young male cover his eyes, isolated on white

Lest We Forget

In all the furor over Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality and the subsequent consequences of those words, I fear we are missing out on somet...


A Conscientious Objector in this Cu...

Somehow I imagine the conversation went down something like this. “Good work team. Product placement for Duck Dynasty is nearly ubiquitous. Si’s even...

Milk and Cookie Preaching

Milk And Cookie Preaching

All it took to get me writing this week was a text and an email. Early in the week I received a text message from a friend who was sitting in a chu...


Leaving the Past in Order to Move i...

I don't know how familiar you are with the story of the anointing of Saul as first king of Israel, but I'll be the first to admit that until recently ...

Lest We Forget

young male cover his eyes, isolated on whiteIn all the furor over Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality and the subsequent consequences of those words, I fear we are missing out on something equally disturbing in Phil’s comments.

As always, one must be wary of selective editing. Like most of Phil’s comments quoted in the article, no context is given. No insights are provided as to what question gave rise to the response. All we have is the reporting of some (and obviously not all, be sure to note the ellipses) of Phil’s remarks.

That said, I’m surprised so few have noticed these words:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Now it is entirely possible that the question that gave rise to this response makes it far more innocent than it seems. The words are somewhat shocking, just thrown in without any context. But consider how these words sound when spoken in response to the question “We all know there was a lot of racial tension in Caddo parish while you were growing up. What was it like growing up with all that violence and oppression around you?”

If in response to a question like that, this comment becomes simply a statement about his own personal observations. I know it was happening, but I never witnessed it myself. Who knows, maybe in the parts edited out by the ellipses he even criticized and condemned that kind of racial hatred.

We must give Phil the benefit of the doubt here.

But it is still dismissive and condescending to attribute the justifiable complaints of mistreatment from black Louisianans as merely being the result of an entitlement mindset brought on by the welfare state.

Again, I’m not sure if that suggestion was made by Phil himself, the author of the article, or the editor, but that is the suggestion being made by this quote. “Back then, they seemed happy. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. It wasn’t until welfare came along that they decided the deserved better.”

Now let’s see how true that suggestion really is.

By all accounts Phil was born and raised in Caddo parish, somewhere near Vivian in far northwest Louisiana. There’s a reason Caddo parish had the nickname “Bloody Caddo,” and it wasn’t because of all the duck hunting going on.

In the ten years following the Civil War, there were 566 homicides in the parish, many of which were lynchings urged on by the local newspaper. At least 154 blacks were killed by white mobs in Caddo parish in the year 1868 alone. ()

According to the  Louisana Coalition for Alernatives to the Death Penalty, on June 18, 1903, the Shreveport times ran and editorial which included these comments:

“In the south the belief in swift and sure punishment for negro fiends who outrage female virtue is fairly fundamental. No one sympathizes with the wretch who is burned at the stake or riddled with bullets for an offense of this character and the southern mind condones the act of the mob without hesitation or qualification… “

Ironically (?) that same day, June 18, 1903 the Police Jury of Caddo parish authorized the erection of a monument on the front plot of the county courthouse, and the county donated $1,000 to fund its construction. According to the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice (citing an article in the NY Times from December 1, 1903) six months after approving the future construction of that monument, three black men were lynched by a mob of 1,200 white men on the very spot the monument would eventually stand.

According to Michael Pfeifer of Evergreen State College in Washington state the last lynching in Caddo parish was the murder of Leslie Leggett in 1923. According to an article in the Shreveport Times:

Leggett, 35, was kidnapped from a garage at the corner of Taylor and Christian streets in Shreveport on Jan. 3, 1923, by five white men. Charles Papa, who rented a room to Leggett, reported the crime and told police he feared Leggett had been killed.

Leggett’s crime? “Associating with white women.”

Now, we should remember that we don’t know if Phil acknowledged all of this violence in the remarks that were edited out of the interview. He could have acknowledged all of this and still truthfully said he never witnessed any mistreatment of black with his own eyes, since he wasn’t born until 1946.

The problem is: the mistreatment of blacks in Caddo parish didn’t end in 1923. Lynching gradually declined, but it was replaced with more secretive and subtle acts of oppression, many of which continued through Phil’s childhood and young adulthood.

Phil may have worked alongside blacks in the fields as a young man, but what he didn’t do was study alongside them in elementary school. Despite the Brown v Board of Education ruling in 1954 that deemed the policy of “separate but equal” unconstitutional, it took a court order in 1960 before all-white schools in Caddo parish began to admit black students.

On November 14, 1960, when the first four black first graders (under the protection of federal marshals) attended their first day of class at formerly all white McDonough 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, citizens of Shreveport in Caddo parish burned crosses in front of the all-black Booker T Washington High School and the Caddo Parish School Board office.

Probably Phil wasn’t there. He probably didn’t witness it with his own eyes. But it happened.

Or how about college?

Everyone familiar with Phil’s story knows he attended Louisiana Tech on a football scholarship as their star quarterback. The best I can tell, Phil enrolled at Louisiana Polytechnic in 1964 (I can’t find an exact date, but he played football in the 65, 66 and 67 season, and was a red-shirt freshman.) Maybe he didn’t notice there were no black students at college that first year, but it wasn’t until 1965 that LA Tech, again only after a court order, began to admit black students.

And it wasn’t just segregation.

In 1963 four girls, Addie May Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, were killed when a box of dynamite planted by some members of the United Klans of America exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Citizens around the country planned memorial marches.

But in Shreveport, the application filed by the Little Union Baptist Church for a permit to demonstrate was denied by the towns Public Safety Commissioner. Instead, the congregants gathered in their church building for a memorial service. While the service was going on, the building was surrounded by hundreds of Shreveport police officers in riot gear and as the service concluded and congregants left, the police began to beat dozens of the demonstrators and clergy.

And remember that Confederate monument on the front lawn of Caddo county courthouse, the one with the busts of four confederate generals, a statue of an armed confederate soldier and an inscription dedicating it “To The Just Cause” of the confederacy? In 1951, as the civil rights movement gained momentum nationwide, white citizens of Caddo parish said, “Not here!” And in protest to the idea that all Americans should enjoy equal rights regardless of race, they added something to the monument: a confederate flag.

And not just any confederate flag, they added the “Blood-stained Banner,” actually the third official flag of the Confederacy, to which a red stripe had been added to be sure no one mistook the flag (which featured a prominent white field which was sometimes the only thing visible when the flag hung limp) as a flag of truce. It’s a flag whose design says not only do we believe in the principles of the Confederacy, we’re willing to fight, to kill and to die for them.

Maybe Phil never noticed, but there, in that spot where black men were lynched by white mobs, the Blood Stained Banner flew, reminding everyone passing by “We won’t forget, and we’re willing to kill.”

It flew there not just in the racial conflicts of the 60’s and 70’s.

It was still flying there in 2009 when Carl Staples was summoned to jury duty in the capital murder case of Fenton Dorsey, a black man accused of murdering a white man in Caddo parish. When Staples objected to being forced to walk past the Blood Stained Banner, he was threatened with arrest. When he reported for jury duty, he objected again, and was struck from the jury, as were five of the remaining seven black prospective jurors. Despite an objection by the defense that such strikes amounted to racial discrimination, the objection was overruled, and a jury of 11 whites and one black man sentenced Dorsey to death.

It actually flew there until November, 2011, when it was taken down in the middle of the night, only after appeals by Dorsey arguing that the flag was tacit intimidation, and a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court that cited the ruling in United States vs Blanding which found “It is not an irrational inference that one who displays the confederate flag may harbor racial bias against African-Americans.”

The fact remains, none of this means Phil didn’t acknowledge any of this. He never denied it happened. As far as we know, he may have specifically mentioned any or all of these things, just to have them cut out of the interview by someone who wanted to make his statement sound more outrageous than it really was.

He just said he didn’t see it in person.

But maybe that’s the problem.

It was happening all around him…

And he never noticed.

But before you think I’m just being hard on Phil, I’m afraid many of us are just as guilty of obliviousness. And as with yesterday, I’m far more concerned with what the church says than anything a duck hunter from Louisiana may or may not have said.

How much injustice is happening all around us every day?

When was the last time we noticed?

“I didn’t see it with my own eyes. They seemed happy as far as I could tell. I didn’t hear anyone complaining.”

How many times have we used those words to defend our indefensible ignorance?

A Conscientious Objector in this Culture War

iStock_000020238968XSmallSomehow I imagine the conversation went down something like this.

“Good work team. Product placement for Duck Dynasty is nearly ubiquitous. Si’s even in that cartoon with all the vegetables. But I couldn’t help but notice, we don’t quite have a 100% market share just yet. What can we do to fix that?”

“How about a scandal? That always seems to work.”

“Like the time we told everyone we told them they couldn’t pray in Jesus’ name. Nothing like a supposed slight to rally the troops.”

“Maybe we could get Si to say something so outrageous that we have to fire him.”

“You can’t fire Si. But Phil, he’s suspendable.”

“But make sure you do it at the end of a season’s filming. That way we have a whole season of episodes to air with Phil still in them, and then we can bring him back for the season opener the next season.”

(Please note, I said I imagine the conversation went down this way. I certainly have no way of knowing how far from reality my imagination really is.  Note: It seems A&E is telling a different story. So maybe I am too cynical.)

Meanwhile, here in conservative Middle America, we take the bait hook line and sinker. Boycott! Petition! Call the cable company and cancel A&E! And whatever you do, don’t stop buying Duck Commander merchandise, because if you do, the heathens win!

What no one seems to notice is what Phil actually said. The story as it is retold goes something like this, “Phil said homosexuality is a sin, and they fired him for it. So much for free speech!”

If Phil had said that, I’d probably be a little upset at his “firing” too. Unfortunately that’s not exactly what Phil said. Instead he spoke with vulgarity dressed up as straight-shooting plain talk in a way that completely misunderstands homosexuality and doesn’t serve to invite anyone to Christ.

His argument, vaginas and anuses included, amounts essentially to “I don’t get why it’s such a struggle. Just try sex our way once; I promise you’ll like it better, and you won’t go to hell.”

Is that really true? Noble? Right? Because it certainly wasn’t lovely or admirable. Yet here we are treating it as if it is excellent and praiseworthy.

Meanwhile, we all strap on the digital weapons of a social media firefight, with our tweets and memes and status updates, and we march off to a culture war against the enemy of “mainstream media,” never thinking to ask the question: was this skirmish fabricated to serve the financial interests of everyone involved, including Phil?

Sadly, what we fail to recognize as we rush to the defense of the indefensibly vulgar and insensitive comments of the celebrity Christian du jour, is that our enemy – our real enemy (Ephesians 6:12) – whispers in the ears of those who struggle with same sex attraction and who find utterly undesirable what Phil considers desirable (as well as an entire generation of those who sympathize with them) “See? There’s no place in the church for you. They don’t understand you. They won’t even listen to you. And they’ll certainly never love you.”

Let’s do better church.

Let’s opt out of this pretend culture war.

Let’s stop being manipulated by marketing teams and PR firms.

Let’s speak the truth; by all means, speak the truth! But let’s do so in love. And while we’re at it, let’s follow in the footsteps of our great high priest, who proved himself fully able to sympathize with our weakness, even as he invited us to live lives of righteousness leading to holiness.

Milk And Cookie Preaching

Milk and Cookie PreachingAll it took to get me writing this week was a text and an email.

Early in the week I received a text message from a friend who was sitting in a church service in another state.  I know, shame on me for accepting texts from someone who should be paying attention in church. But that’s the subject for a different post.

Anyway, long story short, the text message bemoaned the vacuity of the preaching to which they were listening at the time.    I know, shame on me for listening to someone complain about someone else’s preaching.  But that’s the subject for a different post.

The text message actually said, “This speaker talks a lot, but doesn’t have much to say. It’s like trying to fill a cup with the water dripping from a stalactite,” to which I responded with something sarcastic about said speaker’s potential popularity on the celebrity speaking circuit.  I know, shame on me for being sarcastic and not supportive of this speaker’s ministry.  But my friend replied That’s what happens when you grow up listening to [Insert My Friend’s Pastor’s Name Here}.”   Read more

Leaving the Past in Order to Move into the Future

Samuel Anoints SaulI don’t know how familiar you are with the story of the anointing of Saul as first king of Israel, but I’ll be the first to admit that until recently I only had a passing familiarity with this story from Israel’s history.  I’d heard the story in Sunday School, flannel graph and all, and I’d occasionally read the account in passing.  But I’d never really taken the time to reflect on the story in depth.

That’s exactly what I’d like for you to do today.

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Keeping It In Perspective

PERSPECTIVE“Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11b, NIV)

As you’re probably aware, the Book of Nehemiah opens with a surprising revelation for Nehemiah.  Despite the return led by Zerubbabel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius, the Jerusalem remains a city disgraced.  It’s wall lies in ruins, and it’s precincts are exposed and defenseless.

And as you’re probably also aware, when Nehemiah hears a report of this situation from his brother Hanani, his first response is one of prayer.  It’s a natural response for a man of faith, nothing surprising here.

But what is surprising is how, exactly, Nehemiah prays:

LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations,  but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NIV)

Notice what Nehemiah says.

And notice what he doesn’t.

Nehemiah receives devastating news, yet when he prays, he’s far more interested in whom he prays to than what he is praying about.  His focus, first and foremost, is on God and his promises.  His problems aren’t even mentioned until the very last sentence of his prayer.

And when he finally does mention them, notice what he says: “Grant me favor in the presence of this man.”  You do remember who “this man” is, right?  This man is none other than Artaxerxes, self proclaimed king of kings, emperor of all Persia, hailed by his people as the god of heaven, the one who, at least according to his name, is the one true ruler.  He is the one who has the power to issue the incontrovertible decree.  He is the one who holds Nehemiah’s very life in his hands, who, with a word, can order him struck down for having the insolence to suggest he change his mind regarding Jerusalem.

Or at least, that’s how it looks to those who see with eyes of flesh.

Nehemiah, however, knows better.

YHWH, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and who through Nehemiah’s own name promises comfort, YHWH is the God of Heaven and Earth.  Despite claims to the contrary, YHWH is the King of Kings, and he alone holds life and death in his hands. No decree of man is ever incontrovertible when YHWH is involved.

And so in comparison to the greatness of his God, Nehemiah’s king is nothing but this man.

When Nehemiah prays, he keeps things in perspective.

How about you?

Is your focus on His power or your problems?

An A for Effort…

aforeffortJust was asked to approve the most extensive attempt at comment spam I’ve ever seen over on our church’s website.  I add it here for your reading enjoyment:

I wish to express some appreciation to this writer for bailing me out of such a condition. Just after scouting throughout the world wide web and coming across recommendations that were not helpful, I assumed my entire life was over. Existing without the strategies to the problems you have solved as a result of your good blog post is a crucial case, and those which could have badly affected my entire career if I had not noticed your web blog. Your actual natural talent and kindness in controlling all the pieces was useful. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come upon such a stuff like this. It’s possible to at this moment look forward to my future. Thanks so much for your reliable and results-oriented guide. I won’t think twice to propose your web sites to any individual who desires recommendations on this matter. (emphasis added)

What was the life-changing, career-saving information?  An announcement that a month ago we were going to have a sermon on the subject of Baptism at our church…

I never knew that my now-past preaching schedule had such far reaching effects.


I Have Some Exciting News

The future God has planned for you is far better than any you could ever imagine for yourself.

In 15 and a half years of youth ministry, I’ve told my teens this truth countless times.  It is the thesis statement of my ministry, the one thing I hope they will take away from our time together.

Today, I’m being reminded of that truth myself.

Moments ago I tendered my resignation to the board of the Middletown Church of the Nazarene, my family’s church home for the last eight years. And while there was a little sadness in doing that, there was far more excitement, both for myself, and for our church.

It was exciting for me because, on Sunday, I accepted the call to pastor the Anderson Southdale Church of the Nazarene.  I am excited about the opportunity to lead these people of God in service to their community and world as together we share the good news about Jesus Christ.  I am excited about being able to continue to work closely with my friends and colleagues at the Middletown Church and the others on our zone so together our churches, as part of His Church, can take hold of God’s Kingdom and move it powerfully forward. I am excited because it is always exciting to follow faithfully after the call of God.

And I am excited for the Middletown Church.  Something that has come up frequently in the conversations between my Pastor and I as we moved toward this transition is that if it is God’s will for me to serve the people of Southdale, it’s also God’s will for the Middletown Church to make a transition as well.  His plans are perfect, and His plan for me doesn’t in any way jeopardize His plans for the church.

I can’t tell you how many times in my ministry I have come back to John 14:12. In it Jesus tells his disciples (who were themselves facing a significant transition):

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

When following God, the future is always brighter. Jesus repeatedly promises “greater things than these” to his people who do his work.  And despite how great these years in Middletown have been, there are greater things than these in store for me.  And there are greater things than these in store for the great people of the Middletown Church.

So to my friends and family who are the Middletown Church of the Nazarene, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for what has been 3213 of the best days of my life so far. Thank you for the opportunity and honor of being able to serve alongside you for these years.  Thank you for the love, encouragement and support you have given us and our ministry. Thank you for letting us become a part of your lives, and thank you for continuing to make room for us even after this transition.  We love you.

And to the people of both the Middletown and Southdale congregations, I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us in the future, because His future is always better.

Ever Wonder What Your Teens Believe (Results Edition) – Part Two

Help me, Jesus, You're My Only HopeMonday I shared a survey I prepared to help me get a grasp on how well my teens understood some of the most basic tenets of Christianity.

Yesterday we started looking at the five questions in which student’s responses diverged the most from my own.

Today I’d like to continue looking the results from our beliefs survey, continuing to move from the questions where student opinion diverged the most, to those in which they were most aligned with my own.

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Ever Wonder What Your Teens Believe (Results Edition) – Part One

"The Splits" by Ian Sane on FlickrNote: If you’re from MCON and have any interest in taking the survey yourself, please don’t read any farther until after you take the survey to avoid skewing your responses.

Yesterday I shared the Basic Beliefs survey that I asked students in our youth ministry to complete in order to investigate their understanding of some central tenets of Christianity.  The purpose was one part evaluative (has anything I’ve taught stuck?) and three parts prescriptive (going forward, what topics need special attention?).

Today I’d like to start looking at some of the results.

Methodological Concerns

Before diving into particular questions I would like to offer a couple of caveats.  First and foremost, let’s face it, taking tests isn’t most students’ idea of a fun night at youth group. Couple a students distaste for testing with the total lack of consequences for carelessness in taking this survey, and one must wonder “Did my students think through any of these questions carefully enough to answer what they really believe?”

Complicating that issue is the fact that in the interest of brevity, this survey lacks the kind of redundancy necessary to evaluate just how indicative of true beliefs the responses really are. I didn’t have time to ask each question three different ways so that I could compare how consistent any given respondent’s answers were.

And compounding all those concerns is the fact that I am by no means a trained pollster. I tried to be careful to make sure my responses did not reflect a bias one way or another, but the question remains just how effectively I accomplished that goal.

So, keeping in mind those weaknesses to this survey, let’s look at the results…

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Ever Wonder What Your Teens Really Believe?

Ever Wonder What Your Students Believe?Not long ago I was sitting in a sermon-slash-lecture presented by a local educator to a group of pastors from our community.  He was arguing that private Christian education is vitally important not only to the intellectual, but also to the spiritual development of our students. He mentioned some beliefs central to the Christian faith and cited research that showed such seemingly basic beliefs are no longer widely held among American youth.

And that got me thinking…

Just how well do my students understand the basic tenets of Christianity?

And so the survey was born.

Last Wednesday night I asked the students at our midweek service to take our Basic Beliefs survey.  I explained up front that this wasn’t a test.  Unlike tests, this obviously wasn’t for a grade.  And unlike tests, it wasn’t as if every question only had one right answer. That’s not to suggest there are no wrong answers on the survey, but in cases where there were more than one answer that could be correct, they were to choose the answer that best matched their understanding. The point was to help me understand how they viewed various aspects of theology, not to see if they could find the one right answer.

20 questions total. 16 drawn from topics covered by the Articles of Faith and the Agreed Statement of Belief for the Church of the Nazarene. (Incidentally, this school year I taught on each and every one of these subjects at Water’s Edge. So for those who have been a part of our program throughout the school year, these should be familiar subjects.) Four are demographic, dealing with age group, length of time involved in Water’s Edge, frequency of attendance, and the involvement in other religious activities at the church.

Today I’ll share the survey with you. Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at some of the results from my group, Wednesday we’ll wrap up the review of the results, and Thursday we’ll see if there’s anything we can learn from all this.

You can download a pdf version of the survey here, or check out the questions and answers after the jump.

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