Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eye on the Sparrow

In the first half of this year, the Chicago recorded over 250 murders (up 35% from 2011) mostly due to gang violence. The city recorded more casualties than Iraq & Afghanistan combined during the same time span. I never heard of the state of the city until the mass shootings in July at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were killed and 58 injured. Black commentators began to complain about the lack of coverage of the Chicago violence. Shamefully, black-on-black crime has become a dog-bites man story.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-30).

America stops in its tracks when the peace of white suburbia gets disrupted, but somehow manages to get along well with persistent violence in urban areas (as long as the victims are black).  Let a white kid get shot and you will learn their life plans, favorite flavor of ice cream, and every excruciating detail of the event. Let a black kid get shot and you will see a brief story describing the basic who, where, what and why without much further insight.

This reminds me of the day of the tragic shootings at Columbine High in April 1999. I had just arrived to my favorite class in seminary and was prepared for a stimulating discussion. A white classmate entered the room and requested that the professor cancel class because of a shooting had occurred at a school over a thousand miles away. I retorted without thinking “people got shot everyday where I’m from and the world goes on. I am not about to cry and miss a week of Kierkegaard for some people I don’t even know.”

She stared at me in horror. How can one pursuing studies in professional ministry be so cold? I had not realized how society had desensitized me myself. Coming of age during the crack era of Washington, DC did not allow for much grief. People were dropping like flies—and people you knew at that.

My high school principal was wont for ending the Monday morning announcements with who got killed over the weekend and instruct us to proceed with having a nice day.  I didn’t know what a grief counselor was until one showed up after someone I didn’t even know in my college dorm got killed in a car accident.

This occurs in the same nation founded over 200 years ago with a straight face on the principle “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” while African men and women were in bondage as chattel. The diminished value of black life was further institutionalized in the Constitution by counting them as only three-fifths of a person for the sake of apportionment.

Laws are much easier to change than attitudes.  Imagine how it must feel to grow up black in America and nobody cares if the sanctity of your life is violated. This is evident in the media obsession with details of every white woman who breaks a nail, but outlets had to be shamed into reporting on Phylicia Barnes, the black teen who went missing in Baltimore around Christmas 2011. Unfortunately, her remains were found almost four months later. Imagine what a difference timely reporting would have made.

God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). We must do likewise by valuing all human life equally. No more crying over white losses, while turning a blind eye to those of color. I hope to see prayer vigils for urban violence in suburbia. Let’s work together to reduce the propensity toward violence everywhere. No need to go abroad, there is more than enough work in our own mission fields.

How is a young person expected to treat as sacred that which all messages around them say is worthless? If no one else cares about their lives, God does. As long as God has people on the ground, there should be an outpouring every time one of his children falls. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Get A Life

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was monumental not only in the way it transcended partisan politics to deal with the constitutionality of the matter. It was also  epic in the absurdity of so-called Christians lying prostrate on the steps outside grieving with bibles in-hand over the extension of healthcare to millions who would otherwise not have access to it.

I have studied the bible more than most and cannot find anywhere in scripture that supports such a stance. Not only that, Jesus affirmed the importance of wellness to overall wholeness by healing throughout his ministry.  However, this is not about finding a literary warrant for taking a position.

Disciples are to remain in God’s spirit and allow the risen Christ to dwell in them. Abide in me, and I in you (John 15:4a). There is no evidence of God in the mockery of His name by those on the wrong side of healthcare, support for the poor, and other forms of social justice. Believers are implored to abandon oneself (f)or you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3). A real life in Christ is so evident that no bible-thumping or posturing for the cameras is necessary.

It takes a hard heart to promote the extreme commoditization of healthcare in this country. Or do you not know that (AI)your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  (I Corinthians 6:19). Physical well-being is sacred.

What kind of person stands in the gate to enforce denials based on pre-existing conditions? What sense does it make to keep coverage cost prohibitive for those who do not have employer-based plans? Moreover, why should those who can afford health insurance continue to get a free ride at the expense of taxpayers, consumers, and private payors?

Logically speaking, these are arguments that align with conservative values. Those who are so fervent about defending the abstract life a fetus should be more so about preserving fully-functional and sentient beings.  (T)he one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20b).

There are no two ways about this. Either one believes in the sanctity of life enough to fight for its preservation at all stages or those hypocrites need to go sit down somewhere. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Real Mother for You

It is quite telling that God, in all of his infinite wisdom and capabilities, chose to come to earth not by materializing mysteriously from vapor or spawning suddenly from a super-sperm. No, God chose the most natural of vessels to become one of us. He wanted a mother.

The children God created in His image fell short from the beginning. Generation after generation failed Him even more through disobedience, ingratitude, and outright rebellion.

I imagine God sitting in the heavens above witnessing no greater love on earth that that which a mother has for her children. So God called Mary and offered to go in half on a baby.  And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38a).

Knowing Jesus’ identity and purpose was all Mary needed to enable Him to fulfill it. As a child, Jesus wandered off to the temple while Mary and stepfather Joseph were returning from Jerusalem to Nazareth. They didn’t have a car to turn around. The entire caravan had to double back after walking for a day on dirt roads in sandals and search for Jesus in Jerusalem for three days. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2:49 KJV). (Only The King James Version captures how God really spake it).

That kind of sass would not go over well with an earthly father, especially in the presence of so many witnesses. A man would have to send a message to preserve his ego, but Mary understood and supported Jesus’ ministry—even unto the cross.

She was right there with him at the wedding at Cana. And you know how parents love to embarrass us at weddings. No, Mary didn’t go there about why Jesus was 30 and not yet married yet. She knew that was not his destiny. More pressing matters were at hand:
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

This account has three important elements. First, Mary saw a need and knew her child resolve it—no questions asked. Mothers know their children’s gifts and limitations. A few are delusional about what a genius or saint their offspring may be. However, for the most part, your mother will give you the unadulterated truth about yourself. In this case, the wine ran out and Mary knew her baby could hook some up to keep the party going.

Secondly, Jesus demurred. He knew he had the power, but wanted to preserve his miracles for something more redemptive. Mary knew that nothing would be more memorable for Jesus’ first miracle than to perform this act. And she was right.

Third, Mary set the stage for Jesus to perform. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” There is something authoritative about a mother’s command. The wait staff launched into action getting jars and filling them with water. Then Jesus touched them.

TThe ruler of the feast was astonished at how good Jesus’ wine was. People—from the beginning to this day—usually serve the good libations first and break out the cheap stuff after the crowd is drunk. He never lacked for followers after this. It’s not that the multitudes understood fully what Jesus’ mission was. They were holding out for some more of that really good wine.

That’s just the kind of mother I have had. I cannot imagine being the person I have become without her unconditional love, constant nurturing, and straight gangsta intervention. God bless mothers everywhere for making life so abundant for us.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

No More Drama

A few months ago, I visited one of my favorite downtown churches because I had not heard their preacher in a while. My primary intent was to break up the monotony of my own experience, without the expectation of hearing a life-changing sermon that seemed tailor-made for me.

Just as I got comfortable in my pew, Dean Snyder opens his series on prophecy by saying:
I do not think God only speaks when our experience of it is miraculous or supernatural or strange. God speaks into our lives through the words of friends and teachers and parents and coworkers and members of our small group. For every single time that God speaks in a miraculous or supernatural or weird way, God speaks a hundred thousand times in what we consider to be ordinary ways, but which are not really very ordinary at all.
I needed to hear this because God and I have drama. No fewer than a hundred times did people tell me at different points that I should be preaching. That did not suit my concept of myself so I systematically ignored them. Then God awakened me from the dark of night with an experience too cataclysmic for words and shook me to my core. I responded in faith by accepting the call, quitting my job, and moving away to attend seminary.
Snyder stated further that:
God only uses a sledgehammer when our defenses are really, really thick. God doesn't use a sledgehammer to crack open a walnut. If you've experienced a weird, supernatural, obviously miraculous prophecy in your life, it is not a compliment. It is not because you have a special gift. It is because you have a special denseness.” (Pause for the rooster to crow thrice).
It would make for good narrative if I could say that every day afterwards has been easy as Sunday morning. God and I went from gross intimacy and speaking constantly to cold distance and prolonged periods of silence. Having the gift of prophecy, it was no big thing for God to drop a word in my spirit. I had answers to questions I dared not even ask. That was special.

Here I was thinking I was special for so many years because God revealed Godself to me to in such a powerful way to reorder my world. The experience turned me into a spiritual drama mama. There have been other times since then when I heard what I wanted to hear in matters big and small. I needed an ecstatic, overwhelming experience to compel me to take leaps of faith from that point forward.

“Many of us try to protect ourselves from hearing a word from God. For many of us life is demanding enough, uncontrollable enough, without God speaking a word of new possibility to us.” (Dean, get off my feet please).

I have taken enough lumps to force me to tune my spiritual receptors to discern when God is speaking. Just as in earthly relationships, the need for drama is not healthy. Recall the story of Elijah in Kings 19:11-14. God ordered Elijah to wait on him. First came an earthquake, then a fire. God was not in either. Then came a still small voice that revealed the message from the Lord.

On the upside, history shows a strong correlation between a dramatic call experience and the recipient’s impact on history. The apostle Paul, Joan of Ark, and Harriet Tubman are good examples, among others. A little drama can light a fire, keep things interesting, and compel one to do things that do not come naturally. Addiction to drama is counterproductive and creates an environment ripe for dysfunction and abuse in both the spiritual and natural realms.  

So, so here I stand not waiting on the earthquake or fire as the only means for hearing from on high. They can be God’s means for breaking you down before building you up. Besides, I want to be found on the right side of the one who said If you love me, keep my commands (John 14:15).  He deserves no less.

My low threshold for drama in the flesh is amazing in contrast to my proclivities with engaging the other world. I have tamped it down a bit, but still welcome a little spice in my spiritual life to induce me to action.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Take It Up A Notch

Well, we are one week into the New Year and many resolutions have bitten the dust already. Really, what’s the use? Every year, we pledge to lose weight, save more, spend less, get more organized, pursue our dreams, and get closer to God. For that reason, Genesis is the most read book of the bible. We have all got a quitter inside who often gets the best of us.

A few years ago, I found myself complaining to my on-again, off-again personal trainer that the routine he prescribed for me was no longer effective. He challenged me to another session in which we did all the same exercises, but with greater resistance. I was in pain for the remainder of the week, but got amazing results. Although I was faithful to the routine, I was no longer being challenged by it. It wasn't the routine that was failing me. It was that it was no longer what I needed at that point in time.

So it is with our spiritual performance.  Last year, I challenged you all to perform a spiritual performance review in the same manner in which organizations assess its employees annually. Have you done it? Did you get it right?

The aspects of your life that require review and reflection are between you and God, before whom you stand stark naked. He knows the fruit you bear. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

The manifestation of those things can be pretty subjective and abstract. Here’s another start:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I can’t say that doing any of the above things will guarantee you eternal reward. What I can say is that doing them in Jesus’ name, that is according to His nature, will bring you a lot closer.

The journey never ends: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).