Spring Cleaning

Today we took to the yard, the garage, and the basement for a blissful day of spring cleaning. I donated a ton of stuff to charity – CD’s, books, movies, clothes, baby gear, golf clubs, air conditioners. Wow! So much excess! It always feels good to scale back on the stuff, and even better to know that someone else will be enjoying things that we had long forgotten aboout or ran out of use for. I pray that our excess will bless others.

Bodies Exhibit

Today my wife and I went to New York City. We went to the South Street Seaport and visited the Bodies Exhibition. It was incredibly fascinating! It was an entire museum of cadavers, and we could literally look inside of this incredible thing that God invented called the body. Our two favorite rooms were the room wherein the blood vessels and veins were encased, and the room the showed life development. The former gave us a new level of awe when we consider the blood of Jesus that was shed for our sins. The latter included fetuses at each stage of development. How anyone could not believe in the Creator and that life truly begins in the womb after seeing that is beyond comprehension. I can never think of the body the same way again.


Book Review: Red Letter Christians

I just completed the book Red Letter Christians by Tony Campolo. I must say that, controversial as he may be sometimes, I have long respected and appreciated his life and ministry. He is not afraid to tackle tough issues or to go where no Evangelical has gone before. As Shane Claiborne says on the back cover, “Tony writes this book with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, reminding us that our faith must affect how we live in this world.”

I must confess that I am a person who has generally shied away from politics. In reading this book, I discovered that I am not the only Christian who has embraced this approach.

A few years ago, a friend asked me about my political views, and I couldn’t really answer him. I knew that I agreed with conservatives on some issues, while I agreed with liberals on others, but my agreement was more of an intuitive feeling based on my understanding of Jesus and Scripture than well thought out conclusions after prayer and deep consideration of Scripture.

When it came to voting time, I basically just voted for whomever was pro-life. I embodied exactly what Tony mentioned in the book: “Abortion is, for many Christians, a defining political issue. Is is so important to many Christian voters that it’s not uncommon to hear, ‘Even though on all other issues I might be in harmony with a candidate, if that candidate is wrong on this issues, he or she won’t get my vote.'” (p. 119) I always wondered deep inside if I was doing the right thing, but I figured if someone was against abortion they deserved my vote. Beyond that I was largely disinterested in politics.

This book, however, has awakened something within me. This statement really captured me: “It is irresponsible to not be involved in politics.” (p. 210) “In present day Christendom, there has been a tendency to forget that both the salvation of individuals and the transformation of society are Kingdom non-negotiables.” (p. 33) “It is by getting involved in political processes that Christians exercise one significant method of transforming society – so that within it, justice can roll down (see Amos 5:24).” (p. 35)

Tony carefully goes through many issues and presents his own beliefs while inviting readers to thoughtfully, critically, and biblically draw their own conclusions. “The last thing in the world I want for anyone reading this book is that he or she uncritically follow what I say on these pages as if my views on political issues are the final word on what Christians should think.” (p. 43)

In a year when the political race for the White House is incredibly polarizing, this book is an absolute must read for everyone. It will challenge all to a deeper consideration of the heart of God for his kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven, and a greater sense of responsibility when it comes to participation in the political process.

5 Magazines I Read Every Month

“It’s called reading. Top to bottom. Left to right. A group of words together is a sentence. Take Tylenol for headaches; Midol for craMidmps.” That’s one of my favorite lines from my favorite all-time movie and I crack up every time I think of it.

I know, I know! Most of you probably don’t even belive that I can read, but I can. Josh Griffin’s blog yesterday inspired me. He wrote a piece called “6 Magazines I Read Every Month.” Since Josh works at a church of 20,000, and I work at a church of 2,500, I am obviously busier than him (lol!) so I only have time to read 5 magazines a month. I thought I would share my five with you.

Outreach. I love this magazine! It really challenges me to consider what I am doing in terms of reaching out to people with the love of Jesus. It profiles some wonderful ministries who are reaching out to the world and their communities in creative ways. Very inspiring!

Leadership. A tremendous magazine that sharpens me as a leader. Another magazine that challenges the Church and leaders to ask whether we are doing what Jesus wants us to to be doing.

Group. A must for any youth worker! I look forward to this one showing up in my mailbox every month. It features articles by people that I feel great affinity with, and my heart says “Amen!” to a lot of what they share. Very practical!

Relevant. This one helps keep me in tune with culture. I love that they interview all sorts of people – not just Christians. Some of my favorite interviews are with those who are not Christians because it gives me insight into their thinking – how they view Christ, how they perceive Christians, and the messages that they are sending to their audiences, be it through music, movies, writing, or lifestyles in general.

Youth Worker Journal. Another youth ministry must. I enjoy this one because of the great diversity of perspectives on ministry to students. Not being from a liturgical background, I enjoy being challenged by the things that are being done in that quadrant of youth ministry. This magazine is one in which their is an ongoing dialogue about crucial issues in youth ministry.

Thanks for the inspiration Josh!

For Whites Only: Things to Consider When Entering the Race Conversation

Just read this article and thought I would pass it along. Inspired by the recent controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his pastor’s remarks, it is a timely read. If you want to see the article on the original website, click on the title above.

“For Whites Only: Things to Consider When Entering the Race Conversation”

(by Sondra Shepley)

In response to the racially tinged controversial remarks made by his former pastor, Barack Obama’s speech on the current state of race and politics in America is one that I believe every American should listen to and/or read. It is with this in mind that I wish to address the specific challenges and hindrances that white progressive Christians, like myself, may encounter in our discussions about this topic, and particularly those that occur across racial lines. It would be easy for progressives to smugly say “tisk, tisk” to the rightwing talk show hosts and pundits that have conflagrated Rev. Wright’s most divisive remarks as a way to undermine the most viable black presidential candidate in our nation’s history. However, I am not convinced that the Christian peace and justice movement has enough solid ground to stand on to convince America that they have moved much beyond the superficial and politically correct discussions that dominate the discourse. Many of our progressive churches are just as segregated as they were decades ago and our political protests and social activism, though well-intentioned, often fail to mirror the kingdom reality that we hope to see realized in the broader society. To be honest, I’m not sure if any of us white people will ever fully grasp what it means to be a person of color in America. However, this realization should not be a cause for discouragement from engaging in this dialogue, but a reason to pause and reassess our level of commitment and to retain a posture of humility.

Sometimes we’ve become too much like the eager know-it-all kid at the front of the classroom itching to regurgitate the textbook answers. When our teacher is not impressed by our lack of genuine perceptiveness, we scratch our heads and wonder what we said that was so inadequate. Our book knowledge somehow has made us lose sight that these discussions are not opportunities to reassert an ideology, but an exercise in confession and reconciliation that deals with the emotional and sometimes illogical human heart. Likewise, these discussions are opportunities to move forward in creating real systemic change that reflects the integrity and sincerity of our repentance.

Similarly, understanding the facts of racial injustice in our society does not naturally lend us knowledge of the felt experience of oppression. Unfortunately, I have seen too many white Christians walk away from difficult discussions about race discouraged because they wanted the cut-and-dry, “just the facts ma’am” answers, and instead their black or brown, brother or sister insisted on sharing the emotional scars and deep-seated wounds of their daily lived experience. It is right then for Obama to point out that, “…the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

It is important, as well, to point out that indignation from a biblical perspective is not in and of itself a sinful or wrong emotion. Jesus and the prophets had harsh words for the religious and political establishments of their day, and most notably, in a fit of rage Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers in the Jewish temple. His explanation: “My house should be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Our worship glorifies God, but our segregated worship hours often reflect a specific cultural expression.

The rhetorical style of the “jeremiad”—defined as sermons or prose characterized by lamentation and anger as a response to societal injustices—is considered by many historians as black civic religion’s most significant contribution to the American rhetorical tradition. Of course, the word jeremiad has its roots in the name Jeremiah, referring to the biblical prophet. The jeremiad, as a form of both religious and political communication, highlights the role, born out of necessity, that the black church has historically played as a surrogate political institution for the disenfranchised. It may be difficult for white Americans, even progressive white Christians, to recognize or validate a rhetorical style and tradition that has its roots outside of their cultural experience, but has always been a traditional and mainstream expression of the black church. It’s a gross stereotype of white progressive Christians, but those who trend toward the organic-buying-acoustic-guitar-playing-bohemian-dressed-new-monastic-urban-missional-emergent-yuppie-with-dark-rimmed-glasses should be aware that even their cultural choices made out of social consciousness are not racially neutral and are certainly not one-size-fits-all.

Finally, we white progressive Christians should realize that this conversation will continue regardless if we choose to participate in it or not. As Obama pointed out, this is a conversation that happens with regularity around the kitchen tables of those who live outside the mainstream of white culture. If our friends who live this reality invite us into this conversation we should make it a priority. To table this discussion for another day, when we have more time or energy is to exercise the white privilege that requires us to only think about race when it convenient. Inviting you to the table to talk about these most difficult and painful experiences is not your right, but a privilege that is sacrificially offered to you for your benefit. We should all be so honored to be invited into the conversation.

Sondra Shepley is the speaking events manager for Sojourners.

Category: Race

My World Has Been Rocked!

OK, I had my world totally rocked today! The Lord has really been speaking to my heart lately about learning to serve – learning to reach out and love “the least of these.” I was praying and asking God to direct me to someone who could come and share at our winter retreat next year, and as I was looking through a resource I have, I stumbled across a guy named Shane Claiborne. After reading his bio I thought I would look him up on Youtube to see if I could hear him speak. Needless to say I was mesmerized by his message. In fact, I was so struck by it I came home and watched the whole thing over again with my wife. When it was over we were both in tears. Please, do yourself a favor, take 50 minutes of your day and allow God to minister to you through this powerful message! http://youtube.com/watch?v=QPANKUHabx4

March Madness Book Sale!

Hey everyone! Thanks so much for the great response to my book!

I love March Madness, so I am offering a special deal on my book.

If you e-mail me during the month of March and place an order with me directly, I will send you signed copies of my book for only $9 each. If you order 5 or more they will be only $8 each.

So drop me a line today and get the book that will help you and your team deepen your connection with your students and friends!


Developing Student Leaders

Hey guys! I was asked to write an article on developing student leaders for Purpose-Drive youth ministries. You can read it by clicking on the title above.