Thyatira & MLK Day

This is (a fairly literal translation of) the rest of what Jesus has to say to the church in Thyatira ― continuing from last week’s post about Jezebel. Revelation 2:24-29 reads:

(24) I say to y’all, to the rest of the ones in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, whoever did not know the deep things of the satan, as they say: I throw no other burden on y’all, (25) except that what y’all have, y’all grasp, until whenever I will have come. (26) And the one who conquers and the one who keeps my works until (the) end, I will give to him/her power over the nations, (27) and he/she will shepherd them with an iron staff, as the potter’s vessel is broken to pieces, (28) as I also have received from my father, and I will give him/her the morning star. (29) The one who has ears, let him/her hear what the spirit says to the churches.

There’s a lot going on here, but I’m interested in the part where Jesus says, I throw no other burden on y’all, except that what y’all have, y’all grasp, until whenever I will have come (v. 24-5). Or, as the NIV puts it, I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come. Jesus says, I don’t want to add any more weight to the things you’re already carrying. I just want you to remember and hold onto the things you already have. I want you to remember and keep doing the things you already know to do.

I’m thinking about these words, today, in relation to our national holiday in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Toward the end of last week, my awesome pastor Lina Thompson wrote this on Facebook in anticipation of today: “Bracing myself for the barrage of MLK Jr. quotes that are sure to fill our feeds on Monday. I’d rather white folks embody his words.”

Then, earlier today, I saw a Facebook post from a Fuller classmate (and now fellow M.Div. grad!), September Penn. It was this quote from Dr. King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” ― along with this reflection from September: “Folks have indeed been silent. Some will probably share an obligatory post today as their good deed in honoring Dr. King. Instead of doing so, try actually reading his words and learning from his life. The very man that we celebrate today was hated by much of society while he lived. Just saying.”

What I hear both Lina and September saying is that the anti-racist work that is needed goes much deeper than giving a social media shout-out to Dr. King on MLK Day once a year. Honoring Dr. King’s life and work and prophetic brilliance has to go beyond taking some of his more-palatable-to-white-people quotes and posting them on Facebook. 

Racial equality is not going to happen just because white people learn to say some of the right things. Especially just once a year, when it’s popular and convenient to do so. 

What I hear Lina and September saying is that there is so much more work to be done, and it’s year-round, daily work. We need to learn how to embody Dr. King’s radical vision of equality in our whole lives. Even, and especially, when it is ― as it was in Dr. King’s day, and often is now ― very unpopular and very inconvenient.

Sometimes I feel like, when it comes to things like racism and racial justice, we white people love to learn. Or maybe, more precisely, we like to feel like we know things. And we like other people to know that we know things.

Some of this isn’t necessarily bad. When it comes to the structurally racist history and present-day reality of the U.S., most of us white people have plenty to learn. It’s important for us to read and think, to seek out books and articles and podcasts by people of color, to shut up and listen and try to better understand experiences we haven’t had.

At the same time, what good is knowing lots of things, if we’re not living them out? I’m reminded of what James wrote: it’s like looking into a mirror and then going away and immediately forgetting what we look like (James 1:22-25). 

The point of learning more about racism is not to be able to prove that we know things, that we’re among the “good” white people (unlike those ignorant, racist white people over there), or that we’re woke. 

The point is to embody more fully a recognition of the humanity of all people and the kinship that we share. The point is to learn to live in ways that are more just, that better honor the dignity of our siblings of color. The point is to move, together, toward building communities of equals ― as Dr. King would say, beloved communities.

Maybe this MLK Day ― and, more importantly, in the days and months and years to come ― we can learn to honor Dr. King by holding onto the things we already know. There is so much to learn, but there are also plenty of basic things we already know, about what the world is like now, and what a more just world could look like in the future. 

Maybe we don’t need the additional weight and burden of always trying to know more ― and appear less racist ― than other white people. Maybe we just need to, as Jesus told the church in Thyatira, grasp onto what we have. Live out what we do know. Embody, as Lina wrote, Dr. King’s words. Learn, as September wrote, from Dr. King’s life.

I’m not sure what to think of the deep things of satan (v. 24), or the iron staff and the broken pottery  (v. 27), or the morning star (v. 28) ― but I think it’s enough, today, to grasp onto what I do know, and to seek to live it out more fully.

Where is the love?

Continuing in the book of Revelation, in this apocalypse that is 2020…

Here’s a pretty literal translation of Revelation 2:1-7:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write: these things says the one grasping the seven stars in his right hand, who walks around in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: (2) I know your works and weariness and your steadfast endurance, and that you are not able to bear evil things, and you tested the ones calling themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them liars, (3) and you have steadfast endurance, and you bore on account of my name, and you have not grown weary. (4) But I have against you that you have left your first love. (5) Remember, then, from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; but if not, I am coming to you, and I will move your lampstand from its place, if you do not repent. (6) But you have this, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (7) The one who has ears, let him/her hear what the spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him/her to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. 

I don’t know if it would be very fun to be a part of this church in Ephesus. It sounds like a lot of work. A lot of weariness―a word which could also be translated as toil, labor, or trouble. A lot of endurance―or, in an alternate translation, perseverance. A lot of having to test so-called apostles to see if they are actually good and faithful leaders, or if they are liars―or, in other translations, false, deceitful, or untrue―and a lot of them are liars. (This is all from v. 2.)

It sounds like there were a lot of hard things to bear, and a lot of reasons why one might grow weary (v. 3). On top of all this, there was also a religious sect called the Nicolaitans who were behaving badly enough that Jesus says he hates what they are doing (v. 6). 

(Side note: it seems important that Jesus says he hates the works of the Nicolaitans, not the Nicolaitans themselves. In a similar vein, in v. 2, I’m not sure why most translations read something like “you are not able to tolerate evil ones.” The Greek word here could actually mean either evil ones or evil things, and it makes more sense to me as evil things.)

At any rate, this was the kind of stuff you had to deal with if you were a part of the church in the city of Ephesus at that time. Lots to endure, lots to hate.

In the middle of all of this language of perseverance and weariness and evil, v. 4 says, but I have against you that you have left your first love. In other words, Jesus is asking them what The Black Eyed Peas have been asking us since 2003: Where is the Love? (The love…the love…where is the love, the love, the love.)

Jesus says, well done for all of your endurance, even though I know it’s hard. Well done for hating the bad things the Nicolaitans are doing. (Perhaps things like, I don’t know, creating a special VIP section in your church and making celebrities sit in it, or treating church volunteers like piles of poo, or cheating on your spouse…see this NY Times article about recently fired Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz if none of that rings a bell.)

Jesus says, well done for being against the right things. But what are you for? 

He says, remember your first love. Remember the earliest days of your church community, when faith felt like a buried treasure you dug up in a field that you would sell everything for (like the story Jesus tells in Matt 13:44-46). Remember when you were all so excited and happy to be able to get together and eat and pray and share everything you had with one another (like the early Christian community in Jerusalem, described in Acts 2:42-47). 

This church thing is not just about enduring, and working hard to resist evil, and being against the right things―although, in this world full of so much injustice and evil, all these things are very real and necessary. It’s also about celebrating the ways God is present, right in the midst of this unjust world and the darkest places in it. It’s about finding things to be thankful for, and sharing that joy with one another. It’s about connection and belonging, about being a community of radical acceptance and welcome. It’s about love.

It’s about learning to trust that God is love. It’s about learning to love one another, and learning to love ourselves. 

When I read this passage and think about those Christians in Ephesus, who were marked by a lot of hate―not in a bad way, since they hated the things God hates―but not by a lot of love, I think of a phrase I often hear in (evangelical) Christian circles: we want to be known for what we’re for, not (just) what we’re against. It’s sort of another way of saying, we want to be known for what we love, not (just) what we hate.

Which is what Jesus wants for the church in Ephesus. Sort of.

It seems that, somewhere along the way, somebody snuck in this idea of what we’re known for. The idea that we have to worry about what we look like to people outside of the church. As if there are loads and loads of people out there who don’t identify with Christianity but who are actively thinking about Christians and churches all the time and watching to see what they look like.

The sense is that (evangelical) churches’ problems are mostly a matter of public perception. We need to develop a better reputation. We need to look better. We need to be known for better things.

I don’t know where people got this idea―that what we look like to the (imaginary, perhaps, or aspirational) “watching world” is so important. 

Maybe it’s just easier to say gosh, people don’t think very well of us than gosh, we’re kind of the worst sometimes. It’s easier to say that we have an image problem than to admit that we have a substance problem. It’s easier to try to brush up our public appearance than to admit that there are real, substantial things we actually need to change.

I don’t think Jesus―the one who grasps the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands―wants the Ephesian church to look better to outsiders, to give a better impression, to appear more loving. I think he wants them to actually be more loving. To actually experience more of God’s love in their lives, and to embody that love more fully to one another and to the world around them. 

Who cares what people think. Let’s care about what we’re doing, how we’re giving and receiving love in our lives.

Let’s be about enduring and bearing the hard things together, about resisting evil and injustice together, and about celebrating and sharing and living lives of love together. All of the hard things of 2020 and of this world we live in call for nothing less.

What Does Such a Moment Ask?

What Does Such a Moment Ask?

What does such a moment 
ask of us?

Kindness―maybe―
but not the kind that cowers 
in a corner and will not articulate 
the jarring, rage-inducing, 
healing, liberating truth.

Love―maybe―
but not the kind that circles 
wagons, covers up injustice
and provides protection for abusers
to continue their abuse.

Humanity―maybe―
but not the kind invoked 
to excuse horrors as if 
they’re nothing but mistakes
that every human makes.

Peacemaking―maybe―
but not the kind that clutches 
to tranquility at any cost
and throws the rabble-rousers under buses
rather than make reparations.

Unity―maybe―
but not the kind that calls on 
the oppressed to bear the burdens of injustice
just a little longer, silently, 
lest they provoke unease in their oppressors.

Restoration―maybe―
but not the kind that minimizes 
damage done, that takes 
the easy route to placate 
but not satisfy demands for justice.

What does such a moment 
ask?

Perhaps the same things
God has always asked:

act justly―with the one 
who brings things done 
in secret into light;

love mercy―with the one
who hears the prayers 
of the oppressed and does not 
hesitate to take a side;

walk humbly―with the one 
who offers us the staff of Moses
when we need it, 
helping us to speak. 

How Far We Were

How Far We Were

I did not know 
    how far we were 
        from one another

til 2020 blasted into light
    the light years that had always 
        been between us,

like a looking glass 
    intent on showing
        wrinkled scars 

where we expected to 
    see youth. 
        Sometimes 

I wish I did not know
    how much we do not hold 
        in common. 

Before, 
    when we were younger,
        and the world was, too,

we felt we could afford 
    to talk of high and lofty love
        as though it were a concept

academic and abstract. 
    It was a more naive
        and happy time when I

had no idea what shape 
    these thoughts would take
        incarnate in your hands.

Before,
    we could agree
        on pleasant-sounding thoughts

in inoffensive-sounding words,
    but this year’s traumas
        tipped our hands

and pushed us toward specifics.

Yet, it must be better, still,  
    to know, to see 
        which friendships

can survive these storms
    and which were always built 
        on something sinking.

It must be better, still, 
    to learn to speak
        the things we really think,

to learn to talk about
    the things we see 
        so differently―

and where we cannot talk, 
    perhaps to let our journeys drift,
        for now, apart.

We could not live forever, anyway,
    in blind denial of the things
        each other’s souls

truly believe.

It must be better to reveal,
    apocalyptic though 
        it may all feel,

and be.

Each one with their neighbor

Here is a literal translation of Ephesians 4:25: 

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, (y’all) speak truth, each one with his/her/their neighbor, because we are members of one another.”

I’m interested in the part about speaking truth, each one with their neighbor.

Some translations try to make this part sound more natural in English, which is nice, but can also change the meaning a bit. For example:

  • “Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor” (CEB)
  • “Each of you must…speak truthfully to your neighbor” (NIV)
  • “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors” (NRSV)
  • “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (ESV; yes, some translations do still use masculine pronouns to refer to any/all genders…)

I like the literal translation “speak truth, each one with their neighbor,” because I think it captures something that gets missed in the other translations. It captures the sense that there are two, perhaps equally important, levels to this truth-telling. The truth-telling that Paul is talking about is, at the same time, both very communal and very personal. 

As for the communal aspect, the imperative “speak truth” is addressed to the plural “you” (“y’all,” if you will.) Paul wants the community to be marked as a community of truth tellers: to, collectively, hold a high value for truth. To try to get to the bottom of things together when the truth seems murky. To refuse, together, as a community, to settle for nice-sounding, comforting lies. 

I would love to see more churches embody this more fully. When it comes to race and racial justice, for example, we would see church communities becoming the kinds of courageous places where truth is spoken, heard, and believed―truth about things like the brutal parts of our country’s history, and Christianity’s culpability in it all, and what it’s like to be a person of color in our communities and churches today. 

Paul invites the church, collectively, to lay aside falsehood: to ditch the sugar-coated versions of US history many of us have been taught; to drop the sanitized stories about where our predecessors as people of faith were in all of this; to stop repeating false narratives of progress that refuse to recognize how bad things still are; to reject the tendency to look to white, male, powerful sources for “objective” coverage of history or present-day reality. To move away from shallow, one-sided stories and seek, instead, multiple perspectives, listening especially carefully to people on the underside of power, and people most impacted by the issues at hand.

Paul says: y’all, collectively, lay aside these lies. Y’all, collectively, speak truth. Y’all, collectively, become a truth-filled community.

And then we get to the individual aspect, the personal aspect. We want to do this collectively, Paul says, but the way―or at least one important way―in which we want to do this is “each one with their neighbor.” Conversationally. Starting with the people closest to us―geographically, relationally. With our families and friends and co-workers and other people we interact with on a regular basis. 

Perhaps, thinking about today’s conversations about systemic racism and racial injustice, this supports an idea a lot of people have already been saying (and living out): that we start within our own racial or ethnic communities. 

Anti-blackness manifests differently in different racial and ethnic communities. It’s up to each community to look within itself, to start within itself, to name the ways anti-blackness shows up and figure out how to dismantle it. 

When we think about race, it’s up to us to start with the people with whom we have the most in common in this particular conversation. It’s up to us, each with our own neighbor, to speak truth.

It’s (relatively) easy to make statements on social media that sound good and sound supportive. It’s harder to learn to speak the truth, in love, with one another, personally. 

But the people we know personally might listen and engage in a way they wouldn’t with a Facebook “friend” they don’t know very well. They might learn something from us, and likewise us from them.

After all, as Paul goes on to write, we are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are connected to one another. We need one another. And we need the most honest, truthful self that each person is able to bring to the table.

May we become truthful communities, among which truth is spoken and heard, collectively. May we become individuals who speak truth personally, each one with our own neighbor. And may all of this truth-telling help begin to build a more just world.

Blow Up the Shelter (Apocalypse)

Thinking of the situation over the last few months with Menlo Church (see this article for what seems like a pretty reasonable summary), and also just the general tendency of a lot of church leaders to cover up things that might seem incriminating rather than actually search for truth and try to do the right thing by their people. This goes, of course, far beyond the particulars of Menlo Church and the Ortberg family. (Their story, by the way, is still unfolding, with a new investigation announced yesterday.)

Thinking of the people who are the most vulnerable when churches and church leaders don’t do the right thing―in this particular case, children and LGBTQ+ people, as well as all the church members who put their trust in the church’s leadership and feel betrayed―and praying for comfort and strength for them in this time, including the courage to cut ties if need be.

Also, in case you needed a little gratuitous Greeking out, I mean to use “apocalypse” in its original Greek sense, which is a revelation―a revealing of things that were hidden.

Blow Up the Shelter (Apocalypse)

blow up the shelter
blow up the lies

apocalypse

it’s time to show
    that it was never safe
    that there was never any hiding
from a changing world

and who exactly wants to hide 
from changes that are good?

blow up the megachurch abuse 
blow up their cover-ups

apocalypse

it’s time to show
    the stench that lies within
    the clammy muck stuck on the underside
of shiny shells

so tear it down

why not?
and what precisely do you fear?

and did you think God’s people would
    keep standing here 
    like little lambs 
who do not know you slaughter them?

did you think they would 
    keep circling up like wagons 
    to defend you while you 
slit their children’s throats?

blow up the iron-fisted secrecy
blow up the blind obedience

apocalypse

it’s time to show
    the blood of children 
    hear their cries
break open all the closed church doors

why wouldn’t we?
what do we have to lose?

it’s time to show our scars
    our filth 
    our infestations
let the surgeons do their work

apocalypse 

or would we rather dig a hole 
and wait as if there were 
a normal worth returning to

bury our heads 
under this sand
and fester underground
and die?

These Lines

I resonated with much of Austin Channing Brown’s recent post about “unity” to her e-mail newsletter “Roll Call.” Austin encourages her readers to be aware of ways we might be asked to participate in a kind of unity that works against justice rather than for it. You can check out the post here if you’re interested – it’s worth reading.

This poem, entitled “These Lines,” encapsulates some of my reflections and points of resonance.

These lines are old, too old,
    like time etched into limestone faces
        monolithic and unmoved,
                unmoving, and

the face of founding father is
    the face of the slaveholder is
        the face of the confederate,
            the face of the white moderate,

the face of CEOs and pastors
    like priest-jesters choosing their captivity
        to live and serve in courts 
            of dying systems, and

these lips through all these centuries
    have uttered the same words, 
        lines that have lived too long
            like dreams deferred

like blasphemies still spoken after
    time has shown them lethal lies 
        too many times.
            These lies still dress in power,

clothe themselves in tones of wisdom, 
    yet upon examination 
        show themselves thin masks 
            for white supremacy;

and yet we’re trained to trust,
    trained to believe
        the ones who speak 
            with sincere eyes and

faith in their own goodness that runs deep. 
    So speak, keep speaking, 
        if you must, these lines,
            of ships so large that take so long to turn,

of donors we must not offend,
    of increments and evolution,
        the survival of the institution,
            and the need for patience, always patience;

keep on speaking, speak your violence,
    do not leave it silent―
        speak it, do not prop it any longer
            on soft lies of innocence, 

speak stress into the bones 
    that can’t afford to wait another day 
        for justice, won’t be put off 
            one more generation and 

another still; keep speaking 
    all your lies, for as you speak 
        you speed the day 
            we will no longer listen,

speed the day we will no longer stand
    and lay the gift of our participation
        at the feet of shit-filled institutions
            that have lost, or sold,

their souls.

Grace overflows into us

In a lot of translations, Ephesians 1:7-8 reads something like this: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (NIV, emphasis added). 

When I was translating, I came up with this: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the sending-away of trespasses, according to the wealth of [God’s] grace which [God] abounded into us” (emphasis, again, added).

There are a few things I thought were interesting here.

First, “riches” vs “wealth”: it’s not a big difference, but for some reason I like the idea of God having a “wealth” of grace. Perhaps it has a different feel from “riches”―less of a pile of gold vibe, and more of a vast endless ocean vibe?

Or maybe I just liked it because I’ve heard the other translation before, and sometimes it’s nice to put things a little differently. It helps it feel fresh, and helps my brain not to fall asleep while reading.

Second, the word translated as “lavish”―περισσεύω―has to do with abounding, with overflowing. The sense is that the subject (in this case, God) is so rich―or has such an abundance of something―that it exceeds measurement. It overflows. 

Which is kind of gross if we’re talking about money―like a person hoarding lots and lots of money (going back to that piles of gold vibe)―but kind of awesome when we’re talking about grace. About goodwill, favor, joy.

What I really thought was interesting, though, is the idea that God’s grace overflows―God’s grace abounds―into us. 

I’m not quite sure why the connecting word εἰς tends to be translated in this verse as “on,” rather than its much more common use, “into.” But I like the thought that perhaps God abounds grace not just on us, but into us.

“Lavished on” kind of makes it sound like we’re just passive recipients in this interaction. Grace flows onto the outside of us, like a shower that washes away our sins. And then the grace keeps flowing…elsewhere. Maybe it goes back to God, or something.

I like the translation “overflowed into” because I like to think that, even though there is perhaps an aspect of God’s grace that washes over us like a cleansing shower, there is also an aspect of God’s grace that goes into us. Grace doesn’t just wash our sins away from the outside but enters in to actually change us, to make us (more) full of the kind of grace that God is full of.

The language “into” helps me think of God’s grace as something to internalize. Something that can become a part of who we are. Something to embrace and hold onto and make an integral part of the way we interact with other people and this world.

To make the difference between “lavished on” and “overflowed into” more concrete, let’s think about the scenario in which I, as a white person, realize that I have a racist thought or attitude, or that a co-worker said something racist and I didn’t speak up about it. 

Grace “lavished on” me, in this case, means that I can pray and be forgiven and I don’t have to feel guilty about these things anymore. And then I can go on with my life unchanged, not trying to make any of these wrongs right. I know God will keep lavishing grace on me as many times as I need it.

Grace overflowing into me, on the other hand, means that grace does not just absolve my guilty conscience but perhaps may also show me a better way of living.

Grace may enable me to begin to notice and root out these racist attitudes in myself.

Grace may help me have a more gracious and humble posture toward others so that I can drop my defensiveness and learn.

Grace may prod me to look for ways to right these wrongs where possible―maybe, for example, it’s not too late to have a conversation with the co-worker who said something racist.

Grace may empower me to speak up in the moment the next time a similar thing happens.

May God not just “lavish grace on” but also “abound grace into” our lives, churches, communities, and world. In this time of wider recognition of anti-Blackness among white and other non-Black communities, God knows we need this kind of grace: the kind of grace that doesn’t just make us feel better about ourselves, but that actually has the power to change us.

Solvitur Ambulando

My mom introduced me to this phrase recently, and I liked it (even though it’s not Greek), so I wrote a poem about it.

Solvitur Ambulando

Solvitur ambulando
it is solved by walking

so we walked 
and walked 
and walked 
until we found
a better way.

We walked until the blood
that paved our streets
four hundred years
was made uncomfortably
visible to all
each inch
each step
as we walked over it

we walked with signs
we walked with covered faces
we walked with hands in hands

they met our walking 
with walls of police
in riot gear 

they could not stand
the way we walked
so tall 
so fearless
led by children

they could not stand 
us being fully human
not being fully 
under their control
autonomous
and organized

they saw we walked 
so differently from them
they were afraid 
and angry

they sprayed tear gas 
shot their rubber bullets

but we kept walking.

We walked to capitols
to churches
to the white house where

he threatened us 
with vicious dogs
with fire hose and billy club
he conjured icons 
of another generation
still alive
to flash before our eyes
and try 
to hold us back in terror

but we kept walking.

We sang the songs 
of our foremothers 
and forefathers
the ones who walked
who struggled
in their time

we claim 
them with pride

and name the ones 
who took the other side
name and repent 
with full feeling
righteous action
reparation
this is how
we choose 
a different path.

We walked right to 
the river Justice

carried all our burdens
all our suffering
our tears
our unheard screams

we walked right into it
like birthright
like a baptism
like healing

we let its rolling waters 
roll on us.

Making Good Fruit

Make fruit worthy of repentance…already the ax is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not make good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. -John the Baptist (Matthew 3:8,10)

When I think of a truly repentant person (myself or others), I tend to think of someone who feels really badly about something. Maybe there are heartfelt words of apology (not a halfhearted, duplicitous, or otherwise unsatisfying apology!). Maybe there are tears.

When the Pharisees come against John’s baptism, and John calls them a brood of vipers, John is not primarily looking for heartfelt words, or for tears. I’m sure these would have been reasonable signs that the Pharisees were starting to realize their wrong, but they are not the main thing John talks about.

John says he is looking for fruit worthy of repentance. For fruit that is good and healthy, not rotten or poisonous (like a brood of vipers).

He is looking for the Pharisees not just to say, “oh wow, the ways I’ve been drawing lines around who can and can’t experience God, and where God can and can’t be experienced, are really bad, I feel really badly about that,” but also to make a real change in their actions.

When I think about Christians repenting and making good fruit, I think about what feels to me like a growing awareness among white people that racism is still alive and well and hideous and horrifying. Repentance, here―at least for white people (the only people I can speak for)―means not just admitting the reality of racism and feeling sad or angry or guilty or whatever we might feel about it, but also actively seeking to root out racist attitudes and policies, both within ourselves and in our communities and spheres of influence. Seeking to make good fruit, fruit worthy of repentance.

I think about climate change, and I wonder if perhaps now the evidence is so strong that (at least some) people who previously wrote it off as liberal fear-mongering are taking a second look. Repentance, here, means not just feeling afraid or sad that we have all done this to our world, but actively seeking ways to work toward healing our earth, and trying to limit our own contributions―and the contributions of our companies and communities―to climate change. Seeking to make good fruit, fruit worthy of repentance.

I think about churches’ postures toward LGBTQ people. A lot of Christians recognize now that gay conversion therapy is harmful rather than helpful―poisonous rather than healthful―as exemplified by (the ex-gay nonprofit) Exodus International’s closure and its president’s apology a few years ago. Repentance, here, means not just feeling bad about the harm caused by conversion therapy, but actively seeking ways to make churches into places that are actually safe and healthy for LGBTQ people. Seeking to make good fruit, fruit worthy of repentance.

I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t love us or forgive us for these sins (and others) unless we do something different, but rather that good fruits naturally grow in the soil of real repentance.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s descendant Rob Lee preaches and writes about addressing racism in faith communities (check out Andre Henry’s podcast). Christian ethics professor David Gushee, who formerly defended the so-called “traditional” sexual ethic of marriage between a man and a woman but then changed his views upon being part of a Christian community that included a lot of LGBTQ people and gay couples, wrote a book about it (Changing Our Mind) in the hope of helping the church more broadly re-examine its attitudes and policies. This is good fruit, fruit worthy of repentance.

May we wrestle with God about what good fruits, fruits worthy of repentance, look like in our lives and communities.