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Creating Reconciling Communities with David Bailey

In this episode David Bailey, executive director of Arrabon, joins Chris Orme to talk about music, building cultural imagination toward reconciliation, and how to move from being a diverse church to being a reconciling church.

The following is a transcript of Season 3 Episode 4 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Awesome. Oh dude I'm so excited for this. Okay let's do this. Well hello friends and welcome to another episode of Do Justice. I'm your host Chris Orme and today I'm just stoked for this conversation. Our guest is David Bailey, David is the founder and the executive director of Arrabon, a ministry that equips churches in effective cross cultural engagement in their own contexts. David is also a musician, he is a speaker, he is an author and he works hard, hard, hard, hard down in Richmond, Virginia, and and and beyond in the work of reconciliation. David thanks so much for joining us, man.

David: Thank you so much for having me.

Chris: Okay, so. So David. We're here today to talk about the work of reconciliation that you do, what what got you into that into that work? What what drew you in?

David: You know I always say that like I didn't choose the work of reconciliation, it chose me. I mean, it's kind of two really important, kind of numbers in my life is eight, and 2008. So what happened when I was about eight years old. I was really slow in learning how to read. And so my dad got me, a second grade level reading Bible and said hey, read two chapters of the Old Testament, two chapters of the New Testament Proverbs and Psalms every day. They just felt like that would give me the grace to learn how to read, so I did learn how to read but it also gave me a love for scripture. And another thing that happened at eight was my parents decided to team up with a church that like, literally was within a house projects, and that community center and housing projects. And I remember being like, man, I don't want to be with these stinky kids. Yanno and umm, not really knowing the socio economic side, because you don't really understand it at eight. But those quote on quote stinky kids became my friends to the same people that, you know, to this day, I love dearly and umm and I didn't realize that wasn't quite normal being, you know, like a working middle class suburban household. And, and even though when I was in the suburbs, a racial, ethnic minority but when I'm in the city, folks look yanno, the same as me, but economically, very different. And whereas most people grow up around people just like them racially, ethnically economically educationally. And it wasn't til I was in college I, you know, realized people talk about those people they didn’t know quote on quote those people by name. There these stereotypes of building these very strong opinions about people that didn't know by name. So I realized I had a different experience and then the second thing. The third thing that happened to me when I was eight years old was when I started playing around on the piano. And I became the church player around 11, I started playing gigs around 14, by the time I went to college to study music at 18 you know I played at the country club and I'm playing like Outreach Ministries in my urban inner city church and, and, you know, playing the jazz club or playing the Presbyterian Church or playing International Church and much like the platform a costume church. And that was the work that you know like like I was basically learning how to be a cultural anthropologist, and, and, you know, connecting and bringing the underground different cultures and so two things happened in 2008, that really saved my life. One, my wife of the you know we got to that point we married for two years and she says, Hey, you know, you know how to bring across people together across differences of race, ethnicity, Christian traditions, economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds and you know how to curate an experience with them around music and worship and then the other thing that happened it was a church we we became part of a church plant in a, in a community that had both the kind of rich and the poor, and it was a high poverty area to say hey can we can we, what does it look like for us to be reconciled with community in this particular neighborhood, particular community?

Chris: Wow. 

David: And and that's, that's kind of how we got into it, I got this like, sociological experiment, laboratory with this church with the things that I was kind of writing and thinking about with my whole life and, and here we are today.

Chris: Yeah man, so cool like, what, was that the moment, or, or can you describe the moment when you realize that that your gifts in music, or just the idea of music in general could could be a part of the work of reconciliation? 

David: Yeah, you know, I kind of think like when I started earlier when I played it diversity, with reconciliation. You know like bringing people together across differences, the diverse community isn't necessarily a reconciling community, right. But at the time you know, I was just thinking like, man like we promise we're not together but then when you actually have to go together there’s this conflict that that emerges.

Diversity doesn't guarantee reconciliation, what diversity guarantees is conflict. And so, how, like what were some of the moves like I was thinking, what are some of the most diverse and kind of healing, and people actually like growing relationally and working together. It happens with the arts and happens with sports. right? And I think a lot of it has to do with the thing that we're creating. And so what I realized in our church, it wasn't just enough to like, bring people of different economic backgrounds and different racial ethnic backgrounds together and just talk about it and just try to be friends or try to force friendships because a lot of diverse churches to have diverse colors but not. But, like, people at the risk of skin tones but not actually have people have diverse relationships.

Chris: Yeah.

David: And, and, and so I realized so how do we do this will come to like working and making things together, then I realized that that was that's the kind of secret sauce of what I was doing as a musician, particularly as a producer as a music director. You know you're seeing different gifts of different people around it kinda like trying to articulate a clear vision or vision for the musical, for the art, and then you try to coordinate people to help work together to build it. I was like, this is the missing link, like this is this is the thing that kind of helps us move from being a diverse community to be a reconciling community is giving people the tools that they need in order to kind of work to create and collaborate together to make something good and beautiful. To be an agent of healing.

Chris: Yeah, I love that distinction of, you know, a diverse community is not necessarily a reconciled community, I think that's so important because, you know, in a surfacey kind of way we might look just with our eyes and say hey look it's it's a diverse community, but I think you know you're talking about something a lot deeper here. Yeah man, so.

David: Yeah, we need to be a lot more deeper because I mean I think you could see and like you just could see like this just bringing people together isn't I mean, anything. It could kind of diversity kind of increases conflict because, you know, I think they should go this way you think it should go that way, what’s our  mechanism in order to be the kind of people or do the type of things that that we want to do and see in the world and that’s the thing we have to try and help each other, reconcile our community. 

Chris: Yeah, I want to get into that because, you know, we know you're rooted in Richmond, Virginia, which was the former capital of the Confederacy. So, you know, with that in mind, and with the idea of okay well diversity doesn't necessarily mean a reconciled community. Can you tell us how, how have you seen reconciliation come about in the community that you are a part of? Like, you tell us a story or yeah, sort of show us what it looks like.

David: Yeah, I mean, I think, and I think what I actually don't say the word reconciled. I say reconciling right so you know this is like the next week I celebrate my 15 year anniversary. You know, and you know thank God my wife and I've been able to make it 15 years. You know, we, but you know it's like it's there's been a lot of love and there’s been a lot of pain, right. There's been a lot of reconciliation that’s had to happen, and I love her a deep deeper, more. Now, I didn't think when when I was married to her to that I could love her even more than what I loved her at the time, but like being on that journey together. You know, she’s seen me at my worst and still loving me in that process and and ups and downs and the journeys and the mountains and valleys that we've been through that actually makes it much deeper, richer relationship and and I think that's what it looks like, like so. Kind of like my life looks like kind of two expressions like one is being locally based here in Richmond, Virginia, and being a part of a community this church community called east and the fellowship that I'm a part of that. I mean my world when I'm in Richmond is like a 1.5 mile radius you know it was a pretty walkable neighborhoods about 85% of the people they go to the church can walk to the neighborhood, walk to the, to the community center where we have our worship services. And that's one part. And then the other part is, then the other part is when we go to, like, like when I air by the National ministry will work with communities all around the country who work for communities that like want to say hey what does it look like for us to abide in a reconciling community. So, so I'll just kind of share a little bit of like, the kind of the things that we learned like literally here in Richmond. A lot of us have just come out of like failure, you know, the first, you know, and trial and error. So the first three years I like so, you know, 2008, like, create this like kind of churches community that's not this cross and differences of race, class, and culture, and ethnicity and and and we like failing miserably and we just realized what time I leadership that we just start like write it down it's aspirational values would actually help us to to do it was going to happen. But we realized that we were doing nothing to kind of help it form and shape us to be the kind of people that are actually doing this deep work that's needed to be done. And so, you know, we started kind of researching and teaching, like, you know ourselves and then we kind of brought our cover that could be me into that. And then I realized like we're preaching sermons, about, kind of, like, like about loving your neighbor, but all of our worship practices is tied to loving God. And so it's vertical it's not horizontal. And I realized that people's theology is not just shaped by what sermons they hear. I mean that helps that’s part of it. But people's theology is shaped by what what they what they say.

Chris: Yeah.

David: And we realized okay, we needed to kind of form the imagination and particularly being in this like urban context like I knew that there was, like, this is back in 2010 2011 Black Lives Matter wasn't a hashtag but I saw that we were not addressing the pastoral concerns in our community. And so we started to kind of like man need to write. We need to do a particular culturally potentialized version of this, and, and, and so we started the urban doxology songwriting internship. And it was really important to have a place for kind of black and leaders of color to kind of create and to kind of gauge the idea that the work themselves. At the same time it was also important to bring white people to be a part of it too, so that we can actually kind of co create what's missing, to try to being an agent of like, like the brokenness in the world. And for us to co create a cultural artifact that can be part of the healing of the kind of broken state so like this is like writing songs together, that has a robust theology of loving God and loving our neighbor. That’s holistically, that's that's that's addressing issues of justice and lament, but then also hope and hoping in the resurrection hoping the Spirit working to have social righteousness, you know, that's the type of thing that we started creating together and whats was awesome is like 10 11 years later, we have some of the deepest relationships we we raised up pastors that have come through that are that are now leading our church we've had some of the deepest relationship across race, ethnicity, people marrying one another, I mean people see each other as family, this all happen, not from just like talking and reading books, but actually yeah learning, but actually working, co creating, engaging, and reconciling cultural making.

Chris: Yeah. Amen to all of that and, like, amen to all of that. I want to just highlight a couple of things though I mean, on this podcast and with our audience like we're always trying to you know make this work accessible and maybe for those who are just starting on that journey. I think it's really important how you highlight like that the first three years yeah we were making lots of mistakes. You know, and I think that's to be expected when we step into some of these arenas. So I think that's a great encouragement for people to, you know, some might be sitting on the sidelines and saying “well I'm afraid that I'm going to make some mistakes so I I don't really want to get into it, like I don't want to do it wrong”, but we almost have to start somewhere and get in, you know, 

David: And I also want to say is that it's not just the first three years made mistakes, but we still make mistakes right if I got If you want bailing, then you aren't trying, and yeah, you know, you can't you can't sit on the sidelines and and and and learn how to win the game, you know. 

Chris: Yeah totally, we should do a B side to this conversation where we can just be you know you know me Chris and David getting together and talking about their mistakes listen in, folks, you might learn something.

David: That's right. 

Chris: Yeah, yeah, totally man, ah, but the I think the other thing too is, you know, you talk, you talk about the depth of relationship. And I want to talk about, I want to hear a lot more about the organization and I'm just going to share this is this is some stuff from from your website. I want to talk about Arrabon,  So, so the word Arrabon is, it's a Greek word from the New Testament, it means a foretaste of what is to come. And then there's, we took this from the website where it says we believe the church offers a foretaste of heaven when we join the Holy Spirit's work of reconciliation in our broken and divided world. And that resonates on so many levels. But you've been at this work for a long time, like you said, but this year has had a particular spotlight on on racism, specifically anti black racism, we've seen a rise in anti Asian hate, both in Canada and the US, and more recently in Canada. There's a reconciliation and a reckoning so to speak. Now, of, you know, the Canadian residential school system, and, you know, Canada's broken relationship with indigenous sisters and brothers. 

David: Yeah. 

Chris: So how do you lean into your mission of the church, offering Arrabon, a foretaste of the kingdom to come, in this season in particular? 

David: Yeah you know I actually think that Christian theology. Christian like the Christian perspective, I almost hesitate to use the word Christian worldview, because oftentimes as, like when you hear that it means basically a certain subset of Christian worldview tends to be a certain subset that means you end up being a Republican at the end of the day. I don't really mean I really mean like looking at the scriptures and seeing the way that God tells the story of the Scriptures can actually really help us. And so, so part of what's happening is, is that like as Christians, we don't have to wonder “is the world broken?” We don't have to wonder if something's messed up. We know they’re messed up. And so then you have like people who don't follow Jesus, they resonate I mean like, Romans eight says the whole world moans and groans for the parents of the sons of that, like the children of God to kind of show up right and participate in this, this healing and being an agent of healing. But I think, how we show up is really, really important. Right. And so most Christians, at least in the book that I kind of like see a deal with they tend to have a fall in redemption understanding of the story of the world and humanity. But that's not the way that the Bible started out, is this this creation. It starts off like the part of good news isn't that we're sinners and that we need to be saved. Like, that's true. Yeah, but it The good news is that way the world is today, wasn't always that way, you know, and that's something that humanity that says says like man something ought to be right. And so we know that the world was good, you know beautiful it was diverse and and all this was good and we saw unity and diversity of Genesis one and we saw co creation, with God and you know with with Adam in the garden cultivating goodness and we saw Adam naming things and this is all cultural making is happening and so how we make sense of our world. What we make of the materials that we were given like that's all part of like what it means to be human, the human flourishing. 

Chris: Yeah. 

David: But then what happens with Genesis three is that there's a brokenness that happens there's a sin that happens, our relationship with God, our relationship with one another is broken, our relationship with creation is broken. And so when we see people who, who are crying out. We know that it's harder to get to God than it was before Eden. We know that we get in conflict with one another. I mean, matter of fact like within the first generation of sin, you have a murder on your hands of two brothers, you know, we know that you've had these brutal to one another, and and and we've been brutal around around gender, we've been brutal around economic class, we've been brutal around ethnicity, you know. And so sometimes it looks like indigenous stuff, sometimes it looks like you know xenophobia, sometimes it looks like racism, but we know that this is every society in every humanity. And here's the thing like we also know that God's about redemption, about restoration, about reconciling all things, and we're being invited to be part of that. And so this is where new creation is awesome, because we're not going back to the garden. We're not going to that innocence anymore. We're actually going to like this, not just that a garden but we’ll go to a city, what's the city, a city that things that both humans and co create with God right like the things that we make. And so there's a bit of like imagination opportunity. And so I just think that, like, a lot of times, people who don't follow Jesus, they can name the sin, but oftentimes don't have a lot of the mechanisms to, or even a vision of resurrection a vision of a new creation and I think we as Christians ought to and should understand the nature of what the sinner is to see the ways that like God is healing and and reconciling all things. And, and engage in that type of work with people.

Chris: Yeah. There's, there's a sense like for those of us who've been tracking with the Christian faith or would identify as followers of Jesus, I think, you know, we hear a lot of language about the kingdom of God. And we, there's that now and not yet aspect of it. Was there a point this year, when the now, and not yet - ness of the work that you do became apparent? Like was that was there, was there a particular moment or season over this last year that it just kind of jumped up and was there? Or has it kind of always been there and the work that you do? 

David: And I think like, I'm really blessed that the work that I do. But people call me they're calling because they really want to do something about what's happening. Like they're calling because there's something that's like they’re saying like hey we we we can and we should do better. I just need to know what to do and how to. And so I kind of see these like a lot of these things are very encouraging to me to see, you know, um, but then you know I think I'm not alone and I think one thing is very discouraging. Is that. I think that when a Christian. I see more political discipleship going on the biblical discipleship, who, particularly, particularly here in America. I don't know how things are going in Canada... 

Chris: Yeah no we would resonate with that for sure.

David: Yeah, I mean, and it's kind of like, anytime that you feel like to be Christian is to be this political party, you know, or the ends justify the means. I mean that's not that's not biblical, you know, and so I'm really sad. I'm very disappointed you know that in even like when I find myself aligned with people who also don't follow Jesus, like so. So that's part of it like we know this is kind of like how I kind of like, try to do a ____ of like discernment, with with with issues of humanity. You know, we know that people are image bearers. And so, so there's a logic and there's a gift that that every human brings to the table. But we also know that we're also fallen and sinful right? 

Chris: Yeah.

David: And it's oftentimes like I always want to ask myself. Do I only see the gifts of my people? And I'm blind to the limitations, and the sins of my people? Do I like overly emphasize the sins of other people that don't get resonated my people, and have a hard time seeing the gifts of those folks? Like like nobody's like 100% pure evil right like, right, like, you know, there are some real evil things that happens but these are like very very strange. And you and I are dealing with these folks on a day to day basis. I mean, right, you know, and so, so these are things that we really need to to look at and and to kind of self interrogate like you just said right hey I call that sin out. And you, my brother Chris of it, but he's like hey take the speck out your own way to take the plank out your own eye before you try to get the speck out your brother’s eye and and and all of the kind of umm in the south. You know, my grandma's generation has, has a saying that like, you know, I'm, you know, I'm about to put my religion on the shelf, that's like when they bought the kind of like you know really dig into you. And I see so many Christians when they religion and Michelle. Yeah, and I think like this kind of like recognizing the gift of humanity recognizing the sin of humanity, self examiner self examining and, You know, these are distinctly Christian things that can actually help us to offer something different but when you're being disciplde more from political discipleship than biblical discipleship. You know the ends justify the means and you know you can totally allow a political party and not even question.

Chris: Yeah. We might need to do a part two, my friend. It sounds to me as I listened to you speak, and I've had the privilege of tracking with some of the work that you do reading some of your stuff listening to some of your speaking engagements is it fair to characterize you and the work you do in your community as, as a. I think we've identified it it's a bridge between what is and what should or could be. Yeah. But in that process man, like, this is hard work. Being a bridge maker. It's really hard work when you're building the bridge while you're trying to go across it too.

David: Yeah, well that's it, that's facts. 

Chris: And can you tell us a story about, you know, some fruit that you've seen from the work that you do that you and your community are engaged in that keeps you going? Because I know we've all had those days where, you know, we open our eyes, and it might not be that like, okay, you're going to get up and go feeling great today we might we might need to draw from the well a little bit of something good that has happened to keep us going in this work so, you tell us a little bit about an experience or something that's happened in the work that you've done that, that keeps you going.

David: You know I'll even tell you about that. I say two stories I you know one of it is about my community and one is within kinda like broader national work that we we do you know what we're working on this documentary style Bible study called a search of Matthew 25. If you look at Matthew 25, you know, it's about the sheep and the goats, and this is a product we're focusing on and Jesus talks about caring for the least of these and in America, our top four political issues that we are talking about is healthcare, immigration, Criminal Justice, and economic insecurity. And if you think about those four topics. Those four topics are the things that Jesus clearly articulates, it's what He’s judging Christians on, and how faithful we live into, but unfortunately most Christians only have a political imagination, too many Christians only have a political imagination and don't have a biblical or Kingdom imagination, about these particular topics. And so we we are kind of exploring the text, exploring some of the challenges in the US context that people will integrate so folks that have been part of criminal justice system or economic issue or folks that need health care, and just understand the context and then we are featuring 14 stories of Christians ministries, churches in the Christian business, businesses who are addressing the least of these. And man, first of all, I just want to say that I mean this. This has been a huge gift, you know, to me, like all of these folks are like friends and people that I've known well known these stories, you know, and. And this is good like I, the work that I do again because folks are like trying, like we all try, I really get to see the best of American Christianity. And so I've been really encouraged and it's really cool too that I didn't create it in this way, it was just cool to see that three out of 14 stories are people that’s literally tied to our church, you know, and folks that are like this. This is the work they're doing, what they're giving their lives to and just seeing a lot of conversion stories so that's really encouraging and then this week, you know, we work with a group of pastors over the denomination. And one of the kind of pastor mentors in the group, he you know he came last week and he he was like, “I wouldn't have named it this way last year, but I was, I was a Christian nationalist. I just didn't see anything that different you know and and he said man like, literally, I, I got a chance to like the material that y'all did the race, class and came of that study series that did attend the workshop that y'all did with us over the two days, two or three days that all began to kind of like change my heart and I’m not a Christian Nationalist anymore.” He still carries a gun with them all the time. But is it like, 

Chris: Old habits, right?

David: Right yanno, um, but he could pass through his people in a really different way that that they're literally over this last year, the way that he pastors people is very different with George Floyd, the election, and the January six capital attack.

Chris: Yeah. 

David: He would have been the party line but, you know, he's been converted in a way that is wrestling Jesus in a very different type of way so that was really, it was really, that was yesterday and  that was very encouraging.

Chris: Wow. David man, I'm, I'm just thankful for you, I'm thankful that we had a chance to connect. I'm, I'm, like I'm better for having been able to track with you and follow some of your stuff and, and I truly mean that. And we're going to, you know, when we, you know when this conversation comes out we will put the links to Arrabon, the urban doxology internship and the Matthew 25 project, so that folks can kind of track with what you're doing there. But, you know, as you continue this work I think it's, you know, it would be a great opportunity now to maybe to ask you like how can we pray for you? You know, and your community. As you continue to do this work.

David: Well, yeah thanks so much for asking that question. I mean, I think strength for the journey. And, you know, God, God has graced me and my wife at our team, like, just for this journey. I think the area where we we've had a 300% increase in military activity. And so we need the effort, the thing that kind of like the conversations about race about reconciliation, the difficulty of it, the pastoral sensibilities like that doesn't feel like work to me. But, you know, having all the organizational stuff and trying to kind of like, have the right infrastructure that meets demand, and needing to hire the right kind of people and make sure you, you know, you had a resource with other people, right people and all that kind of stuff is just the things that, to be honest is soul crushing. So, so we just in, you know, those are the things that kind of makes it hard for me to kind of get out of bed in the morning sometimes and all keeps me up at night. So just you know I think just be praying about that and that the Lord will provide and because this this is needed. It's just, I mean it's like meeting yesterday, you know, and not just the record because a lot of people say reconciliation, or they aren't really about it like they, you know, they're really about cultural war you know whether and I'm, and I'm not talking about just the left or the right I'm saying that there are two sides of the same coin what they hate about the other, they what they hate about the other, they are becoming.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah.

David: So we need to rethink some folks that kind of helped for folks in a different type of way.

Chris: For sure, for sure. Listen, David, thank you.


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