A Worthy Celebration

February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jazz I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter From Birmingham City Jail

I celebrate Black History Month. Quietly, but joyfully. Each February I encourage our church members to do so as well, not only in heart, but also by taking in the culture, the food, the readings and the stories, often accompanied by a shameless plea to our African American brothers and sisters for a taste of the cuisine.

This year one of our families took this to heart and brought us to Darker Than Blue, a wonderful Soul Food restaurant in Baltimore, replete with live Jazz (pictured) and the lovely and peaceful atmosphere of a quaint dining establishment. And I was delighted when a member told me that she is reading through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I can tell you that we have been the beneficiaries of much more than good meals and evenings together. It is as though we have been welcomed into a trust forged out of pain and suffering.

A few years ago a friend asked why I do this, and why not other ethnicities that have experienced pain in their histories – a question worth considering. In answering, it may be worth starting with my own background.

In the early 20th Century the Ottoman Turks invaded Armenia and my grandparents (on both sides) were driven away by threat of death. One and a half million Armenians died in this attempted genocide, and the world’s relative indifference to their suffering became Hitler’s rationale for his ‘Final Solution’ (his plan for exterminating the Jews), to his skeptics.

My grandparents came to America by different routes, some via Iran and others through Egypt – all eventually came ashore at Ellis Island. America’s shores were open to them as with other people groups with dreams for living on our soil. They didn’t have to come – they chose to. And so Armenians celebrate being Armenians with Armenians!

We celebrate Black History as a nation because those who came from Africa didn’t have this luxury. They were forced to America by the slave trade. Men and women, boys and girls were treated like animals, considered property that could legally be beaten, raped, sold, even murdered. They were sold and auctioned publicly. Their ‘owners’ determined the limits of their rights as humans. The Slaves’ children were destined to the same oppressive existence.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies I remember the national and local tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, and then the Black Power Movement. The explanations from a white-leaning media. The rationalizations. The revisionist history. The images. The violence. The deplorable indifference to documented acts of injustice and cruelty. Jim Crow laws.

We’ve had the privilege of hearing stories from those who were ‘there,’ the stories behind the food and the stories of faith and resolve in the face of obvious national unrighteousness. A Vietnam Vet who, along with fellow black soldiers, constantly found themselves put on the most dangerous side of missions. A woman whose sister went to jail in Selma, and who herself rode the Freedom Buses. The stories are real, and the history is recent.

We deplore human trafficking today because we finally acknowledged the deep sin of our nation’s involvement in the slave trade, and then its nasty implications more than a century past Abolition.

We remember.

But it wasn’t only a nation.

It was the Church too.

Denominations.

Pastors.

Members.

Many bought into the lie that said that one human being carried less value than another, simply based on the color of her skin – while teaching that ‘all ground is level at the foot of the Cross.’ From a Birmingham Jail Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, pleading local white pastors and churches to strong, persistent and determined action.

We celebrate courageous people like Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King and Harriet Tubman because they acted out of their conviction for justice when it was costly and they were quite alone.

But they shouldn’t have been.

So we celebrate. If we were not to celebrate then we would have no right to plead the cause of the unborn, or call the Church to care for the plight of the weak. We celebrate to not forget or grow cold and indifferent to the injustices we could otherwise so easily pretend to not notice. We celebrate because the gospel freshly informs us that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

And this is our good news…

peace.

More than Damaged Goods…

January 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

IMG_2619This week marks the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision to legalize abortion in the U.S. My friend and fellow blogger Tom wrote thoughtfully and passionately on the issue in his current post and it is well worth the read. I want to offer thoughts on the subject with hopes that an often-disregarded dimension might be considered.

First, I am pro-life. I offer this humbly and with deep conviction. In spite of the Church’s often insensitive and clumsy way of dealing with moral and cultural issues, I am convinced and bound by the undeniable biblical premise that God alone gives and takes life. And I believe that every abortion ends the life of a living baby. I know how thoughtless this must sound coming from a man, when in fact it is women who become pregnant – I get that. Really I do.

But for the Christ-follower, male or female, this isn’t a matter of choice beyond choices that have already been made by the time pregnancy occurs. It is about God’s prerogative to bring life into the world and the value we are called to treat life with – Life we see at birth and life we recognize even while still in the womb.

And what this means is that neither politics nor gender issues are the Church’s rationale for such conviction. Which makes it all the more difficult, because I am convinced that we are not a political organization and have wasted far too much credibility in our often-pitiful attempts to play with weapons of the flesh rather than those of the Spirit. But we are called to something.

There is a peculiar verse in Exodus 7 where God tells Moses, ‘…I have made you like God to Pharaoh…’ (vs. 1). He could simply have given Moses a plan to execute, but He adds this little statement, meaning that Moses would essentially be the divine presence of God on behalf of an oppressed people – to their oppressor. He would give them voice. This is the way God works. He always calls on the strong to champion the plight of the weak. Jesus never failed to notice, care for and serve the broken, and He would pass this principle down to the Church in His simple words, ‘In as much as you have done it to the least of these…’

In other words, the Church has been called to recognize and champion the weak, the broken and powerless as if it were God Himself doing the caring.

Because He is.

The scriptures call this justice.

But here is the thing – I know women who have had abortions – old and young women – women I hold dear – women who love Christ and His Church. Hurting women – women who carry sorrow with them – years of sorrow. Someone’s daughter – Someone’s mother – Someone’s sister. Women who feel they could never share their stories with the Church for fear of being driven more deeply into shame. And not only women who acted out of their own shortsightedness and selfishness, but women whose parents were more concerned for their own reputations, and pressured their confused and terrified daughters into abortions. Women whose husbands and boyfriends declared that love would be abandoned if they had their babies. Women whose pastors agreed it wise to quietly put their troubles behind. My blood boils as I think of these sweet women. This is what happens when it is personal – and it is. I see faces and names – and that is a good thing. And this means that I owe something to the women I don’t know as well.

You see, their lives matter too. And no amount of railing and accusation on my part, or on the part of the Church, can make them feel worse about themselves than they already do. And why would we any way? What they need is what everyone needs, what I need, and what we so passionately proclaim – that Jesus has the power and desire to heal our wounds and forgive our sins. That none of us is damaged goods to the One who makes all things new.

Here is the thing, friends: If the Church has ‘been made like God’ to the weak, then it has utterly failed in her mission for not recognizing the fragility of these dear and wounded ones.

In fact, I believe the Church has forgotten this many times over, and in her zeal to stand for truth she has often insensitively trampled the sorrows of many, and has violated the very principle of the value of life that she claims to champion in the first place, leaving many to feel as though they are damaged goods we are trying to sweep the world clean of. And this simply isn’t good enough.

And I guess this is where I want to land. Because the Church isn’t called to converge on Washington DC, though it should be unashamed in seeking justice for the unborn. It converges at the Cross. And whether in the womb, on the ground, or near the end of life, the Church is bound to love the weak, and to do so with such force of love, peace and grace, that any would feel safe to come out from hiding and rush to taste the sweet, healing waters of Jesus, the One who became sin and shame for us, that we may be made righteous – through no goodness of our own.

That would be such good news…

peace.

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