Thursday, September 25, 2008

Own Your Faith - Class #2

The second class of "Own Your Faith" was such a tremendous blessing for me and for the kids too. I am not hung up over the amount of kids that showed up, honestly (only two this time - Bridgette and Chris again). I have been so inspired to keep conversing with them and teaching them about the Bible and what faith really means.

After debriefing for a bit about their day at school and what the best parts of their separate journeys were, I asked them a simple question about their favorite fairy tales. They named a couple - Chris even mentioned a myth he had learned about in his mythology class that day (Hercules). Then I asked them what a fairy tale actually was, what it was meant to do. We came up with the conclusion that fairy tales are stories that could never happen but still deliver a message for little kids to learn. My next question, as I placed my finger on top of my worn black leather Bible, was why is the Bible not a fairy tale?

Bridgette shrugged her shoulders and said as simply profound as any teenager ever could: "Because it really happened."

I smiled at her and knew then that she remembered the first lesson I taught them when the class began. The Bible is not simply a book you read and put back on the shelf. You read about the lives of real people that walked this earth and the God that intervened into their lives, desiring relationship with the men and women He made.

Then we dived in. Our character this week was Abraham. We had left off with Noah last time, and instead of reading the geneological listing of his offspring, I segued into the lesson with the message that God allowed all these generations to exist after Noah and the flood and you don't see Him selecting another man to carry out His mission on this earth. And then all of a sudden God decided to choose Abraham (then named Abram) out of his whole family along with his barren wife.

I asked them what they thought about that - the ability for God to choose a seemingly insignificant person out of a family and use him or her in such a tremendous way. I told them that they, like Abraham, were called by God to fulfill their own special missions on this earth.

After getting introduced to Abraham (Abram) and reading of God's designation for him to travel to another place away from his family and all he had ever known, we read and talked about God's promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age. Because we had already determined that the stories we were reading really happened and were true, we dissected what that had to mean to Abraham and Sarah to produce a son in their later years. I kept highlighting their ages - when God first gave the promise and when the child was finally born. Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when their son Isaac was born.

And the kids got stuck there for a minute because after all, as I said over and over, 100 is still 100. Old is still old. I had the kids imagine a 90 year old woman giving birth to a child. That rocked their boats and got their minds to spinning. Those two kids really contemplated what a miracle that had to have been. We talked about the power of God to do the impossible in really difficult circumstances, and they really started to get it.

The next landmark we stopped to look at was the story of Abraham's willingness to obey God again and sacrifice his son. Chris said, "You mean to tell me the son that God promised, the son a 100 year old man was given, God told commanded that father to kill him?! No way! He didn't kill that boy, did he?"

I didn't answer his question; just told him we would find out. I laughed at his expression, his words, the way Bridgette shook her head in disbelief as she poked her nose into the pages of her Bible to see for herself if what I had said was true. The ironic thing was that the minister that spoke this past Sunday came from the same Bible passage (Genesis 22) and talked about the sacrifice of true worship. We began to dissect this passage indepthly as the kids contemplated what God was really asking Abraham to do to this promised child and Abraham's decision to obey.

They read for themselves, not waiting for me to read with them. They wanted to know the answers. And when they reached the part of the true miracle, I knew it. Chris sat back in his chair, smiling and breathing a sigh of relief that Isaac ( the promised seed) was spared. We talked about how God waited until just the moment Abraham was about to kill his son and then stopped him. God waited to see how far his obedience would take him.

This class was amazing, with just these two teens. They asked so many questions, I gave so many analogies and modern day as well as personal applications to the Words we were reading. And I could see the light bulbs go on. I believe they learned a little more about what faith in God really means. The disconnection between real life and "church life" was reconnected just a little bit when we began to talk about what Christianity has to mean.

I told them we as Christians believe in a God that can do the impossible, that has loved us so much that He gave up His Son in much the same way Abraham was about to, and that commands us to show that same measure of love to a dying world - to the people around us that are depressed, lonely, scared, isolated, and hopeless. That is our call.

I brought it home that way after talking about my own mistakes in this area. I told them how God taught me this same lesson the week before when I took a tour of a morgue in Macomb County and heard the story of one of the deceased men in that morgue that committed suicide, I could tell from the tears in Bridgette's eyes and the solemn look on Chris' face that I had touched them in some way. I can't wait to see the end result. I can't wait to see the Word of God germinate in their own lives.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Am Not Sure Where I Stand

I am a Christian. I say that from the start. I have truly been a lover of God and His Christ since I was a little girl. So there is no issue there.

But as I have been thinking about the changes my heart and my life need to make while I climb deeper into my 30s, I am not certain of the "other things" that being a Christian in this world means. We are identified by the churches we attend, the ministries that we affiliate ourselves with, the denominational platforms up on which we stand. I have attended three churches in my entire lifetime, rooted in different ways in the African-American community out of which I was culturally and spiritually born: African-Methodist Episcopal, Full Gospel Baptist, and Church of God in Christ. And on top of all that, I attended a colleged immersed in Reformed theology - which is a predominantly White denomination.

I never understood or wanted to understand any of the philosophies that make these churches or the school I attended so different from one another. I never wanted to be a part of separatism in any form, due largely in part to the isolation and loneliness of my upbringing. For me denominationalism breeds separatism which in turn breeds loneliness, isolation, and mistrust for others that may or may not believe the same traditional things. I always stood on the belief that as long as we agree that God is Who He says He is, that Jesus is Who He says He is, the Holy Spirit does what He was sent to do, and the Godhead Trinity still invades our sinful lives through a Bloody Redemption, there is nothing else to be concerned about.

Perhaps that is naive, but I am not comfortable looking for any other reasons to be defined as separate from others. Humanity divides enough by color, classism, racism, economics, and even demographics. The Body of Christ has no right to do that; we are supposed to stand on Kingdom Principles. That is our call.

Somehow that has gotten missed in the whole scheme of things.

I am encountering some truths right now about this. I am not so sure of what my commitment must look like to the world. I am not sure of the faith circle that I am to enter after my season is up at the church I attend right now. One resolution I am certain of is that my choice must resonate with God's will for my life, and I believe that He wants me to step out of the box of denominational walls.

I have been studying and seeking for about six months now. I am not seeking faith, in and of itself. I am seeking a place, a church that is not interested in being separated from other members of the Body of Christ. I have courted some expressions of Christian faith, such as the Emergent Church Movement and although I admire the stance some of the leaders of this movement take on social justice and faith matters, I am not completely convinced that is the place I need to be either.

There are so many elements to joining a ministry that people fail to understand. The one basic element is whether you feel comfortable, accepted, and yet appropriately challenged enough to grown in your faith in the church you choose to attend. I know too that most importantly is God's voice in the matter. I am a firm believer that if you are a Christian, you have to let God lead you in the right direction. Attending church is right up there with all other important decisions we are supposed to make.

So, right now I am listening and praying and seeking. I am reading a lot of books with my Bible, primarily ones that talk about journeying to new places in God, the search for a more grounded faith, and the importance of relationship with God. It is my prayer that in the end, I will know exactly where I am to be and who is to care for my soul in this next phase of my life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Return to Myself as Artist

I haven't drawn pictures in so long that I almost forgot the enormous thrill of pressing a stick of charcoal or a colored pencil against a blank creme colored page of a sketch book. I almost forgot the almost out-of-body experience of getting lost in a picture - ignoring everything going on around me in order to capture the essence of that which I was reproducing on the page. I could stay there for hours as a little girl and then a teenager.

About a month after my mom's friend Jo died, I went to the Michael's Craft Store not far from my house and bought a 9 inch x 12 inch sketch book with those same familiar creme pages and a package of charcoal pencils. I already had a pack of colored pencils and a tin of pastels waiting at home. I waited a couple days before I started a picture. I wanted to remember the artist I used to be - the one that took art classes as a child, the one that pinned pictures to every available white space of wall in her bedroom as a teen, the one that painted pictures with acrylics and watercolors, the one who designed papier-mache' sculptures, and the one that loved the feel of cool clay in her hands as she shaped balls of clay into animals, people, vases, bowls.

I remembered her, and I knew that I had to embrace her again. I believed that I had received something from Jo as the last person to touch her face before she departed for heaven. I believed that I had received a mandate to return to myself, to return to the artist hiding deep within and covered up with so many other concerns - concerns that truly did not belong to me.

So I began to draw. The first picture I drew was of a woman's face. I felt like I was just practicing, to see if I still had the gift. I did. The next one is the picture that accompanies this post.

This picture was drawn as I watched my god-daughter Terryl-Lynn crawling around on her grandmother's bedroom floor. The picture was supposed to capture her as an 11-month-old, but the end result was of how I believed she would look within a year. And I realized that I was able to see as I used to; I was able to tap into that creativity and produce a work of art again.
This is one of my favorite pictures for now, but I know that this will not be the only one. The artist within is surfacing again. Jo would be so proud.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jo's Artistic Transition

I have been thinking about my mother's best friend Jo Ann Russau lately. She was a great friend to my mom, who does not have very many close sister-friends in her life. She is a bit of a loner at times, and Jo helped pull the life of an artist out of her. My mother, like Jo, is an artist but not until recently did she truly tap into that potential lying dormant on the inside of her.

Jo herself was a great painter, living in the art district of San Pedro, California and teaching art at LACES High School in Los Angeles. She lived the kind of life I could only dream of living at this point and am truly pursuing now that I am making some poignant changes in my life to fully embrace the dual calls on my life of writing and creating artwork.

Jo died of breast cancer in May 2008. My mother and I had quickly flown to her side when we heard the news that she had started a rapid decline in her health. I remember the day Jo's sister Bev had sent a message through one of our cousins that Jo was dying and was asking for my mom. I walked into my mother's house all prepared to carry out the plans we had made for the day and found her sitting on the couch sobbing.

My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach because I knew that something horrible had happened. When my mother choked out the explanation, I sat down on the arm of her leather chair and just stared at her, unable to believe that this woman who had clearly made a major impression in my mom's life was leaving it so suddenly. I had heard that she was still going through chemotherapy for the cancer the doctors thought had returned, even after her mastectomy. I thought she was doing better, but apparently, she wasn't and the cancer was spreading into her brain.

My mom and I boarded a plane the next week at Detroit Metro so that she and Jo could have one more opportunity to be together. I did not want to believe she would die; I wanted to believe that God would miraculously heal her and stay the hand of death. But that was not to be. A couple hours before we were to catch our return flight to Michigan, Jo departed this life. She had spent some time with my mom during the two days we were there in her beautiful artist's loft staring into Mom's eyes mostly and not speaking many words, as we surrounded her with prayer and love and songs.

About an hour before she died on that early Sunday morning, I awoke from my air mattress positioned near her hospital bed and got up to check on her. Her humming and singing in her sleep woke me as it had the night before. However, Friday night she had been singing "Hallelujah" in such a jovial manner that though our sleep was broken we all quietly listened to her praise of God in rapt attention with tears streaming down our faces because although she was physically dying, her spirit was quite evidently alive and filled with adoration for God. Her cancer was not the most important element in that room. That early Sunday morning her songs of praise were not entirely discernible to my ears. She was not evoking praise through clear, understandable language; it was if she was humming only for God alone. It was also as if she were already in this magnificient place of praise and worship. You could see it on her face.

I stood next to her bed and watched her in the dim light of the lamp a few feet away, turned down low so as not to disturb our rest. But as I took in her form, listened to her humming quite expressively, I realized that she could never have been disturbed. She was consciously not there anymore. She was leaving; her eyes were closed and focused on a place I could not see. I paced the room praying, asking God what was going on. I stood across the room, stock-still and listening deeply to what was really happening in the spiritual realm. Then I returned to her side and gently rubbed her face, letting her know that someone was there.

She stopped humming momentarily but did not open her eyes. I knew that she recognized the touch and I smiled. When it suddenly got very cold in the room, I battled with staying near her or returning to my air mattress and covers. Returning to the air mattress won out, so after I covered her with a thin quilt, I laid back down.

I told others later that I had not been tired, had not been sleepy. It was 3:15 California time but 6:15 according to my body's clock. I was definitely accustomed to waking early for work. But for some reason, not even five minutes after I covered up with the blanket to shield out this otherworldly cold, I fell back to sleep. When I suddenly opened my eyes, my mind telling me that I did not hear her hum as my lullaby anymore, I sat straight up.

All the lights were on, and my mom and Bev were standing next to her bed. They both turned to look down at me as I stared up at them horrified. I knew what the silence meant. I knew what their silence and shocked looks meant.

I leapt up from the now nearly deflated air mattress and went to check Jo's vitals as my mom called her name over and over, patting her chest and rubbing her face. There was no response, no answer, no hum, no song, no life. Jo was gone - utterly and completely. Apparently, she had slipped away with her God between the time I touched her face for the last time and when her sister came downstairs to check on her, finding her very still and not moving anymore.

I thought it very significant that Jo left before my mom and I did. She left this world to be with her Heavenly Father. The artist that she so brilliantly was departed to be with the Greatest Artist of all.

I have been thinking of that weekend in May more as I talk to my mom about how she feels now that her friend is no longer here. She told me the other day that she still doesn't understand how God could take her best friend, how God could take Jo away. They had made so many plans for the future, and it would seem that those plans disappeared the moment Jo disappeared from sight. I did not know what to say to my mom; I did not have an answer for her. But what I could do was hug her because I was there when my mom had to say goodbye.

I will never forget the way my mother cried as she knelt beside Jo's body. I will never forget the fragility and brokenness I saw as she poured out herself before God, inwardly asking God what she was supposed to do without Jo and also who her true friends were. There had really been only one, and now she was in another place that felt so very far away.

I still have no answer. We have both lived through significant losses and still there is no answer as to why separation tears us apart internally. But every once in a while, I think back to the life Jo lived and the paintings she birthed and the portraits she produced and the place where she artistically lived and the students that she so evidently touched. And I also think of the ocean I got to see - the one she loved to walk near, breathing in deeply the smell of the salty air and watching intently the crash of the waves on the shore.

When I think of those things, I know that the essence of Jo, her truest form and richest expressions live on, just as surely as God's Presence lives on eternally. And though we must endure broken hearts, God has promised that He will fully mend and heal. He has promised and because I know someone as wonderful and artistic as Jo cannot just cease to exist - her spirit was just too vibrant - we will see her again. There is no other option. I choose today to believe that; I choose today to know that.

The beautiful thing about art, I have come to realize, is that even though we may have to leave this earth, that which we made remains as evidence that not only did we once live here...through our art, we still do. The painting above is Jo's proof of that.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving Into a New Season

I have attended church, in one capacity or another, all of my life - first with my grandparents and then with my mother. I was not in a position to choose my own church, obviously, and went where my family went. I learned about what being a Christian really means in the early days of attending worship services in these different environments.

But now...I am 30 years old and trying to map my own way, trying to own my faith (as I am teaching the youth at my current church to do). This is exciting and a bit scary as I reevaulate what I want my life to look like as this grown woman. The church I am still attending in Port Huron, Michigan was also chosen in some ways by others as I never intended to stay in the region for long. However, due to some unforeseen circumstances, I have been there - not really fitting in, not really growing in all areas of my spiritual development as I thought I should, but still learning invaluable lessons about faith and life and love in the midst of it for 3.5 years. The pastor (along with her now deceased husband) of the church was a spiritual covering for nearly 11 years, and I have been helped in many ways by their leadership.

Yet there is this feeling, this level of discontent that I cannot shake and this pervasive sense that my time in this spiritual haven is drawing to a close. I realize that my days are numbered at the church and soon, I will need a change. This change involves choosing for myself the next church I am meant to attend.

I have wrestled with what this apparently means for my life, now. Does this mean that I am to leave one ministry in order to jump feet first into another one right away? Should I just visit churches and not immediately join up with another? Or should I take some time off to determine what God is saying to me personally? Am I going to be okay with the choices that I make for my spiritual growth?

I believe that I have been equipped for most of my life to know the direction as God was leading me on my spiritual journey. I have sat under the tutelage and leadership of great men and women of God, and what I have learned from them will help me know what the next step should be, who my next spiritual authority leaders should be. But more than that, I believe that God has graced me with His Presence. He is leading me into the next place because it is my life that will be impacted this time. I am allowed to choose the next place, but God will also lead me where He wants me to go if indeed I possess the mind of Christ in this matter.

I am a bit scared as to what all these changes will mean and what these changes will look like a month, 3 months, 6 months, or a year from now. Who will I be? What kind of ministry will be birthed from me as I embark on the next destination? Whose life will I be able to impact as a result of this decision to move on?

All I know is that I must do certain things for me, now. I have lived my life in the shadow of other people's decisions, but this time it is my turn to shift into the next place. And I believe God is fully capable of leading me where He deems for me to go.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Josiah's Eyes Again

My friend Tashara emailed me again with more pictures of little Josiah, who is now five months and absolutely gorgeous. I once again went "ga-ga" over how beautiful he is and the expression in his eyes. I saw all his expressions on the pictures and realized thatI couldn't let another five months go without meeting this little prince. I will be heading to Chicago in November and hope to meet him then, hope to look into his eyes and see his vibrant and jubilant spirit, and hope to hug my friend again.

I haven't seen her since July of last year, and I miss her. So many changes have taken place in both our lives: she has made some life-changing and life-affirming decisions and so have I. There is so much I want to share with her, and she also wants to share some joys with me - one of which is her baby boy. I will certainly thank God for the gift of meeting him. His eyes have enraptured me since the first time I saw him, and I have no doubt that when I hold him in November, he will continue invading my heart with his smile and his laughter and his sweet baby ways.

Becoming Who I Already Am - A Published Author

For a long time, I always felt that publishing was something I was meant to do, but writing is what I was born to do. I was born in 1977, the youngest child of a single mother in the inner city of Grand Rapids, to be a Scribe of the Times. There has always been this inclination that my birth was necessary and significant to this world; I wasn't meant to take up space.

But as I got older and the innocent self-affirming mindset I grew up with was replaced by a feeling of unworthiness and uncertainty, I put my dream of publishing my stories and poems on the back burner. Even though teachers and family members and friends proclaimed that I was blessed with an extraordinary gift of creative expression (in writing and in art), I simply didn't believe in myself. So, I hid my gift, hid this uncanny ability to put into manifestation that which existed in the deep caverns of my soul.

And I never pursued publication - at least not mainstream publication.

I wrote poems and drew pictures, giving them away to people I loved. But that was all. Finally, at the age of 27, I self-published a poetry/devotional book through iUniverse. The book was beautiful, and I did feel this growing seed deep within that said my words were supposed to be captured in book form when I finally held the finished product in my hands. But the problem was I just assumed people in my life would buy it. I didn't really want to sell it in the mainstream marketplace because I kept telling myself that I wasn't a salesperson; I couldn't promote this book even though I had poured my soul into. Somehow that felt wrong.

So nobody really bought it - not the majority of the people at church, not my pastors, not even my family at first. The problem wasn't that they didn't love me or I wasn't a good writer. I knew I had a voice; I knew I was born to make a sound. They didn't know even when the book was available or where to get it from because I didn't really believe in myself as a writer. I didn't believe in my words or my ability. And the truth was...that was wrong too!

The reality though is that I never stopped writing. Even though I was a wimp when it came to selling "The Divine Romance" I was not a wimp when it came to putting my pen to the paper as I had been born to do. I kept getting ideas and feeling like if I didn't write them down, I would creatively combust.

And before long I started to believe again, as I did as a little girl, that my words are meant to be expressed to the world. They should never, ever be hidden again.

So, three years after "The Divine Romance" came out, I have worked diligently on completing two more manuscripts: "We Run From Ourselves" (a fictionalized narrative) and "Father to the Fatherless" (a autobiographical proclamation, declaring God's call for saving our youth). Instead of self-publishing again, I have felt the mandate to send out my work to publishing companies that accept unsolicited manuscripts and to available agents. I believe in the work God has given me to do, and I know there is somebody out there that will believe in the work too.

I am sending the words out, after doing my homework and carefully formulating my proposals. I am seeking for that which I was born to obtain - the opportunity to speak to a receptive audience with the hope that the world will be impacted by my words.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The Divine Romance"

In 2005 I published a devotional/poetry book called "The Divine Romance." I wrote the poems included in this 30-day devotional as a teenager and young adult that was both young in the faith and also seeking a much deeper faith to grow into. I included Scripture references and written devotions to go along with the poems.

I haven't been as active in promoting the book as I should have been but I know that this book has impacted many people that have bought and read it. My hope and prayer is that it reaches the lives it is supposed to in order to help people delve deeper into the mystery of God's love. I also feel that it is time to really step out in faith and affirm the book I believe God blessed me to write and publish.

Believing in one's own gift is important. It matters. So I have had to remember the way it felt to write those poems and get the book ready for release. I had to remember because this gift that God gave me is a significant part of who I am, and I cannot be ashamed of my ability to write and minister to other people. So I am posting it here and how the book can be purchased since a lot of people have asked where the website is.

Own Your Faith - Class #1

This was a very interesting class indeed. I was expecting more students but only had three, which, in terms of any ministry or class just starting out that is pretty much voluntary (with teens everything in church is voluntary when you think about it), is good. I had a class that was ready to learn and apparently was excited that I was teaching them. I found this out later.

Dayvon, Chris, and Bridgette had notebooks and pens, although Dayvon forgot his Bible. He had a good excuse because his mom had just picked him up from football practice at his high school and had forgotten it at home en route to church. After getting the group settled in, we started talking about what the class would look like as the weeks progressed, what I was requiring, and what I would try to do to keep them engaged.

And then we jumped right into Genesis and the Pentateuch. This class is a Survey class as I said before so I gave them a little background but not much. Really I just wanted to get them reading and dialoguing about what we were seeing right away. Chris chimed in on pretty much every question, Dayvon listened and at times answered questions, and Bridgette (being the only girl) kind of stayed in reserve mode. But it was all good. It was just the first day, and even I was beginning to wonder which way I should go.

I think the first class was really just a day to see how the kids thought about Scripture and God and faith. I asked a pointed question like the others I was posing through our time together about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to believe in Christ, what it means to be saved. And the surprising thing for me after I asked was the pervasive silence.

They simply didn't know, and at that moment, I realized that for all the calisthenics of faith that we performed at our church during worship services and events, these kids still didn't really know why we were there or why the "grown-ups" were so crazily attached to this thing called "church." Did we lose them somewhere? In the midst of our grapplings with Christianity did we lose our kids at that last bend in the road and didn't realize it? Were we really not paying close enough attention?

The kids in my class are not what we in the Christian theological world like to call the "un-churched." These kids come to church every Sunday with their parents and have been for a long time. But somehow in the midst of our at times misguided efforts to engage them in the faith, we have missed the point of simply stating to them what our faith is, what constitutes our faith, what makes us faithful to the cause.

I knew then what the class had to be for them. It had to be more than hooplah or fanfare. I had been worried that they were bored with all the questions and Bible-reading we were doing even on the first day. But that was the problem - us "grown-ups" being worried that they needed to be physically entertained and not spiritually taught and fed. By nature I am not a hype, jump-around-run-around-give-God-praise-and-when-it's-all-over-we'll-read-a-verse-teacher. I am the type of person that wants to present information that will get kids talking and thinking and hopefully believing.

So this first night, I knew, even though I only had three kids the direction we would need to go. We needed a genesis - a beginning place, a launching place to start. We would start to play games; I would ask questions. We would read the Word with more deliberate intention; I would pry into their heads so they would know for themselves what this faith thing is all about. If it is something they are supposed to be able to own, they have to be confident in their ability to know what they believe. And in the end they would know that God's Word can answer the issues that arise in their lives and it would direct their paths as it has so consistently directed mine.

So we start with (a) Genesis...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Own Your Faith" - Looking Forward to Class #1

Tonight is the first "Own Your Faith" class with the teens at my church. I feel a bit anxious but I believe they will learn a lot. I will learn a lot as well. There is an unspoken excitement for these young people to learn the Word in much the same way as I learned it - 15 years ago. I learned how to engage God's Word in an atmosphere that invited questions and dialogue and discussion. Not to mention, I had this profound respect for my teacher and youth pastor Jermone Glenn. I hope these kids feel the same way about me; I hope I can be a moral compass pointing the way to Christ. The reception of the Bible when I was 15 years old changed how I related to it - not as simply a book with a lot of lofty theological or moral lessons, but a "lamp to my feet" and a light to my path.

I want that same thing for the 10 or so kids that will sit in tonight, curious as to what I will bring them. This class is for them; I've said that several times. I just hope it really, truly is...for them. I want them to know God on a deeper level - not simply as an unknown deity or the source of good feelings and goosebumps as I fear He has been reduced to...even in my own life at times. I forget too that He is a Person (the highest expression and illumination of us all) and that He made me to worship Him beyond the boundaries that my humanity has set. I too want to go deeper.

My goals for this class are simple, quite frankly. I want God to use me so one day He can use them.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The 2008 Elections: A Christian Response?

I usually am not into politics and the political rhetoric that surrounds elections because I believe as most do that poilticians are liars by trade. I believe only half of what they say when they are on the campaign trail and seek to dissect their actions by way of prayer and discernment when they are later voted in to office.

But I believe this is the first year that I have been forced to pay attention to what is going on in the political scene more than the previous presidential elections that I have been old enough to vote in. This is the first year that I have realized that my voice as a Christian in this American society has to matter, more than any other. I am not sure why, but I have a sneaking suspicion it has to do with the coming of the Kingdom of God, the will of the Father, and the demand for a more public response by the redeemed.

At the beginning of the bids for presidential nominees from both major parties on the political landscape of America back in 2006, I did not have a desire to see Barack Obama or John McCain voted in as president. I looked at Hilary Clinton, primarily because I truly felt that this country needed a woman's leadership (and still does). But when she lost the Democratic nomination and Barack Obama pushed ahead to win that victory, I realized that on many levels I needed to consider what my response should be.

The first response I had to give was my position as a Christian Black woman on the major issues plaguing this country that needs Godly leadership and intervention on: abortion, the war in Iraq, United States militarism, racism, poverty, education, and the economy (to name a few). These things definitely matter to me, and in my heart, I believe they matter to God. These things have affected this country in many negative, self-destructive ways, and we are in need of better leadership than what the Republican and the Democratic parties have presented as viable leaders.

I realized as a second response that I am not privy to either side - to either the Dems or the Repubs. I do not share an affiliation with either point of view. But to be honest, as Shane Claiborne and many in the so-called Emergent Church movement have stood upon and Derek Webb so boldly stated in his song, as a Christian "my first allegiance is not to a flag or to a democracy or blood; it is to a King and a Kingdom." Or as that King stated in His Prayer in John 17:16 (Amplified Version) "They are not of the world (worldly, belonging to the world), [just] as I am not of the world."

I stand on these foundations, but the questions I have raised in my mind and heart deal more with the principles I hear represented on some of the Christian talk radio (specifically Bob Duko's show) and in some of the viewpoints of those who share my faith in that King and Kingdom. And I wonder if we have started applying definitions and labels to worldly positions that are inappropriate or unwise or to say the very least, are not God-inspired.

One of the things that I have gathered as I have considered the direction that this country has gone in and the future of this world where I live but do not hold any allegiance to, is that many people think that if you are a Christian you are to be considered part of the "religious right" as we have been labeled or are to boxed in as a "right-wing conservative" which is clearly the position true Republicans hold. If you are truly a Christian then you are truly a Reublican by nature and by virtue of the faith that you uphold. Democrats can be Christian but if they are truly upholding the principles of the Bible there is no way they can stay there and must either be converted to Reublicanism or be identified as Independents in need of conversion.

But what happens if you are indeed a Christian, disagree with pro-choice or the legalization of abortion but also disagree with spending billions of dollars on a war that is simply lining the pockets of some of the Republican elite (i.e. George Bush)? What if the principles on which you stand are not illuminated in the lives and the decisions of those that are supposed to be supporters of that same "religious right"? What if you know in your gut that the people that say they are Christian and are holding political office are not exemplifying the truth of the Kingdom of God as they should be?

How do you vote then? I have been paying attention to this election more than any other, I have drawn a few conclusions:

(1) I may or may not be Republican, but I am definitely a Christian that believes in the principles of the Kingdom of God and its mandates. God's Kingdom will come, and the kingdoms of this world (including the Empire of the United States of America) will pass away but God's reign will not.

(2) I may or may not support the Democratic agenda of giving a more solid voice to the people of this country in government, but I do support the Kingdom of God infiltrating the government that the voice of God may speak forth a sure Word of change and realignment with the Kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. (That may mean that the voice of the people is not necessarily saying what God is saying, and we will have to rethink what democracy as a system of a worldly empire truly means.)

(3) Republicanism (myowne word) is not synonymous with Christianity and vice versa. I do not necessarily hold claim to the belief systems of the Republican party because in my lifetime, I have only seen the poor get poorer and the rich get richer under the headship of this party. I have lived in the 'hood (grew up there and my heart for ministry is there), and I see the lives of the marginalized overlooked and unmentioned by this party that says that it stands on the foundation of Christian principles and bylaws. That is not Bible; that is not the Kingdom of God.

(4) There is a battle between the reign and rule of manmade political statues and the reign and rule of God. We have to pick a side to stand on.

"And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15, Amplified Version).

Friday, September 5, 2008

New School Year, New Thoughts

For me, the beginning of the year starts in September and ends in August. My life cycles around the beginning and ending of a school year as my primary job is in a school district and everything I participate in revolves around what I do there.

But there is another reason I choose September because I refocus myself on learning new things, embracing new experiences, and starting new goals that I have pondered over during the summer. I want to be better at the things I am called to do. I want to make a definite impact in the world where I am through presence, through writing, through commitment, and through communication. This year I have finally decided what I want to pursue in my graduate studies. At first I thought it would simply be writing and then teaching and then social work. But none of those ideas seemed right for the direction I am going in.

My decision to embrace my call as an advocate for the children and teens in this generation caused me to rethink what I love in terms of ministry. I attended college in undergrad thinking that I was meant to be a social worker, but now after much thought I have decided to pursue youth ministry instead. I want to impact youth in a real, life-changing way and not just in terms of providing services to people or helping promote programs I do not wholly believe in. I also want to use my love for writing and art as a way to minister to those young people that are so creative but feel at a loss as to how to express that creativity in a very real way.

The school I am planning to attend is the same school that I had questions about in regards to the young lady in my last post. I went to visit Huntington University in August and found it to be a wonderful place to start over - at least for me - and a wonderful place for her to find out who she is truly meant to be on this earth and in the Kingdom of God. It's not that I no longer have any questions; it's just that this school is trying to bridge the gaps in the Body of Christ that racism, classism, and separatism have caused. They are trying and for me, that is important.

It is important to say, "I recognize that there is a problem and I need to do all I can to fix it." Right now, that is what they are trying to do and also what I am trying to do. That is what I need to do in order to truly fulfill the call on my life and fully work the ministry that is developing in my heart. I need to be in a place where people are actualizing the true work of healing the Body of Christ and impacting the world around us simultaneously. I believe now that Huntington is embarking on that journey as all Christian institutions should be doing now.

Besides their Master of Arts in Youth Ministry Leadership program is perfect for me and is not as time-consuming as some of the other grad programs I was investigating. I can see the education and the degree leading me into a new territory as the school is directly affiliated with Youth for Christ which is one of the leading orgranizations all over the world impacting kids in inner cities, in church settings, and on school campuses. I love the idea of that and I will talk about all that later in future posts.

In that program as well is the opportunity for me to write and publish in the areas I am most interested in, such as social issues like parentless kids, teen pregnancy and parenting, and sex education. I have so many experiences and writings already - including a manuscript that I am finishing entitled "Father to the Fatherless" that would likely find a home in publication while I am pursuing graduate studies in that program. I am very excited about this little glimpse God has given me about what the future can hold if I just pursue my goals.

Along with that decision, I have also decided to begin teaching a Bible Survey class to the teens that attend my church. God placed in me the idea to start a class for youth at my church in order that they can understand the Bible and learn to read it for themselves. We often talk about faith and the Word of God and having a vibrant relationship with God but for teens that is so abstract. So this class is meant to help them formulate their spiritual formation and the ability to read the Bible in a way that makes sense. This is also very important to me and may be helpful as I enter that graduate program.

The decisions I have been making for this new year are tangible, relevant changes that I will be making in order to draw closer to my own person destiny. For a long time I have been giving everything I could give to others, but I realize that sometimes, we overlook the most important gift we could ever give. We could certainly give ourselves to God for the express purpose of living out His purposes in our lives which really is more effective.

I am going to use this blog space as a way to document this year of changes, and in particular the lessons I teach and the lessons I learn as I help these kids walk through the Bible in a more real way. I will be adding a blog after each class that they can look at and I can use as a landmark for each step toward owning their faith that they make. But also I will be blogging about my own changes and steps toward destiny and deeper relationship with God.

There is so much I want to do, and I am so excited to be starting out a fresh year with some great goals in mind and heart.