Ferguson, Justice, Christmas, and The Cross

Yesterday evening as I was laying in bed reading an alert sounded on my phone. It was breaking news that the grand jury in Ferguson had reached a decision. Charges would not be pursued against Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The decision resulted in many peaceful protests as well as a number of violent riots and once again the people of America were glued to TV, computer, and phone screens asking why this keeps happening? It seems that no matter how much “progress” is made in the area of racial reconciliation and justice that we are just one small spark away from a firestorm at any given time.

Ferguson leaves many (especially white) folks scratching their heads and wondering why. We don’t get the outrage. We don’t get the protest. We see a police officer trying to defend himself. That’s all we know. We’ve never been given a second look by law enforcement because of the color of our skin or the part of town we are in. We’ve never experienced people redirecting their paths when they see us coming because we’re wearing different clothes. We don’t have a history of people in positions of authority exercising that authority over us in abusive ways. So we look at the news and maybe we try to understand. Maybe we pray. Maybe we even feel a sense of the injustices that our black brother and sisters have faced down through the centuries. But sometimes we just shrug our shoulders and look away. Sometimes we blindly follow our biases and automatically side with that which is comfortable and familiar to us without even trying to understand the plight of others. We just see one event. We just see riots. We don’t see the big picture of centuries of oppression and distrust and injustice. How can we hope to reconcile with our brothers and sisters if we can’t come to truly understand them?

So what’s a Christian to do when we see this. When we see injustice in the world. When we recognize that our brothers and sisters of different races are often treated worse than we are. Where is a rallying point where Christians across racial and social lines can join hands and show a broken world what real justice and reconciliation looks like? It’s not in white guilt or riots. In fact, in order for there to be real justice it won’t come from politicians, protests, police, or outraged posts on social media. Real justice can only come from injustice. From the ultimate injustice.

Ferguson protestsWe are on the verge of the Advent season. A time when we celebrate God becoming man. God came into a world that was divided along racial lines (Jew and Greek), political lines (Jew and Roman), and religious lines (Pharisee and Sadducee). It was a world of oppression and slavery. A world where broken people did horrific things to one another. A world that would ultimately hang a broken King upon a brutal cross and commit the greatest injustice in the history of the world.

There’s no true justice to be found anywhere else. The cross is the one place in the world, in the shadow of great injustice, where peace and reconciliation can be found. The real question then becomes, as Christians are we willing to reach across the racial and cultural divide? Are we willing to help bear the burdens of our black brothers and sisters? Are we willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to us being unable to truly understand what life looks like through their eyes? It’s a hard task. Maybe impossibly hard. But there’s still the cross where we can turn together.

The cross is a place where we can unite around the common injustice that was perpetrated on Jesus because of each of us. The cross is a place where we can celebrate our common reconciliation with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The cross is a place where each of us can see the sacrificial love of God demonstrated as he stepped into a broken world and instead of fleeing from the broken, the downcast, the poor, the rich, and the oppressed; he turned to them. He embraced them. And most importantly, he changed them and saved them. He didn’t tell them to no longer be Jew or Greek. He just said, “Follow me.” He didn’t tell the Roman Centurion to give up his occupation. He just celebrated his great faith. Oppressed or oppressor it didn’t matter. What mattered was would they answer the call? Would they, instead of having so many things that separated them, now have their bearing of the cross of Christ to unite them? Will we?

As Christians we should understand injustice and reconciliation better than anyone. White Christians and black Christians should be on the forefront of modeling what this looks like in every day life. But instead we find our Sundays segregated and instead of church modeling for the world what true reconciliation found in Christ can look like, too often it is the world that is the far more diverse place.

So let’s start with what we know we have in common. The injustice of the cross that saved us. Let that salvation continue to work itself out in us. To seep down into our bones and our eyes and our skin. To change us until our response to people is no longer first to see the color of their skin or the clothes that they wear or the side of town they are from but rather to see the fact that they are image bearers of God. Fallen and broken image bearers just like us who need the restorative and reconciling work of the cross just like us. And if they are Christians then all the more let us see them as fellow bearers of the cross of Christ who are given the gift of grace only because of the gift of an injustice.

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Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “I want to be a muddy heart Chaplain”

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. When I first came on Active Duty I started reading C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Also around the same time an album called “With Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray came out that I have found myself playing over and over. Those two works have been a sort of background music to my wrestling with the kind of Chaplain I want to be and attempting to establish ministry habits I can take with me for years to come.

I’ve also had to start coming to terms with the administrative demands of being a staff officer. They are far greater than I ever imagined and I spend a lot more time typing memos, prepping briefings, and attending meetings than I ever thought I would. But in the midst of the early mornings, the meetings, and never ending training schedule are people. Real people. Hurting people.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t talk to a soldier going through some absolutely heartbreaking circumstances. In the short time I’ve been on Active Duty I’ve heard more stories than I can count about people facing unimaginable difficulties. Sometimes there’s a part of me that wants to put on a hard shell of armor after hearing the stories. But then I think about the kind of Chaplain I want to be. More importantly, I think about the Savior who called me to this ministry to begin with.

That’s where a song from Jason Gray has really resonated with me. It’s called “If You Want to Love Someone”

If you want to love someone
Search their soul for where it’s broken
Find the cracks and pour your heart in
If you want to love someone

In every heart there is a hollow
Locked against the pain it’s known
If there’s a key, the key is sorrow
Only a trusted hand can hold

I hear that and I hear how I want to respond to the people I minister too. I don’t want to have armor over my heart so thick that when I’m hearing about yet another marriage on the rocks that I stop caring, stop investing in their lives, and perhaps most importantly stop being broken hearted over what they are going through. I’ve learned quickly that to love someone who feels broken requires a certain willingness for you to enter into the brokenness with them. To shoulder some of the weight they are carrying and feel some of the hurt they are feeling.

Just this week I put this into practice. I allowed myself to really feel the pain of the soldier in front of me. My heart broke as I heard his story. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a knot in my stomach. For a few moments I felt his pain. It was draining. It would have been so much easier to stay closed off. To not allow myself to feel those things. But I know if I had done that, my ministry to that soldier would have suffered. My heart would not have been in it. It would have a check the block counseling appointment in the guise of “ministry.”

In the chaplaincy there’s a term tossed around that refers to some Chaplains as “muddy boots” Chaplains. These are the Chaplains who go where their soldiers are even if it means going with them into the most unpleasant of circumstances. I want to be more than that. I want to be a “muddy heart” Chaplain. A Chaplain who is not just physically in the presence of the soldiers but also willing to show them a love that transcends anything the world has to offer. A hope that even in the nasty things that life throws at my soldiers there will always be at least one person who they can turn to. One person who will see the brokenness in their soul and pour the love of Jesus into that brokenness. One person who can point them to Jesus and the greatest example of love in the world.

More than anything else that’s what I want. I want to be the muddy heart Chaplain.

Celebrating a Decade Since We Met

So…tomorrow my wife celebrates a birthday. That also means that it has now been ten years…one decade…since we first met over a game cards in the lobby of Agee Dormitory at OBU. I thought it might be fun to go back and find some pictures from each year, 2004-2014, and share a little trip down memory lane.

Despite how clear a picture you might think you have of the future when you are 19 and 20 years old, life has a way of throwing curve balls, speed bumps, and large woodland creatures into road you’ve set yourself driving down. As I look back over the last ten years I’m amazed by all that we’ve been through together. As I look towards the next ten years I’m excited about what our future holds. Undoubtedly there will be highs and lows, good times and bad, heartbreaking sorrow and ecstatic joy…but I look forward to taking journey with my favorite.

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say. ~Bilbo Baggins

 

2004

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2005

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2006

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2007

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2008

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2009

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2010

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2011

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2012

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2013

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2014

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