Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crossing Over

This is a posting about the need for the church (that’s me – and many of you) to catch God’s vision for us: We’re called to be reconcilers, peacemakers, celebrators, justice seekers, and being about these things means learning crossing over to the proverbial ‘other side of the tracks’ by entering into relationships with those who are different than us.

We need to begin though, not with the scriptures posted above, but with a consideration of the progressive nature of salvation, because in spite of the fact that most of us reading this blog already know the above scriptures, having read and heard them many times, the fact remains that the church in America is often terribly weak at testifying, (by virtue of it’s non-diverse character in particular local churches), of God’s power to break down dividing walls that separate people. “The most segregated hour in America” as we’ve often been told, is the worship hour on Sundays. So, saved though we may be, God's vision for us in not yet fulfilled. We need to learn how to cross over the barriers that divide us and create reconciled relationships. How do we do this?

Go back with me to God’s challenge, cast to His people on several occasions, to ‘cross over’ some barrier, entering into previously unknown space. There’s the occasion when Israel was standing in front of the Red Sea, awaiting certain death at the hands of an angry Egyptian army. God miraculously opens the Red Sea and says, “Cross Over!” That they did this is, indeed, an act of faith, but let’s be honest; it’s not an impressive one. What, after all, were their other options? Playing it safe and staying on the west side of tracks would have resulted in certain slaughter.

Fast forward two years. Now Israel is once again invited to “Cross Over”, this time the Jordan river being the body of water before them. The trouble, though, is that this time, the enemies aren’t behind them, but in front of them, on the far side of the very body of water God wants them to cross. I might also point out that this time, the body of water won’t open up for them until they step into it. Previously, at the Red Sea, the whole thing was wide open before they took a step.

So let’s see; Crossing One – enemies behind you, safety ahead. Crossing Two – enemies in front of you, safety in status quo. Are you surprised that Israel opted out of option two? I’m not. We don’t easily choose the unfamiliar or threatening, even if it’s the choice God wants us to make. Crossing Two, though, comes later. You came to Christ because it was the best, maybe even the only option, in a life that knew it’s need for a savior. It was good, true, hopeful.
But if it is to remain so, it will be important to keep crossing over, at each point where God creates new challenges. Sadly, the testimony of Israel in the book of Numbers is that they refused subsequent crossings, and so lost the chance to fulfill their calling.

What does all this have to do with church life in America today, and my church in particular? I have this strong sense that God is calling us to cross over the seas of education, wealth/poverty, and race that divide us. I also have a sense that these kinds of crossings are far more difficult to accomplish than, say, building a new facility, or accepting Jesus as my personal savior. This crossing will push me out of my comfort zone and into new relationships, changing my world forever.

As I’ll share on Sunday, an extensive study, found here, indicates that churches know they’re to be about addressing issues of division, racism, and social divides, working towards reconciliation. But it also indicates that we generally choose institutional, rather than relational solutions, hoping that a committee can be set up, a policy enacted, a subset of people within the community empowered, and that will take care of it. But that’s probably not the final solution. The final solution will involve a change of heart for every one of us in the church, so that we become engaged in real relationships with people different than us. This is challenging for many reasons:

1. our lives are full enough already
2. many of us find comfort in people who are just like us…it’s human nature
3. we’re sometimes afraid of what we don’t know or understand
4. there are generalizations that have caused us to pre-judge people different than us.
5. we don’t want to go there

In fact, going there is so rare that when someone actually does go there and becomes a spokesperson for leading others in the crossing, they’re clearly viewed as pioneers, just like Joshua and Caleb, the two men, out of about a million, who were willing to cross over. You can name them right? St. Francis (who we’ll see and consider this Sunday), Mother Teresa, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Dorothy Day, Bono, Martin Luther King Jr. They all crossed over during their lives, from a small circle of relationships with those like them, to an expanded circle that gave testimony to the power of reconciliation. Some were praised for their actions; others lost their lives in pursuit of God's dream. That they shine so clearly as contra-mundum to status quo Christianity indicates the rarity with which we are crossing over.

Crossing Over requires several things:

1. an acknowledgement that I can do better (this is called repentance and will require humility)
2. a collective confession for our collective failure to cross over into one another’s lives
3. an openness to moving outside of our comfort zone as God leads us (and He will!)

Are you willing to walk this road? Am I? What we do to help each other, so that the church becomes the embodiment of hope, a picture of the beauty of justice and reconciliation.

Please share your thoughts… forward this to others so that they can share their thoughts as well. Our collective dialogue and prayer will be an important step in crossing over.
Thanks in advance, for your responses.


At 26/6/08 10:34, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bold post, such an avoided issue.

Roberto M. Fernandez, Contemporary Sociology- "Essential reading for anyone interested in the causes, and possible cures, of urban poverty."

At 26/6/08 18:06, Anonymous davey said...

Racial reconciliation. A hot phrase, yet something infrequently put into practice. There are probably hundreds of reasons that it doesn't happen, but two that stand out to me are:

1. Our obsession with personal comfort.

It takes significant effort to cross the tracks and reach out to people different than ourselves. Perhaps this means participating in different kinds of worship. Maybe it means having different people up front at worship services. It could mean hanging out with people who make us feel uncomfortable.

The bottom line is: Reconciliation never happens in the safety of our bubble. We MUST put ourselves at some level of inconvenience to reach those different than ourselves.

2. Our lack of belief that diversity is really important.

If we really thought diversity was worth it, we'd probably make greater efforts to work towards it. We need to think long and hard about the "ministry of reconciliation" that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 5. We are God's ambassadors, and His desire is that we step into a reconciled relationship with Him AND with our neighbors.

Not only that, but it's time for those of us who are white to stop asking of minorities, "What can I do FOR you?" and start saying, "I NEED you." (Tapia, Christianity Today) We have SO much to learn from people who are unlike ourselves.

I really appreciate the call to repentance and confession in this post. May we step into that collectively, and then may that spur us into ACTION!!!

At 26/6/08 19:06, Anonymous Janae said...

It is difficult for me to find the words to express my reaction to this blog entry.

I am in the midst of an intensive course with a focus on the impact of race and class as it affects life in the classroom. We have had vulnerable and challenging conversations about this very issue. I have been overwhelmed as I've listened to my classmates' life experiences...and confronted by my own reality of white privilege.

I am thrilled that our church is daring to cross invite this dialogue and I am thankful to be part of such a community.

p.s. Amen Davey! Your post was right-on.

At 28/6/08 21:10, Anonymous John said...

Thanks for your vision and your leadership in this calling for our community Richard. I definitely believe that God has been working in our community over the past several years and it has truly been amazing. I also agree that it is time for us to consider how we reach across the "tracks," whatever they may be.

To be honest, it seems like one answer is to target the poor, minorities, etc and this is one where many can build up passion for serving. The question is whether or not in crossing those tracks we see them as "poor" or in some other way different from ourselves and less privledged? If that is the case, is it really possible to build relationships if all we see them as is different and people we are serving?

I ask that question because I have in the past gotten excited about serving meals to the poor or considered other ministries focused on people in need. I feel it was worthwhile and something I really believe in and expect to do in the future. However, I also know I never did build relationships with these people even when I saw them on a regular basis. It might be that I saw them as different and maybe they even made me uncomfortable. My conclusion are a couple, 1) I am not very good at building relationships and 2) it is really hard to form relationships when we focus on our differences.

As we move forward, I do think we should continue to consider how we reach those in different situations and follow God's guidance in how we can build those relationships while serving them. I also think we should consider how we reach those also in spiritual need who might look and feel similar to us. They too are people that I believe God may guide us to reach and we need to be open to that calling as well. Both my wife and I would not have come to Bethany and know Christ had it not been for someone we had a relationship with inviting us to check out what was happening at this great church.

I know that I have always been reluctant to share my faith with those around me. Whether at work or with friends. It is there where we have the relationships but maybe too often are hiding who we really are as Christians for fear of the stereotypes that we might be labeled with.

I have heard that Seattle may be the most unchurched city in America. If that is true, we have a huge opportunity to reach those both similar and different from us in terms of economic, education, racial, etc. I say, let's consider how we accomplish both - crossing over the tracks of the differences you mention and also the differences of beliefs. Both very worthy callings.

At 30/6/08 13:39, Blogger Karina said...

I was challenged and intellectually and spiritually excited by this post and the comments here. I agree that there is a need, on the part of privileged people like myself, to understand the difference between "what can I DO" and "what do I NEED to learn" as Davey brought up. However - even that admission "I NEED you" can often, in the most well meaning of people, come from a place of entitlement. I think it is important to show up, to investigate not just in the safety of our thoughts, but in relationship to others - weather rewarded by reciprocity or not - and let the Spirit guide our developing understanding of the answer to the question "I see the problem - what next Lord?" I haven't pursued my need to learn from others unlike myself - I've been busy doing my thing, raising kids, keeping the house clean, trying to make it to church on time. It is good to be woken up and reminded of the importance of this, of the biblical mandate to remember it's importance that we'd miss if we only looked to our culture to tell us how to follow Jesus. I have been thinking a lot about reconciliation because of things happening in my family and can see this process of humbly assessing myself, confessing to God and others, and walking into relationship across the divide in faith leaving the old ways of relating behind as an important process to all growth in relationship to people regardless of how our privilege compares to theirs. I am so grateful for a spiritual community in which I can be challenged this way!

At 30/6/08 21:58, Blogger JimUnderhill said...

I agree that the 'solutions' are relational; they are risky yet full of reward for all. How do we reconcile but by relating. How to we end harmful behaviors, generational anger, misunderstandings and everything that builds and maintains separation? Like Christ, we move towards it and love it to life!

To the Christian it will require a death to some part of our life that we can become part of the solution. When we take the first step, the reconciliation and life begin. It happens when educated whites move into poor neighborhoods (occupied by people of any color) and become one with the community. It can occur by taking a lunch to a homeless person in downtown and talking with them. A mentor to a child from a broken family, a supporter of a young girl in a distant place.

We cannot be diverted from the task by meetings, agendas, conferences and the many things that delay the 'first step.' Find some like-minded folks, begin to pray for opportunity and move ahead even if it doesn't look pretty and together.

At 1/7/08 11:06, Blogger jules said...

I've been blessed by all the comments made and Richard post. I couldn't agree more: it is time for each of us to "cross over". There is a story in Mark 4 and 5 that goes along what you shared Richard. What fascinated me was the progression in the story: note

1) Mark 4:33
Jesus spoke to the crowd
2) Mark 4:34
When he was alone with the disciples he explained them more
3) Mark 4:35, he asks his DISCIPLES to cross over to go... they dont know what's on the other side...often we want to know before we go... there was demon-possessed man on the other side.

4) Mark 5... a storm arose to prevent the disciples to get on the other side. They became self-focused. God, have you forgotten US!

5) Mark 5... the demon-possessed is healed but not allowed to follow jesus back

There are so many lessons there for me and maybe anyone on this blog who is catching up with the vision Richard so boldly shared with us.

we must be alone with Jesus ourselves and be his disciples. We must be alone with him, understand what the KINGDOM is before we can bring it to the other side. I have been working/preaching among our homeless/drug-addicted brothers and the first thing God is doin in me is to show me that I AM BROKEN TOO. I have addictions in my life and I'm finding myself more and more in prayer with Jesus, in his word asking him question about the "paraboles of life". So i want to encourage of all us to first spend time with Jesus and let him touch you by his love and compassion

Lesson 2. Jesus asked them to cross with him at night....
I think this is significant. Often, it is in the night that God ask us to do certain things. The night, simply because we have no clue what's ahead. I have always waited to know for sure before taking the first step and God is showing me more and more that it is the first step he wants me to take. I love what JimUnderhill said: let us all take the first step by praying and begin to note around us people who we feel absolutely hostile, undifferent too. It does not have to begin with homeless but it can be at work, with our childreen, with our mates....etc....

Lesson 3. When they got on the other side, the demon-possessed man was healed and asked to follow Jesus and Jesus said no!! you stay here!!! that brought tears to my heart when i read that. Many of our churches today DONT WANT TO HELP IF THEY CAN PEOPLE BACK TO FILL THEIR CHURCHES. IT IS ALL ABOUT "their church"... can we cross over and help people realize that they are made in THE IMAGE of GOD! They dont need to live in tombs anymore. The first thing Jesus ask this man was his NAME! I believe this is what the world needs, a new identity. For each of us to identify with our races, our money and begin to see that we are all made in the image of God! We are worth so much in God's eyes not because of race but because of we are in his image. God is challenging all of us to cross over, not necessary to bring people back to our churches but to equip them to live their lives.
thanks richard for your sermon... it touched me to the core.... and the holy spirit laid this story on my heart as you were preaching... God bless you guys

At 8/7/08 20:06, Blogger John Cranmer said...

I am excited to see your vision for reconciliation across the divides of humanity in the name of Jesus.

My wife and I are involved in facilitating a small group at BCC with precisely the vision you describe--Unity in the Midst of Diversity Anchored in the Trinity (as described by Paul in I Corinthians).

Just before Seattle, we were involved in an intergenerational, cross-cultural faith community in Baltimore which profoundly impacted our view of unity in the midst of diversity (

I am excited to enage in this dialogue here with you and with BCC.

John Cranmer


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