When “safe” no longer is…and possibly never was

Sunday, my family and I worshipped at an A.M.E. church in our new home city of Greenville, South Carolina. We’d been intrigued and slightly annoyed at the lack of diversity in all the congregations we’d been too. So we decided we wanted to try an A.M.E. church.

It wasn’t until I entered the sanctuary that I realized how much white privilege affects me.

Crossing the threshold to worship, I remembered that it was a white guy who shot A.M.E. members, after praying with them. In their own church. In the same state I was in.

And with all I’d thought about prior to attending a black church, I had not in the least considered that my presence may have set them on edge. I desperately wanted to reach out and let people know we weren’t like the white guy who’d traveled to Charleston. But bringing up the shooting seemed even dumber than not being aware that my presence might be scary for some.

I remembered the lessons my dad taught me about how to behave if pulled over by a policeman. So to help set people at ease, I intentionally tried to keep my empty hands visible during the service. Fortunately, that’s not hard to do an an A.M.E. church! But it was a conscious choice to keep my hands on the empty pew in front of me when I wasn’t clapping or taking notes during the sermon.

And I wondered how it must be for the pastor to see one white family in the sea of his congregation. Just three months after nine people he may well have known were shot in their own sanctuary. Nothing can be the same. There must be a new awareness. A new wariness.

And today, I pray for the teachers and professors around the nation that are approaching their classrooms. Rooms that were once unquestionably their sanctuary. Their domain. Where they taught students. But today are now potentially unsafe places full not of students but of possible threats.

Church on Sunday turned out to be a wonderful worship service with a gracious group of fellow believers. We received only hospitality, welcome, and hugs. It was great.

But I end this week realizing how random acts of violence affect all of us. And I mourn the increasing loss of “safe” spaces. That mourning almost seems silly when I realize the violence people around the world suffer on a daily basis and even those of differing races and backgrounds have suffered in my own country.

So I enter the prayers of those around the world and across millenia in saying:

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Daily Bible Reading at the Speed of Life: Announcing 14 Minutes a Day

14 Minutes a Day - Bible reading at the pace of lifeI’m thrilled to announce the launch of 14MinutesaDay.com!

Ever since becoming a Christian at the age of 14, I’ve been committed to reading the Bible. My family would read it every morning at 5 a.m., often snoozing over genealogies! When I went to college to be a pastor, I studied Greek and Hebrew to help my Bible reading. I even lived in Israel so I could better understand the Bible.

Reading the Bible–not just ABOUT the Bible

I was fine with my level of Bible reading until one Saturday when a group of guys teaching at The Stony Brook School invited me to breakfast. As we waited for food, the guys went around the table saying a number. “3.” “6.” “1.” “4.”

One of the guys explained that it was the number of days in the past week each of us had read the Bible, not just read about the Bible.

That’s when it hit me — somewhere along the way, I gave up reading the Bible in favor of reading about the Bible.

It was the same for each of us. We read devotionals, Bible studies, posts, and articles about the Bible. But we’d moved away from actually reading the Bible itself.

My conscience was pricked. But honestly, I still found it hard to hit a regular rhythm of devotionally reading the Bible. Reading the Bible as a way of listening to God. When I pastored a church, I read the Bible mostly in order to teach it. But reading the Bible for sermon preparation was different than reading it to personally grow in my relationship with Jesus.

The 7×7 Experiment

Then in 2012, my friend Jon Swanson announced a Lenten discipline called “7×7: Listening to God for Lent.”

He started an experiment of sending emails to help people spend 7 minutes every day listening to God. Each email contained a link to a passage of Scripture that would take 5 minutes of Bible to read, leaving a couple minutes for prayer.

Boom! This totally worked for me! All of a sudden, I was reading the Bible and listening to God on a daily basis. At some point, he started adding longer 14 minute passages. That was even more my style. I like reading longer passages of Scripture to get the context and see themes.

Soon I was helping him with the 14 minute passages. We didn’t go through the Bible in order of the books or in order of chronology. We chose to keep a mix of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) and Christian Scripture (New Testament). Sometimes we’d do individual books. Sometimes we’d group books together like Deuteronomy, Malachi, Luke, Hebrews, and Romans because as Jon put it, it’s “the clearest statement of the law, the despair of ever filling it, Christ living and fulfilling the law, the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.”

14 Minutes a Day

After we’d worked through the entire Bible, we stopped the emails. And before long, I fell out of the habit of daily Bible reading. So I’ve created 14MinutesaDay.com for my own personal devotional use. But I decided to open it up for others too. I call it: “Bible reading at the speed of life.”

If a free, no-frills, daily email with just a link to a passage of Scripture that will take roughly 14 minutes to read sounds like something you’d want, sign up at: 14MinutesaDay.com

Would you help me build a 2014 “over the top” love playlist?

Frederick Beuchner on God's astounding loveThis quote from Frederick Buechner was on one of my Facebook friends streams around Christmas. (Sorry I don’t remember who’s!)

The full quote is:

“Once we have seen Him in a stable, we can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of men.” – Frederick Buechner

I love the phrase “ludicrous depths of self-humiliation.” I too often forget this about God. This Hosea-like seeking and giving second chances over and over again. This love that makes you look totally foolish.

That’s our God. And I want to remember that in 2014.

Crazy love playlist

Honestly, it’s an aspect of God that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’m reminded of the line in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, about Aslan being good but not being tame. But I think David tapped into it when he danced his clothes off.

How would I live my life if I was firmly convinced that God is crazy in love with me? That he delights in my quirks and individuality? That, like Zepheniah says, He will rejoice over me with singing?

To help me remember this in 2014, I’d love to build a Spotify playlist. Would you help me? I’m looking for songs that celebrate this aspect of God’s love for us.

I immediately think of songs like John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” with lines like “He is jealous for me” and “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” Especially: “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us.” Kim Walker and David Crowder have also done versions of this.

I also think of songs like Alanis Morissette’s “Everything.” I can’t help but think of God when she sings about how human she is and then sings, “…you’re still here.”

What other songs should be on the playlist?

If you were building a playlist about over-the-top love, what other songs would you add? Worship music, pop music, I’m not really particular where the songs come from.

Leave them as a comment here, tell me on Twitter @marcapitman, or send me an email marc@fundraisingcoach.com. I’d love to know the song, the artist you prefer, and the reason you think it fits.

After it hits 5 or 6 songs, I’ll share my list on Spotify. I plan on continuing to add to it throughout the year.

(If you’re on Spotify, check out my “Kingdom in Unexpected Places” playlist. It’s a list of songs that remind me, unexpectedly, of God.)

What if this Easter celebration is real?

Easter sunrise service

Easter. The day that splits people.

Many appreciate Jesus. His life. His teaching.

And feel sorry that “the man” or “the machine” killed him.

But ressurection? For so many, that’s going too far.

If that’s you, this Easter try something different. Rather than scoff, mock, or feel sorry for those of us otherwise sensible people that believe in this raised-to-new-life thing. Rather than chuckling at this notion of Jesus not becoming zombified but actually becoming a new, more real creation.

What if?

Why not ask “What if it’s real?”

What if the pagan rituals of spring were just echoes, pantomimes, hints of a much deeper truth? Like the deeper magic Aslan releases?

Happy Easter!

However you choose to commemorate today, I wish you a happy Easter!

Pray and then get active

Sometimes the chapters get in the way

I’ve been reading the Bible for roughly 28 years. I think we started studying it as a family when I was 12.

I’m been sharing devotions with my son, using Jon Swanson’s 300 Words a Day and 7×7. [7×7 is reading the Bible for 5 minutes, asking God a question, and listening for 2 minutes. Therefore, it is 7 minutes a day, 7 days a week.]

For the 7×7 last week, we were working through Matthew 9 and 10. Matthew 9 ends with the inspiring:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

I’ve read this passage dozens of times. I’ve studied it. Heard it preached on. I’ve even preached on it myself.

But in the past, I let the chapter get in the way. I’d stop. And feel great that I was praying for God to send people to do the work.

I’d just never realized I was praying for God to send ME to do the work

Most of the time I read this, I thought God was sending out someone else. Oh, I realized there were times I was used by God as a “worker in the field” in answer to someone else’s prayer.

But then comes Matthew 10!

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions… [Matthew 10:1,5]

If the chapter division (inserted long after the Bible was compiled) wasn’t there, I’d have read something like, “Pray for God to send the workers. Now get busy being the answer to that prayer.”

Pray. And then get active.

It’s so easy to read the end of Matthew 9 and feel complacent and somewhat passive. “Ok, I’ve prayed. Thanks Jesus for letting me be involved without getting my hands dirty.”

But our God is the God of the dirty hands. He keeps involving Himself with us. And He calls us to be His hands and feet.

We can’t get out of if by saying this was a special sending for the 12. After this, the 72 were sent. And before Jesus’ ascension, He sent all His followers to “do the stuff”: healing, driving out demons, baptizing, and discipling.

This is the Kingdom He invites us into. One where He reigns. He equips us with authority and power. And He expects us to get busy being the Kingdom.

It reminds my of the Frederick Buechner quote: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

My take away: if you sense the urge to pray for a situation, explore to see if that is the first step in being sent to work on it.

Read it anew:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…[Matthew 9:35-38; 10:1,5]

Jesus isn’t a misogynist; neither should we be

Happy International Women’s Day!

21 years ago today, I remember exhorting an audience at my prep school that the Bible advocates for treating men and women equally. That the rampant paternalistic misogyny in the world is one of the boldest proofs of the Fall talked about in Genesis. (Eve wasn’t to blame; Adam was. He stayed silent.)

As I see it, women are such a threat to the evil one, he keeps up an incessant attack on them in a vain attempt to keep them under his thumb. But they keep overcoming!

Jesus isn’t misogynistic

Jesus didn’t attack women, demean them, or try to keep them down. Despite His culture, he treated women with as much respect as men. He had a habit of lifting them up. He was a Jewish rabbi that had women disciples.

The first apostles were even women. (Matthew 28) An apostle is defined as one who has seen the risen Jesus and tells others about Him. Peter and the boys quickly took credit, but it was women who were the first “sent ones.”

Jesus still isn’t misogynistic. I want to be a man like Jesus.

Oddly, just last week I got an irate review on one of my books because I almost exclusively used “she” and “her” in talking about a donor prospect. The guy was really ticked. “Your book is way out of wack (sic) with reality…it’s poorly written with your constant referral to She (sic) as if Men (sic) don’t do this. I guess your secretary must be handling things while you promote your special skills.”

Shocking. Even with the bad grammar, we see this attitude all over. I figure we’ve used “he,” “his,” and “men” to describe all people for enough millennia, it’s now time to use “she” and “her.”

Equality is biblical; misogyny is evil

For those of us who follow Jesus, it has to go. Check out Galatians 3:25-28.

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Can’t get much clearer than that.

Raise a glass

So today, I raise a glass to all of you with the two X chromosomes. Thank you for making our world a much better place. We’ve come along way in equality. Let’s celebrate that.

But we still have a long way to go. For those of us in the USA, let’s recommit to the ideal that “all [people] are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” (modification mine).

JW vs the mailman

AMERICAN CYANAMIDSome Jehovah’s Witnesses are canvassing our neighborhood. And if I had a drawbridge, I’d pull it up. So I’ll just have to settle for being glad our doorbell is broken.

Our neighborhood is on some sort of list. We regularly get Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons knocking on our doors. While I can appreciate their discipline and commitment, it still bugs the tar out of me.

As I was just pondering this, the mailman came. My knee jerk reaction? I wanted to rush to the door to meet him.

What does the mailman have that the Jehovah’s witnesses don’t?

My reaction shocked me. I know most of what the mailman is junk mail. So why do I want to greet him at the door when I shrink from the others?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. The mail man is bringing me something I’m interested in
    I’m willing to forgive the junk mail for the potential of some hope of something I’m interested in. More than willing, I’m eager. It’s the same eagerness and expectation when the UPS truck or FedEx truck drives up to our house. The promise of something new and exciting.

  2. I know the mail man
    Sort of. Ok, I don’t know his name but we do talk from time to time. And I definitely try to say “thank you” when I see him. And he never pitches me on anything, we just are pleasant with each other.
  3. He’s welcome and expected
    My time with my family is limited. But I have a tacit arrangement with the mailman: he comes every day except Sunday. In fact, when we didn’t get mail we called the post office the very next day! It’s not just the mailman. Yesterday, three neighbors dropped by while I was working on the front porch. All those visits were enjoyable. They were people I knew. They were welcome. These other door-to-door people aren’t expected nor are they welcome.

I don’t personally have anything against the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons. I have friends in both. There are plenty of Protestants that go door to door too. And political campaign folks. I feel the same irritation with them all.

Personally, when it comes to matters of faith (or most anything else) I’d prefer to be the mailman.

Hilarious! The FedEx truck just drove up while I was typing. My son’s new scooter is here. Gotta go!