Racial Identity Crisis

Scripture: Acts 20.21
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Reflection: Racial Identity Crisis
By John Tillman

No one is immune from the effects of race in our culture. As a child growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s I experienced first the racial melting pot of Hawaii, and then the racial homogeneity of northern Arkansas. This caused unique problems in learning about and dealing with race. In Hawaii, many times, I was the one tormented for my differences. I went through a period when I hated my “yellow” hair that drew taunts and sometimes blows from my dark haired classmates.

Then in Arkansas everyone looked like me. Yet, majority status didn’t suddenly make me popular or accepted. If anything, I felt less popular, less accepted, and was more of an outcast than ever. I discovered it was better to be the haole kid than the new kid.

Many of the best lessons I learned about race came as a result of struggling with this confusion.

Nelson Hayashida’s book, A Stormy Road for This Pilgrim begins with the story of Dr. David Hirano’s family being separated by internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack. It goes on to detail Mr. Hayashida’s own struggle to reconcile racial identity and inequity with his identity in Christ and the equity of salvation available for all. These are, of course, still relevant struggles today.

I have found not only my salvation but my help in Jesus Christ. Christ has revealed to me my “true identity,” an essential and fundamental base from which I’m learning to cope with ethnic anxieties and gain victory over apparent defeat.

In addition, it’s my prayer that the remarks I make in challenging ethnic minority Christians and Anglo-American Christians will result in better understanding on the part of both—for it is only in unison that Christians can bear witness for God’s greatest glory!

From the deep south, to Honolulu, to the heart of New York City, racism clings to all of us because it is embedded in the identity given us by our culture. Only the identity that Christ brings can begin to overcome our defective cultural identity and move us toward freedom and unity as believers.

The Refrain
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:47)

Mistakes of the Past

Scripture: Matthew 23.30
And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

Reflection: Mistakes of the Past
By John Tillman

After Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor roared over their church, three miles from the base, the Hirano family, like every other Hawaiian family, set about a new rhythm of life—building bomb shelters and helping their community. But then, due to their Japanese heritage, their experience diverged from the rest of America.

One day there was a knock on the door. I answered it and there stood two men with rifles. They asked me where my father was. I told them in the back yard. When he came in they told him to get his toothbrush and underwear and come with them. My father did as instructed, and that was the last we saw of him for the next four years. — Dr. David Hirano, from passage included in Stormy Road for This Pilgrim, by Nelson Hayashida

Temporal provincialism tells us to blame mistakes of the past on our grandparents, asserting that we’ve progressed so far as to never make such errors today. Christ rebuked the Pharisees for such attitudes (Matthew 23:29-32) and we must listen to his rebuke as well, resisting our tendency to judge ourselves more righteous than our forbears simply due to our having the benefit of hindsight.

Christian theology confesses that humanity and governments are flawed and Christians should be willing to confess rather than deny our part of the sins of both. We also should recognize that in the midst of these conflicts, there are Christians imperfectly living out their faith, following Christ.

Though little is written about it today, there were protests and opposition to internment, much of it from Christian leaders in the Pacific region. In Hirano’s account, the people who reached out to take care of his family in the midst of their injustice, were Christians. Historian Gerald Sittser notes that although churches failed to stop interment, they organized to meet the needs of the Japanese community.

Our situation is not so different today. Christians living out their faith will always be in tension with cultures, industries, and governments, as in today’s reading from Acts. Though Christians are called to be good citizens, we must remember Jesus never asked Peter (or by extension, the Church) to lead a country, he asked him to feed lambs. No matter the errors of current or past governments, feeding lambs and sheep—taking care of the vulnerable—is our path to influence in our culture.

A Reading
…It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples…

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 15 (Listen – 3:13)
Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)

Racism is Not a New Challenge

We take a look, this week, at the overarching theme in Acts of the Holy Spirit’s work to overcome racism in the early church and its implications for us today. — John

Scripture: Acts 18.6
When they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.

Reflection: Racism is Not a New Challenge
By John Tillman

In Dr. David Y. Hirano’s autobiographical account, included in Stormy Road for This Pilgrim by Dr. Nelson Hayashida, he discusses his role as a Japanese American minister attempting to mediate between White Christians in a Boston suburb and the Black Power movement.

While working in the local church I was also working for justice on the denominational scene. I thought that I, who was neither black nor white could mediate between the two.

The Black Power movement had a great effect on me. Even though I did it laughingly I could speak of “yellow power.” In working with black people I was finding my own identity. I began to see consciously the impact racism had on me.

No matter our racial identity—whether we are a minority or majority in our context—racism has an impact on each of us. Racism was a given in every ancient culture. (And if we are honest it is in ours as well.) The early followers of Christ were not exceptions to this cultural racism.

Many Jews, although a persecuted minority, had lost the original meaning of being chosen by God to bless the other nations of the world. Instead, being “chosen people” had become the root of an attitude of racial purity and exceptionalism. It is partly this exclusionary attitude that drives Paul, a “Hebrew of Hebrews” to abandon speaking to his own people about Jesus and to devote his life to ministering outside his race.

Dr. Hirano experienced similar frustration in his work to mediate racial tensions during the Civil Rights era, such that he eventually focused his efforts elsewhere.

The gains we made came hard and took a long time. There were people hurt by them and relationships were strained…if white racism was to be eliminated, then white people had to do the job themselves.

Dr. Hirano’s observation from the depths of the Civil Rights movement is still true today. The church—whether the early church, that of Dr. Hirano’s and Dr. King’s generation, or the church of our generation—doesn’t struggle with racism because Christians are racist, but because humans are.

Each generation must deal with racism. Racism is not a new barrier to Christianity or a new challenge that Christians must now navigate. Part of the story of Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit smashing every barrier between the message of the Gospel and the peoples of the world. One of those barriers was the racism of the early Christians and their surrounding cultures.

Our modern world would little care about racism if Christianity had not led the way slowly over 2000 years in proclaiming the equal value of all men before God. But gains of the past have been hard won and can be lost. We must continue to find identity in Christ and escape the cultural traps of racial identity or apathy. We must not fail to contend for the oppressed and to keep our hearts soft to cries for justice.

The Cry of the Church
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 14 (Listen – 3:35)
Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)

Resting in Hopelessness :: Readers’ Choice

I’ve been pestering God lately about what my “next step” should be. He’s been pestering me about my need to rest content in where I am right now. He’ll present that next step when He wants me to take it and not a moment sooner. So I wait. Contented. — Sam

Conclusion or contentment? My choice would be closure. Get things done and move on to the next objective; that’s my fallback. This devotion reminds me that it is in the relinquishing of control and the drive for perfection that God brings me face to face with my own need for the Gospel. — Donna

Readers’ Choice (Originally published October 4, 2016)

For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. — Psalm 88.3

If Christianity has lost anything in the transition from its eastern roots to modern western culture it is surely its emphasis on contentment. It takes enormous energy to find contentment in the day-to-day of material-oriented life—let alone to find it in the depths of pain and discomfort.

The journey of contentment is often short-circuited by our appetite for conclusion. Contentment requires one to sit in the midst of whatever is happening without longing for “the next step.” It necessitates performance-oriented people relinquish their commitment to get everything right. Sitting in contentment isn’t about getting answers, but gaining understanding.

In The Resurrection of the Son of God, bishop N.T. Wright contrasts what the authors of scripture ought to have felt with the reality they confess in their deepest struggles:

When this strong faith in YHWH as the creator, the life-giver, the God of ultimate justice met the apparent contradiction of the injustices and sufferings of life, at that point there was, as we have seen, a chance of fresh belief springing up. Not that the sufferings of Israel always evoked this response. Psalm 88, and the book of Job, are evidence to the contrary.

Psalm 88 is disturbing not only because, as Spurgeon says, it is, “the darkest of all the Psalms; it has hardly a spot of light in it,” but because it doesn’t even try to move forward out of the abyss.

The psalmist pours out pain, frustration, and disappointment before God. The lament is unapologetic and lacks a move toward restoration: it weeps, aches, complains, and accuses. Then it ends.

Contentment, in this way, is not satisfaction in the moment but the ability to be fully present. It creates margin for the exploration of the soul and space for transparency in what was found. Contentment’s fruit is born not in resolution, but in presence.

We fear contentment because it has become conflated with complacency. How can we rest at peace when there are great things to accomplish, proper beliefs to be held, and greener pastures in which we could find ourselves? And so we press on—unaware, performing, and restless.

The invitation of Psalm 88 is to stop. Discover where you are—don’t judge it against where you ought be, or what you ought believe—just find yourself. It’s only here that the journey of authentic community and renewal in the gospel can take root.

The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 11:12-40 (Listen – 5:53)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 12 (Listen – 2:21) Acts 16 (Listen – 5:53)
Judges 13 (Listen – 3:44) Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

Deepest Desire :: Readers’ Choice

Its a powerful thought that humility will bring out other positive traits. A nice contrast to pride, which has the opposite effect. — Jason

Readers’ Choice (Originally published February 6, 2017)

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

― Timothy Keller

Scripture: Genesis 39.17-18

And she told [Potiphar] the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

Reflection: Deepest Desire

By Steven Dilla

Every ancient culture had a standard for how to respond to adultery. Few of these standards were humane by any modern definition. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest legal writings in human history—and is the source for numerous cultures’ standards afterward—commands:

If a man’s wife should be seized lying with another male, they shall bind them and cast them into the water; if the wife’s master allows his wife to live, then the king shall allow his subject (i.e., the other male) to live.

This law is very similar to another in the Torah, as well as to how the Egyptian elite would have responded to Joseph’s alleged infidelity with Potiphar’s wife. From a legal perspective it is stunning he lived. From an emotional perspective it is more stunning he did not offer himself in response to a woman’s desire.

Centuries after Joseph, Ambrose of Milan would observe:

Though [Joseph] sprung from the noble family of the patriarchs, he was not ashamed of his base slavery; rather he adorned it with his ready service, and made it glorious by his virtues.

He knew how to be humble who had to go through the hands of both buyer and seller, and called them, Lord. Hear him as he humbles himself: “Because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Full of humility are his words, full, too, of chastity. Of humility, for he was obedient to his Lord; of an honorable spirit, for he was grateful; full, also, of chastity, for he thought it a terrible sin to be defiled by so great a crime.

Chastity, in other words, was not Joseph’s chief virtue. Somewhere along the way Joseph had learned to see past himself—every decision he made was a derivative of his humility. Something other than personal satisfaction became Joseph’s deepest desire.

The Request for Presence
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Judges 10-11:11 (Listen – 7:11)
Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)

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