BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, June 26, 2017

Looked with Compassion

Image result for bad eyesightThe following a sermon from Pastor Greg Henneman that he preached based on Matthew 14 after Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted for shooting of Philando Castile.

I was born with bad eyesight.

I have one eye that is not horrible, it is around 20/80, but in my other eye I am legally blind. However, I have lazy eye in the good eye so my body primarily uses the bad eye. Basically, I am blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other.

All of my life I have had to wear glasses in order to see the world clearly. In fact, three out of four people in the United States wear some kind of corrective lenses, whether glasses or reading glasses or contact lenses. The vast majority of us need some help to see the world around us more clearly.

While most of us need glasses to improve our physical vision, all of us need help to learn how to see the world as God sees the world. We all need to learn how to see one another like Jesus.

In Matthew 14, Jesus had just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, was brutally executed through the influence of the king’s sister in law. John, a faithful, religious man, the one who baptized Jesus, was beheaded.

Image result for crowdJesus hears the tragic news and decides to get a break from it all and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He gets on a boat, crosses the sea, but when gets there and who is waiting for him?

The crowd.

Crowds of people made it around the lake and got there before Jesus, looking for a healing miracle, listening for a teaching, wanting for something to eat.

Jesus just wanted to get away from it all, and there was the ever-present crowd, just wanting more from him.

Have you ever been in a situation like that when you just need a break and the phone keeps ringing or people keep calling your name or the kids ask from you or the boss wants from you and life just won’t give you a break?

When we are there, it is easy to begin to look at the people around us as a drain, as a source of stress, as someone else wanting something from me, taking my time and my energy.

We begin to look at the people around us as obstacles to be overcome.

Jesus doesn’t do that.

Despite the fact that he is stressed out and the crowd wants from him he doesn’t look at them as if they are a burden, he looks at them with compassion.
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He doesn’t see them as needy, he sees them with compassion.

Through the eyes of compassion he provides for them, he heals the sick, teaches, and feeds.

He does all of that, because he starts from a place of compassion. Jesus looks at people through the eyes of compassion.

How do we look at people?

We start by observing the outside.

A Harvard University study found that brain scans show that the first things we notice about someone when we look at their face is their race and their gender. We look at a person and the first thing we notice is the color of the skin and whether it is a man or a woman.

This is a natural, evolutionary response.

But then from there, our brain not only makes this initial observation, but assigns meanings to the observation. We make assumption about people based on whether the person is a man or a woman. I know that if I go to get my car worked on, I will often get a different response than my wife. That kind of stuff drives me crazy and I hate it, but that is the world that we live in.

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And we not only make assumptions about someone because of their gender, but because of their race.

We saw it again this week in the exoneration of the police officer who killed Philando Castillo. Castillo was not only brutally shot in front of his family and killed, but he had been pulled over 52 times in his life for minor traffic violations.

52 times.

This is someone who was a model citizen, who worked at a school, who had a quiet and unassuming personality, who was described by the students of the school as “Mr Rogers with dreadlocks”.

But because of the color of his skin he was pulled over 52 times and killed.

This is how the world looks at people. We look at someone and judge them as a threat by their appearance.

The world has conditioned us to look at each other as opposites and to categorize. Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight.

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While this is how we look at the world, this is not God’s design.

On the first page of the Bible, in Genesis, Chapter 1, it says “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Every person is created in the image of God. Every face you see in this room reflects something different about who God is.

The person who is different from you is not a category to be labeled or feared, but is a sister or brother in Christ who has been created in God’s image. It is in the diversity of humankind that we see a little more clearly who God is.

The invitation we have is to begin to see one another not as our culture and society teach us to see where we divide people by race, color, creed, sexuality, and national origin, but to see each other as God sees us, to see Christ reflected in the eyes of the stranger, to look with the eyes of compassion.

So how do we do that, how do we get compassionate eyes? How do we learn to see each other as God sees us?

Unfortunately it is not as easy as going to the eye doctor and getting a new pair of glasses with compassion lenses.

Often, the way we begin to see others differently is when we go through some struggle and suffering ourselves.

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Remember, that this scripture follows right after Jesus has learned of the execution of John the Baptist. Jesus has lost a cousin in a horrific way. He is mourning, he is grieving, so when he comes upon this crowd of people who are hurting, Jesus is hurting himself. It is the fact that he is going through some stuff himself that he is able to have compassion for others who are going through some stuff.

This compassion that Jesus shows is deep.

The Greek word for compassion, splagchnizomai, means to be moved at the very depth of our being. It is a gut-wrenching compassion. Splagchnizomai is not looking at someone from a distance and having pity for them. It is not about looking down on someone and saying how unfortunate they are, to look with compassion is to connect their struggle with your own and know that we are all united together in Christ.

In the world’s eyes we are very different. One of the things that makes us special as the Church for All People is our diversity. And yet, one thing that we have in common is that we all have been through some stuff.

We have all mourned the loss of someone we loved.

We have all faced addictions of one kind or another, whether to a chemical substance or to our pride and ego.

We all know what it feels like to be rejected and to have experienced a broken relationship.

We all know what it is like to just have a bad day.

When we are able to be honest with ourselves and recognize our own brokenness, then we can be compassionate about the struggles of someone else.

However, our temptation is to forget where we have come from. We look at the other with judgmental eyes, not remembering that we were there 10 years ago or recognizing how much God’s grace has changed us.

What would it look like to see a person behaving badly through the eyes of compassion?

It would mean seeing the person for who they are and not defining them by their behavior.

Image result for splagchnizomaiWhen you see the person behaving in a way that you would consider wrong, that person is not their behavior. That person is a child of God and their behavior comes from a place you probably know nothing about. We all share a lifetime of pain and struggle and abuse and suffering.

And we have all been hurt.

When we can see our hurts and can be understanding of another person’s hurts, than we can begin to look at one another through the eyes of compassion.

And when we can do that, amazing things can happen.

The rest of this scripture is the familiar story of the loaves and fishes.

The disciples see the hungry crowd and instead of looking at them through the eyes of compassion they look and see mouths that need to be fed. They ask Jesus to send them away, but instead Jesus says you feed them. They argue that they don’t have enough. But our God is not a God of scarcity but a God of abundance. There is more than enough. From the five loaves and two fish thousands are fed with 12 baskets of leftovers.

But the full miracle here is not only the miracle of abundant food, but the miracle of abundant compassion.

Our fear of scarcity is not limited to having enough money or food or stuff, we also often think we may not have enough love or kindness or generosity or compassion. o much so that we try and protect our pride by putting limits on how much forgiveness we are willing to show or understanding we are willing to extend.

But our God is not a God of scarcity, but is a God of abundance!

The more we show love, the more we receive love in return.

The more we offer forgiveness, the more we are forgiven.

Image result for glasses funny
The more we extend compassion, the more compassion spreads like a ripple effect across our community and our world.

The more we look at one another and see God in the eyes of the other, even in the person who makes us most uncomfortable, the more we are a part of God’s work of creating a world where people are seen for the content of their character instead of merely for the color of their skin.

My prayer for us today is that we will all get some new glasses, that we will see each other differently, that we will look at each other with eyes of compassion.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Friday Fruit (06/23/17)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:


These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Who killed Philando Castile?


Philando Castile's death was ruled a homicide. But no one killed him.

On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot by Jeronimo Yanez, in  St. Paul, Minnesota. On June 16, 2017, Yanez was acquitted of all related charges (one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm).

Castile was shot while stopped for a traffic violation. It was the 53rd time he had been pulled over in 14 years. Apparently, 52 is the limit to the number of times you can tempt fate by driving while black in a racist society.

When asked for his license and registration, Castile told the officer he was licensed to carry a weapon and had one in his pants pocket. Shortly thereafter he was shot seven times.

Castile has been lauded as a family man, a caring role model, a dedicated school worker. But even if he wasn't, should he be dead?

Where is the NRA for someone like Philando Castile? Were not his 2nd Amendment right violated in the extreme?

How many hours of videos have we seen? And how many countless times do they represent when there was no video?

How many of these deaths will it take until we've had enough?  How many until the Church at large will acknowledge a pattern and its own responsibility?

Philando Castile's death was ruled a homicide. If Jeronimo Yanez didn't kill him, maybe we did.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

DAMN. and the Crucified Christ

Image result for Kendrick Lamar's new album, DAMNThis week, Rev. Greg Henneman returns to BTSF, partnering with his son, Noah, as they review Kendrick Lamar's new album, DAMN.
So I was takin' a walk the other day, and I seen a woman—a blind woman—pacin' up and down the sidewalk. She seemed to be a bit frustrated, as if she had dropped somethin' and havin' a hard time findin' it. So after watchin' her struggle for a while, I decide to go over and lend a helping hand, you know? "Hello, ma'am, can I be of any assistance? It seems to me that you have lost something. I would like to help you find it." She replied: "Oh yes, you have lost something. You've lost... your life." [sound of a gunshot]
This is the story of Good Friday.

Christians remember Good Friday as the day that Jesus was executed. Fully divine and fully human, Jesus entered human history amongst its struggle and sought to lend a helping hand by modeling a new way to live centered around love of neighbor. Jesus offered assistance. For this, Jesus was killed.

On Good Friday, 2017, these words introduced the release of Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, DAMN. Lamar’s normally aggressive and quick words are countered with softness as the song BLOOD. serves as the album’s preface. At the end of this metaphor, the man offering assistance is killed.

Related imageThroughout this album, Kendrick aligns himself with the Crucified Christ. In the song, DNA, Kendrick is both “Yeshua’s new weapon” and seen as “an abomination”. His very DNA places him amongst a minority culture, thus making him a threat, described by the soundbite voice of Geraldo Rivera as being a part of hip hop music which has done “more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.”  Ironically, the song Rivera criticized, Alright, is one in which Kendrick offers hope and encouragement, that against the struggles of life he repeats “we gonna be alright.” “Alright” has become an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, despite the song’s claim of assurance, Black DNA makes him a threat to dominant American culture, just as Jesus’ words of inclusion threatened the political and religious powers of the Roman Empire.

Within popular music, there may not be a more powerful voice in 2017 than Lamar. When Beyoncé had to cancel her Coachella music festival appearance, it was Kendrick that replaced her with a lauded performance. A recent survey of music reviews came to the conclusion that Kendrick is the highest rated performer of the 21st Century.

Despite all of the critical and commercial success, Kendrick does not exalt himself in praise, but places himself amongst struggle. He does not see himself as exalted, but views himself from his Compton roots. He aligns himself more with the Crucified Christ than Glorified God. He wonders if success will last and asks in the song FEAR., “All this money, is God playin' a joke on me? Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?”

Image result for kendrick lamarJust as Jesus found disciples asleep in the garden and found himself abandoned on the cross, Kendrick’s repeated cry echoes across multiple songs on the album “aint nobody praying for me.”

But while Kendrick often feels trapped within his Compton roots and culturally alienated, he finds unity with God.

The song GOD. unites God’s and Kendrick’s shared perspectives. The song begins with God saying, “this what God feel like.” Kendrick responds that “ever since a young man” God has been watching over him for his whole life. After describing the behaviors Kendrick used to and is still doing Kendrick says “don’t judge me”. and God responds “who are you talking to, do you know who you are talking to”. And then he says all of the things that God says like “everything I touch is a gold mine.” The song finishes with both God’s and Kendrick’s perspective talking with each other.

Kendrick’s struggle, unified with that of the Crucified Christ, is powerful, but is not a lone voice.

Image result for Chance the RapperThe most noteworthy winner at this year’s Grammy’s was Chance the Rapper who despite being a self-published artist without a record label won best new artist, best rap album, and best rap performance. Chance’s lyrics mix unashamed praise for God with the reality of his experience growing up in Chicago. In the midst of singing about praises and blessings, Chance makes the same connection as Kendrick between contemporary struggle and the Crucified Christ with the statement, “Jesus black life ain’t matter.”

The latest album by Logic, “Everybody” is also filled with theological questions. The album includes an exchange with the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the voice of God in which the meaning of life is explored. But as noted in Kendrick Lamar and Change the Rapper, these are not mere philosophical wonderings, but connect to modern life. In the song “Confess” Logic asks: “Dear God, I just wanna know why, Why do you put us here? Why do you put us below? Why do you put us subservient?”

Across the spectrum of modern rap music, questions of where God can be found are being asked. Most often, God is found amongst the struggle. God’s voice is speaking from the streets. The prophetic voice is not only coming from the pulpit, but from the microphone.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Friday Fruit (05/26/17)

Black boyOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:


These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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