In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for his Church in this way:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14-18)
These words have commonly led to the sentiment that Christians are called to be “in, but not of” the world we live in. To many, this idea might seem simple enough on paper. But as most of us know, the lived reality of this expression is far more complicated.
Every Christian is a product not only of her theological beliefs, but also of her surrounding culture and personal experiences. As a result, Christians often relate to their surrounding culture in very different ways. While one person might be inclined to have a positive outlook both on the culture and the Church itself, others might be far more critical on the culture and the work of the Church in the world. These differences are no small matter. A quick glance on Twitter and the major Christian websites reveals that we are quite divided with one another over how to faithfully live and witness in the world. Continue Reading
One of my favorite parts of the weekly worship service is what is commonly known as the passing of the peace. This is the part of the service where many of us regress inwardly to the spiritual state of a 3-year-old, groaning inside with an attitude of, “Awww, do I have to?” But second to the coming to the Lord’s Table together, this portion of the worship service serves as a deep comfort to my soul. Why? Because it is a physical act which is based on a deeply spiritual reality: Christians have been definitively reconciled to each other through Christ.
Whenever I have the privilege of leading this portion of the worship service, I will often say something along the lines of, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has also reconciled us to one another. So, let’s take a moment to greet one another with the peace of Christ…” Some weeks those words feel hollow, and I’m sure they can feel fake to those who hear them. After all, while we might know intellectually that we are supposed to be reconciled to one another, our lived experience is often entirely different. Marriages and friendships within the church are strained; the challenges of the week cause us to distance ourselves from other church members; despite attending a church with others for years, we’ve hardly put forth the effort to get to know them.
Reconciled? Yeah right. How is this bitter, distant, conflicted group of people reconciled? Continue Reading
In the late 19th and early 20th century, local governments across the country made explicit attempts to isolate white and black residents in their communities. One of the first cities to do so was Baltimore, MD. In 1910 the city adopted an ordinance which prohibited African Americans from buying homes in neighborhoods with a majority of white residents (and vice versa). The lawyer who drafted this ordinance was named Milton Dashiel, and he explained the intention behind this ordinance:
Ordinarily, the negro loves to gather to himself, for he is very gregarious and sociable in his nature. But those who have risen somewhat above their fellows appear to have an intense desire to leave them behind, to disown them, as it were, and get as close to the company of white people as circumstances will permit them.
The purpose of this segregation ordinance, he said, was to prevent this from happening (Rothstein, 44).
Many cities and local governments across the country adopted similar zoning practices. However, in 1917 the Supreme Court overturned a racial zoning ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky. The case was Buchanan v. Warley, and it was the result of one African American’s attempt to purchase a home that was in a majority white neighborhood. The Court ruled that the racialized zoning practices which prevented this purchase from taking place was unconstitutional. Their decision was based on the Fourteenth Amendment, the purpose of which was to include equal rights for all citizens under the law. Yet the Court was explicit that they did not believe racialized zoning practices violated the rights of African Americans, so much as these practices violated the rights of property owners to sell to whomever they pleased (Rothstein, 45).
Following this ruling, communities and government authorities had to become more creative in enforcing their racialized practices. In other words, racist practices did not go away following the Buchanan ruling, they simply evolved. For example, the government of Richmond, Virginia forbid anyone from moving to a neighborhood where they were ineligible to marry a majority of the citizens in that neighborhood. Since the state of Virginia forbid interracial marriage, Richmond’s new zoning law effectively kept neighborhoods segregated even though this purpose was not explicitly written in the zoning ordinance.
Another city which found clever ways around the Buchanan decision was St. Louis and its suburb of Ferguson in Missouri. Many will remember Ferguson as the place of the tragic death of Michael Brown in 2014 and the many protests which followed. This tragedy brought to national attention the realities of racial tension and divides which are present in communities across the country. But how did Ferguson become so segregated, and how did the tension along racial divides elevate to the heights that it did? Continue Reading
One of my first tasks when I started my new pastorate three years ago was helping our church get up to speed with our use of technology. When I walked into my new office on the first day, I found an old metal cart with stacks of multi-colored VeggieTales VHS tapes. On the bookshelves were boxes containing cassette tapes from 1995 which claimed to offer “the latest and best method for small groups for your church!” Other rooms had old VHS players(!) and printers sitting in the corner collecting dust, as well as several piles of old cables that nobody could remember what they belonged to.
Those early days were a lot of fun, not only clearing out all of the old, unused technology, but also helping our church embrace new technology to minister in this technologically advanced world. It took some time and effort, but three years later we finally have a social media presence (which now is really firing on all cylinders thanks to the newest member of our staff), domain name email addresses, online giving, a church management software, electronic children’s check-in, and now…well, like everyone else, livestreaming.
What I learned about our church in those early days wasn’t so much that our members were resistant to technology. Technology wasn’t ignored because it was feared, but because gathering in person was valued so much that new forms of technology just hadn’t really been thought about. In other words, our church so prized the embodied gathering of the saints that technology was always thought of as something that would be nice to have, not something that was essential.
Churches across the globe are finding themselves in a really interesting place. Now that Christians can no longer gather in person (and for good reason), technology has never been more essential to keep ministry going. Yet the real, tangible, and embodied gathering of the church has never been more valued in this generation.
Why? Because we really miss each other. Continue Reading