Differences in Worldview


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Working across cultures can provoke strong negative responses and reduce trust. The outsider or stranger may appear even more strange and untrustworthy. Those of us with training and expertise in communication skills, such as pastoral care providers, may find it hard to bridge certain cultural gaps and resist becoming siblings in a common struggle when differences in worldview appear to threaten cherished beliefs and values. The differences in worldview may appear insurmountable when there is a single, limited, or exclusive focus on one’s own cultural group. Where this is the case, it will be impossible to build trust and face the complex issues of interethnic group oppression.

(From Siblings by Choice, 28-29)

Launch the Thing

I wrote this three years ago, and never published it. Not sure why I came back to it, but I’ll put this out there for what it’s worth.

by Martin Zemlickis

Photo Thanks to Martin Zemlickis

I’m not a business starter. I’m a pastor with opinions. I like telling people what to do, and it really is a good part of my job to help people frame their behavior inside some larger purpose.

So when it comes to whether you should start a business or something like a business, as one of my mentors says, “I’ll plan your life.” At least I’ll try.

But rather than that, I’ll offer the following:

  • Make lists of your thing’s contributions. If you cannot fill a wall or a page or a half-page with a number of contributions, you should try harder. There is great good in adding one thing to the world, but that’s small. Go back to the drawing board until you have a few more. Leave us with more. Make it bigger and better.


  •  If you don’t love the thing, no one will. Give yourself to your business, whatever your business is. Do it completely and because you love it. If you’re starting a service or creating a product which you wouldn’t use, it better be really good. Because you can’t translate your love for something if you haven’t held it, used it, and “bought” it yourself.
  • Learn everything there is to know. Become the expert in something or somethings. Be the authority. Nothing’s stopping you from becoming superior in your area. Read every book written on your subject. Know the relevant blogs and social spaces where your topic comes up. Write a paper about it, drawing upon the insights of others, even if you don’t share it with others. Learn it all so you can answer every question.
  • Give up now if you’re looking for a smooth road. Business is difficult. Starting a church or a school or a non-profit is just as hard. If you’re looking for success in the morning, when it’s 8pm, and you’re on the way to bed, your hopes are not full of faith but stupidity. Fruit or success or productivity come after planting and watering and work and toil. None of those are sweatless activities. And it’s too early to go to bed if your vision’s launch is tomorrow. Stay awake and perfect the thing.
  • Get your books in order. Whatever you need to keep track of your processes, your expenses, your thoughts, and your records, find two of them. Take good notes. Track your time and your spending, even if you’re spending everything except money. Find people who are gifted where you lack. Fill your time with smarter people. All of these people and systems are “in your books.”
  • Get better at meeting needs of people. It’s holy work doing things for others. This looks like selflessness and giving and suffering; it’s looks like a long time. These characteristics will anchor you deeply when things go wrong. They will serve as reminders that your idea, business, or invention is not solely about you and your comfort.
  • Plan and implement. If you are a starter, tell people to make sure you implement and finish things. What you bring is no good half-baked, uncooked. Structure yourself and your things; put it in place. Do it. I try to tell people to live by faith. I spend a lot of time framing faith conversation for the moment. It looks like convincing people that what’s in them is 1) given to them, 2) worth responding to, and 3) worth giving away. It’s true for you. Do the thing.
  • Tie your work to something bigger. For me that has to do with the purposes of God. It may not for you. But if you’re developing a service for the small sake of securing money, you’ll find emptiness soon. Connect your idea to something deeper than yourself.

That’s enough for now.

The Trouble & Beauty of Wheaton College

MlecezekI’ve been reading occasional media reports for two months as one of my alma mater’s has been in the news. Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian college, in a western Chicago suburb, has been on screen as some administrators and board members have tried to remove from the faculty Professor Larycia Hawkins, the school’s first tenured female African American scholar. She is a political science scholar who wore a hijab in an expression of solidarity with Muslims being persecuted in the political sphere. She also wrote on her Facebook wall sentiments about standing as a Christian with other people of the book, Muslims in this case.

The administration’s initial response, putting Dr. Hawkins on a forced leave, was on theological grounds. They quibbled with her theological articulation which included a quote from Pope Francis about who God is. Very recently faculty members responded by questioning those grounds, Bible and Theology faculty included. The faculty voted unanimously for the administration to revoke the leave and restore Dr. Hawkins. More information can be read here, here, and here.

There is trouble and beauty in what Wheaton’s done. As an institution, the place where I did my first master’s degree, has singled-out a sister scholar and chastised her for publicly showcasing the thing the college stands for: Christ and his Kingdom. They didn’t like the way she did it, of course. And they unfairly chose to punish Dr. Hawkins and not follow a similar course for other faculty members who made similar testimony of faith in relationship to political issues (i.e., theologically informed ethics in society).

Do something a black sister scholar, tenured mind you, and there’s theological and historical refuge. Overlook the white sisters and brothers doing the same, and it’s something else altogether. There’s trouble. I’m ashamed of Wheaton’s administration.

But there is beauty too. Students and teachers have reacted in Christian ways to an administration that in its hyper-evangelical consciousness lost hold to the message of evangelicalism. And I saw the name of the scholar who taught me principles of hermeneutics, which a class about how to read and apply the Bible. And what he said was freeing, moved me to actually write a quick blog.

Dr. Greene called Professor Hawkins’s gesture(s) beautiful. And he wasn’t alone. A unanimous faculty, in its own way and for its own collective reason, joined together to underline the beauty of Wheaton. If they hadn’t done so, I’d have a whole load more of trouble with Wheaton. And I do have stirrings for the school for sure.

Nonetheless, I pray for Dr. Hawkins, that her faith would not fail, that it would flourish. I pray for Wheaton, that the entire community would live deeply into the values and acts of the person of Jesus.

“Uncomplicated Conditioning and Deep-Down Knowing”

Perhaps I am a cynic, but my uncomplicated conditioning and my deep-down knowing about the ubiquity of racism remind me that the invisibility of a symbol is not the same as the absence of racist hate.  I have had numerous interactions with white folk in nice suits, who would turn their nose up at a “redneck” racist, who share the same views but don’t literally wear it like an ornament around their neck.  It’s 2015, it is not okay to wear your racism on your sleeve (or your t-shirt), but that doesn’t mean it is not still carried around.  And that is what worries me.  Deep-seated, hidden, structural, institutionalized racism is just as (if not more) dangerous as out in the open racism because we don’t always recognize it or see it coming.

…In a moment when some faith seems to dictate that some black folk need to forgive (and forget) while some white folk stubbornly hold on to a flag and revisionist version of history that condones their racism and insistence for white supremacy, we have a lot more to worry about than whether or not the rebel flag will live on.  What we know for sure is that nine churchgoers who went to study the bible last week won’t.

Racial oppression doesn’t occur in a vacuum so it cannot be neatly or conveniently taken down (or away) without the residue, implications, consequences and permanent scars of its existence, and neither can the confederate flag.

Go read the rest here.

Thank you, my sister, scholar, teacher, proclaimer of truth, Dr. Robin Boylorn.

Advent Post #16

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:45)

It takes guts to believe in God. It takes more guts to believe that God, who exists, makes promises, and then, even more courage to believe that God makes promises to you.

After all that, to think that God would make and fulfill them! Eventually your beliefs are tested. Eventually what you’ve held close to your heart about God’s words and God’s ways are tested.

Sometimes when life tests our beliefs, those beliefs fall apart. They are too weak for real life. We find that they lack truth, that they cannot stand under the test of reality. We conclude, in a manner of speaking, that we were disillusioned to have believed what we did, that we were off, or that God, simply, was not trustworthy.

When we say that we were disillusioned to have believed, we check ourselves and attempt to modify our beliefs, try to speculate faithfully by studying in order to come up with something else.

If we say after that test that we were at fault, we try to change ourselves to fit what has to be the real God reality. I was wrong, not God, so in order to keep an intact faith, I change.

In the third option, where we conclude that God was untrustworthy, we decide and, sometimes painfully, to walk away from God. We tell ourselves and others that the God we thought was ‘in charge’ was a portion of our imaginations and that there really can’t be a God.

In all three instances, we relate to God because of some thing, some test, some examination of our deeply held beliefs. We aren’t always in touch with our beliefs. Usually we learn what we believe when those beliefs are challenged or up-heaved or undone.

Whatever category or line of thinking you may be in relation to God (and I don’t put you in these as much as I offer them as possible categories for this post), I wonder if you can consider that you are, right in that category, blessed. Whether you love or hate God. Whether you even believe in God. Whether you sympathize with people you see as religious because you pity us.

Can you stretch into the word blessed? Henry Nouwen talks about the meaning of “blessed” in his book Life of the Beloved, and he says that it’s essentially about good speech. To say that we are blessed is to say that somebody says good things about us. Can you hear that, that someone speaks well of you? I’d suggest that the person saying good things about you and me is God.

We are blessed and some of us because we believed. We did believe, even if we’ve diminished some of those beliefs. We did believe, even if we walked away. Indeed, one of the most remarkable claims about our blessedness is that we are blessed. Without regard for right beliefs and even right acts. Sure, this verse seems to run counter since Mary is heralded for believing in the promise. But the verse doesn’t spread across the entirety of her life.

It doesn’t spread into those nights of doubt when she thought Jesus was just an ordinary kid or those mornings when she was pissed because he said something about having a new mother and a new family, kicking her to the curb. This particular verse is about her pregnancy and her willingness to bear a son. The blessing, though, is a comment about what God always thought of her and what God would, in the future, think of her. Her and you. Her and me.


How to Walk

Among the hardest walkers for me to watch are small children being hauled along by their wrists.  Parents tell me that this is sometimes necessary, but since I have never been a parent I would not know.  I do know that most of the adults doing the hauling do not mean to be unkind.  They are simply used to walking, while the child is not.  The child has only recently learned how to walk, so she still knows how.  She feels the heat radiating up from the sidewalk.  She hears the tapping of her shoes on the cement.  She sees the dime someone has dropped in the crosswalk, which she leans toward before being yanked upright again.  The child is so exposed to the earth that even an acorn underfoot world topple her, which may be why her adult is hanging on so tightly.  But the speed is too much for her.  Her arm is stretched so far it hurts.  She has to run where her adult walks, and if that adult is talking on a cell phone, then really, she might be better off in jail.

Events That Require Attention

My spiritual director told me, among many other precious things, that there are some events in life that require our attention.  She said that those events don’t necessarily care when they get attention just as long as they get what they deserve.  They interrupt us, sometimes an inconvenient times.  They vie for a spot in our field of vision.

We were discussing my father’s health and my recent visits to see him.  She had mentioned that her mother was ill for years before she died and that she too had some dementia.  Then, she said the most appropriate thing.  These things are in our peripheral vision.  They’re always present, though not always in front of us.  Whatever we do, they are present, waiting, and, often, off to the sides of our lives.

There are other things to pay attention to.  There is the work of ministry, work that seems to flow against common boundaries.  There is the immediate family, in my case a rambunctious two-year old and a wife who studies part-time in grad school.  There is the rest of me.

And the normal events trade places with the peripheral ones, and the pieces of my life dance around until I see what I need to see.  There are moments when what we’ve been changes because of who’s around us.  There are similar moments when we change because who isn’t.

And the event of my father’s health.  The series of moments I’m holding regarding what can only be seen as tentative progress and expected deterioration.  These moments are changing me.

I’ve never been the sporadic type.  I’ve never been impulsive.  I’m comfortable with slower rhythms, with taking care, with intention.  But the slow movement in front of me, and in front of my father, scratches at who I am.  And I’m left with a deepening knowing that, sometimes, attending to the needed things is dreadful.

Disposition of Steadiness and Faithfulness

The stubbornness of our race problem could lead us to despair, but taking a long view in light of where we have come from instead reminds us that we must have great patience as we pursue fundamental change. This patience is not the twin of apathy, but the disposition of steadiness and faithfulness in the face of at times imperceptible transformation. Change has occurred and can occur again.

Dr. Vincent Bacote reminding us of important things and writing here about race, ethics, faith, and other matters.

Creating a School & Faith

I asked Sonia Wang, a friend and member of New Community, to write this post about the role of faith in starting a school.  It’s a great reflection pulling belief together in her life.  Here we go.

About three years ago, a few of my colleagues and I found ourselves disgruntled about the obstacles standing in the way of our students’ learning. It seemed that learning had been reduced to mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, teacher voice was constantly overlooked if even ever sought, and school metrics were prioritized over authentic learning. It was the result of systemic tensions that continue to plague our public education system, and at the core, our community’s young generation of students.

We thought to ourselves: what would a school that was created by a group of educators who have been in the classroom look like? We tossed a few ideas around- a focus on social justice, fostering qualities of resilience, empathy, and curiosity, and celebrating collaboration and discussion. In the case of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we knew the only possible route we could take as a group of educators was to apply for a charter. A lofty, pie in the sky thought…some would call the whole notion sticking our heads in the clouds.

However, as I prayed through the initial process, it all just made sense. From unique corners of our teaching experiences, God brought together six teachers, with a diverse background of life experiences. We spent the first 2 years figuring out what this “school” of ours would look like. With the pending political change in Chicago, there was no sign of new charter applications being considered in CPS. During these two years, we began to form the foundation of our school, but with the unknown looming over our heads, it continued to feel like a “project” rather than us pursuing our vision. In these two years, two members decided to leave the group and doubts filled our head.

My biggest concern took form in two ways:

1.    I would continue to remind myself that God’s hand was in all this but a fear of failure overwhelmed me. So I was stuck in a place of paralysis—wanting to seek support and prayer from my community but not wanting to tell anyone about it. As is the case, once you go public, it becomes more real. And in that moment, the school did not feel real at all.

2.   Then there was the overwhelming doubt that I tried to avoid over and over but there it was always—what if it doesn’t work out? What I if I waste years of my life, in my “prime,” pursuing this lofty goal that we’ll never be able to achieve? I would sometimes think to myself, during this time, how I could be doing A, B, and C if I weren’t working on this school… After all, how often do you see a group of 20-somethings starting a charter school when most charter schools are started by a management organization with a track record?

Perhaps it was circumstance that changed things or perspective, or both. But I cannot deny that God is the orchestrator. In the third year, God tugged on my heart to share with my community- my close friends and my church family. The overwhelming support and excitement they displayed gave me the energy to keep pushing for my school even when it felt like it was a flat attempt.

Through the support I was also reminded of the big picture—I wasn’t merely trying to open a school; God created this space where I saw something problematic and rather than sitting in it, He gave me the opportunity to respond to it. And that in and of itself was something for me to embrace. It became not about me but about who God is—how big He is and how great His glory is. And as this truth settled in me, I approached this endeavor less as pursuing my dream but an opportunity to respond to God’s glory.

The third year of this process also became a whirlwind of an experience. At the start of this year, CPS put out a call for applications for charters; luckily, those two years of groundwork our team started paid off. We got together our application and submitted it. Late June we received approval to move into the next phase, which consisted of completing a proposal that was intense and comprehensive. Things started to take tangible form. From community partnerships to facilities, God provided and blessed us one thing after another. He connected us to people who connected us to other people who then provided services to us, such as building inspections, real estate research, financial consulting, etc. Word about our work in our proposed community spread and as we walked down the street, community members would ask about the school-when is it coming? Where can they sign up their child for it? Could they request that we hold a spot for their 2-year old?

By God’s grace, we completed a 169-page proposal and were invited to the next phase, an interview. As the team member who was delivering the opening statement, I found peace and comfort in a verse that was written on the piece of paper I had prepared for the interview:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

Sure enough, through Him, I have come to this point in starting a school—learning to wait in faith until a decision is made. However, as I think of the school we have proposed and the way our work has brought together a group of strangers, the Design Team, Board Members, and community members, united by the single vision of a south-side charter school that celebrates students for their voice and their individual strengths, I know that His work has already been done. And I am excited to see what more may come about through His power and might!