Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932, is one of the most widely cited US Supreme Court justices in history. Here is one of his most famous quotes:
“Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.”
I came across this quote this morning (I prefer substituting the male default there with “A person’s mind…”) and it got me thinking (pardon the pun). I believe he was onto something profound with this quote – once your mind has been expanded to see a broader view of the world, of humanity, and of God – it doesn’t ever return to its original dimensions.
This has been very true in my whole life. Though I could describe the transformation that I have experienced over the course of my adult life in a variety of ways, this would probably serve as one of the clearest ways to contrast the before and after. My mind has been stretched and stretched and stretched, and each time it has led to both a different way of viewing the world as well as a different way of living within it.
I am not sure if Oliver Wendell Holmes was a Christian, but certainly his ideology reflected the core message of Jesus Christ. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near,” was the most common way Jesus described the importance of his message.
The etymology of ‘repent’ points to a change in thinking – we get the English word ‘pensive’ from the same root. Though repentance certainly includes forgiveness from sin and a change in behavior, it is interesting that it also finds its roots in a change of thinking. To know Jesus you must repent, and to repent means you are now going to enter into a process of transformation with Jesus that causes you to re-think. Once you begin to re-think, you are going to experience just what Holmes described. Jesus will stretch your mind with new ideas about the Kingdom of God, and if you see what he wants you to see, your mind will never return to its original dimensions.
That is a blessing and a gift, but it comes with a stewardship responsibility. To see differently means we must act differently. Once we see money, power, gender, race, culture, education, economics differently – just to name a few – we then have a more significant responsibility to respond.
And I think that’s just what Jesus intended when he called on us to repent.
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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