A Prophet’s Crowning Word

Book Review:  Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win
by John M. Perkins

Coming at the end of his life in the midst of another tumultuous age in America, John M. Perkins’ Dream With Me points whites and blacks alike to a better way forward. An American prophet has spoken – maybe his last written words; his people need to listen.

51pj9dbbegl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Part biography, part memoir, part theology, and part instruction, Dream With Me conveys renowned civil rights activist, Christian thinker, and preacher John Perkins’ “climactic message”: justice and love. The 86 year-old walks the reader through the major points of his life from his humble start as a third-grade drop out to opening his first medical center in Mississippi in the 1970’s, to providing counsel to presidents, governors, and international leaders on racial issues, to handing over his ministry and teaching efforts to a new generation of leaders. Throughout the journey, Perkins shares the lessons he’s learned and applies the biblical principles that have shaped his life and ministry. He offers this wisdom on the American questions of race and class and how the church should take lead in addressing these issues.

Reaction: I have never met the man, but I love John Perkins. I am thankful for his life of faithfulness and sacrifice. I am thankful for his wisdom and his willingness to tell his story. I am thankful for his boldness and his compassion. I am thankful for his firm convictions and his gentle humility.

John Perkins lived in Mississippi through the 1930’s, 40’s, 60’s and 70’s. Bluntly, John Perkins has seen things. He has lost family members to injustice and has personally endured brutality and torture. Throughout it all, he has maintained a humble spirit and a deep love for Christ and his church. A man who has been married for over 65 years and served in ministry for over 56 years of Christian ministry, John Perkins speaks with authority and power that pierces the heart and soul.

Last month, I read Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson. In that book, Dyson preaches to White America in hopes of confronting the sins of racism and injustice. As I mentioned in my review, Dyson presents plenty of important realities and opinions that whites need to hear; however, Dyson’s tone and approach in his delivery stands at risk of ensuring his sermon falls on a deaf congregation.

Perkins’ own “sermon” on the same issues only reinforced this response to Dyson. Like anyone else who attempts to address hot-button issues like race and class, Perkins says things that will make you squirm and make you think. But at every point, Perkins addresses his readers with charity, grace, and humility. His convictions are no weaker than those of Dyson; but the communication of his message shows its superiority in its objective, even-handed, rich, loving tone throughout the book. For example, whereas Dyson refused to acknowledge any need on the black reader’s part, and celebrated his own ability to offend, Perkins writes winsomely yet unafraid to speak directly and biblically to whites and blacks. With courage, he holds to his own convictions when they sway from political or even denominational lines. Dyson might speak truth. Perkins speaks the truth in love.

Both writers noted in their works that one of the biggest issues we face is the reality that blacks and whites often speak past one another. In light of this mutual recognition, if there is a sermon that White America needs to hear, it is the work of John Perkins; for John Perkins preaches his message like a pastor. He preaches like a shepherd who truly cares about his flock.

As I alluded, whether you are white or black, Republican or Democrat, Christian or other, Perkins will force you away from your place of comfort. Perkins, in essence, puts you in position to enter “the last fight”. As you read his work, Perkins tests your own ability to love. For one of the greatest demonstrations of love is the ability to listen. You may shake your head in disagreement at times. You may be directly challenged on some of your long-held assumptions and convictions. But if you will take Perkins’ central message to heart, you will show love when you listen.

I believe Perkins’ writing gives us one of the most important messages we have been given in many years. At a time of vitriol, distrust, anger, prejudice, and rage, America is blessed to have been given this word. The way we are acting today, we do not deserve a message like this. But John Perkins demonstrates his love for the church and for this country in the way he calls us to love God and love one another. My hope is that the church and this country will respond to Dream With Me with a reciprocal love and that justice will truly flood our days.

Quote: Neither clenched fists nor helping hands alone will bring about the complete transformation God wants… We are called to love.

Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

This one belongs on the top shelf! Dream With Me is already among my all-time favorite reads. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You can buy Dream With Me here. 

 

 

White America in a Black Church

The preacher gives it all he’s got, but the congregation looks half-empty and half-asleep.

51csgg2h1bl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Book in a Nutshell: Writing according to the form of a worship service in lieu of the traditional chapter approach, Dyson compels his congregation to consider the volatile issue of race in America. Dyson pulls no punches as he addresses both the long history of racism in our country as well as modern-day manifestations including police brutality, appropriation, the N-word, and the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

Reaction: [Note: Since Dyson wrote this as a preacher and the book comes to the reader as a worship service, I respond here as a pastor in the same way I reflect and assess sermons and worship services in the church.]

67935fa4-f043-4e9f-be6a-b387c606f145-_cb523550326_
Rev. Michael E. Dyson

As a preacher, Dyson cannot be chided for lacking clarity and conviction; by the end of the book, he leaves no room for questions on where he stands or how he expects the reader to respond.

Dyson’s main exposition, which includes three sections directed toward white America and three sections depicting the black experience in America, stands out from the rest of the book. Here, the preacher calls out sin, reveals some of the buried heart-level issues, and shares hard-to-hear truths. The explanation of the stages of white guilt which includes a most helpful look at appropriation and his defense of hot-button topics like affirmative action show Dyson at his best even when church members might disagree.

But like any good preacher, Dyson does not just inform. He expertly uses haunting illustrations from his personal life and closes his address with concrete applications for his white congregation. This section of action steps one can take to begin to bridge the racial gap might have been the most helpful aspect of the entire worship service.

When thinking about a worship service, many since the time of the Reformation operate under this principle: Nothing should distract from the sermon.  The sermon is the part of the sermon where the people of God hear the word of God. Everything else should augment this experience. This is where Tears We Cannot Stop gets in its own way: not in the sermon but in the extras.

In his Call to Worship, Dyson reveals, “It will make you squirm in your seat with discomfort, before, hopefully pointing a way to relief.” He achieves this if nothing else. Before the choir is done singing, many in his congregation will be tempted to squirm their way home as the Hymns of Praise depict police brutality through the lyrics of contemporary R&B songs and hip-hop tracks. In the midst of the corporate singing, Dyson dissects an etymology of the F-word that adds little to his message. Before Scripture is even read and the opening prayer is said, the preacher runs the risk of losing half his audience.

The closing of the worship service hinders the impact of the sermon as well. As any preacher will tell you, there’s not much worse than putting everything you have into a sermon and watching the person giving the Benediction undo your entire sermon. Having already addressed the issue with precision and power, Dyson revisits the election of Donald Trump in The Prelude to Service which precedes only the closing prayer. As shown in the prior quote, the preacher’s stated goal was to end on a high note. The sermon and benediction succeeds in doing just that and the passing of the offering plate only solidifies this higher tone, but the president-elect characteristically drags the service into the sewers.

8566717881_58f36f5a37_b
Instead of a high note, the service fails to avoid the presidential black hole of race relations.

As both issues of police brutality and the presidency are covered in detail during the sermon, Dyson’s order of service would have supplemented his main address more faithfully if he had opened and closed his service in a different fashion.

Dyson’s sermon needs to be preached, but it also needs to be heard. While commending the ministry of Martin Luther King for being able to communicate to a white audience in a way they could receive, Dyson faces an uphill battle to do the same. His own recognition that white congregants have no problem getting up and walking out of a service might come back to haunt the preacher as the gut-punching, guilt-producing work of Dyson comes packaged blunt, explicit, and often combative.

The preacher gives it everything he’s got. The message needs to be proclaimed. But by the end of the service, the people still need to be in the room and they need to be awake. The question this book leaves unanswered, is will they?

Quote: There is a paradox that many of you refuse to see: to get to a point where race won’t make a difference, we have to wrestle, first, with the difference that race makes.

Ranking: 3 out of 5 stars

Review: Black Like Me

Black Like Me
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Book in a Nutshell: In 1959, author John Howard Griffin, with the help of a second-guessing dermatologist, transforms his skin color so that he can discover what it is like to live in the Deep South as a black man. For about six weeks, Griffin struggles to keep his basic needs met, hears things from other men unlike anything he’s ever heard, and wrestles with an internal, psychological turmoil he doesn’t quite anticipate. This book details these experiences and includes some of his conclusions and reflections about the race “question” in America.

Reaction: Howard’s work from nearly 60 years ago produced some complex responses from me, both emotionally and philosophically.

As a sociology major in undergrad, I relished the idea of someone literally trying to live in another person’s shoes. It is a little mind-blowing that this experiment even worked and that Howard wasn’t caught by more people. Because of the nature of his experiment much of the book reads like a thriller as the reader constantly wonders what is John going to face next.

At one level, even as he writes to push for social justice and peace, Howard’s observations can come across as offensive. He makes some fairly broad assertions about how African-Americans feel about certain issues, and he often uses the “we” pronoun as he does it. I kept saying to myself, “Umm, John, you’re still white. How do you really know?” I am sure Howard learned a great ordeal in his experiment, but he seems condescending at times even towards the people he is trying to understand and defend. Using more direct quotes from some of his friends in the black community might have fixed this; however, I do understand that at the time of his writing this, Howard’s goal was for a white audience to receive the message and doing so might have hindered his success there.

On another level, Howard’s experience often provoked me to consider just how much of this has not changed at all. Blatant attacks seem to be on the rise lately and need to be confronted, but I was convicted by some of the more subtle expressions of racism that Howard’s book brings to light. One of these expressions is the tendency of the white man to loosen his tongue and talk more freely around men of color. Whereas we might tighten up our language around white company to maintain a level of decency, whites can knowingly or unknowingly settle into a rougher vernacular that can give the impression that the person talking to us is not worth the same conversational dignity. Because of this helpful observation, I believe I will have more awareness not just in what I say but how I say it.

What resonates the loudest even today are Howard’s calls to the white community to do three things: Be Informed, Listen, and Relate. The whites in Howard’s day and often in ours do not truly know about life as a black man. To bridge the gap and build a more equal and just community, people of all races, but especially the white community, should seek to be learners. They should be better listeners. And they should build authentic, mutual relationships with people from other races. The book may have been written in 1960, but these lessons are timeless; and they are needed in America right now.

Quote: “I was the same man, whether white or black.”

Ranking: 4 out of 5 stars

Social Media & Jesus: Part 4 – Three Great Unknowns

As this series on social media comes to an end, I want to look at three social networks that for the most part have gone undetected by parents. While many adults are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, these apps have managed to explode in popularity among teens and young adults while avoiding the attention of many adults.

Previously in the series, I shared why you should care about social media, six resources that will help parents shepherd their families in their use of social media, as well as information on the three giants of social networking: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But now, I want to focus on those networks that have managed to avoid the spotlight in many ways. My purpose is to raise awareness about these apps among parents so that families can have conversations about how they are using social media in their homes.

1. SnapChat – the social media network that has been dubbed, “the parent’s worst nightmare.” 

Snapchat is a photo sharing app with a twist. You take a picture. Send it to a friend. They see the picture. Then it automatically disappears a few seconds later.

SnapChat especially sends shivers down parents’ spine when they hear how SnapChat came into being. I am not saying that every person who uses SnapChat uses it for this purpose, but the guys who invented this app did so in order that they could share inappropriate pictures with girls on their campus and not get caught. 

As scary as this sounds, SnapChat is one of the most popular social media networks right now. Many adults just don’t know anything about it. 

For more information on using SnapChat, read and download the Parent’s Guide to SnapChat from connectsafely.org.

For an extended review on SnapChat, click here.

2. Kik – According to this helpful article that covers multiple social media networks on babble.com, Kik is an instant messaging service, which means it’s like texting, except you don’t have to give out your phone number. That seems like a good thing on the face of it: you’re not using up minutes and you’re keeping your phone number private. The thing  is, it’s pretty easy to monitor your kid’s texting usage: a quick look at your cell phone bill tells you the numbers they’re contacting, the numbers contacting them, and the time of day (math class?!?). It’s impossible to monitor your kid’s usage on kik. Besides the messaging capability, kik users can search for and share YouTube videos, reddit images, sketches, and more.”

An important thing for you to know about Kik that is not mentioned in this review is just how prevalent adult material is on the app. There is no adult content filter for Kik. In fact much of the adult content that finds it way on to Instagram is from Kik. 

If you have a daughter on social media, parents, you need to know just how many sexual predators, how many men are using apps like Kik, SnapChat, and Vine to take inappropriate pictures and put them on your students screens. They are everywhere on these “three unknowns”.

When we talk about adult content and pornography, its not just a talk for boys. You’re girls are under attack as well.

So if you allow your student to have Kik, you must be vigilant in walking alongside your student to live in wisdom and purity.

For an extended review on Kik, click here.

3. Vine – If you have heard of one of these three lesser known apps, it is probably Vine.  

You can think of Vine as like a 6-second version of Youtube. Vine is filled with short little clips. Many of which are artfully done. Many of which are hilarious. 

Many of which are explicit pornography. Like Kik, there is no adult-content filter on Vine. Adult content is everywhere on Vine.

An important issue that you should talk to your students about on Vine and other apps is their use of hashtags. Many producers of adult-content on apps like Vine and Kik use popular hashtags to direct people to their explicit videos in hopes of making people stumble upon their videos even when they’re not looking. Your student may be just looking up videos that are tagged #funny and stumble upon explicit material that has been given that hashtag by its producer. 

Like SnapChat and Kik, Vine is incredibly popular with the younger crowd but has managed to remain relatively unknown by many parents.

For a review on Vine, click here.

The Never Ending List – The truth is hundreds and thousands of new apps pop everyday. There’s no way we could talk about each and every one of them.

But again, you cannot escape it. Its not going anywhere. Social media is here to stay. 

So instead of trying to escape in a panic, we need to intentionally and proactively train our children on what it looks like to connect with one another on social media in a way that honors the Lord. 

As parents, you have every right to know about what’s going on in your house and on your student’s screens. Have discussions. Ask questions. Point them to wisdom and grace.

The good news is this: You do not need to know details about every single app that is available right now in order to shepherd your family.

But you should know every app that your student is using. Take your students phone or tablet for a few minutes, write down the names of the apps she is using. Google the ones you don’t know anything about. Use the resources I gave you in Part 2. Have conversations.

1 Corinthians 6:12 says “I will not be dominated by anything.” We cannot be dominated by social media. Be proactive in leading your family to use social media in a way that honors the Lord.

This series on social media has not been intended to scare you to the point that you forbid anyone in your house from using social media. Instead I hope this will help start conversations among your family in your home.

I would love to hear from you. What are some apps that your students are using a lot right now but are maybe not as well known as Facebook and Instagram?

Social Media & Jesus: Part 3 – Three Kings of Social Networking

We’ve already talked about why you should care about social media. In the last post, we looked at six resources you can use to help you shepherd your family online.

Now I want to turn our attention to three kings of the social media landscape. None of these three networks will surprise you. My purpose in writing about these three kings of social media is to highlight how teens are using these apps and to point out a few features of the apps that you might not be aware of.

1. Facebook – The Falling Giant

For many adults, when you hear someone talk about social media, you probably first think about Facebook. In many ways Facebook reigns supreme in the realm of social media.

Except in one very important sphere: Teenagers.

Study after study reveals that teenagers are using Facebook less and less. And one of the biggest reasons? Old people.

Bianca Bosker, in this report for the Huffington Post, said, “Facebook is the living room. Twitter and Instagram are the bedrooms and rec rooms.”

Why would the teens want to hang with the adults when they can go somewhere else and do their own thing?

The point is this: Mom and Dad, if you think you know what your kid is doing online because your friends with your student on Facebook, you are sadly mistaken.

Most teens use Facebook to portray a family-friendly persona while using other apps that their relatives do not use in order to be teenagers, to push the boundaries, and to explore the deeper, darker taboos in life.

Facebook may be the first thing you think of when you hear “social media”, but don’t depend on it to keep tabs on your student’s social media activity.

2. Twitter – 140 Characters of Fun

Go follow me on Twitter - @ja_nichols
Go follow me on Twitter – @ja_nichols

If you’re a more in-the-loop parent about technology, you might not just think about Facebook but also other popular apps like Twitter. 

If you do not know about these other apps, you need to. 

Twitter lets users send out really short posts— there’s a limit of 140 characters for each tweet. 

Many students will have a Twitter account, but Twitter is rare in the fact that it is actually more popular with adults than with teenagers.

Content-wise, Twitter does have filters set for adult content, however like any other filter, it struggles to keep up with everything. If explicit content does make it on Twitter, it is usually through other networks like the Twitter-run Vine. 

Here are two items you need to know about navigating Twitter:

The Following List – If you’re student has Twitter, you need to be aware of who your student is following. The Following list is everyone that your student is able to see when they post. For the most part, you control what material you see on Twitter, so managing the the Following list with your student is crucial to using the app wisely.

Following List
Following List

Trending Topics – These keywords are what is most popular on Twitter right now. When your student clicks on one of these trending topics, he is able to read tweets from anyone using the keyword(s) including people who are not on his Following List. This is often where inappropriate content can find its way on Twitter.

Trending Topics
Trending Topics

3. Instagram – The True King of Teens

Instagram is probably the most popular app today among teenagers. Instagram is a photo-sharing site that allows users to also connect their photos to their other social media accounts. 

In an article on babble.com  about different apps argues, the author writes, “If there’s a network that parents aren’t on but should be, its this one.”     

Here are some important thing to know about Instagram when talking with your student.

Following List – Like Twitter, it is crucial to know who your student is Following. The Following list is every person that is able to share photos directly to your student.

Following List
Following List

Private Messages – Instagram allows you to send pictures to people privately. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. Private messages can be accessed by clicking the disc icon on the top right of the home screen.

The Favorites Page – Like the Trending Topics on Twitter, the Favorites Page (identified by the star in the bottom left of the screen) includes posts by people beyond the Following List and includes whatever is most popular on Instagram at the moment. It also includes a search menu that enables you to look for photos from different people or different topics.  In my discussions with students about purity and accountability in regards to Instagram, this is where the trouble can happen on Instagram. If your student is on this network, you need to have conversations about their experiences on the Favorites page.

Favorite Page
Favorite Page

Bottom line: If you want to shepherd your student on using social media wisely, you must talk with your student about how they are using Instagram. Its the first step.

Go follow me on Instagram - @ja_nichols
Go follow me on Instagram – @ja_nichols

You are probably aware of all three of these networks, and your student probably uses one, if not, all of them. You need to have consistent conversations with your student so that they can know how to navigate these social media networks with wisdom.

In the next post, we are going to look at a few more apps that are just as popular with the students but have for the most part managed to escape the knowledge of the adults. Stay tuned as we take a look at one app that has been called “the parent’s worst nightmare”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you help your student navigate their use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Are there any lesser known apps that you would like to know more about? Let me know by leaving a comment in the section below.

Social Media & Jesus: Part 2 – Resources For Your Family

In the first post in this series, we looked at 4 Reasons You Should Care About Social Media. Social media is everywhere, and it is not going to go away. You nor your kids will be able to hide from it forever.

The problem for many us, however, isn’t that we do not care. Rather, many of us are just overwhelmed and intimidated by the ever-growing, ever-changing world of social media.

We want to care. We want to help our kids walk in wisdom, but we don’t know where to begin.

In order to help you get started in shepherding your family through the digital age, I want to provide you with a few links that I have found helpful in navigating the internet and social media.

 

1. Covenant Eyes – There are so many reasons why you need to know about Covenant Eyes. They have options for reports that send browsing histories to accountability partners as well as web content filtering. There are options for both individuals as well as families. If you do nothing else, browse their website and read a couple of their blog entries.

2. XXXChurch – XXXChurch is a great ministry that serves as an online resource to fight addiction to pornography. Their program X3Watch provides accountability for all devices – desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. This is another great resource that you should consider investing in for you or your family. 

3. CommonSenseMedia.org – Common Sense Media is more than about just social media. This site includes important information on everything from movies to books to video games. In regards to social media, the site includes a helpful search feature that allows you to look up an app for more information. 

4. ConnectSafely.org – This site constantly updates with helpful resources for you to navigate the internet and social media with your family. One of their best features is the “Parents’ Guide” series for popular apps like Instagram and SnapChat

5. A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media – This very short book is packed with helpful information and tips on the world of social media. As with any book about technology it will be a little dated as networks and apps grow and change, but the principles given in the book are invaluable. 

6. Google – There’s this website called Google. It is amazing. Go ahead and click the link! You type something in, and it finds it for you. If there is something you are not sure about regarding social media, or if you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, then remember these two words: “Google it!”

These are just a few of many helpful resources in figuring out the always-changing landscape of social media. I hope that they will be helpful to you as you consider how you should lead your family in using social media.

In the next post, we are going to look at three of the kings of social media and what you need to know about each network.

So what do you think? Are there any resources that you have found that are really helpful and not on this list? Share them by leaving a comment.