We are three quarters of the way through the season of Lent (starting at Ash Wednesday going through Easter). This is the time of year that believers typically prepare – through prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial – for the Holy Week and ultimately Resurrection Sunday .
The facet of this season that has stood out to me in a new way this year is this: how is it that the central icon of the Christian faith is a Cross? A cross is what split history into two. A cross is what launched the most significant movement in human history. A cross is at the center of what has transformed millions of people’s lives.
Consider how unusual that is.
All the other religious founders of the major religions died old and successful. Moses gets the children of the Israel to the border of the Promised Land and died over 100 years old. Buddha lives to 80 years old and claimed to achieve enlightenment. Mohammed lives into his 60’s but doesn’t die until he unites all of Arabia under one faith.
In contrast you have Jesus, who dies on a Cross at age 33. He dies in agony. He is abandoned by everyone in his life. He died alone, young, stripped naked and stared at, and crying out to God and asking why he has been abandoned. The high point of his ministry is Jesus hanging from a Cross.
What is it about a Cross that changed not only human history but also changes the human heart?
I am a lifelong Chicagoan, a pastor at River City Community Church, and an author who writes a lot about resisting and confronting white supremacy from a faith lens.
Our church was founded in January of 2003 in the west Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, and is centered on the core values of worship, reconciliation, and neighborhood development. We long to see increased spiritual renewal as well as social and economic justice in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and entire city, demonstrating compassion and alleviating poverty as tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God. It is also through the gift of this faith community that I have learned to see the profound historical and spiritual impact of the stronghold of white supremacy, and where I have been challenged to broaden and deepen my understanding of discipleship in the hopes of becoming a serious enough Christ follower who is able to meaningfully participate with those who have risen up in defiance of this evil principality.
The lessons learned in this journey have been captured in a pair of books on race. The first, White Awake, explores the barriers that white people tend to face – white Christians specifically – when we attempt to awaken to and understand white supremacy through a faith lens. I spend a lot of time here addressing the internal defenses that are bound to go off when this journey is taken seriously, and I chart out a path for developing a resilient spirit that steadfastly moves towards truth, justice, and equity. The second, White Lies, further builds out the path for the white Christian who longs to actively participate in the resistance and confrontation of white supremacy. I spend a lot of time here exploring why it is so hard to tell the truth about race, as well as expose the lies that sustain it, within white, Christian, Bible-believing environments. I then propose nine practices that position us for engaging in this task.
On the personal front, my career started in the marketplace, as I was part of three dot.com startups in the 90’s. My vocational path shifted when I joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in 1998, and I spent five years working there. I started River City Community Church in January 2003 and have been happily serving here ever since. On the education front, my undergrad was in Business (Purdue University), my graduate degree in theology (Moody Bible Institute), and my doctoral degree in community development (Northern Seminary). On the family front, my wife is a Professor of Psychology, and we have two amazing children (Xander and Gabriella).
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