The Valentine’s Day Challenge

14 02 2011

The Valentine’s Day Challenge:

Think about someone you don’t particularly care for, that you often forget about, or that you tend to ignore.

Send them love through an e-mail or call affirming their worth and value.

Because even if you don’t remember them unintentionally or intentionally, they are worth your love since you are worth God’s love.

Pay it forward. Especially when you don’t want to.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:7-8)

16 12 2010

Proverbs 3:7-8

7Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.

Verse 7, in my opinion, offers up a unique definition of engaging in evil: being wise, rational, smart, justifying your life and actions. To be honest, this is kind of weird for me because I think that I’m a pretty rational person for the most part. I don’t try to be evil when making most of my decisions. I don’t try to harm others but do what is best and healthiest for me; if it holds the potential to harm others, then I’ll think it through carefully before coming to any rash decisions. Given this fact of careful consideration, I don’t think that my rationality is an evil thing. I think it’s a good thing and good quality about myself.

But then I think about the depths of decision-making that I don’t really want to deal with. I think about that fast-food purchase, that decision to save the dollar I could have given to that homeless person because I wanted some M&Ms or an iced tea. I think about the clothes I don’t wear but need to hoard in case I do need them. I think about the fact that I pay for internet when I can go to the library and use it for free. I think about times when I buy just because I want.

I think about things I “do for my sanity since I can’t save the world” like not pick up the phone because I’m pretty sure so and so will want something, the e-mails I delete that address the water problem in Africa, the food problem here in the United States and the prison problems here in the Triangle. I think about food I throw out every couple of weeks because I wanted it then but don’t want it now. I think about how my attitude was justified because I was mad at them. While I act friendly towards someone I think about how they did me wrong many times and how they don’t deserve my forgiveness; and they may never get it because I don’t want to give it.

And I begin to realize how I only survey my decision-making when I’m making “good decisions”. I tend to forget the hundreds of bad decisions I made during the week that were not so good, even, dare I say it, evil. My ten god decisions may affect others but my hundreds of bad decisions were about me; and ironically, they still affect others. Maybe this is what God’s wisdom is warning us against, the hundreds of little things we do wrong that we make nothing of, that we are so quick to forgive ourselves of, or that we justify we deserve to forget.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but our wisdom, our rationale, falls short.

The solution rests outside of ourselves. They involve us, but we are not at the center. God is. But even God gives us back the space. We must understand the vastness of God, and once we do, there is no other human response but to fear God, not in human-fear, but divine-fear. We fear God because we realize how far away we are from God when we take up our own agendas. We realize how much trouble we are in once we leave the protective covering of God. That is how big God is. We fear how far away we are once we realize how big God is. We fear our location and how we managed to get there. This is the fear of the Lord.

Fearing the Lord and turning away from evil seem like a combo deal. Once we realize that if we’re not with God, we’re in trouble, it is easy to spot and avoid evil. We won’t be fooled, for God’s wisdom will be with, on and in us. Evil won’t have a chance to plant any seeds within us, we’ll be too smart for that.

All this comes if we decide not to follow our thoughts and rationale alone and if we decide to listen to and follow God first, not what we think God should be saying, but what God is saying. Even our interpretations fall short. Humans have specialized in messing up God’s instruction. We must remember that anything of God’s is better than anything of ours. Relying on God’s instruction is a balm. It heals. It re-joins. It rehabilitates. Reliance on God patches up the holes in our hearts, the emptiness in our relationships, and the hate in ourselves. Placing our trust in God rejuvenates us because we don’t have to do the work of fixing people. Depending on God’s ways takes the burdens we can’t bear off of us, and gives us a lighter burden. We must remember that we ultimately make the choice to apply God’s wisdom or not. We have the choice to take the better burden and build up our strength all the while recovering, recuperating from burdens we weren’t meant to carry. If you are carrying burdens you weren’t meant to carry, drop it immediately. Pick up the burden of grace, mercy, peace, and love and continue journeying onwards. You will heal. It will take time, but it will happen. But take Jesus’ burden and never put it down.

Prayer: Lord, impress grace, mercy, love, understanding, kind-heartedness, peace, and justness into our hearts and onto our backs. We will be strong with them on it, and impossible to destroy with them in us. Lord, govern that transition in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The I’m Sorry Tattoo

14 08 2010

A friend of mine wrote a blog a few months ago about her experience with the Marin Foundation, a Christian organization focused on reconciliation with the LGBT community. In her blog she describes an earth-shattering event: She a few others from the foundation went to the Gay Pride parade this past June and wore t-shirts that candidly said, “I’m sorry.”

These t-shirts prompted people from the crowd, TV reporters and even people who literally dismounted from their floats to ask “What are you sorry for?” They would respond that they were sorry for the way the church has treated the LGBT community.

And this response was the first brick of a bridge – a bridge building reconciled life between the homosexual community and heterosexual Christian community.

And all it took was an apology; a deep sincere apology that spoke of the hope and close proximity of the Gospel wrapped in humble repentance.

The apology was the first step, the necessary step towards new interaction, a neo-love movement.

But apologies take that word, “humility”, and sometimes humility is hard to come by.

I love this story and this bold t-shirt movement; my eyes have been opened to what this organization is doing with profound curiosity, but I’m dissatisfied with one thing: I think that the t-shirt shouldn’t have only been worn to the Gay Pride Parade.

I would argue that the shirts need to be worn everywhere, including in the church, especially in the church.   

Some pastors and associate pastors need to wear them. Some youth group leaders need to wear them. Some worship leaders need to wear them. Some church mothers, deaconesses, kitchen ladies, church secretaries, church hat ladies, “here’s-a-napkin-so-you-can-cover-your-knees-to-be-in-decency-and-in-order” ministers – YES black church friends and family I said it – need to wear them.

These shirts confess. They confess fault and after the confession of fault, they leave ample space for the Spirit to move and true reconciliation, true forgiveness to happen. But forgiveness requires admitting that we did something wrong. And admitting we did something wrong first requires examining ourselves and what we’re doing incorrectly.

We don’t want people to flee God’s Gospel because our underwear’s in a bunch. We don’t want to be the modern-day Pharisee – exploiting people and God’s words for our benefit and comfort. But a lot of us are. And we need to repent, get off our high horse and just walk with people.

No, all traditions are not made equal. Just because something was created in the crucible of discrimination doesn’t mean that it should create the crucible moment for others who are left out of your happy little circle.

I know this because I have been a part of plenty of circles, have seen people on the outside beg to get in with their eyes alone, and looked away. Because my clique is comfortable. It was easy to follow my rules. It would be too hard to let people who I was taught to hate be a part of my life.

I’m sorry.

I don’t have an “I’m sorry” t-shirt and I don’t think I’ll get one (I have nothing against it! I think that it’s a great idea and conversation starter as well as a theologically bold and brave move!). I hope I wear my sorry’s in the actions I take. I hope the sorry doesn’t have to be on my shirt to be sorry and actively repent by actively showing love. I don’t want to need a t-shirt to attract attention to my repentance. I pray, I sincerely pray that I act different, speak differently and just plain treat people better.

We’re all complex beings and can’t jump off of our horse immediately, but hopefully we can look around and notice the company that we’re keeping. If the company we keep is not true to the Gospel, let’s do some addition and subtraction. Add who we normally wouldn’t be with and subtract those who don’t push us towards being the best person we can be.

Let’s wear our sorry’s in our actions so close to our hearts that they’re etched into our skin like a permanent tattoo, a constant reminder that our repentance gives way to life. It won’t be a sad reminder or a judgmental one, but a sign of grace woven into the tapestry of our being, in our brown skin, in our healing souls, in our sensitive tongues, in our active minds, in our loving touch.

I hate to say it, but I think we preach exceptions, not rules.

12 07 2010

I hate to say it, but I think we preach exceptions, not rules.

Miracles seem common in the word-series called sermons because sermons are inspired from the words called the Bible. But I propose that they aren’t supposed to be. Miracles weren’t even that common when Jesus was doing them. They appear common because the Gospels follow Jesus. Or when Elijah or Elisha or Moses did them, even though they did a few as well, we call them the norm.

It may seem like they were, but they weren’t.

Sure, Jesus healed many people, but He didn’t physical heal thousands of people who came to Him. He healed a paralytic who came from the roof (Mark 2), a blind man from birth (John 9), a demoniac (Mark 5), a woman with extensive bleeding (Luke 8). He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11) but not others.

The greatness of His miracles enthrall us so much that we become encouraged and inspired to believe that miracles are easily accessible, that they are commonplace, that everyone gets one. But I don’t think we do.

Because miracles are what the Bible reports, we assume they are everyday occurrences.

But maybe the actual, physical miracle should not be the focus of the sermon. If we’re honest with ourselves, we hear one or two stories about someone who received a check in the mail, or were healed completely of cancer, or they got the full scholarship when they didn’t finish their application. Miracles do happen to thousands of people. But what about the billions of people who don’t see miracles?

I think it’s too easy for ministers who have hit the jackpot to claim that their life is common. It isn’t. It’s great for them but unlikely for others.

What do we do with that?

Entire ministries are built on this false concept of common miracles. Entire lives and faiths are built on this false concept of common miracles.

But people asked Jesus for miracles.

John 4:47-48 is hard to read. What is wrong with a man asking Jesus for healing for his son? Isn’t that what a believer in Christ should do? Aren’t we healed by His stripes?

Or are we misunderstanding this healing proclamation?

Jesus sounds exasperated at the fact that people need physical miracles and physical evidence to believe. Maybe there was a way to believe without a miracle. Maybe John 4 is showing that belief had a short-lifespan unless it was sustained by miracles.

Maybe John 4 is teaching Mark 2. The first thing when the paralytic is surprisingly lowered into Jesus’ presence is forgive him of his sins. Physical healing seems to be an afterthought. Or rather, it is to shut the scribes up who complain and question Jesus pardoning anyone’s sins.

Maybe our focus is too much on the physical and miracles.

Maybe miracles are not the first thing Jesus wants us to receive from Him, but forgiveness.  

Miracles are few and far between but they are not even primary but secondary to demonstrate Jesus’ power and divinity. But all we can see is what we don’t have, whether it’s good health, money, good kids, a job, perfect parents, or perfect grades. We pray harder for our final papers than for God’s forgiveness.

Maybe our priorities are wrong. Maybe the entire point is humility. And if we don’t get the healing we want or believe God has promised us, maybe we should re-evaluate what Jesus is really healing. And be content with that.

But it’s hard when we’re in pain.

But maybe Jesus is teaching the incredibly hard lesson that forgiveness from sin and embracing humility, even amidst pain and possibly physical death is greatest. I personally think that He’s still teaching me this. None of us has mastered this subject yet. We don’t mean to or want to, but we’re failing. It will probably take the rest of our lives to pass let alone completely and totally ace this.

When we shed all traces of humanity and finally cross-over into the presence of a God whose being begets perfect understanding, I think it’ll happen. And it will be commonplace.

A Panel of Hearts/My Mouth

3 06 2010



My heart is both full and strangely empty.

I just came from the panel of amazing leaders from all over the continent of Africa: from the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Sudan. (at the panel “For Such A Time As This” during the Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute)

And their hearts were just pure. And honest. And full. And mine was empty.

I knew not of their countries hardships. Sure I heard about some of it. Sure I see when my white friends post it on their Facebook statuses. But my heart doesn’t react. And usually has a hole. But now the hole has been plugged up and I’ve realized that my heart is full.

Of pain. Of agony. Of weariness on behalf of my brothers and sisters fighting to minister, let alone exist across the Atlantic. But what I received as pain they conveyed as a bridge to hopefulness.

Africa is not lost. Africa is not a place to pity. It is a place to invest hope in for surely everyone will receive a return.

Their hearts are honest and ours longing for something. Ours being the audience…those who got to watch, soak in love, soak in justice and repent in our silent tears we wiped away. At least I did in the silent tears I quickly wiped away before anyone could see them.

These quotes and points say it all.

– Africans tribalize denominations. They are ready to die for them when no one really knows what Methodist or Presbyterian is…one’s denomination is not their Christianity.

“In forgiveness is justice.”

“How do we give up the right to revenge? Forgiveness, that is giving up the right to revenge.”

“Forgiveness is the beginning, Then begins the process of healing.” Father Emmanuel Katangole

“Pain that is not transformed is transferred.” Violet

“I think people get it wrong when you want to do something instead of just being. It’s not about ‘what you can do’ but ‘how can I come and be with you?” Celestine

“To learn the country is to learn the language.” Michael

There it is.

Sit. Listen. Be with people. Love them. Bless them because of the sheer fact that you are blessed.

An African-American minister asked what could African-Americans do to help. They all suggested friendship and partnership, coming and just listening to each other. They suggested that Africa had some things to say that the West has never asked, including African-Americans. They suggested that African-Americans can be a bridge of sorts (in my mind, I jealously wondered why I as a first or second generation Nigerian couldn’t be that bridge…the answer to come later)

THEN, John Perkins said what I’d been wanting to know. Basically he asked if African-Americans have had any type of impact because he knows that black ministers like to hear their own voices and their people feed their egos but they don’t do anything truly productive.

My sentiments exactly. Except I wasn’t thinking that black people did it but that I did it. Often. And that I can say something catchy or smart and the comments and accolades I receive all feed my ego but do not feed one hungry child who may speak the language my ancestors spoke. But I stay well fed. Gluttonous.

And my gluttony is a reflection of a sick heart.

I’m working on my hard heart. But maybe I don’t have to. Maybe God will work on it through panels of leaders who have practical requests that our churches, ministries, personal wallets and bank accounts refuse to alleviate. Maybe my mouth can be used for something other than wise sayings. Maybe it can actually do some real work and ask genuinely, “How can I be with you?”

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