God's Dream For The World Justice Restorative Justice Terrorism

Jesus Is The Embodiment Of God’s Dream For The World & Violent People Still Hate That Dream

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 5.08.41 PM13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

Humanity’s Endless Addiction Cycle

Have you ever wondered why we as humans cannot get our stuff together? It seems like the human race cannot hold on to anything good, and violence, scapegoating and greed seem to be our default positions.  It is so easy for us to choose fear over love, violence over peace, exclusion over embrace, and greed over hospitality and generosity.

Yet every time we choose to live from the darker side of our nature we become less human.  The love, joy, peace, and abundance we desire slips through our fingers, and we are left with a big void in our hearts. A void that only God’s love can fill.  Violence, scapegoating and greed cannot live in harmony with love, peace, joy, and generosity. We have to choose.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 5.06.32 PMRene Girard, a famous French Anthropologist, believes that the foundation of human civilization is built upon  the cycle greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating. It is humanity’s endless addiction. He calls this cycle the Principle of Satan. For Girard the idea of Satan is more about this tragic cycle humanity is caught up into than an actual personal Satan.  I tend to believe it is both happening at the same time, but you need to decide that for yourself.  Nonetheless he gives us an sobering truth about our darker selves.  It goes something like this: 1) I desire something (gold, oil, land, power, etc.). This makes you desire what I want.  2) This leads to rivalry and hostility between us and potentially violence.  3) The only way we can end the rivalry, hostility and violence is to find a scapegoat.  4) The scapegoat becomes a sacrifice which brings a false peace between us. The only way we can keep peace between us is to find someone to blame and scapegoat for all our problems. That way we do not have to face the real issues, nor the fact that we might actually be part of the problem.

Scapegoating helps us save face so we can continue living in denial that we are participants in the same evils we claim we righteously want to destroy.  This cycle, or Principle of Satan, has been played out through our past and continues to play out now.

The American Story

How?  We desire control and security.  We cannot seem to work out our problems or differences in our country or our international relationships. So we find a scapegoat in order to bring us together as a nation so we can have peace again.  Southerners used to scapegoat black people, and it brought them a sense of false peace and group unity every time they lynched a black person or beat them back into “their place.”

As a nation we nearly destroyed the native Americans by scapegoating them as “savages.”  It eased our religious consciouses as Americans as we used the Bible to call native Americans the new “Canaanites” who must be slaughtered and driven from the land so that our grandparents could settle the new frontier. It united our country around the vision of “Manifest Destiny” which meant as we expanded West genocide was acceptable in order to create a nation from “sea to shining sea.”

The Apex Example of Scapegoating

Hitler and the German people scapegoated the Jews in the name of security and killed 6 million people. The Third Reich killed millions of other ethnic groups along with the disabled, gay people, and mentally handicapped. The Jews however, were the largest group Hitler targeted. It shocks me that there are people in this world who still pretend this horrific event did not happen. 

We Need To Take A Look In The Mirror

Today some of our leading presidential candidates who claim to be Christians along with 40% of Americans believe we should scapegoat Muslims and refugees by denying our American Muslim citizens their equal rights and turning suffering refugees away from our shores.

Some of the rich in this country scapegoat the poor by saying they should just work harder, and many of the poor scapegoat the rich by assuming they are all greedy thieves.  It seems that one of the things that brings a lot of people together in this country is another war. War seems to bring a false sense of peace for a season, but we end up resolving nothing that brings a lasting solution for our nation.

A scapegoat can be a person, ethnic group, or a different religious or political ideology.  The truth is that we are afraid to love, and that we as a nation and individuals are part of this terrible cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating.  We are all perpetrators of the the Principle of Satan, and we cannot break out of the cycle because we are trapped and afraid to look within to face our own demons.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 5.04.13 PMGod’s Dream & Secret Plan To End This Cycle

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

In spite of our addiction to the Principle of Satan, God has made a way for humanity to break free from this seeming perpetual cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating.  God has a beautiful Dream for the world.  It has been His secret plan from the dawn of time to bring down the Principle of Satan that has enslaved humanity, and to end our vicious cycle of suffering.  His secret plan is the antidote to the our cycle of greed, violence and scapegoating.  His secret plan was to reconcile all things and all people to himself through the person of Jesus.

2,000 years ago God’s Dream for the world arrived in a little baby born in Bethlehem.  In some special way, God came to us when God put His Spirit and Word into Mary’s womb and Jesus concieved. Jesus is the incarnation of the Word and Spirit of God made flesh.  Just as my dear Muslim friends believe God put His eternal word into a book called the Qur’an, we as Christians believe God put His eternal word into a person.

When God’s Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, it was as if heaven and earth kissed each other, love and truth embraced each other, and matter and spirit became intertwined as everything was made holy.  I believe it was George MacDonald who once said, “Matter matters to God.”  This means the oceans, animals, people, the trees — everything has God’s blessing in it and upon it because of the incarnation of Jesus. This means how we treat refugees, Muslims, homeless people, economics, our neighbors, children, enemies, and spouses is a reflection of how we view God and respond to his Dream for the world.

Jesus gives us a picture of how the Principle of Satan, (the guiding principle of humanity since the dawn of human culture), has always been at odds with God’s Dream for the world.

1And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven (God’s Dream for the world) has been forcefully advancing,[a] and violent people (Principle of Satan) are attacking it (Matthew 11:12)

God had a Dream for this world and violent people still fight that Dream, often it is done in the name of God. If we choose the cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating, we are in danger of becoming violent people (in our heart or actions) that are fighting or attacking God’s Dream for the world.  No matter how many sermons we preach or Bible verses we attach to it we are operating in a way that goes against the very purposes of God on earth.

God’s Dream is so simple it causes us to stumble.  God’s Dream is that there is peace on earth and good will towards all people.  He dreams of a world where the naked are clothed, the poor have more than enough, the hungry are fed, the widows, orphans and fatherless have loving homes.  He dreams of a world where justice and compassion are the rule of the land.  His heart is for a world where the rich prosper, but in their prosperity they leave a legacy, not only for their children, but for those who work for them and those who will come after them.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are definitely showing the super rich how to do this.  They are partnering with God’s Dream, even if they do not believe in Him or realize it.

Jesus was born 2,000 years ago.  His birth was announced to the poorest of the poor — the shepherds.  Caesar and all the might and power of Rome missed the whole event.  Jesus came not only to save us, but to show us a better way to be human.  He gave us a simple message as to how we could break free from the cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating, and enter into God’s Dream for saving the whole world.  He message:

“Love God with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, treat other people the way you want to be treated, and if you find enemies along the way do everything you can to make them your friends.”

Humanity killed Jesus for his message, but three days later he rose from the dead to prove to the world once and for all that the way of love and the Dream of God were superior to the Principle of Satan.

I yearn to find a church that believes this.  Rejoice my friends!  God’s Dream can among us in the person of Jesus and now we can choose a better way to be human.

Jeff, Oceana and Olivia
Jeff, Oceana and Olivia

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Human Rights Justice People Restorative Justice

What Would Jesus Do About the Syrian Refugee Crisis: An Evangelical Christian Response

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 5.39.53 PMJesus Message & Evangelical Faith

Coming from an Evangelical Christian background I grew up having a deep respect for the Bible. After being a follower of Jesus for almost 40 years I have come to the conclusion that we as Christians in this country either take the words of Jesus seriously or we become atheists. I cannot stomach a Christian faith that teaches me to love God, but turn my neighbor away if he or she is an atheist, Muslim, Gay or a Syrian refugee.

I want a Christianity that is real. I want a living faith I can sink my teeth into.  Many of my Evangelical brothers and sisters are putting their lives, resources, and reputations on the line as they serve the marginalized and hurting of this world. Their love knows no borders nor do they discriminate as they serve unconditionally.  There are others, however, who seem to have forgotten what Jesus said about loving our neighbor, helping the suffering and stranger among us and those desperately trying to survive on the margins of of our society and in war zones around the world. Our Lord said:

For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.  I WAS A STRANGER, AND YOU INVITED ME INTO YOUR HOME.  I was naked and you gave me clothing.  I was sick, and you cared for me.  I was in prison, and you visited.

No Christian who claims to be a follower of Jesus can get around these words. They are either true or they are not. What we do with Jesus command determines whether or not we are his followers.

The Politics of Jesus

I have been studying the Bible all my life.  I have a bachelors degree in Pastoral Studies and Philosophy, a Masters of Divinity, and an earned doctorate that I completed in 2013.  I was an Evangelical minister for 18 years.  I am familiar with this wonderful book called the Bible.  As an Evangelical I was taught that the Bible was to be read through the centrality of Christ’s teaching, but as I look at the political landscape of Christians both on the Right and the Left I am convinced that if Jesus ran for public office and declared his domestic and foreign policies we would destroy him in the media as a dreamer and idealist. We would probably declare that his message is not relevant to American life today.

Jesus made it clear as to what he believed was the most important central truth of the entire Bible.  He said that we must love the Lord our God with all our being, love our neighbor as ourselves, treat other people the way we want to be treated and if we find an enemy we should try to turn him into a friend.  There is no way around this.  I believe Jesus message applies even if my neighbor is an atheist, Muslim, Gay, or a Syrian refugee who needs a home and a sanctuary.  We just cannot get around the politics of Jesus.  The Mennonites have been saying this for 500 years.

Applying Jesus Message To The Syrian Crisis

So what do with do with the 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives from ISIS, president Assad and now the Russians? My friend Lynne Hybels, a leading Evangelical humanitarian, peacemaker and human rights activist has written an outstanding article on how Christians and other concerned human beings can follow Jesus by helping our desperate brothers and sisters whose lives have been destroyed by the war in Syria.  I strongly encourage you to open your hearts and minds to what she has to say and ask God how you can follow Jesus in helping these refugees in very relevant ways.  Feeling Paralyzed by the Migrant Crisis in Europe? Here Are Some Practical Ways You Can Help. — Lynne Hybels

Justice Racial Reconciliation Restorative Justice

The Confederate Flag: Heritage or Hate?

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I Was A Confederate Flag Loving Southern Boy

As a Southern boy born in the rural South in the 60’s and early 70’s I grew up flying the “Stars and Bars” proudly from the front porch of my house and from my clubhouse (the old smoke house attached to our family home).  I was the ring leader of a rough and tumble group of boys who loved playing army, camping out with our dogs, fishing, playing lost trail, whiffle ball and best of all werewolves, the favorite game of the neighborhood that I proudly invented.

Sometimes when we would play army we would play the Civil War.  For hours we would reenact Civil War battles in our back yards, out in the woods, and on the hillsides and creeks near our neighborhoods.  I loved pretending to be a Confederate soldier as I proudly wore my “Johnny Reb” grey cap and waved the “Stars and Bars” on a thick wooden dowel as my flag pole.  I would joke that we were reenacting the war between the Yankees and the Americans.  Those were fun times and they were naive times.  As children it was about play.  We did not understand the deep implications of the racial injustice, human trafficking, slavery and oppression of black people that the Confederate flag represented to so many African Americans.  As a Southerner and a small child I was proud of my Confederate heritage. I believed in heritage not hate.  Like I said I was still naive.

In spite of my naivete I had a great role model of tolerance and racial inclusion in my mother. At an early age my mother had saved me from racism and hatred. She invited black people to our home and encouraged my friendship with my first black friend LC who became my best friend in the second grade. He would come home with me after school, have dinner and play with me.  Some of our neighbors did not like it, but that did not matter to my mom.  She warned me when I was seven years old that if she ever heard the word “nigger” come out of my mouth that she would wash my mouth out with soap.  She changed my life.  LC told me later that he looked at my mother as the mother of all the kids who came to my house to play.

Around the age of 13 I came to faith in Christ.  It changed everything. I loved everyone.  I wanted to go out and hug everything and everyone.  I told everyone in my public high school about Jesus. I evangelized everything that moved. My friends used to get frustrated with me because when they began evangelizing their fellow high schoolers they said, “I have already heard this stuff.  Jeff Burns has already told me all about Jesus and the gospel.” Some of my “disciples” handed out Bible tracts and said, “Read this booklet.  It changed Jeff Burns’ life.”  These funny memories still make me laugh.

* * * *

During high school I led some of my black friends to Christ and wanted to invite them to church.  Why not? The gospel of Jesus destroys racial, gender and social/economic barriers.  At least it did for the early church (Galatians 3:28).  This was one of the main reasons it spread so swiftly through the Roman Empire.  House servants and slaves led their Roman masters and their children into the Kingdom of God.  These early Christians believed that when they took the Lord’s Supper together that they were experiencing paradise restored on earth.  Slaves, masters, men, women, children and neighbors sat at the same table, broke bread together and worshipped in an unsegregated space.

This early collection of diverse humanity believed that the kingdom of God had arrived on earth in the person of Christ, and the impact and implications of his gospel were taking humanity into a reality of peace on earth and good will towards ALL people.  Through the gospel they could opt out of the violent, oppressive and unjust reign of Caesar’s kingdom and opt in to a kingdom where love, forgiveness and unity reigned under the Lordship of Christ.

Is it any wonder that by the third century over 50% of the Roman Empire had embraced the Christian faith? (See Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in A Few Centuries) It was only when the church got in bed with the Emperor and exchanged the gospel of love and peace for political power and favor that the church morphed into something that could embrace war, genocide, slavery and racial, ethnic and economic segregation. I guess loving God, loving neighbor and treating other people the way we wanted to be treated and making our enemies our friends made the church and its new lover the Empire too uncomfortable.

* * * *

I was excited to invite my black friends to my church, but I was told not to do that again.  My pastor instructed me that they have their church and place and we have ours.  The people in my home church either gave them dirty looks when they came to visit or completely ignored them. My black friends never came back.  My pastor would shamelessly called black people “niggers” from the pulpit.  I confronted him about this and we had heated arguments over this issue. I deeply loved him like a father, but I would not back down.  I think deep down he knew he was wrong, but his pride and the acceptance of racism by many people he shepherded got in the way.  My experience was normative for many white evangelical fundamentalist Baptist churches in the South.  I cannot indict all of them but this was my experience. It would not be my last.

I decided to become a minister when I turned 16. I wanted to make a difference in the world and change things in the area of racial injustice, gender inequality, and social/economic separation. You might say I felt called to be a prophet to my own Southern fundamentalist faith community.  Little did I know that a prophet is without honor in his own community, and that prophets often get rejected and some times destroyed.

 I went off to Bible college, seminary and even completed an earned doctorate.  I pastored fundamentalist Baptist churches both Southern and independent for 11 years.  I was shocked to find such a high degree racism and segregation so entrenched in some of these Southern “Bible believing” churches that I pastored.  I found out after we left one particularly difficult church that several of my key leaders had been involved in the KKK at one point in their lives.  One of these men had threatened me on occasions that I would get into big trouble if I kept letting “niggers” come to the church.  He said, “Preacher, if you want to mix with niggers you need to take your wife, get in a car and head back to Virginia.”  I will share more of these stories in future blogs and my upcoming ebook, but let it suffice to say that some of these men proudly displayed the Confederate flag either as bumper stickers on their vehicles or the “Stars and Bars” flew from their front porches.

* * * *

I love being a Southerner and I am proud to be a native born son of the South.  Even Martin Luther King, Jr. loved his home, the South lands and considered himself a son of the South.  There are better ways to honor our Southern heritage than displaying the Confederate flag on state buildings and our state flags and ignoring the fact that the Civil War had nothing to do with defense of the brutal oppression of blacks and the perpetuation of their enslavement.  I think all true Southerners, both black and white need to begin a discussion on what makes the South a unique place and what are the good values, traditions, and practices  along with our redemptive analogies and symbols in our history that all of us can be proud of no matter what color we are.  Can you think of any?  I would love to hear from you on this one. Please check back in to read my upcoming posts about the common and best elements of EVERY Southerner’s heritage.

Below are two discussions I would like to share with you.  One is a Facebook post from a black farmer from Virginia.  He is the owner of Sylvanaqua Farms.  Check out his website. (This was a FB post and not a blog entry) He shares how he felt when he went to by hens from another farmer and saw the Confederate flag flying on the porch as he pulled in the driveway. This is an outstanding post.

Also, here is the link to an excellent blog post on the Confederate flag by a Southern evangelical pastor by the name of Perry Noble. He comes from a place that many Southern conservative evangelicals can relate to concerning the racial issue in the church.  Why I Changed My Mind About The Confederate Flag

Today I drove out to Orange to pick up some new hens. When I got to the designated address, I was greeted by the rebel flag. Normally I leave politics out of my posts here, but this might offer some insight into what it’s like to be a black farmer, and why there are so few of us.

There’s a very good possibility that the folks living under this flag don’t have a racist, prejudiced bone in their bodies. For them, the stars and bars represents bluegrass, big-ass trucks, bourbon, old barns, bobwhite hunting, and some cool facets of southern life that don’t begin with the letter B. Look at their Facebook profiles, and you might even see them in the company of a lot more brown folks than you’ll find in the overwhelmingly White social circles of supposedly progressive people that wax indignant about the flag.

Unfortunately, I’ll never find out. Why? Because there’s an equally good possibility that the folks living under this flag are among the thousands you can find, right this minute, on the forums at advocating violence against Black people from behind Confederate flag avatars.

If I knock on the door, Paula Deen might answer. She’ll feed me biscuits, call me ‘yall’ even though I’m alone, invite me to her next cookout, and hopefully have the good sense to leave me out of any plantation-themed weddings.

But if I knock on the door, Dylan Roof might answer. He’ll stick a gun in my face, sick his dog on me, club me with a blunt object, or otherwise precipitate a sequence of events that will leave one or both of us dead, blind, or crippled.

As a person of color, I have to make a judgment call about what the rebel flag means to the person flying it. Does it mean “heritage, not hate” or “heritage of hate?” Giving you the benefit of the doubt means I have to risk my wife becoming a 29 year old widowed single mother… so no thanks. Which is really too bad, because this really gets in the way of good business when you’re a Black farmer and so many of your would-be associates insist on flying the damned thing instead of doing what we southerners are supposedly best at: not being rude and inconsiderate.

End rant.

Sylvanaqua Farms's photo.