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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'Do all the good you can', even to yourself

What does it take to "always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else" (1 Thessalonians 5:15)?
"Do a little good today, do a little more tomorrow"
That could get exhausting...

Are we really supposed to
"Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can"?
How is that possible?

The road to justice is a long one. It is an huge task to help build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and to be the hands of feet of Christ while here. That's quite a charge.

On a notepad: "1: Do no harm, 2. Do good, 3. Stay in love with God"How do we maintain the energy to light one more candle in the darkness? What happens when we work hard, but feel like we're not getting anywhere?

Doing 'all the good you can' requires that we stay in love with God. It requires that we love ourselves as well. To sustainably push against the world's brokenness, we must also tend to our own.

It is essential that we care for ourselves and care for one another as we do the work together. We know that self-care for those in racial justice work is important. So why are so many of us so bad at it?

There are many ways practice good self care. Each of us know ourselves best, but sometimes we also need the help of those around us to put it into practice.

Feet propped up in front of a lake
My day at work with CD4AP
In an intentional effort to live into these principles, the staff of Community Development for All People (CD4AP) went on a two-day retreat this past week. Not a committee-filled, work-aholic, same-routine-but-more-intense retreat. But an actual enjoy nature, rest and rejuvenate, retreat.

The staff at CD4AP give it their daily all. The hours can be long and rigorous. The brokenness and pain of our encounters can be intense. The desire to see transformative change is great. So,to help promote the sustainable well-being of the staff, we  took time to breath in God's strength, and to rest in God's restorative power.

We went on walks, we kayaked, we napped, we played. Among the structured activities was an opportunity to participate in 'Urban Zen,' a guided meditation specifically created to help care for caregivers. It was designed to equip us "with the necessary tools to avoid the burnout that is care-giving communities." It helps practitioners of God's justice and reconciliation gain "techniques of grounding, relaxation and restoration in order to be present as they serve." Our staff relaxed into the sound of the leader's voice. They sprawled on and blankets. There were snores. It's was all good.
Picture of Audre Lorde: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."
What tools can you equip yourself with to care for yourself in your own ministry? Check out Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes's great writing on self-love, as well as some other self-care ideas here.

Ultimately, we sustain our ongoing efforts by holding on to the God's vision for this world and to the hope of redemption that Christ brings. We humbly rejoice in the opportunity to be active co-laborer's in God's process, and rest in the knowledge God will sustain us in our efforts. We lift our eyes to the hill of God's promise, and rest in the assurance that God's plan will prevail.

Keep your eyes on the prize, friends. Hold on.

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right,
for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Multicultural Worship Collective [Review]

Album cover: Multicultural Worship CollectiveWhat does multicultural worship music sound like? Of course, there's no way to answer such a question. The beauty of multicultural worship is that it's different in every encounter and in every setting. It draws on the richness of the cultures that inform it and brings together the many hearts that may be participating. It is ever changing, highly responsive to the world around us.

The Multicultural Worship Leaders Network (MWLN) has embarked on a project to collect multicultural worship songs, in attempt to provide some resources and examples for others interested in expanding their worship repertoire. They have solicited submissions of songs that were 1) ethnically diverse, 2) musically, culturally, expressively diverse, 3) singable and/or teachable and 4) quality. The result was their new Multicultural Worship Collective CD.

One of my favorite techniques represented on the album is when languages are blended together within a song (eg. Eric Lige and Christine Lee's Surrender). It communicates the idea that we are diverse, but united. It gets away from 'separate but equal' worship and sends the message the we worship one God with one voice. When done well, it sends a powerful message about the Body of Christ.

Proskuneo logo
Josh Davis of Proskuneo does this often, weaving together langues, often even in mid-sentence. Rather than simply translating from one to another, this technique (which Josh calls 'interlingual' worship) sends the message that we belong together and that our difference actually compliment one another. These lyrics finish eachothers sentences like best friends on a playground.  I particularly liked the version of 'With One Heart,' presented on this CD by King's Region, because it blends Korean with Spanish, decentering English as the 'default' language (there's no song without any English lyrics on the album).

Another powerful multilingual song is 'Father of Lights,' presented here by Nikki Lerner and Bridgeway Community Church. While predominantly in English, it also gives thanks to God in Arabic, Spanish, and Korean as well. It is helpful for congregations at the beginning stages of incorporating many languages into their worship, especially as intentional preparation for those cultures that might not yet be in attendance. Many new languages could be substituted in this song, making it particularly versatile.
Nikki Lerner

I also particularly enjoyed William Johnson Garcia's Gratefulness, an instrumental track featuring drums as the lead/solo. Percussion and drums are often overlooked as central instruments of western worship. When we do so, we further marginalize the many rhythm and percussion-centric cultures that make up the Body of Christ. I was glad then to hear this song featured.

Jelani Greenidge's track, We Belong, attempts to bring hip hop into a corporate worship setting. We often see rap artist used to 'spice up' more generic worship or as a token nod during big worship events. But Jelani works to bring it to the center as, not just as a solo act, but as a corporate worship experience.

The other great aspect of the CD is that its songs are all very 'doable'. By intentional design, it is meant to serve as a resource for worship leaders and other practitioners. As such, Josh Davis has graciously made the charts to the songs available to BTSF readers. Email him (, with your request and he will respond in short order. As an additional benefit, Josh has offered a bonus track to BTSF readers who purchase the CD. Just type "BTSF" in your order and you will also receive the Proskuneo song 'Alle' for download!

MWLN logoThe album is truly high quality, though sometimes feel too clean or sterile. This may counteract the accessibility and ease-of-use that the project is trying to convey, or belie the traditions from which some of the songs come. For this reason, I was glad to come across 'Witness' from Dawn and Billy Anthony, which features the vocal lead over solo base for a great feel that was powerful, but unpretentious.

A few final words for those beginning the journey of multicultural worship music. It is always important to enter with humility and in the context of relationship, honoring the many cultures being represented. One common pitfall in multicultural worship music is filtering cultures through a white lense, tilting over into appropriation for the sake of being trendy or 'exotic.' I'm also pretty cautious about songs described as having "Native American feel" or "African rhythms." These phrases paint many, many different nations and cultures with broad strokes, counteracting the goal of multicultural worship.

This album provides some solid 'first steps' for those wanting to get a feel for how different cultures can come together to worship with one voice. Take a listen to the Multicultural Worship Collective album. What do you think?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Fruit (08/21/15)

Julio Salgado, via Visions From The Inside/Colorlines
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, August 16, 2015

Justice in the Hands of All People (Part 2)

St. Francis, not Pastor Henneman
This is part two of a sermon by Pastor Henneman, who explains that today's work of prophetic justice is in all of our hands:

We might think of prophets as a category of people like Nathan and Elijah and Habakkuk and Jeremiah whose names are in the Bible. But God’s work in the world did not end with the sealing of scripture. God has continued to call prophets, especially prophets who speak against the trampling of the poor, afflicting the righteous and pushing aside the needy.

In the 13th century God called a man we know today as Francis of Assisi. Francis was born into a family of wealth and comfort, but he gave up all of that and placed himself among the poor and cared for the poor.

When Francis was called by God he heard the voice of Christ say to him, “Repair my church” and through his life Francis did that. He shifted the entire focus of the church so much, that today we often speak of God’s preferential option for the poor.

In the same way, in the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, moved from a position of power to poverty. Wesley studied at the University of Oxford. He was an ordained priest in the Church of England. With that, he had position and status. But he stepped out from behind the pulpit and placed himself among the poor. He preached to farmers and coalminers and like Franics, he shifted the focus of the church. Because of Wesley’s focus, today the Methodist church retains its focus on ministry with the poor, on justice for the oppressed, the very things we do here at the Church for All People are a continuation of this Wesleyan heritage.

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King didn’t simply speak of having a dream, but called for economic justice. At the time of his assassination, King was organizing a poor people’s campaign and this was not popular. Talk about having a dream and they give you a Nobel Prize; talk about economic justice and you get assassinated.

Oscar Romero: "A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed--what gospel is that?"
That is what happened to Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero served in El Salvador in the late 1970s and identified with the poor and became an advocate for the poor. Like Francis and Wesley and King, he was a prophet. He called on the government and military powers of his country to stop brutalizing their own people. Whenever he preached, radios across El Salvador clicked on among the common people, but those same broadcasts angered people in power. So much so, that one morning in 1980, literally as he was praying over the communion table, he was assassinated.

Serving as a prophet is not a popular or easy thing. Amos words ring true today that “they abhor the one who speaks the truth.” But, it is at the heart of God’s will and call for us to live lives where we give our voice to righteousness and justice.

It is work that Michael Reed has helped us begin to live in to here at Church for All People. A couple of months ago we hosted a forum in this room where state legislators and the media came and heard our stories. And then, a few weeks later, we moved outside these walls and went to the State House. Your presence put a human face to the proposed budget and you made change happen.

UM Church for All People at the Ohio State House
As we prepared to go the State House, budget proposals included cutting all funding for food banks, cutting and redistributing money for housing, and reducing Medicaid benefits, including benefits to pregnant mothers. These proposals would have undercut everything we are doing in feeding people, housing people, and celebrating First Birthdays.

What happened after we showed up? All three of those proposals were defeated. Money for food pantries, housing, and Medicaid were secured. Your presence changed the policies of our state.  In the words of Amos, "justice roll[ed] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream".

This is something to be proud of and we need to be greatly thankful to Michael Reed for starting us on this work.

But the call in Amos to justice and righteousness is not simply about responding to the injustices of the world, but creating an entirely different type of community, where all are welcomed at the gates of power, instead of being pushed away.

What if our work towards justice wasn’t simply showing up when someone proposes something that is harmful to our community, but having a continual presence?

A seat at the table
What if, instead of fighting for scraps at the bottom of someone else’s table, we were to have a seat at the table?

What if, instead of responding to the injustice of our world, we advocated and created our world? What if our work of justice was to create the kingdom of God, here on the South Side of Columbus, as it is in heaven.

I believe it is possible.

I believe it is possible not out of naïve hope or optimism, but because I believe it is God’s will.

It is God’s will for justice [to] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is God, working through you, the beloved community, that our world can be transformed.

I believe it is possible, because despite popular opinion, The Man is not in control of our world. The Man does not determine our fate, you do. God, working through you, is much more powerful than The Man.

Pope Francis
Last week, Pope Francis, who took his name and his mission from Francis of Assisi, who has called
for a church of the poor and for the poor, toured Latin America.  As he prepared to leave Bolivia, he shared these words that are appropriate to this message and to our community. Pope Francis said:
“In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age.”
To paraphrase the Pope, let me re-phrase these words for our community:

The future of the South Side does not lie in the hands of The Man, it is fundamentally in our hands and our ability to organize. It is our hands that can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. Let us together say from the heart: no family without housing, no unemployed without work, no people without food, no life without health, no neighborhood without safety, no person without dignity, no child without a first birthday, no youth without a future, no senior without a blessed old age, no stranger without acceptance, and no community without your voice.

Let this be our vision, let this be the kingdom of God among us, let us make it happen. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friday Fruit (08/14/15)

Black man in a 'Black Lives Matter March' in his wheelchair
'Able to Resist'
Colorlines/Bryan MacCormack with Left In Focus
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, August 9, 2015

Justice in the Hands of All People (Part 1)

Tina TurnerToday's post comes to us from Pastor Henneman, Director of the Healthy Eating and Living (HEAL) initiative at Church and Community Development for All People. Pastor Henneman serves there as a Church and Community Worker with the United Methodist Church and recently preached the following sermon on Amos 5:10-15, 21-24:

In 1969, a new job was created. This person best equipped for this job was presumably a middle age, wealthy, powerful, Caucasian male who controlled everything in the world. That person became known as The Man.

The Man is the government; The Man is the institution. The Man is any person in a position of authority who keeps us from doing what we want to do and from being who God created us to be.

Tina Turner sang about working for The Man every night and day.

The Man is keeping me down.

But while this description of The Man was first used in 1969, The Man has been around much longer. The Man can describe anyone in a position of authority who tries to control the people under him for his own gain.

The Man prevented women from having a right to vote until less than a hundred years ago.

The Man identified people bound in slavery as 3/5 of a human being.

The Man spoke of the divine rights of kings who controlled people without any accountability. No one was allowed to question the king, because the king claimed to be working on God’s behalf, even when the king exploited his people.

Artwork of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinnersBut this isn’t only a matter of recent history. The Man can be found in the pages of the Bible.

The Man was found in the voice of religious leaders who asked Jesus “why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners… what are you doing healing on the Sabbath?’

In the Old Testament, The Man was often found in unfaithful kings who placed their own egos and desires over being faithful to God; kings who put their own power, their own prestige, and their own position above that of serving God or caring for the people.

And it was to The Man, that God sent prophets to speak truth to power.

Over the last two months of our sermon series we have heard the voices of many prophets.

The first prophet we heard from was Nathan, who came to King David sharing a story of oppression. When David asked who was responsible for these actions, Nathan responded by saying: “you are The Man.”

Road sign: "Danger, wrong way, turn back"
The job of prophets
We heard from Elijah and Elisha; Habakkuk and Jeremiah, people who stood against the powers and principalities of their worlds and called for change.

Today’s scripture comes from the story of Amos. Amos is not one of the better known people in the Bible. The book of Amos is small and can get lost among the other books that are referred to as the “minor prophets”. But there is nothing minor about Amos. Amos is significant in a number of ways.

The first thing significant about Amos was that he was the first of the recorded prophets. Almost 800 years before Jesus, Amos was called by God to go and speak truth to The Man. Amos was the first person God used in this way to confront the powers of his world, including the kings and nations of Israel and Judah.

This is a whole new thing God is doing. In the early part of the Hebrew Scriptures, God raised up kings, people like David and Solomon to lead the people. The kings had gone so far astray that God is rising up people to call the kings and the nations back to righteousness and justice.

LandscapersSecond, it is interesting who God chooses to be the first prophet. In the first verse of this book, we hear that Amos was “among the shepherds”, in chapter 7 Amos himself says, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

So God is doing a whole new thing, calling prophets to return people to faithfulness. Instead of using a person of power, God calls a shepherd and a tree trimmer, a person who today we would describe as someone who cares for animals and does landscaping. God uses a landscaper to deliver a message of justice and righteousness.

The third thing interesting about Amos is the sin that he was called to address.

Many times, when we read the Bible, the sins talked about seem distant from our world. In the book of Leviticus, the people are instructed not to eat bats. If eating bats is a sin, that is one sin I have completely victory over. I have never been tempted to eat a bat. There are many sins I am guilty of, eating bats is not one of them.

Warning sign: don't eat bats
Don't eat bats. Just don't. 
Last week we heard the story of Elijah taking on Jezebel and the priests of Baal. There was a contest where the priests of Baal called fire down from the sky and nothing happened while Elijah called on God who turned a water-soaked altar in to a bonfire.

But as powerful as that story is, it is somewhat distant from our world. I have never met anyone who worships Baal. I’ve never seen a bumper sticker, or t-shirt, or piece of jewelry for a Baal follower.

But listen to the sin that Amos addresses. Amos says to the people of Israel: you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

These are the sins that Amos calls people to repent from, with the hope that if they will “hate evil and love good and establish justice in the gate” that God will be gracious to them.

The sin of their time is not some distant sin. It is not worshiping a foreign god we know nothing about. It is a sin that is very close to our world:  the sin that the poor are trampled, that the rich are taking from the poor, the righteous are afflicted, and the needy pushed aside.

This is a sin that didn’t end in ancient Israel. And, because that sin hasn’t come to an end, neither has God’s work ended in calling prophets. Continue to Part 2 as Pastor Henneman shows us how Amos's words apply in our lives today....

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Fruit (08/07/15)

Tribal dancers on the Hualapai Reservation
at Grand Canyon, Arizona.
Photo: Getty Images/Colorlines
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.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Year Later

Michael Brown
August 9, 2014.

It’s been a year now since Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson.

How vivid, how gut wrenching are the memories of that day, that week, the many weeks that would follow.

How many marches have there been since then? How many protest signs? How many prayer vigils?

So much bravery, so much comradery, so much frustration, so much pain, so much….Just so much.

It has been such a hard year. Of lament, sorrow, despair. There have been times we’ve screamed at God, or wondered if God is even there. There have been times we’ve believed that evil would triumph and that the righteous would be destroyed.

But it has also been a year of hope. Of struggle. Of re-awakening. Of energy. The long-obscured realities of oppression are being forced into the light. We struggle because we hope. In hope’s absence there is no reason to struggle, no reason to press forward in the long work that has been thrust upon a new generation of justice-seekers. Yet press on we do.

Cop in front of protest sign that has many faces of black people killed by police. Text: "Stop murder by police"Since Mike Brown's there have been more deaths.
More videos. More first-hand testimonies.
More so now than before he was killed? No. But maybe, hopefully, more awareness of them. More action in response to them. More capacity to thread them together into the larger narrative of systems at work.
And more meaningful change because of them. Maybe.

This week, I am reflecting on all of these things. Reflecting on what it all means for me, for my Church, for my neighborhood, for  my country.
I invite you to reflect with me as well.

In this past year, we have been inundated with tweets, and think pieces, and talking heads, and opinion polls. This week, set these things aside. I invite you to quietly, prayerfully reflect on what God has been revealing in the year that has gone by. Reflect on the work that God has been doing in each of us, as individuals and as a society. Reflect, process, wrestle, and then put into practice whatever it is that God has been nudging you toward through it all.

May you draw nearer this week to God’s will for God’s people and to the just, redeemed Kingdom lived out on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

What has God been revealing to you this year? How have you been changed and how are you continuing to change as a result? Share in the comments and let’s journey together. 
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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