Tag Archives: love

Why Does #Furgeson Matter?

 On November 26, 2014 a post that I was invited to write was featured on The Marin Foundation’s Patheos blog.  It was a great honor to be asked to share my thoughts and perspective on the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.  The full text of my post is here.  I hope you’ll read it with an open heart. Thanks!


 

If I matter to you then #Ferguson should matter to you. #BlackLivesMatter illustration by Darren CalhounGrowing up black in America informs my experience with bridge building and compassion in some unique ways.  In attempting to connect with, understand others as well as being understood and contribute to positive change, I’m constantly faced with the reality that being a person of color in this country presents me with a different experience than if I were white.  When major news items come up in the media, I can look at my Facebook newsfeed and see a divide where my friends who are minorities may be consumed with a topic and my white friends may not have even heard about it – or I might be the only one on their newsfeed to mention it.

In Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer. News of the shooting seemed to immediately go viral on the social media sites I follow.  Just as quickly as the news spread, questions were raised as to what took place that resulted in this fate for Michael Brown. As the accounts of eye-witnesses began to be shared via video and telephone interviews, it became apparent that the all too familiar story :a  an unarmed black man had been killed by a white police officer. This, of course, was coupled with the presumption that the police would not handle the case properly and this suspicion was further supported with the camera phone images of Officer Wilson standing over Brown’s lifeless body that remained in the street for hours after his death.

I realize for many who may be reading this, the scenario of an unarmed youth being shot to death may not be something you hear about commonly, but as a black man in America I was raised with never ending reminders that police will treat people like me differently because of the color of my skin. This reality is so common in black communities that much of it is simply ‘understood’ and we discuss it to help the next generation be prepared for it.  However, I haven’t spent the majority of my life in exclusively black spaces.  In spaces that are mixed or mostly white, I’m often reminded that my white friends have a very different experience.

One evening while riding home in a car with friends from a Living In The Tension gathering, the topic of getting pulled over by police came up.  There were five of us in the vehicle : two white females, two white males, and myself.  For the first few minutes we talked about being ‘harassed’ by police – them pulling us over for seemingly nothing, or going only one mile over the speed limit. I resonated with this, but the response to the police was where I suddenly had my eyes opened to just how different our experiences were. They all seemed to have stories of taking the officer to task for the inconvenience of being stopped.  The conversation shifted into tales of how badge numbers had been demanded and how even in their teen years ‘standing up for themselves’ got them out of a ticket – or at the very least, better treatment from the officer.  They even shared stories of friends who had been defiant, used profanity with officers, or been flippant. I was shocked because I couldn’t recall a single incident with a police officer where I didn’t fear my personal safety and that I would somehow be carted off to jail.  I don’t think any of them had ever been described as a suspect in a robbery or stopped only to be asked where they were going with no other reason given for the stop.  I was taken aback because my experiences were informed by a very different reality. I was repeatedly taught that during a police stop I MUST move slowly, keep my hands on the steering wheel, announce every move I’m going to make, speak in a very slow and calm tone, use my most proper speech, try to appear as non-threatening as possible… and so on.  I realized that for my white friends they had never been presumed to be a threat to the lives of officers while for blacks it had been the presumption from the moment the police engaged us. 

These observations aren’t just anecdotal. There is data collected by police and regularly reported to the FBI that shows people of color being stopped far more than whites.  In Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was killed, 2013 data from the Missouri Attorney General shows that 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of car stops involved blacks but only 67 percent of the town’s population is black.  Of that number 34 percent of searches of white suspects found contraband, versus only 22 for black suspects.  It’s with realities like this, which are common across the US, that black people face the news of Michael Brown’s shooting and now the news that Officer Wilson wasn’t indicted on any charges of wrong-doing in this case.

As someone who is committed to reconciliation I ‘get it’ when people (of any race) don’t understand the unrest around the situation in Ferguson.  If nothing in your experience immediately connects to that kind of radicalized oppression, I see why you may think of the news as over-hyped and the reactions as inappropriate.  However, too often judgments are made about  the character of the people involved that isn’t informed by a sense of compassion or understanding for an experience that may be very different from your own.

But why does that matter?

So often when discussion of topics of race, gender, orientation, economic status, and the varying experiences of people across these classes comes up, I simply sit and listen.  I listen to see who is saying something damaging, who is searching for answers, and who is showing themselves as an ally to the more vulnerable party.  This isn’t so I can judge someone as right or wrong, it’s actually to see where I can be a support, and where I may be able to find support later.  What I really want to know is “do you care?”.  I believe there are powerful connections to be made when people care for and understand each other.

My life has been enriched by people who have gone beyond our differences to see me and affirm how they connect with my story.  The opposite has also been true – I’ve been wounded by people who – because they couldn’t understand me or because they didn’t care – have said and done some of the most hurtful and isolating things in my life.

We all have the potential to uplift or to tear one another down with our words and actions.  When we show love by caring about the plight of the other, I believe we can begin to restore the humanity in all of us that is created in the image and likeness of God.  When we show compassion and concern for things like the system of racism that creates situations like the one in Ferguson, or for the struggle of LGBTQ people to find love, safety, and acceptance in the world and in church, we can send powerful messages to people around us that say ‘I care.’

This is not to say that we always have to agree on these issues but rather to love the other person despite our differences or disagreements.  So in your conversations, your comments on blogs and social media – in what you say from pulpits and soap boxes, in the way you respond to what you see presented on TV or as you walk down your street, please let love lead and communicate in word and action that people matter.

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Breakin’ Rules: Living out the Kingdom of God

Jon Klinepeter - photo by S. Bailey © 2010
Photo: Jon Klinepeter - by S. Bailey © 2010

On Sunday, August 15, 2010 – my church,  Willow Chicago welcomed our new Campus Pastor, Jon Klinepeter and his family.  Below are bits of the message he shared with our congregation on Sunday.



The Kingdom of God is not just a future certainty but a present reality.

When we align ourselves with the love of Jesus – we are aligning ourselves with the Kingdom of God.

Every time there was a societal or religious margin that told someone they didn’t belong, Jesus went beyond it. Jesus’ love knew no margin based on background, ethnicity, sin choices… Jesus never met anyone who was beyond his love. There wasn’t a margin that Jesus wouldn’t crash through to show his love for someone.

Love breaks the rules and is somewhat unapologetic about it. It says to religious and social rules “I don’t care!” Choosing the Kingdom of God makes us appear foolish, child-like, dangerous, and unwise. How naïve and crazy Jesus must have looked and felt on the cross.

I want other churches to think we are crazy… because I don’t care what other churches think of us.

If the lost in this city think that we are amazing at loving -then we are living out what God has for us.  If the poor and broken in this city know that our love is not just theoretical in prayer, but is tangible in action, then we are arriving at what God has for us. If the gay community in this city feels first our Love, then we are arriving at the kind of community that God has for us.

To the outcasts, the single moms, the people who are told they don’t matter, the people who live in neighborhoods where they are told that the color of their skin defines what they will ever be, we’re not going to just reach a hand. We will step beyond the margins and embrace them in our Kingdom of Love.

We break all the rules… especially the religious ones. We will infuse the sacrificial love of Jesus into our city.
–Jon Klinepeter


I’m excited about the possibilities of how God will continue to use Willow Chicago.  I’ve only had a few brief conversations with him, but already I see he has a great heart for compassion and reconciliation that is bold and authentic.   If you would like to check out the audio of the full message it can be downloaded or streamed here: The Kingdom of God

Sharing My Story

Darren\'s first time singing with Willow ChicagoSunday was the close of the 3-week series on “Desire: the double edged swords of money, power, and sex”  at Willow Creek.  Before every service we have a time of prayer in the back.  I wasn’t there Saturday night, so Sunday morning was my first time hearing the message – and I was nothing but tears through every song.  So before the last service, I asked to share a my testimony with the group during prayer time.  I didn’t get out all the details that I wanted to, but I’m inspired to share some of it here.

For me, this service basically marks a year of me singing with Willow Chicago.  My first time singing was with the Chicago choir at Barrington for the Wednesday night New Community service in the summer of 2007.  That day we sang “I Just Can’t Give Up Now” and it was the beginning of me becoming part of the Willow Family.

In our prayer time today, I shared that when I came to Willow I wasn’t looking for a church home.  I was hurt and broken from the rejection / abandonment I received at my previous church due to my struggles with sexual sin.  I’d gone to them for help when things became out of control… and though I did all that they asked I do to “get free” – I wasn’t getting healed fast enough, or the way they expected.  It eventually caused them to exclude me from ministry.  This happened rather abruptly and little discussion and no follow-up.  The way things happened left me feeling hurt and bitter and out of fellowship for a year before I started seeking another place to be connected to the Body of believers.  I didn’t want to not be in church, I was just too hurt to go back to what was then my church.  This is when I decided to check out the church I’d seen billboards for on the L Train Platforms: Willow Creek Chicago.

From day one it seems I was connecting with a new and wonderful church, but the question still remained: would I be rejected again if they knew my battle? (and my failures?) I didn’t want to be a part of another church where it would have been better to hide and stay in the dark than to expose the truth and live in the Light.  So I told Pastor Steve and the ministry leaders about my issues.

I was received with care and with love.  Steve saw that I needed to be involved in Worship because of how life-giving it was for me.  The ministry team rallied around me in support and love – even thanking me for my transparency and openness!  To this day their love amazes me and encourages my faith in the difficult process of healing and change.

I still struggle (daily), but I’m no longer struggling with the need to prove my spirituality or spiritual growth to anyone.  I don’t feel the pressure to keep up some facade just because I’m ‘a minister’.  I feel like I can truly connect with the people I worship with and love and be loved.  I feel the amazing effects of God’s grace.  I’m learning how to form healthy relationships that in a Godly way fill the voids in my heart.  I’m getting the wise council that I yearned for, but could not find.  I’m even experiencing small victories and seeing patterns and habits change.

I’m in a difficult season right now as well.  I’m JUST learning about my needs for validation and approval.  Learning about unsafe places where I’ve sought safety and security in the past, and beginning to take steps to build more healthy and safe relationships and repair old ones.  I’m seeing my thought patterns that for ages have kept me bound by fear and limited my potential socially, financially, emotionally, and relationally.  It’s so difficult for me sometimes when I look at ALL that needs to be fixed right now. But I try to stay focused on one thing at a time, keep encouraged, and bit-by-bit open up more to those God has placed around me so I don’t have to face this thing called life alone.

Maybe someone reading this is down or needs encouragement.  To you I say: keep smiling, not because it just looks good but because eventually it’ll all be good and you have a great and eternal hope in God.  (Ok… that was really for me but I just thought I’d share! 😉 )