An Especially Hard Sunday Morning

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

It’s a known reality that Sunday mornings are an ‘experience’ for young families. Getting everyone up, ready, and out the door for church provides numerous joys and challenges. For me, this Sunday morning was particularly challenging.

On one hand, it was full of joy. My two-year-old daughter had spent her first night in the ‘big girl room’ we have been preparing the past few weeks. We were woken to the joyful scream of, “I slept in my room!” Laughter is a great way to start the day. 

We went through the normal morning routine—family cuddles in bed, breakfast and the ritual Sunday morning playing of VeggieTales 25 Favorite Sunday School Songs!, in which my daughter gets ready, eats breakfast and plays all while singing along with ALL 25 SONGS. 

On the other hand, my wife and I would both sneak away with our phones to read the updates on what had happened 142 miles down the road from us in Charlottesville, VA—a weekend getaway for those of us who live in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. metro area. 

I sat at my kitchen table with my coffee, watching my daughter and wife play and sing on the floor. So much joy. But on the phone in my hand were pictures of people with torches marching with through the streets who did not think that my wife and child—the daughter and granddaughter of Ugandan immigrants—were worth the same as those of us who are white. So much hate. 

It was an especially hard Sunday morning.

I wanted to share thoughts on what was wrong, on how it could be addressed. I wanted to experience the joy in my house and join the lament happening across the country. I didn’t want to dive into politics and policy, but speak to the church. I offer not solutions, but perspective and I am choosing to do it through the eyes of my daughter, and her favorite Sunday school songs.

This Little Light of Mine

As followers of Jesus we know that we are to be light in the darkness (Phil 2:14-16). But so often the darkness surprises us. It shouldn’t. There is real evil and hate in the world. It stands against everything that is good. It stands against people realizing their full potential as image bearers of God—with dignity, purpose and vocation. It specializes in dehumanizing each and every one of us. This weekend we saw just a glimpse of it. 

This same darkness keeps people trapped in systems of injustice, perpetuates generational poverty and causes us to fear people who are different from us. What we saw this weekend is born of the same darkness we find in a brothel full of sex slaves, an encampment of rebels training stolen children to be soldiers, the violence plaguing Syria, the shooting on the street corner or in the expanding opioid crisis.  It is vile, it is disgusting and it is not far from any of us. This darkness, when combined with our personal flaws and sin, is dangerous and pervasive. If we let ourselves be surprised by it, then it will consume us.  If we pretend we are immune to or above this darkness, then we are blind. 

Shining our light means that we expose darkness for what it is—evil. If we are to be light, we need to call out racism, white supremacism, Nazism and xenophobia as evil, expose it as evil and let the light of God cleanse it. May the church do just that this week. May we realize the power in naming evil while at the same time recognizing the long journey ahead toward rooting it out. Yes, public policy and political leaders have a role here, but we don’t control them—we control ourselves, our families and our churches. Let’s start there. 

This is My Commandment

This is my daughter’s current favorite song. “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.”

The hate we saw perpetuated this weekend was committed by people who, we can argue, do not have much joy. Their obsession with dehumanizing people of color, immigrants and people of different faiths consumes them. They are angry and bitter. 

Let’s not become like them. 

This morning I found myself full of two types of anger. First, righteous anger at the injustice. But also, an unholy anger directed towards the people who marched. I hate what they did. They frighten me. With highly armed people who are this passionate, I worry about the safety of my wife, daughter and soon-to be born son. But I cannot let myself hate them. If I do this, I become just like them and give up my own humanity. Hating them will rob me of the joy that I believe God wants me to experience.

Yes, I should be angry—we all should. But let’s afford them what they seek to take away from others.  Let’s extend to them the love of God. 

Let us also not forget the many, many people of all colors and creeds who are afraid this week. My prayer for the church is the same prayer that we try to teach my daughter: “God teach us to love you more, teach us to love each other more and teach us to love people who are different from us more and more each day.” If the church would seek to understand this simple, yet high, calling we could change the world. 

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

At the end of 25 Sunday school songs sung by vegetables you would think that I would have been done.  Most Sundays you would be right. But this Sunday, right now, as I am writing this, the vegetables are singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and I have tears streaming down my face.

The chorus goes: “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm, leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

Why tears? There have been too many mornings like this one over these past few years. Mornings that alarmed me. Mornings where I grieved, lamented and cried out to God asking, “Why do You allow this hate to continue, why don’t You root it out right now?” Mornings praying that my family would be protected from the narrative of hate in the world. Mornings coming to grips with the fact that the world treats me differently than it treats them. The painful and confusing reality that I, James, am privileged in a way that causes people to treat me in a more favorable way than they do my wife, daughter and soon-to-be son. Mornings feeling demobilized, confused and not knowing what to do.  

Why tears? Reality sets in. We might not always be safe; it is not guaranteed to us. The promise of a future reality being sung in the song does not govern this present day. But I know how the story ends and can live in light. I see the picture of the people of God gathered from every tribe and tongue. I see a throng of distinctly different people, celebrating one another’s heritages, cultures and histories. I see that same throng unified in adoration of the One who made it possible for them to finally, after millenniums of strife, come together. They come together in celebration of the One who is Light and who once and for all will do away with darkness.