Last weekend we were a part of "Care For The Square" in Trinity Square, the neighborhood around the church. This initiative brought people together to do a variety of projects like murals designed by The Avenue Concept, clean up, gardening, and so on. There was an appearance by Big Nazo and we enjoyed lots of food. Thanks to all who volunteered for showing love to our city!
One of the most active ministries in the church is Anchored, our young adult community. They meet every Friday night in the Ren sanctuary at 7:30pm. Each Friday looks a little different. For example, this Friday they’ll be doing a Bible study discussion out of the book of James. On Friday March 22nd they will be hosting a special event called The Lights. This is part open-mic, part show and tell. It’s open to the whole church to come and enjoy and absolutely anyone is welcome to present. See the list below for some ideas on specific ways to let your light shine.
The LIGHTS: WHAT WE WANT
Feats of strength, sea shanties, sonnets, one-act plays, mini-sermons, essays, slideshows, rhymes, paintings, things God has been teaching you, anthems, jokes, anecdotes, scientific demonstrations, freestyle raps, prayers, videos, photographs, stop-motion animations, sculptures, haiku, dances, martial arts demonstrations, pet tricks, testimonies, academic papers, book reports, film reviews, limericks, guitar solos, odes, restaurant reviews, satires, yoga routines, mime, elegies, heroic couplets, folk songs, cantos, scripture verses, doggerel, ballads, fables, recitations, operatic arias, lullabies, comic strips, portraits, sketches, magic tricks, fashion shows, mosaics, parables, psalms, hymns, translations, love songs, engravings, coming-of-age narratives, genealogies, puppet shows, cooking lessons, biographies, text explications, comic impressions and whatever you’ve got that gives glory to God!
Today is MLK or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Today we honor the Baptist minister who became one of the most visible leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. Dr. King was a powerful speaker and believer in organized, nonviolent protest to draw attention to the harmful practice of segregation caused by the Jim Crow laws in the south. He was very well known for his hopeful speeches like “I have a dream” and he could also call out the hypocrisy of White moderate ministers who were content to live with an unjust system that degraded and harmed their Black brothers and sisters.
In talking about Dr. King and what he stood for, what he hoped for, it is very easy to misunderstand each other when we use terms that we each have our own meaning for. One of the things that impresses me over and over again as I teach psychology and look at the world around me is that clear definitions are CRUCIAL for conversations about important and emotional matters to happen. So, I am here to do what I do: teach.
First, let’s start with race. The word Race refers to a group of people who have similar physical or social qualities. Physical things like texture and color of hair, skin color, and social things like religion, or social patterns like when do you move out of your parents’ house?
An important thing to note here is that race is defined by social groups. That means that as society changes, our conceptions of what makes a particular racial group will also change, even if the physical characteristics of that group of people haven’t changed. Race is not inherent to a person’s DNA. In other words, race is a completely made up thing.
Next, I want to define stereotypes: A stereotype is a set of characteristics that you believe members of a group share. We make stereotypes based on our experiences in the world (the media we consume, the experiences we have, the messages we listen to), and they help us get along without expending a lot of mental effort. For example, my stereotype of Doctors might include “plays golf.” So the next time I talk to Hale, I access my stereotype of doctors and ask him what his handicap is these days – I don’t have to spend time and effort thinking about “oh boy, what am I going to say to Hale? I don’t know him that well…what would he like to talk about?” – I simply use the stereotype to quickly and easily choose a topic of conversation. Stereotypes are not always bad.
BUT when a stereotype is full of negative character traits and ugly assumptions about a group of people, when we apply them to every member of a group, it becomes something that social psychologists call Prejudice. “A strong, unreasonable dislike of a group and its members, often coinciding with negative stereotypes.” Prejudice can be based on age, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, job, SES, ability level, and race. When prejudice is based on a person’s perceived race, it is Racism. When we act on our Prejudice and mistreat all members of a group that is what we call discrimination.
Discrimination can be overt, such as separate water fountains and bathrooms for African Americans as in our nation’s history, harsher sentencing for people of color than for Caucasians in the legal system as in our nation’s present, laws that endorse different housing and lending regulations for White and Black people, different hiring practices, etc.
Discrimination can also be much subtler - situations we call microaggressions – such as saying things like “where are you from?” and not liking when the answer is “Rhode Island.”
“No, but where are you FROM?” - it implies that the person you are speaking to does not belong in the USA, that they are other.
“You are a credit to your race.” Is another good one. The message there is that the speaker has a prejudice toward the person’s people group and is surprised to find competence and skill in this person. ‘you’re not like them, you’re good.’
Being the recipient of frequent microaggressions has been likened to “death by a thousand tiny cuts” – microaggressions cause stress and eventually, premature aging.
Empirical research by social psychologists, sociologists, and other scientists has confirmed for us that these horrible things are alive and well in the USA today.
Many deaths of unarmed African Americans in recent years have gotten the attention of modern activists and resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement. The goal of BLM is to “intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” This movement is a response to the systemic racism and bias that leads to the disproportionate number of deaths of Black people over White people. This movement is NOT claiming, as I have seen misrepresented online, that other lives don’t matter. BLM is drawing attention to bias, prejudice, injustice and inequality that devalue Black people and standing up to them by saying, “No, actually, Black lives DO matter, and I demand justice for them.” BLM is drawing attention to a house that is on fire and asking for help putting out the flames and saving those inside. It is at best, tone deaf, and at worst, prejudice to respond by saying “but all these other houses matter too!”
If some of this news to you, it might be because of your white privilege. Peggy McIntosh, in her excellent essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” defines it as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day.” White privilege includes being given the benefit of the doubt and getting off with a warning in a routine traffic stop, but Philando Castile is shot seven times just for admitting that he had a (permitted) gun. White privilege is at work when Laura Loomer jumps a fence, marches around on private property, tries to get into someone else’s house, but then gets into a peaceful conversation with police and is let off with a warning. Trayvon Martin, however, was shot by a vigilante just for walking while wearing a hoodie. White Privilege is white people actively challenging and demanding answers from police about why there needs to be city curfew while being all but ignored by them, while a Black man in another part of town actively trying to get home to respect the curfew gets punched in the head and arrested by police.
It all fills me with such impotent rage that I pump my fist when I read Isaiah saying,
1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression,
2 to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
3 What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?
4 Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
Makes me say, “come quickly, Lord Jesus.” When I want to give up, and humbly get back to educating myself and doing what I can when I read this quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
As most of you probably know, September is the month when we see an influx of visitors more than any other month of the year. Easter service is the day we see the most new faces but September is the greatest month. Part of the reason lies in the fact that our city is a college town and Ren has always been a church college students have chosen. So we will see college students streaming in. September is also a month when people get back into routines and into the habit of attending church. It’s also a time when people move to the city to start jobs. For all these reasons we will see a beautiful influx of new people at our gatherings in the coming weeks. This is always exciting!
Why do new people come to the church? Well, in most cases, it’s because someone invited them or they found our website and are interested. Many people are trying to find the church that feels like home for them. This challenge of finding the right church can be a little overwhelming. Some approach it very theologically and with careful research. Others are more intuitive and go with what seems to feel right. The reasons that cause people to settle into a church are many.
I’m partly writing this today for those who are in that place of trying to find the perfect church. I could be funny and tell you all the reasons why Ren is the best church but I want to genuinely help you to figure this out by offering some qualities to look for in a church and perhaps some things to not be fooled by.
Churches can be a little like businesses in that they package their product with excellent branding and an interesting space design. I’m a big fan of this and I joke with my daughters that we buy certain food products that cost more sometimes just because the packaging is attractive. Pathetic! At Ren Church we work hard to make both our space and branding excellent. But these things do not mean a church is healthy. Many churches have nice buildings and beautiful websites and printed literature but are hollow spiritually. So don’t be fooled by externals.
Closely related is the aspect of music. Many people choose a church because they like the music style. This isn’t necessarily bad but we have to be careful. Again, great musicianship is not the same as worship. I’m not at all advocating for bad musicianship or that you should settle for a worship style that you just don’t like. If you encounter God through hymns then look for a hymn singing church. If you like quieter acoustic worship then look for that. If you like big band, blow-the-roof-off worship then find that. I know there are excellent churches with all these different styles out there. But beyond style, look for heart. Are the worship leaders living a lifestyle of worship? Is the worship an expression of genuine longing for Christ?
One of the most important aspects to look for in a church is the Word. Sadly, many churches have fallen away from preaching the Word and have given the people an imbalanced diet of shallow, positive messages. Life is hard and I think it’s easy for us to prefer just hearing a soft message that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But this doesn’t help us grow. Choose a church that has the courage to preach the whole Word of God. Choose a church that tends to go through books of the Bible. Beware of fluffy preaching that tastes good in the moment but will leave you malnourished in the end. I could list in 20 seconds 20 awesome pastors in the Providence area that preach the Word well. Choices are abundant!
Along with the brave accurate handling of the Word, I think compassion is important. Some preachers preach strong but don’t weep for the people. They don’t really pray much for the people. Usually we can tell pretty quick whether or not truth is being spoken in love. So choose a church with pastors and elders with a big heart.
Going a little deeper, I would say that a good church has a strong prayer emphasis and an array of outreach opportunities and plenty of ways to grow spiritually through small groups. Some churches have a great Sunday gathering but that’s about it. I believe we need more than a once-a-week thing. So search for a place with a balance of opportunities that make it easy to grow spiritually.
It goes without saying that people often choose a particular church because of the love they feel. Maybe the atmosphere is warm and friendly. Maybe the people just seem genuine and caring. If I was looking for a church I would definitely look for this. However, it’s important to remember that churches are open to the public and often include people at all stages of spiritual life. A good church gathering will include skeptics and practicing sinners and addicts, as well as people who are mature in love. It’s one big beautiful mix. So don’t look for heaven on earth. Every church includes broken people.
There are other important qualities that people look for such as kids programming and youth ministries and, well, good coffee. Life is too short to attend a church that serves bad coffee. Kidding. :)
One mistake I think people looking for churches make is that they look for their “people”. In other words, older people want a church with older people. College students want a church filled with college students. Young educated professionals want to fellowship with people just like them. This even extends to color of skin. People often want to fellowship with people who share the same color of skin. I suppose some of this is normal. We all enjoy being with people we have stuff in common with. I believe the church should be different though. The local church is at her best when she is as diverse as the neighborhood around her. So don’t look for a church full of people just like you. Be part of a diverse family. It will be uncomfortable at times and relationships will be more challenging, but you’ll grow in ways you never dreamed of.
That’s all I can think of and I pray this will help some of you reading this in your search. At the end of the day you will not find a perfect church. Go with the one that seems to be a good fit and pour yourself into it. I’m confident that if you choose a church and then devote yourself to serve and give and pray for the community, you will flourish.
Some of you reading this may be committed to Ren or another local church. Great! Stay with it. And maybe use this content to help one of your brothers or sisters struggling to find the right church. The good news for anyone living in Rhode Island is that there are many, many amazing Gospel churches. I am friends with many pastors throughout the region and have heard their hearts and have seen them weeping for people. It gives me great hope for the days ahead when we see a mighty revival that causes tens of thousands of people to stream into churches everywhere. Oh yeah, it’s coming!
Ren Church teamed up with several other groups including Southside Cultural Center, the Mayor’s office, Southside Community Land Trust, several restaurants and businesses, Salvation Army, Amos House and so on to hold the Trinity Square Block Party last weekend. The festival included live music and performances from local artists Sidy and Friends, 401 Boyz, P SAM, and others. Restaurants in the Historic Trinity Square area, such as Bubble Tea House, Island House, La Sonrisa, and provided discounts on the day of the party for visitors to get a flavor for what’s around Trinity Square to eat. Free activities for families and children, Recycle-a-Bike repair & tune-ups, PVD mounted police, PVD firetrucks, and other great family friendly entertainment all be happened on the grounds of SCCRI and along Central St.
The Citylove team created an interactive art installation and provided lots of games, prizes, food and drinks for all of the families and neighbors. About 40 volunteers from Ren Church gave their time and energy to make the Block Party fun and welcoming for all!
Our youth group served burritos after Sunday service a few weeks ago to raise money to attend Soul Fest, a Christian music festival in NH. Thanks to the youth for making food for the church, and thanks to the church for supporting these young people!
Starting June 17th we're moving into a season of deeper prayer. The church will be opened 7 days a week for prayer at all different times to accommodate the variety of schedules people have.
Monday 7-8 am
Tuesday 7-8 pm (teaching at 6:30 pm)
Thursday 6-7 pm
Saturday 8-9 am
Sunday 9:30-10:30 am
These hour blocks of prayer will include a variety of options for drawing close to God. We will provide some worship music to set an atmosphere and you can pray at the cross, cry for the city looking out the window, write prayers in the prayer room, pray the Word at the counter, sit quietly in a seat and converse in your heart, and so on. We want to simply open the space for you to come in and connect with God. At the end of each gathering we will circle together to pray in agreement. The beautiful thing about this multifaceted format is that everyone can feel at home no matter what their preferred style is or what level they are at.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the Core gathering a couple weeks ago. It was a great time to be together and get excited about the places God is bringing us into.