Jon Hevelone's blog

The Unintentional Racist

Most of the coffee mugs I drink from are personal. Whether they picture a Studebaker Hawk or New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde or a moose in Maine the cups say something about me. When I lived in the deep south I often drank my coffee from a mug emblazoned with the stars and bars — the old Confederate flag. I liked the mug because it somehow always appealed to that idealistic part of me which was, and is, a rebel. As a native (and naive?) midwesterner I somehow never associated the rebel flag with it’s deep roots in racism. That has changed since the terrorist massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

During the time our family lived in Louisiana, one of my daughters started dating Mark, a sociable, intelligent, and handsome young man. While I readily admit no one is good enough to date a daughter of mine, Mark came pretty close to my criteria. He was also black.

I was terrified. What was my daughter thinking? What were the dangers facing young teenagers dating across racial lines in the violent racial world of Dixie? And more terrifying still, I felt within my heart the passions of prejudice stirring, threatening the image I carried of myself as an accepting, color-blind Christian who accepted all people. My soul struggled. I, of all people, did not discriminate against black people. I, of all people, detested the young black teenager who had stolen my daughter’s heart. I sat at my desk engaging in deep soul searching. I drank lots of coffee, all from a mug covered with the rebel flag. Back then, it never crossed my mind that in many ways, I was an unintentional racist.

I believe many of us today are unintentional racists. Our ideals are good, but we slip up a bit in practice. We are unaware. We become blind to our prejudices and are quick to dismiss those twinges of superiority or fear or condescension or distancing as being normal, or a product of our culture, or as the way we were taught. Well, yes. This, however, does not make our actions right. I was wrong in my attitude toward Mark.

We are wrong today, no matter what color or ethnicity we wear, when we wear it pridefully as just a little bit better than others. When we are insensitive to a black person or dismissive of a white person because their skin doesn’t match ours we are unintentional racists. When we as a multicultural church sing just “white” hymns catering to nineteenth century tastes we are unintentional racists. When we pit a Scotch-Irish heritage against that of Italians or Brazilians we are unintentional racists. When we perpetuate jokes or make trite remarks about people who are different than us, we are unintentional racists — or unintentional sexists or unintentional homophobes.

When we as a nation, or as individuals, believe that removing the Confederate flag from view is enough change to atone for the murders of praying people in Charleston we are unintentional racists. It takes so much more. Christians believe it takes a cross. Following Jesus involves embracing that cross. Part of living Christianly is becoming aware of the unintentional sins that we harbor, and and then allowing God’s grace to remove and redeem. The best way I know to stop being an unintentional racist is to become more and more intentional in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus.

Selfie Religion

One of the latest fads in puffing one’s ego is the whole “selfie” phenomenon. Almost everybody under the age when social security can be collected has taken a few selfie photos. Entrepreneurs have even come up with a way to cash in by making “selfie sticks.” These contraptions are basically a plastic extension of your arm that allows the camera to get a better view of your gorgeous face.

Actually, there are a lot of religious selfies floating around out there, too. Again, we massage our egos and think we can do religion better than the church in which we were raised. 

If we are concerned about the hot issues of the day like justice, climate change, and the welfare of chickens and other critters we gravitate toward a faith which stresses that particular issue and leaves out all of the other stuff.

If we are determined to get people saved so heaven will be densely populated, then we pump John 3:16. After all, who needs anything more than being born again?

On the other hand, if we really yearn for a new Audi or Porsche and all the trimmings for a quick vacation getaway to our hoped for second home on the Maine coast (or would Jamaica be better?) we understand clearly that the health and wealth gospel has the biggest payoff for us.

It’s so easy to make a selfie faith, and it feels so good. Just pump what you like, and forget all that other stuff. No need to get all bogged down with things like repentance, obedience, taking up one’s cross and all that when the thing that matters most is God give you your heart’s desire, and that he does it right now.

Of course this means that real Christianity as understood and practiced for generations is a goner. That’s because the Bible is not collection of selfies posted on social media. It sees faith as having a God given core of truth, and that content must be believed and held high. God’s truth is a given, it is not negotiable. It must be understood, believed and applied to the contemporary world of every generation who would be followers of Jesus.

It is not only these doctrines and content of the faith that are crucial, but above all a personal connection with the very one who had the audacity to say, “I am the Truth.” Because of this dynamic quality of faith, followers of Jesus have also formed opinions on how people are to live Christianly, living out the truth God has given us. Our faith is not so much holding on to a way of living that good people in the past have followed, but rather, allowing Jesus to live out his Truth through us today.

We are to believe and trust in him and then go about living our lives. Getting this part of real Christianity right is difficult, but it is crucial. It is here in the application of faith that people have a tendency to go off the path, get out their camera and incorporate only the selfie they think looks good. That makes a merely a snapshot that mars the bigger, more complete picture of what Christian faith looks like. The Apostle Paul warned about this in his writing when he noted that people tend to have what he called “itching ears” and run after whomever and whatever seems pleasing. In other words, the problem of religious selfies is not a new one. (2 Timothy 4:3)

If you are going to be a real follower of Jesus, pay attention to these two key components of faith. First, know God’s truth. There is content to Christianity, content that is life changing and world shaking. Secondly, risk the adventure of placing your life on the line so that Truth becomes alive in you. Jesus is not an artifact of faith to admire, but a living Savior who wants to connect with you, fill you with his Spirit, and go with you in all the moments and places of your daily life. It is interesting how much better your selfie looks when Jesus is in it, too.

The Internet

The internet is such a fickle master. We trust it with our lives, and then it betrays us. LinkedIn, only recently the crown jewel of professional networking sites, was crushed today. This service with over 300 million members plunged 25% in value since the stock market opened this morning. Closer home Partners HealthCare, owner of the premier Boston teaching hospitals, announced it had been hacked, with 3300 patients accounts possibly exposed. And how many of us have suddenly awakened from a computer screen stupor to realize how many days, weeks and months we have lost by pursuing online trivialities?

In previous generations peoples identities were formed by interaction with family, community, peers, and yes, even church. Their friends lived in the same block, or maybe across town, but these friends were people they knew well, and who knew them. There was a mutuality of respect, give and take, and interconnectedness. For more and more of us, these formative relationships are being replaced by the siren song of the internet. It seduces us by co-opting our entertainment and work related interests, our spiritual and relational desires, and our hope for significance. It promises to meet these needs and even more, and then delivers far, far less.

Our friends do not live in the yellow house across from the old ball field any more. We can’t stop by and visit, engaging in real conversation and real connection with real people. Instead of struggling together over questions of values and beliefs, we scan profiles. Our friends today live on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram. We don’t engage with them in a solid, human connection. We “friend” them and “like” their posts. We may not even know their real name. It often seems we are trying to develop a relationship with pixels that disappear with the click of a mouse.

There is no question the internet brings a tremendous new world into our lives, and that we have the potential to be empowered beyond the wildest imaginations of previous generations.
Yet if this incredible new force is not held in check by a balanced worldview that includes the presence of God in our lives, the internet could very easily become our master. Our fickle master. We all know people whose lives seems to have easily lost the equivalent of LinkedIn’s 25% plunge in value as they settle for the online world over the real one. As Christians we must realize Jesus came to us as God in the flesh. That is the only way we could see what God is really like — a cute photo on Snapchat just wouldn’t work. 

Oh, by the way, if you’re on LinkedIn, feel free to add me to your connections.

Easter Power

Jesus Christ was dead. Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is forever alive!

Those three statements point out the possibility of the most profound yet unimaginable change in our own lives occurring as we come into a living connection with God. That connection happens as we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, receive by faith the benefits of the wholeness and hope he gives, and follow him as we live the rest of our lives.

Jesus Christ was dead. His early followers had watched him die on the cross, and heard him cry with his last breath “It is finished.” None of us have reached the end of our own lives yet and experienced physical death. All of us, however, have a past that is already dead to us. We have memories from the past. Some are good. Still others are painful and haunting. We relish the precious times from earlier years, and are sometimes haunted by our other decisions and deeds. There is no way for us to relive the good and correct the bad. It is gone, dead.

The good news is Jesus has dealt with our past. By his death on the cross he fixed the sinful and dead past life of every believer. Jesus death changes the very nature of who we are and frees us to live in communion  with God. The Bible says “…everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) As we receive forgiveness and new life flows into us we become reborn as children of God.

Jesus Christ is risen! We know the sacrifice Jesus made for our sins is effective because God’s power was demonstrated in a most radical way. Jesus did not remain dead. He is risen! His resurrection was something totally outside the normal working of the universe. In one mighty act God reversed the course of everything and created righteousness out of sin, life out of death.

We have a living Savior. Jesus, resurrected to life again, made the promise to his followers that he would be with them every day of their lives, everywhere they found themselves. Because of who he is, and how his authority was verified by countless eye witnesses, we can trust that what he says is true. Christ is with those who belong to him. He hears our prayers, provides sustainable support, rekindles hope, and walks with us day by day.

Jesus Christ is forever alive! When he rose from the dead, Jesus broke the powerful force of death. Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. By God’s powerful act the biggest threat facing us is defeated. The resurrection proves that life exists beyond the grave. No longer do we need to be controlled by fear of the end of our existence. While it may be appropriate to dread the process of our dying, death itself is but a transition into the place where Jesus lives. Imagining what continuing our lives in the home of God is impossible in our limited human knowledge. If we listen to what Jesus says, however, we can even begin to discover snippets of what that life shall be like, and it’s going to be good!

Jesus Christ was dead. Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is forever alive!

May those three truths provide you with a road map of hope for life. The Christian’s past, present, and future are changed by the power of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. This is the good news of Easter. Believe it, live it, enjoy it, and share it with the blessing and power of God.

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