One Thing Every Parent Must Know

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Last night I dropped my son off at an inner city baseball practice run by our local MLB team. It is an urban academy launched to engage kids in the inner city of Houston in playing baseball and learning sports in a positive way. First class facilities, first class instruction, and first class coaches are leading some of our kids to a first class experience, and it may be the best part of their week. It was for my kid.

As I was leaving and my son was joining the other boys, one of the coaches called out his name, “Hey, Drew! We’ll get started in a minute. Start stretching.” There were 15 other high school kids there, and he called my son by name! I turned to him and said “Son, you are famous! The Astros coach knows you by name!” I was so impressed. Out of 15 kids, he called one by name: MINE!

Drew turned to me and said, “No big deal dad. I am the only white kid that comes to these practices. I kinda stand out.” I immediately knew he was right, and while he is a gifted baseball player he was noticed more for his skin tone than his skill. Up until now, he had been practicing with kids his age, but this group was bigger and better than anyone he had practiced with so far. The whole game had changed for Drew and we both could sense it.

I asked him how that made him feel. He said “Well…it is definitely different.” Of course it is. He goes to a mostly white school and church, lives in a mostly white neighborhood, and has almost all white friends despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the USA. I asked him if the coaches and players treated him differently. He said “They are all nice, and the coaches are really good. But, I don’t talk much with the other players. I just don’t know them that well.” I turned to him and said the most important thing I could ever say to my son, “Drew, there is no difference between you and those kids. White, black, brown, you are all kids playing baseball. They have dads wanting them to be successful at baseball, but more importantly at life. That is what I want for you, too. Have fun. Play ball. Work hard.”

He nodded his head and walked nervously onto the field along with 15 other big, high school kids who acted like and looked like they were almost ready for the major leagues. My little 8th grader was outsized, outnumbered, and was way out of his comfort zone with that gang he was joining for the next 2 hours of play.

I stayed to watch him play/practice. While he was nervous about the level of competition, he was not nervous about the kids he played with. He didn’t avoid shaking hands or high fiving. He didn’t run out of the way to steer clear of any contact. He didn’t ignore encouragement or correction when it came from the staff or players. He just played. And when he got in the car he said “You were right dad. Thanks for bringing me.”

Success!

I have accepted the fact that I will not be able to make, craft or buy his way into major league baseball. I can’t make him apply his knowledge academically in ways that set him up for success in college and career. I can’t make him like my music, wear clothes I like or think I am cool. I can’t force him to follow Christ, and the day will come when I won’t be able to make him go to church. I want so badly for him to succeed in every aspect of life and faith, but realize that I have limited opportunities to be the decider for him anymore. He is (almost) his own man. The best thing I can do now is help him see the world as clearly as possible so that his choices aren’t bent by cynical, careless and/or combative points of view.

Parenting a teenager is more about optometry than podiatry. We cannot make them walk the way we want them to walk, but our words, our actions, may help them see the world that we have worked so hard to see clearly. Our blurry vision of people, places and things have caused us great pain. If only we had been able to see the world more clearly at an earlier age we might have lived very different lives.

My experience with Drew was a culmination of my life’s work in race relations. I know a thing or two about cultural racism and prejudice and I wasn’t even alive during the Civil Rights movement. My view of people is 180 degrees opposite of what it was when I was my son’s age. Thanks be to God (and Jamie) who helped me see the world in a whole new way. It’s a vision of a world that sees the color of skin as an expression of God’s creative flare instead of an easy way for society to divide rights and privileges or freedom and fortune.

The one thing that every parent must know is this: you make the biggest difference in how your children handle issues of racial division. Parents, please hear me. You will be the biggest factor in how your child sees, treats and lives with people of another color. You will either make them haters or lovers. They will learn to fear and fight based on how you talk about and respond to issues and/or discussions of race. Or, they will learn to extend a hand, give full acceptance, and live in peace with all people of all colors and all languages. You will do one of those things either intentionally or unintentionally. Make it an intentional act for good. Help your child/children see a world full of peaceful possibilities instead of a world that is breaking apart from hate and cultural traditions.

Teachers, preachers, police officers, friends, even Starbucks will have an influence on how your child (and/or grandchild) develops their racial views. Use your words to be inclusive and then personally act in inviting, accepting ways when engaged with all people. Don’t make jokes that fringe on racist or classist feelings. Be the difference in your child’s life when forming their feelings about other people. Racism is an American tradition that needs to die out. Let’s start killing racism at home, and at church, and on the baseball field.

#racetogether

What does Jesus think about Sigma Alpha Epsilon?

greek life

I never joined a fraternity while a college student. My college offered opportunities to join “service clubs” that were a lot like fraternities/sororities, but I did not join them. Those clubs offered a lot of great volunteer work to community non profits and associations in the greater Nashville area that, even as an 18 year old, impressed me greatly. That wasn’t enough to get me to pledge, even when I was invited to do so and joining would have likely done me some good. The guys that lived on my floor seemed to function a lot like a group of brothers, and that satisfied me.

I do have many friends who were in fraternities in college. They loved it. Their best memories of that era seem to be of events and experiences they had while members of “Beta Gamma Delta Alpha Sigma Chi Theta.” While fun and chicanery is often shared in their memories, they also talk about friendship, leadership, loyalty (among other traits) as being taught and displayed in ways that might not have ever been possible for them if they had not joined the club. This week I heard that 86% of Fortune 500 executives were members of a fraternity or sorority while in college, so something is going right somewhere for those who belong and commit to frat life.

Unless you have been living under a rock this week, you know what happened at the University of Oklahoma with their Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. A video of a student leading a song with racial lyrics was released causing a firestorm on campus and across the nation regarding Greek life. While not the only one, this is the latest incident involving fraternities and sororities at some of our country’s best schools. No doubt that this kind of behavior also exists in colleges or organizations without any fraternal order or association. Racism is a human issue that has long caused debate, division and death around the world. Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Sig Ep) did not invent it. They just personified it on tape… for the world to see.

Sig Ep has a very promising mission statement that would appeal to many men. Their stated mission “is to promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship, and service for our members.” This mission/vision is based upon the ideals set forth by their founders and is specifically enunciated in their creed, “The True Gentleman.” As I understand it, this creed is central to life in Sig Ep similar to reciting the pledge of allegiance, the apostle’s creed, and/or the boy scout motto.

It reads as follows:

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
– John Walter Wayland

What strikes me as unbelievably queer is that this creed developed for a fraternal organization is really focused on a high view of individualism. All of the traits of a true gentlemen can be portrayed as a solo act. Alright, you technically need some poor people so that you don’t flaunt your wealth in front of them and make them jealous. Other than that detail, a true gentlemen only needs to think of the feelings of others. Very, very individual language for a group that is to be a band of brothers.

My fight here is not with Sig Ep or any other fraternity or sorority. I assume they might have similar creeds or statements, but I don’t know that for sure. My point here is not with fraternal life or any other sort of organization that requires membership. My beef is with the rampant religion in our country that is known as individualism. Meaning that what matters to me, what affects me, what benefits me is the most important matter in everything. Team doesn’t matter. Community doesn’t matter. National welfare or global benefit counts for very little (if at all) in an individual world.

Right now, in every school, church, company, and community, rampant individualism is destroying us from the inside out. We are devastating ourselves and our children (and likely our children’s children) because we are selfish and shameless. Given the choice of “me or thee”, we’ll choose “me” every time and twice on Sunday.

Our motto should read:

“We aren’t true gentlemen and we don’t care. We want more money, more power, more sex, more freedom, more rights, more groupies, more, more, more of everything that makes me feel or look good. Don’t give us requests or requirements for social responsibility. Give us more of what we want and less of what you want from us. It’s all about me so leave me alone and mind your own business or drop dead.”

That is who we are, and it is killing us. Racism is justified by feelings and thoughts that put people in lesser categories because of color or (social) class. Greed is fueled by individuals who steal from others so they can gain. Adultery and sexual perversion is only possible when one gives way to their personal gratification over the commitment of covenantal love. Ambition only rules in a land where people are willing to put themselves squarely on top of others and stomp them into the dirt of life. Families are blowing up because everyone wants to think “me first” and not “us always.”

In case you thought I was talking about the condition of the world, I am not. I am talking about the church. We are walking down a path attempting to be true gentlemen/gentlewomen and missing the point of faith entirely. Our calling is not to be true to ourselves or to our gender or to our color or perhaps even our country. Our calling – our only calling – is to become disciples of Christ, take up our crosses, and follow him. That is the creed for the True Christian to live by. And to ultimately die for.

To be honest I am not sure what Jesus thinks about Sig Ep. I do know that Jesus hates racism; that is for sure. And Jesus hates individualism. He denied his individual rights in order for the greater good of God to be perfected. He is our way out of pursuing anything that is true. So, let us stop chasing the dream of being a true gentlemen. No one has to live fully into themselves to be seen or noticed by God. He loves us as we are even in our sin so stop being true to sinful selves or any other grand image of humanity. Instead, let’s try on Christlikeness as our vision for the highest ideal.

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For Lent 4 / March 15, 2015

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2)

Jesus, a Banker, and a Butcher Walk Into a Bar…

jeru temple

Ok. It was the temple and not a bar, but I’m not that far off. At least it was the central gathering place for business and fellowship like many bars are today. What happened in the temple was as routine as the 6 PM crowd at the local pub, complete with stories, networking, deal making and letting off some steam. And it is one of the most interesting stories about Jesus in scripture, as he goes all “Chuck Norris” on the banker (money exchanger) and butcher (dove salesman.) To be precise the title should be: A rabbi, a butcher, a banker run into a bar of God. The word “bar” is Hebrew/Aramaic for son and Jesus is the son of God.

The story of Jesus in the temple driving out thieves is one of the stories that often comes up in conversation. To be honest it comes up from most often in my discussion with white, professional, evangelical men who are excited about a bold, daring, aggressive Jesus. Despite this being a unique story to the entire life and ministry of Jesus it is used as a standard to protect agendas, justify angry behaviors, and control obstacles in the way of setting up a “never surrender Jesus.”

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2)

This story is known as Jesus cleansing the temple and is found in Matthew, Mark and John. (I am sure Luke meant to include it but was likely busy tending to the cuts and scrapes from those injured in the event.) Jesus is either caught off guard or fed up with the temple being used as a place of commerce. His righteous indignation sets the record straight and frees the worshipping people of distraction and solicitation. The scene is ripe with images of money flying, men crying, and animals trying to get free from their captors before becoming potted meat on the flame of sacrifice. Jesus redirects their worship from what they are “doing for God” back towards what they are “becoming in/through God.” At least, that is what he attempts to do.

While we could let our focus be in the actions of Jesus or the shame of the spiritual leaders, I am most interested in a group that seems to be left out of this story – the consumers. If there had not been people wanting to buy animals for sacrifice or exchange their foreign money for an legitimate offering instrument then Jesus would never had to do this. What came first – the buyer or the seller? Someone was consuming what was being offered, but they are only implied in the gospel accounts. How did they get off so easy?

Consumers of worship and worship artifacts aren’t solely a first century problem. Make no mistake about it, consumers of worship are definitely a first world problem, and the American church is likely (definitely) the leader in the club house when it comes to making Jesus a consumable product in worship. Much of what is normal in church worship gatherings today seems to be based on what people want when they “get their worship on” rather than what God is offering us as His children. We carry over our daily practices of consuming what we want and what makes us feel good about life into our religious activities that we call church or worship or “something kinda spiritual.” We cannot choose style over substance, experience over encounter, topics over text, feeling good over faithfully good, or happy over holy and think that our lives will be changed. Change is exactly what worship is all about. We are changed when we encounter the living God; see His holiness; sense His eternal goodness; confess our utter need for His deliverance/transformation/presence; and walk away in His faithfulness.

We are never spiritually right when we approach worship as consumers, because worship of the living God consumes us. That is the point of worshipping. It is not to be close to, in the presence of, or informed by God. Our worship is to be entirely consumed by Him.

When you journey to church today, I hope you walk right past the temptation of exchanging money for offerings or buying something to sacrifice. Make your life – your everything – both an offering and a sacrifice to God. Ask Him to accept you as you are and set fire to your heart for His kingdom. May your whole life – body, mind, and spirit – be a beautiful aroma unto the Lord. May Jesus be joyful in joining your worship and not compelled to judge you as a thief or prostitute in the church.

March 8, 2015 / 3rd Sunday of Lent