Monday, June 22, 2015

Behavior Modification Has Failed Us

I grew up in the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. But I also grew up with my great grandmother and my grandmother’s fear of “the white man”. I grew up knowing that Klan rallies still existed and the Klansmen were the bank presidents, grocers, and businessmen of our small town. I grew up to be respectful and to show deference to “the white man”. I was trained how to act, how to speak and how to carry myself in the presence of “the white man”. I was skilled from a young child in behavior modification.

As I grew, I experienced my own set of racial injustices. There were certain dance studios we couldn’t take classes at because they were still white only. No, there were no longer any signs to indicate that, but everyone knew that’s just how it was. When I asked my Caucasian friends about attending, nervous looks were shared and the subject changed. Finally, after asking numerous times, one bold friend declared, “Look, Tavette, that’s just how it is okay. It’s nothing against you. Mrs. ____ (I won’t dime her out.) doesn’t want any black people dancing in her studio. So she won’t let you in.” Then of course, there were the teachers, 3 in particular that I remember, who would say to the black kids in their classroom, “Well, you’re black. We don’t expect you to get this. I don’t expect you to know this. “ Or my worse one that still has some residual effects to this day, the dentist who proclaimed to my 6 year old self that “all colored people have cavities cause they don’t know how to properly take care of their teeth.” Thank you, Dr. Vandemeer, I still have all 32 pearly whites in my effort to prove that at least one “colored” person does indeed know how to take care of her teeth.

That’s just a small myopic snapshot of things I experienced as a young black girl in the south growing up. Now take those experiences and couple them with the fears and experiences of parents and grandparents who lived through more overt periods of racial tension and demonstrations of injustice and hatred and then send me to a school like Vanderbilt University, where, African-American students protested and demanded the removal of Board of Trust Member, Hall Thompson because of his role at an Alabama country club that still did not admit blacks in 1990. Can you imagine the level of disdain in my heart for people outside my race?

My heart was black with hatred, suspicion, mistrust and disgust. Remember, I knew behavior modification well. I could give you whatever you needed for us to function.  I could smile. I could cooperate. I could work with others, but on the inside I was the little kid. You know the one? The one whose mom says sit down and the kid obeys because they have to. But on the inside, they are standing up. Yep, that was me.

And then in 1993, God began to work on my heart. In prayer one day, He told me that He had called Doug and I to the ministry of reconciliation and that we were not to count the trespasses of others against them. Shortly after that word was impressed upon my heart, we started listening to the radio broadcasts of a Caucasian preacher in our area. Doug and I decided to go check out his church, which was REALLY out of our comfort zone. Neither of us had EVER been in a church with white people before.

To this day, I can remember every vivid detail of our first visit to Bethel World Outreach Center in Brentwood, TN. But what struck me most was our initial conversation with Pastor Ray McCollom. After church, the pastor made his way over to us. He greeted us warmly, shook our hands and then said with great sincerity, “Thank you so much for coming today. It is my desire to see this church filled with people of all races, but it’s going to take people like you. Pioneers who are willing to be some of the first so that when others of your race walk through the door, they feel at home.” I was dumbstruck by his authenticity. I didn’t feel used. I didn’t feel like a token. I felt like there was a part I could play in the beautiful mission of reconciliation. Pastor Ray’s words were the confirmation to what God had spoken in my prayer time and became the catalyst that led Doug and I on a journey of intentionality in multiethnic worship and friendships.  That only grew and strengthened as I handed Jesus my mistrust and disdain for other races and opened my heart to know them as individual people and not a collective group that I had assumed was out to get me.

Now here I sit, feeling the agony of events over the past few years. The violence, the police brutality, the inequality and injustices on display in the judicial system, the tendency of the media to pimp both sides to the point of rage and play it up for hype and ratings. I’m crying out to God for wisdom and insight and what does He do? He brings a movie to the big screen called, Selma, to show me first hand the root issue of today’s problem.

It is in the heart that all wars are won. And this issue, the issue of racial injustice that led to the Civil Rights Movement has been one of behavior modification and not heart change and this is why we are where we are today.

In the movie, MLK approaches President Johnson with grave concern. Read their dialogue:
Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You're an activist. I'm a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one. 

Essentially, President Johnson says to MLK, I can’t help you. I won’t help you. Wait until the next legislative session. And Martin goes back to his people and he says, ”WE MUST MARCH. WE MUST STAND UP. WE DISTURB THE PEACE. WE MUST MAKE A MASSIVE DEMONSTRATION. We negotiate.  We demonstrate. We resist.”

In other words, this is how we behave

And those of us who’ve seen the movie, we know how that goes down. It goes south in Selma. Wallace gave the sheriff permission to unleash the hounds. And now, Lyndon B. Johnson is forced to act. Can you see what’s at play here? More behavior modification. Listen to the dialogue as he espouses his opinion:

President Lyndon B. Johnson: But when you have people coming inside the White House, inside the White House, on a tour, they just sat down, Martin, sat down in the main corridor and started singing and shouting, well, I won't have it!
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Either King stops or Wallace stops or I'll stop them both!

Fear breeds control.

President Lyndon B. Johnson: Are you trying to s**t me, George Wallace? Are you trying to f*** over your president? I'll be damned to let history put me in the same place as the likes of you.

And since what people think about me is more important than what I actually believe in my heart, I’m going to modify my behavior to give the people what they are asking for.  Fear of man is when the appearance of something is more important than the something.

Now watch the spin:
President Lyndon B. Johnson: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. We shouldn't even be thinking about 1965, we should be thinking about 1985.

And the world applauds because that sounds so right.  Only, behavior modification has a time limit. We can only act outside of our heart for so long before our true feelings and beliefs start to surface.

So for 20 years or so, we’ve basked in the glory of the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. But the truth is, this battle was never effectively won in the hearts of the race of men (at least not some of them) and so here we are, 50 years later seeing the truth of men’s hearts on display.
Inconsistencies happen when the way of our being (the way we behave) is not in alignment with the truth of our being (what we believe in our heart). We can only “just accept certain things” for so long before that tension of discord rises to the surface. 

We are living in the tension of discord from the Civil Rights Era. So many people went along with things because the times were changing and they had to. It wasn’t that they agreed with the change or believed it in, it was demanded of them and so they modified their behavior to go with the flow. Many of the inequalities in today’s judicial system are a direct response to this.

Dialogue without heart change is pointless. There is no effective solution outside of a transformed heart. We want to make a big splash, change the world and yet the fear, mistrust, suspicion, disdain, disgust that resides like tar on the surface of our hearts will always seep through the crevice of our beliefs into our actions. 

Yet, I firmly believe there were those that did fully believe in equality for all people. There were those who had won this war in their heart and passed on the value of humanity to their offspring. 

Love is more powerful than the forces of evil. Love changes the blackness of our heart and allows healing to begin. Love lays aside suspicion and believes the best about people.
Love has been on display in the last 50 years. 

People are living love out loud everyday. Like our brothers and sisters in Charleston! Their love has been on display like a beacon of hope. And now it’s our time to join them. We can do this. Resist the temptation to insist on more behavior modification without real heart change. Let’s bring our transformed hearts to the table. Better yet, let’s live from our transformed hearts and be the change we want to see in the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I read this Brian Zahnd quote a few days ago, "The unity of the Church isn't about speaking one language. (That's Babylon.) It's about one gospel spoken in many tongues. Don't shrink Pentecost to an individual spiritual experience. Pentecost isn't about individualism; Pentecost is about our unity in the Holy Spirit."

The words resonated deeply within me. My mind quickly went back to the 2006 movie, We Are Marshall. Matthew McConaughey plays the young Jack Lengyel who arrives at Marshall after a great tragedy that has cost the lives of six teammates. And from the great sadness of that tragedy, he builds a powerhouse team. We were all inspired by their unity as they chanted together, “We Are…Marshall.” One tribe. One team.

Listen to the words of the young Coach Lengyel as he inspired his players toward victory, “For those of you who may not know, this is the final resting place for six members of the 1970 Thundering Herd. The plane crash that took their lives was so severe, so absolute, that their bodies were unable to be identified. So they were buried here. Together. Six players. Six teammates. Six Sons of Marshall. This is our past, gentlemen. This is where we have been. This is how we got here. This is who we are…But I want to tell you something that they don't know. They don't know your heart. I do. I've seen it. You have shown it to me…You have shown yourselves just exactly who you are in here. [Thumps his chest] When you take that field today, you've got to lay that heart on the line, men. From the souls of your feet, with every ounce of blood you've got in your body, lay it on the line until the final whistle blows. And if you do that, if you do that, we cannot lose…How you play today, from this moment on is how you will be remembered. This is your opportunity to rise from these ashes and grab glory. We are... “

 And the Young Thundering Herd respond: “Marshall!” Then Coach Lengyel says, “The funerals end today!”

I could hear Father God championing His kids through this passionate rally.

Many believers spend much of their time looking for the right church, the right tribe, the right group of people that speak their language. Many have missed the beauty of the incarnation of Jesus and the revelation of His father’s love that He brought into our world with Him.

Here we are, carrying the burdens of the world on our shoulder. Weighed down by the cares of life. Deeply mired in the muck of the great sadness of tragedy, chaos and despair. Ruined by fear, mistrust and anger. And Jesus steps into our world and summons us into His huddle. “My brothers,” He says, “this is where we’ve been. Adam’s wrong choice is how we got here. This is who we are. But I want to tell you something they don’t know. They don’t know your heart. I’ve seen it. You’ve shown it to me…not the heart of stone, but the new heart. The heart of flesh that my Father created within you from the beginning. And as I’ve lived and breathed, I have shown you exactly who you are in here (thumps His chest). For you and I are one.”

And the power of Jesus’ exhortation continues, “When you wake up every day, you've got to lay that heart on the line. Let love lead every choice you make. From the souls of your feet, with every ounce of blood you've got in your body, lay it on the line until the final whistle blows. And if you do that, if you do that, We cannot lose. In fact, We’ve already won. But how you play today, from this moment on is how you will be remembered. And they will know that you are My disciples by your love. This is your opportunity to rise from the ashes of Adam’s fall and grab glory. The funeral ends today. Live fully in the manifested fruit of resurrected living. You are a new creation in Christ. You’ve not known me as a Protestant, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Pharisee, a Bethelite, or an IHOPite. You’ve only known be by one name: Son of God; Son of Man; Son of David. We are...SONS.

Through the unity of the Holy Spirit, true diversity shines. It’s not sameness Father desires. It’s oneness. Father’s love has been shed abroad in your heart that you may fully be who He created you to be. He’s not asked for one language. He’s not asked you to be a parrot. He’s asked you to live interdependently in fellowship and communion with Him, receiving His love and expressing the good news of that love relationship to the world in your own voice.

Liberace. Bruce Springsteen. Common. Chris Botti. Madonna. Earth, Wind & Fire. Tasha Cobbs. Kari Jobe. Lenny Kravitz. Bono. Kirk Whalum. Will Downing. Monet. Van Goh. Rembrandt. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Warren Buffet. Colin Powell. Felicia Murrell. (insert your name here) There is but one team, one tribe.

We are all clothed in His robe of righteousness. But we each get to wear our own name, live in our own skin and be our own expression of beauty. We each get to trumpet our own sound in the land. And this is the wonder of Pentecost. One Accord. Many languages.

But the expression of Pentecost loses its vitality without the revelation of Father’s love. For truly in that revelation is the truth that I belong. No longer do I have to search for where I fit. I fit in Him. I am accepted by Him. He approves of me. And from that place of belonging, I speak the good news. From the overflow of His love, I live the good news.

We Are…SONS!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Can't We All Just Get Along?

My kids are all different. I have one who loves to go ALL the time. I have one who loves to stay at home ALL the time. I have one who loves to work and make their own way. I have one who...hmm, struggles with the concept of work. ;) I have a few that are loners. And a few that never want to have a moment to themselves. But they are mine and I love them. I don't try to make the other three be like the one or the one be like the three or two of them to be like the other two. They have complete freedom to be who they are.

If I being a natural parent can release that kind of freedom to our kids, how much more does Papa God release that freedom to us? So why then do we, in the body of Christ keep trying to make others conform to our ideals and image?

Can we not trust Abba to work in the hearts and minds of each individual as they journey with Him? We hurl insults at the ones who choose rest over striving. We call them slackers, lazy, convincing them with our rhetoric that they should be working, doing. We slam the ones who choose to embrace grace over performance. We mock those who choose IC over some other unconventional form of relational worship... It's ridiculous.

Hey brothers! We are to be known by our love, not our condescension. The bickering doesn't look good on us.

You have full permission to be different. If you want to labor for God, go plow the harvest. If you want to rest, recline on His breast. If you want to beg for more then have at it. If you want to bask in His fullness, then wallow in it. If you want to feast, dine. If you want to fast, starve.

My point? We all have the same Dad. We're His kids. It's okay for you to be different. I don't need to look like you, think like you, worship like you, have the exact same theology as you, live like you to have the same Father. We are all His kids. There is room for everyone of us at the table. True unity is the celebration of diversity. You being you is attractive. No clones needed.

The laborers stand shoulder to shoulder with the resters. The feasters link arms with the fasters. We're in this together with one end in mind - to be made whole and holy by His love.