Morgan and ethnicity

We went to the Buena Park library a couple days ago to check out their children’s books and music cd’s and all that good stuff. Morgan loves bookstores so we thought it would be a good idea. Last week she said, “I want to go to Barnes and Noble!”

She at first thought it was a Dr.’s office and was pretty frieked out that somebody was going to inflict pain on her. Once she got comfortable she started terrorizing the place and trying to get us to sit in different chairs to read books to her with her “outdoor” voice. We might have to postpone future library visits until she grasps the indoor voice thing a bit better. I was studying in a quiet section and she ran over yelling “Hey Dada!”

The most interesting moment though was when a little boy started playing with Morgan. He happened to be Asian-American and I think specifically Chinese-American. After interacting a bit Morgan yelled “He’s yellow!” Under normal circumstances I think we would have been a bit frozen in terms of what to do, but her proclaiming that in a quiet library with a lot of people definitely caught us off guard. Christine then told me that at one point in our garage sale on Sat. Morgan shared her observation of a young Latino boy, “He’s red mama!”

We were trying to figure out where red and yellow came from because it seemed a bit odd to us that she came up with that on her own. We remembered later that night that Morgan has a song book that has the song “Jesus loves the little children” which goes on with the lyrics,

“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

That brought everything together for us. So on one hand we’re really encouraged that Morgan is identifying differences, but on the other hand we’re trying to figure out how to value those differences. Right now all she can really discern as different is skin color, but it definitely brought this area of parenting to the forefront of our minds as we desire her to deeply appreciate and value people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We’re praying for that for her and will continue to think about this as she gains a greater awareness of such differences. We’re also trying to figure out if the song is good for her, neutral, or outdated.

Systems Theory and Ministry Teams

One of the books I’ve wanted to read for a while is How Your Church Family Works by Peter Steinke. I was very much intrigued by “systems theory” as a result of my exposure to some of Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s work in an intro to spiritual formations class I took last summer. Steinke is a “disciple” of Friedman, but maybe more helpful is that he is also a disciple of Jesus Christ. Steinke applies systems theory to Christian communities and congregations to help discern the underlying dynamics that are at work in any group system.

As I read some of Friedman’s work I remember believing that I had first been exposed to systems theory through my parents and their work with ministry teams over the past twenty years, especially in an international context. As I moved from ministry on campus to ministry in WSN (int’l short term missions), I began to instinctively approach team building and mediation in much the same way I had observed. After four years of doing team work, team building, and even team mediation and reconciliation, I am quite convinced that a greater application of systems theory into ministry teams with wisdom and discretion, would bring greater integrity to so many of our ministry teams at work and would bring greater integrity between the corporate identities of our churches and ministries with the visible witness of our activities and functions in this fallen world.

I will probably post several thoughts from this book over the coming week, but I want to start off by acknowledging that what is at stake here is a major presupposition that plagues most ministry leaders and team members alike. This presupposition that prevails today is that when there is an outburst of conflict, chaos, or anxiety in a team or group setting, that the person who is deemed to be “most responsible” is the root cause of the problem and needs to be removed in order to move ahead. How many times as this happened only to have the problems resurface weeks, months, or a few years later?

Steinke explains system theory, but I will not offer a technical explanation. It essentially entails the view that groups form systems that seek to keep a balance (i.e. homeostasis) in much the same way the human body functions. Group members tend to work to keep the status quo and maintain stability. When a member, or a relationship, or even external circumstances produce anxiety, the system will be tested and people’s responses to the presence of anxiety will in large part determine the future health of the system.

That this is the basic context for the ways group systems function really has implications for how we view our role and responsibility in a ministry team context (or congregational context on a larger level). It has implications for how we see ourselves and others and definitely has implications for what wise team stewardship looks like for a leader. Leaders can no longer afford to lead as if everyone under their charge is a completely separate and unaffected individual. What a challenge for leadership today! But what hope for Christian ministry teams to actually live out the Kingdom of God together while they are working so diligently to stay on the mission! So often these two things have been presented as competing ends, but how powerful could corporate witness be to the world if they were part of a larger view of the people of God.

In the next few posts I will seek to address the concept of self-differentiation in Christian community, the presence and role of anxiety in group systems, and common mistakes in attempting to solve problems in the context of community. Hopefully I can spark some interest in learning more about how systems theory can be a helpful tool for leaders to create missional environments of grace and truth.

Jesus and the Disinherited

Jesus and the Disinherited

As I’ve just started my sabbatical, 8 years in the waiting, I’m shooting to read at least 10 books in the next 4-5 weeks. I might be able to read more, but 10’s probably reasonable. The first book I finished was one for a seminary class by Howard Thurman – Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman was a pioneer of the civil rights movement prior to its actual inception in the 50’s. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. studied under him and learned from him.

Thurman captures much of the Christ-centered love ethic that is required to follow Christ amidst social, economic, and racial injustice. At one point he writes,

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life. It lifts that mere man to a place of pre-eminence that belongs to God and to God alone. He who fears is literally delivered to destruction. To the child of God, a scale of values becomes available by which men are measured and their true significance determined. Even the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, is recognized for what it is–merely the threat of violence with a death potential. Such a man recognizes that death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death. To deny one’s own integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things. ‘Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do,’ says Jesus.” pg. 52-53

Part of his thesis is that the oppressed or “disinherited” actually can contribute to their own dehumanization by succumbing to the temptations of fear, deception, and hatred. Only living, loving, and serving out of the identity that comes through being a son of God through Christ can free one from those temptations so that one might truly live and reflect God’s glory whatever their station in life is.

One of Thurman’s concluding thoughts is as follows:

“The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central. This is no ordinary achievement. It seems clear that Jesus started out with the simple teaching concerning love embodied in the timeless words of Israel: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy might,” and “thy neighbor as thyself.” Once the neighbor is defined, then one’s moral obligation is clear. In a memorable story Jesus defined the neighbor by telling of the Good Samaritan. With sure artistry and great power he depicted what happens when a man responds directly to human need across the barriers of class, race, and condition. Every man is potentially every other man’s neighbor. Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitiative. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers between.”

Thurman’s ideology and theology was developed through an era where he himself experienced great suffering and racism. He found in Christ the power and strength to respond to injustice and oppression without violence, hatred, fear, and deception. Today the powers of oppression still abound, yet the calling of believers is the same – to love out of humility. Regarding the power of authentic humility, Thurman on page 27 poignantly quotes Simkovitch in referencing the means of oppression in the civil rights era who writes, “Natural humiliation was hurting and burning. The balm for that burning humiliation was humility. For humility cannot be humiliated.”1

What a great reminder that as we encounter situations where fear, anger, or hurt may tempt us to compromise our integrity or true identity, true humility cannot be humiliated. Christ himself humbled himself beyond compare by dying the death of a criminal on a tree, but indeed his humility cannot be humiliated as his victory, power, and love conquers free, anger, hatred, and deception. I take away from Thurman that authentic humility anchored in the life of Christ is of central importance for the victorious Christian life in this world.

1. Simkhovitch. Toward the Understanding of Jesus. Macmillan Co. pg. 60-61, 1947.

Back from Minnesota

It is so good to be home after being gone in Minnesota for 2 weeks. It is awesome to be with my family again and reconnect.

Two great moments or moments of horror depending on how you look at it:

1. Morgan was with Christine at the store and walked into the female “undergarment” section saying “check out this section.” Upon looking at some bras she exclaimed, “I want boobs!”

Sheer terror for a father.

2. When we watch veggie tales together and a commercial comes on, Morgan yells “TIVO!!” to notify me that it is time to fast forward through the commercials. She’s too classic, though maybe too smart for her own good.

Da Bears

I can’t tell you how happy I am that the Bears are in the Superbowl. Things have been so tough the last couple weeks that the Bears have really been a huge bright spot. I also can’t tell you how glad I am that there is 2 weeks between their last game and the Superbowl. That way my celebration can be 2 weeks even if the Bears lose in the Superbowl. To only have 1 week of bliss before losing in the Superbowl would not be worth the 21 year wait since the last time they were in the Superbowl. So I get 2 weeks of being able to lose myself in the Bears at least.

Do I think they can win? Sure. They’ll either win a close one or get blown out. I like Manning and the Colts so it would take some of the sting out of a loss, but I think the Bears have a decent shot even though they are 7 pt. underdogs.

I really hope they win. It would seriously take the edge off of everything else going on in my life. I haven’t yet stooped to the point of praying that they win yet since that takes me into theological waters too deep for me.

Go Bears.

Barney Rules

Thought I would get back at this blog thing to see if it can become a habit. And what better way to start a new era of blogging than to transcribe a conversation with my daughter Morgan who at 21 months is an avid Barney fan. Here’s how it went:

Dada: Who’s stronger-Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Barney

Dada: Who’s funnier – Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Barney

Dada: Who’s cuter-Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Barney

Dada: Who do you love more – Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Barney

Dada: Who loves you more – Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Barney

Dada: Who has more hair – Dada or Barney?
Morgan: Da……….Barney

Brutal, I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of fathers – losing out to a big purple dinosaur that sings and dances. I liked the Baby Einstein days better.


Leadership Formation & Development Within Systems and Organizations