Practice Reconciliation

As a young man, I participated in a Paul–Timothy Program designed to develop future church leaders. As part of our training, we read about a racially diverse, fast-growing new church in Chicago called Circle Church. Formed the in the late 60s, the church met in a union hall located between black and white neighborhoods in this racially divided city. At the time, Circle Church was a model for racial diversity, but later ran into difficulties and split along racial lines. Long-standing racial segregation and prejudice in Chicago still shaped the way blacks and whites in their church related to each other. Whites were used to taking charge and were largely unaware of what we today call white privilege. Others felt left out and deeply buried racial frustrations became insurmountable.

Such discrimination goes beyond race. Women friends have told me about participating in meetings where their suggestion was ignored but then taken seriously when a male colleague said the same thing.  It can feel like you’re invisible. Women need to be better and brighter to get the same respect. But it’s tricky because a determined woman is labeled “pushy” when a male counterpart with the same characteristics is assumed to be a natural leader.

Social class and economic status easily lead to yet another kind of discrimination. Some of us are born on third base and go through life thinking we hit a triple. This has been a longstanding problem. The writer of the book of James in the New Testament scolds his congregation for giving undue honor to a rich visitor while ignoring and demeaning a poor person. He pointedly asks them, “Isn’t it the rich people who oppress you?” (2:6).

Lynn Hur, an Asian-American high school student gives us yet another twist on discrimination in America. The school she attends is predominantly Asian-American and she says it’s a privilege to grow up in an environment where she isn’t teased because of her small eyes or praised for her good English. But it can easily blind students to the racism they will face in the real world. She wants people to know three things: “Number one: Racism is not just a black-and-white situation. [It] encompasses the entirety of our colorful and complicated world. Number two: No one is completely innocent. Asians have their own assumptions and stereotypes of others, despite our experiences. Number three: I want us to look racism in the eye, name it and undo it” (The Mennonite, Feb. 2017:29).

Ben Goossen talks about white Mennonite privilege. He’s referring to those of us from European stock who can trace our genealogy back to our Anabaptist ancestors. He calls it white privilege with a twist. We’re very aware of our ethnic family names, foods, and the history of our ancestors as a persecuted religious minority. It makes us feel special but it makes others feel like they can never quite fit into our churches or ever measure up. They will always be outsiders. Such blinders keep us from seeing our white privilege. Ben Goossen says that learning about white privilege taught him to see us and our churches in a different light. He writes, “I see that even when we talk about peace and justice and righteousness, we can still be implicated in systems of oppression” (The Mennonite, Feb. 2017: 23).

Yet another divisive and often incredibly painful matter is how we relate to and include people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. A lesbian friend recently told me that some of her family will not even talk with her (a kind of verbal abuse) or allow her to come to their homes.  Jesus warns us that verbally abusing and demeaning another person is equivalent to murder. Such anger, like murder, opens the cauldron of hell. He tells us that if we are about to offer a sacrifice or gift to God and remember that our brother or sister has something against us, we should immediately drop what we’re doing, first go to be reconciled, and then return and offer our gift (Matthew 5: 21-24).

For Jesus, compassion and relationships always trump ritual and religious purity. He was fond of repeating Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” It’s instructive to consider the many times he went out of his way to build relationships with despised others such as the Samaritan woman. Churches continually face challenges related to the different forms of prejudice and discrimination in our world. We will want prioritize going out of our way to build relationships with despised others and to practice reconciliation.

Being Poor in Spirit

Han Christian Anderson’s familiar old children’s story about “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is remarkably contemporary. Two swindlers hoodwinked the vain emperor into buying clothes that were purportedly invisible to people who were unfit for their office or stupid. His trusted old minister and then the emperor himself fell for the ruse for fear of being exposed as unfit for their office.

The emperor then paraded through his capital city stark naked in what he thought were his fine new clothes. None of the people lining the streets dared believe their eyes for fear of being exposed to their neighbors as being stupid. They foolishly praised the invisible fabric with its magnificent design and brilliant colors. Then a child whispered to its mother, “The emperor is naked.” Soon everyone began to murmur the same thing and the buzz grew louder and louder. The emperor at last realized the truth but still preferred to believe that his people were stupid.

All the political turmoil during the past two weeks—including the petty argument about how many people attended the presidential inauguration and the banning of refugees and people from various Muslim countries—reveals an emperor overly concerned about being properly admired and given to fear mongering and conspiracy theories. Heaven help us all!

Yet, focusing exclusively on this national drama is too easy. It diverts our attention from this same predilection in ourselves and in our churches. We’re part of the problem. We’ve all seen the hubris and thin egos of pastors, Christian public speakers, and leaders of faith-based organizations. We tell ourselves that our group is “the greatest” and all “others” are somehow deficient. Such religious divisions infect and reinforce the political divides in our world.

We have Mainline churches, Evangelical churches, black churches, hipster churches, Korean churches, Pentecostal churches, and Anabaptist churches—but we rarely engage in meaningful conversations outside of our church groups. Christena Cleveland writes, “if we interact with other groups at all, we usually do so at a distance and with at least a hint of suspicion” (Disunity in Christ, 26).

Jesus’ proclamation that the “poor in spirit” are blessed (Matthew 5: 3) is an antidote.  In Luke’s Gospel Jesus more unequivocally pronounces “blessed are you who are poor” and then contrasts it with “but woe to you who are rich” (6: 20-24).  Why does Matthew instead say “poor in spirit?” Perhaps his life experience has convinced him that a stark contrast between the pious poor and the arrogant rich is an oversimplification.

Still, biblical scholar Douglas Hare writes, “At the heart of the poverty-piety equation lies a profound insight. The proud self-reliance that is fed by prosperity all too easily prompts forgetfulness of our dependence upon God. The poor, to whom less is given, are more likely to remain aware of the givenness of life than are the well-to-do who so naturally come to regard their blessings as deserved” (Matthew, Interpretation, 36).

Wealth and power feed our sense of self-importance, which in turn keeps us from valuing the experience and insight of others. Thinking that we are important and wise, we instead become arrogant and incompetent. We become naked little emperors parading down the street in our birthday suits.

 

 

 

Our Response to a Political Earthquake

We lived through a political earthquake this week. Few expected Donald Trump to win and become our president elect. Most of us are still in shock. I found myself talking pastorally with several women who are so angry and depressed that a man who bragged about groping women and treating them as sex objects is now our next president. This is especially painful for those who were themselves sexually harassed and abused.

One person came to our house because she was so discouraged and needed to talk. Other pastors report the same thing. Some are telling their congregations that they are available to talk to with those who are struggling with severe feelings of anger and depression. Likewise, school teachers report that many children are afraid about what will happen to them or their friends.

I had a conversation with the pastor of a minority church who is deeply concerned about the underlying racism in the Trump campaign and what this might mean for people of color, ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants. This spiritually perceptive pastor told me that perhaps it will be good for churches to recognize that we don’t completely fit in our dominant American culture. It will push us to be more creative in finding models for living and witnessing from the margins.

And I need to acknowledge that I’m struggling to find the inner spiritual and emotional strength to overcome my own despair. I found the way our president-elect mocked and demeaned others, beginning in the Republican primaries, very offensive. I was so much looking forward to the end of the election when he would no longer dominate the news. Now that’s not going to happen. I fear that he’s temperamentally unfit to be president.

This week I attended our Fairfax County Faith Communities in Action meeting. Rabbi David Kalender, who chaired the meeting, opened it by acknowledging the political earthquake we have been through. He gave us some helpful spiritual advice. During an earthquake, things that we thought were stable begin to shake and move and we need to find and grab onto those anchors of stability in our lives. Such anchors may include our family, our friends, meaningful work, gardening, art, exercise, our community of faith, and our God. Then we reach out and hold each other’s hands.

This blog post is part of the sermon I gave at our church this Sunday. This was followed by a communion service and then a sharing time where people freely talked about their personal struggles related to the election earthquake we all went through. There were lots of tears. I also encouraged our congregation to consider our response to Donald Trump as our next president.

I don’t assume that all of us experienced his election the same way. Many Evangelical Christians voted for him, even though they saw him as a flawed candidate, because his political platform supported their positions on various social issues. We will want to have honest conversations with each other about this, practice agreeing and disagreeing in love, and recognize that we’re part of a worldwide communion that brings us together beyond such differences.

Our daughter, who is a school teacher in Oakland, California told me that school students walked out of their classes in protest. Young people marched in the streets holding signs “Love Trumps Hate” and “He’s not my President.” Many more such actions quickly sprung up across our country. That frustration is real but we will also want to give president-elect Trump the chance to prove our worst fears wrong. We hold him up in our prayers.

I believe in grace and that people can change. He might surprise us. Let’s give him that opportunity. Let’s strive to get beyond our distaste and consider the things we may have in common and how we can support those things. He must overcome lots of division and needs lots of support to be a successful president. I’m not sure he completely understands how much anxiety and distrust he has generated.

We will, however, not give him a free pass on things he said and did or his agenda moving forward. He ran a very destructive and mean-spirited campaign. Other candidates then felt that they had no choice but to respond in kind. Such things have consequences. As a result, our American public square is a more vulgar and ugly place than it was before he began running for president. Part of our task will be to hold him accountable and to help repair that torn social fabric.

We should also be prepared to resist were necessary for the sake of the gospel and all vulnerable people. There will be lots of chaos if Trump follows through on some of the things he said he will do during his campaign. We shouldn’t wait to see if that actually happens. Let’s take this as a call to greater social engagement. We will want to pray, talk with each other, strategize, and organize to take action.

Many Christians in the past have suffered for the sake of the gospel. The same is true for some Christians in other parts of the world today. We should not assume that we are somehow exempt from that cost. This is a good time to again read Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Let’s take this opportunity to let our lights shine as God’s people. It’s about living God’s love and growing God’s justice.

 

 

A Post-Election Reflection

cross-and-tee-shirts

The shadow of the cross on top of our church is in the foreground of the Memorial to the Lost on our church lawn remembering the 202 lives lost to gun violence in the greater Washington DC region in 2015.

This is an anxious time in our country following the ugliest presidential election in memory. I worry about how our nation will come together and begin the healing process now that it’s over. This election has exposed significant tears in our social fabric. The hateful and demeaning rhetoric and behavior we have seen is especially frightening.

These things matter deeply and our anxiety is understandable. That’s why we need something beyond our present American politics to help ground us. Steps toward such groundedness include focusing on the many other aspects of my life including my family, my friends, my work, my local community, and my church.

This involves a God oriented perspective. The word “God” denotes the ultimate which relativizes all other powers in our world. For example, the Apostle Paul prays for the people in the church of Ephesus who he describes as a community of saints. He prays that they will have a broader vision and hope—the evocative phrase used is that “the eyes of your heart might be enlightened.”

This involves three things expressed by suggestive Greek words. The first is the word gnosis (knowledge); the second is Sophia (wisdom), and the third is apocalypses (revelation). He takes it even further by claiming that Jesus, the Christ has been raised and is seated at the right-hand of God. Jesus is therefore far above all other authority, power, and dominion (Ephesians 1: 15:23).

African American religious scholar Cornel West speaks so powerfully to times like these, “I speak as a Christian—one whose commitment to democracy is very deep but whose Christian convictions are even deeper. Democracy is not my faith. And American democracy is not my idol . . . To be a Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ—is to love wisdom, love justice, and love freedom” (Democracy Matters, 171-72).

When I get especially anxious, I remember that our American political system is a power that is brought down to size by God’s purposes and what God is doing in and through Jesus in our midst. Furthermore, the church is Jesus’ arms and feet in our world. Paul calls us the body of Christ.

Remembering Lives Lost to Gun Violence

memorial-to-the-lost-2016On Sunday morning our congregation again erected a Memorial to the Lost on our church lawn reminding us to stop, remember, pray, educate, organize, and advocate on behalf of the 202 people killed by gun violence in greater Washington DC in 2015. This is the third year we have erected the Memorial created by Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence and rotated to the lawns of different churches and faith communities in the DC area.

The Memorial includes 202 tee-shirts with each victim’s name, age, and date of death. It becomes a holy labor of love as we work together to pound in stakes, erect frames, and place the tee-shirts on them. When our work is completed we dedicate the memorial with this scripture taken from the book of Habakkuk 1: 2-4a:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.

Then we read this litany of commitment for the Memorial before processing silently into our church to begin our worship service:

Faced with gun violence,
We grieve for those who have been killed
and those whose lives are forever changed;
We seek comfort for those who have lost loved ones;
We pray for healing in the hearts
of those who have been left to mourn.
Faced with gun violence,
We seek healing for the perpetrators,
so they no longer inflict pain upon others.
We pray for healing of the violence in our culture.
Faced with gun violence,
We pray for those in positions of power
that they may use their power for peace.
Faced with gun violence, may we
Educate; Organize; Advocate;
and in all the ways we can, work for the day when
guns and weapons of destruction
are transformed into instruments of healing.
May it be so. May we do so.

Being Liberated from Stuff (part 2)

Jesus told that story of the rich man and Lazarus in response to the ridicule he was receiving from some prominent religious leaders who were, according to Luke’s Gospel, “Lovers of money” (Luke 16: 14). This brings out another aspect of the problem. Flaunting our wealth is a way to tell ourselves and our neighbors that we have arrived and are important.

Religious people tell themselves that their wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Such prosperity teaching is as old as history but Jesus isn’t having any of it. Instead, “being liberated from stuff” is the sermon he keeps coming back to again and again. The Apostle Paul picks up where Jesus lets off when he rebukes those who “imagine that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6: 6-12).

Thinking that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing makes it all too easy to ignore the seamier aspects of acquiring great wealth. Different professions reward people much more than others not because they contribute more to society but because they have more political and economic clout. And most of us who are wealthy received out wealth by being born into wealthy families. It’s worse when our wealth is connected to organized crime or the destruction of whole communities in other parts of the world. Such recognition makes us humble about all the stuff we’re accumulating.

Paul flips such prosperity teaching on its head as he takes on those who “imagine that godliness is a means of great gain.” Sure,” Paul says, “there is great gain in godliness when it’s combined with contentment.” We brought nothing into this world and we’ll take nothing with us when we die. Contentment, therefore, is being satisfied when we have food, clothing, and shelter. Such contentment is the first step to being set free from the tyranny of stuff.

It doesn’t necessarily mean giving everything away but let’s do it if that’s what it takes to be free. Mother Theresa is an example. She lived in a small single room in the Sisters of Charity house in Kolkata, India. The furnishings of the room were a small desk, a chair, and a single bed to sleep in. She wore the simple white dress with a blue border of the Sisters of Charity and she picked out her shoes from the donated shoes that her order gave to poor people.

The problem isn’t money itself. It’s our love of money. Money is a great resource that makes so many good things possible. But it’s very alluring, tempting us to want more and more of it. That’s why Paul says that seeking to become rich is a snare. We get caught up in our desires and lose our faith in God. We also lose our humanity.

Jesus, makes it stark, “You can’t serve both God and money.” So how shall those of us who are rich thread that eye of a needle so that we can be part of God’s exciting new world coming? Listen to Paul’s advice in I Timothy 6: 17-19 in Eugene Peterson’s translation:

Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last forever, gaining life that is truly life.

I recently saw this relationship with wealth in action when I had the privilege to be part of an informal advisory group for Ray Martin. The problem of climate change has become Ray’s passion and one way he has responded is by donating $ 1 million to begin a Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions at Eastern Mennonite University. Driving with Ray and others to participate in the launch of the Center was richly rewarding. He told me that he felt very privileged with the amount of wealth he had accumulated but he didn’t want to die as a rich man. Ray’s extravagant generosity was focused on making our world a better place. In return, he received so much joy and satisfaction,”gaining life that is truly life.”

Being Liberated from “Stuff”

What is it about “stuff” that gives it such a grip on our lives? And how do we find liberation from it? These are tough questions with no easy answers. Well, perhaps no easy answers that most of us are willing to consider. I think of Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler when he told him to give away everything he had and come follow him.  That’s not easy but it’s straight-forward. Giving it all away could have liberated him from the thing that had the biggest control over his life.

I live in Fairfax County, one of the richest areas of the most powerful and wealthy county in our world. That makes me feel poor. Many of my neighbors have so much more stuff than we do. They drive fancier cars, live in bigger houses, wear better clothes, eat at more upscale restaurants, and send their kids to more elite schools. And stuff costs so much here. On and on it goes and I begin to feel jealous and resentful.

My wife Ruth and I have worked for churches and faith organizations all our lives. Neither of us ever drew six figure salaries. Even so, we have been comfortable and have never been in need. So why do we feel poor and worry about our retirement? Probably, because we compare ourselves with people who have more stuff than we do. And we live in a financial system where we need to stack up money to support ourselves after we retire.

We need to get a grip and one place to start is by going to www.globalrichlist.com developed by Care International. When I punched in our income and net worth I discovered that we are among the richest 1% of people in our world. Come on! That can’t be us. I don’t think of myself as being so incredibly rich. No! It appears that I am one of those rich guys who Jesus said is like a camel who has to thread the eye of a needle to get into the kingdom of God.

Especially troubling for folks like me is Jesus’ story of the rich man living the good life and the poor beggar Lazarus sitting at his gate covered with sores and longing for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16: 19-31). Is it a simple morality tale of a reversal of fortunes where the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell?  No, but it’s a stark warning that our love of money combined with our unwillingness to see and respond to the plight of others is a sure road to hell both in this life and in eternity.

The first step toward liberation is an honest recognition of how much stuff we actually have. On my next post on this topic I will explore avenues toward further liberation and living in the freedom of having our wealth become a source of joy-filled giving and service.

Faith Values that Guide Our Politics (part 2)

engaging-politics

 

Many of our faith values are in serious tension with or even antithetical to every political system our world has ever known. Even so, we can use them to help us discern which candidate and which political platform is more in line with God’s purposes:

  • We will want to discern which has the most respect for all people, including recent immigrants and racial minorities.
  • All politicians spin the truth but some are more honest than others and more able to admit when they made a mistake. Being able to admit mistakes is an important indication of one’s character.
  • Wealth and power are ingrained in all political systems. Even so we can discern who flaunts it as a way to impress people, who takes advantage of our legal system for unjust personal gain, who is more generous, and who seeks to live a simpler life.
  • Religious freedom and freedom of conscience go together. Does the candidate respect the rights and consciences of all people on deeply dividing issues such as abortion and sexuality? Does the candidate respect or demean people from other faith traditions?
  • All politicians claim to support common people and all are beholden to the rich and powerful people who help put them into office. Even so we can discern which will do more for common people, poor communities, and small businesses, and which has policies that benefit the rich and powerful.
  • Caring for the earth and all creation has become one of the most important social problems of our generation because of rapidly decreasing natural resources and the problem of climate change. We will want to discern which candidate and political party takes these matters seriously.
  • We will want to discern which candidate and political party is more apt to rely on military solutions to international conflicts and which will be more ready to use diplomacy and other means.

Let’s vote our values as best we can in the upcoming election but let’s also resist getting sucked into the agenda of either political party. Political parties recruit churches and religious leaders as errand boys and girls to help deliver the vote but give little in return. Let’s be wise!

Evangelical writer David Swartz encourages Evangelicals to learn from the Anabaptists who found themselves the target of every civic authority in the sixteenth century. Furthermore, our Anabaptist peace position has always kept us from completely fitting into our American political system. We’ve learned how to live with that tension.

David Swartz says that “the vocabulary of nationalism we hear in the Republican and Democratic parties—and then echoed in Christian groups—typically shades toward idolatry. . . Both sides practice realpolitik to accomplish their goals. Anything goes in the attempt to win. Parties enforce platforms, leaving little room for dissent, and they coerce adherents into following culture war scripts. They encourage the demonization of the enemy.”[1]

This political system is at the root of the partisan gridlock in our country. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to find ways to rise above, go around, resist, and engage this system. We don’t expect it to bring in the reign of God and we will not become its errand boys and girls.

Even with this critique, I’m grateful for many aspects of our political system and our American culture and seek to work within it to, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “seek the welfare of our city.” Our democratic system of government is a huge improvement over the domination and violence in in past centuries and in other parts of the world today. There’s much to be thankful for.

We respect and pray for our political leaders but we will not give them our religious blessing. Our loyalty belongs to God and to God’s reign. We bless and seek to be a blessing to all people. We trust that our church is a sign of that new world bubbling up in our midst. This is where we place our hope.

Jesus repudiated the very premises of systems of domination and called disciples to come follow him. He rejected the right of some to dominate others by means of power, wealth, or titles of prestige. Through his beatitudes, his healings, and by eating with outcasts and sinners, he declared God’s special concern for the oppressed.

As his disciples, Jesus calls us to create a community of equals that includes women. He asks us to do away with the hierarchical relationship of master and slave, teacher and student. So welcome to this new world coming! It’s a good time to be Anabaptist. Vote your faith values and encourage others to do the same, then place your trust in God and the power of God’s Spirit creating a new world in our midst.

[1] David Swartz, “Hey White Evangelicals, Welcome to Anabaptism (September 28, 2016)

Faith Values that Guide Our Politics

engaging-politics

This is the strangest and most worrisome presidential election I can remember because of the temperament of the GOP candidate Donald Trump. Personalities matter but American elections go beyond the individual candidates. We have become so politically polarized that people support their party no matter what and live in echo chambers where they only listen to people who reinforce their beliefs. This is especially true when our sole sources of information are the internet, talk radio, and certain TV channels.

Presidential elections become horse races. The media loves the excitement. The more they hype it the more viewers and advertising dollars they get. Partisan commentators from both sides spin all the bad stuff they can dig up on the other candidate while praising the accomplishments of their candidate. Half-truths or outright lies are exaggerated and repeated over and over again until many accept them as true.

The rhetoric becomes so shrill. We’re told that this election is a crucial turning point or even the last chance to save our country. We should always question such claims. Fortunately, cooler heads generally prevail. Nevertheless, we need to take a step back—breathe in and breathe out—and seriously consider how our faith values guide our politics.

We need to remember what a presidential election is. We’re choosing the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military and the leader of the dominant economic system in our world. Who that person is and how she or he assumes that leadership can make a big difference. Nevertheless, that person will always be beholden to those systems of domination. That goes with the job.

This needs to temper our hope that a new president will somehow usher in a radically more just, secure, and prosperous world. Even though a president can make big differences, more radical and lasting change will necessarily come from elsewhere. For followers of Jesus, change and new life begins with the good news that Jesus lived and proclaimed. This politics of Jesus shapes our political engagement. Core gospel values include:

  • Respecting the basic dignity and worth of all people
  • Honesty and truth-telling
  • Generosity and simple living
  • Religious freedom and respect for people of all faiths
  • A special concern for the poor and most vulnerable among us
  • Caring for the earth and all creation
  • Peace, justice, and reconciliation.

In my next blog post I will discuss how these values inform our political engagement, including how we vote.

 

 

Living Love, Growing Justice, Welcoming Everyone

Our congregation has recently been working together to come up with a motto that expresses the song of our hearts that we’ll include with our new name “Daniels Run Peace Church.” Several things became apparent.  We want to be a welcoming fellowship epitomized by our love; we seek to be a diverse church that’s growing in equality and justice.  And all of this begins in the shared life of our fellowship as followers of Jesus but we seek to extend such winsome love and justice to our neighbors and our world in ways that are healing and empowering.

Love and justice walk hand in hand. Together, they’re what peace looks like. The prophet Isaiah envisioned Israel (God’s people) as a choice vineyard lovingly nurtured by our Creator. God had expected Israel to be a loving community where justice prevailed but instead saw bloodshed and heard a cry (Isaiah 5: 1-7). We imagine violent, cutthroat elites oppressing poor people and fighting among themselves to gain power. I’ve been around the block enough times, however, to realize that these were most likely pious people who had convinced themselves they were doing the right thing.

We’re all involved in social structures that oppress and ignore the neediest. Sure, poor people often contribute to their own problems but when we learn to know them we discover that there’s always a backstory.  Poor kids get caught in violent neighborhoods, racial prejudice, an abusive foster-care system, poor schools, and a skewed criminal justice system. I imagine God looking at our country and saying, “I expected justice but saw bloodshed and heard a cry.”

Jesus chided his listeners and called them hypocrites because they were blind to such things. He told them that they were good at interpreting signs for the weather but incapable of reading the signs of the times (Luke 12: 54-56). How do we interpret the signs of the times in our world? They are those places overcome by spiritual brokenness and social injustice. We will also want to discern where and how the reign of God is penetrating our world, bringing healing, and social and spiritual transformation.

What does that look like? I was recently talking with a friend who is the pastor of another emerging church here in Fairfax. We share the goal of forming diverse, multi-cultural congregations. We also share the free-church conviction that dynamic expressions of God’s kingdom always emerge on the margins. Giving up our compulsion to be in charge is very liberating. It gives us the freedom to be different in ways that matter.

That’s what makes experimenting with different mottos for our church so much fun. I especially like the sentence one of our church members came up with, “A loving, multicultural congregation with a passion for peace and justice, following the path of Jesus Christ.” We eventually agreed on a shortened version that we will put on church sign by the road. Under our new name “Daniels Run Peace Church” will be the motto “Living Love, Growing Justice, Welcoming Everyone.”