I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 8, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to keep up whatever image our sub-culture most highly prizes. In so doing, we present a “false self” that inhibits our relationship with God.
Image is Everything
What we do for esteem depends on what subgroup or culture we belong to. This truth became clear when I attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension center outside of Boston. I was required to go to the main campus in Louisville about once a year. At the main campus I noticed many people always took up the most conservative position. They took pride in being esteemed as the most conservative. Many of my peers didn’t realize that what they were saying and doing was a knee jerk reaction to keep up their image. For a time, I looked down on my peers for seeking the esteem of men. I wasn’t so haughty when God convicted me of engaging in the same esteem seeking in a different way. Being from New England I live in a bastion of liberalism and many of my neighbors consider me a conservative. Down South, however, and especially in Seminary I took pride in being on the “cutting edge.” I thought these hicks from the Bible belt were stuck in their unbiblical traditions while I was living in a cutting edge mission area. I always spoke up for considering people who aren’t from a Christian culture and for reaching the lost. I made sure everyone knew that is what I had to do in ministry. Whether I was right or wrong was not the issue. The issue was I acted a certain way to keep up an image. I liked advertising myself as a cutting edge church planter in a mission field. This image brought me esteem from the subculture that I valued most. I realized that some of the classes I took, and the ministry tasks I chose, were based on keeping the cutting edge image that brought me the rush of esteem from my peers. Continue reading
The inequalities suffered by black Americans continue. The killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent injustices. The taking of black lives has caused many people to unequivocally state that black lives matter. Because black lives have not seemed to matter, it is important to focus our voices to contradict that narrative with words and actions.
The inequalities are broader than the justice system. In 2017 on this blog, I wrote a post titled “Black is Beautiful” that unequivocally stated the truth that black is beautiful in the eyes of God and therefore should be beautiful to God’s children as well. While the current situation shows that racial issues have life and death importance, I believe that combating racism needs to go down even to the “aesthetic” level. Many others have recently discussed the structural injustices much more capably than I could. My hope is that this re-post will add a different layer to the discussion and especially challenge fellow pastors and Christians who serve in predominately white churches.
Black is beautiful. Fellow Christian, it is important to say that – unreservedly and without qualification. Fellow pastors and church leaders, has you church ever explicitly declared this truth?
I have neglected stating this truth. I was confronted with this neglect in a recent interaction with my close friend Greg. Greg was describing his disappointment with the lack of support he often feels in the church as he faces racism against blacks in our culture. Greg is not a “social justice warrior” type; he is an encourager who speaks positive words and humbly serves the church and its people. Over the last few years, Greg has served in churches with a predominately white demographic. There have been few people who have been as encouraging and willing to walk with others through their struggles as Greg—in fact, he recently walked with me through family difficulties better than any other friend. So when Greg expressed his frustration and his fatigue with racism, I realized that I hadn’t borne this burden as his brother in Christ. I discussed it with him, but in my mind it was his struggle. I am a stereotypical white suburban dad who makes bad puns; I don’t experience the racism Greg does, and I can’t pretend that I deeply understand his struggles. However, as long as I consider racism his struggle, and not my struggle, I am not truly bearing his burden (for those not familiar with this terminology of “bearing burdens,” it is taken from Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”). Continue reading