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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Multicultural Worship Music (Part 2)

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)Previously, we explored how multicultural worship music can help us draw nearer to each other. Here, we see how it also helps us draw closer to God:
Read: where God happens

When we serve others by worshiping together in their heart music, we open ourselves up to new things that God may be trying to say in our own lives. Indeed, we may realize that God is speaking to us through a worship style we have been trying to avoid!

Each culture’s music can help us access different aspects of God’s character. Some styles help us understand the holiness of God, and teach us to how to revere God as King. Other genres help make God accessible, and show us that God is our friend. Still others focus on God as a provider, someone who we can rely on and trust.

Josh Davis, founder of Proskuneo Ministries, suggests that “one language or one style is not sufficient to describe the glory of God. There’s no way that one style could adequately capture his beauty, his majesty, his holiness, his transcendence.” Intentionally incorporating many genres into our worship helps us to connect with God across many aspects of who God is.

Scripture tells us that someday every tribe, every tongue, and every nation will stand before the throne praising the name of the Lord (Revelation 7:9). In that vision, we see that God is most glorified when we offer our praise together as a unified and diverse body of believers. We sing in many genres and languages because we are part of the global church and desire to live out heaven here on earth.

Baby taking steps
First Steps Toward Multicultural Worship
In beginning a journey toward multicultural worship, we must first examine the aspects of our own worship that are indicative of a particular culture. What theological themes are emphasized? How much of the music is contemplative? How much is offered in praise and jubilation? What instruments are used, and how does the congregation follow along? Once we have identified our own cultural norms, we can begin to integrate those aspects of worship that may be missing from our environment.

Begin to learn about the cultures already around you, in your church and in the broader community. Explore the creative outputs of other groups, sitting at the feet of those who are willing to teach you. Listen to worship music in different styles (even better, host a listening party together with worshipers from neighboring churches). Build honest relationships with folks from other cultures that will allow for reciprocal edification as you draw nearer to Christ together.

Taking careful steps to incorporate new music is essential to its being well received by congregations. It is important to communicate the mission of multicultural worship frequently and through multiple avenues. Guide worshipers by reading scripture, preaching, leading bible studies, and praying for the fulfillment of the multicultural vision of the church. It’s also important for church members to see the principles of multicultural worship modeled in the music leadership, and in the images used in bulletins or on display screens. Offer frequent invitations, forgiveness, and grace for those that are just starting their journey.

As you embark on the journey ask yourself how multicultural worship shapes our understanding of local ministry, the broader community of believers, and of the secular world. How does monocultural worship shape the same? Identify some of the heart music represented at your church. Does it match the music being used during service? Identify what your own heart music is--that music that deeply connects you with God. Then, identify that music that you just can’t abide. Who would you be serving by learning to honor it?

Finally, allow yourself to meditate on the exciting aspects of multicultural worship, as well as those that may be causing intimidation or apprehension in your heart. How can we lean into the tension to better trust God with our insecurities, frustrations, and awkwardness? When we do, we will find that we are rewarded with a more intimate communion with God, and fuller relationship with His people on earth.

Interested in taking your church's worship to the next level? 
Check out these resources to help get you started:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

It Hurts When You Kick Against the Goads

The following is excerpted from a sermon delivered by Rev. John Edgar at UM Church for All People on May 10, 2016 (the Sunday immediately following the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police shooting). His sermon was based on Acts 26:12-18:

The risen Christ confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, asking Saul, Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?  It hurts you to kick against the goads.”  There is a whole lot going on in this statement, worthy of our careful consideration.

Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting Jesus and immediately added that Saul’s effort to persecute Jesus actually hurt Saul, not Jesus. These vindictive deeds hurt Saul because in so doing Saul was kicking against the goads.

In Biblical times a goad was a pole with a sharpened iron spear like point that was used to prod oxen to move in the desired direction, especially when oxen were being used to plow a farmer’s field. Over time the ox learned to move in the direction that it was being prodded. Whenever, the ox in frustration kicked back against the prick of the goad, the force of the kick actually forced the point of the goad deep into the hide and flesh of the animal, magnifying greatly the pain from this self-inflicted wound.

The risen Christ was warning Saul that his efforts to hunt down and punish the early Christians was contrary to God’s plan. Saul was not only failing to go where the Holy Spirit was prodding, but Saul just like a stubborn ox, was actually kicking back against the goad, and that was the source of the pain he was now experiencing. Jesus intervened on the road not only to protect the Christians Saul was persecuting, but the risen Lord was determined to save Saul from himself.

The situation improved for Saul at the moment he listened to risen Christ and obeyed. He stopped kicking and began to move onto the path Christ had selected for him. The pain stopped and the joy in the Lord began to carry him forward.

We like Saul are prone to ignore divine intentions, because we are so preoccupied with our own desires. We pursue what we want and we fail to heed the signs or the warnings that the Spirit raises before us. When God begins to take more and more forceful action to bring us back to Christ’s path, we foolishly tend to kick back, rather than turn around.

This is especially urgent for our nation right now amid such deep racial divisions. So many horrible acts of violence. Sterling Alton. Philando Castile. The five police officers in Dallas. In the wake of the violence, we as a nation are drawn towards the temptations of escalating fear, deepening prejudice, and repeating attacks.

Furthermore this downward spiral is not coincidental.  It is in so many ways self-inflicted consequences of racial hate and discrimination.  What we experienced this past week is the direct result of 400 years of kicking against the goads.

First slaves brought to America in 1619, a year before the Mayflower landed filled with pilgrims. Then 250 years of legalized slavery. Then another 100 years of Jim Crow laws and ‘separate but equal’ that was never equal. And in the past 50 years since the height of the Civil Rights movement, racial and economic inequality have continued to spread creating ever deepening divides between people based on the color of our skins and first languages that we speak.

We are a nation of stubborn oxen.

We keep kicking back against the goads. Producing ever worsening wounds. More prejudice, more fear, more violence. And there is no end in sight, as long as we remain determined to keep going in the current direction.

We have to make a complete change. Admit that the entire situation has become unmanageable, how our country deals with race and inequality is out of control. Believe in a power greater than ourselves. Then, like Saul, we must turn ourselves over to Christ and let Him take control leading us in new directions.

It is never too late to turn around and begin doing the right things.  After all, "a saint is just a sinner who fell down and got back up again".

It is not surprising that much of the wise guidance that is most important for us in overcoming the racial divides is found the teachings of this same apostle Paul who Jesus lifted back up again and set on a new path. For it is Paul who explained that we cannot overcome evil with more evil.  Instead we overcome evil with good. Paul also revealed every congregation is the body of Christ, but what kind of body would we be if we had only hand with no feet.  The church today, as in all times, is at its best--truly incarnating Christ--when it is fully inclusive.

Comparing images from the 1960s and today
Click to Enlarge
Yes, Paul was right. Our mission now, as 2,000 years ago, is for the church to lead the nation in building up one another in the love of Christ, resisting in every circumstance the temptation to tear down. When we stop kicking against the goads, as we get back up and follow these time tested directions we become Christ’s answer for how we turn around a stubborn nation of oxen.

It can happen even after 400 years self-inflicted wounds of racial hatred and discrimination. In fact it will happen as you and I inspired others by our example to get back up again, join hands and go in direction of Christ’s own love.

Hear the good news, the same loving Jesus who confronted Saul on that road to Damascus is eager to turn you around today.

How much do you have in common with Saul on the road to Damascus? Where are you persecuting Jesus by doing what is harmful to yourself or others? How often, just last week were you kicking against the goads?

Surely, now is the ideal time to stop fighting against God, and instead just allow Jesus to nudge you back onto His path. When we let go of our stubborn ways and let God take control there is no limit to how much better life becomes.

So let’s start today.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Friday Fruit (07/22/16)

Charles Kinsey
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, July 17, 2016

Logical Fallacies: Black-on-Black Crime

'Black-on-black crime’ is commonly raised as an argument against the work of #BlackLivesMatter and other protests against interracial violence. This argument is built upon the ugly stereotype of black pathological violence, and perpetuates the ongoing criminalization of black citizens. It propagates stop and frisk policiesschool to prison pipelinemass incarceration, and knee jerk reactions to shoot first and cry self-defense later.

The perception of rampant black violence has very real consequences, but it is poorly founded on reality. There is a pervasive fear of gun violence at the hands of young black men, even though only 4% have ever even held a gun. Indeed, only ~1% of Black people in the United State commit any violent crime in a given year.  But the statistics are rarely stated this way. Thus, as Natalie Hopkinson at The Root notes, "the term 'black-on-black violence' is a slander against the majority of law-abiding black Americans, rich and poor, who get painted by this broad and crude brush."

Meantime, the rarely-bemoaned white-on-white crime pandemic is just as prevalent as black-on-black crime, if not more so. Eighty-six percent of homicides against white people are committed by other white people. Edward Wyckoff Williams notes that “as the largest racial group, whites commit the majority of crimes in America. In particular, whites are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes.” When whiteness is treated as the default culture, white-on-white crime is not seen as a cultural symptom, but rather deemed to be ‘normal,' understandable, or rational crime (see also: Identity in a White-Default World).

The reality is that most crime is perpetrated within race. We live in largely segregated environments, and so just as with most activities we participate in, crime occurs in a segregated fashion. Jamelle Bouie writes that it's a matter of 'opportunism and proximity': “if African-Americans are more likely to be robbed, or injured, or killed by other African-Americans, it’s because they tend to live in the same neighborhoods as each other.” Nevertheless, homicides of black victims by black perpetrators have decreased by 67% in 20 years, a much faster decline than white-on-white homicide.

Franchesca Ramsey also notes in her excellent Decoded video that questioning why we worry about police shootings of Black people when there is  'black-on-black crime' is like saying we shouldn't grieve ISIS's killing of Americans since Americans also kill other Americans.

Plus, civilians killing other civilians, while terrible, isn't the same as professionally-trained, government employees killing our citizens. It is good and right that officers receive better bias training and be held to higher standards than ordinary citizens are.

via @sandravanopstal
Be skeptical whenever the 'black-on-black crime' argument is raised. It is most often used as a derailment, rather than out of any sincere concern for the black community. Questioning why "no one ever talks about [insert issue here]", is usually simply an indicator of the speaker's own limited exposure to a diverse array of voices. By "no one's talking about it" they actually mean "none of the people I pay attention to and hang out with ever mention it."

Bringing up violence against black people only as a debate tactic is shallow and insincere. There are many who care deeply about violence in black communities and who consistently and passionately speak out against it,  not just when convenient as a counterpoint to victims' cries of racism (as though we can't care about both!). Jamelle Bouie again states “no one has said that crime between African Americans isn’t a problem. The point is that blackness has nothing to do with it. “Black-on-black crime” is a frame that presupposes black criminality—that there’s something inherent to blackness which makes intra-group crime more prevalent and more deadly.”

More details from Colorlines
In Romans, Paul admonishes us to "watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles...By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." and as we go about our daily lives, we must be wary of how this false argument is perpetuatedColorlines recently shared a Media Matters report that "found black suspects in crime stories far outweigh their actual representation in arrests—which is saying something, since we also know arrests themselves are racially skewed. In local news-land, 80% of suspects in New York-area thefts are black, Media Matters found. In real life, blacks represent 55% of NYPD’s arrests for theft. For assaults, TV-land sees 72% of suspects as black. Real life: 49%."

The bible also tells us "the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." This warning against false spiritual teaching is also just as important in guarding against logical fallacies perpetuated for the sake of fear-mongering and political gain. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Friday Fruit (07/15/16)

Scott Olson/GettyOn 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, July 11, 2016


July 4 - #DelrawnSmall
July 5 - #AltonSterling
July 6 - #PhilandoCastile 
July 7 - #DallasPoliceShooting

Every day laid a thick new layer of grief, fear, frustration, avoidance, anger, each adding upon the many other incidents that came before them.

And after the final event, itself resting on a legacy of too many mass shootings and too many senseless deaths, was a deep sense of paralysis and despair.

Wanting to shut down. Knowing that we can't.
Feeling that there is nothing left to say, and yet convinced we must press on in saying it.

These feel like impossible times, with impossible solutions.
We know we cannot be silent. But what else can we say?
We want justice, we want safety, we want life. Can we not have these things?

And so once again, I find myself turning the book of Psalms.
It can be a challenging read. Though there are many beautiful and comforting chapters, there are also psalms of deep anger and anguish. Some verses that rail against God, and confront immense pain, even rage. Some speak of deep loss and mourning, and others of having no place in this world to hide in safety.

I've always had a hard time relating to these psalms. They felt distant and abstract. Perhaps even a bit irreverent. But I remember in the week after Michael Brown was killed, with all its pain, all its frustration, all its despair, all its fury, all its confusion. During that time, suddenly these psalms made a whole lot more sense to me.

And so this week again, we may turn to these psalms. Sometimes, simply to be reminded that these feelings have been put to pen before. That the hollow pit in our chests have indeed been given voice in the scriptures. They do not offer solutions, they do not bring resolution. But they offer the strength and solidarity of those that have come before:

Psalm 22 (excerpts)
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest...

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads...

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my life from the power of the dog!
   Save me from the mouth of the lion!...

For he did not despise or abhor
    the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
    but heard when I cried to him.

See also:
Psalm 6
Psalm 13
Psalm 31
Psalm 77

See also...the many things that have already been said:
Stay Informed: #Ferguson (Scroll to the great list of relevant articles)
Logical Fallacies: Black-on-Black Crime
Don't Habituate
Are You Willing to Die-In?
Michael Brown. Ferguson.
Emanuel AME: Is There No Sanctuary?
John Crawford: #WhatIsJustice
Jordan Davis (1995-2012)
Baltimore and The Unheard
Bias Matters: Trayvon Martin
#BlackLivesMatter Interview on Anabaptistly

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Friday Fruit (07/08/16)

Contribute to the #AltonSterling Family Scholarship
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, July 3, 2016

Reclaiming Patriotism

What is patriotism? Who loves America?

Millions of patriots wave the flag and declare that they love USA. But which USA? Sometimes it seems we love a country that never existed, and despise the country we actually have. Do we really mean 'God bless America'? Or just God bless myself?

The reality is we do a poor job of loving most of America.  We love the declaration of independence, but continue to live as though much of it is a lie. We do not believe we are all "created equal," but instead that some of us are just plain lazy, stupid, ill-fit, and unworthy. We value 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' but deny it to the 49 million Americans living below the poverty line.

We rally around the Constitution but ignore its very first sentence, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility." Have we forgotten this founding mission, even as we make false idols of our founders?

The same revered document admonishes us to 'provide for the general Welfare,' yet we despise families that are in need of such support. 

We fight to keep the Pledge of Allegiance intact in our schools, but ignore the words "and justice for all"--we like to pretend that it just says "with liberty." We behave as though 'liberty' and 'justice' are opposing forces, forgetting that they have always been, and must remain, inextricable allies. We pride ourselves on our freedom, while maintaining the highest incarceration rate in the world (we hold ~25% of the world's prisoners in our cells).

We laud Independence Day 1776, knowing that millions did not gain freedom for another century, and that millions more remain in bondage today. We celebrate July 4th, knowing that in the creation of one nation, hundreds of others lost their sovereignty.
We wear t-shirts with the Statue of Liberty, but bare our teeth at the immigrants she was erected to welcome. We love her flame held high, but spit at the plaque at her base: "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But given our history, you cannot be a patriot of this country and a bigot toward our immigrants at the same time.

We declare 'support our troops!'  But if you 'support our troops' that means you must support our young, our poor, our people of color-- the populations that are fighting our wars. But we cheer our troops while maintaining the systems of injustice that oppress the soldiers fighting on our behalf. 

If you 'support our troops,' it means you keep their streets at home just as safe as they have kept the streets abroad. It means you give them access to the homes and jobs that they have kept secure. It means you provide the healthcare that keeps their families healthy. It means if they are legal to fight, they are legal to attend school, and that you admit them into your colleges. 

We wage war against those that killed ~3000 on September 11th, but turn a blind eye to the 245,000 poverty-related deaths that occur every year. Is our reaction different because of the identity of the victims, or that of the aggressors?  

You say you are afraid of those that want to destroy our country. But so am I. I love the USA. So much so that I will not stand for the bigots, the oppressors, and the fear mongers who try to destroy it. We need to understand that our 'American values' are meaningless if they apply only to the privileged. We need to make clear everything that is anti-American about hate.

We need to reframe what it means to love America and who gets to be the patriots. It is patriotic to care for our neighbors. It is patriotic to educate our children, feed our hungry, and clothe our naked. We need to reclaim patriotism for the Americans.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday Fruit (07/01/16)

scarlett johansson, michelle villemaire, ghost in the shell, yellow face, hollywood, actor, actress, diversity, 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.
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