John Stumbo Video Blog No. 18

January 12, 2015


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“If we understand the narrative, we will better understand the emotion.” —Rev. Jonathan G. Schaeffer, Alliance pastor


Hey, team, I’m with you today on Long Beach. I had planned on filming a completely different video, but recent events on the news I’ve not been able to get away from and I’ve felt a need to address a subject that, frankly, I’ve avoided. I have avoided, in part, because I feel so inexperienced. I feel ill equipped, I feel unprepared to make these kinds of comments.

You see, I grew up in the kind of environment where we were the dominant culture, so much to the degree that we didn’t even know there were any other cultures. I didn’t have a non-Anglo friend until I was 14 or 15, when the immigration started coming from Southeast Asia and we hosted some Vietnamese refugees in our church basement apartment. And I couldn’t speak a lick of Vietnamese and my Vietnamese friend couldn’t speak English, but we became friends.

But that was a beginning for me of a lifelong journey of realizing—starting to have eyes to see—the difference between the culture in which I live, the environment in which I’m comfortable, the world view that I have, the experiences that are normative for me, and the fact that that’s not normative for everybody.

And so, I want to address some conversation today that I’ve avoided, as I’ve said. So, I feel like to say nothing is to actually say something quite clearly; to not speak, to try to remain silent, is to actually speak loudly. I’m reminded of words that Martin Luther King spoke 50 years ago this month:

History will record that the greatest tragedy of this period was the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness, but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.

I don’t want to be one of those silent, apathetic individuals at a time in our history when, once again, the whole issue of racism and justice, equality are issues that are very present in many hearts today. As you’re aware, one of the most significant New Testament metaphors for the Church is the simple, often-repeated idea that we’re a Body. First Corinthians, chapter 12: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’”

This whole idea that we need each other—we can’t live autonomously, independently; we need each other. And the text goes on to say, “So there should be no division in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other.” Equal need, equal concern. Closing, Paul says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”

A few weeks ago, I just felt the need to go to one of the African-American churches in Colorado Springs, which I have relationship with. There are sisters and brothers there that I highly respect and know a few of them personally. And every time I go there, the pastor always asks if I’ll say a few words, even though I say, “You don’t need to bring me up front just ‘cause I’m here.” But sure enough, once again, he did, and I was grateful on that particularly Sunday that he had me stand in front of the congregation, because I just needed to stand before them and say, “I hurt with you. Part of the Body of Christ is hurting today, and we need to hurt together.”

One of the things that fascinates me about my own experience is that if you want to make me angry, do something to one of my kids or do something that I feel is unfair. The encounters with injustice that I’ve had in my life are petty and passing. But we have a community of people among us who are suffering, because their justice button has been pushed, well, not just by recent events; that’s only elevated a lifetime of sensing the injustices of our nation, injustices of this world. And it is appropriate to be angry when we feel injustice.

Now what to do with that anger is a completely different question; but injustice—it is an emotion-bringing kind of experience in our lives that can drive us to some really good things. But as members of the Body of Christ, we need to be, we need to feel with those who feel—even if we weren’t part of the community that has been unjustly treated—but we need to feel some of that injustice, to mourn with those who mourn.

So one of my appeals is for us, as the Body of Christ represented by multiple cultures, is for us to begin to get to know each other’s stories well enough, so we would feel some of the pain that they feel. If our only information is coming from headlines and from newscasts, we are going to have the wrong perspective. We have to know people well enough to feel some of the pain and understand the perspective. This requires us getting out of some of our own cultural subsets and for us to open our day timers and lives and conversations to a broader spectrum of the Body of Christ. I’m doing so. I’m inviting you to do so.

So in this whole conversation in these days, one of the things that I‘ve been very aware of is that few of us use power well. Whether it’s the power of a position or a title, whether it’s the power of muscle or a gun or a weapon, whether it’s the power of dominant influence in society, throughout human history and until today, we often don’t know how to use power in a way that serves the public good rather than just benefitting the person or people in power.

And then to add to the complication of this, when power gets combined with fear, very ugly things happen. In leadership, in government, in whatever setting, when power and fear are combined, that is often when we have some of our worst moments in church history, in human history, and in my own leadership story—that powers quickly become self-protective and self-serving when fear gets involved.

Isn’t this one of the greatest beauties of Jesus Himself—that He had complete power under complete control. He never operated out of fear. He never operated in a manner that was self-serving. Our Christ is the ultimate example of controlled power—power that is used for the good of humanity and the glory of God—never in a self-protective kind of way or a destructive, abusive kind of way.

And it’s here, again, where I start to relate to the story that I see in the headlines—that it’s not just police officers or rioters that misuse power. It is guys like me, with positions like president; and you, with titles like pastor; and guys like Zedekiah, the king in the Old Testament, that are these classic examples of what we can do when we start to take our power, combine it with fear, insecurities, and then do everything just to build our own little kingdoms of safety, comfort, control—feeding our own insecurities by the dominance that we express.

So, it’s a personal challenge to me in these days to watch my own expression of power and leadership, that it is always to the glory of God and the good of the people that I serve.

So, these are the very reasons that Jesus came. He came to bring justice and freedom and equality and life and forgiveness, and show us how to handle our anger, to show us how to handle the deep issues of our soul. These are the reasons Jesus came, and this is the context in which He came—people handling power poorly, a context of violence and misuse of power. But in it, He brings hope. He brings this perspective that, even though current cultures and situations are not a full expression of what He wants to accomplish, that we get to walk together as the Body of Christ to see a fulfillment of the gospel, to see greater expressions of the gospel.

So, I’m appealing to us to not to lose hope but to continue in this journey. You know, as long as Job had only lost his wealth, he was still OK; he didn’t curse God. When he lost his health, he was still OK; he didn’t curse God. But when he started to lose his hope, he started to get in trouble, and some of his own story starts to erode when he loses hope.

Let’s stand together. Let’s grieve with those who grieve. Let’s move forward in deeper relationships. Let’s use power in very wise ways, never accompanying fear with our power. And let’s believe together that better days can be ahead, where we can actually grow through this hard time and that the Church can lead through this hard time, being a beautiful expression of what the gospel is really about. God, guide us all as we seek this.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness, but also of the fears and apathy of the children of light.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, January 27, 1965.


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