Words of a Christian White Man

Growing up in church as a young boy I would occasionally hear people say, “If I make it to heaven one day I would be happy to be a doorman, just so long as I am there.”

The implication was that the joy of being in heaven would far outweigh even the lowliest position.

While the people who said this were unfortunately more concerned with the end goal of “making it to heaven one day,” they unknowingly stumbled onto something I think we need to revisit today in our churches… the desire to become humble, meek, and lowly servants.

While Jesus never gave any indication that a person ought to wait for the future to become a servant (or that becoming a servant is somehow a future consolation prize of heaven), he did have quite a bit to say about the importance of lowering ourselves and becoming humble in the present.

In fact, all of Jesus’ teachings were rooted in the idea that humility and weakness in the present actually brings heaven to earth. According to Jesus, there was something profoundly divine in the death of our ego, in dying to oneself, in taking on the character and disposition of a servant and lowering oneself below others.

Think about it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the peacemakers.

When you give to the needy, do it in secret.
When you pray, do it behind closed doors.
When you fast, do not draw attention to yourself.
When you are invited to a banquet, do not take the place of honor, but take the lowest place.

Whoever is humble like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever sells their possession and gives to the poor will have treasure in heaven.
Whoever wants to become great must become a servant.
Whoever has been last will be made first.
Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.
Whoever wants to follow me must first pick up his cross daily.

For Jesus, the pathway toward greatness was always about humbly giving of oneself for the benefit of another without expecting accolades or special attention.

I know this kind of mindset is radically contrary to our Western mentality. Our culture and society are consumed by notions of ascent, status, and power. And these Western values have crept into our churches, even though they are antithetical to the actual teachings of Christ.

Yet Jesus’ words continue to beckon those who claim to follow him, not toward the wide road of ascent but the narrow path of descent, not toward the wide road status but the narrow path of humility, not toward the wide road power but the narrow path of weakness.

If you are wondering why I started in this place… here is the reason.

The wide road of ascent, status, and power perpetuate inequality and injustice, while the narrow path of descent, humility, and weakness are the foundational characteristics of reconciliation. And to the extent that churches pursue the former to the latter… they will never be effective at reconciliation.

I know that the word reconciliation is difficult to understand, but it is a word that every single Christian in the world ought to know better than anyone else.

Understanding and practicing reconciliation is absolutely essential for those who follow Jesus. One writer of the New Testament even says that followers of Jesus are to be servants of reconciliation. We sacrificially and voluntarily work on behalf of people, relationships, communities, and the larger world to help piece them back together and help restore them. But while reconciliation is an integral and essential responsibility of the Christian, I am not sure many understand what it is or how it ought to happen.

The word reconciliation (Greek katallage) means an adjustment of a difference, a restoration to favor.

Reconciliation is the patient work that removes hostility between people and God, between individuals, between people groups, and works to alleviate inequities in systems so that right relationships are restored.

As those who follow Jesus, it is obvious that we work to help restore people’s relationship with God. We hear that in our churches all the time. But it goes even further than that in how we are to humbly and selflessly work for reconciliation between people and within societal structures.

As Christians, when we see inequity and injustice (a difference in treatment, favor, or privilege), it is our responsibility to actively work on behalf of those who suffer injustice to make adjustments so that people and systems are restored and work rightly for all.

If you did not know it before, reconciliation is essential and absolutely paramount for anyone of any race who follows Jesus.

But for the white Christian… you and I especially have a huge responsibility in working for racial reconciliation in the United States.

When I look at the history of my black brothers and sisters in America, I see a system that created a difference in treatment, favor, and privilege. I see a system that created brokenness, hardship, and immense pain. I see a system that is still broken in many ways and has not been fixed or restored. I see a system that has not fully made adjustments in the difference.

I know you may be thinking that you personally did not create the problem and that you are not currently perpetuating racism. I understand. I have not personally owned slaves. I have not discriminated against people of color. I do not demean or dehumanize black people. Even more, like me, you would probably say that you have black friends.

But that is not the point.

As those who follow Jesus, we have been given the important and humble work of reconciliation. We have been given the responsibility of identifying differences and working to make them right. This is not a matter of opinion. This is literally the point of Christianity- to be reconciled to God and then to work for reconciliation in our relationships and communities.

But I have to tell you, reconciliation is impossible when your mind has already been made up about who is right and who is wrong and have already taken sides. It is impossible when you only care about preserving your own rightness and privilege. It is impossible when you refuse to see injustice and then lack empathy toward those who are suffering.

That is why so many white Christians in America have such a hard time working toward racial reconciliation. There is more interest in holding onto and preserving the Western values of ascent, status, and power than embodying the way of Jesus in descent, humility, and weakness.

If we were really serious about picking up our crosses daily and becoming servants of all, racial reconciliation would be one of the most essential tasks of the white Christian.

If we were really serious about picking up our crosses daily and becoming servants of all, we would be first in line asking our black brothers and sisters to forgive us for our past and present racism. (Again, you may say you didn’t personally cause the problem, but descent, humility, and weakness tells us that asking for forgiveness is the right thing since our ancestors are not here to do it for themselves).

If we were really serious about picking up our crosses daily and becoming servants of all, we would not just take a knee with our black brothers and sisters, we would wash their feet and then lie prostrate to the ground before God in remorse for what they have suffered in hopes of beginning to restore trust between us. (No one is asking you to take a knee or lie prostrate for the political organization #BlackLivesMatter. But for flesh and blood black people).

If we were really serious about picking up our crosses daily and becoming servants of all, we would tell every black man and woman we see that their lives matter and have immeasurable value. But it would not just be evident in our words, it would be evident in how we work to restore their communities with our time, energy, effort, and resources.

If we were really serious about picking up our crosses daily and becoming servants of all, we would begin working in the present for what we envision in the future when all is made right and all races live, work, eat, and worship together, while celebrating the God-given beauty and uniqueness of our cultures in peace and love.

The work of racial reconciliation is possible, but it must begin in humility and weakness, contrition and forgiveness. What does that look like for you as a white Christian? What does that look like for your all-white church? I would love to hear what you are thinking/doing in the comments.

Peace and love…

Brandon

Awakening to All That is Good

It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon. We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely travelled backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

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Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.

As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering yet another highly-prized backpacking bucket list adventure that would add serious cred to our growing resume’, but trepidation in knowing what kind of climb still stood between us and our exit.

The sun was already blazing in the near cloudless early morning sky and there was all but a single, lowly shade tree as we approached the towering mesa. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a quick drink and a temporary reprieve from the sun before our big climb.

As we stood there in our short respite, one of the guys asked if I had any music on my phone. Usually I clear everything off of it in order to make room for all of the pictures I take during the trip, but to my surprise, there was one single song waiting in the queue.

As I pressed play, we all quickly quieted.

In that one anticipatory moment, Passing Afternoon by Iron and Wine sweetly greeted us, and, to be honest, it felt as if I had never heard a song before.

There was an overwhelming intimacy I had never fully experienced through a song.

There was an acuteness to every sound, to every word sung. There was a simple, yet profound appreciation for every note, every melody, every harmony. There was a resonance in the depths of my soul that made this moment one of the most memorable of my life.

For four days the only sounds we heard were of nature- the blowing winds, the rushing waters, the melodious singing of birds, and each other’s voices.

And in finding that space, it was nothing short of a peaceful and calm bliss.

For the sounds of busyness and distraction had been silenced. Every tendency toward consumption had been vacated. An easing stillness cleansed and refreshed our souls.

And it was there where my appreciation was renewed.

I wasn’t listening to a song as a means to distract or as one trying to fill the void of an uncomfortable silence or as one simply consuming to consume, I was fully present and listening, as if for the first time, with deep appreciation.

Let me tell you.

There is something renewing and refreshing about purposefully removing oneself to find refuge in the stillness and quiet, or intentionally abstaining and then slowing reuniting. It is an essential discipline undertaken to be continually reminded of the resident goodness and simple beauty of all that we can all too easily take for granted.

And it is in this kind of intentionality, of seeking the refuge of stillness and quiet, of purposefully escaping the incessant activity, busyness, and noise of life, that moves us from a place of endless addiction, mindless consumption, and taking what we have for granted, to a place of simplicity and beauty, to a place of experiencing and appreciating all things anew.

I had this same experience and depth of appreciation when I fasted for a week a few years ago. When I met with my brothers with whom I had been fasting over that week, we took the warm, homemade molasses and honey communion bread with a cup of deep, red earthy wine together to break our fast. There was an intensity and complexity in what I could smell and an explosion of diversity in what I could taste.

In that moment, I was thoroughly appreciative and truly thankful.

We live in an age in which stimulation and consumption are all too normal in our lives. 

The culture we have created keeps us constantly seeking more and more stimulation, and we are never quite satisfied or at peace in stillness or solitude, let alone finding the essential refreshing of our souls in that space.

The culture in which we live and participate keeps us consuming and discarding, and we never quite find the satisfaction in what we have, let alone appreciating or finding beauty in it.

For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find greater depths in this life. It is only in a regular rhythm of sacrificial discipline where the Spirit can awaken our senses to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we take for granted.

We were a few hundred feet from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. We had traversed 110-miles over eight arduous days through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in areas too remote for even the strongest cellular signal.

It wasn’t the first weeklong backpacking trip we had taken in which we were not able to communicate with our families. And it is always a surreal experience to be so remote, so off the grid that one has no way of hearing the voices of their loved ones, of knowing what is going on in the world, or knowing what kind of world one is walking back into.


But as we finally reached the 14,500 foot summit of Whitney, something unexpected happened. Our phones began to vibrate and ring continuously at different intervals, almost as if we were each receiving our own unique Morse Code messages, as they connected to service. As I looked down at the screen and began to read my text messages and then listen to my voicemails from my wife, my kids, and my mom and dad, tears began to stream down my face.

There was a sweetness and tenderness in their voices that I had too often overlooked or had not fully appreciated.

The truth is that we can very easily miss the simple beauty of those things that we take for granted, those things we quickly discard so we can consume more. And so much so, that we may not even appreciate the richness of what we have right in front of us, whether it be listening to a song, eating a meal, or enjoying the company of those we love.

Check out my backpacking blog at http://ajoyfulprocession.wordpress.com

Peace…

Brandon

I Had Become Toxic

Ok. Confession time.

A little over a year ago I interviewed to take my boss’ job when he left our company. He and I had been connected at the hip for over two years and I was incredibly fortunate and grateful that he had subsequently endorsed me and advocated on my behalf to take his position. Additionally, throughout the hiring process, I had eight hour long interviews and I believed I had hit grand slams with each of them. I had even asked each interviewer to make me their top candidate, to which a majority agreed. I felt incredibly confident that the position was mine to lose.

But when the decision was ultimately made.

I didn’t get it.

And I was completely devastated.

I mean like, it thoroughly wounded me.

I don’t pour my heart and soul into many things, but I had poured my heart and soul into this.

And not getting the position was like a dagger in my heart.

I’m not trying to be super melodramatic here for effect. This is what I really felt on the inside. And it was hard to not feel it on a moment by moment basis. Even worse, it was hard to not live out of the wound and the pain that was there.

I’m not sure if you have ever lived out of a wound, but let me tell you- it is a place of death.

It is angry.

It is bitter.

It is hateful.

It is prideful.

It is toxic.

And it makes you all of the things you were never intended to be.

The truth is that the easiest thing in the world to do is ignore the wound and let it fester, but it will ultimately become the source from which you begin to live your life. The toxicity will spread and manifest in how you see people and situations, how you relate with others, and in the words you use and the actions you take.

A neglected and infected wound is toxic and leads to death.

And I am ashamed to say… that was me.

The other day I was talking on the phone to a friend with whom I talk every day. While I came into this new year resolved to mentally move forward, there was still a lot of hostility in my words that came from my deep wound.

That’s when my friend said something that made me completely stop in my tracks. He was like, “Outside of work you have so much peace, but at work you really have a lot of anger.”

I knew he was right.

While I had been trying to mentally move forward, I had buried my deep and concealed wound and was living out of it. And while it had been full of death and was completely toxic, I had never taken time to face it, to introspect, to pray over it, and open myself to get the healing that I so desperately needed. I had just tried to ignore it and move on, but it was there the whole time killing me.

It’s easy to get into a place where one selectively introspects. We all have blind spots. And if I had not been pushed by my friend, I would have never been forced to look inward, to ask where this death is coming from, to face the wound and what caused it, and then what continued to perpetuate it.

The truth about myself that I had been avoiding is that I have a wound and I have been living out of it for over a year. And guess what? It will not heal until I humbly face it and ask the Spirit of God to do the inner work that only the Spirit can do- to heal my toxic wound and replace it with love, contentment, and joy. That’s where my prayer and attention is focused now. And it’s amazing how liberated I feel and how unburdened I have become.

I can’t overstate how important it is for each of us to have people in our lives that we allow to speak truth to us.

Sometimes, even with our best intentions, we are woefully myopic and painfully selective. But it goes beyond having someone who will speak truth to us. Even though it may hurt our ego and any sense of pride in our lives, for real, lasting healing we have to put down our defenses and peacefully listen to the truth about ourselves.

For it is only in a posture of humility and invitation that we can receive the kind of truth that can pierce our ego and pride and allow the necessary work to be done at the source of our wound to make us whole and healed from the inside out.

Peace, love, and healing…

Brandon