Today I Saw God
I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be. Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:
So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord. Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others. We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.
Much of my life has been spent connected to the Church. The first time I attended church I did not walk in, I was carried. I was brought by my wise and loving parents, baptized and have been here ever since. Although I have fond memories of a life spent in Sunday school, youth group, worship, fellowship, and ultimately bringing my own kids to be baptized, I have never experienced what I refer to as a “direct and powerful encounter with God”. A burning bush experience if you will. Thankfully, I have lived a life of blessing with minimal trials, none too devastating, at least not compared to some of the struggles I have observed in other people’s lives. I am thankful but, to be honest, I have experienced some envy of people that have stories of direct and powerful encounters with God. I love the Lord and as I grow older I have come to love and trust him more and more. I believe I have been faithful in serving him in many ways in the church and outside the church. I hope I have been an example to others and helped lead people to Christ. Recently, I saw that Floris UMC was having informational meetings to discuss Race and Reconciliation efforts. I wanted to attend but found that my schedule did not allow me to make it to the meetings. As oftentimes happens with the Lord, missing a meeting does not preclude you from participating in his plans. I happened to see a post about an event on this very subject on the Virginia United Methodist Church Facebook page. The Bishop was hosting an event in Annandale, a mere 10 minutes from my house. And, as it happens, my schedule was clear that day. I felt compelled to attend and was joyful and excited about learning more. I signed up and thought that maybe I would see someone from Floris UMC at the event. In fact, there was a good-sized group from Floris UMC that attended, learning about issues around race and our role as Christians in the work of racial reconciliation. What was most exciting for me that day is that I very clearly heard the Lord speaking to me about this issue. I was struck by how clearly I heard him say “this is important to me, I want you to do this work for me”. I could relate to John Wesley’s story of how he felt his heart “strangely warmed” and of the story from Luke about the Road to Emmaus where two men who had encountered the resurrected Jesus asked each other “were not our heart burning in us while he talked with us on the road”. This was a first for me and not only powerful but exciting. I had some nervousness and fear about this issue and what, if anything, was required of me. Suddenly, it was clear and I wasn’t as fearful or nervous. I can’t say that I won’t feel fear or anxiety as this effort moves forward but I have an assurance that God is with me and that I am exactly where I need to be. As I approach the half-century mark, I sometimes think that I have missed opportunities that the Lord had for me, that I got caught up in my life and my plans and that maybe that is why I haven’t felt this way before. I won’t live in regret, that’s not healthy for anyone, but I will work to be more connected to God’s plan, rather than my own. I have come to believe that his way is the only way to experience freedom and blessing and the fullness of life. “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask "What if I fall? Oh but my darling, What if you fly?" (quote by Erin Hanson)
"Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
I reminded myself of this verse as I started out my very first mission trip Thursday, May 24, 2018. I started out not knowing anyone at all on my mission team and I definitely did not have any construction skills to help rebuild houses in Virginia Beach affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. All I knew was that I wanted to serve others and learn from others who I met on this trip. I went in with an open mind and an open heart. I knew God was with me - that's all I needed.
What happened on this trip was nothing short of life-changing. I learned how to install flooring and use power tools. But, most of all, I learned about others on my mission team, the families we were serving, myself and God. My relationship with God deepened during this trip. I prayed relentlessly for God to convey his love through me so that others would be helped. I talked to the owner of one of the houses and it was so nice to relate to her and to form a bond with her. She thanked us so much for our work. When we completed one of the houses, I looked at our work and told myself, "I helped do that." I was in awe of what God did through me. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and what happened? I grew and expanded to encompass a love for others and God beyond all measure.
God used me to do great things on this trip. I learned a lot about myself, too. I am capable of anything as long as I walk with God and pray for his power and strength to be revealed to me. My drive to serve God at all times was strengthened. I live for him and nothing less. This trip also helped me see that life is not about all the small details that we get stuck in and which make us lose focus on what truly matters. Life is about service, love, grace, forgiveness and letting God transform our lives into beautiful tapestries.
I now want to go on more mission trips and continue my love for serving others, learning from those around me, and listening to how God is speaking to me through his children.
On Saturday, April 14, I had the privilege of joining about a dozen other leaders from Floris United Methodist Church and about two hundred others at Annandale United Methodist Church to participate in the Bishop’s Convocation on Race and Reconciliation. Most of us from Floris came because of our connection to our congregation’s new racial reconciliation initiative, and we anticipated hearing how our bishop and other leaders would lead those gathered to be more effective agents of change and reconciliation in our communities.
It’s not easy getting up to spend a Saturday in church. However, between worship together, a challenging presentation by our keynote speaker Romal Tune and small group training on facilitating difficult conversations, I found myself seriously considering my own race for one of the first times in my life.
As a straight, white, Christian male, thinking about my own identity is not a normal thing for me to do. Most of my life experience has occurred in spaces where most people look like me, speak my language and believe similar things that I do. I have lived a lot of my life in a dominant context, meaning that, not because of any decisions of my own but because of a system from which I benefit, my voice is often heard in conversations and in communities when others’ may not be. For a long time, I bought into the same lie that many white people believe, that I don’t have
A video by
We usually talk about racism by
Rather than keep racism within the bounds of interpersonal actions, our working definition of racism focused more on how racism acts as a system of racial prejudice developed and sustained by institutional power. This shift in focus led us to consider our own participation in the racist systems that uphold our society and realize that being white does not mean being without
As we had these conversations, a phrase from our keynote speaker Romal Tune stuck with me. At one point, he spoke about what white people can do in response, and that deciding to act is really hard. Because of the ways our society has been set up to benefit the white elite, in some sense, any action toward racial and socioeconomic equity requires those in power to give up and share that power. In other words, as Tune said to those of us who were white in the room, “There is value in your silence.”
The moral weight of our work hit me squarely in the face
I do not claim this responsibility as an egotistical white man looking to continue fixing the world’s problems with my own solutions. I claim this responsibility at the invitation of my non-white sisters and brothers to join the effort they have maintained their entire lives: working to make sure our society views them as people and as nothing less
My white sisters and brothers, we cannot put the burden of equality on those who have borne the burden of oppression for far too long. Be informed. Be empathetic. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. Be willing to listen and learn. As Tune told us, our past is not our future, but the past has dramatically shaped our present. I invite you to join the work of our racial reconciliation initiative to help shape our future, so you too can discover the value in others that far outweighs the value of our silence
I've identified as a Christian longer than I can remember. I grew up in a Christ-centered family, went to Sunday school and bounced around churches and denominations as I went through college and eventually struck off on my own. Yet, throughout my life as a Christian, I never felt truly at home in my church community. The church I grew up in espoused an elitist, legalistic dogmatic brand of Christianity to which I simply couldn't relate. The church I attended in college consisted of a small faith community composed mostly of elderly members with whom I, as a young college student, had little connection. When I moved to the Northern Virginia area to pursue my graduate studies, I began attending the local mega-church, but found myself lost in the immense crowd of congregants. More than anything, I desperately desired to find a faith community of members who truly cared about others, and took real risks to live Christlike lives.
I found that community home ten years ago when I walked through the doors of Floris United Methodist Church. I was (and, if I'm honest, still am) blown away by the love and generosity shown by the members that comprise the Floris community. I had finally found a community of like-minded believers who truly strove to model Christ's love to those around them; furthermore, I had found a church that wasn't afraid to take risks to spread love and alleviate suffering.
The Floris UMC community is highly active in our own backyard of Northern Virginia, where members work to serve meals to area homeless (FACETs "Hot Meals" Program) and provide tutoring and meals to at-risk youth at a local elementary school. The generosity of the Floris UMC community, however, extends far beyond the reaches of Northern Virginia. In 2000, Floris UMC members and clergy helped found the Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital in Sierra Leone, a ministry that has saved countless lives, driven down infant and maternal mortality rates and served to educate and provide services to over 500 children in one of the poorest countries in the world. If these ministries weren't enough, for as long as I can remember, the Floris UMC clergy have opted to give away the entirety of the offerings collected at Christmas Eve (often totaling several hundred thousand dollars).
To put it simply, the Floris UMC community is deeply special and unique. Unfortunately, the Floris UMC community, like most all brick and mortar churches, has been geographically constrained to those members within driving distance. While I'm highly fortunate to live near Floris UMC and her sister church Restoration Reston, countless others across the globe stand to benefit from entering into the Floris UMC community. That's why I'm incredibly excited be a part of Restoration Worldwide, the first truly virtual Floris UMC campus, which kicks off today. While Floris UMC has live streamed its worship services for years, Restoration Worldwide offers the unique opportunity to break the constraints of physical geography by enabling people from across the world to actually become a part of the Floris UMC community, engage Floris UMC members in online small groups and receive pastoral care from Rev. Ashley Allen, the Restoration Worldwide Minister. And that's just the beginning. We here at Restoration Worldwide plan to roll out new ways for Christ followers across the world to integrate themselves into the Floris UMC community, but we need your help.
- First, give us your feedback. This is an evolving ministry unlike anything we've ever attempted. We need your insight into what works, what doesn't, and what you'd like to see in the future.
- Second, invite your friends and family, however far away, to be a part of our community.
I fell in love with the Floris UMC community ten years ago. The selflessness and compassion of our community stands as a beacon in a dark, hurting world. Please join us as we strive to shine that beacon across the world, to anyone with an internet connection. Come join our community. Welcome to Restoration Worldwide. We're glad you're here.
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