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.

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Deconstructing the Masks of Racial Reconciliation

7 10 2010

Disclaimer: I am no expert on racial reconciliation, nor do I claim to be one; I write solely from my observations and experiences, but I write with the intention to identify the obvious and unspoken, the uncomfortable results of the racial reconciliation movement that we who have decided that church cannot be church without reconciling, repentant, loving, inclusive action and being have a duty to name and hopefully address honestly, not simply with reprimanding in mind, but repentant and faithful living. (and yes, that was a run-on sentence!)

Racial reconciliation should transcend the boundaries of actions that are close to but don’t purport the notion of community through sacrifice: sacrificing all that is familiar for the unfamiliar, sacrificing personal preference in order to embrace the preference of another, and especially sacrificing pre-meditated understandings of peoples and places and believing the people of those places who tell you differently. Racial reconciliation is not racial welcoming, racial tolerance, nor racial observation. It is more personal than we think. It affects more people than we think. It affects the body of Christ entirely, not just a congregation here or there. It runs deep into Jesus’ body, not as a fad, but as the life-giving connection between His blood and our worship, His veins and our stylistic preferences, His arteries and our cultures.

What it is not is un-sacrificial. It is not a runner-up to what Jesus meant when He sat, ate with and was joined by sinners. It is not achieved in the welcoming level, tolerance level, or observatory level.  

Racial welcoming comes close to what people think to be racial reconciliation, but lacks the effort and commitment to adopt a theology of discomfort from both parties covenanting to be with one another. It welcomes as long as it is not transformed into something unrecognizable, for unrecognizability resists the “predominantly” label so many churches are accustomed to having and being.

Racial tolerance is even further from the target than racial welcoming as it signals one group at the center of the Christian universe, whether they’re African, African-American, Asian, Latino, White etc and allows other to be, to a certain extent, only in light of their being. One group sets the standards and others are “appreciated” in light of how much they are not like the standard, for diversity must be celebrated, right? Celebrated but not integrated, racial tolerance gives permission for Christians outside of their majority to exist within the confines of what the majority deems Christian existence.

Racial observation rests even further on the outskirts of racial tolerance for it is simply a ministry of on-looking. It witnesses difference from afar, and witnesses from afar alone. Nothing is done to see if racial difference and cultural distinction can mean more, it is simply observed and in that observation a false sense of education is exercised, pejorative reading of the Christian church is made precisely in that inactive “education,” and the division between groups remains glaring and distinct.  

These three models of racial reconciliation I believe are more often than not, falsely practiced in place of true and Holy Spirit led racial reconciliation. They provide the foils against which true racial reconciliation can be recognized, but are utilized often because they are disguised as “we’re getting there” and “this is a messy vocation that takes time” language. These three types of models mirror the three categories of personality types present within many churches who find themselves a part of the racial reconciliation conversation. They enter into a conversation without calculating what it would cost them and thus mete out what they are willing to sacrifice, giving rigidly, contemplating giving, or convincing themselves that their interest is gift enough.

The Racially Welcoming Christian (RWC) exhibits 1 Corinthians 11 behavior (vv. 17-33). They are most than happy to sit at the table with everyone, but do not change their eating habits. They feast the same, not cognizant that even their being at the table (implying communion) has to be received differently. They commune not only for themselves with Christ, but with and for others in Christ. They love that difference exists in their midst. They embrace their brother or sister as important, imperative to their understanding God’s kingdom, valuable to and in the body of Christ. What they fail to do is change as a result of another person’s permanent place in their life. Their church body may change, but their personal theology doesn’t change much at all. They listen to the theological background of another, but do not add it to theirs since addition of another’s means subtraction of their own theological beliefs. They operate the same, but appreciate and recognize the difference in everyone. They are touched, but only changed on the surface. Nothing changes in their life, except information about other people. The information does not penetrate deeper than their intellectual capacity; it may touch their heart, but it rarely reconfigures it.  

The Racially Tolerating Christian (RTC) models the Galatians 3 confusion assuming that people are entering their world and thus need to adhere to their way of existing. The Gentile is welcomed in, but the confusion surrounds what the Gentile is entering into. It is a Jewish existence for sure, but what they misunderstand is this notion of being the “original church body” in the first place. Both groups are Gentilic, entering into a completely new existence. Chosenness rests in Jesus’ body that both, the majority and minority church body, are equally invited into. Both are bringing aspects of themselves into community together that looks messy, feels incomplete, and hurts a lot of the time, but leaves without a shadow of a doubt absolutely no room for selfish ambition to parade around as if it is God’s will. It takes both groups out of their traditions of comfort and asks them to be together uniquely and collectively. It leaves no room for human effort, but encourages desire and participation; the Holy Spirit does the rest. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, faith that His words, and body and practices did something to old ways of doing and thinking and constructed something completely new, un-like what we would deem comfortable or perfect and yet is perfect.

The Racially Observant Christian (ROC) parallels the rich, young ruler in Luke 18 (vv. 18-23). They have resources, they have culture, and they have influence and power and do not find it necessary to lose them in order to be with other people. They face Jesus and honestly think that they have done their Christian duty but cannot handle a re-drawing of the boundaries of their commitment and love. They fear that the loss of their resources will affect how others view their culture and influence although that is precisely the story of others’ lives. Their understanding of faith is contingent upon comfort. They believe themselves to be educated on the crux of a life that follows after Christ and models His ways, but are unaware of the depth of this pledge. So they choose to remain afar and give up absolutely nothing. But no doubt, continue “keeping” the commandments.

These responses and ways of being in the racial reconciliation conversation are produced from a desire to do something righteous and right, but after the cost is counted, kill and hinder true racial reconciliation’s attempt to spring forth. The messages sent forth in their failure to break out of the selfish grips of church tradition, racial and cultural purity and generational war deter us from truly seeing the form of racial reconciliation. It is an ugly one at that, a hunched over, injured, and imperfect figure that Christ calls us to. It may not have the stage for P&W (Praise & Worship), the hymnal, the fiery preacher, the contemplative chants, the whatever. Or it may have all of those together mashed together as the same thing; those interested in being reconciled must understand that racial reconciliation happens when people of those different cultures are reconciled, brought together, asked to and taught to live together.

What the racial reconciliation conversation should continue to emphasize is the “person” aspect of Christian life. The church preferences belong to the people, they come from the people. The people who swear up and down that God loves to hear Christian Contemporary Music, and guitar solos, and see young adults in small groups and mission trips are people!

Once the people recognize that it’s more than sitting beside, allowing people to sit beside and thinking about but in the end choosing not to sit beside another, but rather that it’s sitting with that person entailing changing perspectives, open dialogue, holy disagreements, and holier shifts in what one’s “particular” culture is, then racial reconciliation can truly be the strange, weird, ugly, and holy love movement Christ’s body has affectionately called “community.”





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.





My Perfume Mask

6 08 2010

I know I’m “Mrs. Anti-Vanity”, but I do have a weakness that I can no longer conceal. I am vain in one particular area of my life, scent.

I won’t buy expensive clothing, wear what’s in, wear make-up, nor fall into the shoe fetish that is many a woman’s weakness, but I will buy expensive perfume.

Not a ton at a time, but I will spend a ridiculous amount of money on a perfume whose scent I adore.

It’s an addiction. It all started seven years ago. They all started out as gifts; I’m introduced to them slowly, but then surely I get to know and then lust after them. “Dolce and Gabbana” was a high school graduation present. “White Diamond”, a Christmas present. “Amarige”, a college graduation present from my mother. That was the best piece of advice I took from my mother, make sure you smell good.  

For smelling good was just as important as looking presentable my father urged. But I only took half of their advice. I was too radical to conform to societal clothing norms.

I’m only scent-vain; see, I have a heart! (I’m socially conscious!)

But I’m scent-vain for a reason. I have this philosophy that I should use and wear the best that I have as often as I can. That’s why my shoes wear out so quickly. I wear my “good” shoes all the time. I wear my best perfume every single day (unless it’s a day where I know the bees will be out and will proceed to chase me around the block!). If you’re not going to wear it every day, why have it? Why can’t everyday be a special occasion?

The way I see it, the ground is for walking on; I never understood people who grow grass just for people to not walk on it, but to show it off.  Shoes are for wearing to get wherever we need to go; I never understood wearing shoes solely for presentation sake. Crystal dishware is for eating on; Sure it’s expensive, but there’s no point in having dishes if you don’t use them to eat more than once a year…unless you’re eating once a year. That’d be a different story and quite justifiable. And expensive perfume is for wearing, not dabbing, but wearing because if you want to smell good and deodorant only won’t do, perfume compliments your already fresh-smelling scent with a touch of elegance.

At least that’s what I tell myself. But what about sacrificing what we treasure, what I treasure?

In ministry I want to wear my best everyday or not wear it at all, for I’m sure God’s not interested in in-between dedication. He wants all of you or none of you. Not what you deem to be a special circumstance or special occasion.

He wants our kindness not only when volunteering at prison or a food bank, but when that homeless person approaches your car on 15-501 asking for any amount of money. He wants our love not only when volunteering for Vacation Bible School at our churches, but when our parents are annoying us and we’d rather ignore them. He wants our sacrifice not only when we give our usual $10 dollar offering during church, but when the church asks for money to give underprivileged kids school supplies that will cost more than our designated $20 budget.

God wants our best every single day. He wants us to anoint His head with it.

He wants us to sacrifice what we “just can’t give up”, not anointing ourselves, but to drench Him in it, pour it on Him, waste every drop of our selfishness on His perfection. (Matthew 26:6-10)   

And this hurts. It is a sweet, fatal sacrifice.  

For although sacrifices may smell like death to us – an eerie combination of flesh, blood, hair, and violence – it is a sweet aroma to God.  (Ephesians 5:2)

In sacrificing perfume, we sacrifice our masks.

That which either covers our stench of sin, or enhances our fresh scent, our self-perceived righteousness, is not ours to wear, nor anoint ourselves with. It is God’s. And we’re called to give it to Him. All of it.

And shed what once covered our human stench, what masked our human odor. We shed our mask of sweetness and give it to Jesus, for it all belongs to God.

We die to our masks just before His death.

We expose our weakness, expose our weak self to Christ and douse Him with it. He takes it in preparation for the cross. He wears our sin, our mask, our perception of what we need to be and wear and do to be acceptable before man, and wears it to the cross.

He was set on the cross, wearing my mask, my weakness, my errors, my misconceptions of myself and who I needed and need to be and dies with it on.

And my mask died with Him.

And although His dead body was supposed to be anointed with perfume again, it never was. (Mark 16:1)

Because His body, our body, my body doesn’t need it.

We wear the sweet aroma of resurrection and new life instead.





Everyone is musing, few are doing.

27 07 2010

Everyone is musing, few are doing.

Christianity has become an intellectual exercise.

It has become a selfish vault of accumulated interest and information, but when it comes to acting out what we muse over, argue about, rally around, express interest in, present differing views of, and defend to the death, we don’t do anything.

Musing seems to suffice.

Mental exercises appear more Christian than physical sacrifice.

Because we don’t know how to do it long-term. Sure we fast for Lent that rolls around once a year, but we don’t know the practice outside of the season. Of course we take trips overseas during the summer, and during the year muse, present and brag about how humble we are doing God’s work. No doubt, our volunteering once a week means something, until we exit those conditions and re-enter “normalcy.”

We can’t survive sacrifice for too long.

It’s like me and the movie “Precious”. I said it when I saw and unfortunately I can still say it today. I don’t know if I have the courage to be with the marginalized.

I can go for a summer or a week or a few hours a month, but I can’t be there. Being is entirely different from visiting.

We – I — visit the marginalized, but I don’t know how to be with them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not a Christian; it only means that I’m not where I thought I was in the slow, painful process of looking like Jesus.

Maybe I’ll muse over that.








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