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.

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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.




When I Leave You with Peace

23 08 2010

I Google-chat a lot, and like to sign off with “Peace” as often as I can. To me “peace” is not an exit signal, but an invocation for something greater than what I am capable of doing or even being in the other person’s life.

When I say “peace” I mean it. Our conversation could be about stressful or turbulent topics that require something a bit deeper, something more thoughtful, something a bit more real than “TTYL.” Sure, talk to you later could suffice, but I’d prefer to leave my friend with something genuine. I want to leave my friend with a blessing over their day, their life, their family, their needs. Even though I am not ordained yet, I want to bless people any and every chance I get.

So a declaration of peace it is.

I want them to think about what I’m leaving them with. I want them to internalize it and begin to agree that their life should have peace; that their tragedy is capable of harboring more than pain and suffering and that somewhere in the midst of the violent chaos of despair, life can have peace. But it has to welcome it first. And they have to be aware that their pain can be overridden with something smoother, simpler, more lovely.

“Peace” is not a synonym for goodbye. It is the subject for good fortune and love over one’s life. It is the shortest prayer I have ever given in my life. It is the best prayer I will ever give my life over to.

As you can see, I pray a lot.

It is my earnest desire and deepest wish over someone else. That they are not only greeted with good fortune and success in their day, but bombarded with peace that doesn’t and shouldn’t make sense; I want them to know the Holy Spirit even before recognizing Her presence in their midst. And when they know Her, I want them to never let Her leave them.

When I depart with “peace” on my lips or on my fingertips, I mean it. It is my prayer. It is my wish that you experience something far greater than yourself or your circumstances. It is my hope that you absolve fear and doubt and grasp onto something just as real if not more real. It is love from a God who never fails, that I want to hand over to you in a small reminder packaged in 5 letters.

Please receive this blessing over your day and extend God’s gift to others.

Peace,

Tomi





Headphones

14 08 2010

Headphones

By: T.O.O.

 I need to shut out demons with headphones

A sound bite of God nestles Herself in my conscious mind and subconscious soul

And soothes

Away words and language that burn holes in my flesh

Thoughts in my ears

Lies in the dermis of my soul

Scarring me for hell, not resurrection.

I need to shut out demons with headphones

Airlifting peace and harmony into the veined places of my heart

Caressing cargo of care injected holy wonders and fluid memories

Into summer afternoons and fall sunsets

Winter moments and Spring cathedrals

Daring God’s grace to save me. And love me.  

Until I can’t feel fire anymore

I can’t hear gnashing teeth anymore

I need a barrier to barricade barrage after barrage of self-pity, doubt, hate, scorn

Suicidal mental notes to never take this life seriously again

A gifted serenade of mental notes floating far above my dreams and fantasies

Hopes and fears

Sacrificing lambs and rams filled with the sins of my songs

Doused in Hell’s hot sauce just for good measure

And redeemed

And restored

And renewed

Because it was sacrificed

I need to replace my gushing catharsis of Satan’s sanity

With God’s growing harvest

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in heaven

Hear me Holy Spirit

Help me remember music that ‘tis so sweet

I trust in Jesus

Who places Satan behind Him

Beneath Him

Revised hymns of hip hop laced blues

Jazz-infused psalms of God’s heaven and grace

Comfort me, cover me, in wings, windows and words

That open up worlds unknown –

Submerged in headphones.








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