On April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. A man of profound courage and conviction breathed his last breath on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. After this tragedy, many thought the causes Dr. King championed would fizzle under the enormous pressure to retreat and cower in fear. While millions mourn throughout the world at the loss of a “drum major for justice”, generations are still inspired to keep the dream and the movement for justice alive.
In 2018, our country and our world are facing challenges of injustice and inequity on a daily basis. These fights are waged in the spiritual, economic, political and social arenas. As we face these challenges head on, we must reckon with our own ways of confronting injustice. Do we hide behind a hashtag? Do we keep silent to avoid confrontational moments with those who disagree with us? Do we rush to champion a cause or a position because it’s popular or because it’s right? These questions serve to check our motives, our intentions and our character as we continue the effort of “liberty and justice for all”.
In the Fall of 2000, I entered Seton Hall University as a Martin Luther King, Jr. scholar. As a MLK scholar on campus, I felt the weight of responsibility to carry on the legacy of those who came before me. There were many that did not have the opportunity to go to school, let alone seek a college degree. The burden of accepting a student-scholar role was one that I was privileged to walk out in and outside of the classroom. But I soon realized that being a MLK scholar meant that I could not be content or satisfied with the status quo. I had to look deeply at the underlying, systemic injustices that plagued our society and work hard to find solutions. No easy task, but a worthwhile one.
Today, 51 years after the assassination of Dr. King, the American citizenry and the citizens of the world have a choice. We can either be satisfied with how things are or stand up for the change Dr. King was fighting day and night for. It wasn’t change for change sake. This change was to recognize that every human being matters. Every human being has value. This change is not locked up in great oratory, sermons and stories. It impacts policy, legislation, economics, gentrification, and our criminal justice system.
Today and everyday is a good time to take a real hard look at how each of us are contributing to a more just society in the eyes of God, not simply defined by man. In the words of Dr. King: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” It’s my earnest prayer that my living rises to that moral and ethical standard. I pray the same for you. — RF
“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God.”– Amos 9:14-15
On August 22, 2004 at 8:30 AM at Christ Church in Montclair, NJ, I was prophesied over by a trusted member of our congregation. At the age of 23, I was told that I would pray at the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. After receiving this word, I thought that this experience would happen in my latter years. I had no idea that 14 years later at the age of 37, I would have the opportunity to do just that.
On Wednesday, January 30th, 2019, I embarked on a journey that would forever change how I viewed the world, my faith and my generation. With 35 other pastors and leaders from around the country and the world, our group left from NYC for a 10 hour trip to the nation of Israel. Hosted by Eagles’ Wings and under the esteemed leadership of Bishop Robert Stearns, this journey served to educate and equip pastors about the land of Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish-Christian relationship.
Each experience over the course of the nine days left an indelible mark on my life. I had three major takeaways from this life-changing trip:
- A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF JESUS’ HUMANITY
- A GREATER INSIGHT INTO THE ROOTS OF MY FAITH
- A GREATER GRASP OF THE STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
- A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF JESUS’ HUMANITY
Our group had the privilege of being hosted by the best and the brightest, unveiling our eyes to the truth of Scripture all around us. Our tour guide, Aviad Amitai, presented a nation rich with the living memory of generations of faithful stewards. In the span of 24 hours, we met two of the most influential rabbis in the world — Rabbi Malcolm Hoenlein and Rabbi Abraham Cooper. The Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, graciously reserved time to meet with us. The Honorable David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, hosted us at the US Embassy, now located in the heart of Jerusalem. Our visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Independence Hall, the birthplace of the state of Israel, further prompted conversations regarding the US relationship to the State of Israel and how we can champion its cause, using our respective platforms of influence.
With the experience of Israel’s history and modernity, I was confronted with a greater understanding of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was and is a Jew. He is not a Christian. We happen to call those who follow Jesus Christians, but in our American, Westernized presentations, we tend to forget that Jesus was a Jewish carpenter. It was deeply satisfying to witness firsthand the areas where Jesus walked, talked and shared eternal truths. This understanding of Jesus’ humanity helped me to connect with his genealogy, his background and the man that he grew up to become. This insight has illuminated the Scriptures in a whole new way!
- A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROOTS OF MY FAITH
Each site we visited in Israel uniquely presented the roots of my Christian faith in ways I did not expect. While one site highlighted the the depth of the Gospel, another site offered warnings of how faith can be perverted for evil means. We visited historical and impactful sights of interest — Old Jaffa, Masada National Park, the Sea of Galilee, Ein Gedi, Mount Zion, Mount Tabor, Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea National Park, the City of David, the Temple Mount, the Garden Tomb, Bethlehem, the traditional site of the Nativity, among others.
I personally had the privilege of being baptized in the Jordan River. I was baptized at the age of 13 and felt that I could not leave Israel without reaffirming what I confessed in my teen years. This was surely an experience I will never forget! I also had the privilege of sharing a devotional near the traditional Upper Room site after Rory Comtois led us in a time of rich worship. Our visit to Yad Veshem, the world’s leading Holocaust Museum and Remembrance Center, was a gripping presentation of the evil of humanity (anti-semitism, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi system) — while presenting the resilience of humanity (the courage of Jewish people and those who supported their cause). One of the greatest highlights was meeting with Rena Quint, a Holocaust survivor. Her story was eye-opening and served as a stark reminder of our responsibility to stand up against discrimination and racism at all costs. These reminders presented the critical responsibility each of us have to serve as reconcilers and bridge builders in our world today.
- A GREATER GRASP OF THE STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
One of the most pivotal moments during our time in Israel was in the lower level of our hotel. We had the opportunity to converse with David Nekrutman, the executive director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. This conversation exhibited the layers of opportunities and challenges in bridging the Jewish-Evangelical (Christian) relations. One of the points Mr. Nekrutman stated that spoke volumes to me was this: “I know that Christian/Evangelical theology states that Jesus is the only way to the Father and for those that do not subscribe to this belief are at risk of going to hell. But, as a Jew, can you love me like Jesus would?” Mind-blown. As a Christian, I want the world to know, accept and experience the joy of relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. With that said, the world will know us by our love and the Christ-like love we exhibit.
After this conversation, I voiced to Bishop Robert Stearns that this experience did not necessarily challenge my faith, but broadened it. I had a greater grasp of the story of the Jewish people. Their care of the sacred text allows me to experience the fullness of God’s Word. Their guarding of the festivals and traditions provides insight into the words of Jesus and the eternal feast to come. This journey did not only serve to deepen my identity as a Christ follower but to have a greater appreciation of the traditions, customs and values of my Jewish brothers and sisters. For this and so much more, I am eternally grateful.
If you have the opportunity to travel to Israel, I have one word for you: GO! The experience, especially with Eagles’ Wings and their team, will offer an immerse experience that will open your heart, mind and spirit to the work of our Heavenly Father. I’m thankful to Bishop Robert Stearns, Pastor Rusty Nelson, Pastor Adam Mesa, our tour guides, and the pastors (who are now my brothers) who journeyed with me on this journey. I’ve said it since I’ve returned home and it bears repeating here: “This was my first time to Israel, but God willing, it won’t be my last!” — RF
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Throughout history, the destructive forces of oppression and abuse have been stoked by evil intentions, agendas and behavior. Yet, there is another source that can fuel insidious plans — the reliance on silence. Over the years, I have learned the value of silence for a specific reason — to listen closely to learn and grow. Keeping quiet for the purpose of being a student of others and situations is an admirable quality and discipline. But, the motivation to stay silent because of the consequences is a real fear gripping the hearts of many. Too often, our culture has exposed the destructive force of silence when it was necessary to speak up.
The fear to speak the truth in love and bring correction can be attributed by the addictive comfort of convenience. The convenience of not saying anything to avoid being the target of attacks, false accusations and slander certainly maintains the status quo. But, it can also lend itself to being complicit to a system, person or thought that only serves to cause greater pain. More than ever, our culture is facing some hard and inconvenient realities that must be addressed in an assertive manner. If not confronted head-on, it can serve to exacerbate conditions that are not helpful to anyone.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT & ABUSE
For example, the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are a few movements have shed light to a long-standing problem of sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation. Every time we hear a report of a celebrity, leader or influencer being toppled by substantiated claims, you may hear a collective sigh of disappointment. But, you may also hear others voice (after the claim) a lack of surprise. Why is that? It may be due to their knowledge of the person’s behavior in years past and a refusal to address it for the sake of their career or to curry favor. With all due respect, this is part of the problem. As more people speak out and share their stories, we must be diligent in investigating what happened and ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve wondered how many more people have stories that they are afraid to share because of what they think will be the consequences. How many more people are living in daily fear? While easier said than done, we must support the victims and their courage to speak out on their behalf and for the sake of others. We can no longer be silent or be silenced. As Dr. King stated emphatically, “the silence of the good people is the ultimate tragedy.”
OUR POLITICAL CLIMATE
The same applies to our current politics. For years, political allegiances have caused those who are supportive of a candidate or leader who has said or done something inappropriate to remain silent or to defend the indefensible. In the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton acted inappropriately in the White House, too many supporters of the President defended him. You may have agreed with his policies, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to speak directly to his lack of character. It also doesn’t mean you’re being hypocritical. When President Donald Trump reportedly called nations in Africa and Haiti, s**thole nations (Link to Story), such language from the leader of the free world has been universally viewed as unacceptable. Whether you agree with President Trump’s policies on immigration, the economy or his leadership of the nation, can we agree that such language will not make america great again? I’ve been dumbfounded by the silence of the good people and how anyone who values character and integrity can defend such remarks. The coarsening of our culture, the increased partisanship in our politics and the voluntary segregation of aligning with those who only agree with us, have led us to this moment. It is unfortunate to conclude that too many people will overlook clear infractions of dignity and respectability for the purpose of their agenda going forward.
Another area where silence has been destructive is the systemic injustices in the United States and our world. Whether it is the shooting of an unarmed person and its disproportionate amount in minority communities, the economic disparities amongst communities, gentrification, or even how American citizens are detained, incarcerated or addressed in our prisons, the silence is deafening. At times, the silence is due to not having enough information to address the matter. For those reading this blog, I encourage you to seek out reputable resources that can help in the study of these issues. The silence of the good people may also be due to the conflation of our opinions to facts. As the late NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was once quoted saying,
“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
In a culture that is peppered with the phrases “fake news” or “alternative facts”, we must be even more diligent in searching out the facts of an issue and debate the best course of action for the betterment of society. We shouldn’t dismiss debate, but we must reject the deliberate effort to intentionally mislead.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
I’m encouraged by those who are speaking out about injustices and inequality for the purpose of resolution and healing. There will always be voices serving the agenda of division. But, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., these voices are muffled by the collective voices of justice, healing, racial reconciliation and peace. It could be dismissed as naiveté, but I truly believe in the best of our humanity and civic discourse. The silence of the good people has reached a breaking point. Will we speak up on behalf of the defenseless, the helpless and the unprotected? And when we speak, will we add value to the national conversation? Join forces with a non-profit organization addressing societal injustices daily. Use your platform to address matters of concern and let your voice be heard. Call your local, regional and national legislators to voice your concerns. Make your voice heard in the voting booth. Hold your leaders to account for what they do or don’t do — what they say or don’t say. Collectively, let’s make sure when we speak, we have the courage of our convictions to follow through and backup what we say. In the words of Dr. King, “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – RF
Ryan E. Faison is the College and Young Adults Pastor at Christ Church in Montclair & Rockaway, NJ and the Executive Director of Young Adults United. Ryan also serves on the Clergy Advisory Board for HomeCorp in Montclair and the Nyack Alliance Theological Seminary Alumni Association. Ryan serves as a preacher, worship leader, and producer at Christ Church. Ryan has been married to Kristyn (an educator and worship leader) for 7 years and lives in Northern NJ. Connect with Ryan online at @RyanFaison (FB, Twitter, IG, Snapchat, Periscope).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
During this Christmas season, I’m reminded of the difficulties and hardships many people and families are enduring. Whether it is the lost of a loved one, losing a job, a broken relationship or even an unmet need of any kind, Christmas can be a reminder of what is lost. In response to this reality, the Bible provides an answer that can lift our broken spirits and heal our wounds: choose hope. Hope is not wishful thinking that something may happen. Hope is anchored in the reality that unto to us, God’s Son was given to be our remedy for a broken humanity. It’s a wonder to behold how God sent His Son through Mary’s womb to save the world. In unwrapping this wonder, we see what God has truly given.
This season may represent a deluge of decisions you need to make that affect your life. The encouraging word of Scripture in Isaiah reminds us that the gift of Jesus is wrapped as a wonderful counselor. This gift offers wisdom for everyday life that’s beyond our intellect, series of experiences or even our abilities. He counsels the nations but is intimate enough to counsel you through every trial, challenge and opportunity. This gift is waiting to be unwrapped in your life to affect change in our homes, communities, our region and yes, our nation and world.
The gift of Jesus is not only wrapped in intimacy but wrapped in power. Throughout the Word of God, Jesus is not only described as a gentle Savior but a mighty God who intercedes for us and shows Himself strong in our lives. I’m reminded of Psalm 147:5 where it declares:
“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
We may wrestle with doubt, wondering if God will demonstrate the fullness of His power in our lives. Does He have the power to change this situation? Does He have the power to turn things around in my favor? Does He have the power to heal this broken heart? While these questions are fair to ask, the answer is not hard to come by. The Scriptures affirm He has the power. It’s our responsibility to seize it through prayer, devotion and seeking His face. Let’s unwrap the gift of our Mighty God who has the power to do all things but fail.
Unwrapping the gift of embracing the gift of our Everlasting Father may be difficult for you. Maybe your only reference to fatherhood was the absence of your father or the lack of relationship with one. This Christmas season, I return once again to the Scriptures that remind me that God is the blueprint of what fatherhood looks like. I can come boldly before the throne of grace and receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16). I can call on my Everlasting God, assured that He will answer me (Psalm 17:6). He may not answer me the way that I want Him too, but He will answer like the loving Father He is, knowing what’s best for me. If you’ve had a hard time embracing God as Father, allow this season of giving remind you that our Heavenly Father’s character is shown through the life of Jesus who cares deeply for you and will never leave you.
PRINCE OF PEACE
In a world riddled with violence and uprising, we can stand on the truth of Jesus being the Prince of Peace. For years, I wrestled with this title because I defined peace in the way the world does: a peace that’s either temporary or in flux but not reliable. Peace agreements have been settled and broken. Peace treaties have been trashed for the march to war and war profiteering. It can become disillusioning to see “the peace” the world offers. But, Jesus said this:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” – John 14:27
The kind of peace Christ offers is beyond our understanding but has the ability to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6). When you’re distressed, overwhelmed or filled with anxious thoughts, ask God in prayer for the Prince of Peace to enter your heart, occupy your space and take full control. While Scripture never promises the ceasing of our troubles in this life, we can respond in such a manner that reflects the peace that only God can give.
This Christmas, let’s unwrap the wonder of God’s amazing gift to the world and to every generation: Jesus Christ. I encourage you to prayerfully declare God’s Word and gift over your life. Join us at Christ Church as we celebrate Jesus at “Christmas Unwrapped” at our East Campus in Montclair, NJ (December 6-8 at 8 PM) and at our West Campus in Rockaway, NJ (December 14 & 15 at 8 PM). For more information, go to www.ChristChurchUSA.org. – RF
Empathy is a rare commodity, but needed more than ever.
Recently, a story has been circulating newsrooms across the country. The family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger, felt disrespected when President Donald Trump said to the grieving widow that the soldier “knew what he signed up for.” (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/us/politics/trump-widow-johnson-call.html) Whether you take this exchange as valid or believe it is “fake news”, the sentiments reportedly expressed raises questions about how we value empathy in today’s culture and society.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of empathy is:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. (Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy)
You may not have experienced a specific tragedy or disappointment. You may not have endured another’s pain. Yet, when you value empathy, you can extend compassion and connect deeply to their experience. Too often, the value of empathy is being dismissed and replaced with a callousness and apathy that permeates every sector of society. If you are attempting to start a new business and fail during your first try, rather than being greeted with words of compassion or being coached, you may be on the receiving end of words such as “You should have prepared more” or “Your business plan was weak” or “You needed to do more research before making the leap”. Apathy’s default is always what you could have done better and how you are a victim of your own weakness and lack of preparedness. It never considers circumstances out of your control, unexpected roadblocks or the emotional roller coaster endured to reach a particular goal.
The lack of empathy doesn’t end in the business arena, but extends in relationships, employment, and other areas of life. If you’re relationship or friendship failed, you don’t have what it takes. If you still are unemployed, you didn’t look hard enough. If you’re in need of assistance, you’re lazy. If you are having a hard time loosing the weight, you’re undisciplined. See the pattern? Apathy immediately resorts to what is wrong with you or what’s missing. Empathy relates to your pain, demonstrates compassion and serves to journey with you to healing and wholeness. Your pain may have been a result of wrong decisions. Your condition may have been a consequence of your poor planning. But, when you are bleeding, you need to address the wound with tender love and care. If I’m bleeding, I simply don’t need good thoughts my way or feeling sorry for me (pity or sympathy). I need sympathy with a compassionate response. I need empathy.
Whether you are in a leadership role or serving others, we all can grow in valuing empathy for our fellow man and woman. When I review the Scriptures, I see a man by the name of Jesus who spoke truth but in love. I witnessed a man who showed compassion, coupled with correction. I see a man who took time to tackle the problem and not the person. We can all learn from Jesus’ example. And if you find yourself having difficulty showing empathy to others, I would suggest you ask yourself this question: “How would I like to be treated?” – RF
The devastating flooding taking place in Houston, Texas and the surrounding region as a result of Hurricane Harvey has a direct affect on the lives of millions. As an American family and a global society, we can pray for those affected and the brave men and women in their rescue and recovery efforts. We can also support the cause financially through the following means:
You can also donate blood at the American Red Cross or find other reputable charities through Charity Navigator.
To the people of Houston, Texas and the surrounding Gulf Coast Region: we are with you. – RF