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November 2018

Can you Imagine?

Can you Imagine? 1024 651 Corey Leak

There is a scenario that Jesus shared once that has been called “The Friend of Midnight”. Luke (Bible writer) records the story in chapter 11 of his book if you want to read it for yourself. The story follows the “Lord’s Prayer” and is followed by the ask, seek, knock instructions about prayer that most Christians are pretty familiar with. Because of where the statement is situated in Luke’s writing, this is primarily talked about in the context of prayer, and rightfully so. There is, however, something significant to be gleaned about hospitality upon taking a closer look at the words Jesus shared.

It’s likely that if you read this story today, it begins with the phrase “suppose one of you…”. Just about every version of the Bible reads it that way. A better reading would probably be something like “can you imagine…”. Then as now, what follows a phrase like that is something extremely out of the ordinary or unthinkable. Jesus told a lot of parables that began that way. The phrase is intended to elicit a natural response of “No, I can’t imagine that”.

As American readers, it’s important that we do not project our way of living into this story or we put ourselves in jeopardy of missing the point. It doesn’t help us to imagine ourselves going to a friend’s at midnight asking for food to feed our friends who showed up unannounced in the wee hours of the morning. Our culture is very different. We don’t live in a culture characterized by honor as these people did.

In essences Jesus said: “Can you imagine going to a friends house at midnight, asking them to help you show hospitality to a guest, and having them say no because their door is locked and their kids are sleep?” The natural response for us as Americans is “Umm… Yea, I totally can. I’m not getting up at midnight to make food for YOUR friends who showed up to YOUR house.”

However, no first century Jew hearing or reading this story would have been able to imagine that a person would NOT get up and help the friend at their door. It would be unheard of for a person living in a culture characterized by hospitality and honor to turn away a friend who was in need regardless of the hour.

For years I read this thinking that the audacity this story is bringing to light is from the person on the outside of the door, but in a culture of honor, the audacity is with the person on the inside of the door.

 

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Who’s audacious at our borders right now? People who have walked thousands of miles to seek refuge, women and children seeking a better life for their family, or the people firing tear gas and pellets at them? I suppose the answer to that question depends on the value you place on honor.

I’ve been asked a couple times now what I would do with a stranger at my door. Would I just let anybody come into my house with my wife and my children? The question has been posed to me to suggest that I’m being hypocritical for criticizing the way we have treated and talked about this “migrant caravan”. I can tell you that for several months we’ve had a man with what we can only assume is a mental health disorder come and stand across the street from our house and hurl racial slurs at the four houses on our street. I’ve never once thrown anything at him, yelled back out my window or acted aggressively toward him. I only recently even called the police because after praying for him, I felt like he needed help and possibly to be reunited with his family. I’ve woken up mad, scared, and disturbed by this man a few times, but he’s a human being and deserves honor based on that alone. It’s audacious of him to yell obscenities at our house after midnight, but it’s perhaps more audacious of me to disregard his humanity because his illness inconveniences me.

But, that’s really beside the point. I don’t believe the discussion about how a Nation treats migrants should be reduced to an argument about how all of us treat our private residencies. The issue isn’t whether you or I invite strangers into our home, though I would hope that we would be willing to help a stranger in need rather than harming them or ignoring them. The point is that we as a Nation should honor human beings simply because they are human beings, and not treat them as pests. When you can see an image like the one above and your first thoughts are something about legal entry, MS13, rape or murder, then you have lost a sense of humanity. Some have claimed this image and others like it are left-wing manipulations designed to tug on the heartstrings of liberal snowflakes. I actually wish that was true. I’d rather believe that the media would sink to those levels than believe that we are capable of treating any human beings in such a calloused way. It’s also concerning that it seems that the only people with heart strings to tug on are liberal snow flakes.

Can you imagine a world where people can see an image of suffering human beings and their first inclination is to defend a position or political party? Unfortunately, I can.  

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Not Safe For Church

Not Safe For Church 4224 2604 Corey Leak

A friend messaged me this video yesterday and asked what I thought of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6KPJONhj7w

Initially, I wanted to have a conversation with the pastor….

I’m not sure I’ll ever get to have that conversation, but I do have issues with this video on several levels. I’ll share a few.

Theologically

This one time Jesus (Jewish Rabbi) took his disciples to a town called Caesarea Philippi, and while there he had a ground breaking conversation with them. I imagine most Christians are familiar with the story. It’s in Matthew chapter 16 if you’d like to read it for yourself. What’s obscure to modern readers about this story is that the town Jesus brought his teenage students to was not a nice town. The town was dedicated to the Ceasars and was the home of a pagan temple for worshipping a Greek god.

Rabbis forbade “good” Jews from going to Caesarea at all, so the fact that Jesus not only went there, but took his disciples is pretty unusual. More remarkable is the fact that this is where Jesus says one of the most famous phrases in history.

“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.”  Perhaps you’ve always thought these words were talking about religious institutions versus a raging fiery place where the devil lives. Most of my life that’s what I believed, but that’s actually not true. The word church means gathering of citizens, and the “gates of hell” is an actual physical place that you can visit today. Ancient people believed it was mystical because of the literal mist that would come up out of the opening of this mysterious looking cave. They believed it was a doorway to the underworld where the god Pan lived. They would engage in pretty obscene sexual acts to worship Pan that would be NSFW to this day.

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Yes, Jesus and the teenage boys with him were within hearing and watching distance of some really nasty stuff while having this conversation. Anyone who’s watched GOT and tried to follow the story line without enduring all the sex scenes can identify with how hard it is to try and pay attention to what’s being said over the debauchery happening in the background. Jesus is saying some really important and ground breaking things to his closest disciples while there is an orgy going on nearby. Of all the places to start talking about this new kind of gathering called church, why do it in Caesarea Philippi? Why not Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish faith? What statement does this make about what Jesus’ intentions were for church? It’s unlikely he has this talk where he has it by accident.

Could it be that Jesus is making a statement about who is welcome? This announcement about church and its impact could have been had within the friendly confines of a Jewish synagogue or inside the temple, but instead it’s happening out in the wild where “those” people are. That should inform our belief about church and the messiness that Jesus intended “his” gatherings to be part of. If Jesus could sit with his disciples in a place where people literally had sex with goats to worship a pagan god, how should we imagine he would treat a transgender man or woman in church?

Morally

Let’s suppose you are a person who truly believes that in order to keep faith based space “holy”, you have to keep all the really bad sinners out. What is gained from embarrassing a human being in front of a whole room? I have a moral issue with stripping another human being of their dignity simply because I believe they are acting in ways I disagree with. I wonder how many people in that room, including the pastor, could remain in that church if we were to put all the unsavory behaviors, practices, or thoughts on display for a whole room to judge? This hierarchy of morality is neither godly or appropriate for society. Shame on all of the people in that room who clapped and shouted amen at that reprehensible act of grand standing. It was wrong, and I hope this pastor is lead to see that it was wrong and apologizes to whoever he was targeting with his tirade.

Personally

Often times our negative feelings about others are triggered by something we see in ourselves. I pray that I don’t have any degrading caricature of true religion left within myself, but I know that I once did. I can remember one of my first sermons as a youth pastor. I was full of personality and wit, and for some reason I decided to direct my wit and humor at the LBGTQ community. I was grossly homophobic in my language, and thought I was right to talk the way I did. It’s one of my greatest regrets in life. It breaks my heart to know that someone in the audience was probably made to feel ashamed of who they were because I was trying to prove I was cool.  My final issue with this video is me. I’m sorry I have used words publicly to shame people. On behalf of the Christian church in America to anyone who has been hurt by rhetoric like you watched in the above video or that I used as a young, insensitive, dummy, I’m truly sorry. Every human being is on a journey, and you don’t deserve to be degraded for yours. It’s my hope and prayer that churches and pastors that dump shame on people learning to accept who they are close their doors unless they learn to practice inclusive faith that makes room for everyone to belong.

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4 Reasons Your Church Doesn’t Talk About Race

4 Reasons Your Church Doesn’t Talk About Race 1000 798 Corey Leak

 

We celebrate diversity. This is a sentence echoed from nearly every Evangelical pastor in America. Yet it is so difficult to find a diverse church on Sunday. Why does Sunday morning continue to be the most segregated time of the week in America? There are a number of different factors that contribute to lack of diversity. I would argue that one of the number one reasons is that few churches are willing to have healthy conversations about race in their sanctuaries and their boardrooms. Talking about race IRL can twist your stomach in knots and put a lump in your throat because it’s not a popular discussion. If you’ve ever wondered why your church hasn’t talked about it, I have some ideas.

1. Location:

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When I wrote my first blog post about how white evangelical churches struggled to make room at their leadership table for POC, there were some pastors who brought up location. They raised an issue I’ve heard several times in my life about white suburbia. “We just don’t have many people of color in our community.” I understand the tension that creates. Most of the people we are trying to reach are white, and we have a responsibility to present the gospel in a way that reaches the people in our community. Church planters are trained to plant in a demographic area that best fits who they are. The logic is sound, and it’s tough to argue with it. However, if the homogeneous community is why a church chooses to opt out of addressing the issue of race and racism, that should signal a red flag.

The idea that a churches’ community is predominantly white means they are exempt from talking about race suggests that racism is not their issue, but someone else’s. Failing to talk about racism also deprives the white people in that community of the opportunity to recognize their own bias and repenting for the racism that has laid dormant in their hearts because it has never been brought to light. Pastors in such communities fail their attendees and send an implicit message that racism is an evil the suburbs can abide.

 

2. Polarization:

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I’ve written about this principle in previous blogs. When you have a room full of republicans, democrats, libertarians, librarians, barbarians, and communists, you have to be careful not to alienate any of them. The best way to do that is by not saying or doing anything from the stage that can be divisive in nature or make people uncomfortable. I once heard a white pastor suggest that an emotive, black female worship leader should tone it down because the largely white audience couldn’t identify with her. The idea being that large churches stay large by avoiding polarization. Pastors and leaders have to exercise wisdom in how they use the platform.

The question I have is, is the church’s ultimate goal to stay large or to speak the truth? Are those two ideas mutually exclusive?  If so, which one is the churches ultimate responsibility? When something is true but has the potential to make half the room uncomfortable should churches avoid talking about them? Race is one of those issues. With the inception of identity politics, race has become an issue that primarily concerns people with a progressive or left-leaning political posture. It seems that by reflex those who are on the other side of the aisle politically and perhaps literally would balk at the very idea of talking about race in church. Their political stance is that it’s a non-issue, and bringing it up in a church at all is taking a side. Churches have a moral obligation to talk about barriers to righteousness. Racism is one of those barriers. When a moral issue is hijacked by politics it’s the job of the church to get it back and help their people rightly approach the issue justly.

3. Not our mission:

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Great churches stay on mission. There are a ton of good things churches could be doing, but no church can do everything. Many churches, like any other organization, close their doors because they fail to stay on mission. Dealing with racism is viewed by many white evangelical leaders as a worthy cause, but not the fundamental mission of the church. It’s one of many good causes in the world. There are issues like human trafficking, world hunger or clean water projects that are also on the list of good deeds the church can do for the world. Racism often gets buried beneath that pile of worthy causes the church should focus on. Casting the issue of race with those world problems seems appropriate. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many times this line of reasoning is just a smoke screen to allow the church to avoid the awkwardness of challenging the white people in the room to look inwardly at racism.

Most churches don’t hesitate to address human trafficking, clean water and world hunger among many other issues. I would be willing to wager that there are more people in the congregation who have personally felt the effects of racism within the past two weeks than there are people who have ever been trafficked, lacked clean water or been starving. Please understand that I’m not advocating for efforts going toward ridding the world of the evils of those three should be diverted to address racism. I’m simply pointing out the flaw in the argument that racism belongs in the category with other missions projects. It’s an issue that affects human beings sitting in the seats, singing the songs, and hearing the messages.

It feels good to write a check to get clean water to a thirsty family in Africa. What doesn’t feel good is to confront the belief that my family is superior to theirs. Sending money to help people who live in Africa doesn’t absolve me of racism toward the African decedents who live in my community.

4. We only focus on the Bible:

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There are many churches that are adamant that they don’t do topical messages. They aren’t trying to make a point the Bible doesn’t make. They preach and teach only what the Bible says. Anything else is outside of the scope of what the church should be about. Exegetical churches pride themselves on teaching from what the Bible says and making applications from that rather than having a pre-conceived topic and finding scriptures that speak to that topic. It’s certainly an admirable approach to leading a church. It’s great for helping people know what the Bible says, and helping congregates be Biblically literate. Many pastors and church leaders believe the topic of race is outside of the scope of Biblical teaching.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Teaching on racism is not disconnected from scripture. There are a number of different instances where Jesus himself subtly touches on the issue of race. The woman at the well and the story of the Good Samaritan come to mind. The book of Acts is primarily about how Jewish men made room for Gentile men and women to come to faith. Churches that struggle to find Biblical references to refute racism are likely reading from the WNV (white nationalist version).

 

If you find yourself at a church where the subject of race isn’t addressed or you have questions about how it’s been addressed. Talk to someone in leadership. If any of the above comes up. Ask some hard questions. Not to cause division or to be malicious, but from a place of honest inquiry.

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Two Christian Beliefs About Politics That Are Outdated

Two Christian Beliefs About Politics That Are Outdated 612 519 Corey Leak

There’s a lot of Christian rhetoric thrown around every election season. Some of it is helpful I suppose, but most of it is shallow, and doesn’t acknowledge the extreme complexities of faith-based voting. There is a belief on both sides amongst faith-based people that God sides with their party. To be fair, I think that sentiment is becoming less and less prevalent with each new generation of voters, but it is still a belief that you can read between the lines of many faith-based leaders and partitioners statements about voting and politics. People who hold faith as a guiding value can be valuable contributors to political conversations and practice. Adding that value requires we are clear about how our faith impacts what we believe about politics, and we should remain in a posture of wrestling with our beliefs in our ever changing world. Dated ideology won’t help us with modern issues, and there are two rudimentary ideas that Christians would do well to examine closer as we continue to move forward as human beings.

God elects leaders.

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There are a few verses in the Bible that speak to this idea. On the surface, it makes sense to believe that whoever is in office is there because God appointed them. The writer of the book of Daniel wrote that God changes times and seasons and deposes kings and raises up others. One of the new testament authors wrote that existing authorities have been placed where they are by God. If we simply traverse those words across the thousands of years, multiple languages and social contexts it takes to apply it to American politics, it makes sense to believe that whoever wins American elections does so with God’s help. God elected them.

The truth is, none of the Bible writers wrote about American democratic elections. They had no context for people electing officials. They lived in a context where many of the kings and rulers were believed to be a deity or the offspring of deity. Everything that happened during the time that Bible writers lived in was deemed supernatural. If someone was sick, it was because an unseen spirit attacked them. Ancient Jews washed their hands to wash off an evil spirit, and keep it from entering into their bodies and possessing them. So, it makes sense from the worldview of a first century or pre-first century man to believe that anything major that happened was because God actively enforced cosmic will to make it happen.

I believe that God is active. God does care about humanity. I also believe God allows human beings to figure out how to take care of the planet and each other in ways that are just and right. When it comes to American elections, God doesn’t elect our leaders, we do. 

The second dated belief is one that I found exceptionally challenging to reconcile in today’s political climate.

We should pray blessings on our leaders. 

Image result for praying for the president

I’ll never forget the moment I had in a church service of a pastor I have a great deal of respect for. After we sang a few songs, the pastor got up and said that we should pray for Donald Trump. I thought it was bold given that we are in the blue state of California, but more than that I was personally conflicted because I didn’t know how to pray. How do you pray for a leader you don’t believe should be leading? I’m aware of the scripture that encourages Christ-followers to Pray for kings. Pray for all in authority. Again, this on the surface seems simple enough, but how do we truly do this in America in 2018. It has always been interesting to watch white evangelical leaders pray for white Republican presidents, but throw verbal stones at Obama time and time again. That day, in that church, I found myself wrestling with the quandary of how to pray for a president that I have such moral disagreements with. My flawed idea of what it means to pray for him didn’t help me either, so I prayed through my teeth that God would bless the president. (Whatever that even means.)

Later I looked at the scripture above in context and found the whole idea of the writing is to encourage us to pray for all human beings, including rulers and those in authority over us. That changes things slightly for me. It made more sense because first century Jesus followers were being persecuted by the rulers of their day for their beliefs. Most of what was written to them was to encourage them to hang in there until God made all things right. That didn’t always mean a nicer ruler would take over for the mean one, but that God would be with them as they tried to live justly in an unjust world.

How would you pray for a leader who wanted to put your head on a spike after cutting it off your shoulders? Would you pray that God bless that leader? Would you pray that God surrounds them with godly people who they would listen to? I imagine you’d pray that God removes that leader and replace them with one who would govern justly. I know I would. You may be a person who is happy with the government officials who are in power today. You should pray that God gives them wisdom, favor, blessings, and good health. I pray the latter for everyone, and if you’re a person who does not believe the people in authority over your city, state or country are ruling justly then you should pray honest prayers. Sometimes those honest prayers sound like: God, please remove them from office. 

I do believe God is ultimately making the world right. Sometimes our votes help the divine process and sometimes they don’t. Ultimately the world is moving in the direction that our Divine Creator wants it to. We can choose to help or we can not. One thing I know for sure is that God’s power is not limited or enhanced by who we vote for. It’s a blessing to be able to vote, and it can be a powerful tool toward change.

That’s not the only way God works though.  What if God is urging us as humans to use our voices and our bodies for good outside of the ballot box? 

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