BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Divine Economy of Abundance (Part 1): #AllPeoplePractices

The following is part of an ongoing series looking at the #AllPeoplePractices that build the inclusive Body of Christ. This series is in partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).

What if we full heartedly believed, not in a God of scarcity, but in a God of abundance? What if every gift that God has ever given us is an asset, and what if we dedicated those assets to building the Kingdom of God? What if "we already have everything we need to make the next faithful step in ministry?"
These are fundamental questions that shape the ministries of UM Church for All People (C4AP). 

When we open the Bible, we see that the story begins in abundance. And when we turn to the final page, we see that it ends in abundance as well. God created a world of plenty and has promised to restore us to that plenty in the end. In between, we observe the effects of human fear, greed, and selfishness that disrupt God's vision for us, and creates a false perception of scarcity. But by living into the generosity that God has modeled for us, we trigger a return to the Divine abundance that God intended. 

We do not worship a God of scarcity, but a God of abundance. There is not a lack of resources in this world, only a problem of distribution. The world wants us to focus on scarcity, that there isn't enough, that it's a zero sum game of winners and losers. But we insist that God does not work this way. When the world focuses the needs and deficits of our community, we talk about its hopes and dreams. When the world tells us we don't matter, we proclaim our great worth in the Lord. 


ABCD Institute
Therefore, at C4AP we don't denigrate our community by bemoaning its deficits, even when each grant and each report asks us to describe everything wrong with our neighborhood. But if we compete to prove ours is the greatest need, we undermine the community and pit ourselves against each other. This tendency is pernicious. It suggests that to gain resources for our community we must buy into a mindset of its pathology. It leads to an unnecessary to a race to the bottom at the expense of the dignity of our community. 

So instead, we listen to the hopes and dreams of our neighbors, and then leverage our mutual assets to make those dreams come to life. We don't ignore the injustices of the world. On the contrary, we are acutely aware of the statistics and disparities that exist because they affect each moment of our lives and of lives around us. And we work hard to combat those injustices every day. 

But we do so through a lens of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD; perhaps the more common and secular term to describe God's Divine Economy of Abundance). In ABCD, the people are not the problems, they are the solutions. More institutions aren't the answer, God's people are.

We believe we have two irreducible assets: God's people, and the Holy Spirit that guides them in doing God's work. God’s people are always assets, never liabilities. And God's grace has no limit. We believe that every person is an image-bearer of Christ, the solution to our brokenness and sinful division. 
Make Your Peace
Art by April Sunami

Instead of the paralysis and despair of a needs-based society, we must re-center the intrinsic worth that God has placed in each one of us, and restore value to the things that the world has deemed useless, or unredeemable. 

If we will do this, all of the sudden vacant lots become opportunities for gardens, broken glass become a medium for artwork, our blighted buildings become the potential for stable housing. 

From a congregation that is 60% below the poverty line, is one of the leaders in second mile/missions giving in our region (and of note to my UMC friends, we always pay 100% of our apportionments!)

Through the Free Store, we give away over $2 million worth of clothing and household items every year. It's all free and our shoppers can come back as many times as they want, but we've never run out. In fact, there is so much abundance that it piles high and spills over as we try to keep up with the growing piles of donations. 

Our sense of scarcity doesn't have to exist. Our economic gaps don't have to exist. Our racial disparities don't have to exist. Our political inequalities don't have to exist. Our societal injustices do not have to exist.

Instead, let us return to the abundance that God would have for us. Let us insist that God has given us everything we have, and that everything we have is an asset. Then let us use our two greatest assets, God's people and God's Holy Spirit, to transform our society together. 

This isn't just rhetoric or pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's scriptural. And because it's scriptural, it's also practical. Stay tuned next week to hear about some of the real-life ways God's Divine Economy of Abundance has manifested at UM Church for All People...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Friday Fruit (04/29/16)

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

When It Happens to Our Own

Brown and Cleveland: Two people I admire greatly
This past week, two members of the Christian racial justice community shared gripping stories. Dr. Christena Cleveland, professor, author, brilliant speaker received a racist death threat letter. Charlene Brown, a national leader for black campus ministries, had a gun pulled on her by law enforcement while caring for a friend's lawn.

These are traumatizing events. Events that are unfortunately all too common. There are hardly two women that address the issues of racial justice and reconciliation with more grace and compassion than these. They each have a tremendous talent for making the concepts accessible and relatable to the many who hear them. And yet, they were targeted.

When it happens to one of our own, the stories in the national news become personal. It hits close to home. It feels more real. It is important to lean into the emotions. Wrestle with the indignance. Decry the injustice.

The letter Dr. Cleveland received
But I would also encourage us not to wait until it is one of our own before our hearts of compassion are opened. Don't wait until it happens to someone you know to believe their story.

Recognize the patterns. Appreciate the societal brokenness at play. Even if the story seems distant and obscure. Don't wait until it happens to your own.

Did you believe in August 2014 when it was Michael Brown's family telling the story? Did you believe Trayvon Martin's girlfriend when she testified?  Were you convinced before John Crawford's video was released? Or were you skeptical? Slow to offer your voice? Did you want to 'wait for all the facts' before you'd offer your support to a cause that has gone on for centuries?

This world works hard to otherize and demonize the voices of the oppressed. It takes intentionality to untrain the biased lenses with which we perceive these situations. It helps when we have a personal connection. This is why being surrounded by a diverse group of friends and colleagues is so crucial.

But "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Blessed are they that do not have to wait for the air-tight case to see the societal patterns. Blessed are they who do not have to know the victim to feel righteous indignation at the injustice against them. Blessed are they who will love the stranger as they love their friend and guard the dignity of all.

It is precisely because the world dehumanizes black and brown lives that we have to redouble our efforts to see the humanity, the imago dei, in each and every one of these situations, whether we know them or not. Whether they act respectably or not. Whether they are model citizens or not.

I am so grateful that both Ms. Brown and Dr. Cleveland are okay. And it is so encouraging to see the outpouring of love and support they have received. Keep it up! And I want us to be equally supportive and outraged when those we don't know, those that might even be "no angel," are targeted. Challenge yourself to love equally well those that you have not known.

If you were surprised by their situations last week, then you haven't been paying attention. If it's the first time you've personally encountered such events, it's a symptom of your isolation. If you thought it was a thing of the past, then you've been asleep. Must you put your hand in the wounds of our sisters and brothers before you will believe?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Roadmap to Reconciliation

There is so much brokenness, division, and injustice in this word. Can there possibly be reconciliation? Is there a roadmap to making that happen?

Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil asserts that there absolutely is. Based on her work with churches, colleges, and nonprofits, Roadmap to Reconciliation lays out her framework for helping organizations push through racial indifference and tension in their community to achieve unity and justice.

She challenges the Church: "Why aren't we more involved? Why aren't we pitching in to solve the problems of racial injustice, gender disparity, social inequality in our world? When unarmed young black men [and women] are shot and killed in the United States, why are so many Christians silent as we watch these events unfold?" (14)

Dr. McNeil offers a solid guide for those beginning the journey, particularly for those who have hit their first roadblocks of conflict and frustration. She demonstrates that these 'catalytic moments' are often what is necessary to jolt those in the dominant culture into a deeper understanding of the issues and systems around them. They are often pivotal moments that can either lead to a path of isolation or one of reconciliation.

On the road to reconciliation, are the initial steps of understanding new frameworks for understanding the world and then identifying with those have lived within those frameworks for a longer period of time. This path also entails self-preparation and studying to pro-actively inform these new worldviews. Lastly, this path includes the active work of bringing about change, both personally and systemically, in response to growth in the previous steps.

In framing her book, I appreciated that Dr. McNeil spent some time examining the term reconciliation itself (See post: Beyond Reconciliation). She acknowledges that it has been used in problematic ways. There are those that call for peace and reconciliation but "their notion of the term rarely extends to confronting and changing unjust systems and structures." She identifies other misuses of the term as well that have derailed progress.

Thus, she attempts to construct her own biblically-rooted definition of reconciliation. She frame the concept such that reconciliation is:
"an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God's original intention for all creation to flourish." (22)
Dr. McNeil then spends the rest of the book exploring how to encourage others through the phases of her roadmap to achieve this sort of reconciliation, at all levels. She encourages reader to think beyond their own personal transformation, noting "it's not enough to build a model for individual change if we ignore the groups that shaped them and the communities in which they live. Cultural transformation in a church or organization must go beyond interpersonal models of changing 'one person at a time,' which dominates Western evangelical thinking." (35)

Roadmap to Reconciliation is a quick read and a great resource for campus fellowships and churches in particular that have been shaken awake over the last couple of years around issues of racial injustice. Her books provides a framework with which to understand their feelings and experiences, guiding them in how to press deeper in response.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Friday Fruit (04/15/16)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog