10 Reasons Why You Should Read “Embrace”by Leroy Barber

This is not an unbiased review. Leroy Barber is a friend and mentor. I have come to trust his insights on mission, justice and racial reconciliation. When I heard Leroy was writing Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, I knew I would like it. And I do! If you want an unbiased review (because you think there is such a thing) look elsewhere. In lieu of that, here are 10 reasons why you should read Embrace:

978083084471510. Leroy knows what he is talking aboutEmbrace shares Leroy’s own experience as a pastor, urban minister, and community developer. The things this book exhorts us to— a lifestyle reconciliation, a heart for justice, and a commitment to love the other—are things Leroy tries to live out every day. He knows what he speaks of and he speaks with integrity.

9. Leroy is gracious. I don’t love others the way I ought to as a follower of Jesus. There are people, left to my own devices, I would avoid. I don’t measure up to my best ideals. Listening to Leroy, I don’t feel judged, but invited to live a better life—a riskier, sacrificial life, with a lot of pain and hardship, but better. This call is full of grace and compelling!

8. This is an important book because some of us live in Babylon. Leroy opens up about his own experience of following God’s call from Philadelphia to the South (Atlanta) and later Oregon. These new cities were Babylon to him: a place of un-belonging and where he experienced abject racism. I know the New Monastics talk about ‘relocating to the abandoned places of Empire.” Leroy talks about inhabiting  an antagonistic empire and seeking God’s shalom for the city we’re in. For those of us in Babylon, life is difficult but we are still called to embrace the place we’re in.

7. Because left to our own devices, we all have people we’d avoid. There are lots of things which keep people apart: race, religion, socio-economic status, etc.  Leroy’s encouragement to us is to learn to love the other: to not just retreat to our ‘in group,’ but to seek out relationships with people different than us. This isn’t just so we can help them and feel good about how amazingly loving and bighearted  people we are. As we seek out the people who are different from us (or difficult for us), and build relationships with them, we are enriched and our perspectives of the world are enlarged. Our own prejudices and privileges are challenged by learning to love well in relationship.

6. Diversity is a mark of God’s radical shalom and we all need to be more diverse than we are. Generally, we all like the idea of multiculturalism until it gets sticky. White churches welcome minorities but expect them to conform to their dominant church culture. We have similar expectations when we include different cultural groups, classes, and generations. We love the ones we can assimilate and ignore the rest. Leroy invites us to to a deeper communion where we honor the mutual image bearing of those who are different from us:

Our greatest danger as a church and believers is that we don’t actually see all people as made in the image of God. This is an immoral practice and it has ruined how people view Christians in the world. That Sunday mornings are segregated is no big secret; we’ve heard it over and over. For the most part our actions don’t seem to be changing. Worship and its lack of diversity is a joke. What kind of God are we representing? I don’t think we really care that we are segregated. We can quote Scripture of love and grace and yet be as divided as we are—this is the influence of Babylon on the people of God, not the people of God influencing Babylon (90).

5. God’s call for Justice begins where we are but then calls us outward.  Leroy will tell you that his cleaning up the basketball court in South Atlanta was so his own kids could play. But the whole neighborhood benefited. Caring for his own kids ‘became the natural way of justice for all kids.’ (101).  Leroy illustrates well how small acts of justice begin close to home, but because we are called to follow the God of justice, we are continually called to name injustice wherever we find it and stand with the oppressed. Sometimes ‘Justice’ seems like too big of a category. I like Leroy’s exhortation. Justice begins where you are and then wherever God takes you.

4. Because forgiveness and selfless love is the call. Injustice happens. People get hurt and killed. Leroy encourages us to follow the way of Jesus in loving our enemies. He talks about Dylann Roof being forgiven by the family of the fallen members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME church and our call to embody this sort of selfless love (109-110). Leroy doesn’t pretend this an easy commandment especially for those who have experienced profound trauma. I respect that Leroy never makes light of the pain and trauma which some people have faced (including himself), but still exhorts us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

3. Because you shouldn’t be happy with the status quo. Prejudice remains a major problem. Racism is real. The marginalized suffer. The refugee is rejected and regarded with suspicion. Foreigners, immigrants and resident aliens are maltreated and abused by the system. Our world is divided and divisive. We need more of God’s shalom!

2. Because Leroy is a great storyteller. He tells the story of his own journey into racial reconciliation: relationships forged, hurtful conversations and difficult times. He tells of learning to love the other. And he shares the story of friends and fellow justice advocates as well. Leroy weaves this in with the narrative of Scripture. Telling God’s story he explores the story of Patriarchs and prophets and Jesus. If there is anything that makes this book compelling, it’s the stories.

1. Because  yes, Black Lives Matter. Leroy spends his last chapter addressing myths and misconceptions many people have about the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a fitting end to this book because all along Leroy is calling us to stand against injustice, care for the vulnerable and love the other. There is systemic injustice which the Black Lives Matter movement has called our attention to (i.e. unjust police shootings, mass incarceration and lack of legal representation of Black men, etc).  Still many (white) evangelicals view the movement with suspicion. Leroy invites us to lay aside privilege and Embrace the Other as we seek to love and listen well.

Note: I received this book from the author in exchange for my totally biased review. five stars: ★★★★★

Diversity as Missio Dei: a book review

Leroy Barber is my friend and mentor. I trust his voice when it comes to urban ministry and community. So when I saw that his new book was out, Red Brown Yellow Black White Who’s more Precious in God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministryI was eager to read it. I knew it would be a game changer.

 But it was much more than that. Red Brown Yellow Black White (RBYBW) is a summons for those of us who ‘say’ we care about reconciliation and justice to quit playing a it; it calls us to get on with working for real change in how we minister across the racial divide. In these pages, Barber opens up about his sometimes painful journey in the urban ministry world, how discrimination from fellow leaders and boards, locked him and fellow minorities out of key leadership positions. Because Barber is such a great relational leader, he sets his story alongside friends and co-conspirators.

In RBYRW, Barber grounds missions in the Missio Dei–the mission of God (God’s larger purpose for his people and his world and the end He is leading us toward).  But the history of missions, at different points, bears little resemblance to the Missio Dei.  Often white Europeans blended their efforts to spread the gospel with imperialism, colonialism and paternalism. Missionaries came to new cultures to minister, but seldom included indigenous leadership in their mission. Fast forward to the modern era and you find that missions organizations and missionary boards are still predominantly white.

Barber is an African American leader called to urban mission who launched his own non-profit and has led national and international missions organizations (he is currently the global executive director of Word Made Flesh). His heart burns for more diversity in mission and he has led ministries (like Mission Year) and counseled others to be more thoughtful about how to promote diversity in their organizations. Barber doesn’t  tells stories of not-for-profit organizations which have labored to change the culture and are working to promote diversity. While reconciliation is a difficult journey, real diversity is possible. And when it happens, we reveal the Kingdom of God to the watching world.

For us white Evangelicals, this means we share power! Barber observes how even justice-minded, white evangelicals fail to include African Americans in decision making,  and fundraising. He also relays several stories from the field, where leaders of color were deemed unqualified by short-term, white teams even though they had years of experience and understanding that these teams lacked.  Unfortunately these racial attitudes can still poison the well of real diversity in mission. Leaders of color bring different histories and gifts to the realm of mission and leadership. We are impoverished in our missional attempts when we fail to make space at the table and include people of color. For when we do, they can help shape our mission to the wider community in beautiful ways.

RBYBW is challenging for me. I love and respect Leroy and am grateful for the ways he has invested in my growth (and countless others). I am captivated by his vision of diversity in mission. And yet this book highlights how much work is still to be done. I have recently become pastor at a mostly white church that does care about racial justice and reconciliation. We are making an impact on our city but I still have a lot to learn about doing mission well. Barber highlights the racial  and socio-economic dimensions of urban mission for me and helps me pay attention to the dynamics. This book is a goldmine!

I highly recommend this book. Anyone interested in the mission of God (which should include Christians everywhere) will gain insight on how to engage in mission in ways that are sensitive to race and culture.  For white evangelicals (like me), we can be ‘color blind’ in a way that demeans the challenges that people of color face. We can also fail to value the gifts that people of color bring to our organizations and leadership.  I give this book five stars and think that this book should be required reading for pastors, non-profit directors and missionaries. ★★★★★

Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen: a book review

My experience in intentional community is limited. About nine years ago my wife and I did  Mission Year in Atlanta. We lived in community with three other couples and invested in our neighborhood there. After a year,  we moved with one of the other couples to Miami  and continued  community living.  At the end of  that year, they went their way and we went ours.  Community living had its headaches and there are things we would do differently, but my wife and I grew from our experience (and still love the couple!).  Currently, my wife and I live in a house in a gated community. We do not know our neighbors beyond polite pleasantries. We commute to church. We often feel isolated from those who know and love us best.

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: for Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus by David Janzen

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook was written as a guide for those in community, or those who are interested in intentional community living. The subtitle of the book  indicated it is “For Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus.” I happen to be all three, so I read with interest.  David Janzen helped found the New Creation Community in  Newton, Kansas in 1971. In 1984 he moved to Evanston, Illinois to be part of Reba Place Fellowship and has been there ever since. He is someone with a wealth of experience living in a ‘thicker’ style community where community members pool possessions and resource and share life together. He is also in conversation with  a variety of other intentional communities.  In these pages, Janzen offers his wisdom for thos who  interested in community, and what practices will sustain communities for the long haul.

This handbook  is divided into six sections which address different aspects and stages of community life. In part one,  Janzen talks about the longing for community in our  individualistic, consumeristic culture.  Trends in society have contributed to the break down of families and communities. Those who long for intentional community are bucking those trends.

In part two Janzen helps those interested in community discern ift a particular community context is right for them. He asks probing questions about what the calling of that particular community is, and whether or not you as the individual can find a place in that context. However he  also cautions this is not an individual decision. He suggests interning with the community, finding mentors and discerning your personal call with the wider community.

Part three examines considerations which precede community formation.  What will community look like? What is the calling and purpose of this community?  Where will we put down roots?  How will your community commit to racial reconciliation and gender equity? Or will it?  This section is fairly practical, and Janzen shares examples of what various communities have done.

Part four talks about the first year of community living. He urges new communities to work-out  leadership structures,  to thoughtful navigate careers and schedules and  advises  new communities to connect with other more established communities.  he challenges communities to clarify how they share life together (be the church).

In part five he discusses some of the growth edges for young communities. A community rule of life or a covenant may seem unnecessary in the early years of community but as a community matures they clarify identity and purpose.  Likewise, there will be growth and change in some community practices. Justice around food and creation care may occupy a more significant place than in earlier years of community life.  Communities also faces challenges when people leave, or fail to live up to the community’s ideals. One major challenge for growing communities is the presence of children. It is easier for single people to commit their life and resources to a cause and live in a ‘risky neighborhood.’ As families grow, communities change and often members move to ‘safer’ outlying neighborhoods.

Finally part six addresses issues relevant to the mature community. The communities need avenues for healing  hurts, uniting for a common mission, sustaining prophetic vocations, accountability, nurturing new communities, and caring for and challenging the ‘execptionally gifted person.

Janzen has numerous examples from his own community life and from a variety of other intentional communities.  I was pleased to see one of my mentors (Leroy Barber) profiled in the book. Because each community is different, this book is by necessity non-comprehensive. However it gives good food for thought and sage advice to all who are on the road to intentional Christian community. People in their twenties and thirties who have read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove or Shane Claiborne (who wrote the forward)  will find Janzen to be a wise guide as they seek to live in community.  Longstanding communities will also find places of challenge and growth. This is a very thoughtful resource!

I do not currently live in intentional community, but part of me still longs for it. Maybe this book will sow the seeds of something new for me and my family. Maybe it will for you too. I give it five stars ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for Providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

A Life More Ordinary (And Less Mediocre): a book review

There are few voices that have been so prophetic and formative in my own life as that of Leroy Barber. About eight years ago my wife and I did a program called Mission Year in Atlanta and Leroy was our director (Mission Year is a one year long urban mission program which seeks to incarnate the love of God in an inner city neighborhood). Leroy was someone full of energy, enthusiasm, wisdom and challenging insights. During my time in Atlanta I had to face parts of myself and had to wrestle with ways  l had benefited from white privilege and I had turned a blind eye to systemic injustice.  Leroy was a gracious mentor and friend through the process, sometimes issuing challenges, other times dispensing wisdom and always listening and  eager to pray for me. Some of my favorite memories of my time in Atlanta were sitting over grits and pancakes at a local breakfast stop and talking with Leroy about what was going on in my life. A lot of my thoughts on leadership, ministry, marriage and life are heavily influenced by my friend Leroy so I am glad to commend his book to you.

I like Everyday Missions because it has the same energy, enthusiasm and wisdom I have come to expect from Leroy. The book is an extended reflection on what Romans 12:1-2  means. In the Message it translates as:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well formed maturity in you.

This is what Leroy want to see: ordinary people offering their everyday life to God and being used by him to effect change in a culture that is not always friendly to people on the margins.  In his capacity as an urban minister (he’s Executive Director of Mission Year, CEO at FCS Urban Ministries and founded several other urban ministries) he’s seen what it looks like when us ordinary people offer our lives to God and this book is interspersed with stories of people who have done just this.  Leroy challenges the idea that it is extraordinary people  that do great things for God. Rather it is the people who submit their (ordinary) lives to God and look around to see how God can use them where they are at.

And so Leroy casts a vision of how we can do this, encouraging us to take risks about how to reach our neighbors with the love of God. This is what he means by everyday missions. ‘Missions’ is the sort of term that people struggle with because ‘missions’ are often badly done. I caught up with Leroy a few days ago and he said, he wants to rehabilitate the term, reconnecting missions to the missio dei (the mission of God: God’s heart for the world/culture). As we find our life call and step out in faith, what we are doing is connecting our life mission, to the missio dei.

One of the things that stands out for me in this book is Leroy’s encouragement to be out of step with our culture. Particularly when you consider systemic injustice means that going with the flow means you are participating in and actually perpetuating systems that hurt people. Leroy sits at the helm of several urban ministries and as an African American leader knows the alarming statistics about how difficult it is for people of color to secure funding for urban mission (this has more to do with historic networks of trust more than blatant racism).  Leroy reflects on how far we still have to go as we confront racism and poverty and injustice and he is grateful for those Christians who do not just go with the flow of culture but take a stand for the common good. Churches are still segregated, people of color are often are disproportionately imprisoned. Being out of step with the culture, means choosing to not go with the flow and to take a good, hard look at reality.

But Leroy is always gracious and hope filled, even when confronting injustice. What this book will do for you is give you permission to dream what God can do with you in your life, where you, when you offer him your life.  The kind of dreaming Leroy commends are not narcissistic and self seeking but rest confidently in who God is and what he can do through you where you are at, Leroy closes one chapter with this prayer,”May the God who holds all power reveal himself to you in a way that guards you from elitism and inspires more than medicrity from you, a way that brings hope, restoration and peace to and through your ordinary life.”

So read this book and be inspired to offer your ordinary life to God in creative, risky and gracious ways. I know you’ll love Leroy as much as I do!

My family with Leroy at the Q Cafe in Seattle, July 2, 2012