Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman

18 08 2011

* Warning: These are my initial  thoughts. Things can change after some sleep and time to process, but alas, I  am avoiding both to get down my thoughts now*

 

Being a Student

In  a class I took a few semesters ago, a student was recalling a point he made in his weekly writing assignment about the role of white women and the power they possess in the difficult journey of Harriet Jacobs.

Unfortunately, a few pompous students pounced on his point arguing that the dynamics he saw
did not exist in the narrative. But they did. Because I wrote about it too but never had the courage to speak up in that moment and stand beside him.

Watching “The Help” painfully reminded me of what was there in the narrative of the seemingly helpless white woman that no one truly saw that day.

 

Being a Woman

I don’t think I’ve EVER felt this emotionally or physically queasy after watching a movie, than I did after watching “The Help”. Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is a story about one young white woman’s quest to tell the stories of the black female maids in 1960s Mississippi, or as they are commonly referred to, the help.

Skipping the plot summary and all, I just want to put this out there. The movie’s point is pretty clear: black female voices need to be heard about the injustice and blatant racism they encounter. The subconscious point is also clear: no matter how many victories and feel good moments the movie invites us into, the larger narrative points to the reality that black women are still the help. They still reside in the social constructs and constrictions of being black in arguably the most racist state of the South.

I get this.

What I don’t get is what to do with these feelings.

Ironically enough, white women are painted as the faces of evil in this film. So, from the first moments of the film I found myself asking, “Should I hate white women?” What is even more ironic is that white women are also the heroes and protagonists of the film. So, I had to ask myself, “Should I hate some white women and love the others?” Or perhaps, I should love the white women who don’t belong and end up being the crucified of the bunch. The awkward, educated but socially conscious prophetess. The economic outsider, but innocent innovator.

What do I do with all these white women and the complex psyches they fight through? And what do I do with the warm fuzzy feelings that these white women help paint in a socially horrific movie?

Directly after the movie I found myself telling the brave souls who went to see it with me, “I found myself ready to let go and cry at the touching moments, but then my conscious slapped me awake to the larger reality that no matter how many sappy moments this movie possesses and professes, black people’s lives still suck.” Please forgive my bitter language.

But it’s true. Their life still sucks. Their life still sucks even after they get a portion of the book’s earnings, even when they get a signed copy of the book, and even when something is finally done for them for once. Their life still sucks. They’re still caught in the web of racism, and hate, even after they’ve worked their entire lives to dispel the false rumors that garnered hate in the first place.

Yes, the larger narrative still looms: these women are discerning the best way to live life in hell. And in my opinion, hell is still hell.

Being African

What I do greatly appreciate about this movie is how my perspective has been broadened and challenged. As one who grew up in the cross-hairs of the African perspective and African American church, I’m starting to see why the black church is so important to many of my peers. I thought I knew, but I’m starting to see how much more there is to learn.

As a black person I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the entire movie. But I have a pass. I don’t come from slave descendants. My grand and great grandparents did not deal with what the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of my peers did.

The black church has concrete significance. It was a way to survive hell on earth. It was where God dwelled when Satan loomed in the law, and the people and the churches of the Jim Crow South.

The things I challenge within the black church today like tradition of dress and even some points of theology were not in question. They were clung to. They were life.

I see that now, and hope to continue to see it as I figure out what role the black church plays today.

Being Christian

I love how this movie did a great job portraying the evils of segregation within the principles of Christian people. How outrageous the whole thing is displays the genius of this movie. Yes, Christians believed that their prejudice and hate was genuinely the right thing to do for their well-being and the well-being of their families.

Being a Christian in “The Help”, in a sense, portrayed the nuclear family as the church that needed to be protected, kept holy, kept clean from the influences and “diseases” of “others.” The community became constricted, the Bible a handbook of supremacy and domination, and the church monolithic. And white-washed.

How the white church saw the black church was never really engaged, which I would have loved to see portrayed. I imagine that it would fit comfortably within the narrative: expressing a complicated love and even more subtle disgust and hate.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:16-18)

22 12 2010

Proverbs 3:16-18
16Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.
 
I missed my reflection yesterday due to a combination of factors including limited computer access and laziness (I still had the option to hand-write it if I were super-serious, but since there’s no use crying over spilled milk I’ll move on). Later on today, I get to reflect twice!
 
In verse 16 God’s wisdom holds things in her hands that we do not need but that we desire. Oddly enough when I read this passage, my mind automatically roams to a rap song from the late 1990s that narrated the antithesis of this three-fold blessing. The song was called “Money, Power, Respect.” It named money, power and respect as the trinity of penultimate happiness, love and success. It named these three things as important to be added to a person in order to make it. But this trinity of success is best supported by aggressive action, instinctual defensiveness, and a tough mentality that survives on “I need to get you before you get me.” It thrives on paranoia.
 
And it thrives on paranoia because is it self-attained. It is not given; it is taken. Therefore, it must be defended to the death, guarded from everyone, and it can never be truly enjoyed because it was acquired only to be briefly flaunted and largely guarded.
 
Verse 16 presents a different trinity of success similar to but different than MPR. They are transformed from ordinary desires to spiritual desires. They offer expanded definitions of longevity, wealth and respect. They take on a fuller meaning than immediate comfort and typical demonstrations of success. Long life, riches and honor are advertised as the possessions wisdom so gracefully carries in her hands, offerings of some sort ready to be released in a worship space or at the foot of some altar.
 
But not at our feet. At least that was not what I was expecting. I didn’t expect the offering to be something available to me, but I expect it to be something I would have to hope for, wait for, but most importantly something reserved for the perfect saints. Not me. But it is for me.
 
There’s something holy about the right hand. It is a place of distinction and honor, and it holds long life. It holds longevity, legacy, continuation. Like a prized possession and a treasured gift wisdom’s place of honor lifts up life.
 
The left-hand is important too for it holds two things, riches and honor. It holds wealth and distinction. It holds an abundance of stuff and love and many other things coupled with respect from others, being looked upon and considered highly. It holds things given to us by family and strangers, the earth and by God. It enhances what the right hand holds.  
 
But wisdom not only holds intricate and life-changing details about ourselves, our calls, and our destiny’s. Wisdom paves ways. Verse 17 describes wisdoms ways as pleasant, and her paths as peace, not peaceful, but peace. Ephesians 6 paints this delightful picture of the Gospel as the Gospel of peace that our feet are shod, or covered with. Our feet are covered in the preparation of the Gospel of peace, of the way it has made for myself and for others. Wisdom treads down that same path and we are to follow her. The ways of wisdom are pleasant and the paths of wisdom are Gospel-like. They are peace.
 
Wisdom carries life-changing desires, creates paths towards peace and is a life-source. If we cling to her, her life runs through us and empowers us. If we become rooted in her, we gain life and we gain happiness.
 
Prayer: Lord, we want to be happy. Give us Your wisdom. Lord, we’re desperate for Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:13-15)

19 12 2010

Proverbs 3:13-15

13Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
14for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
15She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Wisdom is supposed to do something to us. It’s supposed to change our demeanor. It’s supposed to invoke in us a sense of divine satisfaction where we submit to this feeling called happy. It has this power to determine our mood and how we think about life from that moment until the next moment. It lives in time and does something to how we receive life where we enjoy it and relish it and cherish it. It’s supposed to make us smile.

But that’s only if we find her.

Happy are those who find wisdom. It’s almost as if we’re happy because of the action of finding. It’s almost as if we take more satisfaction in achieving discovery. It’s almost as if the journey creates the path towards our joy when we finally reach this destination called wisdom. When we finally find her, other emotions may very well exist within us, but the dominant trait we bear is happy. The journey towards happiness witnesses to something great within us, the ability to search albeit not consistently, but nevertheless we search. The destination attests to our determination to discover something we do not already have. We look for it in hopes of one day having it. Just like with school where we work for years for the end-result degree, this journey towards wisdom may take years of work, some good and some bad, but in the end, work. We are constantly moving in a direction to have something that, in my opinion, we’ve already started getting all along the journey. Like the building of knowledge in school, our wisdom is built upon day to day repetition of journeying and searching.

We meet her on the way, we realize we’ve been alongside her when we fall and we shudder, partly in fear and partly with amazement when we realize that we had been journeying without her guidance for so long.

The same applies to understanding, revelation, realizing reality—wisdom unfurled.  

We go get her. We take the active steps of retrieval and end up successful because we resolved to make the journey in the first place. To me this is fabulous news, that we are rewarded for the effort, not the performance but for wanting her and going to get her. Because this requires discomfort and not having control, and not searching perfectly, and not saying all the spiritual things we think we should, and not having an organ or three-part harmony because our wailing and crying out in desperation isn’t supposed to harmonize or match up perfectly or play out smoothly. But we encounter real, raw life and errors and the daunting reality that our spiritual journeying is ugly and dirty and soiled and soaked in our human efforts, but honored by the pure Holy Spirit.

We are honored as we seek the honor of finding and getting wisdom and understanding.

Our work is honored. The income of wisdom (and understanding) is more than what money can bring or imply. The income is more than the things we work our entire lives to get so we can live in or with them, but the income is something that lives in and with us. It never leaves us. It never leaves us broke…although we had to be broken to earn her.

Wisdom’s return in our lives earns more for us than gold could ever earn. The knowledge, keenness, awareness, smart-mindedness etc. gives us more than what we think we need to survive. We need wisdom to survive, not gold, not silver, not a big church, not a four-bedroom house we don’t use properly, not more clothes than we can ever wear, not attention from men who we know will never love and respect the way God does…we need wisdom, not stuff or attention from certain people, for wisdom tells us what to do with stuff and people and feelings and touch circumstances and mourning and lament and joy and happiness. Wisdom has the wherewithal to keep us one step ahead of the best dreams we can conjure up for ourselves.

We have to give up the dreams of others that we’ve adopted for ourselves. Cliques cant do for us what God’s wisdom has done, continues to do and can do. Doing whatever we want can’t give us anything better than what God’s wisdom can. Hating people and parties and races and classes can’t give us anything that will help and heal us like wisdom can. Music can’t touch wisdom. Our perfect spouse, our perfect selves, our “I’m not imperfect” attitude that we’ve made into an idol can’t outdo wisdom. For wisdom and understanding doesn’t put up with that. She calls it out; she calls us out, out of wherever we are struggle into a struggle with purpose. We battle ourselves and God and the devil and wisdom teaches us when and how to fight and when and how to surrender.  

Wisdom is on another level than our desires. Our desires fall short, look bland, and appear miniscule in the face of wisdom. When we understand and realize that the wise thing to do trumps what “we feel is the best thing for us” then we’ve begun to allow wisdom to journey with us as the leader through this uncertain life. In this journey we will know for certain that our happiness didn’t come from us, but in our decision, in our will to trust wisdom and to follow God.

Prayer: Lord, we want Your wisdom. Kill whatever You must within, around, above, and chained to us so that we may submit to a Perfect Will ultimately working towards our happiness. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:9-10)

17 12 2010

Proverbs 3:9-10

9Honor the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

These verses remind me of the prime texts some preachers would use to preach a Prosperity Gospel that doesn’t really honor God. Their sermon or lesson begins off as something legitimate but then quickly turns into something that exerts “God has to fix your credit”, “God will give you a check in the mail”, “God shall eliminate your debt” and the list goes on and on. These things aren’t entirely bad and I’m sure they are the wish of every single person who has some sort of school loan or mortgage to pay (I have gone through periods where I literally prayed that God would send me a check in the mail to cover this or that. But over time I realized that this type of testimony is most likely the exception more than the rule which says something awesome about our God that God doesn’t do the same thing for everyone). Trusting God to be present and active, working out our problems is not a bad thing at all, but the misrepresentation of God and the misunderstanding of our purpose through our misunderstanding of God is a bad thing, a moral mistake.

If our hearts are so consumed with stuff like debt, aesthetics, or buying the best Christmas gifts so we can get praise and feel good about ourselves for five minutes, then we’ve succeeded at honoring ourselves but we haven’t done a good job in honoring the Lord. Sure, we can argue that our concern and love for our appearance and the material well-being of others is not about us, but it’s about making others happy. But at best this is a weak argument avoiding the deeper layers of true motive and honest intention.

Where Prosperity preaching goes wrong is the order in which they approach the text. They speak about God first. To be fair, it doesn’t always begin with money. In fact, it begins with exploring God within the text, but then what God does for us takes over and becomes the focal point of being God’s child, worship, church, tithing, etc. God doesn’t remain the focus but we place ourselves as the focal point of God’s word.

With this text even the Prosperity preacher would engage God first: “Tithing is a form of honoring God with our substance. We pay respect to, we worship the Lord fully through what we have. Giving to, supporting, and upholding the church should be your first priority if God is first in your life. And even if you’re new the faith or church hasn’t clicked all the way for you yet or if you’re still learning the word of God, tithe now and God will build up something in you in time. God will honor your sacrifice.”

And this is legitimate, but it is ultimately a set-up for our reward, what we receive as a result of honoring God. The rest of the sermon may entail exhortation that “Tithing opens up the floodgates for financial reward! You will be blessed with more than you can imagine! You will receive material and financial blessing that only God can give! God multiplies spiritually so that we reap those rewards when we honor God and give ten percent! God sees the little that you are willing to give and multiples it beyond what you can count. God will turn that seed you sow into the church into a plant that you can feed off later. Like the widow who gave her last in 1 Kings 17, God will not let your oil and flour run out!”

And this is true, but again, this is not the focus. When we praise God for what God is going to do more than we praise God for just being God, something is amiss. When we question that God has randomly provided $100 for our electricity bill rather than sending a check in the mail to pay our $15,000 credit card debt, something is wrong. We are not the focus. We need to remove ourselves from the center. We need to get off the throne and reposition ourselves at the foot of the throne. The text says that if we honor God with our substance, the stuff from us, what lies at the heart of our cherished things, and give God the best of it, then we will have plenty. If we give the best of our time, writing, art, singing, cooking, administrative skills, business savvy, warmth, smiles, hugs, prayer, love, and even stuff like clothing and money, then we will get enough to eat and drink, enough to live off of. We will get enough, we won’t always get it all, but we will get enough.

Perhaps we need to shed the “exception” mindset and preaching that we wish for and thus place within God’s word and embrace the “rule reality”. The reality is, God works amidst our working and 9 times out of 10 it won’t be with what we dreamed of.

God gives enough. If we ask for a 3 story house, God gives us a three-bedroom one story condo. If we ask for a Mercedes-Benz, God will give us a Honda we can name Mercedes. If we ask for $200,000 to pay off loans, God will give us a job that makes enough where we can begin to pay off those loans over the course of time. If we ask for a husband or wife, God will keep us single another 10 years to be sharpened and made wise, kind, loving, and ready for that person (if that is what God even intends for us…maybe we should ask God to show us what we are supposed to be doing and get busy doing that instead).

I think pastors who make hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year are an exception; they are like kings who owned tons of land and money and had influence were. Perhaps this pastor-king parallel provides a warning of us moving away from God towards governance by people (let’s learn from Israel).

I think that true prophets and prophetesses are exceptions; they do not claim their title with joy but remorse for their life is a continuous cycle of rejection because of the message they not only give but carry within themselves. Their office isn’t one that was designed to be exploited for conferences, but their office imprints on their lives loneliness and pursuit. As they pursue God, they are pursued. They are chased, hated, stoned, and killed. They aren’t accommodated, they are exiled. Modern day exhorters claiming to be prophets should consider this; the prophetic office is not one to be utilized for fame or feeling that you’re finally existing within a “purpose”. We have to be very careful about this…  

I think that checks can come in the mail, but that they will most likely come as a salary reimbursement God withheld from you until you needed it. I think that your debt can be paid, but that it can be done the old-fashioned way, with a job. I think that you can get a nice car or house if God gives you the wisdom to save and pay for it yourself. God holds, changes, draws from and utilizes things we first step out and do. God blesses our commitment to live faithfully, not lazily. God blesses the foot we put forward by giving us more stable ground to walk on. But we must walk, sometimes run, sometimes limp, but it is us making the decision and taking the action to move forward. I believe that God never lifts us up on a cloud to fly above and way from our problems; we’re not Elijah. And we don’t want to be. Elijah received this rare event after a life-time of fulfilling his difficult prophetic calling. Hard work is involved in the blessing, heck, work is involved in the blessing.

I know what I’m describing isn’t exciting blessing, but it is the blessing of “plenty and bursting”. God gives us plenty and this plenty bursts forth so that others may see what God has done and inquires about our God. And God is introduced as a faithful Father, a loving Provider, and a Keeper of our minds and bodies so that we may honor God with our beings. God is not the debt-eraser, but the sin-eliminator. God is not the house-giver, but the mercy-granter. God is not the love-doctor, but God is love.  

Don’t get me wrong, God owns everything. I’m sure God could give us money and a comfortable lifestyle, but I’m not sure God would want to. If getting what we want means that we look to God as Provider only, that we curse God to be Jehovah Jireh alone, we’ve moved away from the purpose God created us for, to worship God. Our purpose isn’t to exist comfortably, but to be God’s, not to belong to money or comfort. If getting what we want implodes a religious pluralism within our beings where the money-god and comfort-god take root alongside God, then it’s not worth it. God can’t be limited to financial healer or “blesser” alone. God is too God to be limited. So I ask that God not give me what I want, but only what I need. I ask that God give me “just plenty” so that I may burst forth with joy and gratitude that a loving God who already did it all in dying for me and my sins loves me enough to still give me anything at all.

I guess it’s about perspective. But I’m afraid that humanity is too fickle to promise not to worship what we get. Therefore I don’t want us to get it all, but just some of it. I want us to do what we are supposed to do anyway giving God our substance and produce: our time, family, and talents and anything else that means everything to us. I want us to give back to God what God has already blessed us tremendously with.

Maybe we would preach a Prosperity Gospel that emphasizes tithing 100% of our best qualities, our best abilities, our time, our love, our concentration and attention. We would preach a Gospel that sees our best as unable to be enhanced with money, but with and through God. We would preach giving God us first and foremost and what it would feel and be like to experience this; what joy, happiness, love, and kind-heartedness we would not simply feel but be. We would be like God. What if Prosperity was a process of becoming God-like? One thing is for sure, there would be enough for everyone.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that our transformation to be like and look like Jesus doesn’t come to us through the mail or a debt cancellation or a tummy tuck, but that it comes quickly and slowly all in the same moment into our hearts, a peaceful and painful process that yields a different kind of wealth unhindered. Lord, may we rejoice in enough. It’s in the name of the Savior who is enough and more than enough, Jesus the Christ, Amen.





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 Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:5-6)

15 12 2010

So I’m trying something new.

Since about a month ago, I took to writing a reflection on a short piece of scripture everyday and a prayer at the end to culminate the heart of my reflection. It has been a liberating exercise. When I “officially” stopped about two weeks ago, something felt empty, so I returned to it.

Before, I had only been posting the prayers since the reflections were “positively painful” and necessary for me. I discovered a new realm of confession, a realm of cyber-confession if you will. It did my heart good and is still is.

Two days ago I broke my routine of reflecting on Proverbs; I interjected Luke 1 for a special Advent reflection and it was great. I posted that reflection on this blog and I think it’s time to post some, if not most, if not all of these Proverbs reflections too for whoever wants to share in reflection with me. Please enjoy reflecting with me on the wisdom of proverbs.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Proverbs 3:5-6

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

I love this charge; I love the challenge to trust the Lord with all our heart. It leaves no room to be haphazard with God. Our trust can’t be hit-and-miss. This command-like statement begs us to give all of our faith to God, not to ration our faith out to luck, our abilities, the networks we have, our race, our gender, or church affiliations, our pastors, our fraternities and sororities, etc. Sure, God can use those things and show us favor or grace whether we think of them as good or bad things, but God wants all our trust. It is when we give God everything we hope for that God will divvy out where God’s favor and grace will surprise and bless us.  

I trust in a lot of things and tack on “please Lord” at the end of spending my trust in people or chance or luck. But I think I want to reverse that; but reversal requires a reversal of thinking which is more difficult than I want it to be. This means I can’t trust the experience, grades, contacts and references on my resume. This means I can’t trust the powerful people I know who can make things happen. This means I can’t trust my favorite people and friends. I can’t trust my family. I can trust that God uses my resume, contacts, friends and family, but it means I trust in God only. For my own insight and reasoning doesn’t see that my resume doesn’t have what the company is looking for, doesn’t realize that that prestigious school I hope will admit me doesn’t know the people I know, my friends can’t relate to everything I go through and my family will not support me 100% of the time. It’s a fact; our insight only sees things one-dimensionally. God looks at the whole picture, just as God looks at the whole heart. And God desires our whole heart. The Creator of the Universe wants us to believe that the best is in store for us when we put all of our trust in God.

But God not only wants our trust, our belief not in our rationale, but God also wants our lives to be a testimony towards and of God. God wants not only our inward contemplation and wrestling, but God wants our outward action too. God wants our entire lives. God wants the inward and the outward. God wants our fears, doubts, low self-esteem, depression, hate, hurt, intention to harm, love, joy—everything the heart is and believes in at one point or another—and God wants us to trust not in those emotions and feelings whether they are justified or not, but God wants us to trust in God’s self. This can mean forgiveness where it is not deserved, leaving something or someone who did nothing wrong to you simply because it’s time to move on, joining someone or something because God said so, asking for that extension on a paper even when the stern professor forewarned it wouldn’t be granted, asking for vacation or a raise even when you have already received it—it involves a lot of non-sensical actions because our belief in the goodness and omniscience of God powers us to do so. Trusting in God means trusting in what the world calls foolish and making the world look foolish when we are blessed bountifully or receive unmerited favor (everyone else may say that we are “very lucky”). God doesn’t only want us to believe in and obey God’s command to do something, say something, be something that seems impossible and see God’s goodness in its manifestation, but God wants our decisive actions.

God wants our ways. God wants when we act this way or that way. God wants our silliness, our friendliness, our toughness, the way we avoid trouble or difficult or uncomfortable circumstances, our street-smartness, our innocence, our ignorance, our knowledge, the way we get when we’re mad, our passive aggressiveness, our straight-forwardness, our silence, our stillness, our go-get-it attitude, our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality, the way we get when we’re scared, the way we act when we’re happy, hurt, speechless, the way we grin, the way we laugh, the way we admire and love—God wants all of our ways to point back to God, even our imperfect, human ways of approaching and dealing with life because they have the potential to, even in their imperfection, meet God’s grace and give God glory.

Even our crooked attitudes, mentality, thinking, tones, facial expressions, heart-conversations can be stretched in the right directions towards perfect alignment to the throne of God. They can be broken and re-patched with the bonding agent of the Holy Spirit. The bonding agent of slavery to Christ (this would be a great discussion to have one day) will straighten out the way we live with people. The permanent bond God chose when choosing Israel so that all may be chosen for salvation will smooth out our painfully arched perspectives to life and love. Jesus’ binding to a cross binding our sin to oblivion will patch up our wounds and help us heal correctly, into a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary turns and twists and painful dead-ends, but leads us towards a destiny straight to the throne of God. Our lives are a branch of worship towards the Lord. We fall from our feet to God’s feet in precious ritual and worship. Our destination is the foot of the cross, at the feet of our brethren, at the foot of God’s throne. And it is at God’s feet that we can joyfully realize that we are in God’s kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, keep us low. Keep us at ground-level. We need to be at Your feet to realize that at the feet of others is where the Kingdom is in-breaking. Lord, may we meet You on the ground and not in the sky. Help us look for You where we don’t always want to look but know where You will be. It’s in Jesus’ name, our God who humbly washed the feet of His disciples’ name I pray, Amen.





The Glorious Gospels (The Advent Addition)

13 12 2010

Luke 1:26-45

I’m a member of a small predominantly white Presbyterian church in North Durham where people of African-descent make up approximately one-third of the congregation. I’ll be forthcoming with you, I am in this church, a church unlike any church I have ever been in, because I am interested in seeing something major happen: I want to see racial reconciliation wrestled with and I want it to overpower us leaving us limping but re-named, disabled to do what we used to do, but able to move gingerly and with more care. With younger graduate and college students becoming more and more regular the percentage of African-Americans may very well decrease sharply which can be disheartening, but this potential is not as disheartening as another statistic within my church.

As an American African young woman, I’ve already been limping throughout this difficult ecclesial shifting process. I’ve lost a number of things, all for the sake of walking with the Lord more faithfully. And it hurts severely every single step of the way; and some sort of ecclesial hip-replacement is not an option. I journey on though, because I do not believe I am called to join a young, vibrant African-American church where worship music and preaching style are what I am most accustomed to, or go to a Nigerian church where I could appreciate a few cultural nuances, but I feel called to a church opposite myself. And I believe with my whole heart that right now I am supposed to be a part of it. But many times I literally feel that I can’t be this church, not because if my race, my ethnicity or my gender, but because of my age.

Cultural differences aside as they are an entirely separate conversation, age-difference is unfortunately and currently too big to overcome. The age of Ageism is alive and well in my church and in the church in general today. I see it all over the place– young all black and all white non-denominational churches are springing up as old white and black mainline churches are dying or barely surviving. Young adults go elsewhere to worship; they create the space for worship that consults their age and time because there is no room for their being amongst the heavy older traditions in many mainline churches. Even young mainline churches are a falsity—they seem to be more like a non-denominational body dressed up in mainline clothing, exercising the appearance of tradition but operating differently.

There is an apparent divide that both young and old church see, but neither know how to nor want to suture back together, because frankly, both groups, young and old, don’t need each other. They have their space for and way of worship and the other group has theirs. Everyone is happy, fine, thriving in their own way; there is no need to continue naming a “problem” that many see as the other’s fault anyway. If the other would just do it their way then all would be well. There is no need for correction or inclusion; division rules the day!

And I do not understand why. I see a problem, a huge problem– the body of Christ, the church, has missed something vastly commented on throughout scripture; we have completely missed how scripture guides and addresses age-discrepancy. We have mastered ignoring the potential for solution. It is problematic not only that both groups do not care for the other enough to sit down and realize church together, but also that they must create pseudo-churches to live church guilt-free “having it their way” projecting their desires onto how the church is supposed to function.

Something is amiss, and a joyous moment of connect between two Jewish women carrying children shows us this in a gentle way.  

Elizabeth and Mary, relatives old and young are both pregnant, Elizabeth two-thirds of the way further along than Mary is too old to have a child. Mary, a young teenager engaged to be married is too unmarried to have a child. Both women are excited because they have the honor of visits from Gabriel to relay a message that the children they carry will do great things: one will point to the other who is making a way for the world to be saved.

But they are both different ages and both bearers for future and important ministries. And they don’t ignore the other to brag that their child will be better than the other’s. No, they both rejoice that the other has a minister within them and they gloat not only over their own pregnancies but the life inside the other woman. They are giggly and excited because the other is also bringing something into this world that the world needs to be saved.

Mary doesn’t gloat that as the young mother-to-be she bears the “best baby” and that the older Elizabeth’s contribution isn’t important; Elizabeth doesn’t gloat that since she will be a mother first that her experience cancels out the voice of the younger Mary. Both babies are prophetic witnesses to the loving and saving power of God. One isn’t God but baptizes God. Both live sacrificial lives that ultimately lead to their grotesque demises. But both mothers, old and young rejoice with each other.

Luke 1:39-45 says it all.

The ministry of the eldest leaps with joy when the younger comes bearing a ministry too. What is most awesome is that the older gets the Holy Spirit in the presence of the younger mother. Her baby gives the greeting, paves the way for the ministry of the younger and she catches the Holy Spirit. She is overcome by a Spirit of joy and wisdom and power. The eldest does not receive the Spirit because of the younger per se, but because she is happy to be with the younger, to see the younger, to welcome the younger into her home and into her spirit, she feels within in her joy for the younger’s ministry. Their ministries connect in that moment bound by the wondrous power of the Holy Spirit; and it overtook Elizabeth (Mary has her own moment later, see Luke 1:46-55). The Holy Spirit repeats Gabrielle’s words through Elizabeth. The older blesses the younger, she doesn’t discourage. The younger is blessed because she accepted God’s will for the ministry that would be birthed through her.  The older encouraged the younger. The older was humbled by the presence of the younger because she had something special in her.
 
And Mary sings directly after this overwhelmed by her joy and the joy of her older relative Elizabeth. This moment doesn’t become a moment of comparing ministerial efficacy but a moment to praise God. John praises. Elizabeth praises. Mary praises. The Son of God, God in the flesh, is coming.

 

The ministry of the old doesn’t scold or judge the young, the ministry of the young doesn’t ignore or gloat in the face of the older claiming to carry something better. But both praise God. Both honor one another. Mary first greets Elizabeth, then Elizabeth overwhelmed with joy and God’s Spirit, blesses Mary. Ironically in giving this blessing, Elizabeth wears the prophetic cloak that her son will soon enough wear. Her role is just as important as her son’s role.
 
The women, the ministries complement one another. They don’t compete. They don’t call each other irrelevant or to blame the other for the state of the church, but they come together, love the other’s presence, and worship God together, still in their own voices, but together. At the end of the day, all the glory went to God, not the bodies who carried the ministries, but to the Creator of the bodies, the Creator of the church, to Jesus the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit dwelled within them and they allowed Her to move them towards words of praise and song. Old and young disintegrated into praise and worship. And reconciliation reached its peak.
 
Prayer: Holy Spirit bring blessings to our lips for the other and a song to our heart for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.







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