This article appeared first on the Jesus Worldview Initiative website,

As an elementary school aged boy in 1960s Atlanta, I spent most of my out-of-school time playing side-yard football and sandlot baseball, wandering in the thin woods near our house, reading Hardy Boys mysteries, and, after they moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee, following the ups and downs of the Braves.

Beginning when I was in the first grade, my parents started going to church and became very involved which meant that my sister and I spent a lot of time at the First Baptist Church of Conley: Sunday mornings and evenings, Wednesday evenings, two weeks of Vacation Bible School in the summer, and Revival meetings each night of the week for at least seven days in the spring and in the fall.

I became mesmerized by Jesus. I still am.

On most things, I never questioned what I was taught. I simply soaked it up. If a Sunday School teacher or deacon or my pastor said it, I accepted it as true. It didn’t occur to me that these leaders, whom I loved and who loved me, could have blind-spots that caused them to teach me things that didn’t line-up with the good news of Jesus. Gradually, though, I came to think that there was one thing many of my church leaders got wrong. The exception had to do with African-Americans. The Clayton County Schools had been forced to desegregate, and my best friend at school, Robert, was black.

I had often heard adults in my family’s church speak derisively about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  My father had albums by Brother Dave Gardner, a racist comedian who caricatured and condemned Dr. King and people who demonstrated for civil rights at his side. Not everyone in my church harbored prejudices against black people, but it was common to hear words like “uppity,” or “shiftless, or “wild” whispered about them. To me, they were saying these ugly things about Robert—about my friend.

Some of the angry whisperers were the people who assigned John 3:16 to me as a memory verse: “God so loved the world.” They taught me to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” They told me the parable of the Good Samaritan, who loved a neighbor whose ethnicity and religion were different from his own. They led me to save my dimes to give to the annual Lottie Moon Offering for Foreign Missions so that black people (and others) overseas could hear about the love of God made known in Jesus. 

I didn’t have the word dissonance to describe what I felt, but I certainly knew what it was: I was about 10 years old when I thought something like: “Dr. King is more right about what Jesus wants than the people who hate him.” They taught me to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and I knew that heaven wasn’t segregated. Robert and I wouldn’t be in separate heavens. Why, then, were my parents so nervous about my wanting to invite Robert to my birthday party?

Some of the people who loathed Dr. King and who feared what would happen if blacks had the same rights and freedoms as whites, gave me—though they didn’t know they did—tools which could dismantle the shabby shack of racist assumptions they and our forebears had built. The Spirit and the stories of Jesus they told me brought him to vivid life, and he caused me to question what they taught me about what God wants for the world.

When she was a teenager, my wife, Anita, was a member of a fundamentalist Baptist church which believed that women could not be ministers. They taught, though, that followers of Jesus should do with their lives whatever Jesus called them to do. Through her reading of the Bible and listening for the Spirit, Anita heard him call her to ministry, even though the people who had introduced her to Jesus said he wouldn’t.

We desperately need for the Spirit and the stories of Jesus to amplify his voice so that we may hear him speaking to us in these unsettling and confusing times. We especially need to hear his bracing and transforming call to join him in confronting the principalities and powers which keep us locked-up in deception, especially self-deception, about the real challenges we face:

the myth of separation—the illusion of independence—from one another, ourselves, God, and creation;

marginalizing, demeaning, and scapegoating of “the other,” especially the vulnerable and those who have been pushed to the margins;

anxiety about scarcity—about not being and having enough;

the fear that we cannot be loved; and

the dread of death.

In The Humam Being, Walter Wink said: “My deepest interest in encountering Jesus is to be delivered from a stunted soul, a limited mind, and an unjust social order” [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2002, 16]. Stunted souls, limited minds, and an unjust social order are at the root of so much that is weak, wearying, and wrong about the world and the church.

Encountering Jesus is our need and our hope. Our role in pursuing that encounter, as well as in helping others to encounter him, is to tell, in words and deeds, the stories of Jesus—to bear witness to how he views the world and to how he enables us to see it—and to trust the Spirit to enliven those stories and to energize us to take the risks of tenacious, tender, and truthful love which sets us free to live with expansive welcome and overflowing joy.