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Soong-Chan Rah on Prophetic Lament

Professor Rah

Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of The Next Evangelicalism; Many Colors; co-author of Forgive Us and the recently released Prophetic Lament.

Soong-Chan received his B.A. in Political Science and History/Sociology from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and is currently in the Th.D. program at Duke University.

Rah is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic, urban ministry-focused church committed to living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context.

Soong-Chan, his wife, Sue, who teaches special education, and their two children, Annah and Elijah live in Chicago.

KW: When were you first drawn to the book of Lamentations?

Rah: When I planted an urban, multi-ethnic church in Cambridge, MA in 1996, the very first sermon series I preached was on the book of Lamentations. Not a conventional choice when you are trying to attract people to your church plant, but in retrospect, engaging the book of Lamentations as an urban church plant was an essential element of the type of value system needed to serve in the urban context. The themes of suffering, lament, listening and learning from the most marginalized voices are critical themes for urban ministry. We often jump to the success stories of ministry in the city without engaging the stories of suffering. As a church planter, I needed to engage the reality of a suffering narrative extant in the community before I could event pretend to have any answers. Lamentations call God’s people to pause and seek the heart of God before we jump to the easy answers.

KW: How has your upbringing and experiences shaped your interpretation of Lamentations?

Rah: I engage a lot of my personal story in applying the book of Lamentations. Lamentations engages suffering and my own personal story of pain connects to the suffering discussed in the book of Lamentations. I talk about the pain of the absence of my father in my life as well as the passing of my father. Interacting with my father on his deathbed deepened my understanding of loss and how that sense of imminent loss changes how I understand the world around me. If we don’t deal with the pain of loss and the reality of death, we fool ourselves. My reconciliation with my father on his deathbed was precipitated by his imminent death. Death changed the equation. In the same way, I believe that the reality of death in our nation’s history, particularly unjust deaths of African Americans, requires dealing with reality. We can’t fool ourselves that everything is okay when there are dead bodies in the room. Lamentations begins as a funeral dirge that requires an understanding of historical reality. Another very important personal intersection is the story of my mother. My mother who is in the early stages of dementia has been a powerful example of spiritual faithfulness.  Yet as a poor, elderly, Korean immigrant woman, her voice is often marginalized. Studying the book of Lamentations reminded me of the importance of the voices of marginalized women and reminded me that my mom’s story is an important story for the Christian community to hear.

KW: Why do you think the church has forgotten about the practice of lament?

Rah: U.S. Christianity has a strong streak of exceptionalism and triumphalism. Many American Christians embrace American exceptionalism or American church exceptionalism. The assumption of the triumph and victory of an exceptional American church means that we have no room to engage in stories of suffering and pain. We want to hear about the latest exploits of the mega church pastors, the hip urban church planter, or the successful social entrepreneur. We allow no room for the practice of lament, which would challenge our assumptions of exceptionalism, that somehow the American church is uniquely blessed by God. If we were to engage the practice of lament we may be confronted with the reality of our individual and corporate sinfulness. At its root, lament is truth telling.  It is an honest expression of our relationship with God and the world around us. Lament challenges our exceptionalism assumptions. So I think we’d rather speak of our successes and our triumphs rather than deal with the truth telling of lament.

KW: Why is it important that we recover the depth and power of prophetic lament?

Rah: Our current social, cultural reality in the U.S. reveals a deeply troubled racial history. We have great difficulty engaging the topic of race. We move towards intransigent positions or seek quick and easy answers. Lament calls for more.  IF we believe in the necessity of prophetic lament, we wouldn’t so easily dismiss the call to understand the need for #blacklivesmatter and not so easily move to all lives matter. Lament is a necessary discipline if we are to have important, crucial conversations. We can’t talk about race relations in American without dealing with shame. Lament offers us the vocabulary of shame. Broken relationships along racial lines must understand the long, tainted, painful history of race and racism in America. Lament reminds us not to ignore our shameful racial history. The conversation on race is one of the more salient examples of the need for lament, but other important social and theological issues require the discipline of lament before we engage quick and easy answers.

KW: What hope does Lamentations provide in the midst of historic and modern injustice?

Rah: It reminds us that suffering and injustice are not new to a fallen world. We have historical antecedents as well as a biblical response to suffering and injustice. In the book of Jeremiah, we see how God’s people could potentially respond to the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile to Babylon.  God’s people could decide to disavow their identity, disengage the world and go underground — which God rejects by commanding them to seek the peace of Babylon (Jer 29:4-7).  They could also decide to give in to the values of the world and follow the patterns and practices of the world. God rejects that approach by condemning the false prophets and diviners (Jer 29:8-9) who would use the magic practices of the Babylonians to tell the people what they want to hear.  In our engagement with modern injustice, we are faced with these two options: we could run away and hide from the injustices in our community / we can give in to the world’s methods and try to fix problems using our own strength and methods.  Or, we can engage the practice of lament. The proper response to the suffering of exile initiated in Jeremiah is the book of Lamentations. Lamentations offers no easy answers. It calls us to engage a sovereign God as well as the broken world. Lament calls us to a different Biblical, historical discipline that may require a higher cost from God’s people.  There are no easy answers to the reality of suffering. Lamentations reminds us of that reality and the much deeper response that is needed in the face of great injustice.

KW: What sort of responses are hoping for as folks read/engage the book?

Rah: I hope that folks will challenge their pre-existing notions about the nature of the church. The church is not simply the expression of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. I hope that the book will challenge God’s people to re-engage the practice of lament that has been lost in the context of American evangelicalism. I hope that lament will become a part of how we worship on a typical Sunday worship, how we pray together as families, and how we engage the complex issues of our society. I hope a deep dive and engagement with the book of Lamentations and engagement with a prophetic lament calls God’s people to deepen their faith beyond the superficiality of an exceptional Christianity.

When Drunken Germans Crashed the Last Supper

Guest Post by Pete Kelley

In 1573, Paolo Veronese was commissioned to paint a giant portrayal of the Last Supper that would take up an entire wall of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice.  They were expecting him to come up with something similar to Da Vinci’s famous last supper scene, but here’s what Veronese came up with instead:

Last Supper Veronese

Instead of a intimate portrayal of Jesus sharing his last meal with his disciples, you have this huge, 42-foot wide feast.  If you zoom in a look closely you can find each of the disciples seated at the table, but then all around them are all these other zany and out of place characters.  There are cats and dogs and Arabs and Germans and jesters and drunks and some poor guy with a nose bleed.

So when Veronese unveiled his Last Supper the church was ticked. He had taken this holy, sacred moment and scandalized it.

They put him on trial for heresy.

At one point they asked him, “Does it seem suitable to you, in the Last Supper of our Lord, to represent buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other such absurdities?”

They decided that they would not tolerate an image of Jesus eating with all these “unholy” kinds of people and they told him he had three months to change the painting and make it right—to get rid of all the weirdos and outsiders, and make it a proper portrayal of Last Supper.

Here’s what Veronese did: with a stroke of artistic rebellion, instead of taking any of the wild characters out of the painting, he made one little change:


He added an inscription on one of the columns that says, “LVCA. CAP. V.” or “Luke, Chapter 5” and he changed the name of the painting to “Feast in the House of Levi.”

Luke 5:29-30: Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

And the Inquisition didn’t say another word.

The Roman Church fell into the same trap as the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They believed that there was only a select group of sanitized people who should be invited to a place at the table with Jesus.

But Jesus seems to have no problem sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, jesters and even Germans.

Here’s what I think this story might expose in us:

Some of us believe the lie that Jesus is only interested in people like us.

Think of all the horrible racist or oppressive movements throughout church history that are rooted in this lie: that we are God’s favorite, that we are the ones he wants at his table and everyone else is intruding on our holy experience.

Apparently, Jesus doesn’t see it that way.  His table is way bigger than we think.

This is why I believe that the church should be the most diverse and inclusive community in the world. Where sinners and tax collectors, rich and poor, young and old, black and white and every color in between find common fellowship in Christ.

So, who is it that you have the hardest time believing is invited to the table? 

Pete Kelley Guest Blogger

3 TED Talks on Creativity

Who doesn’t love a good TED Talk? I’ve enjoyed these 3 on the topic of creativity. They have great inspiration and lessons–including the important understanding that we’re all creative, and ideas for how to manage your organization to keep creativity flowing.

Discipleship & Public Life with Vincent Bacote

Vincent Bacote

Dr. Vincent Bacote Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College (IL). He is the author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life. He lives in Glen Ellyn, IL with his wife and two daughters.

KW: Why do you think Christians in America feel they need permission to engage the public square in their faith?

VB: It is hard to say precisely how many Christians wonder whether we have permission to engage public life, but my sense is that there is a significant number of believers who have uncertainty.  There is a very good reason to wonder why permission might be needed: we are in a broken and fallen world and find warnings in Scripture about having our priorities out of order, of being worldly and thus opposed to God.  If we take discipleship seriously, we have to carefully consider what God wants us to do in the mission he has given us.  I think a key element here is to make sure we understand the warnings about being worldly, which if we look closely are not about whether we should be involved in public life but how we are to be involved. If our engagement emerges from fidelity to God instead of one of the many idolatrous alternatives, then we find that permission has always been there for us.

KW: Why is it important that we learn how to faithfully engage the public square as part of our discipleship?

VB: To be a disciple is to be properly human; the path of discipleship is a re-humanization process where we (hopefully) participate in God’s world in a more winsome fashion.  This proper human participation includes our responsiveness to what I call “The First Great Commission”, also called the creation mandate or cultural mandate.  This first commission calls us to seek the flourishing of the created order, which includes politics, law, medicine, education and others ways that we steward the world. One of the best ways that Christians live as a witness to the kingdom of God is through lives of faithfulness that not only show we are having our character transformed but also actions in the public domain that reveal our ongoing transformation into the kinds of humans God wants in the world.  Put differently, this is the pursuit of Christlikeness; He was the perfect human and our transformation process has our Lord as the standard.  Though our transformation does not occur without missteps and bumps in the road, we should eagerly seek to grow in our humanness in private and public life.  Imagine this scenario: what if the reputation of Christians was one where people said with wonderful astonishment “they really do act quite human!”

KW: Is there a good first step you can recommend if someone wants to engage in this way more?

VB: I think it is best to look around where you are and consider all of the different institutions and relationships you have and then consider how you might respond to this First Great Commission.  It doesn’t have to mean running for office or beginning to volunteer with the local office of a political party.  In some cases step one may be as simple as going to the polls to vote when elections come around or attending meetings of the school board or local government.  Here’s something else to try: have a dinner or dessert gathering with some friends and discuss your concerns about what is going on in the world and brainstorm about ways to get involved.  There is no cookie cutter approach; the first thing is to raise one’s antenna and go from there.  For me, one avenue has been to participate on the board of the Center for Public Justice, a wonderful nonpartisan organization that aims to equip citizens and help shape policy.

KW: What have you learned personally as you’ve engaged in this way? How has it shaped your faith?

VB: Two highlights among the things I have learned: first, even when Christians have disagreements about the theological basis for our public engagement and differences in priorities, most of the time this does not mean that there is no constructive conversation to be had or important questions to consider.  While I have my differences with views such Luther’s Two Kingdoms or versions of Anabaptist alternative community, I have come to see that these and other perspectives help me to be aware of the potential pitfalls that may exist in my view and that there are dimensions of public witness expressed by others that are worthy of attention and admiration.  Second, in the realm of public engagement in general and politics in particular, it is important to have a long range vision, perhaps even as long as the 500 year vision that I have heard from my friend Makoto Fujimura.  This is important because many Bible-believing Christians treat politics as a form of crisis management instead of as an often slow process that leads to forms of public policy.  None of this means that we should not address moments of crisis, but that we should see crises as one part of bigger picture instead of the entirety.

KW: Are there dangers to political engagement? If so, how do we identify and address them?

VB: There are dangers to any path we take, and political engagement is one area where it can be easy to confuse political aspirations with priorities of the kingdom.  While we should strive to have political engagement that reflects and represents God’s kingdom, our vision is far too opaque to suggest that our prescriptions for public life are the precise expression of God’s kingdom at any moment.  Beyond this, a major hazard is that political allegiances can become so intense that we forget that those who are not “our people” are also humans created in God’s image.  Even if others regard us an enemies because of our political stances, we never have an excuse for hating or dehumanizing them.  These are a couple of hazards, though certainly there are many others (like the seduction of power, distorted pursuit of influence, etc.).

KW: What encouragement can you give us to persevere as we pursue the common good?

VB: One guarantee: engagement in life, public or private, will break your heart at some point.  We need not look hard or long to be confronted with realities that would make us cry out “How long, O Lord!”  Nevertheless, the inevitable disappointments are not cause for getting out of the game.  Instead, this is one domain where we must learn to practice lament (and both Todd Billings and Soong Chan Rah are helping us with their books on this topic) and be honest with God about our heartbreak, frustration and distress, and then continue to discern ways to be faithful to the First Great Commission.  Some of us may truly regard public engagement as a cross-bearing experience, but whether the cross seems heavy or light we move forward as hopeful people obedient to God and hopeful of the day when all is set right.

KW: Why do you believe we are in a time of great opportunity?

VB: Though some now convey a tale of defeat in the culture wars and others are confounded as to what we should do, I think now is a great time for Christians in places like the United States to stop, take a breath, and consider how the present moment is a time for us to remember that our aim is not political victories of our own making but the pursuit of diverse ways to be faithful to God’s first command to seek the flourishing of His world.  It is also a great time to consider the many ways our beliefs connect to our life beyond the Sunday worship service. We can ask “what is a post-benediction expression of Christian faith?” and consider how doctrines like our view of Jesus, the church, and eschatology (among others) have important implications for aspects of life we may not typically regard as spiritual.  However difficult this time may be for Christians, we should remember that this is not the first time the faith has been in tension with other forces in society and that there may be opportunity for living out a Christian witness that has more range and depth than we imagined.

Brad Lomenick on H3 Leadership

Brad Lomenick

Brad Lomenick is a strategic advisor and leadership consultant specializing in influence, innovation, generational issues and business strategy. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences, churches and colleges as well as author of The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker and the recently released H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. For over a decade, he served as lead visionary and president of Catalyst, one of America’s largest movements of Christian leaders. Before running Catalyst, he spent five years involved in the growth of the nationally acclaimed Life@Work magazine and was a management consultant with Cornerstone Group. Before that, he served as foreman for Lost Valley Ranch, a four-diamond working guest ranch in the mountains of Colorado. Brad serves on the advisory board for Suffered Enough, the A21 Campaign, Red Eye Inc. and Praxis. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @bradlomenick, or check out his blog.

KW: H3 Leadership covers so much territory. How would you describe it?  

BL: H3 Leadership is my attempt to make sense out of the three big-picture characteristics I’ve discovered are most important to succeeding as a leader: humble, hungry, and hustle. The book really unpacks these 3 key pillars of leadership, and practically provides the 20 key Habits that all great leaders have in common.

Leading is difficult and anyone who has been in a position of authority or influence for very long grapples with it. I know this first hand. I experienced my own leadership crisis back in 2013. Sitting at lunch with a close friend, he challenged me on my own leadership, and I knew I needed a restart. I was at a critical point and needed a break. My leadership was stale and needed to be re-ignited and re-established. So I took a break from Catalyst, the organization I’d led for over a decade. It was an incredible period of renewal and focus for me. I pinpointed all of the habits found in the book in a frenzy of inspiration at the end of that sabbatical. I’d had time to reflect on who I was as a leader and to consider all of the incredible leaders with whom I’ve worked over the years. I’d also had time to think about what humble, hungry, and hustle really look like––about how you live those ideas out through habits.

H3 Leadership details how to develop the habits leaders need to thrive. It also traces my own wins and failures as a leader. It’s a very personal book. I’m sharing many times from my own failures in my personal journey. The book is a combination of roadmap, advice, and honest anecdotes from someone who’s been in the trenches.

In a culture craving authenticity, my goal is to provide a practical leadership guide delivered in truth and transparency.

Leadership is hard work, so it must be habitual work. You have to create habits in your leadership and around your leadership style. And because it’s difficult, we need to do something about it. So H3 is my attempt to make leadership more attainable, retainable, and sustainable over time.

Consequently, I almost titled the book “The Hard Work of Leadership.” Maybe “leadership is hard, so let’s do something about it!”

KW: You’re very open and honest about how you’ve led, especially Catalyst?  Why did you decide to include so much about, frankly, what you feel like you did wrong? 

BL: It was important to me to shoot really straight in this book. The very nature of this book required a bit more transparency. But I would also say that I believe the leaders who will have the most influence and impact are the ones who are willing to be vulnerable and talk openly about their struggles and failures.

And that’s a hard thing for a lot of leaders to do. Many times, when we get to a point where other people are listening to us, and we’ve got something to manage––something to lose––we sort of go into the default mode of “Okay, make sure everything looks perfect.”

Today, people crave authenticity. This need has even influenced the way we shop and purchase our products from organizations. Today, customers buy from those we feel are trustworthy.  Equally, we want to invest in people and companies that we can trust, not necessarily because they’re well known or largest or leaders in their industry.

Really, the first couple of chapters of the book are about defining and setting this foundation of “Man, you’ve got to be willing to be real with people around you if you want them to follow you.”

So often, leadership, especially self-help leadership and personal growth literature, can feel very pie in the sky––very esoteric. You’re philosophizing constantly.

Readers need a practical example that they can wrap their arms around––actually feel and see and experience the very specific thing that somebody has gone through. It’s one thing to tell others to be willing to share struggles and to talk about failures. It’s another thing to say, “Here’s what I’ve failed at.”

But the leaders I respect the most are the ones who continue to run the race well until the gun goes off, whether that’s because their life is over or they retire. That’s the posture of hungry: the idea that you constantly are learning and getting better. That’s the kind of leader I want to be. I think that’s the kind of leaders we need today.

I think it’s important for people to realize this is an ongoing journey.

KW: You say innovation should be a habit and that leaders should be change agents. Why is innovation- specifically, continuous, persistent innovation- so important for leaders? 

BL: Innovation is pushing yourself. When I say change agent, I’m referring to someone who is not just willing to put up with change, but someone who’s willing to embrace it. They see change as a friend and recognize that without change, things die.

Innovation is all about being intentional. It takes courage, stamina, and spark to be intentional, but it also takes failure. You have to know that you’re going to fail, over and over again.

We tend to automatically associate innovation with creativity––and that’s not wrong. It does require creativity. But it’s more about intentionality––the mindset of constantly pursuing something better, of pushing the boundaries and never sitting still.

Healthy things grow, and growth requires change. Leaders who don’t change––don’t innovate––are going to be left behind.

KW: A Habit of partnership seems to be important to you? How does a leader become collaborative without being competitive?  

BL: Collaboration has to flow from a place of generosity, truly believing that a higher tide lifts all boats. Be more concerned with others. Listen instead of talk. Be interested over interesting. To be collaborative we must understand that it’s not about me. It’s not about your organization, your non profit, or your project. It’s about connecting people, not competing. Collaborators are okay sharing their wisdom, their knowledge, their connections, and their networks, because collaboration means working together alongside others. Co-laboring. Building bridges instead of constructing walls. We at Catalyst have partnered with those who might be seen as competitors, because we believe in an abundance mentality. When you have an abundance mindset you are more likely to collaborate instead of compete. Avoid the scarcity mentality – the idea that there is only so much to go around. Think of churches in the same city- if you believe we’re all on the same team it’s much easier to collaborate instead of compete.

KW: What does the world need most from leaders today? 

BL: That’s a tough question because I think the scorecard for leaders is cumulative. I mean, you can live out a few of these habits well, but if you’re not pursuing and embracing all of them, then you’re still missing pieces of the puzzle. Your leadership will feel incomplete, both to you and to others.

That said, I think the most important thing for leaders today is to understand their individual identity and calling, and to be authentic.

We don’t need perfect leaders. We need realness over relevancy.  That’s the good news. The pressure is really off if leaders are willing to lead from their authentic selves. There’s such a hunger for realness today. If you’re willing to embrace that, people will follow you.

I have a deep passion for helping leaders lead well. It’s what drives me. I believe it’s my stewardship, and my responsibility to help these leaders do their jobs well- all over our country in our churches, businesses, and all organizations to lead well. And ultimately finish well. And I’m incredibly optimistic about the next wave of leaders who are now stepping into leadership roles. It’s a generation of leaders willing to work their guts outs for something bigger than themselves, and also willing to work together to accomplish the big vision.

SOLD Project + Causegear


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Humility & Art

One of the greatest blessings of the Antioch community over the years has been the world-class artists God has brought us.

Our friends, Connie and Jason Gabbert, are one of the best examples. Not only are they award-winning designers, but they’re also amazing people and parents.

As a part of the series on The Fruit of the Spirit at Antioch, the art team produced the video below of Connie working on a piece centered around the theme of humility and gentleness.

It pretty much captures all that is awesome about Connie.

If you like art, or if you like the intersection of art and spirituality, treat yourself to the four minutes it takes to watch this.

Humility from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

Why Morality Belongs in the Justice Conversation

“The temptation of this age is to look good without being good.”[1] Brennan Manning

Justice requires more than wanting to change the world, but being willing to change ourselves along with it.

The word “morality” seems to have fallen on hard times these days. It is often taken as synonymous with purity, seen as negative or outdated or pertaining to a certain subset of culture such as the Religious Right.

Morality, however, literally means:

of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.

It is a broad and ethical category. In fact, the word “ethics” itself traces back to the classical period and simply refers to the study of morals.

Ethical systems throughout history have sought to define how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the greatest number of persons. They have sought to work these out within the discipline of philosophy referred to as Moral Philosophy.

There’s another term for the pursuit of the greatest pleasure and least pain for everyone: social justice. Ethics, morality, and moral philosophy are all ways of trying to work out what justice in society should look like and the civic or moral responsibility we all bear in bringing social justice to fruition.

Thus, right from the outset, justice and morality seem intrinsically linked.

Yet this is not how we treat the two in contemporary usage.

Whether its an overreaction to the use of moral language by the Moral Majority and the Religious Right in the 80s and 90s, or whether it’s a modern phenomena of wanting to fight for justice at a distance without recognizing our own moral responsibility, we have uncoupled the two concepts and even tend to set them against one another.

I find this troubling.

Early on in my career as I worked to promote justice language in the church, I had to fight hard to show that morality implied justice—that sin, purity and the like could not be separated from the biblical requirement for justice and sacrificial love for and on behalf of the other.

These days, I feel like I’ve almost been put in the reverse position—that in our talk about justice, we cannot separate it from the biblical requirement for morality.

Just as James 1:27 calls us to a pure religion that looks after orphans and widows in their distress, it also calls us “to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.”

We’re fond of grabbing the first half of that verse in justice circles, but we don’t know what to do with the second half. But there they are, justice and morality informing each other in the same biblical injunction.

When we look back in history we see many examples of justice and moral categories going hand in hand.

I have an old antique copy of Photo Magazine I picked up on eBay. The cover article, from 1955, discusses what we call sex trafficking, but back then was known as white slavery. The lead quote reads, “Europe’s sin merchants have gone into the export trade… selling smuggled female cargo to the world.”[2]

Sin and slavery. Personal profit and exploitation.

Joel 3:3 echoes something similar, “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.”

Drink and slavery. Personal pleasure and exploitation.

In Hebrew, the concept of justice is expressed by several words. The primary ones are the two relatively synonymous words tsedek and mishpat. In English, we translate the Hebrew words tsedek and mishpat as either “righteousness” or as “justice,” depending on context. This is because the Hebrew sense of the words tsedek and mishpat linked the personal and communal components of “just” or “righteous” living.

The idea of living uprightly could not be limited to personal ethical conduct or exclusively limited to community reform. Rather, it was the outworking of a deep knowledge of God, which drives one to live uprightly and walk justly.

Dr. Gerry Breshears, a theology professor for more than thirty years at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, explains what the Hebrew word tsedek means: a life in which all relationships—human to human, human to God, and human to creation—are well-ordered and harmonious.

Justice, rightly understood, speaks to the right and equitable relationship with God and with people. Justice is like a mosaic. It’s not only about single pieces – it’s also about all the pieces working together in a stunning whole. Morality is a necessary piece of that mosaic. When we are thinking only about justice as related to specific causes or single aspects we are missing part of the picture or we are looking at the fruit of virtue with no regard to the roots of virtue.

If we don’t include morality in the conversation, or as part of a more holistic view of religion and justice, we run into problems.

A lack of morality, or simply selfishness, robs our motivation for becoming just.

Likewise, the presence of immorality is coupled with and often precedes gross injustice—just as pornography and sexual exploitation sit on the same continuum.

In short, the long-term health of communities and relationships that justice requires are measured every bit as much through the lens of morality as they are the promotion of justice and fairness.

Another way of putting it might be to say, if justice is a Coast Guard ship that sails in order to protect and rescue people, morality is its sea-worthiness or integrity. A sinking ship can do very little to help those who are drowning.

Justice and morality are inseparable. Justice requires righteousness and righteousness demands justice.

It’s important that we think of justice—the systems, structures and policies that disadvantage or oppress people or races—and not personal responsibility alone.  It is also important that we think of morality—my hidden selfishness, my latent racism, my consumerism and individualism—and not just global or structural justice alone.

Justice is a “me” problem as well as a “we” and “them” problem.

In short, we need to be reminded that morality belongs in the justice conversation. For as Tolstoy framed the dichotomy, “Everybody thinks about changing humanity. Nobody thinks about changing himself.”

[1] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel  (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), pg. 122

[2] Hugo Dufy, “White Slavery: Report on Europe’s Missing Women” in Photo Magazine, January 1954.


Kilns College was able to partner with The Voices Project—an initiative started by Leroy & Donna Barber— by hosting a retreat for the second time this weekend. These small gatherings, that we’re calling Breathe are opportunities to bring leaders of color in urban settings into a shared space for lament, healing, equipping and encouragement as they seek to promote reconciliation in their churches and communities from a Christian perspective.

True education isn’t simply a matter of content but also includes the personality and voice of the teacher, his or her life experiences and the unique, incarnational truth that each of us carry with regard to the issues we are acquainted with and most passionate about. The concept of The Voices Project and these retreats is to help promote and equip community leaders that need to gain broader exposure within the church, rather than the church always telling and teaching their stories and experiences for them.

Additionally, these retreats provide an opportunity for people who are passionate about race in America to serve others in tangible and practical ways that are needed. Far too often people feel either helpless or try to insert themselves in ways that aren’t helpful. But working to serve others through the context of a retreat (opening homes, raising funds, canvassing the community for donations of meals, etc) is a beautiful way in which we are able to truly bless one another. If you’re interested in future Breathe gatherings hosted by The Voices Project and Kilns College, email Leroy Barber.

The State of Graduate Education in America

Photo Credit: Thomas Le Ngo, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery
Part 1 in an ongoing series

We need to take a fresh look at the purpose of graduate education. Why do more than three million people in the United States pursue a post-baccalaureate degrees each year?

Actually, let’s start with why those three million people shouldn’t be pursuing graduate studies.

You shouldn’t pursue an education because you feel you have to — or worse, feel you’re suppose to. You shouldn’t pursue post-baccalaureate studies because you feel pressured to do so. You shouldn’t pursue it solely to line up a job, and you certainly shouldn’t pursue it to put off the ‘real world’. If that’s your approach to continued learning, you’ll be sorely disappointed with the experience, and the outcome.

You should pursue a graduate degree to challenge yourself. To expose yourself to thoughts, opinions and ideas that you aren’t familiar with, or maybe don’t agree with. You should pursue your education to wrestle with complicated thoughts, theories and practices and to learn from historians, philosophers, theologians and contemporary thought leaders. And finally, you should pursue continued learning to allow the space in your life to put these thoughts and theories into practice. We should always be striving to grow and to learn and, to some extent, to make ourselves uncomfortable.

In 2008 Kilns College was founded on the belief that the sort of education described above was lacking in the higher education landscape, and that it should not only be readily available to students, but available at a minimal cost.

The Kilns administrators made a commitment at that time to stand apart from the traditional higher education model. To imagine other possibilities. There are more than 200 institutions of higher education in the United States alone, so rather than being a small fish in a very big, very established, very traditional pond, we decided to imagine what was beyond that pond. What others either hadn’t dared to imagine or lacked the space to create fully.

Our first order of business: Tackling that troublesome cost issue

The average cost of graduate education today is $30,000 for public institutions and $40,000 for private institutions. Given those large numbers, it’s not surprising to learn that on average, graduate students borrow slightly more than $57,000 for their schooling.

That’s a frightening number.

A report by the Federal Education Budget Project found that 40% of the $1.1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is from graduate and professional degrees rather than bachelor’s degrees. And yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate students make up only 16% of the total higher education student population.

Those numbers are even more frightening.

Recent articles in prominent higher education journals have reported that students, on one hand, backlash against these exorbitant costs; yet on the other hand expect lavish learning experiences (wealthy athletic programs, beautiful campus spaces, start-of-the-art gymnasiums, the newest [and fanciest] computer labs, etc.)

Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean at UC Hastings College of the Law stated in an article for Huffington Post, “Very few institutions, much less their ‘customers,’ are eager to offer a no-frills version of higher education. [Student] expectations continue to rise, but their willingness to pay has begun to fall.”

I actually don’t believe this statement to be true. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I believe students, at heart, want nothing more than a profound learning experience that allows them to be challenged and changed and transformed. An experience that allows them to be part of a broader conversation and network of voices and individuals.

They’re drawn to the extravagance because that’s what’s placed before them. That’s what is marketed and sold by institutions in competition to “out due” one another, to “win” the student and to bump their enrollment figures.

But when did an authentic learning experience become synonymous with frills anyway? With bells and whistles? With luxury and excess? Shouldn’t true education be marked, not to “equip [individuals] with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses,” as Martin Luther King Jr. stated in an article written for his college newspaper in 1947,  but to “enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”

Let’s look a little deeper.

How does an award winning football team benefit a graduate student’s education? Now please don’t mishear me, I’m a big time sports fan and I think college football has it’s place (to an extent) in helping to shape an undergraduate experience, but a graduate experience? Let’s be honest, we’re all allegiant to our undergraduate athletic programs anyway.

How does an elaborate gym facility benefit graduate students? You can usually purchase a student rate gym pass at a local gym anyway. And it’s a lot cheaper than $40,000 a year.

What about those fancy libraries? While they’re absolutely beautiful pieces of architecture and provide great study space, how do they really improve the learning experience for the ever- expanding distance learning student demographic? Most online and on-site students use electronic library services and prefer to study at a trendy coffee house.

And let’s not even waste time of those five-star resort-style student housing complexes that seem to be popping up around the country! How does a student of theology, or medicine, or law or philosophy benefit from a multi-story, deluxe living space? Yeah, we’d all love  to live in a luxury penthouse apartment, but does that really speak into our education? Or just our student loan debt?

When you peel away the extravagant and the unnecessary, you find that you actually can quite easily offer a truly great education for $8,000 – $12,000 per year.

A Successful Model

With limited overhead, Kilns operates distinctly outside the reality of most institution, and we’re free to imagine, dream and create. To focus every dollar on truly engaging students in their learning experience.  Not a dime is spent on elaborate brick and mortar buildings, lavish gymnasiums, under-utilized student unions or over-the-top arenas and stadiums. The Kilns model of learning costs the student just over $8,000 per year.

Unfortunately a growing number of institutions today aren’t able to consider such a model. They have no choice but to carry burdensome costs carried through already existing (and often expanding) campuses, growing athletic programs and modern campus facilities — all needed to compete with one another. Traditional institutions aren’t able to sift through the frills, the whistles and the debris that’s weighing them down to find the diamond that is true education.

So how do we do it? How does Kilns keep its cost low and its learning experience rich?

Simply put, we cut out the crap and focus instead on the good, the true and the beautiful.

Stay tuned for future posts on the State of Graduate Education in America series

The Grand Paradox for Small Groups

I’m getting ready to lead a small group at our church this September on The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith. In just the last 2 days I’ve heard 2 stories of people using the book for friends and family members going through depression and other difficult life situations which only gets me more excited about taking people through the content. The Grand Paradox is a comprehensive look at faith and how it plays out in the life of a believer, even when it gets messy. If you’re interested in leading a book study in your city or for your church, I’d be happy to interact with you or help in any way I can—you can also find small group resources here. If you are able to engage the book in this way, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Where is There Injustice?

This summer the justice and missions interns that were part of the Antioch Internship program read and discussed Pursuing Justice along with several other projects they did for the church and the community. Below is a lament written by Kimber Walbek that was a response to what she learned this summer, partly influenced by her reading. Thanks for sharing, Kimber!

I thought I saw it in a picket fence,
In a rally or a strike,
“We defend the unborn babies!”
A woman shouts into her mic.

I thought I saw it in her eyes,
That girl who is locked away,
Sold to the system at 3 years old,
And raped ten times a day.

I thought it was with that older man,
Who sits with his dog lone,
“Will work for food,” his sign reads,
While people pass by on their phone.

I thought it was in the climate,
Tainted from global warming,
All the chemicals sprayed on crops,
And our ignorance slowly forming.

I thought injustice was on the outside,
Ruining the world surrounding,
But then I looked deep within me,
And saw all the injustice abounding.

I confess to hate murder,
Yet my words are filled with hate.
I easily oppose sex slavery,
Yet the lust in my heart is great.

I am a proponent of freely giving,
Yet I hold my wallet tightly,
I say I care about the world,
Yet take my overconsumption lightly. 

Jesus–please forgive me,
Injustice didn’t start out there,
But the world has hate and evil,
Because I truly do not care.

Where there is hate in the world, bring love
Cause lust and destruction to flee,
Bring healing to the broken, a path to the lost
But make the justice start within me. 

Welcome Leroy Barber to Kilns College

Leroy is a good friend and has been a part of what we’ve been doing at Kilns College for a long time. He is a recognized thought leader in the areas of justice, race, church and Christian missions. There are few people whose voices I respect more than his.

We’re excited that Leroy is joining Kilns College as a College Pastor to deepen our focus on spiritual formation and how students at Kilns are interacting with the subjects of theology and justice at a heart level, in addition to the academic level.

I recently sat down with Leroy to talk about the new position and ask him a few questions.

KW: What is it that you like about Kilns College?

LB: Kilns has a concentration on justice that focuses on hearing from leaders of color as part of the core of its teachings. This creates a view of justice from those most often affected that balances theological study that usually come mostly from European thought.

KW: What is your hope for your role and joining the staff?

LB: I think as people study justice and theology their heart should also be challenged. As a pastor, my gift is to help connect head and heart. Deep theological study and deep spiritual growth need to be intentionally done together giving both an equal place.

KW: You’re raising support for this role, why? 

LB: I think this is an important part of what students should get as they study. I went to a small school and I have a heart for places that do great work but can’t afford to have certain positions. While this is a part time role it can be meaningful for our students.

KW: Why does it matter that we keep love of God and love of neighbor in the conversation with academics?

LB: Our spiritual journeys and knowledge of God don’t mean much if it doesn’t connect with people. It’s like faith without action: dead.

KW: Education can become an easily overlooked issue–from your perspective, why does it deserve more attention and effort than we give it credit for?

LB: I think education is a key, especially for people of color, to transcend some of the challenges they face around the world. The scriptures are full of leaders that come from challenging backgrounds. Education can be a tool to transcend our circumstances and I think that once you know who you are and what God has called you to do in the world education is a joyful experience at this level.

I’m excited about Leroy’s ongoing interaction with Kilns students. If you’d like to learn more about the projects he’s been working on, check out his latest book, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian Missions and Ministry.

If you want to learn more about programs at Kilns College, you can learn about our graduate degrees here.

Human Creativity and the Future of Education

Below is a fascinating and provocative video on the nature of creativity and the challenges to modern education in a rapidly changing world.

If the British accent of Sir Ken Robinson or the topic don’t get you, the hand-drawn illustrations are worth it alone!


Art. Imagination. Antioch Kids.

I don’t always write about our intern program at Antioch.

I don’t always write about our children’s program.

I don’t always write about our arts ministry.

But when one of our former interns creates twelve banners for the kids wing (door length) that are this amazing, it makes me want to write about it!

Thanks to Paul Crouse for sharing his gifts and for taking the time to invest into Antioch Kids. These banners will fascinate and stir imaginations for years to come as children and parents walk the halls of Bend High on Sunday mornings.

(Below are six of my favorite. To see the others, come by Antioch anytime.)

Dealing with Spiritual Doubt in the Pursuit of Justice

Below is the video of a talk I recently gave at The Justice Conference Asia in Hong Kong. It’s on a topic from The Grand Paradox that I’ve been speaking about a lot lately — doubt — and how it affects and relates to the pursuit of justice.

Dealing with Spiritual Doubt in the Pursuit of Justice from Kilns College on Vimeo.

Why Neighborhood Matters: Christian Conferences, Consumption & Everyday Life

Guest Post by Jon Huckins

As I sat on my porch overlooking the streets of my urban neighborhood and the sparkling lights of downtown San Diego, I thought to myself, “There is no place I’d rather be. THIS is where life happens and where peace is made real.”

Just 30 minutes before, I had gotten off a plane from a 24 hour trip to Chicago for the Justice Conference where Jer Swigart and I co-hosted the Faith and Peace Track representing our organization, The Global Immersion Project.

The time was incredible as the room filled with pastors, leaders and practitioners from countries spanning the world who created a dynamic environment of collaboration, excitement and activism. The mysterious and enlivening story of Jesus was palpable.

As we taught through our content on Everyday Peacemaking, we told story after story of ways peace — which we define as the holistic repair of relationship — is not only being realized in the midst of global conflicts, but on the streets of our neighborhoods. With each story I told about my kids, wife and faith community (all whom have committed to live the Jesus Way on the streets of our neighborhood of Golden Hill), I was stirred more and more with gratitude for the gift of a community of practice.

Teaching, training and inspiration matter, but only in so much as they move us to everyday practice in place. That is the discipleship challenge. Jesus wasn’t one who gave a sterling sermon, got folks fired up and then retreated to the hills (although he would do that too). Jesus LIVED the content he taught in the muck and messiness of everyday life on the streets of his Galilean neighborhood. 

We live in a culture that values hype. It may be the best intentioned hype in the world, but if it only stirs excitement for a one-off experience and doesn’t train and mobilize people into the not-so-glamorous realities of everyday life, I question whether it does more harm than good. 

When we strive for some lofty “ideal” that never translates into reality, we’ve missed the point. And, that’s why a neighborhood and community of practice is a necessity for everyday discipleship (peacemaking). Our neighborhoods (whatever the may look like!) are the context in which the Jesus Community is called to embody the Resurrection life in a broken world.

The day after I got home from the conference, my community came together for our weekly worship gathering that rotates between our homes in our neighborhood. We spent the whole evening pausing to reflect on different places in our neighborhood where we have seen and experienced God’s kingdom made real in both the beautiful and broken realties of everyday life. We looked at pictures and shared stories that have come to life in our rec center, local parks, back alleys, yoga studios, coffee shops and front patios.

It was a cathartic experience. When you’ve given yourself to a place year after year, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how much life has transpired and how much transformation taken place.

In that moment, I thought, “I’m all for participating in conferences…but they must remain a means to an end that looks like transformed people and places.”

So, let’s celebrate moments of collaboration, teaching and training while putting them in their rightful place as a means to fuel our everyday life and practice. Just like anything, Christian conferences can become yet another opportunity to simply consume for consumptions sake. Sadly, that actually distracts and demobilizes the Church from being the Church.

Friends, we were made for so much more than a one-off high. And, the world desperately needs the Jesus Community to live into its vocation as an instrument of peace every single moment of every single day in the unique contexts we inhabit.

What a gift to come together and celebrate our common hearts and vision. Now, let’s go get after it. 

Are We Captive to Capitalism?

Guest Post by Emily Hill

Two years ago I quit a successful corporate career to go back to graduate school and study theology and social justice. The sudden change in my life circumstances—including income level and perceived societal standing—combined with my studies has led me to a painful conclusion: my life and faith were much more influenced by American ideals and culture, than they were by the life of Christ and witness of the church in history.

And I’m not the only one.

In Democracy Matters, philosopher Cornel West wrote, “Power, might, size, status and material possessions — all paraphernalia of the nihilism of the American empire—[have] become major themes of American Christianity.” Similarly, theologian and academic Soong Chan-Rah cites consumerism as one of the areas of captivity for the Western Church, a church that in many ways is indistinguishable from the values and norms of society at-large.

But God calls believers away from allegiance to worldly empires and to allegiance to Christ alone.

Unfortunately, our culture is often simply the air we breathe. We do not notice all the ways it affects us, nor do we consider all the underlying values and assumptions it carries. We need to stop, extract ourselves from our culture for a moment and examine it to see how it actually fits with our faith.

Among many important cultural and systemic issues to examine one important, yet often overlooked system that must be examined is our economic system—capitalism. In modern American culture capitalism is either praised or demonized, yet few of us really understand the system itself, its tendencies, and its underlying values.

It is the engine beneath much of the economic prosperity the nation enjoys and it has come to be heralded by many as the only way to act. Capitalism—driven largely by the idea of free-markets, though there are some other key aspects that differentiate the system from others—has triumphed over socialism around the world, and many view it as a moral victory.

In an article in The Atlantic, theologian Harvey Cox deftly analyzed how the language of the markets as described in the news and throughout the business world, has taken on god-like characteristics including omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. He notes that Americans do not even realize it has taken this place in their lives and therein lies the danger—they do not know they have chosen a different god than the one they may profess with their mouths.

Though many argue it can be a force for good, pulling the poor out of poverty and generating positive social innovation, it also has a history of slavery, exploitation, and coercion.

Neither blind, uninformed support of the system or blanket accusations are helpful. Rather if we’re concerned for living justly as Christians, we must examine the economy that supports our daily lives. No doubt theologians would make poor economists and vice versa. Yet, if we were to submit economics to theology first, how would that change the way we live? If our allegiance is to Christ it must be considered.

Without critical reflection and theological engagement our participation in the economy will be driven by culture rather than Christ. For example, in America, this culture is a culture of individuality that pursues “free” choice at all costs. Choice and this perceived freedom become our gods, as does upward mobility. We have become slaves to this empty desire that never satisfies and detaches us from others with many consequences.

Economics is more than statistics, the stock market, or The Wall Street Journal. It affects how we are motivated, our personal desires, how we value others, and relationships with our neighbors both locally and globally.

Without pausing to consider the economics that affect our daily lives, Christians are blindly worshipping the markets and living according to its values without understanding how those values match those of Christ. Not only could we be living according to values that are different than God’s values, they could be dead set against them.

Christians must learn to live according to God’s kingdom—including God’s economy—in the midst of the American capitalist economy.

We need a theology that shakes us from American nationalistic tendencies and provides guidance for how to operate within the economy, and ultimately, we need communities that embody that theology.

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