June 10, 2020

Dear Friends,

I imagine some of you were surprised to get the email on Monday with news that we were postponing the start of our Confronting Christianity book study that night because of heavy rain and the possibility of flash flooding. A rained out indoor book study?

Honestly, as I’ve thought about the decision to postpone the start of the study, I’ve realized that as I sat looking out at the steady rain falling, I thought to myself “If I didn’t have to teach the study tonight, I don’t think I’d want to go!”

This is a study I’ve been looking forward to leading for months! A study I know many of you are looking forward to attending. But in the middle of the afternoon on Monday, I decided to call a time out.

Looking back, I think the decision was less about the rain and more about my own weariness. My reservoir was depleted. I was empty. And I just needed to push pause.

I’m guessing you’ve hit that wall too in the past few weeks. If not, you may want to be on the look out for it. 2020 has been quite a year so far. And it’s not even half done yet. Someone told me today that they are really looking forward to Christmas this year because in addition to Christmas being a celebration of the birth of Jesus, this year it’s also a marker that we only have one more week of 2020 before it’s over!

I think one reason I’m weary this week is because I have been doing a lot of listening. A lot of reflecting. A lot of pausing. I think that’s the right posture for most of us right now. From a place of humility and teachability, we need to be listening carefully and thinking biblically to the many voices that are crying out right now.

My tendency as I listen is to want to pay more attention to the people whose views resonate with my own presuppositions. It helps me when someone is able to express clearly things that strike a chord in me.

But I’m working in this moment to listen to people I know who love Jesus and believe the gospel but who view what’s going on in our world through a lens that is different than my own. I learn more from them than I do from others.

So this week, instead of sharing my own thoughts on this current moment, I’m going to pass on two things I read this week that helped fill in some of the gaps in my own way of thinking. This is a longer than normal weekly newsletter. And you may be too weary to want to read it at this moment. I understand. But if you decide to set this aside right now, I hope you’ll come back to it in the next couple of days. Even in our weariness, we need to seek the Lord in the midst of all that we’re facing as a nation.

The first person who has helped me better understand this current moment is Shai Linne, a pastor who is also a hip hop artist.
 In an article he wrote this week called George Floyd and Me on The Gospel Coalition website, he shared how he responded to a white sister in Christ who reached out to him and asked “how are you doing?” Here’s what he wrote:

Sister, I’m going to tell you how I’m doing. And as I tell you, please understand that I’m incapable of completing this message without weeping. There’s a part of me that’s saying, “Spare yourself the pain, Shai. It’s not worth it.” But I’m choosing not to listen to that part of me because I would be robbing you of an opportunity to “bear one another’s burdens” and “mourn with those who mourn”—and I’m sure, as a sister in Christ, you want to do just that.

Sister, I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder. The image of that officer with hand in pocket as he calmly and callously squeezed the life out of that man while he begged for his life is an image that will haunt me until the day I die. But it’s not just the video of this one incident. For many black people, it’s never about just one incident. Just as it wasn’t just about the videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Rodney King, etc., etc., etc., etc.

This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something.

It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked.

It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me—and me beginning to preemptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.

It’s about taking a road trip with my sons to visit Blair’s family in Michigan—and my greatest fear being getting pulled over for no reason other than driving while black, told to get out of the car, cuffed, and sat down on the side of the road, utterly emasculated and humiliated with my young boys looking out the window, terrified, which is exactly what happened to a good friend of mine when he took his family on a road trip.

It’s about the exhaustion of constantly feeling I have to assert my humanity in front of some white people I’m meeting for the first time, to let them know, “Hey! I’m not a threat! You don’t need to be afraid. If you got to know me, I’m sure we have things in common!”

It’s about me sometimes asking my wife to do things in certain customer-service situations, since I know she’ll likely get treated better than I will.

It’s about borrowing a baby swing from a white friend in our mostly white suburb of D.C. and her telling me, “Sure you can borrow it. I have to step out, but I’ll leave it on the porch for you. Just go grab it”—and then feeling heart palpitations as my car approached her home, debating whether or not to get the swing and being terrified as I walked up the steps that someone would think I was stealing it and call the cops on me.

It’s about intentionally making sure the car seats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the car seats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”

It’s about having what feels like genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology—until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a “social gospel” or am some kind of “liberal” or “social justice warrior.”

And it’s about sometimes feeling like some of my white friends aren’t that particularly interested in truly knowing me—at least not in any meaningful way that might actually challenge their preconceptions. Rather, it feels like they use me to feel better about themselves because I check off the “black friend” box. Much more could be mentioned. These were the first things that came to mind.

So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, “All lives matter.” Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.

The second thing I read this week that was helpful came from NFL football coach Tony Dungy. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Tony (I have an autographed football he gave me when we met).

Here’s what Tony shared this week that I found helpful:
America is a very sad place today. We have seen a man die senselessly, at the hands of the very people who are supposed to be protecting our citizens. We have seen people protest this death by destroying the property and dreams of people in their own community, the very people they are protesting for… What happened to George Floyd was inexcusable and it should never happen. Justice needs to be served, but in seeking justice we can’t fall into the trap of prejudging every police officer we see.

What happened to George Floyd was inexcusable and it should never happen. Justice needs to be served, but in seeking justice we can’t fall into the trap of prejudging every police officer we see. What started out as peaceful protests have devolved into arson and looting and that should never happen, either. Yes there should be protest. But we do not have license to perform criminal acts because we’re angry.

Today we are a divided country. We’re divided racially, politically, and socio-economically. And Satan is laughing at us because that is exactly what he wants. Dysfunction, mistrust, and hatred help his kingdom flourish.

Well, what is the answer then? I believe it has to start with those of us who claim to be Christians. We have to come to the forefront and demonstrate the qualities of the One we claim to follow, Jesus Christ. We can’t be silent. As Dr. King said many years ago, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!” But we can’t go forward with judgmental, bitter spirits. We need to be proactive, but do it in the spirit of trying to help make things better. And it can’t be just the African American churches. It has to be ALL churches taking a stand and saying “We are going to be on the forefront of meaningful dialogue and meaningful change.” We have to be willing to speak the truth in love but we have to recognize that we are not fighting against other people. We are fighting against Satan and his kingdom of spiritual darkness.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Roman 12:21, NIV).

I’ll also point you to a couple of other articles I read on line this week that I found helpful. One is from David French, the social commentator who shares how he learned first hand about the latent racism that exists in our culture when he and his wife adopted a daughter from Ethiopia.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung also provided some helpful thoughts on how we process our current moment as Christians.

There’s more, but I’ll quit. I’ve given you a lot to read and process. I hope you’ll take time to read, to listen, to process and pray. May God use this current moment in our world to conform each one of us more into His image, and may He pour out His Spirit on our world and bring renewal and revival in His church!
You may have heard that the Governor of Arkansas announced plans today for our state to move into Phase 2 of the re-opening plan. It’s not clear yet if that might affect our current Sunday morning worship service protocol. If there are changes that come with Phase 2, we’ll be sure to communicate those changes to you as soon as we can.
I am trusting that as I wait on the Lord this week, He will renew my strength (and yours too!). So rain or shine, we’ll plan to launch our Confronting Christianity study this coming Monday night at 7:00 at the church and also live stream. Let me know if you have any questions!
We’ve seen in John 6 how Jesus uses the metaphor of bread to help illustrate how He, as the bread of life, can alone meet our need for spiritual nourishment – and ultimately, for spiritual survival! This week, we’ll see that He promises that if we trust Him, He will make sure we make it safely home before dark!

See you (in person or on line) Sunday!

Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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