Silent majority needs to be heard

The opposite of love is not hate.

Both are strong emotions. People with either love or hate care deeply about the issue at hand.

No, the opposite of love – and hate too, for that matter – is apathy.

I … just … don’t … care.

As a holiday weekend is concluding, I’m struggling with this. Perhaps I’m feeling emotional fatigue. Especially since I’ve never learned how to express my emotions verbally.

America the divided

Am I proud to be an American?

That’s a more complicated question than it used to be.

I am free to live where I choose, worship where I choose (or not), work in a career field of my choice (assuming someone would hire me), marry whom I choose, spend my free time however I choose …

Yes, this country offers many good things.

But not all receive those things equally.

This is the message of America today.

We hold up that ideal, but we aren’t close to it. We’re closer than we were a century ago.

Or are we?

Equality an illusion

evicted 2

I just read a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, which described the substandard housing situation in inner-city Milwaukee a decade ago. We on the outside think the long-term poor often choose to live that way, that if they would just get a job or education, they could pick themselves up by their bootstraps and improve their lives.

But that’s often not possible. The housing culture in the wonderful United States of America is designed to keep poor people poor.

evicted 5

Rents are not much cheaper in poor areas than they are in the suburbs. The federal government subsidizes low-income housing for landlords, so they charge unaffordable rents in low-income areas because they can. And when poor people get behind on rent, far too often they get evicted.

The book follows eight families who faced this. Many of them made upwards of 90 or more calls and/or visits to rental properties to find a suitable place after eviction. Eviction is like a criminal record – often landlords make it difficult for the evicted to rent again.

And if the family, often led by a single woman, has children, that’s another strike. Kids cause damage. Teens do drugs and get into trouble. Claiming this, some landlords don’t want children.

And why are neighborhoods segregated racially? Because landlords make it so. They find creative ways to refuse renting an apartment or house to a minority in a “non-minority” neighborhood.

Us outsiders don’t get it. We can’t just throw a month’s rent at one of these families and think they are good to go. The issues run far deeper than that.

Are there any solutions?

The author suggests housing vouchers, which can be used in any neighborhood.

 

By and large, both public housing residents and voucher holders pay only 30 percent of their income on rent, with government funds covering the rest.

Evicted, page 302

 

Many poor people pay 70 percent or more of their income on rent, which means they often have to decide between rent and food, or rent and the utility bill. That’s why evictions are prevalent among the severely poor.

This problem is nationwide. In 2012, one in nine occupied rental households in Cleveland were summoned to eviction court (page 296). More than 10 percent of all renters in the biggest city near here faced eviction.

Do the rest of us even notice this? Even if we do, how much do we care? Enough to change public policy to improve the lives of the poorest among us?

Compassion helps, but compassion goes only so far.

Just ask the illegal immigrants at our southern border.

Standing for … what?

Pennsylvania Daily Life

And as we celebrated our nation’s birthday, I saw this at work in the way we treat our flag. Even the flag has become a racist symbol.

What does the American flag stand for, anyway?

Does it stand for all those freedoms we like to say we have? Does it stand for the bravery of our veterans and active military service people?

What else does it stand for?

And why do some people not stand for it at all?

When I see unbridled poverty, when I see far too much violence (there was a police shooting in our city last week), when I see broken homes as the norm … can I really celebrate living in the United States these days?

Are there solutions? Or have we given up the fight, given in to apathy?

We think only of ourselves. My rights. I can live with whomever I want, drive whatever speed I want on the highway, spend my money (or other people’s money) on whatever I want …

Without thinking of consequences.

Burying our dreams

We just don’t care anymore. There’s no bigger picture.

No ideals bigger than ourselves.

What is freedom, really? What did our forefathers live and die for?

Did they live and die to create the United States we have today? Is this the best we can do?

Can we learn to get along with each other again? To overcome apathy?

We like to throw around the word “hate,” but it’s often misplaced. Sure, there’s some hate out there, but I don’t think there’s as much of it as extremists on both sides of the political aisle think there is. Most of us, rich or poor, are just trying to live our lives.

Leave us alone, we are saying. Just chill out.

Maybe I’m mistaking this for apathy. Maybe we aren’t as apathetic as I think we are.

Perhaps we do care, deep down in our hearts.

We just don’t know how to show it.

Or, more likely, we’re not allowed to show it.

We get shouted down. The “hate” word is thrown at us if we disagree. The loudest voice is often the one that gets heard in this country.

Which is why I defended the United Methodist Church this spring for standing firm – as it has for more than half a century – to its convictions regarding homosexuality. As one voice swimming against the political correctness tide, I took some flak for that, but the discussion was excellent. Thanks again to all of you who participated.

The loudest, or even the most persistent, voice is not always the right one.

Sometimes, the silent majority actually has something to say.

We care. We really do.

But does that mean anything? Can the silent majority do anything with its passions and desires in this country?

Who’s listening?

Anyone?

Re-thinking church in an inner city

I’ve never been involved in a church plant before. There’s plenty of hope and excitement, but we don’t even know all the challenges we will face.

Our multi-campus church is planning to open a new campus in Lorain, Ohio, a self-described “international city” of about 63,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie about 30 miles west of Cleveland. As of 2016, whites comprised 51.7 percent of the city’s population, Hispanics 29.1 percent, blacks 14.5 percent and “two or more races” 3.1 percent.

http://www.city-data.com/city/Lorain-Ohio.html

I’m interested in this because my wife and I raised our three sons at an inner-city church in Saginaw, Michigan, with similar demographics to Lorain. Now that they are grown and on their own, I have more time to devote to this.

To learn more about planting a multi-ethnic church, the Lorain campus pastor and I attended a three-day conference on the topic in Chicago. It was eye-opening.

As a former newspaper guy, I took lots of notes. Here is a summary from the plenary speakers and workshop leaders I heard:

Church and society

If we want to be a multi-ethnic church, then the dominant culture cannot be more than 80 percent of the church. Research shows that if visitors see at least 20 percent of people in their ethnic group attending, then they feel like “members” and not “visitors.”  We should be strategic about seeking 20 percent of an ethnic group if we truly want to be multi-ethnic.

For some people, society does not work – economically, medically, socially, religiously, etc. These people do not trust any institutions. Church plants will take a long time for these people to trust. They may reject institutionalism, even if they hunger for God. To reach them, we might need to change the way we do church – why 11 a.m. services? Why does communion happen weekly or monthly? Etc. These are not wrong, but they are not in the Bible. What’s Biblical, and what’s cultural?

The new national divide is achiever vs. non-achiever. Achievers value the individual; non-achievers value the society. Most non-whites (as well as whites) are achievers. Achievers are mainstream; non-achievers live in the sub-culture.

Doing church

One speaker said white pastors are excellent at “three-point sermons with seven sub-points.” That’s fine, but that’s not how black preachers preach. If we want to reach black people, this might become an issue. Another example: Hispanics will show up late, then they will stay late. That’s their culture. We might need to re-think the way we do church.

moody4

The traditional church model: Meet Jesus, attend church, connect/serve/give, go into the world. This isn’t working; it’s too shallow.

The new model: Meet Jesus, attend church, deep change, go into the world.

How to accomplish deep change? We need to meet emotional, social, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs – all of them.  Which means all of those needs in my life, as a leader, must be met as well, or I will not be an effective leader. The Mary-Martha struggle: When are we focused on our actions at the expense of spending time with Jesus?

This is not a quick fix. It’s hard. It takes time.

Most people in our cities aren’t thinking about repentance, but about where their next meal is coming from. We must disciple them to conversion. We must offer Bible nuggets that people can relate to. “There’s a guy in the Bible who understands what you are going through …” (This means we have to know the Bible well, of course.)

Value in all cultures

Whites frequently will not get involved in a church (or any other organization) unless they lead it. Several speakers made this point. Whites often don’t leave room for other ethnic groups to lead – or if they do, they must follow the examples of whites. We often do this unconsciously.

There is no assimilating into one true culture in heaven. All cultures are good. Faith brings out the best in all of them. Every culture has stories to tell.

How much of church planting is led by whiteness? Most of it. It’s a strange mix of benevolence and oppression. This has become the only story. How do we liberate from whiteness (or any dominant culture)? According to the Bible, we die to it. We are not to assimilate, but to create a new story.

Jesus’ blood is the new story, for all cultures. His death and resurrection is the great equalizer for all of us. Jesus didn’t ask us to become Him. Instead, He became one of us.

Those of us in the dominant culture often forget that we have a culture. Everybody speaks with an accent except me, for example.

Marginalization happens when people are minimized in different ways. Marginalization often leads to oppression, which is defined as sin plus power.

Jesus went to the margins. He was surrounded by sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes and women and children. All of us need to go there, too.

Jesus gave us a table, and all the chairs around it are on the same level. No high chairs and low chairs. Everybody drinks from the same cup, and we share germs. All ethnic groups are equal before God.

History is not over

Blacks’ history is slavery. No other immigrant group can say that. We heard first-person testimonies from several ethnic minorities who have experienced racism in their lifetimes. My wife has a co-worker whose boyfriend is black. He recently was talking with several friends in the parking lot of the apartment complex in Lorain where he lives. Another resident of the apartment complex called the cops on him. His crime? Being black and talking with his friends. It happens still today, even in Lorain.

As white people, we cannot deny that these things happened, and are still happening. If we want to reach this population for Christ, we need to meet them where they are.

Perceptions

lasalle street

Another cultural difference: Whites often see themselves as a collection of individuals. Blacks see themselves as a community. This is crucial to understanding how we communicate differently.

For example, a white police officer in Houston recently killed a black man in his own apartment. Blacks wanted the world to feel his suffering and pain. They wanted pastors to talk about that the following Sunday. Our reaction as whites? We want more facts. Give us the details of what happened before we react.

This is huge. We must understand this difference.

Critique the culture

Cities – with density and proximity – amplify the opposition to the gospel.

There is little social pressure anymore to attend church. There are four basic religious beliefs, but some Americans don’t even have these:

  1. There is a god.
  2. There is moral truth.
  3. There is sin.
  4. There is an afterlife.

How do we evangelize in this setting?

We must critique the culture. The standards our culture offers don’t work. If your career is your primary motivator in life, what happens when – not if, but when – you lose it? If it’s to be a good person, you’ll never be good enough (maybe you haven’t committed adultery, but have you lusted? This is Jesus’ standard.) If it’s freedom, you aren’t, and you know it. If you live for money, you’ll never have enough. If you seek beauty, you’ll never feel beautiful. And on and on.

But if you serve Jesus, you’ll get forgiveness when you fail.

There are no merit-based scholarships in heaven. Only grace.

Also, there is no defense against:

  1. Prayers of the saints.
  2. Love of the saints.
  3. Wise application of the word of God to your concerns.

Equal but different

Once a week, I drive into Cleveland to mentor a fourth-grader at lunchtime. His family situation is difficult and he has issues with a classmate or two. We talk about how to deal with these things.

He has some wonderful gifts and talents, and I encourage him whenever I can.

On another front, I drive for my work, often in city traffic. I frequently let drivers merge in front of me who are waiting to exit a grocery store parking lot or the local McDonald’s.

On yet another side, there are six of us at the “office” where I work – five women and me. The staff nurse is a woman, the boss’ boss is a woman, the boss’ boss’ boss is a woman …

And I get along with all of them just fine. I take directions well, and try to be as supportive and encouraging of an employee as I can.

I also have a social media presence, where it’s easy to hide my introvertedness and encouraging spirit to join the fray like so many people do.

A social media discussion

Quite a few of my closest friends avoid social media for this reason. It’s so negative. That’s all they see.

But social media, like any form of technology, is a tool. It’s inanimate. It’s what we make it. Pornography abounds here, but so do uplifting sites and pages with specific interests that I follow.

Social media is a wonderful place to connect long-distance with friends and former co-workers. But it’s easy for those of you who don’t know me well or haven’t seen me in awhile to misunderstand who I am or where I’m coming from. We hide behind the technology very well.

Social media often is controversial. I pick my battles carefully there.

I picked one last week that sparked an enlightening discussion.

BSA

The Boy Scouts of America announced that for the first time in their century-old history, they would begin accepting girls. On a friend’s post about that, I offered this comment:

Boys are no longer allowed to become young men. That’s what we’ve lost. We are raising a unisex nation, where boys and girls are not only “equal,” they are no longer different – despite their obvious differences. And we wonder why our nation has lost its way. This is the main reason right here.

I’ve seen articles saying the Boy Scouts’ decision to accept girls was a business decision, and not to make a social statement. But they made a social statement.

Different

I brought up a concept I wish this country understood. I first encountered this in college in the late 1970s, and it’s even more prevalent today:

Different doesn’t mean inferior. Or superior.

This is obvious to me, but not to many Americans.

I’m so sorry about the Harvey Weinstein saga and the resulting #MeToo hashtag, which is showing that sexual harassment in all its forms is far more prevalent than we thought it was. In no way am I defending this.

But by saying that different doesn’t mean inferior or superior, I’m branded as a power-hungry white American male who just wants to keep women in their place – a lesser place than where men are, apparently.

Power grab?

In the social media discussion I raised the concepts of love and respect, which several women in the thread rejected as a power grab. Men say they give love and want respect, but only to remain in authority.

I wrote that by love I mean Biblical love, not love as America understands it. The woman whom I had the best discussion with on this topic said she’s not a “believer” and doesn’t know about Biblical love. I said it’s worth exploring, and left it at that.

I felt the discussion was good and helpful, at least to me.

Others chimed in and saw me as the typical white American male who doesn’t understand the struggles of women. I can’t deny I am a white American male.

Does that automatically make me power hungry?

I know many men who do not fit that profile, and we raise sons who love and respect the women (and men – and animals, for that matter) in their lives as well.
But as I said on another thread, the men who truly are power hungry get all the headlines. They rape, they commit other crimes against humanity, they talk and live as ego-driven alphas …

I cannot defend them, nor should I. At times I am ashamed to be a white American male. Far too many of us abuse our positions of authority and leadership. It’s no wonder women are fighting back.

‘Lifestyle evangelism’

But not all of us guys are power-hungry egomaniacs.

How can I convince you of that?

By my lifestyle.

I don’t have to mentor an inner-city fourth-grader. I don’t have to let traffic merge in front of me. I don’t have to donate blood, which I’ve done for more than three decades and which benefits people I will never know.

I don’t do such things for your compliments. I’m not interested in a full trophy case. I don’t need the corner office or the big salary or the job title. If a woman attains those things, I’ll celebrate her accomplishments and do what I can to help her continue to grow professionally. I’ve had a number of female supervisors over the years, and nearly all of them did – and do – their jobs well. It’s not hard for me to respect a woman in authority, or as a peer.

Teammates

Equal but different? Why is that such a hard concept to understand?

On a football team, there are 11 players on offense, but only one is the quarterback. If the “big uglies,” the offensive linemen, don’t do their jobs, the quarterback can’t do his either. They need each other. Their jobs are very different. They have different skill sets and do different things.

But everyone on the offense, all 11 players, has the same goal: to score a touchdown. Each of them has to do his part well for that to happen.

Men understand this. We all dream of being the star quarterback, but in real life, we know better.

A power grab? No. Men and women are teammates in this game called life. Numerous books have been written on the differences between men and women. This is not rocket science.

We – men and women – ignore this to our own peril.

We’re partners in every sense of that word.