our EmbRACE studies

If you've been with our church this past year or have attended one of our community groups, you likely would have participated in one of our EmbRACE studies. I've written about these studies before, but the actual studies themselves were only shared within our community group ministry so I wanted to put these studies out there in part as (1) our humble contribution to the ongoing work of the church in its engagement with the systems of oppression in our society but also (2) as a snapshot to mark where our church is regarding racism in and around us. These are studies that are meant to be done in community, resting upon the Spirit's work to speak when God's people gather. If you only read the content without engaging with the Spirit at work in his people, these studies will be but brief summaries of our world's sins.

Some of you may know that the EmbRACE studies were originally from a series of studies put out by another church in hopes to move their congregation to deal with racism. And while I applaud the effort of the leaders of that church to shepherd their congregation, when reviewing the studies, I could not put the same study before our church without some editing; there were clearly some cultural blind spots that became apparent in the study material so the studies were completely rewritten with our congregation in mind. I am sure that in a few years, I may come back to these studies and realize that some parts did not age well and will need to be corrected.

What's clear at this point is that there is much to learn and there is much to mourn and lament. As we noted when we finished the last study today, the work is far from over if we are to live into our identity as God people and truly be a light to the nations -- a city on a hill. It is my hope that as our city reawakens that our church would more clearly recognize its calling and mission to repent and show the world the one who can change our hearts and redeem our broken world.

The EmbRACE Study / 03

We're at this again?

It's just after Thanksgiving -- and not a "normal" one at that. I must confess that the thought of having to engage in another race study... now... sounds... well... it doesn't fill me with excitement. My finger to the pulse of our church and immediate community is that we're tired of the subject, the outrage that once saturated our social feeds has reduced from a raging fire to a simmer (but I must add, still present nonetheless). But we expected this.

When we, the pastoral staff, started mapping out how to help our church engage with the issues of justice in our day, we decided to "slow drip" our engagement with the issues for several reasons. One reason was our assessment that our church has many diverse perspectives on the issues, and it will take us some time to process and absorb. Many of us have histories and stories of our own (or stories inherited through our parents) which color our view. It would take some time to get to distill our experiences and stories to discern the gospel call in this particular moment -- we're still working through this as a community call together in love and harmony (Ephesians 4 and Romans 12).

we must continue to pursue righteousness and justice long after our social feeds moved onto other subjects

But one other reason was that we knew that these issues would not be resolved quickly. We knew that the wide public outrage could not be kept at a fever pitch, and eventually, we must continue to pursue righteousness and justice long after our social feeds moved onto other subjects. For many of us (though I recognize, not all), we can choose not to talk about injustice because we do not deal with it every day. But that may not be an option for many of our friends and neighbors -- people we are called to love and care for. This does not mean we ignore our own troubles, but we're called to follow in Christ's footsteps and extend ourselves for others around us.

The missing lament

For this third EmbRACE study, we'll be focusing on lament. As we enter the Advent season this Sunday, it is fitting that we enter into this lost (at least in the vast majority of the American church) spiritual discipline. The Advent season is not synonymous with what many of us call the "Christmas season" (jolly hot chocolates and cozy fireplaces); it is a season marked by longing. In the season of Advent we are to name the brokenness in our lives that require a Savior. Lament requires us to go deeper in our call to "love our neighbors as ourselves" by naming and entering into that pain to better see our hope. Sometimes, when we are faced with problems, we immediately look for solutions rather than taking the time to dig deep into the problems that plague us as a people. Lament requires us to restrain our assumptions about we [think we] know about the pain of our neighbors and enter into that pain. When Jesus entered into the company of mourners at Lazarus's grave (see John 11) he did not first offer the "solution" to their sadness (namely, himself). Rather, the scriptures tell us that he wept, he sobbed, he bawled. With this upcoming study, the challenge before us is to identify with those in pain.

Does the brokenness of this world break your heart and deepen your longing for Christ in this Advent season? As you join your CGs in this next EmbRACE study, I encourage you resist the urge to bypass the sadness and ugliness of our world in order to get to the "solutions" to our condition. Rather dig deep into the brokenness around us and let that orient our hearts to the coming King who comes to save.

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
    that the way down is the way up,
    that to be low is to be high,
    that the broken heart is the healed heart,
    that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
    that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
    that to have nothing is to possess all,
    that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
    that to give is to receive,
    that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
    and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
    thy life in my death,
    thy joy in my sorrow,
    thy grace in my sin,
    thy riches in my poverty
    thy glory in my valley.
The Valley of Vision
The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

The EmbRACE Study / 02

This is our second post in our monthly church-wide study called EmbRACE, a repentance and study on race, society, and culture. You can find the first post here.

Revisit our foundational calling.

As we start our second study this week, we must not forget the foundation for bearing with one another in love from the first study. We will come back over and over to remember it is Christ who has brought us together. So no matter how different our views may be, we are called to strive to bear with one another for the sake of the gospel. Before you begin on any "hot topics" we must remember to recommit ourselves to the gospel and to one another.

Separation, Assimilation or Embrace.

From our second EmbRACE sermon, there was a calling on us to not give into two typical ways that society tends to deal with diversity: (1) separation: maintain a "negative peace" by minimizing the likelihood of conflict, (2) assimilation: require that those who are different conform to a particular way of life. Instead the gospel calls us to embrace one another because of our differences and celebrate them. The end of all things points to worship by "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9).

In John 4, Jesus enters into a private (1-on-1) conversation with a Samaritan woman. The text highlights how taboo this was in the dialog and the framing of this conversation (for example, see v.8, 9, 27) By entering into this situation, Jesus put his reputation at risk -- even his disciples were confused. But through his actions, Jesus shows us that our confidence in the gospel frees us to move boldly into unpopular spaces. As we follow Jesus, we are called to count the cost while looking at Jesus. For "the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." (Matthew 13:44). The cost may be high, but Jesus assures us it is worth it. Jesus calls us to associate with the lowly, to seek the sheep who have wandered off, to embrace the outcast and, in so doing, find God more fully. As we seek to live out this implication of the gospel to embrace the other, we become more like our perfect savior who came to seek imperfect and sinful people like ourselves.

Can the church be a place where we recognize and welcome people and trust that the Spirit will do his work in those who he calls to himself? It could be that even those who we'd consider the last to come to faith will ultimately teach us much about our loving God. This Samaritan woman, because she was welcomed by Christ who dared to break social and cultural norms, becomes the first evangelist in the Gospel of John. "In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Samaritan 'woman at the well' is called Saint Photini and, as Eva Catafygiotu Topping writes in Saints and Sisterhood, she 'occupies a place of honor among the apostles. In Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries she is called "apostle" and "evangelist." In these sermons, the Samaritan Woman is often compared to the male disciples and apostles and found to surpass them.'" (from The First Female Evangelists)

It is my hope that our church can grow in our love and capacity to welcome those who are different. That we would not let our doubts about how receptive or unreceptive we can be hinder the work of the Spirit among us. May God expand our hearts to love as Christ has loved us.

The EmbRACE Study / 01

It is a repentance

This week, our church will be starting a monthly study on racism, systemic injustice, and white supremacy. We've called this study EmbRACE: a repentance and study on race, society, and culture. Now it is first called a repentance because we do not study this as a an external subject; we recognize from the start that talking about race in America requires that we acknowledge, not just to study the problems out there, but also in here -- in ourselves: the narratives we grew up with, our ideas of power, our ideals of beauty, our assumptions about the world.

Striving for unity in Christ

Our first study this week may seem only tangential to the hot issues in our national discussion, but for us it is foundational. While public discourse is becoming increasingly divided and antagonistic, that should not be the nature of the church. God calls us to unity, bearing with one another in love -- the love that we have through Christ. As we move through the various studies, and as our nation continues to grapple with the issues, we will likely find new ways to demonize those who seem to be the enemy. We will find new depths of anger or despair, but the gospel calls us to resist becoming self righteous and seeing ourselves better than others who may not share our views. The gospel calls us to a robust, deep, and enduring love. It calls us to be like Christ, to listen well, to bear with one another in love, to outdo one another in showing honor.

This is difficult, yet we must pray for strength to live into it as we engage in these studies. It is my prayer that as we go through this series of study, we will strive to keep a repentant posture even as we fight for justice. It is in this posture that we recognize that our strength is not in our outrage or zeal, but wholly in Christ.