Friday, October 31, 2008

My Little Angel-Heart

The picture I have included with this post is of another special little lady in my life. This is a more recent picture of my goddaughter Terryl-Lynn, whose picture I drew a couple months ago. She is a year old in this picture, and the smile she gives is genuinely HER. She is such a little character and I love being around her. She makes her Tee-Tee's day. (Tee-Tee is the name I have given myself for her to one day call me.) This will probably happen soon as she is starting to associate names with faces and is also saying loads of stuff a one-year-old probably shouldn't be saying yet - like "See you later" and "Oh, yeah, Baby" and "Hello?" when the phone rings. She loves to talk on the phone to her Grandma, by the way, and that proves to me that she will likely have her own activated cell phone by the time she is three. She has a cell phone now but it is not turned on. But when she is capable of carrying out full blown conversations, I think she will demand her own phone.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Theological Differences

I did not go to church yesterday - the first time in a really long time that I took the Sabbath day off from a formal religious gathering. There were many reasons that I won't get in to, but there was one in particular that was solidified later in the day. I knew that this was the Sunday that the 2008 election would be discussed.

My mom came home very nearly irate that some members of the church leadership staff had declared some unrealistic stances on the upcoming election. I had known that our pastor would announce to the congregation the person she was voting for, and although I totally respect her decisions and opinions in most things, I was a little concerned. Her decision to vote for a candidate of choice was not based on sound principles, and as I told my mom, I do not have a right to take issue with anyone's election choices. This is our personal right as American citizens and as Christians.

However, my only issue lies in how we as Christians form our opinions and decisions. We have a responsibility to be informed. We have a responsibility to make those decisions fully engaged in the process. We definitely should not make choices based only on one level of life (just the spiritual level, which does intertwine with all the others). We should not just focus spiritually, racially, economically, or intellectually. We have to take into consideration every facet, take serious thought on all levels, and be fully ready to make any move.

There were a few areas that my mother reported to me that raised some major concerns for me in terms of how the members of our church were directed to vote this year. The following are a few statements that were announced by various members of the leadership staff across the pulpit yesterday:

1) "I am not telling you who to vote for but you should vote righteously. It's about Kingdom."

2) "You can't be concerned about color (race)."

3) "Don't worry about the economy. God will take care of us. We are of a different Kingdom."

4) "I used to be a Democrat but now I am a Republican."

5) "Obama is for abortion and gay marriage."

6) "Palin is a tongue-talking believer."

Let me say this. Each of these statements does have some element of fact to it. My concern is that I worry that although the disclaimer was made that no one is saying who to vote for, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of subtle advertising going on. I think the reality is a subliminal message is being promoted. And as much as I love my church and my people, I am having a hard time stomaching the message.

And I also want to say that each of these statements have caused me to raise my eyebrows at the silent justification behind each of them. I worry that who we are as Christians is being misconstrued and the one thing everyone needed to hear was not said. I will address the above statements, but I want to direct your attention to a blog-article I read this morning by Jim Wallis on the Sojourners' website. The jist of it was this: We as Christians have a duty to remember that when we vote we have to vote not just for ourselves but for those who live in the margins, the ones that will be more directly affected by the outcome of this election, and (dare I say) those who do not know this Christ we hold claim to.

That is my segue into my responses to the above statements, and I will try to be as objective as possible in case someone that attends my church is reading this blog. I do not want to be guilty of the same issue I am highlighting - trying to persuade anyone of who they should or should not vote for. (I doubt anyone will read this, but I have to be careful as a writer and a thinker that I do not necessarily put my opinions into it too deeply.)

Statement 1: When someone is Kingdom-minded, they must be very careful not to forget that the Kingdom of God is not merely an opposite of this earthly kingdom. It is the Kingdom that is ultimately meant to show these earthly kingdoms the reign and rule of our God. We are not to separate our own experience on this earth from the experiences of those who live outside the parameters of God's Kingdom. We also must remember that voting righteously means voting not only with integrity but voting for integral people. I leave that for now - subject to interpretation.

I realized too that when this statement was made that this was almost a bit misleading because the people (me, included) in this church (and in most churches) depend so heavily on the opinions of our leadership staff. And well we should because they are our spiritual leaders. But that dependence can be faulty too because what if, as in this situation, those opinions are not well-thought out or are based on the opinion of someone else (that may not truly understand the plight of the people in our church or in our neighborhoods or in our city)? And also, I hate to say it, but those opinions can actually be more harmful than good if they are not based on investigation and definite evidence.

In this case, yes, we definitely need to make righteousness the rule. But we have to at least listen to both sides before we make a choice. And my fear is that this has not happened. Even King Solomon listened to the two mothers fighting over one baby even though he knew that only one woman had given birth to the child.

Statement 2: This statement burned me a little because as much as I want to forget about the race issues that have surfaced in lieu of a possible Black (bi-racial) President, how can anyone - Christian or otherwise be so blind to the obvious? Of course this is about race. Of course we have to be concerned about race. God clearly had a reason for a Black (bi-racial) man to be running in this race against a White man. Though we know within the Body of Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, that does not eradicate the existence of the mosaic of mankind.

And then, I have to think in terms of the more recent past and the many, many African-Americans (my grand and great-grandparents, included) that went through so much for us to get to this point. No, we definitely should not vote according to race, but we have to remember where this country was even 40 years ago. Come on, now. Where this country was not only affects where this country is now but where the Church in this country is now. Race is important, not only to this election but to what happens - even in our churches - after this is "over" next week Wednesday.

Statement 3: God is taking care of us - His Son's Body and Bride. We are the blessed and beloved. But while we may be covered in this season of economic struggles and pains (though, I know that even in our church there are many that are living paycheck to paycheck, if they are receiving one at all), where does this leave this world we are called to reach? There are so many marginalized poor families and individuals that do not have that assurance. There are people I meet everyday that live below the poverty line, and while we may not have to be concerned for ourselves, we do to be concerned for them.

What is our responsibility as the Church during this hour? We are called upon to be concerned for those who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and disabled. We have to be concerned about the widow and the fatherless. And we cannot forget that we do in fact know them, and in some cases have been where they are. To not be concerned about the state of this economy and vote with that reality in view is not only un-Christian but it is irresponsible.

Statement 4: In one of my earlier posts (The 2008 Elections: A Christian Response?) I talked about this very issue. I was concerned about how Christianity and Republicanism is at times looked at synonymously. And this statement made yesterday made me wonder if that same fallacy had crept into the philosophy of a man I have respected since I met him. I still respect him, immensely, but I have some questions that need answering.

I do not have a problem with him for voting for McCain, whom he is campaigning for and is in fact going to his previous church in Ohio to try and influence minority voters to vote for him, too. I have decided to respectfully disagree with him on many of the issues he raises in his arguments for this candidate. However, I find it hard to believe that he would affiliate himself with any group or party or faction.

You can vote for who you want, but your primary allegiance and vocal affirmation must be to Jesus Christ alone. For me, saying that you are or a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent or a Green Party Member raises a lot of questions for me in terms of how far should Christians go into the kingdom systems of this American society and government. Should we be willing to label ourselves? Should we side with any party or simply stand on the principles of the Kingdom of God (which may in fact be totally opposite of any party's standards and principles)?

Statement 5: I will not get into the details of this statement. The only thing I will say is that generally speaking these concerns are definitely reasons I gave initially for not considering Obama. But then I listened to the debates and the conventions for both sides, and I knew that if what was being said was indeed true standpoints and not just a bunch of hokey to get votes, there is more to it than what we generalize.

My problem in this general statement is it shows that there was no investigation into what either candidate said and meant. The person that made this statement never watched one debate or viewed either convention. And that means the explanations were never considered. This does not mean I agree with Obama's stance, but I do agree with parts of it. I have to say that the only Person I have to fully agree with is God Himself. I can disagree with a man and still respect his views in certain things (and not completely follow him), but I believe that the only way I can totally be united to the cause of Christ is to agree fully and completely with His view.

I am a bit disappointed as I am sure you can tell from the length of this blog in the disregard for obtaining all the facts and the decisions made as a result. I believe and have been brought up to believe that the best way to live this life is to be fully engaged in it and not just accepting the disparities of life at face value. I do not believe in making decisions any other way. Be fully informed and then act prayerfully.

Statement 6: This last one really bothered me. Am I supposed to base my final vote on this woman's ability to speak to God in an unknown language? Am I supposed to say that if something were to happen to McCain (God forbid) while he is office, I should be totally assured that because she comes from a Charismatic Pentecostal church (apparently somewhat similar to mine? not sure, really) that she is definitely a shoe-in for the inheritance of the American Presidency?

I'm sorry, but I think not. My question will always remain, Is this person totally qualified to run this country if McCain is no longer able to? Is this person the one I think should make decisions for my future, my family's future, my country's future, or even the future of the church in this country? Does she walk in integrity? Does she care about the poor, the broken, the hurting? Is she the one to carry this country on her shoulders?

I cannot base the answers to those questions (and many more) on the basis of whether or not she speaks in tongues. The truth is, while that is a great spiritual gift to have, for me her ability to lead with integrity is the more beneficial of Christian attributes that I would look for in anyone that is going to help lead us to a new place. This statement showed me that perhaps my reasons and the reasons others in pastoral leadership gave are definitely contradictory.

As I stated in earlier posts, I have been strongly considering the next phase of my life and this includes moving on to a new spiritual landing place. My consideration in leaving this church does not solely rest on the issues I have raised in this blog, but I have to say that I do not share a common vision anymore with the leaders of this house in many ways. I love this church, have been a member for 11 years of my life, but I realize that perhaps my heart for ministry and the direction this church is going is too far removed from each other. Perhaps it is indeed time for me to move on, but I still love very deeply these people that God has used to help mature my faith.

I truly hope the members really think for themselves who they will vote for this year. I certainly have thought through my decision and plan to vote for the person I believe is the right leader for this country. And I hope that we all realize the value in not just going with the majority or even with what others may think. The only Person whose voice counts in the end is God's. And we need to trust the Spirit of God for ourselves.

Friday, October 24, 2008

MOSAIC Day @ Clintondale

A wonderful woman (who just happens to be a Christian - YAY!) at the high school where I work presented a really nifty idea to the staff there some months ago. Her idea to help build school community was to have an afternoon of workshops taught or lead by individual staff members focused around hobbies that could be presented to the students. Most every staff member excitedly agreed to lead sessions around the school - from bowling to sudoku, poetry to quilting. The afternoon's festivities would be called by one name - MOSAIC.

A mosaic is a puzzle with many intricate pieces that once formed presents a beautiful picture. Each piece brings uniqueness to the puzzle. The picture above was the logo printed on tees that the staff members wore, showing what Clintondale's definition of MOSAIC day meant to us. So many different people, with all manner of gifts and talents were opening themselves up to kids that otherwise wouldn't know the hearts behind their teachers and school staff members. I think it was a great idea, personally.
Yesterday was the big MOSAIC day at Clintondale, and I participated too as a way to draw into a more cohesive bond with the students and the staff since I am still relatively new to the school and one of the few African Americans on staff. I chose to teach a poetry workshop, where students would learn about performance poetry and would be given the opportunity to read their own poems in front of the group. As with each MOSAIC session, kids were assigned according to their preferences, and I had a whole group (except for one) of young people that love to write. They brought their poems and were ready to roll.

It was a great opportunity to talk about writing, present great poetry, and get to know others. The kids seemed to enjoy it, and my belief was solidified that my truest ministry to youth does involve writing and art. I can't wait until I can start that ministry. I am truly looking forward to making sessions like the one I led yesterday my way of life (besides creating and presenting my own work). I really felt like I was finally at home. And the truth is I believe those young people felt like they were at home, like they had a safe place to land too. I truly thank God for being part of His Mosaic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Josiah's Eyes, at Six Months

I guess I should really re-name my blog Josiah's Page (or Myowneworld's Beautiful Baby Blog) and just say the rest of the entries are add-ons between baby arrivals and changes. Here is the beautiful little man again, and I believe the older he gets, the more he matures in his look, the more in love I am. He apparently has quite the personality, and it is evident in some of his other pictures where he is smiling and drooling and playing with his Mommy or Daddy. But the pictures I have posted on today's entry show his more regal side. I love the black and white and sepia pics of the little prince, and I truly cannot wait to meet him. This boy has the most passionate eyes ever. I love him and his mother so very much, and I hope that he brings her as much joy in real life as his pictures do for me - in distance.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Children Killing Children

(This picture was taken last evening of family members, teachers, and friends outside Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan after a young man was gunned down outside his high school. I believe the woman in the dark blue shirt being hugged is the boy's mother.)

On the news last night, there was a story about a shooting at a Northwest Detroit High School. As with any school shooting or any act of violence involving children or teens that I hear about or read about, I find myself sitting with tears in my eyes. A 16-year-old basketball-loving young man was shot three times and died. His mother and then his sister tearfully explained how he was taken from then so senselessly, and I was reminded of why my passion for young people is so strong.

So many young people are struggling. They are struggling to live; they are struggling not to die early and unfulfilled. They are fighting a battle that many were set to lose before birth. And the root cause of the struggle is the absence of fathers (and sometimes mothers). I encounter so many teenagers in my daily work at Clintondale High (and in other environments where I have staked my claim) who battle with not having (especially) a father to love them, guide them, and validate them. So they battle with life. And in the case of the boy that was killed, it can be at times a losing battle.

Yesterday afternoon, about two hours before that 16-year-old was killed, a young man sat in my office. We talked for nearly two hours about the direction his life was going. He graduated from the high school last school year and is planning on attending an area college for Computer Engineering. We started with talking about his future and ended up focusing a lot of our discussion around his past, around his beginnings. We focused attention on his relationship with his parents.

He told me he was very angry as a little boy because his father was not there. He was hanging around the fringes of his life but was not actively a part of the everyday times. This young man expressed that now that he is older he is not so much angry as he is realizing that his father had his own issues that kept him from being the kind of father he needed.

This young man also talked about his mother and how he could not figure out how she had raised him and his two siblings on her own without intervention from their fathers. The truth was all three children were turning out far better than statistics dictated, and the truth was they recognized their futures - unlike so many young people today that do not even think about the future because they do not believe they have one. But these three believe they have something to look forward to because their mother made sure that their futures would be protected no matter what.

When I got home and heard the report about the school shooting, all I could think about was the young man in my office, the teens that travel the halls at my school, and even the young people in my personal life that I care so deeply for. And I began to cry. I cried for how our babies are suffering and struggling and need their fathers. I cried for the souls of the children and teens that leave this earth so prematurely. I cried for the young man whose life was so tragically ended in gunfire.

This morning as I drove to work again, as I returned to the trenches again, I thought about how important fathers are. I did not have mine growing up and a lot of the teens I encounter in some way, form, or fashion do not have active father figures in their lives either. And it is not fair. I wondered where the fathers of those shooters were. The shooters yesterday were children themselves (15, 16, and 18) and the targets that were hit besides the young man that died were also 15 and 16 years of age respectively. Where were their daddies???? Were there any men in their lives at all????

To be honest, God sent men into my life to save me from a life of the streets, of sexual immorality, of poverty. If I had not had them - my grandfather, my stepfather, my uncle, my youth pastor, and my godfather - I may have ended up as a tragedy myself. I needed those men, and the children that do not have their fathers need men to stand up too. I grieve for this generation that does not have father figures to teach them - especially our young men. They are teaching themselves and living by the laws of the streets...kill or be killed.

There is a new song titled "My Life" put out by The Game and Lil' Wayne that is playing in heavy rotation on area radio stations. (Sidebar: The anthems of hip-hop are the songs of this generation. Their whole philosophies of life are based around the words of these artists that talk about the hard life of the ghetto, of the poor, of those who are indeed in the marginalized areas of all of our communities. The Game and Wayne are just examples of this. I have heard their music - have listened to the harsh poetry of the life I know but was blessed to escape.)

In this song, The Game says these lines: "...Like I needed my father, but he needed a needle." People ask why the young people love rap so much, why they repeat the lines, but won't pick up a book to read. The answer? Because they can bear witness to lines like this one and books may seem so far removed from the life they see everyday.

The young man in my office yesterday told me that his father drinks every day, gets "blowed" (smokes weed and drinks alcohol). Even now, he can't believe if his father calls him up (which he has been doing a lot more lately) to tell him that he loves him. He wants to believe that his father does love him but it is hard to believe when it seems like the father that should have helped raise you loves alcohol and weed and women and everything else in the world more than you.

The kids sing the songs because they know that what they hear is the only truth they will ever know unless someone enters in to change their perspective. Specifically, they need father figures to teach them about life and the correct battles to fight. Angry kids are fighting false battles - against other angry kids and that means lives are being lost in the crossfire.

So...I endeavor to be here for the young men and women like the ones that sit in my office to talk, that share with me their stories, that unburden their pains in my lap because I am woman enough to take it (straight to Jesus) and woman enough to care what happens to them. That is why I am here. God please help our kids. Please save them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Little Princess To Adore

A really good friend of mine, Laneisha, and her husband Richie welcomed their first child, Zariyah Jewell two days ago. I was so mesmerized by their baby's beautiful face that I just had to write about her.

I love babies, and there are times I wish I was a wife and a mother. But nevertheless, although I am not, I try to love my friends' babies as much as possible. Zariyah is a new addition to this baby fan club. So I am already planning to buy dresses and little jeans and hair ribbons and shoes. But since she just got here, I know that I have time to love her, too, God willing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

I celebrated my 31st birthday this past Saturday, and I have to say that I do not feel older, per se, but I do feel wiser, more retrospective, more settled in the fact that my life is heading into a new season. I am truly in my 30s now, whatever that means, and I know that this decade will be pretty life-changing.

I will likely change locations (moving to another part of the country and not just another part of Michigan), get married, obtain some graduate degrees, have children, buy a house or a condo, buy another car, start saving more money than I spend, make more life-affecting decisions, start my ministry endeavors working with kids, publish a couple more books, and begin traveling more after those books are published - all in my 30s. That is a lot to look forward to, a lot of goals to strive for. I am excited because engaging in all these things does bring more responsibility but also there will also be a lot more freedom to grow and change and allow God to affect the decisions I have to make. I won't be making them alone, but I won't be making them with the total input of other people, either.

It's not that decisions were made for me in my 20s but sometimes I do not think people viewed me as an adult. Sometimes, I think I was "monitored" a little more concerning the decisions I tried to make for myself. But now, I feel this sense of freedom that says I am able to change directions and go where God wants me to go without the approval of others, necessarily. Of course, we all need godly counselors in our lives but we really need to learn to trust God more than we trust the voice and opinions of others. I listen to the mothers in my life that speak what I may need to hear but I am at the point where I have learned to weigh all the options in my life along with what God is saying as well.

And that feels good.

I love being in my 30s. I didn't cry Saturday at all about turning 31. I appreciated the moment. I appreciated the freedoms being "grown" allots.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Pictures

For my 31st birthday, my mom decided to pay for me to have professional pictures taken. My plan is to use these pictures on marketing material and on back cover copy for my books. I think they turned out pretty well and have decided to paste a few on the blog for some feedback.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Saying NO to Others While Saying YES to God

I said "No" yesterday.

Wow. Prolific, huh?

It is when you never say it. It is when you always make yourself available to meet the needs/wants/demands of others with little thought to the repercussions of what saying yes will mean for you.

One thing I have learned in this season of change and metamorphosis is that I need to make sure that whatever my answer will be, it needs to line up with what I believe God is saying to me. I have to admit that sometimes I make decisions with the best of intentions, with my heart in the right place, but I did not stop to consider what God had to say. I am so guilty of this - in a lot of areas in my life. But I am especially guilty of saying yes to people when I should say no and vice versa.

And the truth is...I am tired of putting myself in that position of not saying what I mean and meaning what I say. My stepfather always told me "Say what you mean and mean what you say." I guess what he was really hinting at was the importance of being sure.

One thing I am sure of is my relationship with God needs a makeover. I need to give that same level of commitment that I give to others in my life - that same yes - to Him. No one else really deserves that much loyalty. Of course being loyal to others is important. But not at the risk of missing out on what God really wants for you.

I made a decision 9 months ago that now I regret. I said yes to a good intention and now my life has been completely inconvenienced. Now the things that are important to me have been sacrificed again. I made a decision to help someone without asking God if I should. There are times when our attempts to help are interrupting what He is saying for those that we are trying to assist. And the person I tried to help ended up abandoning me to the winds of change, to the loneliness that I was trying to rescue her from, and to the realization that I should have gotten an "all clear" before I moved out of my own place of rest.

So, it is not her fault. She never asked me to help her; I took it upon myself to be made of steel - to be Superwoman, to be the one that could be relied upon. What I didn't realize is that God may have wanted her to live through a tough season in her life with Him alone.
Yesterday, while I was considering the next move I have to make, she called for a favor oblivious to the fact that I am all tapped out at the present moment, that I tried to give her before what she was asking for (and more) as a daughter, that I tried to be present for her, and she apparently no longer wanted what I had to offer when it was being offered or she simply was so wrapped up in her own cloud of misery, worry, loneliness, and stress that she couldn't pay attention to what was right in front of her. So...although I felt bad for saying it, I knew that I had to say no.

The long and short of it is because I have had to move on, I do not have time to return to the person I used to be. Nor do I want to. I can help her, assist her, say yes later.

For's no. I have to say no because I said yes prematurely last time and have had to pay the cost for moving, albeit with good intentions, outside of God's will for me. The truth is the grace to be the one consistently called upon only when needed has lifted for me. I am not readily available for everyone - not if I plan on becoming the woman of purpose I have to be right now. Because in the midst of trying to intervene and make everyone else's life easier, I forgot about me. I forgot that my focus has to be God and fulfilling what He is requiring.

And sometimes that means I have to say no sometimes.

Own Your Faith - Class #3

This week's class started a little late because of my late arrival, but when I got there I was pleasantly surprised that more students had shown up. LaQuita, Brinn, and Mya were waiting with Bridgette. Chris came in a few minutes after I did. We headed to the gym, had a snack and then got started.

This week was a bit distracting as I had to rehash some of the details of the lessons we'd discussed in the two previous class periods. This is why I wanted, from the beginning, some level of commitment from the students so it wouldn't slow down the pace of learning. But, begin again we did. We didn't get away from the main character Abraham though we did begin talking about Isaac and his marriage to Rebekah, the continuance of the promise God gave Abraham, and Abraham's re-marriage after Sarah died. We stayed on the topic of marriage for quite a while, though I did try to rein it in.

I learned one thing this week - TEENAGERS HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT EVERYTHING! This is why my class works as more of a dialogue class, but I really have to keep them on track or we will be in Genesis until December.

About halfway through the class another student showed up. Marcus is one of the young people at the church that did a complete 360 degree turnaround when he gave his life to Christ. He became very serious about reading his Bible for himself, learning about God, and what a true relationship with Him has to look like for him to be successful in his Christian walk. He is truly one of the leaders of the youth ministry, and my hope is that I can keep him interested in the discussions as well as keep the others engaged. I pray God will help me teach all these students that are on different levels of spiritual growth. I hope that this class adds fuel to their spiritual fires blazing within.