Thursday, August 28, 2008

Racism Today

So, Barak Obama is black and race is an issue in this presidential election. It's about time. This country has needed this day for some time. It is an especially interesting race now that Governor Sarah Palin has been tapped by John McCain for his vice-presidential running mate. One way or another, history is about to be made with either a black man or a woman in the top offices of this country.

I'm not sure who I will vote for in November. I'm still waiting to get a long, hard look at the candidates and their stand on positions I think are important to this country. War, education, health care, cost of living are all on my mind as they are on everyone else's. For me, race is not the deciding issue. The vote must go to the most qualified who has the best agenda for the country at this time in our history. Having said that, I am interested in the story of race in this presidential election because like it or not, racism is an issue in this country.

Our pastor for congregational care is an African-American who is one of my best friends. That's him and me in the picture. Norm and I have had countless private conversations over many issues including racism. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He has lived with racism all of his life. As he often points out, he feels the prejudging attitudes of other human beings based on his skin color. It makes me sick to my stomach to hear how he has been given the worst rooms in hotels or tables in restaurants because "you don't waste the good ones on blacks."

People are basically idiots at times. Norm is one of the best guys I know. He is talented, articulate, way smarter than me, a great listener, and a man who loves the Lord head, heart, soul, and mind. And yet, story after story is told of people who put their guard up around him, think he is a lowly hired hand, and treat him with little respect. Why? "Why else?" Norm asks. It is because he is black.

I grew up in the military in a family from the southern United States. Basically, from redneck Florida. It was an odd mix. Racism is prevalent in the south and yet in the military, there is a higher degree of color-blindness, especially for the children of military officers. One of my best friends in school was Lance. You had to get me to take a long, hard look to remind me he was black. He wasn't a race. He was a friend. A smart, funny friend. And then, as they say, there's the real world.

I lived in west Tennessee for several years. Small town, western Tennessee. About fifty percent black, small town western Tennessee. I asked whites and blacks if racism was an issue in town. "Oh yes" was the typical answer. Great. Hard data. Now to press for specifics. "How," I would follow up. Crickets. Silence. "Um, I'm not sure." The problem was there were no race riots on the square, no overt discrimination and no separate bathrooms or water fountains. It was much more subtle. It was the way a black and a white looked at each other when standing in line at the grocery store. It was the distrust that lingered quietly just below the surface of the other race. It was the jokes told about the other race. It was the extreme stereotyping. It was the noticeable absence of socializing between the races. Work and going to school together was great, but each person went home to "their own people" until the next day.

What amazes me is that the majority of people who feel this way in this country also claim to be followers of Jesus. The apostle Paul writing to a diverse group of Christians reminded them that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Those who love Jesus have become new creations and former distinctions have all been replaced by a profound unity. All people who love Jesus have a profound unity and the distinctions placed by others do not exist. If you are a Christ-follower and Obama is a Christ-follower it is your duty to love and encourage him as you would any brother in Christ. Argue policy, make value-based decisions, but do not judge based on skin color.

Living the way of Jesus means color blindness. In Christ those distinctions we place on others mean nothing. If a person is "in Christ" we are blood relatives, no matter the color of the skin. The band D. C. Talk sang a song that said, "We're colored people and we live in a colored world." God made people of all races. Shame on human beings for creating labels on people God has only given one label--"my children."

Do you clutch your wallet when you see a black man? Do you put your guard up around white people? Do you entertain certain thoughts when you see a Native American? A Japanese or Korean man? Christ demands that what we see is a beautiful creation of His. Christ demands we see a brother.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thoughts on Marriage

A few years ago, a young couple came into the church office. The woman gushed over the beautiful sanctuary and how perfect it was going to be for her wedding. The groom-to-be was silent. She was, shall we say, the verbal center of the emerging family. I had never met them until that moment. They were not members of the church I served. In the computer world when all of the information from one computer is transferred all at once to another computer it is called a core dump. I got a core dump of every thought she ever had about her wedding.

When at last she took a breath I said, "Let's back up. Who are you?" After another five minutes of monologue about her family and roots, she returned to the subject of her wedding and why she had chosen our church to have the honor of hosting her wedding.

I had finally had enough. Words came out of me next that surprised me. "I want to tell you something and I want you to hear me clearly. I don't care about your wedding." I delivered the line well and let it hang out in space for a moment. For the first time, the chatty bride-to-be was silent. Stunned was more like it. She had the "You're a pastor and you're not allowed to say that" look on her face. With enough of a pause for effect, I continued, "Your wedding will be beautiful and IF it is here and IF I officiate, it will be Christ-centered. I'm not worried about your wedding. In that sense I don't care about your wedding. I care about your marriage." Compared to living with another person "until death do you part," planning a wedding is easy.

This month, my wife, Cile, and I have been married 25 years. It seems like yesterday we were married. Now, three children, seven pets, one career change, eight moves and three home purchases later, I can say I'm proud of this milestone. Few make it this far. Even fewer make it this far and still like each other. We've done both.

We've been pondering what kept us going these 25 years for several months. Usually with words like, "I don't know why I stuck with you," followed by a groan or a "you know you love me...jerk." Feel the love.

Marriage counselors have written at length about what it takes to have a healthy, long-term marriage. They deal with the patterns and emotional issues in marriage. I particularly like the very secular John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Gottman knows what makes relationships work. I've learned a thing or two in my years as pastor and a husband.

I attribute our success to one thing: we both recognize that above all marriage is a relationship designed to reflect the divine relationship. We didn't understand that right away, but finally, after 25 years, we understand it well.

When Jesus reaffirmed the "one flesh" concept given at the beginning of all things as the priority for marriage, he was saying marriage is about two people living in relationship as God exists in relationship. The two reflect the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Separate and yet one. Mutually affirming, other-focused, indwelling each other's being. Cile and I have failed miserably at this "one flesh" at times, but somehow we always found the strength to come at it again another day. Over time, it has only improved.

Another image of marriage reflecting the divine relationship is that marriage is to reflect the love Christ has for the church. Christ loved the people who make up the sacred assembly called the church that he gave his very life that she might be born and then flourish. Marriage is to reflect that full devotion and sacrificial love for the other that Christ has for the church.

The fact is that a wedding is one day and often one of fantasy play for most couples. Marriage is where real life happens. The marriage is ground zero for what God most wants--two people who love each other with the exceptional selflessness found in the Godhead. Or two people full of devotion and sacrficing love for the other. Marriage is a man and woman in a lifetime relationship that bears a remarkable resemblance to God's own eternal, relational existence.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sometimes It Ain't Easy

You tell me how easy it is to follow the way of Jesus in this world today. I think it is hard. It is hard because Jesus raises the bar high for his followers. We are often expected to live differently than the culture in which we live. Christ followers' thoughts, actions and words are often in direct contradiction to society's. Or at least they should be. Just try explaining to the guys why you're not going to the strip club or to the girls why you refuse to join in idle talk or rumors about the private affairs of another person. Try it. Watch how quickly you get labeled a goody-goody or accused of judging or being better than others.

Christians are expected to be humble, other-focused, Christ-centered people whose divine source of joy and inspiration is evident to all. And yet, following the way of Jesus today is often anything but that. WIth that in mind, I started this blog. The Way I See It. This blog is one pastor's thoughts on how to live as Christ-followers. I will include my thoughts, struggles and encounters that help tell the story of how we can live the full life Christ promises. Here's the thing: sometimes living the way of Christ ain't easy...but it is always worth it.