Freedom that’s really free

There has been a lot of mention of freedom in recent years. There are those who tout the concept in relation to liberation of black people as if the shackles of slavery and Jim Crow still pull weight on the flourishing of black and brown people. They’ll speak of the persistent oppression that must be exorcised and prescribe remedies for this to happen: equitable policies, reparations, just policing, etc. They will conclude this is a freedom worth fighting for.

Then there is the freedom granted to us Americans in our Constitution, particular the freedom of Christian expression and to live in a pluralistic society without encumbrances  to Christianity.  Some will even argue that this freedom was packaged in our Christian founding as a nation and we shouldn’t relent to preserve it under the rubric of promoting a moral and just society. They will conclude this a freedom worth fighting for.

And while there can be merit (not to mention some challenges) in each of these “freedom” fights, I am struck by the freedom spoken of in Scripture, particularly in the book of Galatians.

It is for freedom that Christ set you free…(Gal. 5:1)

We would do a disservice to this simple passage by imposing the above categories as if Paul is making room for our contemporary concerns. Rather, his statement must be considered in the context of what he is addressing in this book. And I think it’s pretty important in light of these temporal areas that seem to get so much attention today. Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the  the freedom that referenced here rises far above. Continue reading

By grace into 2023

I haven’t written an end of year reflection in a couple of years. But was we approach the new year in just a matter of hours, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts and also some personal updates.

The last time I wrote a reflection was the end of 2020, months into a pandemic and increasing divisive heat. At that time, here was an observation;

If there is one thing I can say about this year, it’s been one of exposure of hearts and where our loyalties really lie. I say this primarily of the Christian whose first loyalty should be to Christ and his kingdom with loose commitments to the social and political factions of this age. But this year with all that’s happened–from COVID, more police shootings of unarmed black people, lockdowns, and a bizarre election cycle–has pulled back whatever veneer resided over socio-political orientations we tried to mask with our Christian presentation. Not to mention the tensions that have ramped up in the church over the issue of Critical Race Theory that has created more divisions. That’s why I say it’s the year that got us. It exposed us. It showed what we truly valued. We can no longer hide.

Since this time, I have observed that exposure has provoked more of a camp settling and less persuasion efforts on why so and so or such a such position is wrong. What do I mean by that? It seems that people, professing Christians in particular, have resigned to their perspective camps. There is less persuasion with an interest towards Christian unity and more of a huddling together around respective socio-political agendas. And that goes for issues on the left AND the right. And while that may make for some superficial peace, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Continue reading

True privilege is our need

I’ve been slowly reading this wonderful book, Cultural Identity and the Purposes of God: A Biblical Theology of Ethnicity, Nationality, and Race. As the subtitle denotes, it’s a biblical theology which means the author, Steven M. Bryan, is considering his thesis from a perspective of what the whole counsel of Scripture communicates with emphasis on God’s plan for redemption. I recently read through the chapter on Matthew where he explains how Jesus’ first advent demonstrates that identity of Israel as a holy nation has shifted, pointing to the encompassing of the previously excluded. I was struck by these few paragraphs on his exegesis of Matthew 8-9 and thought it to be a timely read as the Advent season draws to a close;

The point of Psalm 107 is that Israel restored by God is not Israel in its experience of ethnic identity, whether inside or outside its own land. Rather, it is Israel in its experience of distress, desperation, and forced dispersion–circumstances brought about by God to turn them from their sin. This is Israel with no place to lay its head; Israel at the point of death; Israel imperiled on the sea; Israel harassed by Satan; Israel dispossessed and despairing because of its rebellion.

This is a new way of thinking about Israel and its privilege. Jesus privileges the unprivileged, to be sure, but the unprivileged are all those whom he saves when they cry out to him. Those who will sit down at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not the putative heirs, the privileged sons of the kingdom, but the outsiders, the marginal, those considered excluded from Israel. The phrase ‘many [who] will come from east and west’ is, thus, neither a designation of Gentiles, as such, nor of Diaspora Jews, Rather, it designates those whose desperation and affliction under the hand of God mirror the conditions of Israel in its distress–they are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who mourn (Matt. 5:3-5), and therefore stand over against the privileged ‘sons of the kingdom.’

If in Matthew 8, Jesus speaks of sitting at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Matthew 9, he enacts this meal by eating the tax collectors and sinners. The eschatological scandal of the many who come from east and west to sit down at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob parallels the scandal caused when tax collectors and sinners sit down at table with Jesus. Commentators regularly overlook the parallel, but it goes to the heart of Matthew’s central point in these chapters. They don’t so much tell us as show us what it means to be Israel. The table of the patriarchs–Israel’s table–is a table for the underprivileged, the unincluded, the undeserving. Israel’s table is open to those whose faith and righteousness mirror that of Abraham. The excluded ‘sons of the kingdom’ are identified in Matthew 9 as the scribe and the Pharisees, who object to Jesus’ practice of gathering tax collectors and sinners over a meal. They object because they know what it means. It is the symbolic enactment of Jesus’ vision of restored Israel–an Israel based not on ethnic descent but on a kinship formed through faith and the righteousness it generates. However, unexpected, Israel’s privileges belong to such as these.

Amen. This new identity of Israel is not based on earthly ethnicity but a heavenly need. We have no privilege to exert, only what has been afforded to us through Jesus’ fulfillment of promises based on HIS person and work. I hope that sense remains with us long past the Advent season and Christmas.

Because its really about people supremacy

While scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I got wind of the kerfuffle in Los Angeles where City Council president, Nury Martinez, was caught on tape in a private meeting where she and her colleagues used racial slurs towards the black son of a fellow council member.  She apparently felt comfortable in the presence of her colleagues to say what she really thought. You can read more about that here (pardon some language). Update: the context was a meeting about redistricting that would diminish the voting power of black residents, according to this article. I understand she has now resigned as president of City Council but still remains on.

To be honest, it really didn’t surprise me. My family moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1969 when I was 5. Growing up in that area (predominantly Inglewood), I observed a lot of tensions between Blacks and Latinos. Stereotypes, segregation of the two groups, and even hostility was not that uncommon.  I moved to Boston 1n 1994,  just a few years into the start of my professional career. So I really wasn’t that aware of the inner workings of city infrastructure, particularly among social or political coalitions. But from what I witnessed as a teenager and young adult, I can imagine how these kind of attitudes would spill over into the social and political infrastructure of the city. I would have thought that dynamic would have changed by now but maybe not.

In fact, observing some threads on Twitter from those with more first hand knowledge of the dynamics there, I saw allegations of power structures among Latinos who were in positions to orchestrate elevating their group and creating barriers for others, namely Blacks. How much this is true, I cannot say. But the charges obviously resonated with several people who believed that Latinos who held the purse strings, so to speak, made it difficult for other groups. Again, I’m just observing the charges made, not affirming them. Continue reading

Can we only imagine? on race and ethnicity in the eschaton

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of tweets that have caused me to reflect on how things will be in the New Heavens and New Earth. A while ago, I saw one tweet about black bodies retaining the same in the resurrected state. While I do believe this, it led me to think about how much race and ethnicity will matter in the new heavens and new earth. There is only so much we do know based on what is revealed in Scripture. So I’ll say from the outset that some of what I’m writing here is speculative in nature but bear with me.

My first thought was to wonder how much are we really going to focus on race or skin color? After all, we will be in the presence of the Savior and the sin that produced all kinds of hostilities, suspicions, and disputes will be absent.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw a holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. We will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:1-4)

It’s not lost on me the impulse behind this focus on melanin composition because of the way it’s been disregarded historically and to some extent in the present. It’s a quest for dignity and I get it, though sometimes think it’s overblown. I honestly don’t think a focus on race or skin color does justice to that quest for dignity, anyway.  I would insist the better, and more scripturally faithful way, to view dignity is based on being made in the image of God than in blackness. As the old saying goes, “God don’t make junk” and he certainly knew what he was doing to create such diverse people with varying melanin compositions. Continue reading