I came across this article today, and I resonated deeply with it (thanks Dr. Christena Cleveland for passing it on!). In it, Natalie Dunn Magnusson talks about the importance of merging spiritual contemplation with the pursuit of justice, a point that I find to be critically underemphasized.
I often meet people that value contemplation, but don’t carry it out to the pursuit of justice. To that, she makes this simple but important point:
“Social issues are highly spiritual issues, as Walter Wink, William Stringfellow, and others have reminded us. Our love of God is deeply interwoven with our love of people, and so how we engage these social issues reveals much about our lives with God.”
There is another dynamic that is just as problematic. I also meet a lot of people that pursue justice, but don’t root it in deep contemplation. To that she says:
“Our empowerment for justice must be rooted in and flow from lives that are lived with God. We cannot engage these issues on our own. We’re up against deeply rooted structures and systems that have been in effect since long before we ever existed. The labor of justice, the setting of things as they should be, is really God’s work, and we are wise to remember our position in this. I think about how in Acts we see the Holy Spirit so clearly and actively involved in the inclusion of the Gentiles. It was God who initiated that kind of justice and saw it to completion, and thankfully there were some individuals attentive and willing to respond to the movement and nudging of God. In a similar fashion, we need to step back and allow God’s Spirit to have a primary role in this unfolding story of gender inclusion and other social changes that are taking place in our churches. This is not our story. This is God’s story. Our posture has to be, first and foremost, confessional and dependent on the power of God.”
She implores us not to lose one for the sake of the other:
“I’m not implying that we have to sit back and wait for a white sheet to fall from the sky. Rather, I’m advocating for a rhythm of praxis and reflection, or action and contemplation, where we are in the habit of regularly stopping and prayerfully considering what has occurred and how God is calling us to participate next.”
I’m grateful for the eloquent yet simple reminder that this is God’s story, not ours. We must be confessional and dependent on the power of God, which then leads to a lifestyle of contemplation and action.
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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