Tag Archives: reconciliation

Racial Reconciliation, Identity, and Emotional Health

Works of reconciliation don’t necessarily stir the emotions and none of the workshops I’ve attended or training materials I’ve read seem to correlate the two. But as my friend and colleague, Dante Upshaw, is a huge advocate for Emotionally Healthy Church and Spirituality, recently approached me about the possibility about working on a project tying the two together, I picked up Scazzero’s books again and began reading. Then I came across this passage in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:

One very helpful way to clarify this process of growing in our faithfulness to our true selves in a new way is through the use of a new term: differentiation. Developed by Murray Bowen, the founder of modern family systems theory, it refers to a person’s capacity to “define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them..”” The key emphasis of differentiation is on the ability to think clearly and carefully as another means, besides our feelings, of knowing ourselves. Differentiation involves the ability to hold on to who you are and who you are not. The degree to which you are able to affirm your distinct values and goals apart from the pressures around you (separateness) while remaining close to people important to you (togetherness) helps determine your level of differentiation. People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them. They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress, or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think intelligently. I may not agree with you or you with me. Yet I can remain in relationship with you. I don’t have to detach from you, reject you, avoid you, or criticize you to validate myself.

MR Peter Scazzero. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash A Revolution In Your Life in Christ (Kindle Locations 850-858). Kindle Edition.

In a multi-ethnic context and a diverse society, this notion of differentiation is an important pushback to assimilation and the colorblindness that is promoted by many. This is the connection that keeps the tension between mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic churches vibrant and generative.

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No Act of Reconciliation Is Too Small

I have something of a perfectionistic streak. You wouldn’t know it by the way I dress or by the way my office looks sometimes. I’m not OCD, but there is something in me that appreciates aesthetics, beauty, and excellence. And I demand something of myself to perform a task well, to craft something to the point of pride. I’m no Steve Jobs, but I certainly don’t come from the school of “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”. And I know – some good thing is better than no good thing. I get it. But that doesn’t sit well with me.

But in short, if I’m going to consider myself in the work of reconciliation, I have to (in the words of my loving yet straightforward wife) “get over myself.”

Here’s the thing, I work at a small church that shares the building with a Latino Pentecostal congregation. But my Spanish is awful, so I shy away from having direct conversations. I like to meet when there are translators and people who can “listen” and “speak” for me. Well guess what, over the last year, the needle on the “trust meter” has barely moved, and so in my broken, childish, amnesia-from-high-school-Spanish-classes-level I struggled through a conversation and got to the word, “together” — “juntos” yesterday with my Honduran pastor hermano. And let me just say, that phone call broke something between us. And I hated the process of sounding like an idiot. I hated that I couldn’t even communicate my gratitude for him or the possibility of “juntos”. I don’t like not being able to do something well. But there is not enough time in the world for reconciliation to get it right the first time.

In my mind, I paint beautiful works of reconciliation, but I don’t want to cast an errant stroke and so I wait; or I practice in other areas, but not in the thing that God has put before me because I want it to be aesthetically pleasing. My first mistake and the one lesson that I’ve learned in the last week, is that we paint “juntos” and that there is no act of reconciliation too small. If we cannot even do the small things – how on earth can we do the big things?


I Am CCDA

We are live at CCDA!   We hope you stop by our EFCA Samaritan Way booth to sign up for a chance to win a free ipad2.   We also hope that you subscribe to this blog and allow us to help you reverse societal division, multiplying Kingdom growth.

Our blog is relatively new (just started this year).   Please take some time to look at some of our posts.   You can also follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.   Enjoy the following excerpt below, which is the introduction of my book Reconciliation 101:  A Handbook for Ministry Leaders.

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This guide is for ministry communities who care enough about reconciliation that they are ready to do something about it. It is especially focused toward those who are called to lead these communities. 

If you picked up this book, you have probably determined that God wants you to do something in the area of reconciliation. My guess is that, at the very least, you have already started on a personal level and desire to lead your ministry in that direction, too. There are three reasons I believe I can help you on your journey.

The first stems back to April 2001, when Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old African-American with a history of non-violent misdemeanors, was shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer. His death caused outrage in the neighborhood of my then-church plant (River of Life), resulting in millions of dollars of damage.

It was in this environment that we held our first public worship service, in the very neighborhood that had been at the center of the rioting. River of Life became a tangible demonstration of what God can do when people from all walks of life live in unity for the advancement of the kingdom.

For seven years as the founding pastor, I was surrounded by the effects of racial, ethnic, gender, generational, and economic conflict. In leading that wonderful ministry I learned that reconciliation is a verb and is much bigger than merely achieving racial harmony between blacks and whites. I have come to believe that it is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission.

While I was at River of Life, 70 percent of those who joined had not previously had a church home. Most told me that one of the big reasons they came was the fact that everybody was accepted there, regardless of their cultural background.

Those years I spent shepherding a church in the midst of a conflicted community have made me the Christ-follower I am today. That experience has also given me a passion to spread the primary lesson I learned: that reconciliation is the mission of God in our fallen world.

The second reason I believe I can help you on your journey of reconciliation is that I have applied the principles from this handbook not only in a local church setting, but also during my stint as director of ethnic ministry at Cincinnati Christian University. While working there, I was simultaneously earning my Ph.D. I would literally write out a theory for one of my papers and then test-drive it on campus. So I am grateful to the university leadership for being my “guinea pigs.” We had great success in laying the foundation for reconciliation. The faculty became integrated for the first time, and last year they experienced their biggest enrollment of ethnic students in their history.

The last reason I believe I can help you in your journey of reconciliation is because I presently serve as director of reconciliation for the Evangelical Free Church of America. Samaritan Way (the name of my ministry) was at ground zero in 2008. Now, we have successfully built a network of ministry leaders who are leading with reconciliation in mind.

I share these reasons to assure you that what you are about to read has been born in ministry practice. I have done some theoretical work to back up my practical suggestions, but I don’t think you need much of it. You can find that elsewhere.

There are very good books on reconciliation sitting on my bookshelf. Great reads, but I will probably not revisit them. The reason is not because the books don’t have relevant material. The problem lies in the fact that, typically, the books don’t offer much practical help in guiding the reader to “go and do likewise,” as we are told in Luke 10:37.

I would always tell my staff at River of Life, “Don’t bring me a problem without offering a possible solution.” That is why I have written this handbook. I have applied these principles in a church, university, and denominational setting and achieved success.

Author Henri Nouwen stated in Reflections on Theological Education that “writing is like giving away the loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.” My prayer is that this book will help you reverse division, multiplying kingdom growth.

Let me offer a few tips on how to best utilize the handbook. First, as with a car owner manual, I assume you are actively driving a car. In our case, the assumption is that you are beginning your journey down the road of reconciliation. As you drive, use the principles presented to manage the dynamics of difference.

Second, I believe in the power of the ministry community and will use that phrase a lot. By ministry community, I’m referring to people who form their lives together within the context of ministry. This could be a Christian university board, church small group, or denominational staff.

These communities operate as a space where people can reflect on their experiences. As they reflect, others are allowed to offer varying viewpoints, allowing people to unearth common understanding as well as differences. Knowledge construction in the midst of relationship is what binds us together as followers of Christ. Therefore, you would be doing yourself a great disservice to read this guide alone.

You will also come across new ideas that need processing with others. So, for instance, if you are a senior pastor, read the guide with your elders as a group. Then set aside times to discuss the concepts presented.

Third, I recommend you read the chapters in order. They are based on my presentations, where I take the big picture and narrow it down to the specific. Each concept builds on the other. You could skip around, but you would probably find yourself confused if you do so.

Fourth, don’t expect to find all the answers concerning reconciliation in this thin little handbook. I’m just passing along the lessons the Lord has taught me, with hope that they will move you and your ministry further down the road.

So I’ll end the introduction with my bottom line, a conclusion reached from 17 years of practical ministry and academic study concerning reconciliation, and we’ll build from there: The present concept of reconciliation needs to be renewed.

Read more to find out why and how to renew it.

Click here to buy Reconciliation 101:  A Handbook for Ministry Leaders. 


Are We There Yet?

Robert Putnam’s American Grace:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us is a must read for the serious minded Christian.  In relation to race in chapter 9 (entitled “Diversity, Ethnicity, & Religion) he makes a few interesting observations.

After decades of being the least racially tolerant group, evangelicals are now virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the population when it comes to racial attitudes.  Putnam argues that evangelicals have simply followed the national trends:  never leading, always following, and now have finally caught up.  He also states that evangelical megachurches (along with catholic parishes) are the only noticeably racially diverse religious communities in America.

His observations connect with one of my previous observations that things are looking better when you look at the overall Christian landscape concerning race and faith.   If the reconciliation journey was a map of the US with the beginning point New York City and the ending point LA, perhaps we are in Pittsburgh?  Maybe even St. Louis?  We definitely aren’t in Kansas, Dorothy, but we have made some significant progress.


Help Me

I know I’m late to the party, but here are my thoughts on The Help.   For full disclosure you should know that typically movies like this make my skin crawl.  Hollywood has a tired formula of creating movies in which poor, pitiful black folk are “rescued” by good meaning white folk (Blind Side, Radio).  Drives me nuts!  One of the things I loved about Remember the Titans is for once they put the main black character in a position of authority and courageous leadership.

Anyways my wife and daughter both loved the book so their word is good enough for me.   I did see a lot of the tired Hollywood formula, however I did like the display of one authentic truth:  The most effective way to cross racial barriers is life experience.   When people take the time to truly get to know one another as humans it has a powerful effect.   However the other thing that drives me nuts is evangelicals then take this truth and set up an either/or proposition when it comes to race and faith.

Besides viewing race through an idealistic lens they also have tendency to immediately bring it down to the level of individualism, inadvertently giving a pass on societal sins.   The pattern goes something like this:  we can overcome the intentional, debilitating  societal affects of racialization by merely being good buddies or acquaintances.  You can find exhibit A in this blogpost.   In it Natasha Robinson says “The new movie demonstrates that racial reconciliation happens not primarily through speeches and diversity training but through everyday friendships.”

Sistah I hear ya and I am sure you mean well, but no need to set up either or scenarios concerning reconciliation in my opinion.  How about friendships and speeches and diversity trainings, along with other things that actively interrupt racism on both the individual and the institutional level?   After all wasn’t the entire background of The Help about how these women were trapped by their race and gender because of racialization?  That is the context of how the friendships develop.

I am sure they appreciated having some white friends, but the thing that moved them closer to having some options in life besides just being the help was what came out of the friendships, which was Skeeter writing the book and telling their story as an attempt to interrupt the stifling institutional racism of Mississippi.   More Christians need to follow this example, as you’re not truly my friend if you don’t do something to help improve the quality of my life.


Dawn of a New Day?

With this post, I admit that I may be being a bit too optimistic.   Maybe, maybe not.  But I must admit that I am pretty excited about what I see on the horizon.   It’s like I am watching the onset of a storm.  First you notice the clouds changing on the horizon; next you pay attention to the subtle pick up of wind speed.  As the clouds gather strength, with certainty you know a storm is coming way before it starts to rain.  Similarly with racial reconciliation those who are paying attention to the subtle signs of ministry landscape can sense that possibly a storm of change is coming:

  • There have never been as many multiethnic and social justice conferences as there are now.  One of the oldest, the Christian Community Development Association Conference (CCDA) is struggling with the great problem of outgrowing their traditional venues used.  
  • The Justice Conference held annually in Portland, OR has emerged as a major event
  • The largest annual gathering of church planters (around 4,000; Exponential Conference) has an entire workshop track dedicated to multiethnic ministry and leadership
  • The Mosaix Global Network has formed and held its first multiethnic church conference
  • Leaders of significant Christian influence such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren have made racial reconciliation a significant part of their ministry
  • Christian college campuses are beginning to respond to student desires by creating majors and starting centers to address reconciliation

Just this week I have read a blog post by Ed Stetzer challenging the church to become more diverse and contributed to  an article for urbanfaith.com about denominations stepping up to the plate.   Could it be there is a quiet movement of the Spirit of God that is causing ministry leaders to re-examine how they “do church” and within that examination is an effort to address what WEB DuBois called “the problem of the color line?”   We can only hope and pray that during the year of the unveiling of the MLK memorial that indeed we are moving towards becoming the beloved community that he challenged the church to be.


What did reconciliation look like in the early church?

Reconciliation seems like it’s a flavor of the month word in American evangelical Christianity today, but as early as the Didache (first century), reconciliation (on the interpersonal level) was a required practice to attend early church meetings! Can you imagine what today’s church would be like if we took this practice seriously? I know of pastors who need to reconcile with other pastors. It seems to me very problematic that we are more prone to schism even in our churchgoing than understanding that without a deeper sense of reconciliation, we have little right to approach the throne of God at all.

Even in the early Catholic church, the practice of reconciliation was deemed a sacrament. Now granted, it is more popularly conceived of as confession and penance, but still, how did something central to the Christian life become so peripheral to evangelical practice? I know the answer could be really dismissive, as in the Catholic clergy abused the right to absolution and whatnot, but I wonder if without the practice of reconciliation (and let’s be honest, it does take quite a bit of practice), we’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves in a sense of egocentricism that has been hard to recover from.

It makes me wonder why as evangelicals are waking up to social action and community development, we are always finding that Catholic charities and community groups have already set up camp and been there for a long time. Granted, we can critique them theologically and question their notion of atonement, but what does it say about us that we want to recover the orthodoxy of the early church without the practices of the early church?

And what does it say about our inability to work together and mend fences when we dismiss reconciliation so quickly? I think it was fine when the West was wild and untamed, but now in this day and age, there is nowhere to run. We must begin to push inward to the boundaries that have kept us apart, not look for new places to set up camp. Or perhaps we shouldn’t go to church until we take reconciliation seriously. If we take the Bible seriously, shouldn’t we also take reconciliation seriously?


What’s the End Game?

I’ve been doing some research on the homosexuality issue lately and I look at the mass of popular culture on one side and the diminishing influence of the church on the other and I wonder what the end game realistically is.

Ultimately, same sex attraction (vs. same sex marriage) is not something we can legislate. And while I understand the tension between “you can’t legislate morality” versus “you can only legislate morality,” we really cannot determine what is in the hearts of people. Which is why the pronouncement in the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, that God would write his commandments on our hearts was such a profound one.

Now I’m not advocating for the legalization of same sex marriages or whatever, I’m just asking the question of what is it we are hoping to change or not change. And where will that take us? How will that affect our ability to witness to an increasingly polarizing and contentious society about our God who has commissioned all of us in the ministry of reconciliation?

Let’s say, we get our way. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman. That’s it.

Do we win? Is Christ glorified then?

I find myself always a little dissatisfied when I know that something is protected at the risk of people’s turning away from the greater God. Here’s an example, imagine that I want children from a nearby lower-income neighborhood to come to church, but in order to give them a ride I request waiver forms from parents, and deny those who come without signed waivers to enter into my vehicle. Understandable, right? I’m just protecting myself and the child. But in doing so, I’ve unintentionally kept some kids out…out of the desire to protect myself.

I don’t know if that’s a good example, but let’s say, that because of this policy, the kids who don’t have the waiver or can’t produce one because their parents aren’t home, or they’re in a bit of a difficult situation or whatever, there might be more than a little antipathy for what I’m trying to do in the first place, which is get them to church so I can have the chance to introduce them to a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.

So in some sense, I protect myself from liability, protect the institution of the church from lawsuits and responsibility, but I lose trust from the neighborhood. I hamstring the possibility of mission with these kids although I very much had the good intention of caring for them.

I wonder if similarly with the legalities we are arguing about marriage have the potential to do the same. Yes, we will protect the institution and we can protect ourselves, but how will we go back and proclaim our love for those outside again? What’s the end game in a process of Christian transformation that is already and not yet?  What is the end game where we are called to witness even as we realize that the witness is becoming more complex with every generation because of unintended consequences that came from the best of intentions?


Reconciliation is Not Conflict Resolution

This might be rather basic, but resolving conflict is not the same as reconciliation. Some may think it’s just a matter of semantics or hair-splitting, but one is an attempt to stop the conflict and pain; the other is trying to grow forward together and therefore has to work to name the pain and repair its source. Conflict resolution can certainly lead to reconciliation, but requires more work, and often we stop short of the ministry of reconciliation.

In some respects, reconciliation is like forgiveness at a larger systemic scale. Some of the same rules apply: 1) acknowledge something has happened. 2) take a step back from the consequences of the action and think about the person; 3) release the anger, bitterness, and the resentment for your sake; 4) forgive the other for their sake; 5) if possible, share that you have forgiven the other; 6) let trust build back up again naturally. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget; it means they are free and so are we.

Reconciliation goes a step further by ensuring that a healthy relationship grows. Therefore, like the act of forgiveness, it cannot remain passive or run away from pain; it must enter pain and re-enter areas of discomfort. In order to restore, much like rehabilitating an old house, there is often a tearing away of the upper layer in order to get to a firmer foundation, a cleaner base, so that the whole house may be deemed livable for many. It is not a cease-fire. It is not a “live, and let live” mentality. Reconciliation is not always compromise although it can start there, but it desires much more. Unlike the poster above, “no war, no trouble, no more” is not enough for reconciliation. Reconciliation is only satisfied when we can truly embrace one another. Conflict resolution is only the first step in reconciliation. Reconciliation is conflict resolution all the way down to your soul.


The Truth of Inconvenience

Despite the title parody, I wasn’t thinking of environmentalism or the planet. I was thinking of the fact that I suffer for fear of inconvenience and have the growing suspicion that this could prove to have negative effects for the way I live out my faith.

I’ve been in a mild season of self-loathing recently. Let me explain.
I wrote not too long ago about the experience of my housekeepers having to be at the mercy of increasingly aggressive immigration law enforcement in the state of Georgia.

I had hoped to keep the blog posts on this couple’s struggle going and to walk with them through this journey that really has awakened them from the American Dream. For a while, I was on a roll: I faxed a letter to the governor signed by our church leadership team expressing our concerns for the children of deported parents; I preached on the matter of justice in my home church (twice!); I helped the Hispanic church with whom we share a building host an immigration attorney.

But the truth of the matter is that I was finding the outer limits of my generosity and neighborliness. I found my compassion wearing thin with every interruption, tedious phone call, frustrating conversation in broken English, and surprise visit. Hours of work had been compromised. Several trips to a part of town I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with were also a part of this process.

I wanted to be free of the heavy burden of anxiety, the specter of fear, and the horrible hole-in-the-gut of uncertainty. And of course, that was part of the problem. I could always opt out. This was just temporary for me. It was just a bump in the road, a slight inconvenience. And I still hated it. I still bristled at it. God spare me from a real test of my ideals.

I think I have always assumed Jesus bore the cross as the ultimate sign of love, or atonement — a cosmic reconciliation of what had been broken in the garden, but what I forget is that cross was meant for me. That was my problem and my destiny and yet it was taken from me. And yet Jesus never made me feel as though he were inconvenienced by it all. In the process of sanctification, could we be like Christ without this inconvenient truth? Isn’t this what the ministry of reconciliation is for?