January 2023

Emmanuel, God with us.

This isn’t a Christmas letter.  It’s a Christ letter.

It’s been a month of ups and downs…  “God with us” is a reality in which I try to move daily.

God with us… I had a mother call me on the phone, crying.  Her teenage son who is on my basketball team has been on a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior for months.  He hadn’t come home for two nights. She was about to call the police and report him missing… could I help?

God with us… We brought back our Christmas party this year and 76 of our parishioners came. Way too many to have in our house. Thank you, Park Avenue Church, for letting us do it there. When Lisa mentioned that with the difficulties of logistics and organizing (and us getting old) the possibility that we may not continue it in the future, a number of our adult young men approached her offering to help keep it going. 

God with us…  One of our teenage young men was released from custody on probation after being in jail for a year.  We are now helping him work at building a life with hope and prospects. A big answer to prayer! 

God with us… His older brother, also a teen, was recently implicated in a horrendous crime and is facing serious jail time.

God with us…  I was particularly blessed by the great grandma of one of our kids who we wanted to help out for Christmas. She has taken in three of her great grandkids who couldn’t be taken care of by their parents. When I asked her what we could do for her and her family for Christmas, she paused and asked me to use the money for someone else, she had enough to meet their needs. When I asked if there was anything else we could do for her, she asked for mentorship of her two young male children, who were being plagued by the vicissitudes of life as black boys in the inner city. 

God with us…  One of our young fathers recently acquired a steady job. He and his girlfriend and baby have been struggling with unemployment and homelessness this year. They have an opportunity to move into their own apartment.

God with us…  Another mother calls me crying, because her teenage son is getting involved with a bad crowd and has no adult male influence at home to guide him in a positive direction. Would I talk to him?

God with us… The basketball team breaks into an impromptu happy dance when we go into a shoe store at the mall and they learn they can pick out a brand-new pair of basketball shoes, a Christmas present from some friends of ours.  Instant self-esteem boost!

When I reflect on the last month, and the last year of ministry, serving God through being with people… I don’t qualify the various circumstances of ministry in terms of success or failure, victories or losses. Instead, I am overcome with a feeling of thankfulness. Thank you, Lord, that You see us through our trials and tribulations. Thank you, Lord, that we don’t have to go through this thing called life alone. Thank you, Lord, that You are with us.

November 2022

I was talking to one of our kids about life after high school.  William is very bright. He made good grades at an academically challenging school. He grew up in the heart of north Minneapolis. He had many opportunities for academic scholarships to college, but no matter how I encouraged him he wasn’t interested in any of them. He wanted to play football.

This had been William’s dream since I first met him back in sixth grade.  He played basketball on my teams and participated in church and trips and we’ve had a lot of fun together.  He’s grown into an exceptional young man. He played football on park and school teams, but was only an average player.  He did not draw any D1 offers to play ball but did have an invitation to play at a junior college. I supported him in pursuing his dream, but it’s been a couple of years now and his plans to play football haven’t panned out.

While having lunch one day he was telling me how he didn’t want to have just a “regular” life, he wanted to do something special: to stand out from his peers coming out of the hood, to make his family proud. I realized, with chagrin, that the only exceptional path he saw for himself was a sports career. Our neighborhood celebrities are the kids who are able to leave the hood on athletic scholarships, and the most adored among these are the ones who make it to the professional level.   These are the ones we celebrate and this is the recognition William was seeking. 

Many of our young people are like William. They are handicapped in their ability to see themselves having success in life. You don’t hear about kids from the neighborhood who went on to do significant things outside of the realms of sports or entertainment. Those who get a D1 offer to play sports, regardless of whether they are able to make good on it, are regarded as success stories.  Celebrity status is restricted to sports figures, music artists or someone who got rich.  Young people in our neighborhood can be famous (sports or rapper), or infamous (drugs and gangs).

We don’t often hear about the kids who go on to have professional careers in medicine, science or business. We don’t celebrate those who have careers in the trades, or who become teachers.  But, we should, because the odds they’ve had to overcome to get where they are, are just as improbable as the chances a high school athlete has of making it to the pros. Young black men from here have to overcome neighborhood violence, crime, gangs and drugs just to get through high school… much less make it to college!

“William,” I said. “Don’t you realize you are already exceptional? There aren’t that many young black men who come out of the background you have that are able to go to college and have the opportunities you have.  You could be a doctor, skilled tradesman, businessman or a teacher and you would be a success story. And you should be celebrated just like the rare kid who becomes a professional athlete.”

I think I got through to him. He still wants to play football… wants to “take his shot “.  But at the same time, he is taking courses which would start him on the path to a career in the medical sciences.  Who knows, maybe he will get his chance to make it as a football player.  Maybe he will become a doctor one day. Maybe he will make a living with a good job, and raise a family, and be a leader in his community with his life as an example to others. I tell my guys that as a Black man, that’s the most heroic thing you can do.

So, I want to give a shout out to all the young men we’ve come to know over the years, out there doing their thing… working jobs, taking care of their families, raising children… Y’all are heroes!

September 2022

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4.9

This is my earnest prayer for the boys and young men in our ministry. 

Last week I met with some of the men who have come through our ministry.  They all wanted to know, “What’s the occasion?” But I told them there was no special occasion, I just wanted to see them all together.  This group came up together with me in 5th grade. They are grown men now with families and jobs and their own affairs to take care of, but it was nice of them to take time out to sit down with me. They are a reminder of the fruit borne of our labor of love here. 

September is always a reflective time for me… coming on the heels of an active summer doing camps and activities; a break before things get busy with school and the fall schedule. I think a lot about how our kids are doing and the effectiveness of our ministry.  Our kids live under the constant threat of gun violence, and the pervasive presence of crime, drugs and gangs; with little support for school or extracurricular pursuits. How do we help them navigate all that?  Their lives are full of stress, with no peace or contentment. 

Does going to camp help? Going with Chris two or three times a week, does that help? Playing on a basketball team, doing activities, going to church… does any of that help?  The boys and young men we work with are at the highest risk for issues which will impact their lives negatively.  It is documented that constructive pursuits and positive relationships have an impact on at-risk youth, but does God make a difference?  I know He does!

All the young men who have come through our ministry, no matter where they are at now, point to their involvement with us as having been a high point, if not a pivotal point of their lives. Many are now gainfully employed as skilled laborers, teachers, businessmen (and women), and many are still trying to figure things out; but everyone who has come through this ministry comes away touched by it.  They have encountered the Lord in a personal way. 

And it doesn’t happen always at church, bible study or even camp… it’s in the van, in the neighborhood, at practice, or just when hanging out with Chris.

We can’t say that everyone comes to Christ, but we can say that everyone hears the gospel.  We can’t say that everyone’s life is changed, but we can say that everyone is offered support to change their life. We can’t say that everyone has an easier life, but we can say that everyone has a chance to build relationships to make life easier.

My confidence is not in myself or this ministry, or that we do things the “right” way.  My trust is not in our programs or activities, not even in our relationships.  My confidence is in Christ, that he is in me. And if he is in me, and young people are with me, then it follows that they are with Him. If I am following Christ then somehow, some way, they are exposed to Christ. I am confident of this because I know that my life is in Christ. And so, my hope for them is in Christ.  

Sometimes my life is confusing to them.  They don’t understand how I could resist sexual temptation. They don’t understand why I don’t spend my life trying to get rich. They don’t understand why I don’t lie and cheat to get what I want. They don’t understand why I don’t act violently when angry or put upon. They don’t understand the Christian morality I teach and model and expect from them… until I explain that it is because of Christ in me. Then it makes sense. So then, I can invite them to be like me.  I may not be rich but they see that God provides for me and my family. I may not be powerful but they see I have lots of influence in the community.  I may not have a lot of possessions but they see I am content and live a fulfilled life.  They see that I have all of this because of Christ… and they can have it too.

June 2022

“If you don’t stop fighting, you’re going to die!”

Last week I had to have a “facts of life” talk with one of our boys. He’s 13 years old and in the 7th grade.  He’s a great kid, but he is struggling. His single mom is having difficulties raising him, although she worked two jobs so they could leave the shelter they were living in. He’s big for his age, man-size, which makes him a target.  He’s a target for gangbangers in the street because they want him in their gang. And he’s a target at his school because all the wannabe gangbangers want to get a rep by fighting him… and there’s the problem.  He has to fight all the time.  Every time he does, he gets suspended from school, whether he starts the fight or not. He doesn’t seem to get the support he needs at school to protect him from situations where other boys threaten and attack him.  He always wins, which makes him more of a target, which invites more fights… it’s a vicious circle and he’s trapped in it.

He’s become conditioned now to fight when challenged or taken advantage of. He needs to get out of that environment. If he continues on this path, at some point somebody will introduce a gun to the situation and somebody will get seriously hurt, likely killed.  Either that or he will be expelled from school, become a dropout and join a gang… which will likely lead to long term imprisonment. He’s only 13 years old.

I have seen this happen before; and it ends in death or imprisonment.  A few weeks ago, during a basketball game, he got shoved to the ground by somebody on the other team and he jumped up and hit the boy. This was a first after two seasons on the team. His consequence was having to leave the team.  We are still in relationship and I still do things with him, and he still does things with the group. But I told him if he fights again, anywhere, I’m done with him. I’m not gonna watch him go down a path of self-destruction. He is learning about guilt, conviction, consequences and repentance. His mom is at her wits end, and his father is not at home, but I think I am the first person he is listening to. I am helping him see a way out of this inevitable cycle of violence. We (the basketball team, church) are his extended family, his community.  This is the kingdom of God.

I read a book recently where the author was describing what the kingdom of God looked like in the first century, in the midst of Roman oppression and religious persecution. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was not an idyllic existence for first century Christians, nor is it for any of us who follow Christ today.  What the author pointed out was that the kingdom of God was manifest in the ability of believers to live abundant lives in the midst of social and spiritual turmoil.  Lives characterized not by wealth, living comfortably or the absence of oppression or problems; but by shared community, love and inner peace.  The kingdom of God was connection to others who loved God yet were living through shared experiences dealing with pain and suffering. The supernatural quality of the kingdom of God among believers was that they could maintain and experience Christian community in the midst of the worst of persecution and oppression, even as such acts were occurring every day, to everyone.

I had an epiphany… that’s what we do here.  We create Christian community among people who have no experience of Christian community, or God’s presence. This allows them to experience and participate in that community in the midst of the struggles and horrors they may experience every day. It doesn’t go away, but it’s not about the absence of struggle. It’s about the presence of Christ in your life in the midst of going through the struggle. This is what I want this young man to experience. This is what will change his life. This is the great difference maker. This is what we offer to all of our young children, teenagers, young adults, parents and families… the opportunity to come out of the world, and be part of the kingdom of God. 

May 2022

So, I’m visiting with some of my high school guys… we’re going out to get pizza. There were four of us all together, 14 and 15 year-olds.  It was nice… I hadn’t been able to get this particular group together for a while. “So, how’re you guys doing?” I ask.  “Anything happening with you?”  We talk about school and their families, sports and girls, and then it starts…

First kid: “Man it’s gangsta at my high school…  at the football game last night, everyone was strapped!” [had a gun]

Me: How do you know they all had guns?

“Chris, I live over north… you can tell.”

Me: My gosh, what did you do?

“What can you do? Nobody was starting anything so I just watched the game.” 

Me: So, if everyone had guns, I hope that doesn’t include you guys!

“Chris, you know us… you know we’re not about that life.”

Me: What did you do after the game?

“I called my mom to come get my little brother.  He wanted to stay and hang out but it wasn’t a good place for him to be.”

Me: And what did you do?

“Oh, I went with some guys to my friend’s house.”

I’m thinking this over and how I should respond when…

Second kid: “Did you hear about the shooting over by my house?” [It’d been all over the news, a twelve-year-old boy was shot and killed] “I know the whole story…  these two girls were fighting and then their little brothers got involved.  Then the one boy started beating up the other boy, so his older brother left and came back with a gun and shot him six times! Can you believe that? That was wrong! If it was my little brother, I would’ve pulled the guy off or hit him a couple of times but why’d he shoot him?  And then he ran…”

I’m digesting all of this tragic information when we drive by a barbershop near their houses with the windows shot out…

Third kid: “Hey, that’s where I get my hair cut.  Did you hear what happened? Somebody came with a switch (gun illegally modified to automatic fire) and shot up the barbershop! Nobody got killed though, just a couple of people got shot.”  Another kid: “Oh yes they did, somebody did get killed in there! I went to the memorial yesterday.”

Conversations like this occur regularly in my van… sometimes the Lord gives me a word of counsel, sometimes I console and comfort, sometimes I teach… always sharing Christ. Sometimes I have to just listen to what their lives are like and absorb the reality of their daily existence.  All of this is hard for me to digest.  How must it be for children and teens who are living inside of this violence day in and day out? They share these stories with me in the most nonchalant manner, just another day on the north side… but I have a front row seat to witness the loss of childhood and innocence.  To borrow a phrase from my son, their numbness does not imply resilience. 

To that end we provide opportunities to play sports, do activities, go camping…. anything to have a calm and peaceful time in a safe place, and build relationships with people who are safe.  

Next month we will begin our summer of ministry. We offer two camping experiences, sports teams, and lots of fun trips and activities. The cost to us comes to $400 a child. Can you help support our efforts to engage and occupy our youth in positive and uplifting pursuits this summer?  To give them an experience and lasting memory of joy and fun and peace? Any contribution helps.

April 2022

I’m often asked what will happen to Christ’s Children MInistries when I’m ready to be done (not that I see that happening for quite awhile yet).  Will someone else carry on the work? I’ve always told our kids and young men that the most important thing you can do with your life as a Black man is to grow strong: spiritually, emotionally, physically; start a family and raise your kids. I’m inspired by what we see around us. 

On my birthday I had some of our young men come over to help me celebrate.  Some are in college and some heading there, some have gainful employment and others are trying to find it.  All are alive and healthy with prospects and dreams.  The question arose: What do you want out of life?  What gives life meaning?  Wealth and influence were commonly agreed upon, after faith and family. I was about to offer my opinion when one of them, the youngest of the group, spoke up passionately about what gives life meaning to him.  He spoke of the desire to make money and earn wealth as a means of providing for family and loved ones, to enable him to pursue his personal goals in life… to prioritize joy and fulfillment before monetary gain.  I found I had nothing to say after that.

Last weekend we had a basketball game at a park over north. While there I encountered two men who I mentored growing up, and who played on my basketball team as kids. Now they were each coaching their own teams, with their own sons in tow.  As I watched them work with their respective teams, I was quite proud of how they handled the kids in their charge and taught them life lessons through the game.

I had lunch with a man who grew up as a part of Christ’s Children. We reminisced about old times and all the guys who came up with him.  It was a rough group, but he and a couple of others became teachers. I volunteered in his classroom reading and telling stories to his fifth graders.

I brought some of the kids I do stuff with to a gym in our neighborhood where they run some afterschool programs.  The young men running those programs were part of my afterschool programs when they were kids growing up in the neighborhood. They are doing for others what I did for them when they were young. 

We have a teenager who is in trouble right now. He is in detention awaiting trial. Lisa and I anguished over him and wanted to be sure he was ok, but clergy visits are suspended during the pandemic.  We remembered our adult friend who grew up in our ministry and is part of our church. He surprised us all by going to college after high school and getting his degree in criminal justice.  He works in the detention system and was able to get word to our young friend not to give up, or lose hope.

Several of our young men stop by often with their baby children. Lisa and I love it. We get to play with and pamper the little kids. Lisa goes out of her way to love, nurture and encourage play.  We model and teach nurturing behavior some of these young parents never received as children.  They are good parents and in many cases are breaking generational cycles of dysfunction.

Every week I encounter young men and older, who were kids in our ministry, working in the community, raising children, providing leadership.  I see our people, Christ’s children, salting the neighborhood and community and carrying on the work which we’ve labored at for many years in love.  They carry on the work, men and women, in positions of leadership and influence, and, by simply raising families of their own. This is the mark we want to leave behind.

For every person who is in a good position in life, there was one that did not make it, one who is in jail, one who is struggling in the streets, one whose life was cut short.  We remember the ones who are no longer with us, and we pray fervently in hope for the others.  It’d be impossible to name all the young men who have come through our ministry over the years and who we have influenced. But I know that they have all experienced Christ’s love with us. 

So I don’t worry about what will come after us… I can see it now and I’m blessed.

March 2022

My greatest joy in ministry is when someone comes to Christ, and I fervently pray that the Lord would put me in situations to use me that way. But sometimes, especially in this setting, it’s the seemingly innocuous incidents which have a huge impact on someone’s life.

I spent time with one of our young men a couple of weeks ago…B.  He had spent a lot of time with us growing up, more than most because he was also a close neighbor.  I was able to mentor and disciple him for many years through programs and trips, my presence in the neighborhood, but mostly our relationship.  Like all of our young people he lived a complicated and highly stressed life which led to many shortcomings and some bad choices… but he made the most important one. To accept Christ and not follow the streets.  He has lived through struggles and continues to try and find his way, but while many of his peers are imprisoned, in the streets or dead, he’s still in the game. I asked him how he managed to stay out of the worst of street life and not get caught up in gangs. He said, “It was you Chris. I remember how you did E. that one time you caught him with a gun and I decided I was never going to be involved with guns.”

I didn’t remember at first what he was talking about, it was a long time ago. One of the boys had come to one of our activities with a fake pistol, waving it around proudly. All the boys crowded around to see it, but I stepped in and snatched the pistol and gave the boys a stern lecture about the dangers of such behavior, not only from street violence but from the police, who had recently killed a boy who was holding a fake gun, thinking it was real.  I was really angry and impassioned but so were the boys. I thought they might fight me or leave and not come back.  I took the gun and disposed of it and the whole thing blew over.

To have B. tell me this was a seminal event which helped shape his outlook on life was a shock to me, but well timed.  Our young boys these days, as a result of Covid, neighborhood violence, distrust of police, and riots, are living disassociative lives. It is easy for them to not feel connected to anything and so they do not care about anything. They are susceptible to destructive and self-destructive impulses. It is a spiritual battle whenever I am with them, to encourage them to see themselves as being a part of society, belonging to their communities, families, schools… and themselves.  It starts with a group of friends, like our basketball team, and their relationship with me… and through me, with Christ.  We have involved conversations about morality, what’s right and wrong; and a lot of times it seems like they are not listening to me.  It is hard for them to accept that the criminal things they see people do in the hood are morally wrong; but when police, government and rich people do the same things in mainstream society, it is ok. This is what society is teaching them.

So, I live for those innocuous incidents.  I pray up for them. These seemingly insignificant, but at the same time emotionally trying, moments change lives. I pray for the gift of wisdom so that I may respond to any given situation which may arise. I pray for the B’s we encounter, that they might muster enough self-interest to avoid making any serious mistakes, so they can grow up and have a good life. We work and pray that they might know Christ, so they might have Life.

January 2022

Lisa and I are grieving over the struggle of one of our teenage men. He is living on the precipice between having a meaningful life and social oblivion. He is in jail now having made a rash mistake.

Due to God’s mercy and grace, we’ve seen many people come to the Lord, changed hearts and changed lives, but I always grieve for the ones who turn away. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work miraculous wonders but the greatest by far is the changing of the human heart.  How God can work in spite of my, and the Church’s, human flaws is beyond me.

When I read in the Bible how some turned from Jesus it’s just hard for me to comprehend (John 6.60-70). How can they walk away? How can they choose what the world offers over surrender to Christ?  But I have seen it with my own eyes.

But of course, the point is that discipleship costs us something… self-sacrifice is required. 

Lisa and I grieve when we watch people that we love self-destruct, or choose destruction over love.  Why do they do it?  We’ve seen young people’s lives fall off the rail when they were doing so well… why? How?

It took me a long time to get it through my head that the promise of eternal life is not much of an incentive when all you know of life is pain, suffering and emotional misery. Promising that you’ll go to heaven when you die is not enough for many of our young people. They have to feel the hand of God in their lives now.  They have to know that God cares enough about them to get personally involved.  Somebody’s got to get their hands dirty.  Somebody’s got to get in the trenches with them. Somebody’s got to lay down their lives for them.

Because in the end, everyone must choose for him or herself.  The message we bring may look good, it may feel good, it may sound good… but is it real? Does it help me in my life right now, in my present circumstances?

When it comes down to it it’s a gamble.  And you have to surrender everything for it to pay off.  To do this goes against human nature and culture. It’s a leap of faith.  I remember when I came to the Lord, fifty years ago, everything about the gospel was made clear to me, but did I really believe it? Did I choose to believe it? And it required a leap… and I’ve never looked back.

For many of us it takes a long time standing at the precipice to decide to take that leap… and some of us walk away.  But we have to choose it. We make the choice. We have to want it. We have to somehow believe that there is a Way out. And so many of our people struggle with this. God makes a Way where there is no way. Like Peter we have to realize that there is nowhere else to go to have life. We have to choose life.

The promise of eternal life is the promise of all abiding love, the promise of everlasting friendship, the promise of eternal belonging.  We can have, and share, those things right here and now. Our young friend can have these things; but they require sacrifice, they require a leap of faith.

This is what gets the attention of the young people with whom we work:  God’s presence in the midst of their struggle. So, we labor and labor but we do not lose hope. Please pray for our young people who live on the precipice of life and death… that they would choose Life, so that despair may be transformed to joy.

December 2021

A conversation at our basketball tournament last weekend:

So y’all we’re gonna take a minute here before lunch and talk about Christmas.  I know y’all are excited for the holidays…

“Yeah, no school! But we don’t really celebrate Christmas…”

You look around during the Christmas season and it’s all about Santa Claus and presents and Christmas trees and such… and that’s fine, but I want to remind y’all of what Christmas is really about. Do y’all know?

“Jesus died?” “Church?” “Jesus’ birthday?”

Yep! Jesus’ birthday!  So there was a teenage girl named Mary and she was engaged to be married to her boyfriend Joseph. You know among Mary and Joseph’s people the custom was for families to arrange marriages for their children at a young age.  Like if you were six years old and your mom and dad had arranged for you to be married to the little girl down the street when y’all grew up.

“What?! That’s not right!”

So anyway, Mary was a good girl and religious and everybody liked her. And Joseph was a straight up guy and everybody respected him.  Everybody thought they were a cute couple and would make a great family. But one day… people noticed a swelling in Mary’s belly. They said “Oooh Mary, what chu been doing?” And sure enough, Mary was pregnant!  Everybody was talking about it. Mary and Joseph were good, religious people, how could they let this happen?

“What’s the big deal? It happens a lot.”

Well, it turns out it’s not Joseph’s baby! Joseph said, “Nu ‘uh, that baby ain’t none a mine!  So Mary was in real bad shape. She was a young girl pregnant and not married. Like some of our mommas…

“She was a teen mom?” “My mom had me when she was fifteen.”

Yes. Everybody thought Mary had been bad… but what had happened was one night an angel came to visit her. He was a bright shining light and the Angel said, ‘Sup Mary! Girl you are so lucky! God is with you baby! He has chosen you out of all the women in the world to do a great miracle. You are going to have a baby and it’s going to be God’s Son! He’s going to be large and in charge forever.  You’re going to be the GOAT of women!

“So wait… God was Jesus’ dad?”

Yeah, it was hard for Mary to understand too. She was like, “Uh… I don’t understand how this could happen. I’m a good girl and I ain’t been with nobody!” And the angel said “God’s going to do a miracle and even though you haven’t had sex with anybody you will have a baby. The baby will be the Son of God.” And Mary said, ‘It sounds scary but I trust you. If you say that’s how it’s gonna be, then ok.”

So, Mary was walking around pregnant and everyone was talking about her. People were shaking their heads and saying, “Mm-mm-mm… what a shame.” Joseph’s heart was broken ‘cause he really loved her.  He decided he didn’t want to front and embarrass her publicly so he was going to quietly break the engagement.  But that night he had a dream…

“Man, I would’ve left her.”  “Ain’t no girl gonna cheat on me!”

In his dream, the angel came to Joseph and told him what was up. The angel said the child came from God and that Mary had been faithful to Joseph.  God wanted Joseph to be the child’s earthly daddy and raise him.  His name was going to be Immanuel, which means “God with us”.  He will save people from their sins and bring them back to God.  Joseph was excited. He even picked out the baby’s nickname, “Man-Man”.

“Just like my cousin!’

Joseph went to Mary the next day and hugged her and said, Guess what? I had a dream last night and God told me everything. We’re gonna be married and raise this baby together! And Mary was so happy, she cried.

So, they got married and everything was cool. But then the Emperor (like the president of the whole world) decided to count everybody so he could get more taxes from the people, and everybody had to go to their family’s home town. If it was me, I’d go back to Texas. Where’s y’all’s families from?

“I’m from Chicago!” “We’re from Louisiana.” “I was born in Minneapolis.”

Joseph had to go to a little town called Bethlehem, way out in the desert and a long ways from Nazareth. And there weren’t any cars, trains, planes or buses back then. People traveled in groups called caravans, on a donkey if they were lucky.  They had to walk long distances in the hot sun, and be careful to have enough water. Remember, Mary was close to her time of giving birth, so it would be a long and uncomfortable trip for her.

So, they made the trip, I don’t know how long it took, and when they got there

Bethlehem was packed with people from out of town! For a little town a lot of people were from there.  Joseph tried and tried but he couldn’t find a place to stay.  Every hotel or inn was full with no space.  He was like, “Please help us my wife is pregnant and about to have a child.” But people were like, “No room homie!”


So, you know what they did? They camped out in the street like those people you see down on Bloomington and 26th St.

“Mary and Joseph were homeless?!”

Yeah, for a minute. I know some of y’all have been at the shelter at one time or another.  Everybody needs help sometime.

Anyway, one of the maids from a hotel saw them and told them to go around back to the alley and she’d put them in the stable with the animals.  It was kind of smelly, but they could stay dry and warm. Joseph was like “Bet!”

So that night in the stable, in the middle of the night, Jesus was born.  There was no doctor, no hospital, no nurse, no nothin’.

“But how did the baby come?”

Well, you gotta ask your momma about that…

At that time, out in the fields, the shepherds were watching their sheep. Shepherds were gangsta back in the day. It was a lonely job out there with the sheep but shepherds were tough.  They had to protect the sheep from wolves, lions, and coyotes. So it was lonely, and it was quiet; but then…  “HALLELUJAH!”

Suddenly the sky was filled with angels up in the sky… people with wings flying around and singing and having a party!  They were hollering, “Joy to the world! God is the greatest! Peace! Peace to everybody!  Peace and goodwill! Peace, love and joy to all!” The shepherds were freaked out! They were running around, bumping into each other, trying to calm the sheep, thinking they were going crazy having hallucinations…

But the angels said, “Hey y’all! Did you know that at this very moment, in the city of David, right over the hill there, is born the King of kings and the Lord of lords?!  The Savior of all people! Y’all should go see! Just go over this hill and when you get to the bottom turn left and you’ll come to a stable behind a big hotel.  Go in and you’ll see a baby lying in a feeding trough, wrapped up in some old towels. That’s the guy!” And then they disappeared.

In the sudden quiet the shepherds looked at each other and whispered… “You saw that right?” They agreed that they were not going crazy and decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

They went over the hill and turned left at the bottom and came to the stable and they found the baby Jesus just as the angels said. They told Mary and Joseph all that had happened. And they looked at baby Jesus and thought, “This baby is gonna change the world? This little baby is gonna be all that?” And they knew it was true. And they knelt and they worshipped him.

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas. Because God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus was born to reunite us with God and to save us all from our sins.  And because of Christmas, God is with us… always.

“Oh… can we eat now?”

Merry Christmas!

November 2021(2)

Luke chapter 18 begins with the parable of the persistent widow… or we might call it the parable of the unjust judge… depending on your point of view. A widow oppressed by an adversary goes to court and petitions the judge persistently for justice, but the judge keeps putting her off. Finally, he says he will “see that she gets justice” just to get her off his back. And Jesus uses this parable to teach… what?

That we should always pray and not give up

“And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ ”  Luke 18.6-8

Two things: One, God has promised justice for the oppressed. It doesn’t always come when we want it to, but He promised it would come.  Waiting for God’s justice to come has been a characteristic of an oppressed people… Witness the Hebrew slaves of the Old Testament, the Jews of the Holocaust, the suffering of the American Indian and immigrants at our borders, and the fate of enslaved Africans and their descendants. It seems like waiting for God’s justice is a necessary prerequisite to the spirituality of the oppressed. Which, as my enslaved ancestors demonstrated, is a more authentic spirituality than that exhibited by oppressors.

But this doesn’t sit well with those of us who are living through oppression.  We want justice and we want it now.  Which brings me to my second point.

Jesus says God will bring justice and He will bring it quickly.  But it just doesn’t seem to come quickly enough to satisfy us here on earth. True and lasting justice requires faith.  Not faith in society, or systems, the goodness of humankind or even our individual selves, but faith in God.  It is only this faith that helps me keep going after experiencing moments like the Rittenhouse verdict.  It reminds me that I can’t expect fairness in this world.  I’ve got to look somewhere else for justice.

God cares about the injustice we suffer now and motivates us to work against it, but He will not reach down and fix things… that is our responsibility.  God has a long game goal… the redemption of all creation.  Many of us feel like if we can get that one guilty verdict, that one acknowledgement of injustice done, then we’ll have turned a corner and things will get better. Well… still waiting.  We have to live for something more.  I felt vindicated when the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty… but does this herald a change in our society towards racist attitudes and unjust systems? I can’t afford to think that way, because the next “thing” is around the corner.

Jesus goes to the crux of the matter: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  How do we live life every day dealing with oppression, injustice, fear, and hate?  I guess I feel like I have to trust God and do justly, as he requires (Micah 6.8).  Yes, we hunger and thirst for justice, but we need His grace.

So, we should not give up.  As Christians we are to seek justice, but never lose sight of who we serve and the goal of our justice seeking. We should not give up praying for justice, nor working for it… for Justice will surely come.