Yesterday morning at our church’s men’s prayer time, we had an excellent discussion of Genesis 1:27, one of the foundational passages of the Bible on the dignity and status of all persons.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
We discussed the powerful doctrines and meaning of this passage for our lives as Christian men, including, not necessarily in this order.
1. God is Creator.
The text says 3 times that God created (Hebrew, bara, is used of God’s direct, personal, creative act). Every person is personally created, hand-crafted by God, and belong to Him. They are his artwork, his masterpiece. When we hurt or violate another person, we touch and vandalize what is Gods.
2. Mankind (all people) are created in God’s image.
All people – regardless of race, sex, age, culture, ethnicity, politics, ideology, religion, moral record, etc. – have a special status and responsibility to reflect and represent God. No other creature in creation is made in God’s image.
3. The status of being an image bearer, of personhood, is one of immense dignity and is irrevocable.
God confers personhood. It is his gift. From conception to one’s last breath this status remains. No matter if one is strong or has special needs, no matter what one has done right or wrong, no matter what!, NO ONE is able to revoke or erase this status that God confers.
4. Men and women are equally image bearers, with equal status, dignity, authority and responsibility to reflect and represent God.
God differentiates us biologically. He makes us man or woman. Both are equally image bearers, and have equal status, answering to God, not to the other. Both are necessary to showcase God’s immense and infinite beauty. We need each other to see the full glory of God.
5. From this it follows that all people, of every race, tribe, nation, are equally image bearers.
All people. Period. Yes the fall has bent and broken that image in each person. Yes, sin has marred and polluted what each of us should be. Nevertheless, every person shares the same status before God. Each are worthy of dignity and honor. All of us are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We are of one family.
6. When you look at another person you see someone that reflects a splinter of God’s glory.
Not only do we need both men and women to show off the glory of God. We need every one of their sons and daughters to scratch the surface of the infinite majesty of God. Every person is irreplaceable in this task. Every person shows a facet of the beauty of God that you can not see from any other. When we see another person we should be in awe, more than when we visit the Grand Canyon or look out over the Pacific Ocean. No one is rubbish, garbage, dispensable.
7. When we dehumanize, mistreat, hurt, violate, attack in any way a person made in God’s image, we are actually attacking, violating, hurting, mistreating their Creator.
When someone hurts your child, the child who is “in your image” they hurt you. They attack you. Likewise, when we hurt another person we also attack and hurt the one in whose image they are made: God. That is why when Jesus came into the world he forgave people their sins as if he had been the one sinned against, because he had been.
8. Racism is a sin, a violation of a person made in God’s image.
8. Battling racism starts at home with loving, forgiving, being kind to the people closest to us.
It is very possible to have a “love for humanity” and be “anti-racist” and yet hurt, mistreat, violate, demean, attack the people who are closest to us: our spouse, children, colleagues at work. This is a gross dichotomy of mind and heart. We need to be careful not to see sin at out there, but in us. We need to see how when we mistreat, demean, hurt, etc. people closest to us, our wife, children, family, we are sinning against God, violating those who God created and loves. It is the same root as racism. Start digging that root out. It goes deep into the soil of your heart. If you start addressing racism by repenting of the way you sin against all image bearers, especially the ones who are closest to you, you will begin to see the reality of sin and why you need a Savior.
9. We need to change our self-talk
That we are image bearers should also effect the way we see ourselves and how we talk to ourselves. People say about 40,000 words to themselves throughout the day. How do we talk to ourselves. Do we hold ourselves in contempt? Or do we lift up our heads and see ourselves as hand-crafted by God and bearing the dignity of one made in God’s image?
10. Word Picture
Think of God as the artist. He has painted each one of us in his image and bear his signature, Imago Dei. Each portrait gives a slightly different image of God. Each shows a facet or a splinter of God’s immense glory and beauty. He values each of his works of art. When we vandalize and violate God’s art, like with the sin of racism, we touch what is very precious to God and we actually attack him. He has every right to judge us and condemn and punish us when we do that.
How much would change if we could view every person as a special work of God’s art and treat them with dignity and respect. That doesn’t mean that we have to like what they do, or share their perspectives, but we need to treat them with the utter dignity and respect and honor as one who bears the image of God.
This is what a group of presbyterian men talked about from 6:30-7:30am. And we’re not just talking. We’re trying to live this out in our workplace. Three of us are flying to Indianapolis, IN in September to be part of a project to renovate a home and get a social purpose business of the ground that will empower African Americans through home and business ownership.#presbyterian#imagodei#personhood
In a previous post I told how my daughter Jackie and I planned to take a month long painting road trip from San Diego to Seattle along Highway 101 as part of my three month sabbatical and how I chose to cancel my sabbatical and our road trip due to Covid-19. I shared a term that our family uses when are plans change, when hard things happen, when we are are falling apart: recover gracefully. I said that the first step in recovering gracefully is that when our plans change and our dreams are shattered, we should grieve, we should mourn. Our sadness is legitimate. Our pain is real.
This is not the path of stoicism which is having a bit of a revival due to well known coaches like Peter Carroll, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and players like CJ McCollum and Ryan Shazier espousing it, as it has been popularized in Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way. Paul Kix writes about the influence of stoicism in sports in an article on ESPN , May 21, 2020:
“Aurelius, the second-century Roman emperor, practiced a philosophy called Stoicism that argues individuals shape their destinies by controlling what they can and letting go of what they cannot. The Stoics believe the essence of life is how we choose to respond to the things that happen to us. ‘Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed,” Aurelius writes….’The impediment to action advances action.’ ‘What stands in the way becomes the way.”
The difference between the Christian approach and the stoic approach to an obstacle is that stoicism does not hold to a personal God who is in control of all things, while in contrast the Christian believes in a personal God who is sovereign the details of our lives. This means that when an obstacle stands in the Christian’s way, when a dream is shattered, when something goes wrong, when we are spiraling down in pain, we ought not just shut our heart down and move around it an on; rather we should process the pain, loss, frustration, confusion, sadness with God like David does in the Psalms.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1-2)
Step One of recovering gracefully is to grieve and mourn in prayer to God the loss, the sadness, the confusion, the pain, the frustration, even what seems like the absence.
Step Two: Preach the Gospel To Yourself
When you find things going wrong in your life – in big or small ways – you need to take yourself by the hand and talk back to yourself. This is what I mean by “preaching the gospel to yourself.” You don’t need a pastor to tell yourself the good news of Jesus. If you are a Christian you have the Holy Spirit in you. The Spirit loves to put the spotlight on Jesus, to show you how sufficient Christ is to help you and carry you through.
David does this in Psalm 42:5
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
You see, things are going wrong for David. Earlier in the Psalm he is remembering times in his life when God seemed close and near, when David would go with the throng of God’s people to the house of God to worship. But now he is troubled. God seems distance, far off. What does David do? He is sad, he is discouraged, he is confused, he is “cast down” BUT he doesn’t sink into depression. He doesn’t let himself lose heart and hope. No! He takes himself by the hand. He talks back to himself. He reminds himself that God is with Him, that God is his God and his salvation and he stirs up hope in his heart believing “I shall again praise him.”
What is the good news that we are to tell ourselves? In sum it is that God is with you and for you through Jesus Christ! The ways that he is with you and for you are as diverse as your many troubles. Through Scripture there is an incredible array of promises, names, and examples of how God is for you. Your job is to grasp those promises, names, stories and press them into your heart so that you not only intellectually believe God is with you and for you but feel it.
Take for example the lines from Psalm 22 that I quoted above. Those words were used by Christ Jesus on the cross. Talk about an obstacle. His life was coming to a violent end. He was being ground to death under the power of Rome and the hate of Jewish religious leaders. He was out of control of the situation: kicked, spit on, whipped, mocked, reviled, nailed to a cross. There was no way that he could get around that obstacle! And yet the greatest of all the pain and hurt and loss he felt was not physical. It was the abandonment of God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those were not empty, melodramatic words. On the cross Jesus actually became our sin. God the Father actually turned away from His son as he poured out on him the wrath, judgment and condemnation our sins deserved. Why? The Father did this, and the son endured this, so that we could be made legitimate sons and daughters of God, forgiven of our sins, covered by Christ’s beauty, adopted into God’s family. We now have the confidence that God will never leave us or forsake us, not matter what happens. Nothing can tear us from God’s loving arms. He holds us. We can have the confidence that all things work together for our good.
So when things go south, when your dreams shatter, when you are spiraling down in depression or sadness or anger or…whatever, take yourself by the hand and remind yourself the truth about Jesus, God’s love for you, God’s plan for your life. That’s what Jackie and I have had to do as our plans changed.
I’ve been so impressed with how Jackie has faced the sadness and loss Covid-19 has meant for her senior year of high school. She has lost out on her senior prom, graduation ceremony, and our epic painting trip. It’s been sad and hard. And there have been times with tears, grieving and mourning those losses. But Jackie has also faced into them with the truth of the Gospel, and even been able to enjoy and celebrate her senior year. That’s because her joy is not based on her circumstances but on Christ. Christ in her has given her a grace, calm and beauty in the midst of loss that is remarkable. She’s recovered gracefully.
Step Three: Adapt
When you run into an barrier, when your dreams are shattered, when you are spiraling down in despair, mourn (step one), preach the gospel to yourself (step two), then adapt (step three). If there is an obstacle that that stands in your way, adapt, change course. When your dreams are shattered, dream new dreams. When you are spiraling down in despair, lift up your head with hope and get back up and move forward.
All barriers are providential, part of God’s plan. Not some. All of them. In his wisdom, God allowed the exact barrier that now stands before you and blocks you. Nothing happens outside of God’s providence. Chapter Five of the Westminster Confession of Faith says:
“God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
God is sovereign King. He reigns over in the world, bending all things to his glory. He is the first cause. The Confession also affirms secondary causes. God permits secondary causes, like people, places, situations and systems, to have real effect, though not in such a way as to disrupt his plan. What should you do?
Take time to study the obstacle, situation, problem before you. Since barriers are part of God’s providence, listen to them to know God’s plan. The barrier might be allowed by God so that you open a path through it as part of your sanctification; or it may be put by God to change the course of your journey. It takes time to discern if it is a barrier that God wants you to push through or adjust around.
Wait patiently for God to open doors. Scripture says “wait on the LORD.” This waiting is not passivity. It is the very opposite. It is to be strong, to take heart and rest in the LORD. It recognizes God is in control, sovereign over all situations. It trusts in his timing and plan. It watches for God’s hand to open doors, repair relationships, tear down walls and build up broken places. It waits for God to overthrow the kingdom of darkness. Waiting and watching is done with expectant prayer, imploring prayer, askng for his deliverance. It prays, “not my will but your be done.” Waiting on God does not mean apathetic resignation. It involves watching for his timing, then moving when he directs.
After listening and waiting, you may be clear that God wants you to push through a barrier, dream a new dream, move forward with hope. Then adapt with intense exertion and firm resolve.
For Jackie and I, adapting means that this summer I’ll spend my month of vacation mainly at our Studio on Camano. We will take day trips and paint on Camano and in the other beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. Jackie will finish up her tiny house, and will enjoy painting and lounging in it. We are also planning an epic trip, actually an epic 52 mile hike on the beaches of Camano Island which I write about in this post. We’re inviting cousins and friends from the youth group to join us and inviting the help of those who live along our beach route. I’m sure we’ll have many adventures along the way, and enjoy the beauty of our God who changed our plans but who is still for us and with us all the way till we are home with him.
Recovering Gracefully is a Habit
Recovering Gracefully is a habit that can be learned. It doesn’t come naturally. You have to take the steps, practice the steps, rehearse the steps, follow the steps. When you do you will find yourself catching yourself earlier, recovering quicker, enjoying life more because you are set free from being controlled by your circumstances.
I remember one situation where Jenny and I realized that we have matured in our ability to recover gracefully. We were living in Indianapolis at the time and driving in our van with our kids to have dinner with another family. As we were driving, Jenny and I got into a fight, an argument, though I can’t remember what it was over. At the time it felt big. I was mad. She was mad. I was hurt. She was hurt. Usually we would just be stuck in that bad place. But we had been practicing the steps of recovering gracefully, and we walked through them together. By the time we got to our friend’s home for dinner, we were in a good place. We didn’t have to put on a front. We had worked through our heart and recovered gracefully, in record time. You can learn to recover gracefully! Why not? Who wants to be ungraceful?
Indianapolis, IN, has a history of racism. Indianapolis was once the hub of the KKK. Crispus Attucks High School was built to be an all-black public high school partly because some white residents of the city did not want their children to attend an integrated high school. It was built in the area known as the Bottoms, near the canal and Indiana Avenue which a thriving African American community. I have heard, but have not been able to confirm, that it was built close to the city dump. Besides the ugly history of the KKK and segregation in the public schools, there is also a history of redlining in Indianapolis. You can learn more about that in this video.
History of Redlining in Indianapolis, IN
Racism is still a problem in America. A great need today is to deepen understanding, share resources, and forge friendships between people of different races. In cities like Indianapolis, IN, the African American community has great resources and real struggles. Their resources of resilient faith, gracious hospitality, relational warmth and courageous leadership are a cultural treasure. At the same time, their struggle is real: systemic racism continues to inflict trauma; they lack the strong economic foundation and infrastructure of home and business ownership; the instability of broken families leaves many youth without hope.
The struggle of the African American community in Indianapolis might seem like an unmovable mountain. It is not. Jesus said, “if you have faith like the grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). A friendship made in 2012 between a father from the hood, Donteau Gladney, Sr., and a Presbyterian pastor, Jason Dorsey, and the faith that God can move mountains has led to the creation of a business in 2020 to bring people of different races together in a common cause: Faith of a Mustard Seed, F.O.M.
F.O.M. is an Indiana-based social purpose business. (“A Social Purpose Business is a company whose enduring reason for being is to create a better world. It is an engine for good, creating social benefits by the very act of conducting business. Its growth is a positive force in society.”) Our mission is to bring people of different races together around a common cause to share resources, grow in understanding, and forge friendships. The common cause it to renovate homes through by volunteer labor. The goal is to empower African-Americans by providing affordable homes and supporting their businesses. Here is how it works.
Teams of volunteers travel to Indianapolis for a week of work. They arrive in Indianapolis on Friday and leave the following Thursday. Volunteers stay at a host church or in the homes of hosts from a church. The work on revitalizing a home purchased by F.O.M. F.O.M. supervisors ensure that work is done to code, that the work teams are well-managed, and all tools and materials are provided.
Share Resources, Grow Understanding, and forge friendships
These volunteers bring their resources of life and work experiences and character to share. They do not come in as “saviors.” Through the process of renovating a home, developing relationship over meals, telling stories and other cultural experiences, volunteers experience the cultural riches of the African American community: resilient faith, warm hospitality, relational warmth and courageous leadership. Through listening to the voices and stories of African American leaders, patriarch, matriarchs and youth, volunteers grow in understanding the struggle they face. Volunteers are paired with and work alongside an African American. Through conversational starting questions, and conversations that naturally happen while working together, the seeds of friendship are planted.
Providing affordable homes, supporting businesses
By purchasing homes at low prices and renovating them through volunteer labor, F.O.M is able to resale these homes at an affordable price. While not all the homes will be sold to African-Americans, a significant majority of them will be. F.O.M. also hires African-American contractors as well uses African-American owned business to provide support services for each project. We aim to help catalyze an economic infrastructure.
There are a great number of abandoned homes in urban Indianapolis. There are also a great number of African Americans who are renting but who are able to get a mortgage and purchase a home if they had a path to do so. There is also a growing number of young African American pathfinders/leaders who are purchasing homes and planting roots in Indianapolis. We believe that the combination of (1) the opportunity to purchase homes at low prices, (2) these pathfinding leaders, (3) Donteau’s strong relationships in the African American community and his ability to mobilize that community, and (4) Jason’s relationships in the faith community and ability to mobilize volunteers will catalyze home and business ownership in the African American community. Most of all, we believe that people want to share resources, grow in understanding, and forge friendship across racial divides. The time is ripe!
Competitive Advantages and Distinctions
The following advantages and distinctions set apart Faith of a Mustard Seed:
1. There is a growing awareness today of systemic racism and the need to address systemic issues in our nation. Faith of a Mustard seed addressed the lack of an economic infrastructure in the African American community through (1) enabling home ownership by providing affordable homes to African Americans and (2) supporting and catalyzing African-American owned businesses who partner in our efforts.
2. There is a growing desire to build bridges of relationship, community and friendship across racial differences. As a social purpose business, F.O.M. exists to forge these relationships, grow understanding between people, and share resources through participating in a common cause. People today have a strong desire to take real steps towards relationship, and we provide a practical bridge to do so.
3. Mobilizing volunteers to do much of the work on these home renovations, allows for us to sell homes at an affordable, even below market price, and still make a profit. Furthermore, we expect that the social purpose mission of our organization will result in many homeowners and civic institutions helping us acquire homes at very low costs, which will further effect our ability to both offer affordable homes and make money on those home sales.
4. Partnership with churches, faith-based organizations, and not-for-profits, with multiply our efforts. Host churches will help house and feed volunteers, and, potentially, provide us with home-buying clients who are members of the church/organization. This is a win-win because we want every person who buys one of our renovated homes to succeed. They have a better chance to succeed if they are well integrated in a supportive community.
We are going to run a pilot project this September. Jason is recruiting a team of volunteers to work on a home that will be used as the base for F.O.M. The dates we will be working on the home renovation project Saturday, September 12 through Thursday, September 17. Here are ways you could contribute:
Work with us on the work team
Help with a meal
Host a volunteer in your home for a week
Provide funding for construction materials
Donate quality tools
Please let me know if you would like to learn more or would like to help in any way: firstname.lastname@example.org; 317.209.6768.
You are made for communion, for deep fellowship with other people. This communion is most heavenly and intense in the church. The fellowship we have with the Father, Son and Spirit and other Christians is symbolized and strengthened by the sacrament of communion, the LORD’s supper. This is the defining act of Christian community. It reminds us of how we were brought into God’s family: through the broken body of Jesus and his blood poured out for us. It binds us together as a multi-cultural, global community, not by gender, race, economics, sexuality, politics or any other cultural marker. A few years ago, my son Julian shared his experience of “breaking bread” that he had in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Here is what he wrote:
When many of us hear the word “communion” we might instantly associate it with the Last Supper, or an event that occurs at the end of a church service. Communion is the Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are consumed as symbols of Christ’s body and blood and the realization of the spiritual union that exists between Christ and the communicant. While growing up in IPS, I experienced communion in a new way.
First, a little context. Currently there are 28,767 kindergarten through 12th grade students enrolled in IPS for the 2016-2107 academic year. Of those 28,767 students, 18,637 of them are on free meals. A further 1,000 students are on reduced lunches which cost 40¢. Free and reduced breakfast and lunch provide for almost 70% of IPS students the only guaranteed meals they will eat that day. During winter, spring, and summer breaks those meals disappear. Hunger was serious problem that many of my friends dealt with daily. In the 7th grade at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet Middle School and High School I became aware of this problem. I noticed that whenever one of my friends brought a snack to school whether it was a pack of Skittles or a small bag of Doritos, any nearby acquaintance or friend would descend on the snack-bearing individual, engulfing him before pleading for anything from a handful of the desired snack to the leftover crumbs lining the bottom of a bag of Doritos. As an inquisitive young guy trying to adapt to an environment that was drastically different from anything I had ever experienced before, I turned to my best friends for answers.
My two best friends and I had been tight since the first day of 6th grade. We all played on the Middle School basketball team together. We all played the saxophone and sat next to each other in band. Every day we ate lunch together. After a while my two black best friends decided that it was time for me to become enlightened about African American life, culture. The first thing they lectured me on? Breaking Bread. Breaking bread means sharing whatever food you have with any friend that asks for it. Breaking bread means making sure your boys are taken care of. Breaking bread means making sure everyone is eating. These were kids that were hungry, sometimes there was no food for them when they went home. My friends explained this to me. For us, it was a way of life, a code. Breaking bread for us meant taking care of our friends. Sharing what we had because we knew when people in our crew came at us saying “break some bread bro” they needed to be cared for.
Everybody knew there would be times when they were hungry, so everybody shared what they had, every time, because they knew the act would always be reciprocated. Breaking “bread” didn’t just cover chips, candy bars, cookies, granola bars, or any other food. I learned how to waterfall. Elevating a bottle above your mouth so the liquid would “waterfall” down into your mouth. We did this so everybody could get a sip without anybody touching the lid of the container and spreading germs. On days where we had basketball games I would go and buy a couple Powerades from the vending machines with the lunch money that I had saved up over time. Then I would take them and pass them around as we hung out in a classroom before the game. Pretty soon, other teammates started bringing snacks. A banana here, a handful of granola bars there. We shared whatever we had scrounged up. Everytime, without fail. I learned how to break bread.
After 8th grade I transferred to my neighborhood public high school Arsenal Tech. I left behind some of the realest people I knew for another challenging environment. It was hard. I had to gain the respect of a whole new set of teammates, peers, and people that didn’t know what I was about. When basketball season started, every game day, a couple of hours before the game started my teammates and I would go to a subway that was down the block the from the high school. I would get 3 cookies for $1.70 or 12 cookies for $6 and share them amongst my teammates. Even though I had changed schools and these were different individuals, the act of breaking bread meant the same to them as it meant to my friends who had taught me. During those pregame meals we would be sitting around a table, goofing off, telling jokes, sharing food. It was communion, a time of intimate fellowship with my teammates, a time of sharing what we had, no matter the amount of food that was there.
While writing this and remembering these experiences I had with my brothers I thought of Da Vinci’s L’Ultima Cena, The Last Supper. Christ, surrounded by his disciples preparing to break bread with them before he is crucified. And while he did break bread with them and pour out wine for them, there was something else that he was willing, and ultimately, did share with them. He gave himself to the cross so that they, and we might all have a share in everlasting life and be saved. So that we might all be able to taste of Him.
Julian broke bread well. After Tech lost in the sectionals, the last basketball game his senior year, his friend Donteau Jr., the firstborn son of my friend, Donteau Sr., and he hugged. Tears streamed from their eyes. They knew their playing days were over. Donteau said to Julian, “You’re my f***ing n******.” These words, though coarse, expressed solidarity. Julian was his brother. When you break bread with friends, the needy, the broken even strangers, it is an act of communion. It is imitating Christ who shared his body, his blood with us.
There are a lot of calls today to ally with the African American community in their struggle for justice. While I prefer to to be a friend with my black brothers and sisters, OK, let’s go with ally. Good enough. The rally cry is to not let down our allies by growing weary in listening to and lamenting their struggle, standing with them, crying out for justice, and making sacrifices along the way. I see many of my white friends and colleagues, some for the first time, identifying with the black community and raising their voices in solidarity, even vowing to stay true to the #BLM cause. I hope they do.
What I want to offer is a counting of the costs of doing so, and, a counting of the costs of not doing so.
Jesus said we should count the costs of being in his kingdom which includes crying out for biblical justice and in solidarity with the oppressed and hurting. There ARE REAL COSTS in doing that. And there are REAL COSTS of NOT. Pastor Tim Keller describes biblical justice like this. God created humanity to be a beautiful tapestry made up of many colors and diverse threads. Sin, both personal and systemic, has torn the human social fabric. It is frayed, ripped, torn, shredded, tangled in many places. Doing justice is WEAVING YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR RESOURCES into the places that are torn, frayed, ripped and shredded. With that definition in mind, here are five costs of being an ally, and five costs of not being an ally to the torn fabric in the African American community.
COST #1: LONELINESS
Trends come and go. So does sympathy. Right now it is a badge of self-rightness to stand with the Black community in their struggle, to raise the #BLM banner and march in the protests. But one day that fervor will fade. What will be left is the hard, sacrificial, lonely work of doing justice, of solidarity. When we moved to Indy we made the conscious choice to send our kids to Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), not to the private Christian school down the road near our church. That decision and calling was our own. It was our way of weaving our life and our family’s life into the ripped social fabric. That decision meant that we were very lonely. For many years we were the only family in our church who attended IPS. Our kids were left out from the circle of kids that went to the private school and had their stories and memories. For many years no kids from IPS came to our church. Our kid’s hearts ached. And our hearts ached for them. When you’ve woven yourself into the social fabric, and you look around and all the #BLM protesters have moved on to the next sexy cause, are you ready to be lonely?
COST #2: LOSING CONTROL
White people are used to being in control. We are used to calling the shots, even using people to get to our goals.
We soon realized that IPS was led by the African American community. Not that there weren’t white principals, administrators, and teachers, but that on the whole IPS was not a white-controlled institution, but African American led. Pat Pritchard, a white guy, was the superintendent of IPS when we started, but then Dr. Eugene White took the helm. (Still today, he is one of the greatest leaders I had the opportunity to watch in action.) When white flight happened in Indy in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s due to racism, white folks not wanting to lose the values on their property with blacks moving into the neighborhood and other racial prejudice, they left downtown and IPS by the droves. The African American community stepped into leadership. And even though downtown Indy was becoming gentrified by the time we moved into a historic downtown neighborhood in 2002, few middle class whites were sending their kids to IPS. I don’t know their motivation. Test scores were cited. Violence in IPS was cited. But I wonder if it was more than that. I think for some people it was the fear of giving up control, control their child’s education and future. They were able to purchase “the best education” and “true education” for them. They had the ability to still be in charge. But if you really want to do biblical justice, you will have to give up the control. Count the cost!
COST #3: DANGER
When our kids were in elementary school, it didn’t feel dangerous. All the little kids were so sweet. I’d play with my kids and their friends at recess at School #14. We’d have a blast. But as kids get older, stronger, and as the pain in their hearts mounted as it does in all of our hearts as we grow older, Indianapolis Public Schools got more dangerous, just like a fight between high school boys is much more scary than a fight between elementary school boys.
I saw this firsthand. For two years served at Arsenal Tech high school as a lunch supervisor. I stood at the food line and said hi to kids as they came through; they’d look at me thinking “whose that crazy white guy.” I’d wander around when they were eating, sometimes stop to talk and sit with them, clean up their trash when they were done. And there were times, many times, when all of a sudden all the attention of the 300 or so youth in the lunch room would turn to one spot where two guys or two girls, or three or four, were about to fight. The school police would leap into action, spray pepper spray/mace and clear the area out. One time I broke up a fight, or tried to, between two very strong boys. Afterwards my arm ached and trembled, adrenaline coursing through my body. Once I tried to stop a very big young woman chasing another around the cafeteria, screaming at her. I was more scared of her than the guys fighting! It was in moments like these that I thought to myself, “am I crazy. What am I doing sending my kids to IPS.”
To weave yourself into a frayed and broken community is to expose yourself, and your kids to danger. Are you ready for that?
COST #2: BLOOD, TOIL, SWEET AND TEARS
Winston Churchill famously said to the British people at the onset of World War II that he had nothing to offer them but “blood, toil, sweat, and tears.” The war was going to be long and costly. There was no surety that the war would be won. Big sacrifices were going to have to be made. Fighting for Biblical Justice is something like that. We use the language of systemic racism, and there is such a thing. But behind it and feeding it is a more deeply lodged condition, sin, the human heart curved in upon itself, and human society motivated by self-interest and egotism. And not only is sin and systemic evil pervasive – its dividing line going through every human heart – but there is also an EVIL ONE, Satan, whose whole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. He can use racism in human hearts and systemic racism in society to do this. And he can use ideologies like #BLM and self-righteous protesters to do this too. He is crafty and evil.
If you really want to count the cost of doing Biblical justice you need to be ready to do it down to your last breath, like William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who rallied a group of like minded allies to join him in the fight to abolish slavery. They lived together in intentional community in the Clapham neighborhood of London, and poured their resources into the decades long fight. Wilberforce was on his deathbed when an act of parliament abolished the slave trade. To be an ally with the black community you must be ready to be in it for the long haul and pay the heavy cost of doing so. My friendship with many in the Indianapolis African American community didn’t end when we moved.
I’m currently working with my old friend Donteau on a project called “Faith of a Mustard Seed.” The vision is to bring white men and black men together in a common cause, to build relationships, friendship and understanding, and to share resources. We will renovate homes in Indy using volunteer labor to empower the African American community through home and business ownership.
If you want to do justice there will be costs to the last days of your life. Are you willing to pay them?
COST #1: YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESSI
keep coming back to this because more heinous and ugly and vile than any sin, even the sin of racism, is pride. For it is pride that feeds racism. Pride compares. Pride is competitive. Pride looks at the other person and wants to be better, faster, prettier, richer, stronger, righter.
What have you gained in the end if you give your life for justice, stand with the oppressed, sacrifice your time, money and family in solidarity with your African American brothers and sisters, and in doing so, look down on all the people who haven’t paid that price? If your doing justice puts you on a platform of superiority, of smug self-righteousness, you are even more evil than when you began. Pride is the Devil’s sin. It is the root of all sin, including racism. It pollutes and destroys the soul. To do Biblical justice the biggest cost you pay is to give up your superiority, your sense of doing and being right. If that is your heart, you’re simply using African American folk to make yourself feel good, to pad your moral resume. That is much more selfish and sinister than the blithe indifference you showed before. At least then your selfishness and smallness of heart was more obvious. But when you’ve poured out your life for others so that you could “do the right thing” and “prove your love for humanity” and “establish your rightness” on the outside it looks good and will win accolades. But God doesn’t judge the outside. He sees the heart.
The only way to do biblical justice and sustain biblical justice is when you do it from this posture: that God is perfect justice would have been righteous to condemn you for your sin, pride and racism, etc. But instead God sent his son to bear the judgement you deserved and give you mercy you did not. When you have been welcomed into the family of God by mercy and grace, it breaks the back of self-rightness and mauls pride. Then you do mercy as one who was shown mercy. And when you do it you will not be proud but just thankful that you can do for others what your Heavenly Father did for you.Now, those are the costs of being an ally.
What might surprise you are that there are FAR GREATER COSTS of not being an ally. This I think is the point that is far too often missed.
When white people think of being an ally, we think of coming in as the stronger, as the helpers, as the saviors.That is completely misguided.That is what we thought at first too.
We thought that we were going to be part of the solution, of helping fix and renew and restore IPS to its glory days before white flight happened. We dreamed of the day when our white peers and colleagues would view IPS as a legitimate option for their kids. What we came to see after years was something much different. Our alliance and friendship with the African American community was an immense cultural treasure and blessing for our family. So here are the costs of not allying yourself with the African American community.
COST #5: COMMUNITY
Yes, our solidarity with IPS meant that we were very lonely. Yes, sometimes our hearts ached. But what it did was to drive us out of our gentrified, white, creative class enclave into community and friendship in the African American community. I won’t call it belonging, because we could never really know the struggle. We weren’t from the hood. We lived in gentrified neighborhood, in a mansion, compared to most of the kids in IPS. Yet in some ways, it was a real belonging. We we accepted, loved, even liked. We became part of the IPS family, black, white, hispanic. I’m glad that we didn’t just lock into and participate in just the white, creative, professional, middle class community in Indianapolis.
The movie I am making, “We are Family”, documents the awesome ride that we got to go on because we had solidarity with the African American community in IPS and specifically, with the basketball team at Arsenal Tech. Even though we have moved away, we are still part of that community. Are you willing to play the cost of a bland life, a homogeneous community? I’m not!
COST #4: TRUE SAFETY
Becky Baer Porteous has written an article entitled “The Only Home That Is Safe.” In it she quotes James T. Bertachaell from the book Families At The Crossroads by Rodney Clapp. The exact quote is: “No child can be truly secure in the hands of parents whose care for him is purchased by the neglect of other people’s children…. The only home which is safe for anyone to be born into is the home that is ready to welcome someone who does not belong there by right of kinship, but belongs there in virtue of hospitality.”
We believe that we are protecting our kids by shielding them from dangerous places like IPS Schools. We think we are keeping our kids safe by providing them with a private education in a school that people like us control. We think we are keeping our kids safe by shielding our kids from by living in our gentrified neighborhood and opening our door only to “safe” kids and “good influences.” But Porteous makes the point that our thinking is flawed. By paying for our kids education and with it their safety, by using money to distance ourselves from the poor, hurting, and “riff raff”, we actually hurt them. How? Because we are not truly safe people. When we use our money, our privilege, our power to shield our children, when we don’t weave our lives into the lives of the hurting, poor, and oppressed, when we exclude racial minorities from our home, in other words, when we refuse to do biblical justice, WE ARE NOT TRULY SAFE PEOPLE, and our homes are not truly SAFE HOMES. We our raising our kids on the poison of exclusion, pride and trusting in the idol of money and control. And, even more terrifying, we – and they – will have to answer to the God who commands us to do justice and love mercy.
Will you risk the real danger of solidarity int he African American community for true safety?
3. CULTURAL TREASURE
I believe that each person is particular. We share solidarity and equality because we bear God’s image. God confers the status of personhood. It is irrevocable. Each person shares immense dignity. At the same time, we are particular. God weaves our sexuality, culture, ethnicity, family of origin, history to make us special, radically unique, singular. So on the one hand, as persons we share a fundamental solidarity as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. At the same time, each of us are individuals, distinct from all others. Culture and ethnicity are an important thread God uses to weave each of us. While ethnicity and culture can be made into an idol, as it was in 20th century German ideology that elevated the “arian race” and devalued Jews, and how an over-emphasis on racial identity today, including black identity, can also be destructive, yet God has blessed humanity with a diversity of cultures that enrich.
The African American community in American has greatly enriched our nation, in so many ways. Think of the great African American educational, political, academic, intellectual, and spiritual leaders; consider the black cultural institutions. Think of the rich spiritual tradition and theology, that comes out of the African American experience in America. Shoot, just consider professional athletics and culture today. Where we would be without the cultural treasure that is the African American community.
We experienced that firsthand in IPS. From Ms. Odle, who was principal at IPS School #14, to many great black teachers and coaches. Judah Dorsey and Julian Dorsey both attended Crispus Attucks community school which is a legendary black academic institution. Our kids learned how to “break bread” with their black friends, and through the experience of being a minority welcomed into the dominant black culture, have a very different view than many of their middle class white peers. At the end of our time in Indianapolis, we realized that we had received far more than we were given. If our white friends didn’t want to experience the cultural, academic, and relational treasures of IPS, what could we say? It was their loss.
Are you willing to pay that price of cutting yourself off from the cultural treasure of the African American community?
2. FRIENDSHIP And over time we made friends, friends that we still have today. I used to go out for burgers with one of my friends, Donteau. He was raised in the hood, had spent eight years in federal prison, so he had great wisdom for this white guy. I would tell him my troubles in pastoral ministry. One time I laid out for him a big mediation I was in, and all the complications and struggled of it. He listened, and then said, “you’ve got a situation.” That was all I needed to hear. I had a “situation.” That one word, but especially the way he said it, and who it came from, and all the situations I knew he had been in all his life, and the deep reservoir of pain and struggle he had gone through. All he needed to say was that I had a “situation.” That brought more light and truth than all the words my white friends, and seminary trained friends, could have, no slight to them.
My son, Julian, played on the same basketball team as his son, Donteau Jr. After Tech lost in the sectionals their senior year, Donteu and Julian hugged each other and wept. Donteau said to Julian between tears. “you’re my F***ing N*****. They were not words we could or would have said, but they were words of true and deep community and friendship. Are you willing to pay the cost of not having rich community and friendships with African Americans? I’m sure not.
To me, the thing that stands out the most about the African American community in Indianapolis was its relational warmth and grace. If pride is the most insidious of sins, the ugliest of spiritual evils, humility is its opposite. Humility is created by grace. When you know that you are a mess, a train wreck, and that God had mercy on you, rescued you, lifted you up, that is grace. Grace is dependency on God. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. When you have a record, when you served time, when you are in the midst of the struggle, you are not coming from a position of pride and superiority. The African American community exuded warmth and welcome and non-judgment, because they were coming from a place, not of pride but of humility, not of rightness but of grace. Now I’m not saying that every person in the African American community had owned that they were broken people who needed the grace of Jesus. Not at all. But many had. And there was, overall, a warmth, a posture of grace, that I felt and miss today.
In contrast, people speak of the “Seattle Freeze.” In the northwest, people are nice. I have to be careful not to generalize, how do I say this. But they are also wealthy. Smug. Smart. Superior. Now I now that inside they are total messes, train wrecks, screwed up people who have records of crime on their own consciences. But outwardly they hold their shit together. They posture and spin and have a clean front. I long for the day when people in the region I minister to, are humbled and brought to a point where they too, see their need for grace.
9. stand up for your black brothers and sisters by a peaceful protest.
8. invest in African American owned business by changing your purchasing habits.
7. to my pastor friends, yes, strive to make your churches welcoming, but stop thinking that “multi-cultural” means that black folks are coming to your church; instead, build close friendships with black pastors and support their churches and ministries and maybe even send some of your parishioners to be shepherded by African American pastors.
6. white coaches and parents stop recruiting the best black athletes to play on your travel clubs so your sons and daughters can have the best teams. Instead, send your sons and daughters to be on teams on inner city rec leagues and inner city teams coached by urban leaders. Or coach those teams. Invest in the inner city by supporting those teams and those leagues and let your sons and daughters be blessed by that experience of multi-cultural relationships and friendships.
5. if you live in the city, start sending your kids to your neighborhood school led by black leaders and infrastructure rather than charter schools started by white leaders and white infrastructure. Entrust your most valuable treasure – your children – to be taught, led, invested in by the black community. You won’t be sorry you did.
4. Stop seeing the value of people through the lens of economics. If you think money is what makes a person valuable then you ARE the problem. Instead, believe that you have more to learn from people of poverty than people of wealth. Humble your proud heart and start to listen to people who have struggled, people who have been wounded, and forgiven wounds, people who have struggled every day with oppression. Every person, every culture has immense cultural resources to share, but especially those cultures that have had to endure suffering. Become a person who is eager to learn from others, and especially one who associates with the poor, and weaves your life into the life of the poor, so that if they go down you go down with them.
3. If you do have power and privilege because of your race, because of your economic position, use that position and power and status for the good of others, and especially our African American brothers and sisters. Pour yourself out for them. That means more than just give money, donate to a charity, or attend a rally. That shit is easy. Isaiah 58 says literally “pour out your soul.” Don’t do this as a savior, that stinks of self-righteousness. Pour yourself out because God poured out his life to make you his son or daughter, and continues to pour his Spirit into you. Invest in people, and businesses, and churches, and ministries that lift up others. Use your strength to serve and share your resources, in solidarity with your fellow humans, for they are “your own flesh and blood” (Isaiah 58).
2. Build real, deep, faithful, lasting friendships with African Americans. Pastor friends, don’t pat yourself on the back if you have friendship with black pastors, with brothers who share your theology and point of view. That’s great. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about making friends with black folks who are living the struggle, who are on the streets trying to make it, single moms raising kids, young men trying to find work, guys released from the justice system, patriarchs and matriarchs of the African American community. They have so much wisdom, such incredible grace and hospitality and cultural resources. Stop talking and listen to them. Better than that, actually cultivate a friendship. Learn from them, and give back what you can. That’s what friendship is, a two way street. You’re stupid if you don’t.
1. Stop think you are RIGHT. Stop thinking that your point of view is right, your empathy is right, your vantage point is the right one, your judgment on this is right, and that you were right in your argument. There is only one who is RIGHTEOUS, there is only one who lived upright, there is only ONE. You are not saved by your rightness, but by the Righteous one, Jesus Christ. Give up your rightness and accept that you have nothing to bring to the table. You need mercy.
It has been a brutal month for African Americans in our country. Have you been upset, outraged, and saddened to hear about senseless deaths of black people in our nation? Does it leave you with more questions than answers? Do you want to know as a white person what you can do about it?
You are invited to join my friend, Denise Ibrahim, and me in an online conversation via Zoom that we are calling, “Let’s talk about race.” We don’t have the answers, but both Denise and I care deeply and personally about this conversation.
The purpose of this conversation is to take baby steps forward of listening and lamenting, understanding and caring, owning and repenting, and solidarity and advocacy in regards to race and racism.
Reverend Jason Dorsey is a Presbyterian pastor in Redmond, Washington. He spent thirteen years doing ministry in urban Indianapolis. His four children attended Indianapolis Public Schools where they were a minority (72% African American, 12% Hispanic, 8% White, 3% Asian, and 5% Other). His Christian faith, work in the area of Christianity identity, solidarity with the African American community in the public schools and friendships across race, economics and culture gives him a unique perspective on race and racism.
Denise Ibrahim is a counselor at Northwest Skyline Counseling and Biofeedback in Edmonds, WA. She has been married to her African husband, Yakentim for 19 years and lives in Snohomish County where they are raising their three children. Her journey into racial reconciliation work began when she saw the effects of racism impact her own family. She is active in her community, cities and public schools, bringing education and awareness about race.
This seminar is open to all people. The facilitators lead from the perspective of the Christian faith, the hope that through the grace of Jesus Christ we can repent of the sin of racism, dismantle structures of racism, and reconcile by the blood of Jesus.
We value each other as image bearers: Even though we come together as strangers we share the most crucial thing in common: we are persons made in the image of God, equal, with immense dignity and irrevocable status. We share a profound solidarity as image bearers. We are in this together.
We are committed to grow in our understanding of race and racism: We are not coming from the perspective that we are RIGHT. Rather, we are coming with a teachable and soft heart. We want to learn and grow in our understanding of race and racism.
We will create an emotionally and physically safe space and community. We will treat each other with honor and respect. We will listen to learn, not rebut. We will respect each other’s boundaries and perspectives, ideas and questions. We do not have to agree with each other, but we will do have to create space for each person to be heard. You do not have to hide anger or frustration, sadness, or any other emotion. We will sit with each other in hurt, not fix. There is space for you to be real and vulnerable. Or not talk at all.
We will keep the conversations that we have in this group confidential. We will get permission to share another person’s story or before we share it.
The conversation will take place on Tuesday nights in June, 7:30-8:30pm, Pacific Standard Time: June 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30, 7:30-8:30pm
Session One: Listening and Lamenting (June 2)
Session Two: Understanding and Caring (June 9)
Session Three: Owning and Repenting (June 16)
Session Four: Solidarity and Advocacy (June 23)
Session Five: Practical Steps, where do we go from here. (June 30).
If you’re interested in joining this conversation, please contact me at email@example.com.
I asked Denise to share some of the story of how we know each other:
I first met Jason’s wife, Jenny when I was a senior in high school. She was a friend of my aunt’s who had met each other at a local community college in Northern CA that they were both attending. The following year, my freshman year and Jenny’s junior year, we both attended the same private Christian college in Oregon. During my sophomore year of college, Jenny’s then fiance, Jason, had graduated and was studying abroad in Russia. Jenny was my next door neighbor and RA in the dorm. We became fast and enduring friends during that year. At the end of the year I had the honor of standing up as a bridesmaid in their wedding.
Two years later we both found ourselves living for a short time 45 minutes apart in the Midwest. Jenny and Jason had just had their first born, Jacob. I would spent weekends with them sleeping on their couch and holding baby Jacob the entire time. I like to tease Jason that this is when we really became friends, because he didn’t remember who I was or what my name was until this time even though I had been in their wedding.
Fast forward 5 years later, when I was once again was sleeping on their couch when I moved to Seattle . This time they had three energetic boys for me to keep up and play with. I moved to Seattle due to wanting to be closer to my boyfriend, Yakentim at the time. Eight months after my move I had Jenny stand up in my wedding to Yakentim as a bridesmaid. Two of her boys were ring bearers and Jason performed part of our wedding ceremony.
One of my best memories was when Jenny found out she was pregnant with their youngest, Jackie. As soon as she went into labor, I ran over to their home to grab the boys. They came back to our home while their sister was being born and we put up our tent in our living room so we could have an indoor sleepover.
Shortly after Jackie was born, they moved to Indianapolis. We had the opportunity to visit them once back there and we would see them back in Seattle every few years when they came into town to visit family. We would still keep up with during the occasional phone calls and best phone call came when Jenny called to say they were moving back to the area.
Though it still seems we don’t see each other often enough, they are just a quick phone call away and the type of friends where you can just pick up where you left off.
In a previous post I shared about my friend Donteau Gladney, Sr. and a decision I made to stand with him on a project that he and I have talked about, dreamed of, and planned for many years.
The last two weeks we’ve talked about the details of the business plan. ll share more details about the F.O.M. business plan and September pilot project in a later post. In this post I simply want to share that we have a date set. More importantly, I want to ask you to consider joining me in standing together for friendship across race and culture and economics.
Friday, September 11, 2020: fly into Indianapolis, orientation
Saturday, September 12: work all day on the home renovation project
Sunday, September 13: visit urban churches in am, lunch, work afternoon & evening
Monday, September 14-Wednesday, September 16: home renovation.
Thursday, September 17th: fly home
What I’m most excited about is not the work project, or empowering my friend Donteau through business ownership, but it is building friendships and relationships across divides of culture, race, economics. Friendship is a great power and it can change the world. Would you prayerfully consider joining us?
This summer I was supposed to take a sabbatical. The elders at Redeemer graciously gave me three month away. Budget money was set aside to pay preachers and admin in my absence. Sunday, June 6, would be my “decommissioning,” releasing me to rest and renewal. My daughter Jackie and I planned a month long painting trip from San Diego up the west coast. This was going to be her senior trip, celebrating her graduation from Redmond high school and Bellevue College with an AA. Then Covid-19 hit and upended my well-wrought plans.
The shutdown also messed with the climax of Jackie’s senior year as she’s mourned no prom (or prom dress), graduation ceremony, or senior overnighter. A few weeks ago I realized that I just couldn’t leave the help of leadership at Redeemer with so many unknowns this summer. I canceled my sabbatical. Jackie and I are not the only ones whose life has been upended because of Covid-19. There are many others who are grieving much more serious losses: like the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. In some way, all of us are having to deal with loss and the change of our plans, maybe even the shattering of dreams.
One phrase that I learned from Jenny, who learned it from a congregation at Redeemer presbyterian in Indianapolis, has stuck in my mind and I want to share it with you. Melanie worked at AT & T. She shared with Jenny a phrase used in her workplace, and we’ve used in our family life ever sense: recover gracefully. I don’t know precisely what they meant at AT & T, but I can tell you what that phrase has come to mean to us. Recover gracefully means that when hard things happen, when you melt down and fall apart, when your world comes crashing down, when you experience trauma, in short, when bad things happen you can recover from them with grace.
There are three steps to recovering gracefully. These are steps Jackie and I are walking as I write.
Step One: Make plans and mourn the change to or loss of those plans
One approach to life being out of our control is not to make plans at all. At least then you don’t have to deal with disappointment and loss. If you don’t have expectations, you can’t be hurt. Go with the flow. Chill. Surf whatever waves come your way. While it is true that it is possible to over plan and falsely believe you are in control, this is more often a strategy to avoid pain or loss. And that’s not the way to live life.
Our days are short. We should number the accurately, and live intentionally and purposefully and wholeheartedly in the few days allotted us by our sovereign God. This requires us to plan, map out our days, set goals, even dream. I believe that we should make plans, dream big dreams, and have hopes and expectations for the future. Having hope in your future is part of what it means to be a Christian, to have faith, to believe in God. Hopes, dreams and expectations open your heart to hurt. Yes, that is true. But we should not avoid hurt, but rather process the inevitable pain and hurt of our losses and disappointments with God. This is called grieving, mourning and lamenting. It is not something we do well in the west. But the Psalms of the Old Testament show us how.
The best place to learn how to process your emotions is the book of Psalms. They model what to do with your interior. They say: don’t stuff your emotions and don’t be dominated by your emotions. Instead, come to God with your emotions. Open your heart to God, share your anger, fears, joys, and longings with God. God is able to handle your emotions. You can melt down with God. You can fall apart with God. You can dump on God. You can yell at God. You can grieve with God. You can dare to be real with God. The Psalms, in short, give you emotional breadth, a language of the soul to verbalize to God. If your emotional life lacks breadth, if you are out of touch with your emotions, if your emotions take you on a roller coaster every day, if you don’t know how to grieve, or if you are compromised by anxiety and fear, then there is nowhere better to go than the Psalms. Read them, preferably out loud. Say the words, even if you don’t feel the emotions. Grieve with the psalmist even if grieving feels unnatural.
Mourning and Grieving My Sabbatical Loss
One of the hang ups we have to mourning and grieving and lamenting our losses is that we tell ourselves in the big scheme of things they’re really not that big or bad. In comparison to other’s losses, the no big deal. We just need to toughen up and move on. I disagree. This approach de-legitimizes the reality of the loss itself and the sadness of it. More importantly, it robs you of a chance to run to God to process.
So Yes, I realize that a three month sabbatical is a high privilege, and the loss of it a rather small matter in the grand scheme of things. But it is a loss, my loss. And in a way, Jackie’s too. A dream trip we would have shared in this summer is canceled. To process this loss, I’m going to share here on paper, what the Sabbatical plan was so that I can mourn its loss.
June 29, Tuesday: Pack. Jason and Jackie leave for Salem, OR (4 hour drive).
June 30, Wednesday: Hang in Salem with family
July 1, Thursday: Drive to San Diego (9.5 hours). Stay at B & B.
July 2, Friday: Paint in morning @ mission basilica san diego de alcala. Visit Coronodo Island. Dinner in Gas lamp district. Also visit beach, Balboa Park.
July 3, Saturday: Leave early, drive to LA. Take Ferry to Catalina Island. Paint on Catalina.
July 4, Sunday: Church on Catalina. Ferry back to LA. Stay with Seiko Konya
July 5, Monday: Paint in LA; See the sights. Stay with Seiko
July 6, Tuesday: Drive to Santa Barbara. Paint in the Evening. B & B in Santa Barbara
July 7, Wednesday: Paint “Our Lady of Sorrows” Catholic Church. B & B in Santa Barbara
July 8, Thursday: Drive to Morro Beach. Camp.
July 9, Friday: Paint & hike in Morro Beach State Park.
July 10, Saturday: Camp at Silver Peak Wilderness. Paint.
July 11, Sunday: Camp at Silver Peak Wilderness. Paint.
July 12, Monday: Drive to Big Sur. Camp. Paint & Hike
July 13, Tuesday: Explore & Paint Big Sur. Camp.
July 14, Wednesday: Drive to Carmel by the Sea. Air B & B. Jacob Swearingen joins us. Meet & Tour with Levi Breck
July 15, Thursday: Carmel by the Sea. Paint & Explore. Hang with Jacob Swearingen. Air B & B.
July 16, Friday: Carmel by the Sea to San Francisco via “Half Moon Bay” (2 hour drive). Spend day in San Francisco. Photograph/Paint in Sausolito. Dinner with Jonathan Eldridge
July 17, Saturday: Breakfast in San Francisco to Fort Bragg, CA (4 hours). Paint & Photograph @ Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg to Eureka, CA. (3 hours, 17 minutes)
July 18, Sunday: Find church and relax
July 19, Monday: Drive through Redwoods. Paint in the Redwoods. Crescent City (1.5 hours), or north to Coos Bay, OR (8.5 hours)
July 20, Tuesday: Crescent City to Lincoln City and Wallace Family Gathering @ Seacrest, OR (5 hours)
July 21, Wednesday, Seacrest, OR: Wallace Family gathering, play at beach
July 22, Thursday, Seacrest, OR: Wallace Family gathering, play at beach
July 23, Friday: Salem, OR: Wallace Family gathering, day trip
July 24, Saturday: Drive to Warm Springs, OR for youth mission
July 25, Sunday: Warm Springs, OR
July 26, Monday: Warm Springs, OR
July 27, Tuesday: Warm Springs, OR
July 28, Wednesday: Jackie in Warm Springs, OR/Jason leave Warm Springs early to Cluxewe.
The biggest loss for me is not that we won’t be visiting these places, or painting. It’s that we won’t have the chance to spend time the people in them. For example, my high school friend Jacob Swearingen was going to meet us in Carmel “By the Sea”, CA, to fulfill a decades old oath that we would meet up there one day in the future. And we’re still hoping to join Jenny’s side of the family on the Oregon Coast for a few days. But still there’s a lot of loss, so I grieve.
Heavenly Father, it’s sad to cancel the Sabbatical and this painting tour with Jackie. It was going to be a dream trip, once-in-a-lifetime. It’s confusing. So much of life is upended. I know you’re in control and that you have a good plan for our lives, but I don’t know your plan and am in the dark. Still I trust you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The first step in recovering gracefully is making plans to live out your calling, hopes and dreams, and to mourn and grieve and lament when those plans change and dreams are shattered. That’s what it means to trust God, and walk daily with your Father. He’s OK with you being sad, even mad at him. He cares about you and your heart.
This week I joined a call with pastor’s processing the tragic shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, talking about race and racism, and what we could and should do to as pastors. As the call went on I found myself first sad, then angry, then flat out pissed off. I’m not going to say the pastors were wrong in how they were processing. I’m just saying where I was at, and that my anger drove me to do something that I’ll share in a moment.
I bit my tongue because I knew that I would just go off if I said anything and say something stupid. I ended up leaving the call early and called my friend, Donteau, and vented. To understand our friendship, here is the back story.
My son Julian was playing on the freshman basketball team at Tech High School in Indianapolis, IN, when I first met Donteau. I noticed this guy with long dreads because he was one of the few dads that showed up. At one game we talked. I learned Donteau was the father of one of the star players on the team and that he had recently been released from Federal prison. He went out on a limb and asked if I could help him get work. I took his phone number and promised to try. I called friends to see if they had work leads. My brother Jed, who was doing handy-man jobs, said Donteau could help him. He started working with Jed. That was the beginning of our friendship. Donteau was from the hood. I was living in a gentrified neighborhood. But our boys were going to the same school and playing on the same team and we bonded over that. He shared his story of a broken family, a mom trying to hold things together, poverty, selling drugs, the streets and eight years of Federal prison. It was also a story of an incredible image bearer who was smart, had a great personality, a great dad, and a father figure to scores of kids.
Over the next two years, our friendship deepened. He brought me into his life and family. I asked him questions about life and ministry. His answers were wise. He called me Big Bro, and I called him Little Bro. Unfortunately, Donteau broke parole and had to serve another eighteen months. I took him to the courthouse to turn himself in. We stopped at Tech HS to say goodbye his son Donteau Jr. That was the year that the Tech basketball team won the Indiana State basketball tournament. Donteau Jr. played for the varsity team. My son Julian played for the JV team. After Donteau got locked up, his son Jai’ On, who everyone called Onnie, lived with us till the end of the school year. I wrote Donteau letters to keep him abreast of the season and his sons, visited him in prison, and met with him when he was at a halfway house in Indianpolis. When he was at the half-way house, I helped him start an organization, Faith of a Mustard Seed (FOM), which aimed to mentor men and young men through work and sports. We partnered to hold a basketball camp to connect kids from my church and from the hood to make bridges and give strong adult role models. We started a basketball and character skills mentoring time in the church gym for middle school and high school youth.
On May 1st, 2015, Jenny and I hosted a party to celebrate Donteau’s release from the half-way house, his clear record and the next chapter of his life. In June, we met for burgers. I cried when I told him that I had accepted a call to be pastor of a church in Redmond, WA. It hurt to say goodbye to my friend. I asked him to drive the moving truck with me from Indy to Redmond. We took the three day cross country trip at the end of August and had many adventures along the way, including a helicopter ride over the Badlands of South Dakota. We had lots of time on our hands so we told stories and “spit” lines of rap songs we made up. When we were about an hour from Redmond the sadness of saying goodbye to our Indy congregation, the African-American community that had welcomed and embraced us, and Donteau flooded over me. I could not hold back my tears. Donteau might have cried a few tears too.
Before I moved, Donteau and I had made plans for me to stand with him, and support him, in a “social purpose” business venture: to buy homes at good prices in Indy, to recruit volunteers to work alongside African American youth and mentor them in home construction (life on life). The dream was to sell these home at an affordable price to empower the poor through home ownership, building wealth in the African American community, and renewed pride in the neighborhood. Downtown Indy neighborhoods were rapidly gentrifying, driving out the poor who had lived in them before. We planned to keep the cost down by rallying men to volunteer their time and expertise, and to build relationships by bringing black and white men together in a common cause, learning to understand each other, build friendships like Donteau’s and mine.
But when I moved, the legs were cut out from under the plan. Donteau did buy a house and worked with youth on the renovations. But the power of the plan was us working together, standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, bringing other men and youth into our friendship.
So after the Zoom call with the pastors I called Donteau, vented, then I said. Donteau,
Let’s Do This!
We’re going for this! I plan to spend a week of my vacation, the week when I’m in Indy for the exclusive screening of We are Family, and work on helping Donteau finish up a house that he has on the near west side of Indy. The dream is that house will be home base for FOM (Faith of a Mustard Seed). We’re talking daily and figuring things out. I’m planning to rally other men for Washington to join me for this week of work.
My friendship with Donteau has implications for my life. I’m about to drag some of my friends into those implications with me. I have no idea what I’m doing, but LET’S DO THIS!