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

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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Radical Hospitality: #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).

Visitors to UM Church for All People (C4AP) consistently remark about the incredible hospitality they encounter: "I just felt so welcomed," "I felt I belonged here," "I was accepted," "I felt the love of God immediately."

These are regular remarks from first our time guests. Is this the case in most churches? Sometimes it is, and sometime it isn't. But radical hospitality is a key component of C4AP, and for any church seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ on this earth.

Part of hospitality is being welcoming to new faces, but that is only just the beginning. C4AP's understanding of radical hospitality is grounded in the biblical term 'philoxenia.' Philoxenia is often translated as 'hospitality,' but it is a compound word that literally means 'to love the stranger.' So the term challenges us: how do we love with excellence the strangers that enter our doors each day? This is more important than any other service we as the Church can provide.

Radical hospitality is about more than just an open invitation. C4AP's Pastor John Edgar says it means "being authentic in valuing one another." It means wrapping our arms around those that the world has discarded or turned away, and assuring them beyond any doubt that they matter, that they are loved and affirmed.

In the story of Mary and Martha, which of the two women showed Jesus the greatest hospitality? Too often, our churches run around forming programs or creating 'ambiance' to make people feel welcome. But Jesus calls us to listen and to form relationships. Sometimes, this simply means being present, accompanying someone on their journey. We want to do, we want to fix, but most often we are called to simply be with.

Radical hospitality also requires that we are vulnerable ourselves as well. We must not just serve meals, we must sit and be served as well. We must not just pray for others, we must share how they can be praying for us as well. Otherwise, we leave no room for the love of Christ to shine through the gifts and graces of others (see: On Hospitality). When we are vulnerable and form authentic relationships of mutuality, true community and solidarity begins to form.

It takes work to model this kind of love. It takes humility and perseverance. It takes a desire to see the image of God in all of God's people, and to confirm God's loves for them, no matter how that person may respond.

Take a look at Pastor Rudy Rasmus's 'Touch Test.' Observe which people would be welcome in your own church setting, and which would not. Are there some that are more difficult for you than others? How might you challenge yourself and your church community to be radically hospitable to all those listed?

Finally, radical hospitality is also about caring for one another enough that we are willing to sacrifice deeply on the other's behalf. It means setting aside one's own comfort and preferences for the sake those around you. It means caring for the injustice in others' lives, and working daily to right those wrongs. It means putting love into action and demonstrating in meaningful ways that God has not forgotten about any of God's children. Radical hospitality means showing the daily practical outpouring of God's love to each person we encounter.

Check out C4AP's video on radical hospitality, 
and then think about the discussion questions below: 

Discussion questions:

  1. What are some of the common themes in the above video? How is radical hospitality manifested at your church?
  2. Take Pastor Rudy Rasmus's 'Touch Test.' Who would make you uncomfortable sitting in the pew next to you? How can you and your church be more hospitable to those you circled?
  3. What were some of Jesus's acts of radical hospitality in His ministry? What was the effect of that hospitality on the people He encountered?
  4. How do new visitors experience your church setting? What are some simple steps that your community can take to be more radically hospitable?

Monday, April 4, 2016


Here, we begin an ongoing series called #AllPeoplePractices. In partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People (C4AP) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), we will take an in-depth look at a church that has been doing the work of multiethnic and multi-class ministry for some time now. 

My husband and I have attended C4AP for about seven  years now (see post: Why I Love C4AP). I've served as worship music director there for almost four years, and most recently I've also begun working full time for its non-profit sister organization, Community Development for All People (CD4AP). This series will explore what has worked for C4AP, and what hasn't. We'll use the lessons learned through the ministries of C4AP to help other local churches on their journey to embodying the inclusive Body of Christ. 

Posts for #AllPeoplePractices will appear periodically on an ongoing basis among the other articles in this space. To begin, here is an introduction to C4AP and the work it does:

The United Methodist Church for All People in Columbus, OH grew out of a message of unconditional love and an atmosphere of radical hospitality.  It is intentionally cross-class and multi-racial, living into its vision of building the 'Front Porch of the Kingdom of God.' The worship at C4AP reflects the diversity of the community, with multicultural worship music ranging from contemporary, to old hymns, to gospel, and sung in many styles and languages.

Church for All People (C4AP) is an inclusive community where all people are received with hospitality, find hope, experience God’s Divine Economy of Abundance, and are transformed through Jesus Christ. C4AP believes that "God loves us just the way we are and God is not finished with any of us yet!"

The Free Store is the flagship ministry of Church for All People.  In the past year, the Free Store has distributed over $2 million in free clothing and household items. It is the basis for all the ministries that have come after it, and is the foundation for building relationships with the community.

Through these relationships, C4AP listened to the hopes and dreams of those who shopped at the Free Store and heard the desire for more safe, decent, and affordable housing on the south side of Columbus. Since then, C4AP's non-profit sister organization Community Development for All People (CD4AP) has done nearly $50 million in affordable housing in its neighborhood, in partnerships with Nationwide Children’s Hospital (through Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families), the United Way of Central Ohio, and South Side Renaissance.

CD4AP also serves hundreds of students through its youth development programming.  During the school year, CD4AP provides a free after school program in partnership with the nearby Lincoln Park Elementary School. In the summer, CD4AP provides a Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program as part of the national, CDF literacy-education movement that impacts the lives of children by cultivating a love of reading, encouraging high self-esteem, and offering amazing program opportunities.

CD4AP cares for the physical health of the community through its H.E.A.L. (Healthy Eating and Living) initiative. It's a program designed to accompany individuals as they set goals to improve their health.  H.E.A.L. includes a fresh produce market from which nearly 600,000 pounds of produce are distributed each year to over 1,500 families. H.E.A.L also provides health education classes, cooking classes, and exercise opportunities to the community.

And all this is just the beginning! I haven't even told you yet about the bike shop, the first birthdays, the community gardens, the leadership academy, the parent engagement, the career gateways, or the delicious cafe. It's all way too much to fit into one post, which is why we're launching this series to explore how churches can engage their communities in similar ways in order "to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" (see the work and mission of GCORR).

Stay tuned to #AllPeoplePractices as we explore the many facets of Church and Community Development for All People, helping to equip all local churches to build the 'Front Porch of the Kingdom of God' in their own communities! In the meantime, follow C4AP on Twitter and on Facebook.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Fruit (April 1, 2016)

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 promote the ideals of truth and freedom...

Weekly Round Up:

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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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