice, because if it was injustice surely my friends would say something? I was beyond weary of Christian clichés to address or more accurately dismiss the issues and their impact. Scriptures that were given to comfort but felt more like placation. Or the theology of: “focus on God, it’s ok, it will get better, don’t be mired down by what’s not good, you should always be up and encouraged in the Lord”.

 

Maybe you’re coming from a different perspective, where the police shootings, BLM protests, the KKK Charlottesville rally and other issues have come as a shock in their existence and intensity. You had no idea things were so bad and now it seems they can only get worse.

 

Or maybe you’re the turtle in the shell. Regardless of how these events have impacted you or loved ones you simply can’t engage on any level. There’s no time, energy or emotion that you have to give, so the HOPE you have is more of a wish than a belief.

 

Why Does Faith Matter?

But we are called to HOPE. Not because it is good, or the right thing to do, or even a practical way to live peaceably as a society. We are called to HOPE because we know God. HOPE is contingent on the power and love of God. It’s cliché when I say it like that, but here’s why I think HOPE depending on God makes a difference. Here’s how I answer the question: why does faith matter?

 

There is nothing significant about addressing the concept of reconciliation or the reality of white supremacy (passive and aggressive), discrimination or injustice through the Christian world lens. The Christian world lens is no different than a person who wants to do good, encourage others to do the right thing, and create change – outside of God. In fact, you could argue that more impactful, practical solutions are offered by non-faith based initiatives through regulations, policies and laws than through the prayers of good intention that are offered by many Christians.

 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t understand, believe and know the power of prayer, but those “good intention prayers” ironically, given the power of prayer, are rarely coupled with effective action.

 

Ate the same time, all of the policies, regulations and laws are not sustainable. They don’t change hearts. They can be reversed. You can look at society and our nation’s laws today and see that. This is why faith is critical. Because we as believers have THE resource to create transformative, sustainable unity – HOPE based on God and in God.

 

There is no magic bullet of mentoring inner-city youth that need encouragement in their self-image, or supporting organizations that are fighting systemic poverty, or even engaging and listening to different perspectives. None of those are magic bullets that will make us stop selfishly holding on to our advantage and privilege, whether we are aware of it or not. No three-step process that will allow us to completely forgive and trust our brothers and sisters, whether they have asked for it or not. No salve placed on our eyes that will allow us to understand all of the connotations and complexities that are a part of another person’s experience so we’re inspired to sacrifice our rights and comfort for theirs.

As the church we have the calling and capacity to lead not because we know the gospel or even because we’ve responded with affirmation to it. We have the calling and capacity to lead because we’ve given God full permission to shake us to our very core and give life to our beliefs so we can also act like Jesus. Belief without doing is dead.

 

What Next?

Instead of catching up with whatever initiative and policy society creates to address the ethnic and historical divisions in our society and putting a Christian twist to it, I want to see the church lead. To have the nations’ leaders and influencers come to us and say how do you do it?  How do you love each other to the point of sacrifice and trust?

 

I want to give a real-life example of a situation that has recently given me HOPE. I have a friend who posted on Facebook regarding white evangelicalism and some of the discussions that have been going on recently from leaders within the Christian domain. She had several people from her church respond with interest, surprise, and sincere lack of knowledge about the topic. From these responses she felt led to invite those who were interested to her home for a conversation around the Facebook post, ethnic division and how the lack of ethnic inclusion impacted their local church.

 

She reached out those who responded and invited them to attend given they follow certain requirements. Anyone who attended had to be from their local church and also had to read material before they came. She did not want to be in the position of a lecturer or educator. She also wanted to be sure that those who were coming to discuss solutions and their impacts were coming with the base of knowledge needed to discuss creatively, effectively and sincerely.

 

She asked me to come as a source of support and I was very excited and honored to do so. I did not know what to expect. Honestly, I would not have been surprised if it was just a small gathering of like-minded church members. However, I was amazed at the turnout, those who responded to the post not only came but brought friends who also attended the church. I was also amazed by the preparation of each woman that was there, each had not only taken time to read the required resources but process through them as well.

 

What came from this meeting was a discussion that provided a variety of views, sincere questions, sharing of different experiences and challenges of certain perceptions. It was an opportunity to dialogue respectfully and sincerely. Following the meeting my friend proposed drafting a letter to the leadership of their local church body to inform them of the solutions that had been discussed and resources available to implement the solutions.

 

But as I walked away I thought, “why am I feeling disappointment?” I realized it was because there was nothing epic about the meeting. We didn’t walk away with this one-time, fix-it-all solution that was going to rock the foundation of the Church. There was nothing epic and there was nothing easy, there were definitely moments of awkward silence. The overall lesson I walked away with is that the process is not sexy – it’s not flashy, it’s not enticing, it’s not easy or epic. But when we are called to it because of the God we serve there is no excuse or other option.

 

Who’s With Me?

What is your role? What is your next step? As pastor, business owner or a predominantly stay at home mom who is 37 weeks pregnant hosting a meeting in your home?

 

Who’s with me? We don’t have all of the answers, but to look back on this point of history and have done nothing? Have contributed little? Not doing anything scares me almost more than change never happening.

 

That will not be said of me. And may it not be said of you.

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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Sharif El-Gamal was slammed when his proposal to build a mosque near the grounds of the 9/11 attack were publicized. Passionate protests were held in the streets of New York with advocates from both sides declaring why they did or did not support the construction of what was to be a 15 story, $100-million-dollar mosque[1]. A firefighter who responded during the 9/11 attacks filed a lawsuit against Sharif and his backers, stating that the building of a mosque near Ground Zero would impede his ability to commemorate[2]. Ultimately Sharif won the lawsuit, however the mosque he envisioned was never built.

At face value, the responses were extreme in their attacks against the establishment of a religious institution. But in order to understand the passionate reactions of people on the street, you need to know the historical and emotional context of 9/11. In our current, tension-filled and racialized society this truth also applies. When I read through Facebook quotes regarding police brutality, the most common sentiment I hear questions the validity of seeing these cases as systemic problems, accusing that approach of simply being an excuse to deny or gloss over the individual facts of a case. This begins a cyclical debate of accusations, where both sides ridicule each other’s awareness, sensitivity, and knowledge of “what is really going on”.

The problem is, both sides can be woefully unaware of why their debates exist in the first place. To be clear, the current non-majority people groups (i.e African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American) are not unaware of our nation’s white supremacy on an experiential basis, but all groups can be lacking the historical information that put us here in the first place. The issues of police misconduct and the sincere disconnect between both sides knowing and understanding one another’s experiences are not happenstance – they were intentionally created and developed through social and legal strategies for the exact results we have today.

 

It is easy to demonize another person or judge them from a safe distance. Are all white people really born pathological “racists” and ignorant of all other people but themselves? Are African-Americans really born pathologically violent and self-destructive? To be honest, if I didn’t know many white people, I would be tempted to think the previous judgment is true, based on what I’ve seen and heard. But I know too many African-Americans to believe the latter judgment, even if I know some people who practice those qualities.

 

Noticing the Past

It’s important to understand that in our nation’s history it was illegal in many states for whites and other groups of people to live by each other. Neighborhood contracts banned white residents from selling their homes to African-Americans, and cities created school and housing borders that told whites and other groups of people where they could and could not live[3]. You can guess which areas had significantly better living conditions.

And before we assume that these practices were restricted to southern states, we only have to look into the past of a northern state like Minnesota to learn that legal methods were not the only ones used to prevent people from living together.

Arthur Lee was a postal worker and World War 1 veteran who bought a home and moved in to the Linden Hills neighborhood in 1931. Protest over his family’s presence escalated until a mob of 4,000 white Minnesotans stood outside the home pelting it with rocks and threatening the police officers and friends who stood outside to defend the Lees in their home. Ultimately the Lees fought back and stayed for several more years, but not without experiencing several months of severe trauma.[4]

 

Why are We Here?

These basic laws and social practices that strategically blocked us from living together in the past, are the roots of disconnect and division that now block our ability to see or hear one another today. This is the definition of a systemic problem, a basic problem that has affected the whole of our perspectives and dialogues.

At this point, living next door to someone who does not look like us will not be enough to erase the decades (or centuries if we consider the full history) of misinformation, limited impressions, and stigmas that have been learned consciously and unconsciously. Our next step is to use just as much intentionality as the laws and social norms that shaped our divisions in the past, to learn the history or the “why” behind our current problems.

I believe many of us want the current deep divisions in our society to change, for everyone to sincerely and with complete equality “just get along”. But engaging the issues without knowing the history behind them causes us to talk in circles. If we believe the real issue is a problem that occurred recently or even in our lifetime then we are attacking a weed from the top down, grasping at what we see while leaving the root of the issue in the ground. This approach simply delays inevitable re-growth of the problem. Progress happens when we learn and act to change the root of the problem.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/nyregion/new-quiet-effort-for-big-islamic-center-near-ground-zero.html?_r=1

[2] http://abcnews.go.com/US/ground-mosque-wins-legal-battle-build/story?id=14062701

[3] http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/10/30/mpr_news_presents

[4] https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2011/07/victims-1931-racial-incident-be-honored-ceremony-s-minneapolis

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