Blind Spots

6a011571275931970c0163058bd7ac970d

Every car has a blind spot. An area, usually over your shoulder where the mirrors and your line of sight just can’t quite see. They are the cause of many auto accidents, even for careful drivers. We look over our shoulder, check our mirrors, and change lanes. But hiding in the blind spot is a car we never saw because it was in the one place hidden by the frame of our car that mirrors and windows didn’t give access to. We never even saw the crash coming.

People have blind spots too. Things we don’t recognize because they are too inconvenient or too uncomfortable to acknowledge. Or sometimes things that we don’t notice because our circumstances are privileged enough not to make it a visible problem to us, though it’s obvious to others. Even those of us checking our mirrors diligently, miss it.

I was recently invited to be a part of a group called the “Superintendent’s Key Communicator’s Group” in my local school district. Each school in the district sent several representatives to hear information from the district administrators and become liaisons to other parents and community members.

In our first gathering today, the Superintendent laid out the changing demographics of our area. In just 15 short years the racial/ethnic demographics in my community have changed a great deal; from a population that was 76% white to only 42% white. It has become a much more racially diverse community, with Hispanic, Multi-racial, Asian and African-American percentages rising as quickly as the white community has declined.

fullsizerender-jpg

In the elementary school I was representing, we have changed from 41% non-white population in 2003-04 to 67% non-white population in 2013-14.

fullsizerender-jpg-1And to the credit of the school district administration, they presented this data as an incredible opportunity for our children to learn the cultures, languages and values of different types of people. There was an embrace of this change that I was jealous the church would have for these same sort of statistics.

And the data showed that as we had become more diverse, so our schools were doing an even better job of increasing graduation rates for all racial and ethnic population groups.

At the end of the presentation I was feeling a great sense of pride in my community that had not only embraced cultural diversity but had helped elevate the success of white and non-white sub-groups.

fullsizerender-jpg-2

It was at this point that the administrators had us turn to someone sitting next to us and discuss our “aha’s” from hearing this data. So I turned to the young, professional lady sitting next to me. We introduced ourselves and shared our thoughts.

I shared first, telling her how I had felt encouraged that the district seemed to value diversity so much and was doing a good job working to ensure that kids in all demographic groups could succeed. I assumed she would say something similar.

But instead, she helped me see my blind spot.

My new friend just had one question based on the data, “Does the staff and administration of this district match the changed demographic of the people being served in this community?”

Hmmmmm….

I looked around the room. From a quick count, I could see that at least ¾ of the room was in the “white” people category. Strange. We were chosen to this group to represent our local school. But if the statistics just given were accurate and people like me, in the “white” category were in the minority, why were we the dominant voice in such an influential group? What about concerns that parents of color might have that I might not understand or be aware of? Why wasn’t a more racially diverse group chosen to more accurately represent the populations of the schools?

Then I thought about how I was invited to this group. This group is invitation-only after all. I was invited by the principal of the school my kids attend. The principal who is also in the “white” category. And now that I think of it, I’d say the vast majority of teachers (all who seem very sweet, well-intentioned and excellent) in our school are notably white. I wondered how many non-white principals there were in the district? How many teachers? Paraeducators?

And as I glanced up from my notes, I took an inventory of the district administrators on hand for this meeting. Most of the major players in the district administration (including the superintendent) were present. And not a one of them was in the non-white category.

Now I want to make sure at this moment to reiterate that I think all the teachers, paraeducators, principals, and district administrators I’ve met are incredibly capable, well-intentioned and caring people. I don’t perceive any intentional slight or prejudice on their part. In fact, they seem to truly value diversity of people and want the best for the community.

But what if they have a blind spot too?

You see the thing about blind spots is that you can’t see them. It’s very hard to recognize them on your own. In fact, as the discrepancy between leadership and population demographics came to my awareness I was shocked I didn’t notice it before. I try to be sensitive to things like this. But I’m not sure I would have seen it had it not been for my new friend sitting beside me.

So, why did she see it?

Well, she’s in the “non-white” category. She saw instantly what the majority of us in the room were blind to. She read the data that she was in the racial majority of the community, but vastly under-represented in this community group, in the hands-on teaching environments of the schools, and in the leadership of the district. She was worried that many of the legitimate concerns of a racially diverse community wouldn’t be addressed or even acknowledged if we don’t have diversity all the way to the top.

And she was right.

If we have a big blind spot in this crucial area, what else are we missing?

632e8dbfebe9bb99a18954afa483eec7

What we often forget about “white privilege” in this country is that it doesn’t have to be overtly racist or bad-intentioned. Sometimes people are under-represented not out of a nefarious reason but because we just can’t see our own blind spots.

So, how do we notice the blind spots?

Well, we are going to need people in the “non-white” category to lead us. Those of us in the “white” category need to do a better job of inviting the “non-white” voices into the room and hearing their perspective. We need to allow them to shine the mirror on our blind spots. And then we need the courage to trust it and make changes.

And maybe people like me need to give up our spots on the invite-only superintendents group and make sure more people of color take our place.

Advertisements

The Death of Religion

Jesus doesn’t really like a lot of what passes as religion.  Even religion with his name on it.  Maybe especially that kind.  In fact, he is so disturbed by the religion that was devoted to God during his day that he flat-out curses it (Matthew 23).

We recently started a series entitled “How To Kill a Religion” at church. (You can listen to them as we go along here: https://soundcloud.com/pathwayschurch).  We’ve been looking at the things from Matthew 23 that Jesus says will kill a religion.

DOR7

And while there are many fatal pills that religion can swallow that will put it six feet under, there are three that seem especially deadly:

A lack of sincerity.  Not practicing what you preach.

A lack of compassion. Prioritizing rules over people.

A lack of humility. Practicing religion in order to be noticed by other people.

Religion that lacks sincerity, compassion, and humility is dangerous. It hurts people and Jesus thinks its should die.

Probably many of us who have been hurt by that kind of religion agree. In an unexpectedly weird way, many people who are wary, skeptical and against religion are to some degree on Jesus’ side. And it has been freeing to learn this.  It’s been relieving to discover that Jesus isn’t as petty and oppressive as much of the religion we’ve seen. Sometimes I just wanna cheer, “yea, Jesus! You tell ’em!”

If I’m honest though, it’s also been a little convicting. I’m sure I am guilty at times of lacking any one of these key ingredients to religion that truly honors God.  It’s caused me to examine who I am, what I do and most importantly WHY I do it.

Am I sincere in actually living what I believe?

Do I really prioritize people over rules and rituals?

Would I do this particular thing if no one ever knew about it?

 

I’m finding that I can even do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. And when I do, rather than honor God, I drink the poison that kills religion.

But more than conviction, this series and these words of Jesus have caused me to dream more about the identity of our particular church community.  As we have discussed the things we DON’T want to be, it has inevitably had the side-effect of forcing me to ask “what DO we want to be?”

And what DO we want to be?

After all, while there is religion that is dangerous and hurtful, not all religion is bad.  Jesus’ own brother, James, reminds us of this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.  (But) religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(James 1:26-27)

Now I know that defining ourselves by what we are NOT is not of itself adequate. But what if it adds some clarity to us as a community of things we want to avoid and prompts us, like James, to discuss what we really DO want to be about?  Saying “no” to some things may inspire us to say “yes” to what’s better.

This week we celebrate “Orphan Sunday” at Pathways Church.

We’ll be discussing ways to get involved in protecting the most vulnerable in our global society.  There will be ways to get involved that are more immersive than maybe we’ve ever been involved with before.

I don’t know what will happen with all this, but it feels big.

It feels like it might be defining for us.

Maybe there is more here than just a simple Sunday.

Maybe there is the beginning of identity.

Religious community starting to be reformed around the right things.

I’m praying that this series will be more than just a few shots at the religion God hates but that it will call us forward into the religion God delights in.  Could be this Sunday is the first step in that calling.  Join me in praying for that vision and identity to come bubbling out of these moments.

 

The Core Values

Here is what I’ve been meditating on lately.  Seems like every day I re-read this list multiple times.  I think I’ve almost got it memorized.  Hahaha.

They are the “Core Values” of Pathways Church (Mill Creek, WA) that I have recently accepted a call to help lead.

In fact, it is these values that really drew me to this community.  I love the choice of terms and the almost poetic language in which they are described.  There is honesty, reality, grittiness, hope and beauty described here.  They remind me of the best of what church can be.  And I pray that they are a source of refreshment, hope and inspiration to you as you read them.

Struggle

Personal depth is developed by asking tough questions, by struggling. Those who abandon the struggle either come to believe that they have gained all of the answers or quit caring about those answers altogether. Life is not meant to be lived in either of these extremes. Life is a struggle. Following Jesus does not alleviate our struggle, give us the answer to every question, or enable us to conquer every difficulty of life. But it does make the struggle worth facing by tying it to something greater than ourselves. It is in this wrestling that we learn to trust and draw closer to the heart of God.

Meaning

Because we have been purposefully created, everyone seeks meaning and truth. The desire for purpose is built into us. Satisfaction of this inner hunger will only be found by exploring why we were created. Jesus claimed to give “life to the full.” As we gain an understanding of His teachings from the Scriptures, our eyes are opened to the ultimate meaning of life. This fullness is not only found beyond this life, but it can exist in how we live our lives right now, everyday.

Redemption

To “redeem” is to buy back something that you originally owned. All truth and beauty belong to God. Unfortunately, selfishness, pride, and hatred have twisted and marred much of it. Christ came not only to reclaim individual lives, but all of creation as well. Redemption can occur in the simple beauty of art and creativity, the profound redirection of a life consumed by self, or the overwhelming task of tackling poverty, hunger and sanitation in third-world countries. We partner with Christ to recover the sense of beauty, renewal, and justice which He intended for our lives.

Sacrifice

Here the teachings of Jesus become very unpopular. True love transcends self and ease and therefore requires sacrifice. God first demonstrated that love to us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. As an act of worship, and in response, we give our lives, sacrificially, to Him and to those around us. To follow Jesus is to reflect His giving nature; to take more interest in the needs of others than of ourselves.

Community

We struggle, but not alone. We search for meaning, but others walk the path alongside us. We partner with God to redeem creation, but we do so in conjunction with others. We sacrifice of ourselves, but must have others to whom we give. The New Testament is filled with teachings on how we are to live with “one another”. We laugh together and cry together. We celebrate together and grieve together. We were not meant to journey alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you are tonight, may you find struggle, meaning, redemption, sacrifice and community as a core experience in your faith journey.

Book Review – “EXILES”

Taking a little break from our non-violence series again today, I thought I would share another book with you that I recently finished.   I know that many of you have asked for some resources and helpful books to read regarding what we call “church” and hopefully the books I mention here will be of value to you.

exilesToday’s book is called, “Exiles” by Michael Frost.

This book is definitely one of the best books that I have read all year.  (Okay, so we’re only 6 months through the year, but I do read a lot).

The word, “Missional” is maybe the hottest church-fad word around these days.  In fact, I hear it all the time in staff meetings and among peers.

“What are we doing to be more missional?”

I hear church leaders asking this question all the time, but sometimes I wonder, “Do we even know what that means?”

The danger of “Missional” becoming the pop-church word is that it becomes absorbed into the programmatic paradigm of Western consumer-church.   “Missional” becomes just another in a long line of “cool” programs to get people into our buildings.  But mission is so much more!

If you really want to understand the concept of a “Missional Church” then this is required reading for Class 101.   “Exiles” is the missional handbook for a new generation of Jesus-followers trying to feel their way through a world that is broken and a church that feels irrelevant.

In his own words, the author says his book is written for:

“…those Christians who find themselves falling into the cracks between contemporary secular Western culture and a quaint, old-fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism.

Michael Frost

Michael Frost

This book is for the many people who wish to be faithful followers of the radical Jesus but no longer find themselves able to fit into the bland, limp, unsavory straitjacket of a church that seems to be yearning to return to the days when ‘everyone’ used to attend church and ‘Christian family values’ reigned.

This book is for those who can’t remain in the safe modes of church and who wish to live expansive, confident Christian lives in this world without having to abandon themselves to the values of contemporary society.  This book is for those Christians who feel themselves ready (or yearning) to jump ship but don’t want to be left adrift in a world where greed, consumerism, laziness, and materialism toss them about endlessly and pointlessly.  Such Christians live with the nagging tension of being at home neither in the world nor in the church as they’ve known it.”

If any of those words describe you or what you have felt in regards to church and life, then I would visit Amazon.com immediately and order this book.

This book is broken down into four sections that deal with the “danger” of being a self-imposed exile in this world.   According to Frost, our primary citizenship and allegiance to the kingdom of God makes us EXILES to the power structures of this world.   Thus, these “self-imposed EXILES” continue their hope and heritage by clinging to their Dangerous Memories, Promises, Criticism and Songs.  Each section has its own unique points of interest and exploration.

Among his best insights is the idea that in trying to create churches with “deep community” we have pursued the wrong goal.   Of course community is good, but community for the sake of community, Frost argues, will ultimately fail.   Real community is formed by a group of people “exiling” themselves from the way of the world and serving in the trenches of mission together.

For Frost, a common mission forges the deepest community.  Authentic and meaningful community is essential, but it is the by-product of our involvement in a mission together.   Mission is the goal; community is what happens during the journey.

page30_4If the future of church is even remotely interesting to you, I cannot recommend this book more highly.   Michael Frost writes with a very direct and honest voice that will bring enlightenment to the casual reader as well as enough research and detail to enthrall the more intense studier.    

This book is a MUST READ!

If I could, I’d hold every American Christian’s eye-lids open to make sure they finished it.  🙂

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars