Are you ready for a glass of wine?

I am not a beer drinker but I do like an occasional glass of wine.  I really prefer white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Moscato, Moscato is my favorite though. Yum!  When I think of the current climate of racial dialogue in our country I am reminded of a quote from the great Rabbi Jesus, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins…” – Mark 2:22

I believe the Rabbi was using this metaphor to talk about how a person’s heart and mind really needs to be prepared for new information, particularly if the person has held  a different belief for a substantial amount of time.  Our heart and mind are not good at turning on a dime, and if we do not have proper time, in a peaceful environment to consider, think and embrace the new information, we will burst, metaphorically speaking.

I believe many Americans had old wineskins as it relates to their understanding of racial progress in America. So when the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, brought “Civil Rights” type protest, they were confused and conflicted.  In their minds, the nation was in a much better place than what they witnessed on tv, radio and social media.  So what needs to happen?  New wineskins need to be developed.

For those who promote racial dialogues and discussions, like myself, we must be willing to let those who are still processing the reality of some of the racial divide that still exists in America time to develop a deeper understanding.  They are developing new wineskins.  And for those who are developing new wineskins, you must be courageous and honest to challenge the old wineskin perspective whenever it is inconsistent with the truth of the current racial reality in America.  Lean into the discomfort of a new wineskin and we will all be the better for it!  #Relate2Color, #DearWhiteChristian

 

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Dear White Christian

In the fall of 2014 during the racial and cultural events in Ferguson, MO, I desperately wanted to know what was going on in the minds of my white friends, colleagues and church members and so I asked them.  One of my trusted white, Christian, friends responded this way: “Here is the deal: we don’t understand it; we don’t know what to say; and we don’t know what to do.”  This response prompted me to want to help my white Christian friends gain a deeper understanding and so I wrote the book, “Dear White Christian: What Every White Christian Needs to Know About How Black Christians See, Think, & Experience Racism in America.”

DWC cover

It is my desire that my book would move race relations forward in a bold new way.  It is personal, warm, but provocative. And it includes questions after each chapter.  It is a great book for groups to read together, but it is also a great book for black and white friends, and colleagues, to read together, to start dialogue.  The book also provides solutions for a way forward.  My book is available on Amazon, buy it today! Read it! Tell a friend! #DearWhiteChristian, #Relate2Color

 

“Dear White Christian provides a black leader’s perspective…to help break down the walls that inhibit real conversations and understanding to take place.”

James Marsh, Director, Van Lunen Center at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

 

“I commend Dear White Christian to all my brother and sisters…

Thurman L. Williams, Associate Pastor, Grace and Peace Fellowship Church, St. Louis, MO

 

“Aaron Layton’s Dear White Christian is a valuable contribution to our ongoing need for racial healing…”

Mark Dalbey, President, Covenant Theological Seminary, St Louis, MO

 

Yet another conversation with my black son

In light of the deaths of two African American males, at the hands of white police officers, I find myself having yet another conversation with my son who is now 16 and driving.  It is not that I think my son was not listening to me the other hundred times we have had “The Talk”,  but as a black father I have a fear that I have not told him everything that could save his life. So here we go again, ” Son if you are pulled over by a white police officer put both hands on the  top of the steering wheel.  Do not reach for your wallet, do not reach for your seatbelt, and whatever you do please do not reach for the glove box.  Answer every question the officer asked you, and always finish your answer with ‘Yes sir!’  Do not show any emotion particularly frustration, exasperation and especially not anger,  your life may depend on it! If the officer asks to see your drivers’s license tell him exactly where it is and ask him if it is ok for you to get it.  And son, here is the new part, if he says you can get your liscense say to him, ‘Ok officer, and I do not have a gun on me’  Son, I know that you are a good kid and you do not have a desire to hurt anyone, but because you are black , and male, some people may see you as a threat. And unfortunately some police officers may see you as a threat.  Do you understand this son?  Tell me that you understand this!  tell me that you understand this!  I am sorry that I have to make you think about these things but it could save your life.”  This is how yet another conversation with my black son will go. I am afraid for my son, and also for myself;  This is my reality.  Pray for me and my black son.

My black son turned 10

My oldest boy turned 10 this month. If you know him, you’ve probably told me or noticed how handsome he is…how kind, how smart, what a leader he’s becoming. You’ve noticed how much he’s grown and how much older he’s beginning to look. I smile, but my anxiety grows. He is all those things. But his feet are bigger than mine and he’ll be taller than I am in 2 or 3 years. He is silly, and oblivious and naive. He plays basketball and wears hoodies and plays with darts guns. He looks guilty when he hasn’t done anything wrong and mumbles when he’s nervous and he’s often foolish…because he’s 10. And as he grows, and you ask me if my boy can come to your house and play, I’ll pause for a good long while before answering. I’ll be wondering where you live, and if there are boys that look like mine living in your neighborhood. I’ll wonder how likely it is that your neighbors are armed. I’ll wonder if there will be girls in the house and if they’ll pull on my boys arms and refuse to stop when he asks them too. I’ll imagine a hundred scenarios and wonder if I’ve prepared my boy for them…if he’s ready. I’ll think about you…and wonder how naive you are, and if you call yourself “colorblind” and if you believe “good guys always finish first”. I’ll have a hundred wonders before I answer you. I’ll loathe this process. I’ll hate that I can’t reply with a chipper “Totally!” Sometimes I’ll say yes, and sometimes I won’t. I won’t likely be able to communicate the logic…sometime it won’t be logic, but just a deep unsettled feeling that I can’t shake. It will break my heart to see my boy confused about why he’s missing out sometimes so I’ll invite your children to my house, where the neighbors and the police officers know my boy. You need to know that while you see my kind, gentle boy, the rest of the world will soon perceive him as a man…long, long before he is one and long before yours will be. So if you continue to look away, you are not loving my boy that you tell me you so admire. You are not protecting him. You do not value his life. I need you to know this. I need you to hear me. I need you to wake up. ‪#‎mytruth‬ ‪#‎donotlookaway‬ ‪#‎tamirrice‬

Sabrine Rhodes

 

kirkwood, race and the church

Jesus’ human lineage teaches us that the unconditional love of God is limitless and without prejudice. – Tom Ricks

“Some of us in the 5th Grade Sunday School class think the new Greentree logo looks broken,” my eleven year-old daughter confessed as we walked out of church May 16. We were walking to our car, and we were excited to dig in, branch out, and live it up. We could sense the enthusiasm of the Greentree staff that morning. Yes, after almost twenty years, God is still working at Greentree. And our leaders are responding to an ever-changing culture and community, seeking to be relevant within Saint Louis.

“It does look broken,” my husband agreed. “And that’s perfect, don’t you think? Brokenness is a theme here at Greentree. Really, it’s a theme of the Gospel. I’m glad we’re at a church that admits we’re broken and need a Savior.” My mind went to my own interpretation of the logo and my love for the different shades of green displayed. Is God calling us to more? Could He be challenging us to get comfortable with diversity within Greentree Community Church? And I couldn’t ignore it — the brokenness and the cross, well, they were right there in the middle of diversity. I see it every time I look at the new logo. I can’t help it.

We serve a God who is in love with diversity. He created it. He decorated the earth with over 23,000 types of trees. We know there’s at least 15,000 species of fish in the sea and the list keeps growing. There’s countless variances in mountain ranges spanning the globe. Our Maker intentionally fashioned a dwelling place for people that bursts forth with variance in the natural world. And in the human race.

But it’s been quite a year here in Saint Louis, yes? Painful experiences untold for years are finally surfacing around dinner tables and locker rooms and office cubicles, and I hope, churches. Have we been too quiet?

Discussions on race and culture usually force us to dance to the rhythms between hurt and healing, resentment and forgiveness, misunderstanding and reconciliation. We’re at a point now where we have to choose our path. Are we going to ignore? Or are we going to walk toward deep self-reflection as it pertains to relationships and living in community? There are our neighbors, and our co-workers, and the family at the pool, and yes, even our relatives. Some of them look like us and some don’t. Sin has stained our country’s history and we’re still sorting through the fragments. It’s uncomfortable. It’s our reality. It’s necessary.

“Jesus’ human lineage teaches us that the unconditional love of God is limitless and without prejudice,” challenged Tom Ricks as we explored our spiritual family tree last Advent season. Our counter-cultural God — He woos me out of judgements and man-made religion. Can you see our spiritual ancestors — the murderer, the adulterer, the prostitute, the forgotten — all in desperate need of a Rescuer? Can you see God choosing people with heaps of baggage? Can you see Him bringing together diverse people taught to hate and mistrust one another as He writes His Rescue Story for generations to come?

The Gospel message, well, it’s different than what we’ve sometimes made church out to be. The Gospel extends beyond masks of perfection, beyond man-made neighborhoods still segregated by race and class, beyond our enslavement to what others think of us. God intentionally wove people into His ancestry whose aches left them longing for the cross. Are you aching, too?

By Christan Perona

“Tolerant Intolerance”

Last year I took a group of middle school students to a diversity conference. After some of the workshops, several of my students commented that students from other schools sighed and rolled their eyes if they even mentioned the word God or Christian. Imagine that! Here we were at a conference designed to celebrate the differences among us and there were some who were practicing intolerance towards Christians and their views. Our students were willing and open to hear the beliefs and views of others, but they just wanted to share their beliefs as well.

“What the heck does tolerant mean?” If the word intolerant means, not tolerant of views, beliefs, or behaviors that differ from your own, then I am confused by this growing idea that Christians are intolerant. Now to be sure, there are probably many Christians around the world who would refuse to listen to others that hold different beliefs than they do, but I don’t know many Christians like that. Is it truly that Christians are intolerant? Or is it that Christians just have views, beliefs and behaviors that differ from those that are not Christian.

I do believe that there are Christians that are intolerant of anyone who thinks differently than they do. But, I think they are in the minority. I do not believe that the majority of reasonable Christians would not listen to the views and beliefs of others. However, what makes them Christian is what they believe. Therefore, what they believe and the worldview that they embrace, will cause them to have a difference of opinion on some matters. Is that intolerance? I don’t think so.

So what is tolerance? And what is intolerance? Tolerance is the ability to hear and understand views and opinions that may differ from yours without closing the door on the conversation before the other person fully expresses their heart. It has everything to do with the posture of your heart and sometimes even your physical posture towards someone with opposing views. Love the person, value the person and hear them out. However, tolerance does not mean you agree with the person’s views or opinions. It also does not mean you cannot share your views and opinions with them. Just make sure you are respectful and not working too hard to change their mind.

Intolerance would be just the opposite, it would be the lack of desire and willingness to hear and understand views and opinions that differ from yours. It is closing your heart and mind to the possibility that you might learn something that you did not originally know about someone else’s views. It is also not valuing what someone else feels passionately about. It is offensive when someone fails to acknowledge something that is very important to you.

No one likes intolerance. But intolerance is not having differing opinions. It is closing your mind and heart to someone else that is sharing their beliefs, views, opinions, etc. Christians who voice their beliefs, views, and opinions are not necessarily intolerant, they just hold differing views based on their beliefs. Christians should not be judged on their refusal to embrace others’ belief as their own, but rather on their willingness to listen and understand those differing beliefs.

What It’s Like To Be Swirly (A poem)

Like a chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream cone
It’s your friend pointing out you’re swirly
Not knowing whether to check black, white, or other
Being asked ‘So what exactly are you?’
As if you’re something completely foreign

Too white for the black kids
Too black for the white kids

Hearing stories of the cake topper at your parent’s wedding;
A white man and woman with shoe polish over the women’s skin
The clergy asking your dad, “You’re aware you’re marrying a woman of color, right?”
Being told your parents shouldn’t be married in the 2nd grade

Every shade from brown to white in one family
Mom is coffee
Reese is hot chocolate
Drew is carmel cappucino
Whitney is latte
Dad is cream
Reduced to nothing more than a coffee shop menu

Getting weird looks when you go shopping with your mom
People asking your sister why a “white man” picked her up from practice

It’s messy, frizzy hair
It’s not fitting the mold
It’s being a minority
It’s more than just an ice cream flavor

By. Camryn Williams

A short, simple, rationale for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, and It is a month that is used to educate our nation on the significant accomplishments of our nations African-American heroes. Black History Month was not created to divide the nation, but was intended to unify the nation by revealing the significant contributions of blacks, alongside the contributions of all other Americans. As a nation, let us rejoice in the diversity and culture of our African-American brothers and sisters.

“Those black people in the hood–it’s their own fault!”

“It’s complicated!” This is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of the plight of the urban poor.

When we look at urban areas across America, especially in the larger cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Detroit, and St. Louis, it is hard not to question how these communities have evolved into neighborhoods full of violent crime, drug abuse, and poverty. Many of us are fortunate enough to live outside of these areas, and it is hard for us to imagine that the people living in these areas really want change. However, poverty in the inner cities of America is complicated.

When we think about the poor that live in our urban areas, we usually find ourselves in one of two camps. The first camp is the camp of the liberals. The liberals tend to see the plight of the urban poor as being caused by social factors outside of their control. They cite things like the lack of jobs, resources, racism or other inequities. The second camp is that of the conservatives. The conservatives cite the breakdown of the family and character flaws as major reasons for poverty. While the liberals tend to think that the reasons for poverty in the inner city are more systemic, the conservatives see the reasons as being more personal in nature, like lack of discipline and lack of self-control. In my opinion both of these positions are true. It’s complicated.

In some cases, poverty can be the result of a systemic problem. For example, if there is a lack of jobs and resources available to a community, the community will struggle with poverty. All we have to do is look at the inner city neighborhoods around the country. In them, we see lack of jobs, lack of resources, and failing public schools. On the other hand, poverty can also be the result of bad personal decisions. Sometimes, it is not that people do not make enough money. It is that they do not manage money well. If people are not financially literate, then they may not spend money wisely or save. Bad spending habits and destructive habits like drug abuse often continue the cycle of poverty within a community. But there is another reason for poverty…calamities. It’s complicated.

For some people in these urban areas, their poverty is the result of a calamity. It could be the death of a spouse, a terminal illness of a family member, a house fire, or a host of any unforeseen setbacks. For example, when I was a youth pastor there were two, single black mothers who seemed to fit the Hood profile. They were single black mothers, one had one child and one had three, and both struggled financially. However, both women were widowers, and they were just trying to make it day to day. It is true that these calamities could happen to anyone, but the poor are extremely vulnerable to calamities because they are poor. The poor have no margin for error. They often have no savings, no insurance, and a low paying job, plenty of debt and bad credit. Calamities are always more devastating to the poor. It’s complicated.

So what am I saying? I am saying that the causes of urban poverty are often more complicated than we would like to think. First of all, calamities do happen to the poor, and calamities are hard to recover from if you are already poor. Secondly, there are systems in place that have contributed to the problem of poverty in the inner cities. And lastly, people living in urban areas are responsible for certain choices that have contributed to the cycle of poverty in their own personal lives and in their communities.

So the next time you are driving through ‘The Hood” or around it, and you think about the plight of the urban poor, just remember the causes of poverty in those areas are probably more complicated than you can ever imagine.