Tag Archives: The Prophetic

Quick Review: The Fire Next Time

I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time over the weekend and found it really powerful. I had wanted to read it for a while and have heard many people compare Te-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I found really powerful a few months ago. That increased my drive to prioritize this book and I’m really glad I did, despite being late to the party as it were.

As a book that was written in 1963 in the heart of the civil rights struggle, it struck me just how many of the themes are similar. As I was reading the book I saw the recent news that home ownership for African-Americans was assessed as having made no progress in the past 50 years, since the time The Fire Next Time was written. That bit of info powerfully shaped my reading and experience of what was written in 1963 with such power, art, and conviction.

One of the fascinating dimensions of the book was Baldwin’s critique of the nation of Islam’s approach to peace and justice as he found them to be ideologically on the same ground as white supremacists. But he provides a first-hand account of conversations and interactions I could never experience or observe in person and I found myself riveted in hearing the raw passion and anger and desire for justice. I was also disturbed by the unfiltered hate for whites by some. At this point in my own journey, such realities do not generate as much fear in me as they once may have. Instead, they generate deep sadness and anger of my own. It is true that much has changed for the better in the last 50 years, but it’s also uncomfortable just how much continues to reflect the same patterns of sin and injustice.  It’s these realities that make this book important for today as well.

Baldwin gives a strong critique of religion in this book through the lenses of oppression, corruption, and hypocrisy. He offers helpful perspective on how the church – both the black and white churches of the time contributed to the cycles of hatred, violence, and systemic injustice of the time. He clearly turns away from the church as a result, but there’s a lot about his experiences and insights that merit self-reflection for the modern church – especially the way religion and religious institutions can get enslaved by culture and the ideology of the time.

At the core of it, I heard through Baldwin’s anger and contempt for some of these institutions a deep longing for the church to truly be what it should be in the context of such blatant hatred, evil, and injustice. It’s a reality that when the church fails to have anything to say or do that engages meaningfully in matters of injustice and that fails to point to a tangibly different possibility instead of pie in the sky theology, the Church loses its credibility. And Baldwin, stirred with passion and anger, still resists the temptation of ethnic hatred and retaliation in favor of love and sacrifice.

This won’t be the last time I read this book because there’s so much in here that you just can’t absorb or take in one time through.


Quick Review: Braving the Wilderness

It’s been a month or two since I read Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I’ve delayed writing something up on it because I’ve had mixed feelings about it. It’s both the book of hers I’ve liked least, but it’s also the most intriguing related to some of my areas of research and study.

A lot of the book is similar to her other works – shame, worthiness, and vulnerability. I recently reviewed Rising Strong and there’s some overlap. It’s good stuff and there’s several stories and anecdotes from other books. However, there’s also a lot that is new and there is a different emphasis on this book. This focus, as I would describe it, is the connection between identity and belonging in a reactionary and tribalistic society.

What I liked was that at the core of this book, it really is a tackling of identity between individuality and community. Essentially, Brown is unpacking what family systems theorists call self-differentiation, the grounded identity that is both connected and separate even in the midst of an anxious and reactive society.  I kept thinking of one of my favorite authors, Edwin Friedman and his book Failure of Nerve as I read this. If you want to take a look see my post linking to a couple summaries here and also here.  It is one of my top 5 books of all time and has profoundly impacted my views on leadership and leadership formation.

Anyway – back to the wilderness. Braving the Wilderness is really a metaphor for self-differentiation. It’s living in between the polar extremes of reactivity and anxiety. Friedman calls one extreme emotional fusion. Christian psychologist PaulTripp calls this immersion. Harvard negotiation expert Daniel Shapiro calls this defaulting to affiliation.  It’s the surrendering of individual identity to the group out of fear of rejection, judgment, or shame. It’s compromising the integrity of personhood to belong – belonging becomes being part of a tribe.

Friedman calls the other extreme cutting off. Tripp calls it isolation. Shapiro calls it defaulting to autonomy for the sake of identity.  It’s surrendering community and relationship to preserve personhood. It’s to some degree distancing from those that provide a threat or challenge to be able to feel secure again in one’s self.

Brown is unpacking these dynamics. I think initially I was irritated because it felt like it was being unpacked as new data or phenomena, but these concepts have been out there getting discussed in a lot of places. But I like that she connected shame and vulnerability what can lead people towards surrendering their identity for either reactive extreme. People feeling anxiety and shame tend to seek security and certainty and if they cannot stand on their own and hold their ground for their higher values and their integrity – the emotional forces of society will bounce them around.  Thus Brown is directly addressing in this book how to foster civility and empathy in a society that is looking to dehumanize others and where everyone is trying to strengthen their tribe at the expense of the other.

Worthiness is at the heart of Brown’s books – that people who feel and act worthy and like the belong, actually believe that they belong.  The elephant in the room is the question, “Where does that worthiness come from?” I do not believe Brown offers an answer for this, but to describe that we need to do our best to be civil and understanding and do our part to help extend hospitality across difference.   Added to this though, Brown also discusses a lot about curiosity and civility as key to fostering civil discourse and belonging across difference.

Brown is advocating for people to connect as humans, fighting the tendency of people to dehumanize for the sake of certainty and tribal belonging. As I read this, it’s a perfect apologetic for the Christian worldview as the image of God, loving your neighbor, and the call to grace and truth are core foundational pieces. It’s a shame that Christians tend to be just as tribal, if not more, than others. It’s a sign that the gospel has not taken root. But Brown is pointing to a question that is theological in nature. Can we achieve our own worthiness? Or do we have to receive it from someone else?  Can we get it from other people or does it have to come from a higher authority?

So there’ s a lot that I like and it’s the most I’ve thought about any of her books so it’s a sign that it maybe it ranks higher than I initially thought. But there are things that are hard. I understand why some reviews complain about her being too political, but I didn’t think it was that bad – but an example of tribalism in the reviews.  There’s also a stronger tone of anger and “screw you, I gotta keep it real” to this book that wasn’t as evident in her other books.  On one level – I get it – I think Brown has to have some of that edge to play the role she is playing.

However, I’ve seen too many applications of her work where people are rejecting shame and community accountability to defend their positions (an ironic example of what Brown is speaking against). People can find justification through some of the concepts to defend their personal choices.  Not all shame is bad – when people reject the voice of community completely to “keep it real” they then run the risk of cutting off and getting lost in a myopic view of life. This connects to a series I did many moons ago called “Prophets vs. Posers.”

All in all – it’s a good book and I’m still thinking about a lot of it. But it is a clear reminder that there are deep solutions to questions of shame and belonging and vulnerability. Will people humble themselves to really find those solutions outside of themselves and receive the dignity, belonging, security, and love that can anchor one firmly in that identity so they can freely love and serve others across difference?  This is the Christian life.  Now more than ever, followers of Christ need to embody this self-differentiation in Christ so they can brave the wilderness where is increasingly anxious, hostile, reactionary, and tribal.

So I recommend it, but I recommend Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve even more.

Quick Review: Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?

I read last week Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? which is part of the Four Views Counterpoints series.  The book is edited by Wayne Grudem, but has four authors that interact with one another over the key issues of the debate.  There is cessationist, an open but cautious perspective, a third wave perspective, and a perspective that represents charismatic and pentecostal theology and perspectives.

In general, this has not been a topic that I have been very concerned about or have spent a lot of time wrestling with theologically.  But it was helpful for me to get the broad contours of the conversation.  Of most interest was the approach and needs involved in working towards a foundation of ecclesiological unity even if some areas of doctrine and practice vary.  There is a great challenge here given how the practice of miraculous gifts or lack thereof impacts culture and experience in dramatically different ways. Some of the key gifts involved in the discussion are prophecy, healing, and tongues.

I think it was helpful to see the authors develop some kind of consensus for what key theological issues are and even see where the differences are.  I was most intrigued to read the pentecostal perspective as I have been least familiar with pentecostal theology, but now that I’m teaching some students from pentecostal backgrounds it was very helpful to me.

I run and live in circles where most would fall in the cessationist or open but cautious camps.  I think for many who have not been exposed much, they can easily dismiss pentecostals without really understanding some of the perspectives grounded in Scripture.  There are some hard things to work through to find a unity in doctrine and practice given the full range and strength of the positions involved, but this is a helpful model of the type of dialogue and collaboration in that direction.

Do Your Words Heal Lightly or Deeply?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good “Prophets vs. Posers” quote. I was re-reading a book I read before I started blogging a few years ago and wanted to submit this quote for your reflection,

“Throughout these events [anxiety times] God sends prophets to open the people’s eyes and to expand their horizon.  As we know, though, true prophets are without honor in their own anxious country.  Many of God’s messengers are ignored, mocked, or annihilated.  But the false prophets who cry, “Peace, Peace,” and heal the wounds of the people lightly are too often welcomed.  They promise stability but invite no reflection.  False prophets offer simple, immediate relief.  They don’t challenge people to change their limited point of view.”

-Peter Steinke, How Your Church Family Works, pg. 44

In our positivity driven culture, truth is so often treated like a buzzkill.  Worse yet, it can be treated as toxic when the desire to medicate and bath in the delusions of happiness overwhelm the quest for reality and wisdom.

Do you tend to gravitate towards denial and delusion to preserve your perceived safety and the status quo?  Or do you courageously pursue truth wherever it might lead you?  Do you choose stability over wisdom?

Originally posted November 4, 2010

Why Ethnic Minority Leaders Leave Ministry Organizations

This article/ebook is a specific treatment of a specific context – the organization that I have served with over the past 15 years and that I have been involved with in different ways over twenty years. It is a specific case study, but of dynamics and phenomenon that exist in many places – organizations, churches, and ministries, so the application can be broad.

Depending on your background or context, you may need to adapt it to your context, but the value here I believe is the windows it gives to people’s experiences and what affirms and celebrates culture and identity and on the other hand it gives insight into what tears down or destroys identity and the expression of difference. It’s not my hope to get everyone to agree with me or how I have packaged the stories, research, and content, but I hope it raises questions and launches meaningful and authentic and humble conversation for the sake of serving those that often continue to get pushed to the margins.

Both the 2005 and 2012 editions were put together with a spirit of learning and desire to help move conversations to core issues that will help accelerate authentic change, learning, and servanthood – things my organization, the case study in question, values and desires to embody and live out. Affirming the heart of where my organization wants to go, does not mean that my treatment of this subject does not entail a prophetic dimension to it. I’ve tried to frame it both to speak as part of the organization and to the organization representing  many of those voices that are unintentionally, but routinely silenced due to the differences and dynamics explored here.

It is not a short article. It runs 17 pages so you can print or download it below for later or select the full screen option on the embedded image to read it on your computer. I’ve also included a version for Kindle and an .epub version for other readers.

Direct Download (pdf)

Download for Kindle (mobi)

Download for Other Readers (epub)


Quick Review: Lincoln’s Melancholy

I just finished Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.  I wanted to make sure I finished it before going to see the movie “Lincoln” that recently came out to theaters.

I really enjoyed this book in part because I enjoy reading about Lincoln and that era of American History and also in part because of my own “melancholy” journey.  The book was fascinating and provides windows into Lincoln that some other things I’ve read have not explored in this kind of detail. In particular, the exploration of Lincoln’s temperament and emotional well-being and way of seeing and perceiving reality.

I really enjoyed some of the research included from studies on how depression fuels perception of reality. I think it illustrates much of what allowed Lincoln to see and lead through his reality with such clarity and conviction.  It also speaks to how one’s capacity to endure suffering without being crushed by it can result in incredible capacity to meet the moment and great challenges.

Personally, it was a very encouraging book.  I resonated with much of what was shown in Lincoln’s tendency towards darker or melancholy moods and how it translated to his thoughts, actions, and passions.  It’s encouraging to see a clear exposition of how brutally honest assessments of our times and surroundings in addition to a character and capacity to endure suffering with grace can lead to a preparation for powerful, credible, and timely leadership.

I think all Lincoln fans would enjoy this book, but probably those who relate to a journey of melancholy or struggles with depression will find sections of it to be immensely enjoyable and satisfying.  It raises good questions as to how we create space for honest and realistic reflections or whether we marginalize them in favor of positivity or denial. This is a great apologetic for the place of the troubled and discerning in community.


The Praying Prophet

Several years ago I started a blog series called prophets vs. posers and I’ve been wanting to add to it since this summer with the following post.

A while back I was in the midst of a difficult environment.  There were blatant abuses of power, silencing of women, and a host of other things and dysfunctions driving the culture of this context.   I was able to see and discern what was at the heart of many an injustice, but yet was not in a position to do anything about it.

The weight of seeing, but being powerless to act was starting to get to me.  I believe a main difference between pure gifts of discernment and prophetic functioning rests in the drive or innate calling to act (which usually involves speech specifically).  Being powerless and without a voice when seeing injustice or abuse of power works against the grain of one who has been made to act or speak out.

It was in the midst of struggling with the tension of having vision, yet being powerless that I was blessed with some of the greatest wisdom I’ve ever received from a friend and mentor.  It has shaped my life for many years now and changed both the way I see and the way I handle situations in which roads to action and opportunities for speech are closed.

My friend suggested that maybe having gifts in this area lend themselves just as much to intercession, maybe more so, than others.  I think intercessory prayer can look different and many are gifting in praying for people in a caring or shepherding type of manner.  But my friend suggested that perhaps there was a different ministry of intercession that existed for those who see injustice and can recognize when only a work of the Lord can change hearts among those who can influence outcomes.

It makes sense doesn’t it?  Who else could pray in the face of the subtle glimpses into the dark side of leadership that works its way into how people go about their business and relationships besides those who have been uniquely gifted to see some of those things beneath the surface and recognize the sometimes not so obvious ways in which people are in bondage, being silenced or manipulated either by others or their own dysfunction?

I believe those who have prophetic gifting expose themselves as authentic prophets or posers through the degree to which they are interceding in prayer for their “systems” or contexts.  To see brings a responsibility.  Sometimes action is possible and required.  But in all moments of “seeing”, prayer is vital.  Prophets who are posers do not pray. They act out of their own instincts and self-interest.

Those who steward God-given prophetic gifts to identify injustice or wrongs and speak into them,  first and foremost need to be using their spiritual vision to pray. Here is some of the fruit of the praying prophet:

1.  Praying tests one’s own heart and lets the Spirit rid one of any temptation for self-righteous action or judgment.

2. Praying softens one’s heart towards the people that are being oppressed or hurt or silenced.  Prayer keeps the focus on the community implications of such dynamics on real people and not just about “what’s right or wrong.”

3.  Praying softens one’s heart towards the perpetrator’s of injustice.  Whether it is through personal sin, controlling policies, abusive behavior, or just general power tripping – prayer guides the prophet to the place of compassion for his “enemy” (a fair analogy for historical tension especially between prophet & king) in the battle for what most honors God.  Prayer is perhaps the only place that can guard the prophet from seeing those in power as evil themselves sometimes. Prayer, over that which is seen, guards the prophet from developing a hard heart towards often very fragile and limited people doing foolish and hurtful things for their own self-preservation.

4. Prayer leads to dependence on divine intervention to transform whole communities and systems.  The only people that would think to pray about the whole underlying fabric of one’s leadership culture and power structures are those who have the vision and sight to see them for what they are in the first place.

This is the ministry of prophetic intercession. If the prophets don’t pray for what often only the prophets can see in the first place – well there’s no one else who will!  And injustice, injustice at all levels, needs first and foremost a concerted focus of God’s power released through passionate and praying people who see.

Personally, I don’t consider myself I prophet. But I do tend to function this way in community.  Yet while I have long been aware of gifts in discernment and truth speaking, I never used to consider myself as having a unique calling to prayer outside of a normal prayer life.  Thanks to my friend many years ago, that  has changed.  I don’t consider myself a “prayer warrior”, but in some ways I have become much more of one now that I recognize some of how God has uniquely positioned me sometimes to be praying for things that not many others will be mobilized to be praying for.

I sometimes see things that not everyone sees.  That leads me to pray prayers that not everyone else is praying.  Those prayers are vital to God’s work of redeeming situations.  Those prayers are also important to my ongoing transformation and growth in the Lord through these situations. This is the gift of prophetic intercession. If we function prophetically but fail to embrace this calling that is foundational to our actions then we miss maybe the most important part of how God truly wants to use us in any given situation.

I’m grateful for this offering of wisdom and discernment from my good friend for its impact on my life and I’m thankful for the opportunity to pass this nugget on to anyone who has taken the time to have read this.

Can you relate at all? 

Are you a leader who sees?  Does your seeing lead to praying?


Advent and the Most Pernicious Program of All

Here’s the third post in my Advent and Star Trek series where we actually get to the advent part! This was originally posted on December, 3, 2011

So have you ever thought of Star Trek’s “Borg” and Advent in the same thought and discussion?  Probably not.  But here it goes.  Of course context helps as this is part three of a three part mini-blog series entitled “collective fusion” so you can get part one here (Collective Fusion: Resistance is Not Futile) and part two here (Self: The Most Pernicious Program of All). This won’t have the same meaning or coherence without that backdrop 🙂

In part two, I mentioned the quote from the Stark Trek episode I stumbled upon while hanging out late night with my infant daughter.  In response to a crisis about whether to return a lost Borg to its collective with its memory or erase it, the captain says, “Perhaps that’s the most pernicious program of all – the knowledge of self being spread throughout the collective in that brief moment might alter them forever.”

As I’ve been thinking about the incarnation of Christ now that it’s the beginning of Advent, I see some connections with the role Jesus played when he, to use The Message’s version of John 1, “moved into the neighborhood.”

Even a person without faith should marvel at the life of Christ – particularly as it relates to his ability from the age of 12 and during the course of his public ministry to live out of His true self and His true identity and conversely his capacity to not let others define him or co-opt him.

Jesus entered into a volatile political climate with a lot of intensity and anxiety about religion and the law as well as in local politics.  Much of what does not get discussed frequently about Jesus is just how many forces there were that consistently sought to hijack who Jesus was and what He was about for their own purposes.  The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Romans, and even the disciples and the masses all directed hopes and expectations at times towards him in an effort to get Him to conform to their agenda and paradigm of religion and spirituality.

Jesus never conformed or compromised.  For clarity – he was uncompromising as it relates to his identity and his values and vision of what God intended for people to live out and experience as opposed to being uncompromising related to doctrinal debates.

Jesus’ presence as a real human in real human community and social/political/economic life altered the entire system into which he was born.  Jesus didn’t alter, compromise, or surrender his identity or self for the many anxious folk around him.   And as a result, lives were transformed and the world was changed forever.

As you think about this holiday season – think about some of those moments in which Jesus was being tempted to surrender himself (His very self!) to others to eliminate their anxiety and fear.  How about when Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus decides it’s time to go to Jerusalem?  How about when Jesus is being questioned by Pontius Pilate?  How about even when Jesus is 12 and is questioned by his parents when they left Jerusalem without him?  How about when Jesus he is a target of political and religious scheming in many of the debates between the Pharisees and Sadducees?  How about when the demands of the poor and the sick never cease to come to him?  Or when he is being tortured and killed?

Jesus never conformed or forfeited his own self and identity.  And he ultimately was killed as a result.  But that was the plan wasn’t it?  To reveal in flesh the image of God and the will and heart of God?  He no doubt knew what was coming and the price that comes with such a revolution.  Yet he had the character and integrity of self to forge through the anxiety and the pain that stood between Him and fulfilling His calling.Never before or since has such a self transformed people’s lives and the world in which He lived.  It was the perfect execution of “the most pernicious program of all” and the power at work then is the same power at work today.

So this Advent season, you may not think of the Borg naturally, but at least think of Jesus as the one who’s presence and power can move into any “neighborhood” (family, community, workplace…) and change it forever.  But for any of us to see that happen, we first and foremost need that presence and power to change us – shaping and conforming us into the type of “self” that can engage in transformational and redemptive ways with those around us without getting co-opted for the sake of alleviating others’ anxiety, insecurity, or fear.

Where do you hope to embody that same power and presence that comes from God this Christmas season?

And with that I can say I’ll probably go another 700 posts before hitting anything Star Trek related again 🙂

Is God Free to Oppose Your Leadership?

Have You Ever Thought God Might Be Against You?

Have You Considered That Depending On A Decision or Action You Make, He Might Oppose You?

The leadership learning group I’ve been facilitating has been focusing lately on themes of power and leadership and one of the resources we’ve been engaging over is Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.

One of the observations he makes in his assessment of the Old Testament and of other empires and civilizations is the connection between a power driven framework of leadership and what he refers to as a religion of immanence.  This means that God is near, always accessible to you, and for lack of a better way of putting it – that God is ALWAYS on your side.

Brueggemann argues that this runs counter to God’s “freedom.”  The freedom of God refers to God’s otherness from you and your agenda and that means God has the right to oppose your leadership and your community at any time in which your efforts and the fruit of your leadership run contrary what honors Him and His will.

Has it ever occurred to you that God might be in total opposition to your efforts?  Not that he’s going to disown you or reject 100% of what you’re trying to do, but maybe some of the core of what He cares most about is being neglected or undermined to a significant enough degree that He might not be pleased with the leadership efforts and the community.   What a sobering concept!

Most of us can easily recognize the patriotic side of this dynamic when we see it in the public sphere – there’s no shortage of examples of those that automatically believe God is on our side in whatever great Crusade that we endeavor upon.  While not getting political – regardless of the “justness” of any war – many a person’s mentality is influenced by the belief that God is for us and obviously so.  Back in the day in Europe and England and the Crusades into the middle east – there was a strong religion of immanence.  God was “for” them.  But was he?  That would be a hard argument to make in my mind.

In the modern day church with its many ministries and organizations, this is also something we should wrestle with.  Has it occurred to many in ministry that unless their ministries reflect the heart of God in some key and critical ways, that God is indeed free to oppose them?

Practically – what about those of us who are working hard to foster evangelistic efforts and increase the quantity of such conversations, yet we perhaps get more focused on what we want to tell people than about where the message truly needs to intersect with someone’s life.  What about building nice ministries and communities, yet never stopping to ask the question “Why are we all the same here and who might be excluded?”  There’s plenty other examples of people focused on doing “God’s work” with the assumption that God is for them, but maybe we should take a step back every once in a while.

Obviously from a finite human mind there is subjectivity here.  But the point is that we ought to be more humble about our position before God and our assumptions about what he is blessing or not.  Just because ministries see fruit in some tangible ways (say people coming to faith) doesn’t mean that God is obviously pleased with the ministry as a whole.  You might be productive and maybe even fruitful in some good ways, but if that were the only litmus test then everyone could have something to rationalize their case that God is for them.

God is free and will not be domesticated into a tool for our own security.

So what does this mean for us?  It means we should think twice about our assumptions that God is automatically behind us and our efforts.

God is too big, too holy, and too great for us to make assumptions that just because we seek to follow him that we are always getting it right.  That just because we are living out fruitful spiritual lives according to what our own understanding of what successful spirituality is, it does not always follow that God is championing our cause as zealously as we are.

I’m not advocating a faith of fear (outside of a healthy fear of God), but at least we need a faith that is sober and humble enough that is passionate and motivated to see reality and efforts in all honesty and reality – no matter how painful such assessments might be.  Brueggemann observes from the Scriptures that along with a leadership regime’s loss of the ability to recognize God’s freedom also includes the inability to see, hear, and grieve for the true pain of the people or the injustices that oppose the heart of God.

It’s easy to believe God is for you when you have closed your eyes and ears to all the evidence that would seem to raise doubt in that premise.

How do you see God’s freedom in this context impacting how you live and how you lead?

What types of things do you think are most neglected for contemporary leadership development that God is FOR?