I worry about my son

I worry about my son, should he ever go to Florida or any place where someone may misunderstand what he is doing and kill him. I worry about my son, to even bring him into this world where we are still so torn up about subjects of race and personal appearance.

I worry about my son, who may yet not be able to act in the same way as his friends and neighbors without putting his own life at greater risk. I worry about my son, for in my hope to bring about a family that crosses racial divides he may not yet find his way to adulthood and to the fulfillment of his dreams.

Let me tell you this, I do not currently have a son or any child. However, it has been my hope to be a father and to share with that child the same love I have found from my God, my family and my community.

Nevertheless, when children are followed and killed for looking suspicious I worry about how suspicious my child may look when he walks down the street at night. I worry about my own inability to explain to him what it means to be a man with dark skin since my own skin is so light.

No one, no child nor adult, should have to act differently because of the color of his or her skin. No one should have someone with a gun following him or her down the street after stopping by the store for a snack.

I have been so pleased, for the most part, of how society has accepted my marriage to a bi-racial woman. I had been thinking that the U.S. society has come so far in countering racism.

Unfortunately, it only takes one incident to remind us that there is much further to go before we will truly know that “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28).

I want my child to live. I want him to enjoy life. And, I want him to feel free to walk home alone from the store so that he, too, may grow up one day to experience the hope and joy of fatherhood.

 

MLK's dream may take awhile.

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What is the foundation for multicultural worship?

A diverse group of young United Methodists.

How do we welcome into our worshiping community the growing numbers of young people with cultural backgrounds different from our own? (A UMNS photo by Shalom Agtarap)

Last week I suggested having a monthly worship time utilizing the gifts of all the diverse peoples in a community. What would that look like and how would it come about?

First, one needs a team of people to guide this that would include many persons from the various parts of the community one seeks to reach. A good place to start would be the leadership teams of the various existing worshiping congregations in the community. The people on the new team need to be committed to the idea of being God’s community together, utilizing the shared gifts of all.

My vision is not of rotating which cultural group is taking lead. It is not to be worship in the Hispanic tradition one month, an Asian tradition the next, and the Euro-American tradition the third month. Rather, multiple traditions, and even languages, need to be woven together so that all God’s people celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Sure, there will need to be some variation month to month to engage the different traditions in each part of the service, but care must still be taken that all parts connect to the whole as in any typical worship service. The primary purpose of this time is not to highlight the many cultures, but to worship God. If combining specific items becomes a detriment to worship, then please end that particular combination.

There are reasons worship has remained segregated for many years even as the United States has become more diverse and integrated.  Nevertheless, I believe we can find a way to worship together. We must explore that possibility through attempts at putting it into practice. A monthly service, separate from normal worship times would allow for the building of a multicultural worshiping community without disrupting already existing experiences.

How do you build worship for the new community?

Multicultural Choir

A multicultural choir sings at a United Methodist event in 2008. (A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert)

One of my main concerns for the church is building a community of diverse peoples. This has been a concern of mine from childhood when one of my favorite songs said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” I have wanted to bring all of God’s precious children together, but have struggled to envision how to bring that about.

Recently, I read about “Women’s Worship” and a Children First worship time. One common suggestion was to create a monthly worship service addressed around the needs of the specific community. Could this be a way to begin a worship time intended for an audience of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

First off, let me say that I am not trying to segregate the worshiping community. Ethnically and culturally, we are already highly segregated in worship. Even the congregation where I currently worship, which prides itself on its diversity, finds itself segregated from Hispanic and Asian worshiping communities that use its facilities. I am looking for a way to bring people together.

I envision a monthly service at a time separate from any current worship time. It would be a time to highlight the gifts of many in the community in ways that are not regularly done in the weekly worship services of any group. Yes, language barriers will need to be addressed. However, the purpose would be to worship God together with each other as the diverse people God made us to be. While we may not understand every single word spoken, we should be able to understand the love of God flowing through our neighbors.

Palm Sunday: Marching is Not the End of the Story

Civil Rights March on WashingtonThis morning as I heard the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, I could not help but think of an historical march on Washington. Both moments were exciting times for those who participated in them. The people thought that victory was surely within their grasp. However, both the story of Christ and the story of the civil rights march have yet to be completed.

Christ was in pain when he entered Jerusalem on the fateful day. He knew what lay ahead of him. Surely he would have loved it if the march on Jerusalem signified a turning to God, but Christ knew it would not be enough. Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr., surely would have loved for his march on Washington to signify an end to racism. However, he knew the journey was not over and that he “may not get there” with us.

Martin Luther King is not God as Jesus is, but King gave his life in service to Christ. Both died so that others may live in freedom. However, the story is still not over. Even though the people of Christ are now leaders of many nations, we still see pain and suffering throughout the world and within predominately Christian societies. Even though a black man is now President of the United States, racism continues to be present in this country, even within the government that he leads.

The journey is not over. We must remember the sacrifices that Christ and Martin Luther King made for us. We must continue to strive for holy peace and the end of all prejudice and injustice. The march on Jerusalem was not the end of the story, but neither is Christ’s death and resurrection. I know I need to find a way to bring about truly Christ’s, and King’s, beloved community. How about you?

We Must Fix Our Lack of Religious Knowledge

Five ReligionsKnowledge about religion is too darn low in the United States today. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just confirmed it with a recent survey. This makes me even more want to develop a study of the Bible, Christianity and possibly all religions that is designed to help all persons understand cultural relevances.

Yes, there are so many religious references in society that a basic understanding of them will help all know, understand and appreciate what is being shared with us. I am a Christian clergyman and do hope you will accept the Christian faith as your own, but even if you don’t I believe you need to have a basic understanding of the Bible and Christian history.

Furthermore, I believe that Christians need a basic understanding of other religions. The Pew study showed that atheists and agnostics actually have a better understanding of religion and religious figures than any other single religious group, though Jews and Mormons came close to their level of knowledge. If we are going to strengthen the cause of world peace and cooperation, we need to understand each other’s faith background.

Therefore, I will continue to promote the study of world religions, religion in the United States and Biblical literacy. Please let me know if any of you would like to pursue some of these questions in more depth. I would be happy to work with you to increase your and your community’s religious knowledge.

Trusting God with Few in Battle

My wife and I today read a devotion about King Amaziah dismissing a bunch of soldiers just after he paid them to go out into war. The dismissal came right before the first battle began. A prophet had come to Amaziah and told him to trust in the Lord. God will return to the king and his nation much more than the cost of the soldiers he did not use in battle (2 Chronicles 25:5-9).

Senior airman is hugged by his mother upon his return home during 2007 after six months service in Iraq (U.S. Air Force photo / Maj. Robert Couse-Baker).

Trusting in God is a common theme in Scripture, and this is not the first time it was encouraged at the time of a battle. God instructed Gideon, years before Amaziah, to also reduce the number of his troops before fighting an enemy. Gideon’s army became so small that no one could believe that it could be ascribed to a human victory (Judges 7:2-8). Only God could win such a battle with only a few hundred soldiers. Large numbers is not always essential.

Recently, President Obama announced the end of combat operations in Iraq. It is not my place to say whether this is the will of God. However, I do believe the removal of combat troops will help in bringing about an end to the warring we have had for this past decade and longer.

To win this battle we need not oppose construction of mosques or Islamic community centers. To win this battle we need not burn Qur’ans. Instead, we need to help rebuild the infrastructure of towns and neighborhoods devastated by our fight against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Large numbers of soldiers are not necessary. Rather a few skilled in the work of nation building are what is needed.

We still need to pay the soldiers who enlisted and have fought to date. They too are in need of assistance as they return home often broken from traumatic brain injuries or post traumatic stress disorder. The value of spending money to heal our soldiers will repay itself in the usefulness these veterans will return to their families and communities. We must not forget their contribution even as we cut back the numbers on active duty overseas.

Can Church Meet Needs of Young Adults?

United Methodist young adults live out their faith on Capitol Hill. (UMNS photo by Shalom Agtarap)

Ministry with young adults is a challenging thing. Young adults are going through many life changes, and they are trying to figure out if the church really makes any difference in their lives. The United Methodist Reporter recently published a good story exploring the challenges of those leaving college. I want to look more specifically at some of the areas the church may need to address.

What may a young adult find and connect with in a local church? Vocational guidance, a place of rest, emotional support, friendship, family and an ethical/theological/spiritual structure are all possibilities. Too often the church gets so caught up in old ways that it seems to be nothing more than a social group. While young adult church school classes may engage in studies, are those studies really addressing the needs of class members or are the studies just something class leaders feel must be done?

A church that connects with young adults, regardless of whether there is a formal young adult group, will share a message that addresses the young person’s vocational questions. The message will be shared in sermons, in personal contacts by both members and staff, in small groups and in other activities. The guidance will include conversation about God’s calling on each person and the use of one’s spiritual gifts. Often times volunteer opportunities may relate to a young person’s vocational questions.

It is also important that local churches be a place of rest. Person’s in a time of heavy transition do not always need to be active in programming and leadership. Sometimes it is helpful to come, sit and listen. A place to meditate or worship may be helpful in getting away from the chaotic busy-ness of life. Similarly the church can provide emotional support for young people who struggle with problematic situations in their lives. Emotional support may come from peers in the congregation, but it should also come from staff and older members. Sometimes wisdom and experience are just what a young person needs to get through a tough time. The friendships and second-family connections built in a congregation may help the young person feel at home even if they have moved far from their place of birth.

Lastly, I connect the ethical, theological and spiritual, not because these are necessarily the same, but because a young person may not recognize where a question ties into the faith of the church or into some external body of ethics. Nevertheless, the church can share a structural framework by which the young person may explore ethical and theological questions. The young person may not accept every tenet of the faith community in which he or she participates, but the framework taught in the congregation may aid the young person in creating their own.

I am glad the United Methodist Church is looking hard at the task of ministering to young adults. It is an important piece of fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

How are your congregations building a community that meets the needs of its younger members?