Monthly Archives: November 2013

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 5)

By: Steven Brice

A Call to Repentance & Restoration

            Therefore my beloved heritage, I am calling you to repentance. I am calling you to turn away from the contribution we have made in defining Christianity as merely an event that people attend on Sundays. If Jesus’ life and ministry has its locus among the poor and the oppressed, then the heartbeat of our life should reflect Jesus’ ministry. When people were looking for Jesus, they didn’t contact Jesus’ secretary to schedule an appointment. Jesus was found in the streets of the poor, oppressed, and rejected. When people are looking for us, will they find us in a nice looking building or will they find us in the streets like Jesus?

            I am calling my beloved heritage to be restored back to authentic Christianity, to be a community of believers who are called family, exercise filial responsibility. The greatest calling that Disciples of Christ are called to is love. It is by our love that the world will know we belong to Jesus.[1] We are called, my beloved heritage, to be salt and light to those who are suffering within hopeless situations. We possess the hope that is within Jesus; therefore, let us exercise the hope we cherish. Will we be like Mother Teresa, who “grasped the depth of Jesus’ identification with each sufferer and understood the mystical connection between the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the poor? Will we embrace her humble service and endeavor to ‘bring souls to God – and God to souls.’”[2]

Conclusion

            I am fully aware my beloved family members within the churches of Christ can read this letter and criticize the core of Christianity to which I hold firmly. I acknowledge those unsaid things, positives and negatives, which should be said. I am mindful of the things I have mentioned within this letter and the possible errors within my belief.  I welcome dialogue, corrections, and instructions. Such healthy, respectful, and loving conversation can be illustrative and expose the things we are ignorant about.  However, the purpose of this letter is to awaken us to the realities of God, Christianity, and this world. It is my intention to generate healthy dialogue which will challenge us to re-imagine the church in a postmodern society.  Therefore, my beloved heritage, let us all be humble, pray, discuss, and grow.

 


[1] John 13:35 – “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (New American Standard Bible).

[2]Ibid, pg. 43.

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Unavoidable Conflict

By: Brent Bailey

I’ve written a few times on this blog about the rich gifts I’ve encountered through my participation in house churches over the last two years. After spending the first 22 years of my life actively engaged in institutional Churches of Christ, I became interested in different approaches to the form and function of church and decided to investigate the simple church movement firsthand. Over the course of that experiment, the contrast between the two systems has been dramatic, with each challenging me and encouraging me in distinct ways.

 

For example: I don’t like conflict. I’d describe myself as what those in the personality-labeling business would label a “conflict avoider,” which means I do anything I can to deflect or prematurely alleviate friction. It’s much, much easier for me to avoid conflict in a church of 450 people than it is for me to avoid conflict in a church of 13 people. In the case of institutional churches, I’ve typically seen people handle conflict in two primary ways: One approach is to allow conflict to become divisive, with the result that conflict splits the church (either internally or externally). The other approach is to avoid conflict entirely, whether that occurs in the minds of individuals (“I’m just not going to bring this up.”) or in the collective consciousness of a congregation (“That’s just something we don’t talk about.”), with the result that unresolved conflict simmers and festers and rots. Because of my personality, I never want to be the source of division, so I’ve usually tended to ignore or suppress any of my feelings I perceive as negative. While that maintains the semblance of peace in my relationships, it also tends to cultivate a spirit of bitterness and resentment.

 

In the case of a house church, though, it’s much more difficult for me to avoid conflict. Maybe it’s because I’m much more directly active in each of our gatherings, such that silently stewing in a pew and slipping out early is not an option; maybe it’s because we strive for richer intimacy and sharing, and I’m never good enough at hiding my fear or anger for long; or maybe it’s because our weekly rhythms place us into direct contact so often that I quickly lose the stubbornness required to stifle my feelings. Whatever the reason, throughout my time in house churches, I’ve often surprised myself by expressing feelings I would have silenced in institutional churches.

 

The bad news is that house churches don’t necessarily handle conflict any better or worse than institutional churches. Disagreements can still become divisions, and those divisions can leave deep wounds. The good news is that I’ve begun to see how conflict can produce growth and maturity. About a month ago, I was wrestling with dissatisfaction about certain pieces of my church’s weekly rhythms, and the conflict avoider in me told me to keep my mouth shut. One morning’s reading in Ephesians 4, though, told me something different: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” I realized I had a responsibility to confess my dissatisfaction for the sake of building up the body. Furthermore, I realized with no little gratitude that my church was a safe place that welcomed that difficult honesty. The conversation that resulted was fruitful and led to almost immediate changes in our practices.

 

Over the last two years, I’ve started keeping an unofficial list in my mind: “In my future, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a church that doesn’t…” Here’s my latest addition to the list: In my future, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a church that doesn’t make room for the kind of honesty that produces conflict, messy as that conflict might be.

 

What’s been your experience with conflict in church? Do you find yourself tempted to avoid conflict, and does your church setting enable that temptation?

The Absence of Love

By: Christiana Cha

We live in a society obsessed with the idea of love – not obsessed with love so much as obsessed with the idea of love. We love love. It’s why we watch romantic comedies that show unrealistic “love” stories of infatuation; I’m hot, you’re hot, let’s be together for the duration of this movie. Meanwhile, marriages continue to end in divorce and more and more children are growing up angry, afraid, not knowing their place in their world. I have been blessed with parents who continue to uphold the commitment they made to one another in the witness of God and man, but I have friends whose hearts are broken as their parents’ marriages are broken, and in turn my heart breaks for them.

It makes me wonder…do we know how to love? Have we seen it? Do we have love in our lives?

There is a reason we are obsessed with the idea of love; we love love because we need love. We need it to survive and to thrive. We need to know that someone cares that we exist, that our existence holds some significance.

Remember with me for a moment the scandalous research by Harry Harlow on love and the effects of deprivation of love on young rhesus monkeys. (Here’s a link: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/p/harlow_love.htm ) The comfort of another fuzzy body nearby (not even their real mothers) was enough for the monkeys to cling to, but when that small comfort was taken away, they suffered pitifully. Let me say that I certainly do not think Harlow’s experiment was kind, but it illustrated a point and contradicted the popular opinion at the time. These are only monkeys, but move on to human psychology and you will find that love and affection are just as crucial in the growth and development of humans as well. We can feel that we need love to thrive, but science will confirm that feeling as being valid.

So what happens when we don’t have the love we need? In the 1950s Harlow would have told us that the deprivation of love would lead to fear, suffering, and stunted development.

What about today?

Today we have people like Dr. Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly” and “The Gifts of Imperfection” who have done research on vulnerability and love. Dr. Brown writes, “In the absence of love and belonging, there will always be suffering.” (Daring Greatly) So it would seem that this statement has only held and collected evidence again over 60 years later.

In the absence of love and belonging, there will always be suffering.

For me this feels like a daunting statement because I know that we as humans are not perfect at loving the people around us. I know that I have felt an absence of love before, and I am certain that someone else has probably felt that absence of love from me as well. (I’m sorry.) But when we feel the absence of love, do we suffer and leave it at that, or is there another way we react?

You are free to disagree with me, but I would say that in the midst of our suffering we seek out sources of love and belonging because those are two of the things for which our souls are hungriest. We thirst, we strive, we pine, and we fight for love. It is that which we desire above all things. And if we do not find it in the traditional places – with our parents, with our significant others, with friends and brothers and sisters – we will most certainly look for it elsewhere.
In our society we see this in many ways: addiction to drugs and pornography, gangs, clubs, fraternities and sororities, peer pressure, fashion trends and brand names, workplace humor, bullying, and unhealthy relationships that we know we shouldn’t be in but that we can’t give up because it gives us that little kick of feeling like we belong somewhere. I would say most if not all of us have been at that last place. Some of those things are in the grand scheme are fairly harmless, but others only create more suffering and hurt in our hearts.

I think you follow me – I don’t think I need to explain further to you why some of those things are harmful for you to understand that love and belonging are important, and if we don’t find it in healthy ways, we will find it some way or another because we do not want to suffer through the absence of love.

What’s my point? My point is this: LOVE those around you. Hold close the ones dearest to you. Choose to curb your frustration and say something kind instead. Don’t make fun of that coworker behind his/her back just to feel like another one likes you a little more. Instead, stand up for that person when someone ridicules him/her. Strive to be a safe place for your friends so that they know they are welcome and loved. See the beauty in the man and the woman’s soul, not in their outfits. Put down the bottle and call a friend. Choose to hang out with someone who is not part of your clique.

We have all felt the sting of love absent, and we know the suffering it brings. Give someone else a chance to feel relief from suffering, and may you also find that relief.

Church is the problem

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Christendom is in real trouble, and it doesn’t even know it. 

With only 12 dysfunctional appointees and a few other ragged men and women, Jesus began a revolution that took the earth by storm…for a while.

In the century that followed his return to heaven, Jesus’ followers ushered countless men, women, boys and girls into the Kingdom by doing what he did…loving, serving, showing mercy, and living holy, joyful lives.  There wasn’t a church building in sight and not one program for kids, seniors or families.  Ample evidence points to the home as the center of Kingdom life during the earliest centuries.  Yet, despite growing apostasy, the church grew on the margins of life.

Then in AD 313-314, Emperor Constantine of Rome made Christianity the official religion of the vast Roman Empire, built on a vision, Constantine claimed, from Christ himself.  “Legitimizing” Christianity appears to be the greatest coup that Satan has ever made against the Kingdom of God.  In a series of edicts, Constantine took Christianity out of homes, neighborhoods and from the margins of society and virtually confined it to ornate structures, making Christianity fashionable, for the first time.  He established a clerical hierarchy, corralled the Spirit of God into a canon to be interpreted only by those properly “educated,” and put in place a religious system that continues to define both Catholic and Protestant expressions of faith to this day.  Churches today look and function more like the institution that Constantine established than that which Jesus established.  Christians today act more like the programmed, conditioned minions of Constantine’s kingdom than the joyful, generous, self-sacrificing disciples of Jesus.

Beginning with Constantine and continuing through the ages, mankind bound what God chose to leave boundless.  Mankind confined what God freed.  Mankind pronounced impotent that which God empowered.   Mankind excluded those whom God included.  Mankind snuffed it out where God breathed life.

After Constantine, church buildings became the center of religious activities.  Liturgy defined worship.  Clergy became the experts without whom ordinary believers couldn’t possibly understand God’s message.  Church officials were the final authority in all things related to faith.  Sinners were exploited and manipulated.  The poor and alienated were ostracized.  None of this was ever God’s intention.

In the end, the spirit of individual faith was wrestled from believers and replaced with a pattern beneficial first to the institutional church.  Over time, Christians have willingly given religious institutions more and more power to interpret all things spiritual and to put the institution’s well-being above the individual’s.

Today, we have a world of weak, ineffective and generally apathetic “Christians” who look nothing like the first disciples who transformed the world often at unimaginable costs.  In many parts of the world, Christianity is scoffed at because of its arrogant claims and distorted ideals.  I blame Church for conditioning parishioners and members over time to consider first what the Church thinks and does and to ignore God’s call and the Spirit’s work in the individual.

Believers today have given up a relationship with God for knowledge about God as interpreted by the “learned.”  Churches have tricked Christians into believing that money given to God must pass first through the institution to have any validity.  Most Churches would have Christians believe that meeting at the church building on Sunday morning is more important than feeding the homeless in City Square on Friday night.

Every new church building or addition, every church “service” or activity, reinforces what Constantine legislated.  Local congregations segregated by race or culture testify to the ineffectiveness of religion to bring all things together in Christ Jesus.

Most Christians have no faith in what God can do in them, with them and for them.  Most would never believe that their home could again become the center of Kingdom activity.  Most do not believe that God’s Spirit could lead them into “all truth” without an “expert” to guide them.  Most believe that evangelism is an activity rather than a lifestyle, and few have any idea what a “disciplined life” looks like.  Far too many Christians believe that eliminating sin is their primary calling.  Too many Christians see the Bible primarily as a rule book rather than a revelation of what God has done, is doing and will do.  Too few Christians truly believe that one can develop a real and personal relationship with Jesus that is infinitely more fulfilling and meaningful than one’s relationship with another person.  Too many Christians live only in anticipation of heaven rather than seeing today as the opportunity to experience and model life “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Like the local Church that provides their spiritual guidance, too few Christians have the faith to return to the margins of society where real life is lived and where they can lend their resources, skills and blessings to people of a different race and social standing.

Finally, too few Churches and Christians have any idea, let alone a plan, for restoring and passing on life in the Kingdom as God intended from the beginning.  Christians are living as if things can’t change.  In fact, most Christians don’t have any clue as to why things must change.  And that might be the saddest reality of all.

Forty years to Forgiveness

By: Janet Mendenhall

This story of forgiveness begins late on a blustery January night in a West Texas town 40 years ago. Maria remembers the details of that night, including the way the ice felt landing on her face as the Jaws of Life freed her. And the intense pain in her back. And the slurred voice of her boyfriend, begging her to tell the policemen she had been driving. He was on probation and terrified of prison.  Certain that she was dying, the lie seemed reasonable. Had she known she would live, she might not have been so gracious. After all, it had been her boyfriend who dragged her out of bed — to go prove right then that she had not gone to the movies with Daniel while he was gone. On icy roads. Under the influence.  And now here he was without a scratch and looking to further save his hide.

As she regained consciousness in the hospital, Maria could make out his form in a chair across the room. He would be there later as she slipped into a two-week coma, and as she waked to hear the news that she would never walk again, and yanked out IVs and yelled and screamed and begged to die. And he would even relocate to Galveston for the next six-month phase of surgeries.  But he was 17 and in his own words, young and stupid, and there were visits to other girls amidst his hospital visits. It likely didn’t matter. Maria was very angry and bitter and hated him. She didn’t want to even look at him.

She also didn’t want to be stationed in his parents’ home in a back brace flat on her back in a hospital bed while he brought home his new girlfriend.  Nor hear the giggling voices of his younger sisters hurrying in to report to Maria that he was kissing this new girl. But Maria’s mother was dying of leukemia and his mother was her second mother, and the only available caregiver. She certainly didn’t want to pick up the paper in the hospital after returning there for serious bedsores and a morphine addiction, to read that he had married the new girl. That hospital stay would be 16 months long and punctuated by visits from him. Occasionally he would be sober, but always he would declare his love for Maria. Maria would tell him to go away. To go home to his wife. She was still angry.

More sadness would ensue during that stay as her mother at last succumbed to leukemia, and a month later a younger brother was killed accidentally. Maria was depressed. Perhaps even more upon her release as she went to her father’s home to recover and simultaneously raise eight younger siblings ranging in age from 12 to 2 from her new wheelchair.  A friend named Tony grew to love Maria, and though he realized Maria did not love him, he offered to have her move in with him and bring her siblings to raise them together. Though she would never marry Tony, they would raise her brothers and sisters and bring three more little ones into their world. They were together nine years, before alcoholism consumed her well-intentioned partner.

Maria remembers the depression slowly fading as she mastered the wheelchair and became more independent. But remembers more markedly the sadness subsiding at the birth of her children and as she watched them grow. Being mother to the three of them brought joy and healing. Her road was still not easy. There would be infections and sores and injuries to her feet resulting in amputations and later a bout with brain cancer. But she would face these with a new spirit, and less anger and self-pity.

About 10 years ago, Maria became more tolerant of her encounters with that old boyfriend. After he separated from his wife, he began making regular visits to Maria. He walks the 12 blocks down the street to her house on a daily basis. He rivals the postal service with his commitment.  In Maria’s words, “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me.”  She is certain of his love. He tells everyone she is his lady, to which Maria gives him a swat and says, “I am not your lady.” She is not in love. But she smiles; she cares deeply for him.

I ask if she has forgiven him.

“ I am still working on it. I think I have, but some days, my mind starts remembering things. And he makes me mad. Like when he tells me he is tired of pushing my chair and I tell him, ‘You put me in this chair. Just keep pushing!’ ”

And Maria smiles that beautiful smile.

“Yeah, I forgive him. He makes me laugh. We have a lot of good times together. And at least I am not depressed anymore.”

Sometimes the sun slips down on your wrath.  And sometimes it is many, many suns.  But don’t let it be all of your suns.

He Lived His Life Alive

By: Laura Callarman

Laura Blog

The Moore family, a few years ago — Michael and Michelle, with Joshua and Elizabeth

Yesterday—November 1, 2013—the world lost an amazing young man. You see, Joshua Kyle Moore, a bright and extremely kind 16-year-old, went out for a run one night and never came back home. Just a few minutes into his run, he collapsed on the side of the road, his heart stopped. Two nurses discovered him there, and the CPR that restarted his heart also punctured one of his lungs. As far as I know, he never regained consciousness. After three heart-wrenching days of attentive hospital care, countless prayers, and rising and falling hopes, his family, friends, church, and the world said an unwilling goodbye to him and let him go from this life.

I cried a lot last night, mourning our loss. I cried a lot, and I hardly knew the kid. Because, you see, what I do know, even from my regrettably surface-level interactions with him over the years, was that he smiled. And he laughed. And he was mischievous, like any average 16-year-old. And he loved his church family. And he loved God. What I do know is that, even though his life was that of an ordinary young man, he was a bright place in this world, offering hope and love and faith in quantities beyond what we’d (probably unfairly) expect from him in his 16 years. What I do know is that he was a witness to the powerful love of God, that his life was full of God’s grace. What I do know is that simply by his presence he impacted my own life, mostly in ways that I didn’t even realize until just a few days ago. Oh, of course, like all of us Joshua had his imperfections and sins, things that—praise God!—he is now free from. But I can also tell you one more thing: even in the midst of his inherent human limitations, Joshua Moore was, in the words of Philippians 2:15-16, a “child of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which he shined like a star in the universe, holding out the word of life.”

You, I am guessing, did not have the privilege of knowing Joshua. But even in death, he continues to shine like a star, holding out that word of life and light to me, to you, and to all of us. You see, his death is a reminder of how powerful life is, even a short life. And his life is a reminder that every single one of us can shine like a star, no matter our faults or limitations or situation. Perhaps at least a part of Joshua’s legacy, then, is that a life well lived—a thoroughly gospeled life, as I’ve been calling it here—points us back to God, even if it seems short or ordinary from our own perspective. Yes, this 16-year-old boy reminds us that the gospel knows no bounds and is displayed even in the most ordinary seeming places. He reminds us that God is in our midst here and now, everyday, and not only through the three persons of the Trinity but also through each and every one of us, for we each reflect the image of God and together we are the body of Christ. And perhaps most powerfully of all, Joshua challenges us, the ones he’s left behind, to live our own lives—however ordinary they may be—alive to these important truths that his own short life taught us.

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 4)

By: Steven Brice

An Example of Christ

Once in the life of Christ, Jesus and John had a dialogue. It went like this,

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.  For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[1]

While this text has been refuted and redefine by some to argue against those who are not a part of the Churches of Christ are not with us and/or are not Christians, it is clear that Jesus is concerned about people who carry the name of Christ (whether in the churches of Christ or not) are doing good deeds. While the immediate context is referring to casting out demons, Jesus gives us a practical example and application by stating, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”[2]

Mother Teresa is a prime example of someone who does not have a Church of Christ heritage, but who has been a light of world to many who have lived in darkness. In her earlier years, Mother Teresa served as a teacher at the Loreto school in Entally, eastern Calcutta. She served this school for nearly twenty years. Although she was satisfied with her career at the time, she was highly disturbed by the growing poverty within her purview. She is believed that she received a call to leave the school and to serve Jesus among the poor. She writes,

It was a vacation to give up even Loreto where I was very happy and to go out in the streets to serve the poorest of the poor. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums – to serve Him in the poorest of the poor … I knew it was His will and that I had to follow Him. There was no doubt that it was going to be His work.”[3]

Who reflect the story of the gospel more closely? Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to the poor or Christians or those who define Christianity as an event that all “faithful” Christians attend on Sundays? For her every human being carries the image of God. God can be seen within every individual. Therefore, not only do we, as Mother Teresa has done, carry the light of Christ to people, we, like Mother Teresa encounter Christ in the messiness of people’s lives. Kolodiejchuk writes, “not only did Mother Teresa bring the light of Christ to the poorest of the poor; she also met Christ in each one of them. Jesus chose to identify Himself with the poor and with all those who suffer…”[4] What kind of people did Christ identify Himself with? Who do we identify ourselves with in comparison? Are we a people accused of being among the poor, the rejected, and marginalized? Or are we people who are accused of being among people who think like us? Was Jesus not accused of eating with sinners? When was the last time we were accused of eating with outcasts?


[1]Mark 9:38-41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[2]Mark 9:41 (New Revised Standard Version).

[3]Kolodiejchuk, Brain, Mother Teresa: Come be my Light (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pg. 39-40.

[4]Ibid, pg. 43.