“Your” “Unwise and Untimely”

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”  Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. wrote that.

Okay, think about that sentence a bit.   

“While confined…..in the Birmingham city jail,”  

Do you know anyone who willingly allowed themselves to be arrested because of something that was done that they felt was wrong?   Up until George Floyd’s murder, I didn’t.  

Now I do.  

On a night of protests about George Floyd’s murder, they went to Rosa Parks Circle minutes after the “demonstration” time was done and the police were starting to get everyone out of the park area. A couple from my kids youth group – some of the volunteer leaders – felt that the murder of George Floyd was strong enough reason to take a stand.

So they went to the middle of Rosa Parks Circle and quietly sat on the ground in the middle of the circle and waited.   Waited for the police to come and tell them the protest was done at 7:00 PM and it was 7:15.   The police came and told them to leave.  They didn’t move.

The police came back.  And this time the police made sure that they left  – because they got escorted to the police department.

It wasn’t angry, it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t loud.   But to me it was very effective because it was so very well thought out.  They went to Rosa Parks Circle knowing that what they were doing was in direct opposition to a police order.  From what I have heard, they were prepared and had their bail money already raised.  If I had known they were raising money for bail, I would have gladly contributed.

Why’d they do it?  Very simply, because there was a discrepancy between what they felt was right and what the government said was right.

Okay,time warp coming……

We’re back in the Civil Rights era and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is sitting in jail in Birmingham.  Why’s he in jail?   Because of something he did that was really wrong?  No, not really.  He was in jail because there were things happening that the government was allowing and he thought they were wrong.  He thought, “No Colored People allowed” was wrong.  He thought that having signs that said, “No colored people served here” was wrong.

And you know what?  It was.   And it still is.

Getting back to the statements from the Letters from the Birmingham Jail” and the three important words in this sentence:

• “Your” statement calling…. I believe that he specifically used “Your” rather than “the church”  or “your church” or the First National Baptist Church of Southern Alabama.  Dr. ML King Jr. chose “your” because it personalized it and it made it clear to whoever read them that Dr. King did not see them as speaking on behalf of the church.  Their statements were about them and about what this did to them.  And let’s be honest, there were probably some of the people who signed the statement or who go to those churches that didn’t agree with them.

• “Untimely”  – So why did they say that Dr. King’s coming to town and holding marches and  such was “untimely?”  Well, if you read into it further, you find out that they wanted to try to negotiate, to reason with the opposition and to come to agreements that way.  Further research will tell you that there are a variety of positions in the local government that were changing and the clergy who wrote to Dr. King wanted to wait until they all had a chance to settle in because (I’m surmising, they thought that the people in new positions in the government would be more open to change if it wasn’t presented on their first day on the job.  How did Dr. King respond to that?

“Justice delayed is Justice denied.” 

• “The third word is “unwise.”   To translate into more “everyday” language, “that’s a stupid thing to do.”   So basically, these pastors are saying, “Dr. King, we know this better than you, we are from here, you are from Atlanta and we don’t think that now is the time to be having outsiders protesting because you all aren’t from around here and because……”

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

“Injustice anywhere  is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made it about as plain as can be.  You want to fight injustice then you need to go to where injustice is.  You can’t sit in your recliner in Atlanta and point west to Birmingham and say, “Uh, yeah, go fix that over there.”   You see injustice in Grand Rapids, you fight injustice in Grand Rapids.

We’ll talk more about this as we continue to unpack the wisdom in the Letters from a Birmingham Jail.   We’ve got a lot of other things to look at as well.

Stay tuned,

Tom

On Being Uncomfortable

On Being Uncomfortable

Last night I was scrolling through Facebook and reading some news, reading some of what some particular authors said, reading some of the funny things my friends do (Looking at you, LeMarr and also Todd).   I came across an article that a number of the leaders of/in not only my church but other places around were commenting on and talking about.  It made me stop and read the article.  (I can’t locate the article otherwise I would link to it.)

I read it and it made me sad.   I started composing a comment but I decided that I would be better off waiting to the next day and write it out in more detail.   If I had to summarize it in 3 points, well, here goes:

  1. There are more multi-cultural churches now than there have been.
  2. There is a strong feeling among church leaders who are persons of color that they have to act more “white” to be able to play a leadership role in their church.   I believe that the term that’s often used is “code switching.”
  3. There are a fair number of white people (people like me) often middle aged (kind of like me) and usually middle class (yup) who like to have a multi-cultural church but they like it only if it’s led by people like them.  (NOT ME)

That reminds me of something our former (since retired) Senior Pastor, Pastor Dave used to say.   I remember it still because he said it one of the first times we came to visit Madison.  

 “Be prepared to be uncomfortable.  Because worship is not about being comfortable.  Worship is about talking with God.  Worship in a multi-cultural church is about talking with God the way that you are used to.   But also the way you are used to.  And the way that the lady on the aisle who is _________is used to.  And some of that is going to make you uncomfortable.  That’s okay.   Actually that’s good.  Because if you, Mr. White People, are always comfortable, then your neighbors, the people of color sitting in the row in front of you, across the aisle and scattered throughout your church, they don’t get a chance to feel comfortable.

They don’t have a chance to feel comfortable and so then they don’t that God and God’s people are welcoming them.  Welcoming them as they are.

Let me say that again but in a slightly different manner.   If you “do” worship and everything about your church so the white guys are always comfortable, that sends a sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle message to the people of color, “Sorry, this is our church.”    What do you think Jesus would say about that?

When my kids, especially my two youngest adopted from Haiti kids, moved from our old church to our new church, one of the things that made a huge difference for them was the fact that the leadership looked like them.   At our old church, the only time someone who wasn’t white was behind the pulpit was if there was a special service – like a missions Sunday.   There were three people who felt uncomfortable there, and as my kids grew up, they and we felt more and more uncomfortable.

I am comfortable with being uncomfortable.   I know that Madison is not “my church.”   I’m a part of God’s Church at Madison but there are many others of different nationalities, different races, different colors who are also part of God’s Church at Madison.

Come on, my fellow white people, if you’re going to go to a multicultural church, then you should have the grace and wisdom to make sure that the leadership is adequately balanced so everyone has “ownership” in the church.   Plus, why do we, as white people, think we are the only ones who can do it?  

If you belong to a multi-cultural church, you should be willing to be uncomfortable and to step aside and do things “different.”  Those in your church who don’t look like you will appreciate it.  Your church will be better for it.

If you can’t let someone who puts the “multi” in multi-cultural church be part of the leadership, if you are constantly pushing for having white people in positions of leadership, then what do you really want out of being part of a multi-cultural church?  Is it a status thing?   A “holier than thou” thing?

If you aren’t willing to be multi-cultural in the leadership of your church, then what are you doing?  You want to be comfortable and multi-cultural?   How’s that work?

Come on, white guys, we know better.   Step aside and let your friends of color be the leaders too.

You’ll be pleased with what God’s up to.

Tom

Becoming an Antique

Do you do it yourself?

Or

Does it happen to you?

Or both?

Is it good? Or bad?

Does it add value? Or does it make you worth less (not worthless, but worth less = that space is important.)

Becoming an antique

What does it do?

If you are a car it adds value

If you are a house, it adds value – unless you are in really bad shape

But in the America of last year, what did it mean to become an antique?

Something to be put on a shelf and occasionally dusted?

Something to be sold to someone who knows value?

When I was in college, I worked at a used furniture store. Someone gave us a dining room table that was antiqued aqua blue.

Think about it. Imagine that sitting in your mother in law’s dining room.

But there was an older gentleman who came in once a week, always looking for the “special” pieces.

He watched this odd duck, this horrendously obtuse and disruptive piece of furniture.

Every two weeks, the price went down. Until we hit that magic number. He said to me, “Tom, it’s time, I’ll take it.”

And the Ugly Duckling found a home.

He brought her home and said to her, “Now don’t you worry, I’ll take good care of you.” He kept her warm and dry and he began the rebuilding process.

Layer after layer after layer of this aqua blue followed by green and purple, it really made him wonder about her history. But he couldn’t know, so he accepted her as she was.

Finally after 7 layers of paint were removed, he sat back and watched her. And took it all in. He looked at the signs of how well she was made and saw that she was solid mahogany.

That old horrendously colored table became an antique that was worth 30 times what she was purchased for.

Becoming an antique – I think we all need to reevaluate what we think of antiques and how we value them.

Tom

Isolation 2.05 It was more

Palm Sunday – without going to church.

Palm Sunday – with none of the normal traditions

Today was Sunday but it didn’t feel like it. Isolation 2.05 makes the normal traditions hard. But that’s okay because it isn’t really the traditions that matter.

It’s the history of this day that matters. Today marks the day that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In less than a week, the crowds that originally cheered him will wanted to kill him. That’s what Palm Sunday remembers.

In many ways, the world has been turned upside down. Schools are closed, offices are closed, roads are empty, unemployment lines and hospitals are over crowded. Churches aren’t meeting, and those that are meeting are seeing their pastors arrested for violating executive orders by the governors of the their respective state.

And interesting thing is happening – churches are saying, “we are not a building, we are more.”

More what?

• more about people who care about their neighbors.

• More about being people who admit we don’t know and can’t do it all ourselves.

• More about people who care for people in need.

• More about people who are looking for more, not for themselves but for those who have less.

And so, while gathering as a group of believers didn’t happen in a building, all across this country, all across this world, Christians were gathering online.

And Palm Sunday was remembered.

And God saw His people gathering in new and different ways in spite of the virus.

And He was pleased.

TJV