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A Special Live Podcast on Ferguson

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri has consumed my attention for more than a week now, and I must confess I am weary. Emotional fatigue weighs on me, and I’ve even been physically affected by loss of sleep and the resulting sluggishness. In my role with the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), the African American Leadership Initiative (AALI), and as a Pastoral and Church Planting Apprentice at a multi-ethnic church I address topics of race and culture daily. While I am encouraged by the progress I’ve seen, the death of Mike Brown and the ensuing disruptions make me moan from my soul, “How long, O Lord?”

But today, for the first time since these events have unfolded I have felt a degree of hope. Pass the Mic, the official podcast of the RAANetwork, recorded a special, live broadcast on the topic of Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response. Finally, I was part of taking action, even if the action is as simple as having a conversation.

“Just more talk. Get up. Do something!”, some will say. I agree completely. Yet I do not underestimate the power of communication. In our age of social media and a constant news cycle we have a lot of talking but very little communication. Getting on the line with Tyler Burns and Michelle Higgins, two young African American Christians in the Reformed tradition was healing for me. Getting around others who understand the importance of the situation and could offer intelligent, biblical reflections helped me process the situation better. A conversation may only be a first step, but it is a step.

I encourage everyone to take the step of having meaningful conversations about Ferguson with other Christians. Gather your church small group, gather your classmates, gather your family and have a conversation. The goal isn’t to resolve the matter–it is far too complex for simplistic solutions. But many will find a greater measure of peace having voiced their frustration, confusion, and hopes about these circumstances. Gathering as the people of God to help each other understand how He is working in the world will lead us to deeper intimacy with our Creator and our neighbor.

Ultimately, this conversation was cathartic for me. Speaking with others has helped me solidify and balance my thoughts. It has given me a productive avenue to direct my feelings. And, most of all, it has led me to rely more on God to work all things for His purposes and for our good.

Some Memorable Quotes from the Discussion: 

Tyler: “My stance and my passion for this has never been predicated on Mike Brown’s total innocence. That’s never been the foundation for human dignity. He has dignity because he’s a human being.” 

Michelle: “Righteous anger actually covers every culture, every race, and all of time…If I am angry about injustice it doesn’t matter what color I am.” 

Tyler: [On the Christian response] “I’m always more encouraged than discouraged, and that’s a choice…It’s important that we extend a lot of grace to each other.”

Michelle: “The church response has been overwhelming with African Americans. With my white brothers and sisters, I have actually been quite impressed. Have I been impressed by full congregational mobilization? That’s a ‘no’.”

Video

Catch the video here. By the way, we had some slight connection issues that may be a bit annoying. We’ll clean it up and make the audio available later this week.

What actions or conversations have you had around Mike Brown, Ferguson, and the Christian response? Share your comments below!

Robin Williams

Robin Williams, Suicide, and Grace

Robin Williams’ abrupt death leaves a massive hole where a giant of an entertainer once stood. And even more poignantly, it reminds us that we aren’t as strong as we like to make people think. All suicides reveal the brokenness that seethes beneath each of our smiles threatening to gush forth in revealing and damaging ways. So why do some succumb and the rest of us keep surviving?

Robin Williams

My friend and licensed therapist, Branden, puts it this way…

Spending some time alone and quiet this morning the dawn began to break. Light was shed on my grief, giving it form and helping me recognize its substance. In a sort of ‘A-Ha’ moment it made sense. The reason Mr. Williams suicide struck me so acutely was simply this, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Branden probes even deeper…

Honestly, this scares the hell out of me. The real reality is that I am completely powerless in this life to change myself or those things around me, yet I’m completely responsible to do so. This dilemma then leads me to need a power outside of myself to do for me what I cannot do. As I understand this power to be God, I am now completely dependent on God to give me what I need, even when I don’t see my need for it, and if he doesn’t, well then…I’m toast. I need someone I don’t really trust to consistently take care of me, whether I want it or not. The craziest thing is that He does. I cannot comprehend this mystery.

We aren’t stronger than Robin Williams. We don’t have it more “together” than he did. The truth is that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Only God’s power, a power outside of ourselves and completely matchless, can keep us from the abyss of our own souls. And only God’s grace, His effusive love for His creation, compels Him to do so. Thanks be to God.

Read the rest of Branden’s post here.

What are your reactions to Robin Williams’ death?

 

AACPI

A Few Reflections from the African American Church Planting Initiative

This past week in Nashville, Tennessee a historic event took place. African American church planters from several denominations gathered to strategize about church planting in African American communities. The conference came about as a direct result of the extensive study on African American church planting conducted by LifeWay Research. While the study is dozens of pages long, the basic premise is that African American church planters and their congregations face particular challenges that have yet to be adequately addressed. This conference serves as one way to address those challenges.

AACPI

Here are a few of my reflections from the inaugural African American Church Planting Initiative conference (AACPI).

I Enjoyed the Interdenominational Flavor.
The most memorable aspect of the entire conference for me was its interdenominational character. People from several denominations gathered to plan it, and the event itself was hosted at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) of the United Methodist Church. I met a church planter from the Four Square denomination, a first for me. I also met Presbyterians and Methodists who were planting churches in various locations. And, in another first for me, I met women who were serving as church planters and pastors.

A Spirit of Cooperation Pervaded
Despite our theological differences, a spirit of cooperation pervaded the two-day conference. Everyone seemed genuinely glad to meet and interact with the other attendees and all the presenters were met with grace and acceptance no matter their denominational affiliation. Some friendly jibes were inserted here and there, but that only contributed to the amiability and joviality of the event. We were all there to talk about church planting, and we could cooperate on this subject.

We Had A Shared Cultural Language and Concern
It has often been my experience that whenever African Americans get around each other it feels almost like a family reunion. Although you may have never met each other or it has been years since your last interaction, we have such a shared historical and cultural experience that it feels like you’ve been good friends for years. Even though African Americans as a people group are not monolithic, we have enough in common as minorities with a particular background in this country to speak a shared heart language. At AACPI, we all had heavy hearts and high hopes to see reformation in African American communities through church planting. That concern for African American church planting comes from a shared cultural perspective and faith.

The Presentations Topics Were Well-Chosen and Informative 
The brief conference featured several plenary speakers and two workshop sessions. Dr. Carl F. Ellis, Jr. started us off with his session entitled, “The Role of Culture in Church Planting: An African American Perspective.” Afterwards, a panel consisting of seven or eight speakers was held on the general topic of African American church planting. Next, the boisterous Dr. Ed Stetzer gave an informative overview of the LifeWay study on African American church planting. Then Rev. Alex Shipman (PCA) closed out the evening with a sermon called, “Ministering to the Church Planter’s Heart”. The next day was comprised of two workshop sessions. I chose to attend Rev. Howard Brown’s (PCA) presentation on “Worship Music in African American Churches”. Lastly, I sat in Byron Johnson’s class on fundraising for African American church planters. The entire event was punctuated by musical worship that made it seem like a Sunday.

You Should Catch the Conference Next Year!
I have no doubt that all the conference attendees will want this event to be held next year. The planners did an excellent job organizing it. Even the food was well-done. Most importantly, the African American Church Planting Initiative conference has begun in earnest an urgent conversation that needs to keep going. How do we plant more African American churches? It is a complex question that cannot be answered by a single group or denomination, but AACPI is part of the solution.

Legacy-Imago Dei

Reflections on the Legacy Conference

Few people know this but the Reformed African American Network almost had a different name. I don’t know what it would have become, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have had “RAAN” as a convenient acronym. Of the many conversations I had with various people about the name, one stands out. 

Legacy-Imago Dei

RAAN co-founder, Phillip Holmes, and I were on our first trip to the Legacy Conference in 2012. We were between sessions during a break, and we got into an hour long debate with several young men about whether the words “African American” should be in the title. Well, we know which side of the debate won that night. For better or worse, we’ve got the name, but the Legacy Conference continues to be a significant event in the life of the RAANetwork. 

This year marks the third year in a row that Phillip and I journeyed to Chicago for the annual urban discipleship conference. The theme of the conference was “The Imago Dei” or “image of God”. It basically addresses the questions of, “Who am I?” and, “Why am I here?” What was unique about this year’s conference is that we weren’t just attendees or exhibitors, we were workshop presenters. We were able to teach an entire track entitled “The Imago Dei and the Minority Experience”. We divided each of the four workshops among me, Phillip, Trillia Newbell, and Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. Each of us took one session as we followed the biblical narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. I’ll be unpacking my experience from Legacy for quite a while, but here are some initial reflections. 

1) I Am Humbled. 
I am humbled by the generosity of conference organizer, Brian Dye, and his team for allowing a relatively new ministry like RAAN to host an entire workshop track featuring four presentations of two hours each over the course of two days. This gave us the opportunity to introduce the ministry to countless conference attendees and dozens of people who actually attended the workshops. We’ve come a long way from  questions like, “RAAN? What is that?” to “RAAN! Oh yeah, I love the website. You guys keep doing what you’re doing.” I stand humbled at the way God chooses to use this small endeavor for His much larger purposes.

2) I See Diversity. 
Although the Legacy Conference doesn’t “wave the Reformed banner”, it is biblically faithful in content and features Reformed speakers like John Piper and HB Charles, Jr. for its plenary sessions. But this event is more racially and ethically diverse than any other Reformed conference I’ve attended. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but from visuals alone it seems like a majority of attendees are black or brown skinned. They are urban and they are young. I think this is largely due to the fact that the conference is in Chicago which is a diverse place in itself. Also, the fact that Christian Hip Hop and the arts feature prominently through spoken word cafes, freestyle rap competitions, and concerts by well known artists makes this a sure draw for America’s multi-hued “generation next”. For this reason, I recommend this conference for many high school youth groups, especially those that are struggling to find a more multi-ethnic and urban cultural setting.

3) It’s a Great Place to Meet People. 
What struck me about the Legacy Conference from the very first moment I attended is how much access the average attendee has to presenters. Whether workshop facilitators or speakers at the main session, you can easily run into someone who you’ve seen at the front of a room and engage them in conversation. I’ve had the pleasure to meet many of my favorite Christian Hip Hop artists including KB and Shai Linne there. I’ve shaken hands with Matt Chandler and had lunch with HB Charles, Jr. In addition, I’ve made many more connections with other workshop presenters who are doing amazing things on behalf of the Kingdom. I simply marvel at how approachable everyone seems, even the “biggest names” in these circles, and that approachability begins with proximity and access.

4) It is God-Centered.
Because conference attendees are sporting various shades of beige, black, and brown skin or wearing camos, or rocking fitted caps twisted backwards, many people on the street would be tempted to write them off as “trouble-makers” or worse. But if you listened in on the conversations taking place in breakout sessions, in hallways, and around the lunch tables you would hear copious references to God, fighting sin, discipleship, and other topics related to the Christian life. The main session speakers do an excellent job of giving God-centered, biblical expositions of the conference theme, and this sets the tone for the rest of the event. Anyone who is open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to learn can end these few days knowing more than when they arrived. The best aspect of Legacy is that it points you to God and gives you a bigger picture of His glory.

I Recommend It.
I suppose the highest praise I can give for any conference is to recommend it to others, especially those with whom I am close. I have done so with the Legacy Conference. I grew up not too far from Chicago so my family and old friends are still there. I have told them all about it, and I’ve recommended they attend as often as possible. I thank God for the way He has used Legacy to let folks know about RAAN. I thank Him for those who labor to organize it, and make it such a blessing to so many. And I thank God that He is still building His kingdom. Even through creation, fall, and redemption, we have the sure promise of consummation in which the image of God will be restored in every believer and we will be with Him forever. Come, Lord Jesus. And, in the meantime, keep blessing the Legacy Conference.

Imago Dei and Minority

The Image of God, Minorities, and the Consummation

Who are we? Why are we here? Those are essentially the questions that the theme of this year’s Legacy Conference in Chicago addressed. The title of this year’s gathering was “The Imago Dei” or the “image of God”. The Reformed African American Network (RAAN) had the opportunity to present a workshop track that extended this theme. The track included four different workshops all centered on “The Imago Dei and the Minority Experience”. It followed the biblical narrative of Creation => Fall => Redemption => Consummation.

Imago Dei and Minority

We split the four workshops between several people and I had the portion on “consummation”. The consummation describes the return of Christ at the end of the present age. When Christ returns we all “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). He will eradicate all evil from the earth, separate those who have believed in Him from those who have not, and re-create heaven and earth. The greatest blessing of the consummation will be the unimpeded presence of God Himself with His people. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

The consummation is indeed a glorious picture. But what does the consummation mean for the imago Dei? What does it mean for the image of God in racial and ethnic minorities who have often been dehumanized by discrimination and prejudice? To get a fuller answer you would have had to attend my workshop. But, the next best thing to being there is below. I have included a link to the slides I used in the presentation. They will not all make sense without the commentary, but you’ll get the main ideas.

These slides represent a work in progress. I welcome your feedback and comments. Feel free to reference the content, but please give proper attribution.

Imago Dei-Consummation_J.Tisby

Diversity_word

A List of Resources About the Gospel and Diversity

Have you ever wanted to learn more about the gospel and diversity? Where do you start? What is trustworthy and worthwhile? What are some helpful resources to understand the biblical call for a racially, ethnically, economically, and culturally diverse body of worshipers?

Diversity_word

I recently had the privilege of presenting a workshop at the 2014 General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church in America. The workshop was titled, “An Indigenous Reformed Movement in African American Communities”. My central point was simple.

We are witnessing a rise in historic and classic Reformed theology among African Americans and for that we should praise God. But we have more work to do before we see a truly indigenous Reformed movement among African Americans take place in a consistent and widespread manner.

As part of that presentation I included a “Resource Page”. This document contained links to blog posts, articles, websites, conferences, ministries, and books. All of the resources relate in one way or another to diversity, culture, and the gospel. Several of these items have been significant in shaping my thinking about diversity and Christianity. I hope that by collecting many of them in one place others will be blessed as I have been. Enjoy!

Resources on the Gospel and Diversity

Blogs Posts & Articles

Five Factors in the Rise of Reformed Theology Among African Americans
The Components of a Movement 
An Indigenous Reformed Movement among African Americans
Jonathan Edwards, Slavery, and the Theology of African Americans
Pastoral Letter on Racism by the Committee on Mission to North America
African American Church Planting Study by Lifeway Research

Websites

Reformed African American Network
Pass the Mic
The Front Porch
Urban Gospel Mission
Christian Hip Hop: Reach RecordsLampmodeCollision RecordsClear Sight MusicWade-O RadioRapzilla

Conferences & Events

Legacy
Frequency
New Life Fellowship Conference
African American Church Planting Initiative (ACCPI)
Leadership Development & Resource Weekend (LDR)
Kainos Conference

Ministries & Initiatives
Thriving
African American Leadership Initiative (AALI)
New City Network
Rebuild Network
MNA African American Ministries

Books

(note: many of these books can be found at the RAANetwork bookstore–“The Bookshelf

Sociological
Divided by Faith: Evangelicals and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: and Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
United by Faith: The Multi-Racial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim

Auto/Biography
On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African American Christian Experience by Anthony Carter
Bloodlines by John Piper
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia Newbell
Black and Free by Tom Skinner
Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African Written by Himself by Olaudah Equiano

Theological
From Every People and Nation a Biblical Theology of Race by J. Daniel Hays
Introducing Black Theology: Three Crucial Questions for the Evangelical Church by Bruce L. Fields
Preaching in Black and White: What We can Learn from Each Other by E.K. Bailey and Warren W. Wiersbe
Going Global Beyond the Boundaries: The Role of the Black Church in the Great Commission of Jesus Christ by Carl Ellis
One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis Williams

Historical
The Decline of African American Theology: from Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity by Thabiti Anyabwile
Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience by Carl Ellis, Jr.
My Friend, the Enemy by William Pannell
The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen R. Haynes

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr.

Ripple Effect: Race and the PCA General Assembly 2014

If all I knew about the PCA and race was what I saw at General Assembly 2014 I would be encouraged. The annual gathering of the highest court of the Presbyterian Church in America featured four significant sessions concerning racial harmony and cultural diversity in the denomination.

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr.

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr.

Four Presentations
Leading off the week was a presentation on race, history, and the PCA. Three papers were presented by historians Dr. Otis Pickett, Bobby Griffith, and Dr. Sean Lucas. The topics ranged from the use of Chickasaw Indians in Mississippi by white missionaries to evangelize black slaves to the founding documents of the PCA which explicitly denied a segregationist stance or intent. After the papers were presented Dr. Carl Ellis responded and challenged listeners to do theology not only on the epistemological side (knowing what God teaches) but to labor on the ethical side (knowing how God calls us to live). Then Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, pledged his hearty and vocal support of the movement toward greater diversity in the PCA.

The next day, I had the pleasure of presenting a seminar on the topic: “An Indigenous Reformed Movement in African American Communities.” I contended that we are seeing a rise in historic and classic forms of Reformed theology, and for this we should praise God. But we have more work to do if we are to see a truly indigenous Reformed theology spring forth from African Americans. If theology is the application of God’s word to all of life (a la John Frame) then we have much more theology to do. We must determine the most pressing questions, problems, and issues facing African Americans today and seek the Bible’s answers to those situations. Indigenous Reformed theology will arise from and speak to contemporary African American contexts.

Then, Rev. Dr. Mike Campbell of Redeemer Church gave the keynote address at the MNA luncheon. He spoke about the need to “put off” our old cultural ways of relating to one another and put on love. This requires truth and honesty as we talk about our own cultural idols and repent of them. When we begin to lay down our preferences for the sake of Christian unity then we’ll begin to see a new, diverse community formed and led by the Spirit of God.

A final seminar presentation I was not able to attend was on the topic: “The Coming Harvest: People of Color and the PCA” presented by Aaron Layton, Director of Diversity at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis. His goal was to outfit leaders with the necessary resources for educating, training, and strategically planning for diversity in churches.

What I’m Not Saying
As I said, if all I knew of the PCA and race was gleaned from these presentations I would be encouraged. But don’t hear what I’m not saying. There’s more to the story than what went on in these few sessions. In fact, the historical presentation revealed disturbing facts about factions inside and outside of the denomination that were angling to perpetuate racist practices. Even in 2014 when every national group listed by the U.N. is currently represented in the United States, the thousands of faces bobbing by were still overwhelmingly white. I still felt the pressure to speak and dress a certain way because little cultural diversity was observable at all.  It’s going to take a whole lot more than a few talks once a year to see substantive change regarding diversity in the PCA.

Yet there is cause for hope.

Ripple Effect
The sessions on race, history, and diversity may have been pebbles dropping in the pond of the PCA. Pebbles, by definition are small, but they also cause ripples. And those ripples may begin to rock the cultural stagnation from segments of the denomination. But ripples take time to spread. Who knows how long it will be before the PCA will experience notable and positive progress in terms of diversity? But if this year’s presentations were any indications, we should look and pray for a ripple effect.