Does Black History Month Belong in the Church?

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This month America celebrates Black history.  African-Americans have made immeasurable contributions to the growth and prosperity of the United States.  Unfortunately, apart from an intentional effort, Black history is revised, lost and overlooked.  In many of our nations public schools Black history is taught, only during Black History Month.  Even the most robust curricula is guilty of reducing the contributions of African Americans to three parts: a softened and whimsical version of Slavery, a truncated version of the Civil Rights Movement and a handful of black inventors & athletes. When we observe Black History Month, we embrace the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which we have little awareness.  This lack of awareness supports and feeds the distorted perception that the greatest contributions of Blacks in America has been limited primarily to sports and entertainment.  Black History Month is an an opportunity for followers of Jesus to follow the mandate in Romans 12:2 to renew our minds and be transformed by that renewed mentality and world-view.  A European-American dominated view of our world devalues the intrinsic worth of the other world cultures and rejects the command to love all people as God does, with no partiality or bias. We all have blind spots and need a means to humbly seek to be as whole and God-honoring in our view of the world and those who fill it as possible — black History month is one such opportunity.

Sharing and revisiting the contributions made by African-Americans to the creation of American wealth, innovation and Democracy, humanizes America, after having experienced and continuing to experience the dehumanizing effects of racism.  History provides a record and a counter-narrative to false theories born out of American slavery that defined African-Americans as a different species and less than human beings.  Slavery in the American South not only said that blacks were subhuman—it also said, as a people we didn’t come from a full and culturally rich past.  These widely spread and widely believed falsehoods have had, and are continuing to have damning effects on the collective psyche of America. February is a healing balm of sorts, albeit one that needs to be administered for more than a month, that helps remedy this destructive social and national disease. Why is this important? Because history informs our collective memory as people and a nation.  History tells us what to remember and what to forget, what and who to value and what and who to devalue — history shapes our collective identity.

As an African American Pastor of a Christ-centered worshipping community, rapidly growing in ethnic and cultural diversity, I see this month as an opportunity to emphasize ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s glory.  By God’s grace we will one day occupy a new heaven and a new earth that puts an emphasis on the supremacy of Christ and not one ethnicity or culture (Revelation 7:9,10). As Pastors and Christians we should be actively pursuing that present and coming reality in our churches and daily lives now.  No single ethnicity or culture can or was created to fully reflect the infinite beauty of God’s image. He gave us difference to help us appreciate and experience His splendor through diverse expressions.

So I challenge you to splash some color and diversity into your view of American history this month. Don’t dismiss someone or someones because they think differently or have had different experiences.  We need diverse people, speaking truth and perspective into our lives.  Only diverse views of our nation and it’s history can widen the narrow ones that keep us trapped, closed and often divided in this country.  We need and have benefitted from each other far more than our record of history leads us to believe.

perfect God. perfecting people

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In god We Trust?

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Have you ever asked yourself how did I end up here? How did I go from feeling hopeful, alive and excited about the trajectory of my life to dry, barren and just going through the motions? How did I go from feeling so close to God to feeling so far from God?

The answer is probably idolatry. I know it sounds like I’m rushing to conclusions. We haven’t even checked your vital signs or asked any probing questions and I’m giving a diagnosis. But it’s not that I’m jumping to conclusions. Iit’s that we’re prone to jump to conclusions. We’re prone to look for other gods.

Our human condition can be so desperate for significance, identity, success and a sense of control that we constantly grasp at things to meet that need. In Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis writes, “Your real new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.” How often do we find ourselves looking for ourselves apart from Him? The moment He shows us a glimpse of ourselves in Him, we’re so eager to be something, that we grab the emerging self we know so little about and try to make it our own. This is a form of idolatry. In Exodus 20:3 God declares to His newly delivered people, “You shall have no other gods before me.” I don’t believe it was any coincidence that the Ten Commandments, God’s moral code for His people, begins with having no other gods before Him. He knew after 400 years of immersion in a polytheistic culture, they would be prone to seeking other gods or simply put idolatry. But we shouldn’t rush to conclude we aren’t prone to the very same thing today.

For most of us God just isn’t enough. We, like the newly delivered Israelites, are inclined to want God and… And it’s this “God and” tendency that made me jump to my idolatry conclusion concerning our ever vacillating sense of well-being. An idol is anything that becomes more significant than God in giving our lives meaning, identity and happiness. And we are prone, like the Egyptians who held the Israelites in captivity, to have many. We make our kids, careers, marriages, degrees, cars, houses, girlfriends, boyfriends, churches, friends and almost any other thing we can get our hands on gods.

Whenever we take a good thing and make it the supreme thing, we just made an idol. And idols always disappoint. So back to my diagnosis…Have you ever asked yourself how did I end up here? How did I go from feeling hopeful, alive and excited about the trajectory of my life, to dry, barren and just going through the motions? How did I go from feeling so close to God to feeling so far from God? We likely put something in God’s place. We likely want “God and”. The way to be restored to the joy, closeness, hope, security and well-being we all desperately desire, is to return to our only love. Jesus has to be enough. Our trust in, hope in and clinging to Him alone, has to be enough. This doesn’t mean we can’t love our careers, families or the idea of getting or being married. It just means we must love God more. We can’t take a good thing and make it the supreme thing. We can have no other gods before Him.

perfect God. perfecting people.

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Love and Dance by Tamika Wyche Greenidge

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Dance and love are two universal languages that cross barriers of gender, religion, social status, and color. While in Bethlehem, I was blessed with the opportunity to teach a dance class to a wonderful group of students at Diyar Dance Theater. As I prepared, I made sure I had all the right terms for the techniques I’d teach, and even tried to put together a short choreography piece to no avail. So to say the least, I was a bit flustered, because in addition to feeling totally unprepared I love to be able to have some sort of control over the environment I’m entering. However at that point, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and unprepared would be an understatement of what I believed to be the position I was in.

Prior to coming on the trip, dance didn’t fall within the scope of “things to do.” It wasn’t until Tuesday that I was asked to teach a class on Thursday. So you can just imagine the millions of thoughts that were running around in my mind. But three things I knew for sure: (1) I had rhythm and could dance well enough to teach a two step, (2) that God allowed me to be placed in that environment because I have such a love and passion for dance and people, (3) Holy Spirit was definitely going to have to intervene and take over due to the different language and possible cultural barriers I’d possibly encounter, and (4) I was all in.

Once at Diyar, I met with the students, who ranged in age from 13 to 17, and did a little probing. It was then I found out that these children didn’t just dance but they performed traditional Palestinian style dance. So of course, at that point, I began to question my ability and if God even really wanted me to do this. But I kept my cool, because by this time there was no turning back. It is in these moments we learn to trust Him more. So I had no other choice but to practice what I preach…. Go into my, “Jesus you’re going to have to do this,” mode because I really don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.

You never think God will bring you to an uncomfortable place in your element, but it is there where He wants to become Lord. So in that moment I took a step back and allowed Holy Spirit to take a step forward. And as they say, the rest is history. Holy Spirit gave me instruction on how to teach and engage these children while at the same time allowing me to love on them, build them up and hone their skills and technique.

What we learned was that we actually had more in common than we had differences. With tons of love, encouragement, and a mutual love for dance we hit the ground running. My partner Chuck started us off with a great time of stretching, and then Angela, Chuck and Dan supported and gave the students a nice little laugh by getting into the groove with us from time to time.

I ended the class a bit early so that the students could teach me some of their traditional Palestinian dance. They were as excited to teach as I was to learn. Some were even surprised to see that I wanted to be taught and learn from them. Engaging others is never effective if it is only one sided. No matter how accomplished your are, how many degrees you have, or how old you are, you are never too BIG to learn from another. It also shows others that you love and care enough about them to come out of your own little world to get immersed in their world. To my surprise, I ended up being taught by a group that traveled Germany for 40 days performing their authentic Palestinian dance! LOVE and DANCE…. Two very simple words, yet you can touch worlds with Jesus when you use them.

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