“Seek Simple” – the first of a 5-week sermon series, called “Simple,” preached at First Church oral Springs on Sunday, August 20, 2017

“Seek Simple” – the first of a 5-week sermon series, called “Simple,” preached at First Church oral Springs on Sunday, August 20, 2017

St. Francis…

            One of my spiritual heroes is St. Francis.  Francis was born in Italy, near the end of the 12th century.  His father was a wealthy cloth merchant – so Francis grew up in wealth, ease and luxury.  But, after a long illness, Francis experienced a radical spiritual conversion.   After giving away some of his father’s expensive things to the poor, his father dragged Francis to the local priest, demanding Francis repent and stop.  Standing in the middle of the town square, Francis stripped down to bare skin, renouncing his father’s wealth and possessions, living from that day in complete poverty.  Francis shunned owning any property, beyond wearing a simple monk’s robe, dependent each day on God for his needs.

If Francis were alive today, most of us would likely think he was a crazy, homeless man.  But, his way of life and his love for God drew followers by the thousands.  Francis started a movement, that many believe was the salvation of the Church in the Middle Ages.  And, that movement was based on simple living, and a simple trust in God.

Overly-busy, overly-committed, over-spent, over-drawn, over-timed, over-stuffed… overwhelmed!

            What a contrast to our modern lives.  Very few people, by choice, live simple lives.  The vast majority of us are over-worked, over-burdened, over-scheduled, and overwhelmed by modern life.  We have too much to do, too much stuff to take care for, and too many commitments. Our lives and homes have become cluttered.   It’s become increasingly hard to keep up.  And, the result, for many of us, is greater stress and anxiety, and less time, energy and space for the things that matter most – God, family, friendship, peace, joy.

In 1928, economist John Maynard Keynes imagined a world in which, thanks to advances in technological innovation, future generations would be freed to embrace a less “busy” lifestyle – perhaps only working three days a week.  Can you imagine?

When Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted the Republican nomination for president in 1956, he envisioned a world where…  “leisure will be abundant, so that all can develop the life of the spirit, of reflection, of religion, of the arts, of the full realization of the good things of the world.”  Let me ask you – when was the last time you had abundant leisure?

The exact opposite has happened.

Americans are working longer hours than ever before. Somewhere around the end of the 20th century, busyness became a way of life and a badge of honor.  I heard a radio show, last week, saying Americans are taking less vacation time than ever before.

We simultaneously attempt to do our work via conference calls, while maintaining multiple conversations via texting and social media, while shopping on-line, while driving, while applying make-up, while listening to the radio, while shushing the kids in the back seat while we take them to school, before we try to squeeze in multiple errands before heading to the office, including picking up an extra-large coffee, for the extra caffeine we need because we never get enough sleep.

We talk on our phones, while we workout, while we watch the news, before we pick-up fast food from a drive-through for dinner, followed by chores and a little television, checking how many likes we got on social media, before collapsing into bed, for a fitful night’s sleep.

A recent survey found that 38 million Americans shop on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet. We can’t even wait in a grocery line, or a red light, or for a doctor appointment without pulling out our smart phones.

One of the things I’ve noticed in Guatemala, when we break from our construction projects for lunch, is that the North Americans tend to rush through our meal and are ready to get back to work.  Whereas, the Guatemalans eat more slowly, and take time for rest and conversation, and maybe a short nap, before heading back to work.  And, by the end of the day, they always outwork us.

There is in our culture and psyche a compulsion to “go, go, go,” filling every minute of every day with activity and noise.

Due to our over-filled lives, Americans report that they’re too busy to register to vote, to date, to make friends, to take a vacation, to sleep, to volunteer, etc.  Even church attendance is falling, due to people needing Sundays to get everything done!

Another study has shown that the compulsion to multitask is making us as stupid as if we were stoned.  Many believe that our compulsive “busyness” has actually become the cause of greater ineffectiveness – not effectiveness.  I think we all know that’s true.

And, like I said, it’s squeezing out the things that really make life worth living.  Why work longer and harder for a bigger, nicer house, filled with more stuff, if we can’t enjoy it?  Why fill our schedules with more and more activity, if those activities aren’t enjoyable and life-giving?  Why have thousands of friends and followers on social media, but not have any real friends?

We’ve accepted the lie that we can have it all – we can’t.  We’ve bought into the lie that efficiency, organization and time saving devices can give us more time to do things that matter – but, they don’t.  We seem to think that activity and busyness and stuff is the meaning and purpose of life – it isn’t.

We are humans, limited by time and certain mental, spiritual, and emotional capacities.  At some point, we become overloaded.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus didn’t have many possessions, he didn’t keep a calendar, and he frequently left the crowd to pray?  Is there a reason we think we can handle more commitments and stuff than Jesus?

The only way to make space for the things that matter most is to simplify, which means reprioritizing our lives, learning what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to.  And, frankly, we need to say “no” a lot more often!

John Michael Talbot writes, “Simplicity is the time-tested tool that we can use to prune our lives… It seems that if ever there was a time when the virtue of simplicity was desperately needed, it’s in our own fast-paced, consumer-oriented, information-overloaded era.”

Do not worry…

Though the world in Jesus’ day was much different, it was still filled with reasons to be worried and anxious.  In Matthew 6:25-30, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

            But, we do worry.  Americans are taking an unprecedented amount of a prescription medication for anxiety and depression.  Modern-day compulsions and concerns have produced unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression, marital and family dysfunctions, road rage, workplace shootings, and addictive behaviors.

Again, John Michael Talbot writes, “Clearly, something is out of balance when millions of people are wracked by stress and medicated against despair.” 

 The birds & the flowers…

            Jesus provides very simple advice.  Don’t worry.  Trust God.  As an example, he points to the birds and the flowers.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

            Jesus is asking, “Don’t we trust that God will take care of us?  Don’t we trust that God will provide what we need?”  Don’t we trust that God knows best?”

            Simple logic – if God cares about birds and flowers enough to provide for their daily needs, won’t he take care of us!

Instead we worry about the stuff we have, and the stuff we think we need.  We worry about protecting and preserving what we have, and acquiring more.  We accumulate, in fear of it all going away.  How much of our time and energy is consumed in the acquisition and care of stuff that we don’t really need, don’t really want, and doesn’t really bring much joy to our lives?

Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us, this day, our daily bread.”  Jesus asks, Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…  your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” 

 Seek first…

So, how do we do that?  According to Jesus, the answer is priorities.  “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

            Jesus is being clear.  It’s about real, actual priorities.  Do the first, most important things first, and, if we trust him, everything else will work out.  But, focus your life on compulsive consumption and busyness, and you’ll never get around to what really matters.

            Here’s a simple, and probably familiar, illustration.  Imagine that a large jar represents your life – your time, energy, focus.  Imagine that several tennis balls represent the important things in life – health, family, service, spirituality, joy, generosity.  This is the stuff that Jesus was talking about when he promised us “abundant lives.”  Imagine marbles representing all of the little tasks that have to be done – getting gas, brushing your teeth, doing the laundry, etc.  There are usually a lot of these.  Now imagine that sand represents all of the stuff that might be enjoyable, but isn’t really necessary or important, and isn’t really necessary, but, if we aren’t careful, can take up a lot of time and energy – social media, watching television, checking email, texting, wandering the mall, online searches, 24-hour news reports, etc.

If you fill the jar starting with the sand, then the marbles, and last with the tennis balls, there’s a good chance that the tennis balls won’t fit.  That’s the way a lot of us live our lives.  We will fill our lives with the least meaningful/helpful/important stuff first, and by the time we have reached our full capacity of time and emotion, there’s no room for the stuff that really matters.

But, if we make sure we put the important stuff in first – if we “seek first the kingdom of God,” there tends to be room for the other stuff too.  If the tennis balls go in first, then the marbles, and then the sand, it might all fit.  Most importantly, the most important stuff fit.

Practically, how do we do this?  We have to make the most important things the top priorities.  Taking care of your family, your health, and your spirituality are most important.  Connecting with God and real friends really matters.  Serving God and giving really matters.  Give those things first priority in your schedule and in your budget.  Then, do the marble sized things.  Then, if it still matters, do the sand-sized stuff.

But, let me be clear.  We don’t seek God first in order to fit more in.  We seek God first, and the things God calls a priority, because they matter most!

The secret to a happy, fulfilling, joy-filled life is the exact opposite of what the world says.  The secret is simplicity.

 

 

 

 

“More” – a sermon preached at First Church Coral Springs on August 13, 2017

“More” – a sermon preached at First Church Coral Springs on August 13, 2017

Possibilities…

It was the last semester of my last year of college.  I was facing the reality of impending adulthood; and, I wasn’t ready.  I was about to graduate, but I had partied my way through college.  My degree was unmarketable.  My grades were pathetic.  I didn’t have any real-world work experience.  I didn’t have any purpose or direction.  I was scared.

But, I had hopes.  I wanted to be a responsible adult.  I wanted to marry.  I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.  I just didn’t know what, or how.

As graduation approached, my anxiety intensified, daily.  One night, alone in my fraternity house bedroom, overcome with anxiety, my Bible caught my eye.  I’d never read it.  Something told me to pick it up, and start reading. I read a few pages.  The next night, I read a few more.  I read a little every night until I worked my way through the four Gospels.  By then, Kelly and I were searching for a church.

A year later, I was the Youth Director at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando.

The point of this story is that a particular message stirred me as I read the four Gospels.  Over and over, I discovered Jesus saying things like…

  • “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)
  • “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossiblefor you.”  (Matthew 17:20)
  • “If two of you on earth agree about anything they askfor, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 18:19)
  • “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  (Matthew 21:22)

And, finally, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Notice the theme?  Over and over, Jesus says anything is possible with faith and prayer.  All things are possible, with God’s help!  In fact, Jesus says, we’ll do even greater things than him!

At that moment in my life, those were powerful promises.  They still are.  I was scared and unequipped for adulthood.  I felt like I was facing insurmountable obstacles.  But, Jesus said anything is possible.  I took him at his word – literally.  Ever since, I’ve believed, with faith, God does impossible things.  Throughout my ministry, I’ve operated out of this core belief and promise.

A small, old, rinky-dink church…

It was February, 2016 – just 18 months ago.  I’d been the Senior Pastor at Ortega United Methodist Church, in Jacksonville, for just 18 months. I’d just rearranged my office, and just hung some things on my walls – settling in, for the long haul.  I’d just preached a series, introducing our new vision.  I’d just led town-hall meetings to discuss how we would implement the new vision. I planned to be there for many years, and to watch that vision come to reality.

Then I got the call.  I was, unexpectedly, being moved to First Church Coral Springs.

You should know that I said, “no.”  I thought moving was a mistake, for Kelly and me, and for Ortega.  It was too soon.  We weren’t ready for a change.  Ortega wasn’t ready.  But, the decision wasn’t up to me – that’s how it works in the United Methodist Church.  We go when and where we are sent.

The reason for the move was that First Church needed a specific kind of pastor.  For some reason, I was discerned to be that pastor.

I was told that First Church is large, growing, and preparing for future growth.  I was told that First Church is culturally diverse, with the opportunity to become more diverse.  I was told that First Church is committed to missions and impacting the world.  I was told that First Church is a warm, welcoming church.  I was told that there are vision and dreams and plans for the future.

And, I was told, from the perspective of the United Methodist Church, First Church has the kind of ministry potential that could impact the entire south east region of Florida.  We are seen, by our denomination, as one of the strongest, healthiest, most vital churches in Florida, and in the denomination.

Even though I didn’t want to move, I admit that I was excited by the potential.

First Church is, in so many ways, the great church that was described to me.  This is a large, dynamic church.  This church is committed to mission and service.  This church is warm and welcoming.  This church has tremendous possibility and potential.  And, we are blessed with more diversity than any church I’ve ever served before.

But, more often than not, that’s not the way I hear “us” describe our church.

This year, our average worship attendance is about 800 people, per week. The average church attendance in America is only about 184.  Half of all churches in America only worship 75 people, or less.  90% of the churches in America worship less than 350 people, per week.  We are, at least, twice as large as 90% of the churches in America!

We are a large church!  We aren’t a mega–large church, like Church by the Glades or Calvary Chapel.  But, by all comparisons, we are a LARGE church – much larger than most, including most of the other churches in Coral Springs and Southeast Florida!  And, a church as large as ours, is capable of doing remarkable things!  In fact, we have a responsibility to!

And, yet, I’ve heard our leaders describe us as “small,” “rinky-dink,” and “declining.”

My point?  There’s a significant difference between how we are seen by others, and how we see ourselves.

This church already does great things; Bethlehem Revisited, Food Share, Vacation Bible School, and great Children and Youth Ministries.  But, when I bring up new ideas, I’m told – over and over – “We can’t do that,” “We can’t afford it,” “We don’t have enough volunteers,” “We don’t have enough leaders,” “We’ve tried that before, and it didn’t work.”

When I ask about our hopes and dreams for the future, the best I’ve heard is that we like what we currently do, now, or that we like what we used to be.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know we love First Church, and love what we currently do.  But, when it comes to the future, I don’t hear much dreaming.

My point is not to be critical.  My point is, there is a problem with self-perception.  There’s a gap between how we perceive ourselves, and how we are perceived by others.

The Johari Window…

johari-model

            During college, I learned about the Johari Window.  The Johari Window is a box, divided into four windows.  The top left, window #1, represents things I know about myself, and others also know about me.  Window #2, on the top right, represents things about me that I don’t know, but others do know – they call this the bad breath window.  Window #2 could also be the potential others see in us, that we don’t see in ourselves.  The bottom left window represents the things I know about myself, but others do not know about me – my secrets.  And, finally, the bottom right window represents what is unknown to both of us.

In the case of First Church, there are things that we know about First Church, that are also public knowledge.  That’s window #1.  Window #2, I think, represents the potential others see in First Church, that we don’t see in ourselves.  Window #3 represents what we know about ourselves, that others don’t know: things we’ve tried and failed, challenges we face.  And, window #4 represents, I think, what only God knows about our future.

My point, today, is to challenge us to see First Church, as others see us; to challenge our ideas about who we are, and what we can do; to move us into the second window – to see what other’s see; and even the fourth window – to begin to believe that there is potential and possibility that only God can see.

 We can’t, but God can…

            I want you to imagine being me, sitting in my fraternity house bedroom, anxious about the future, reading my Bible for the first time, desperately looking for hope and direction.  Instead of reading that anything is possible with God, and that God answers prayers, and that God opens doors, imagine if I read passages that said, “Ask, but don’t expect much.  Seek, and maybe you’ll find something – but, maybe you won’t.  Knock, but you better have the key to open the door yourself.”

Not very inspiring, huh?  I can tell you, if that’s what Scripture said, I would NOT be here today.

Instead, I am here today because I deeply believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he said, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

I’m here, at First Church, because I believe, with all of my heart, that God has big plans for First Church.  I’m here, because I believe that First Church’s greatest days are not in the past, but are in our future.

The missionary, C.T. Studd, said, “Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible.” 

            The Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility.”

Who does this church belong to?  Who does this church exist for?

            Let me ask you two questions…

  1. Who does this church belong to?
  2. Who does this church exist for?

My hunch is, while we might know the correct theological answers, the honest answers are: This is our church, and this church exists for us.”  But, that’s not biblical.  In fact, it’s heretical.  First Church is not ours!  First Church belongs to Christ – he’s the head of the Church, and we’re his body!  And, Scripture says the Church exists for the needs of the world.  Our two primary functions are to honor God, and to serve the world.

Honor God and serve the world.  The church doesn’t exist to serve us – the members.  We are the church, and we exist to serve the world!

Earlier this week, I heard a pastor friend said, “The Church does not exist to feed its membership.  The Church, and her members, exist to offer a plate of life-giving food to a hungry world!”

So, if the Church belongs to God, and the Church exists for the world, then there’s NOTHING we can’t do, NOTHING’s too big to try, and NOTHING’s impossible, because God will provide the inspiration, the motivation, and the resources to do it.  It isn’t up to us.  It’s up to God!

Maybe we don’t have enough money – now.  Maybe we don’t have enough leaders and volunteers – yet.  Maybe we don’t know exactly what to do or how to do it – at this moment.  Maybe it will stretch us out of our comfort zones – that’s fine.

But, the issue, I think, isn’t lack of resources.  The issue, I think, is lack of faith.

Jesus did NOT say that anything is possible for US.  He said ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE for HIM!  We don’t need more faith in ourselves.    We need faith in what God wants, and can do through us, if we’re willing, prayerful, and faithful.

That’s my question: “Are we willing to be prayerful and faithful, to be the church God is calling First Church to become?”

Listen – if we prayerfully discern together that something is unbiblical, unwise, or that God simply doesn’t want it, that’s one thing.  But, until we’ve dared to dream God-sized dreams, and set God-sized goals, given generously, and prayed audacious, impossible prayers, how dare we say what we will or won’t, can or can’t do?!?

Let me tell you something.  First Church is not small, and not rinky-dink!  First Church is not declining!  First Church’s best years are not in the past – they’re in front of us, not behind us!  And, we haven’t even begun to dream of all God can and will do here, if we believe and if we will act.  God wants to do more at First Church, than we’ve ever dared to dream!

I believe that with all of my heart.  Do you?

I love what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

 

Monuments of Shame

Monuments of Shame

During my college years, I was quite enamored with beer.  I’m not proud of that.  But, it’s the truth.  My love affair with beer became a destructive habit that damaged relationships, hindered my maturation and education, and cast a permanent dark cloud over that chapter of my life.

I not only drank beer.   I covered the walls of my bedroom with beer-related posters and neon beer signs.  I built a visible, tangible monument to my destructive, addictive idolatry.

27 years ago, with God’s help, I stopped drinking.  Thank God.  About that time, I also tore down the beer-related decor.  Needless to say, there’s no beer-related paraphernalia in house anymore.

Given my history with beer, and the pain and destruction it caused, imagine if I still had that stuff hanging around.  What would that communicate to my mom, to my wife and children? What would that communicate to guests in my home?  What would that communicate to those who call me “pastor?”  What would that say about me, and my inability to move on?

Perhaps this is an overly-trite example, by comparison.  I hear a lot of talk these days about Civil War-related monuments.  I hear well-intentioned people say, “It’s our history,” as a justification for why the monuments should remain.  But, as I understand it, the purpose of monuments is to honor.  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain, in public, tax-payer supported places of honor, that represent such a dark blot on our history?  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain that symbolize the source of pain and strife for so many of our fellow-Americans?  It appropriate to maintain public monuments that white supremacists continue to use as symbols for their hate-filled cause?

I have vivid memories of the Berlin Wall coming down  and the massive statue of Saddam Hussein toppled in Iraq.  Numerous statues of Stalin and Lenin were torn down, removed, or relocated to history museums.  To the best of my knowledge, the destruction of such monuments was celebrated by most Americans.

In contrast, one can still visit many of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany – not as monuments, but reminders.

I will confess, as a 50-year-old white man, born and raised in the South, it only recently occurred to me that Confederate monuments were an issue of concern.  They’ve been an “accepted” part of Southern culture, since before I was born.  They’ve just been part of the Southern landscape.

But, my eyes have been opened.  While they’ve not offended me in the past, I now view them from a different perspective.  I have a growing understanding of what they represent to my African American brothers and sisters.  I have a growing understanding of the shameful horrors they represent. If they cause pain, and continue to communicate a message of racial difference and separation, then they need to come down.

They MUST come down!

Yes, the Civil War is part of our history – as are the Trail of Tears, the Japanese internment camps, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the southern Jim Crow laws, etc., etc.  We have history books, documentaries, and museums to keep those stories alive.  Remembering our history is important, so that we learn, grow, and strive not to repeat it.

Perhaps we do need monuments – monuments on behalf of the victims – as reminders of our sins.  But, why would we maintain monuments to honor the perpetrators of our darkest moments?

Though trivial by comparison, my college drinking is a dark chapter of my life.  I’ve worked hard to overcome that part of my history.  I can’t change it.  And, I won’t hide it.  But, I certainly won’t memorialize it.  The neon beer signs had to come down.

They had to come down.

 

 

Charlottesville – Symptoms of a Deeper Disease

Charlottesville – Symptoms of a Deeper Disease

As yesterday’s events, in Charlottesville, VA, were unfolding – white supremacist rallies and counter rallies, leading to violence and death – I happened to be finishing T.H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King.  The Once and Future King is White’s retelling of the Arthurian legend of King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot, the round table, Excalibur, Lancelot and Guinevere.

A young Arthur discovered that he was the rightful King, when he successfully pulled the sword, Excalibur, from a stone – a task only possible for the one who was worthy.  Having been trained by the sorcerer, Merlin, Arthur believed in building a kingdom of peace and law, founded on the principles of chivalry.  He would rule his kingdom, equitably, from a round table surrounded by knights, committed not to war but to fighting evil and defending good.

By the end of the novel, King Arthur was a defeated, old man.  All of his closest relationships were broken.  His kingdom was at war.  All that he had worked to create, was in ruins.  In the final pages, Arthur wrestled with what had gone awry.  Considering numerous philosophical possibilities, he wondered…

Was it the wicked leaders who led the innocent populations to slaughter, or was it wicked populations who chose leaders after their own hearts?  On the face of it, it seemed unlikely that one Leader could force a million Englishmen against their will… A leader was surely forced to offer something which appealed to those he led?  He might give the impetus for a falling building, but surely it has to be toppling on its own account before it fell?

David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said of Saturday’s events, “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,”  

But, later in the day, President Trump said,“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.”  

While I am not a fan of President Trump, I take him at his word.  Donald Trump did not cause the events in Charlottesville, VA.  And, in fact, my fear is that the thousands of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville – with their Klan robes, swastikas, and Confederate flags – were merely symptomatic of a much deeper ill.  What we witnessed in Charlottesville is the extreme outward and visible sign of a much deeper, wide-spread disease, infecting the roots of our society.  I honestly fear that what we’ve witnessed is representative of a reality far more broken and insidious than most of us have realized is still possible in 2017.

If there were several thousand overt racists in Charlottesville, publicly espousing their venomous hatred, how many more do they represent who were not in attendance?  Or – a more disturbing possibility – how many of us publicly condemn groups like the Klan and Skinheads, but privately hold to our own racist ideologies?

The roots of prejudice, racism and hate run deep in this country.  It is a dark and shameful blot on our national story.  While progress has been made to ensure the civil rights of all people, and to confront and cure myriad racial injustices, the events in Charlottesville reveal that changing laws may be easier than changing hateful hearts.  While we might be able to elect an African-American President – which was truly a momentous, historic event – how much more racial hatred grew and intensified as a result of that election?

Is Arthur right?  Might a person, a group, an event, a demonstration… “give the impetus for a falling building, but surely it has to be toppling on its own account before it fell?”  Perhaps the events of Charlottesville, and other’s like them, are merely a falling building; but, the building has surely been toppling on its own account.

In the last year, I accepted the challenge to expand my reading to include more diverse authors.  As a result, I’ve read John Perkins, Bryan Stevenson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lisa Sharon Harper, Gustavo Guttierez, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Trilla J. Newbell. Needless-to-say, I’ve been challenged.  My eyes have been opened to the reality of white, North American privilege, and the inherent advantages I’ve had as a white male.  My eyes have been opened to the institutional racism that has existed in our nation in the form of unjust laws.  I’ve been forced to face, over and over, the prejudicial lies that have lived in my own heart and mind.

I’ll be honest – I’m ashamed.

So, where do we go from here?  Simple shock, outrage, and condemnation about an isolated event – though justified and understandable –  won’t cut it.

More of us, who are white and hold positions of power and influence, must make conscious decisions and choices to confront the prejudices and stereotypes that exist within ourselves, and leverage whatever influence we have to encourage and support those who are on the front lines of change.  We must pursue and nurture authentic friendships with diverse peoples.  We must be willing to lead when we must lead and be willing to follow when we need to follow.  We must be willing to listen when we need to listen, and to speak prophetically on behalf of the voiceless.  We must be patient with what we do not understand, and impatient with those who refuse to understand.  We must learn, and act on what we learn.  We must love, expanding our hearts to include those we might have previously feared.  We must be willing to repent and change.

And, we must name the evil of racism when we see it.  What we saw this weekend was evil.

I’m still inspired by the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – perhaps now more than ever – and I sense a deepening conviction to not only be inspired, but to do my part to fulfill the dream…

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.