Archive for November 2014

They're just kids

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    I substitute teach in an urban community on the south east side of the Chicago area. My encounters with black youth occur on a daily basis. 
    There is a lot of turmoil right now concerning black youth.  I am not here to debate jury decisions (i wasn't there), but I do want to voice a concern. 
     My Facebook is riddled with comments like "thug", "gangsta", and "hooligan". It saddens me how much of this comes from my Christian brothers and sisters.
     Because I know and love a whole lot of "thugs", and in reality,  they are just real live teenage kids needing love and guidance as they figure out life. 
     Just today a student was telling me about his court date for a bad decision. My heart broke for a boy,  a real boy,  who needs love and mentorship not a derogatory label.  He is a child.  He might look like a man,  but he isn't yet.  He's just a kid with too many hormones and not enough guidance.
    My thoughts are this,  communities are hurting,  people are hurting,  and while you may think they are wrong, calling names is the opposite of Christ like.
    Christ would be there.  Not with hurtful words or Facebook statuses,  but with embraces and listening ears.  We must learn to listen if we are ever going to come together. We must get out of our space and look at things through different eyes. We must embrace the ones we fear,  the ones who are different than us,  and our enemies.  Not just because it's a nice sentiment,  but because it is our calling.
     The kids I work with aren't always easy to love for everyone,  but they are just kids.  With hopes,  with dreams,  with people who love them,  and they already have a whole bunch stacked against them.  So while you may think you are referencing a specific person or event with your words,  they feel like you are addressing them,  labeling them,  and giving up on them.  Hear that in their voices.  They don't know how to tell you without screaming sometimes (remember they're teenagers), so listen humbly and closely enough,  so they don't have to. Ultimately though,  remember they are kids, real people,  beloved of God,  and worthy of respect.

Token (part 1): on being labeled the voice on gender and race issues in the church

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     Today was the first day of a church planting class I'm attending.  It's going pretty well,  besides the fact I'm super cynical at times and struggle to not allow that to jade all I am learning. 
     While at dinner,  I was asked about our church plant and city.  I was also asked an important question about race and the church of the Nazarene.  More specifically, where do I see mac and I in the role of racial reconciliation in the larger church since we are in a unique position (white female pastor with a black husband).      It was an interesting question and one I was more than happy to answer.  In fact,  I've been contemplating a blog post on race for a while (which will still be written, as it relates to our context in Hammond) but I haven't written one for several reasons. The main one being,  we'd like to be known for who we are, the skills we have,  our love for Jesus and his church,  and not be the token representatives of diversity. (We often are the token female pastor and black person at events,  thus it seems those are the questions I am always fielding).
    We love diversity. We love speaking about the church's need to be more a representation of the kingdom of God where there is no Jew or greek, slave or free, male or female.  We find it important to speak up for the oppressed, to advocate for the hurting,  and to be a catalyst for forgiveness,  reconciliation,  and change. 
     The issue is, all too often while talking about race someone makes a comment like the one that was made tonight "what an asset to your ministry to have a black husband! "
     While possibly well meaning,  it was implied my marriage is based on what my ministry can gain from my husband's race. That isn't fair to either of us,  it's insensitive,  and offensive.  If they meant God can use our marriage to impact the kingdom,  absolutely,  he can use everyone's marriage, because God uses everything. However,  I married my  husband because of who he is, not for some odd ministry benefit (which let's be honest... do you really think being a white woman pastor with a black husband is the ticket to a great ministry job?  Really?).
     The most interesting part of that comment isn't what was said though,  it is the conversation being had around it. I was speaking to the fact that while most churches (in our case they are predominantly white) would be welcoming and kind to a black family,  there is a reason churches are still widely separated racially and that is a complete lack of racial sensitivity,  understanding,  education, and experience.
     Case in point,  I was just told what an asset my husband's race is to my ministry. It lacked thought,  sensitivity,  and understanding. 
      When I confronted it, I was told that I need to be more wise and accommodating to those who still need to change,  because I was getting defensive.  
    There is no doubt I was a bit defensive. However,  for you (white pastor with a white church),  it makes sense that you want time,  you have that great luxury.  Your churches don't seem to be hurting for lack of diversity.  Tomorrow isn't impacted for you if you do the hard work of reconciliation or not.  For me though,  that's my family, my future children, the kids I work with,  and my neighbors and friends.  It doesn't feel like I can move slow. And while I try to be wise always, it's easy for me to get frustrated and defensive at the pace the church of the Nazarene moves because for me this isn't a philosophy to be flushed out at a workshop, it's my life. 
      But the reality is,  your churches do hurt for the lack of diversity.  You're missing out on beautiful lives,  stories,  love,  and grace.  The Church hurts when we in our self centeredness forget how those around us may be hurt by our careless words or deeds,  and for them, the people we've lost, offended, and hurt  there isn't time either.
    Mac reminded me how everyone says the church is always one generation away from extinction, thus there isn't time.  We must be grace filled, loving,  and wise, but if we don't act with some sense of urgency,  we're going to miss reaching a whole lot of people who needed us to truly be the kingdom of God to them. A kingdom where there is no Jew or greek, slave or free,  male or female.
     I pray tonight we speak the hard words,  we listen even more deeply than we speak,  and that we can be a glimpse of that kingdom that only comes when we truly work together.
This is a picture of mac being an asset to my ministry.  He's fixing the church lock, which was incredibly helpful to me, since I'm not great at that stuff. 

Moments of Doubt

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     The hard reality of life is that money is tight. That being said, we didn't have internet for a while. We opted to pay for electricity and gas, and the internet became less of a necessity. In the meantime, my computer completely quit (it's been on its way out for a while), so we are now a 1 computer family. That's just some of the realities of life, but we're back. We're getting in a routine of life, and now that I'm making some income, we're starting to find our selves in a better place. It's just a long way out of the mountain of school debt, but we're making progress.
      That's just a small glimpse, one aspect of the in's and outs of the day. I try not to complain and have a positive attitude, but things are really hard sometimes. Not just with money, but staying encouraged.
    Starting a church is hard work. Some weeks no one shows up to bible study, and I always take it personally. It doesn't matter what else is going on, it usually brings me to tears and feeling like a failure. When all you have is a small number to start with, missing people from that number hurts, a lot.
     We are hitting 6 months of being here, and a lot of people thought we'd have a booming church by now. We don't. I think that's haunting me a bit, despite my desire to have things move slow and organically, it gets exhausting to explain for the thousandth time that we don't have services yet, we just have a small bible study. That only 2-4 people come, but we're working on impacting the community by being here, by showing up, by getting to know people. It's easy to doubt.
     This week was one of those cloud of doubt weeks. We wanted to do a big Halloween event, but the weather did not cooperate. Money was tight so we weren't able to do all we would have liked this past weekend. We also didn't have anyone show up for our small group bible study. The combination of those things seriously broke me.
     There are lots of great things going on, don't get me wrong. I've been subbing nearly every day, and have met some great kids. I have so many great stories of things I've confronted and ways I've grown. We had our neighbors over on Halloween last minute and learned a lot about the neighborhood and about them. Things are moving and happening.
     Despite that, it seems that the things that don't work out are the things I fixate on. I get frustrated that things aren't moving faster. I get depressed and think this was the wrong decision to make. I look at my to do list, which is so much bigger than I could ever accomplish (this whole having a job, trying to start a church, and take care of a home. It's a bit insane), and I get overwhelmed to the point that I want to do nothing.
   The discouragement is palpable. I'm not saying this because I want pity, but because I think this is a very real place when starting a new ministry. I think missionaries tend to speak of the great things God is doing, because that's what people love hearing. They love hearing the stories of how awesome things are, and it makes people want to be a part of that. I get that. I like the happy stories too, but the reality of ministry, and the reality of life, is that it isn't all happy.
    Maybe that's part of why I haven't posted much the past few weeks. It's hard to be honest about the tough side when you're in it.
     I don't have a lot of wise words to offer, just that I know this is a road many have walked before me, and many are walking now. That I knew this would not be easy, and to remember to take everything a step at a time.
     There's growth here, in the midst of this, and I know that it will be worth it in the end. Just trying not to miss the forest for the trees.