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Year 32 elated-distraught and everything in between 

As is tradition every year around my birthday I pen something about the great wealth of wisdom I’ve accumulated since last year… (Cough cough add sarcasm here)  If there is anything I have learned from this practice, it’s that whenever I start to believe I am at a pinical of understanding God is quick to show me that I’m fooling myself. 

This past year has been full of life! Changes in my job, new opportunities, a new little one expected to join our family, giggles, laughs and milestones. It’s also been one of belly ache crying sessions, the ones where deep groans seem to erupt from your inner being, it’s been full of tiered days and frustration, dinners that have gone un-eaten, screaming matches lots of humility, lots of love and a ton of painful growth.

That’s life though a milue of good bad beautiful and lovely. If you are anything like me when you look back on a year lived in this life the good parts and the bad parts seem to fuse together leaving behind a haze that reminds you that this existence of ours is real.  The point is that crying means you care deeply, pain shows that you feel with intensity, fights mean that you are surrounded with people to fight with. Being smeared in more baby poop than you could’ve ever imagined means that you have been trusted to care for another human. 

I can’t clearly separate the good the bad and the ugly of my last year. If anything when I look back I see evidence of my humanity, my fragility, my image being formed into Christ, I see pain that teaches hope, I see lack which teaches gratitude, I see beauty, I see God and a glimpse of my own eternality in him.

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Black in America: Here’s my story

Yesterday I read a post by a good friend of mine. A good man father of two husband to one a law abiding, tax paying, highly educated black man. While picking up his children he was belittled as a white woman yelled at him calling him a Nigger, telling him to get out of her neighborhood. I felt his pain and confusion as  he tried to navigate his rage while still holding the responsibility of responding as a Christian man in front of his girls.

What befuddles me about this, is the question, why all the anger? Why all the hatred? Why would a grown woman find it to to be socially acceptable to belittle a man who has done nothing to her in front of his children.

Hot on the trail of Beyonce’s Politically charged video “Formation” along with an equally symbolic Supper Bowl performance all of a sudden my social media is a vortex of erupting old wounds, bearing new ones and two side who don’t seem to get each other. I have no answer to the issue at hand. I have only bewilderment, only questions, only a lack of understanding.

So in light of it all I figured what they hey I should share my story. I am black. Born to a light skinned mom and a darker skinned father. I grew up with brothers and sisters who were all lighter than I with green eyes. I knew I was different.

I attended a school that was culturally mixed but majority white. I saw the popular girls. In particular there was one she had crystal blue eyes and straight blond hair. She was beautiful and I wanted to be like her.

When I was in the 4th grade I rushed to perm my hair so it could be more straight just like her. No one ever told me my hair needed to be straight but I just knew it deep down that is what it supposed to be.

My parents are well educated and I grew up in a middle class home. We speak properly and I was told that I talked “white” by my peers.

When my mother had her first child she named him Michael David. At our neighborhood pool a white woman told her that, that was a white name.

I was a proud member of the girl scouts in a majority white troupe. We had a lot of fun together. When the girls asked me where I lived they told me that my neighborhood was dangerous. The same neighborhood where I road my bike and walked my dog and knew my neighbors and was never threaten, I learned was a dangerous place.

I transitioned to a majority black middle school where I quickly took to the task of redefining myself. I think this is where I first learned that I could have two sides to who I am. I wanted to talk black, I wanted to dress black I wanted to be accepted.

When I came home I was told that my diction had worsened due to my school.

I played soccer the majority of my life. I love the game and I was good at it. One year I played for a majority white team and it was fun. During one intense defensive exchange with another player from a different team, the girl called me a monkey. I was rightfully upset but when I shared this with my teammates they said I was making something out of nothing.

On a family trip we begged the truck drivers to honk their horns for us as many children do. Instead of a honk the drivers held up middle fingers. I watched the man’s snarling face. He was so pleased with himself. Giving the F U sign to a kids seemed like the highlight of his day.

In college I was spat at. In college I was called a nigger. In college there were no repercussions for those who did these things. I was disillusioned.

I hung out with a white guy from my dorm. He wasn’t my first white boyfriend but he would hang out with me in private but when we crossed paths on campus he wouldn’t speak.

One time while in the car with my dad he got stopped for a routine traffic stop but they asked him to step out of the car. They then seated him in the back seat of the cop car to run his plates. I sat anxiously awaiting and praying.

I was in TJ max one day and the sweetest little girl came up to me and called me a Nigger. Her mother apologized profusely. I knew that she learned this from the very person who apologized to me.

We vacationed in Hilton Head. I was told by a white friend of mine that what looked like racism was really classism. It was a pretty silly idea to begin with that the two are not intrinsically tied together but I humored his argument.  But Hilton Head is known as a vacation hot spot for the elite. Here we were among them. My dad dropped us off at a public swimming pool near our own villa, me and my two sisters. When our hands touched the gate people got quiet. We were children. A man on the balcony called security. Apparently there was a pool designated for our cluster of villas. A reasonable thing but we were carted off. I couldn’t help but feel the disgrace.

Here I sit now. Watching some police officers act without accountability. Watching judges dismiss cases without having to give a rationale. Watching a lack of due process applied to even a criminal who has basic rights under the law. Watching a child with candy in his hand and nothing else killed. Watching others call him a thug and digging up how many detentions he attended to defame his character. Watching a man being shot and left in the street like a dog. Watching a 12 year old boy shot in the park, watching a young man shot and killed at the gas station for playing his music too loud. Watching the disparity  of unfair sentencing. Watching my friends family and neighbors telling me that everything is ok. That there is nothing to be concerned about. That racial tension is dead. Watching the republican candidates address a question about police brutality not by suggesting higher accountability for those who abuse their powers but taking the time to applaud the police with no mention of change. (Don’t get me wrong honest law enforcers should be praised)   All I am doing is watching. All I am doing is waiting. Everything disillusioned…. I can’t understand why you can’t see the problem.

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The Art of Worship

Prepare yourself for this Psalm of Praise, listen to it, don’t analyze it. Let the grandeur of our God wash over you. Think of yourself as a lone tiny dot in the face of an inexhaustible God. Remember that you are connect to an ancient chorus of believers who still sing this song about our God. And you cannot refuse to Worship the one who hold of all this in His mighty hands.

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thank to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

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Ezekiel 4: God and the Performing Arts

artFor all of you who are gifted in the world of performing arts, have you ever thought: Where does God fit in all of this? Outside of church centered performances it seems that the world of the arts can at time, exist in a vast contrast between what is sacred and what is secular. Let’s face it, many, movies, TV shows, plays, improv, and so on are used as a platform to debunk God and what his will for humanity is.

But let us not forget, Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  James 1:17  Essentially this means that if it is Good, it belongs to God and brings Him glory. A ballet doesn’t necessarily have to play out a biblical story line to glorify God and an instrumental does not need to say the name Jesus in order to display His Grace and Mercy.  These things intrinsically give a glimpse into the character of God because we are created in His image an our capacity for Art belongs to Him and honors Him. If you are a non-believing performer, perhaps you don’t even know that your very talent and skill are good gifts from God. Even when art is used to put itself at odds with God it also cannot exist without Him. (Side note: Artistic Expression is extremely hard to fit into a Godless paradigm. If we were not created for a purpose what would it mean? If there is only death after life would all the beauty fade away?)

If God delights in art, is honored by art and art is sustained by His character,  it would logically follow that He himself is an artist. Not only in the masterful way he has painted the sky and clothed the meadows in wildflowers, but also in Ezekiel chapter 4, he is in fact a director of a silent drama acted out by his prophet. There is a set that is made, and experiential art on display! And maybe, just maybe pantomime was used!   

Take a look: God is not happy with Jerusalem in Ezekiel Chapter 4; as a people of God they have consistently turned towards sin and worshiped false idols. God has had enough of their claims to straighten up and walk right so he sends Ezekiel to declare that there will be a great siege of their land that they will be punished for their sin. But God does not use words to communicate this! Instead he uses something far more cool!

This is what He says, ” Now son of man (Ezekiel), take a block of clay, put in in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it.”  Ezekiel 4:1-2

That’s right folks! God had Ezekiel perform his prophecy through somewhat of a skit utilizing mini models. It is thought that the model he built with clay brick was complete with drawing, sculpting and carvings. There was a battle seen created with tiny battery rams and maybe even tiny troops!

And this is not even the best part! In Ezekiel 3:26 God made his prophet mute “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people.” While Ezekiel was erecting this model of doom outside before the people he could not talk. Just imagine them asking him what they heck he was doing, or undoubtedly the throngs of children who wanted to touch it and play with it. Ezekiel was silent thus using art and symbols to speak the Word of God. Some even say he may have acted out these scenes in a mime like fashion! So for all of you mimes out there preserving this old art keep hope alive your craft is honored by God.

God then instructs him to act out a Four Hundred and Thirty day experiential exhibit! God says to Ezekiel “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.”  Ezekiel 4:4-5

After he finishes this part up he tells Ezekiel to lay on his right side and do this again for 40 more days! If you are thinking that this experiential art couldn’t get any worse for the artist you are wrong. Verse 8 tells us that Ezekiel would be tied down before the people so he couldn’t turn. God gave Ezekiel specific instruction on what to eat during this time  but in order to demonstrate to the people that they were defiled he ended up having to bake his bread in front of everyone using cow dung as fuel for the fire! That’s right people!!!!! Cow Dung!

For all of my actors, street performers or improv friends can you imagine getting this gig? Can you imagine how physically involved it would be, all to communicate a lesson to the people. And Ezekiel gave himself over to this craft for the purpose of serving God.

Now I will let you in on a little secret. I am not the most artsy person in the world. Don’t get me wrong I see beauty in the arts. I love to write and I try my hand at painting (I have one of my original works hanging in my office, its an abstract representation of Texas Wildflowers. A little girl recently came in and looked at it hanging and asked me if my son had done it lol!!!!!!! so deflating) But what I mean by “not being artsy” is that I walk around an exhibit and I cannot for the life of me understand why one bold stripe of paint is worth 2500 dollars and demonstrates racial tension. I have seen experiential art exhibits where a Man screams loudly with no explanation and I have been pretty unmoved.  But even with own lack of artsy, I can look on God’s use of the Performing Arts in Ezekiel in wonder! What a way to communicate truth! What a way to get your message across! What PR event to draw in the crowds!

What a fantastically complex God we serve, in that he doesn’t choose the easy road of communication here, rather he chooses the arduous labor of art.

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God and Weird visions: Ezekiel 1-2

ezekiels_vision_sm_by_rive6-d7dtasm

I am overwhelmed by the complexity of God and his written word to us. I pause even to write this because the task of trying to explain and understand this complexity feels beyond me in every way. Don’t get me wrong I know that God desires that we know Him that we have intimacy in him as a child looks up to his father or as the beloved disciple was able to recline and lay his head against Jesus. What a sweet intimacy that is and what a privilege to share in it!

But if you may, can we look at another facet of God’s character? While he is near, he is also far. While we are made in his image, he is vastly other. He walks with us in time, but yet he supersedes time. We understand that he is eternal but we can’t begin to fathom an existence that has no beginning and one that lives outside of time itself.

It seems to me that God wants to communicate his vast “otherness” to us at times and Ezekiel is quite the display of weird stuff! If you are like me and grew up in a predominately black Baptist church you know that the saints of old have passed down traditional sayings that describe how we talk about God whether biblical or not. You know he is the “rose of Sharon” the “prince of peace” the “rock of  ages” and finally the “wheel in the middle of the wheel.”  It was always that last one that I had no clue what it meant. There was even a song about Jesus. “He’s my rock, my rock, my sword, my shield, he is the wheel in the middle of the wheel.”  Why is there a wheel in the middle of a wheel? What use is a wheel intersecting with another wheel?

Well this strange contraption is a part of Ezekiel’s inaugural Vision in Ezekiel 1& 2. Ezekiel, I imagine, was a fairly normal priest and then he is whisked away to get a glimpse at the complexity of our Lord. ” In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heaves were opened and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1)

Here we are introduced to these winged creatures with four faces and four wings and human arms under said wings. They had feet like calf and shined in brilliance and beside each one was a wheel in the middle of a wheel. A wheel of equal shinning brilliance that intersected with another wheel and the  wheel was covered in eyes! Of all things yes the wheel had eyes! The wheel moved about with the creatures going where they went without even turning as it is said the spirit of those creatures was in the the wheel. (Ezekiel 1:20)

And get this, there is more! There was some sort of vault over the heads of the creatures and and image like a man was atop this thing. And its appearance was “like glowing metal, as if full of fire…” it is said there was radiance around him like the “appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day.” (Ezekiel 1:27-28)

This figure in all its might and majesty is the Lord God Almighty sitting upon his throne. Can we take a break from the strangeness of it all and consider the beauty of it? Rather can we accept that the strangeness of it, is in fact its beauty.

This sweet image that the Lord allowed Ezekiel to see is like pulling back the curtain so we can see even the slightest sliver of God’s mystery. And a beautiful mystery it is.  We have to remember that God’s inspired word is ordained by the Holy Spirit so when Ezekiel pinned this, the Lord wanted to specifically highlight some of these things for the immediate audience as well as the eternal audience which we are a part of.  That means that what this image displays is something important to God to communicate to his people so we need to take notice.

I don’t pretend that I speak on God’s behalf or anything, however there is an overarching message we find in Ezekiel’s vision and I think it may be this… The Almighty God, who was and is and is to come, the maker of the heavens and the earth, the giver of every good and perfect gift, the alpha and omega, the one who is the judge and the justifier, has an existence that is so powerful and more grand that we can wrap our minds around.

I am not the first person to shudder in the face of our Lord’s grandeur. History has shown us that theologians either decide to use this understanding of the mystery of God to drive us further from him and some allow it to drive us nearer.

So what is the correct response to all of this otherness? Reverence is the first thing that comes to mind but maybe even something deeper than that. Could it be that we can find comfort in the vast separation between the glory of the shinning image sitting above the vault, instead of dread and fear?  Could it be that in God’s infinite  power and grandeur we find our champion? Who better to have your back then the one whose Glory is so powerful it cannot be looked upon? I find peace, safety and a sense of victory knowing that God is not like you and I in this way. I have enough people like me standing for me, But if God is for us, Who can be against us?

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Meet my 90 something year old neighbor, Jewel

My husband and I just moved to a more “neighborhoody” small town. We are coming from an apartment complex closer to the city where everyone comes and goes without even a nod of the head. Our little town is full of neighbors who stop and say “howdy” like for real one older gentleman used that term while we were walking with our kids.  There are real live ice cream trucks driving by in the evenings, kids riding their bikes, and cute little store fronts and eateries down the street. As far as I am concerned this is as close to living in Stars Hollow as we can get and that makes me happy.

One of our goals for our new abode is to be more neighborhoody towards our neighbors. So far this has proved difficult, due to the fact that we have just completed one month at this residence and we have had a car accident, stomach flu, house guest, a business trip and more. However over this holiday weekend I seized the moment to do some much needed yard work. While cleaning up Mrs. Jewel made her way over to introduce herself.

Her white hair was properly tied up into a scarf which made me feel a little bit less self-conscience because I had to hog tie my robust mane into a bandanna in order to ward off spiders and what not. She wore a purple floral dress with a little fanny pac positioned on her hip. I noticed she was wearing make up, at least lip stick. The red hue had been drawn on out of the lines a little bit as if my toddler had done it. She wore those gigantic puffy sneakers you find in drug stores that Velcro. They were nude color.

Now I am not 100% sure of Mrs. Jewel’s age but she told me that she was later celebrating her son’s 70th birthday and her eldest son is 73. I tell you what, if you live to see your children in their 70’s you have lived quite a full life. I only spent a short time with her but, within our 15 min chat she gave enough insight for me to fill a whole blog or two.

I am captivated by old people I think. She said little but exuded wisdom. Jewel began to tell me about the huge oak tree, whose shade was offering us some solace from the Texas heat. It was so large I couldn’t imagine a day where it had to be nurtured and watered by anyone. It turns out her neighbor planted that tree almost 70 years ago. For some reason her neighbor didn’t have time to care for it so she took it upon herself. She told me she adopted that tree. She raised it up and the tree is almost as old as her boys, now old men themselves. This struck me as enduring. Who cares to raise up a tree you do not plant? Here we are 70 years later and what was once small and frail towers over her, now small and frail. She was proud of that tree.

Mrs. Jewel then told me a history of everyone on the street. She told me about their comings and goings and how many children they have and how the children are now grown. She mentioned, several times that people are too busy these days for much of anything. Too busy for their neighbors, too busy for their children, too busy to care for a tree. For one reason or another the notion of business and her sorrowful reflection on it, has eaten away at me ever since. Why in the world have we become so busy as a culture? What do we busy ourselves with?

She told me about her quilting business, which she said was the reason she hadn’t taken the initiative to introduce herself to me sooner. Here she is old enough to have children in their 70s, in her puffy drug store shoes, and she is quilting. She was busy working on back orders. They say a busy life, is a blessed life. So often we hurry to finish work and she delights in it. I just realized as a type, this is an oxymoron, how can one relish in an a life that  isn’t busy, but also praise a life of business?

While I may not agree with Jewel’s fashion sense, she cared about her appearance. I have observed with many older people that they care about what they look like, their hair, their homes, their yards. I am sure that the mentality is wrought with the trouble of keeping up appearances but there is an art to caring about the little things that may be lost on us young folk. Why do we devalue our property, and have no pride attached to the homes we have worked so hard for? Why don’t we try to put our best foot forward. I see this as a typical case of over correction. While her generation may have been a little too concerned about white washed fences and mint juleps, the generations after her (I think there is like a 4 degree separation between us) have allowed lethargy to creep into every aspect of our lives to combat this. Lethargy I think is sold to you as freedom from expectations, then something drastic happens. You began to expect less and less of yourself. Maybe we have all suffered because of this.

Jewel mention quite a few times which ladies of the house worked and those who didn’t work on the street. This bothered me as a working mom. Can I cut the mustard, are my children suffering? I wonder what she has observed as she has watched these families over the years.

While not pertinent to the story, Mrs. Jewel happens to be white and I happen to be black. She has been at this residence for 70 years, which means when they cleared the land to put in the new development the entire town was populated by whites just like herself. Over time this area has notoriously become more diversified setting off a large migration of white families to the north. I often wonder about this time. As racially tense as America seems to be in these last couple of years, I could only imagine what she has seen through those eyes. She always seems to be watching. As I drive through these old streets I think fondly on people like Jewel who wouldn’t budge. I don’t know if she stayed because she accepted her diverse neighbors or if she stayed out of  sure will power to not be moved. Either way she seems to have made her peace with it now. Regardless of her situation her longevity in that place is appealing to me.

We ended this conversation by exchanging numbers. The next day she came by to give me a cake. I look forward to more reflections with my 90 something year old neighbor. old-woman-cartoon-clip-art-860861

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The Sacrament of Every Day Life

There is a myth that has permeated church culture. This myth originated from an artificial break in the natural and the supernatural. German theologians and philosophers sought to remove the mystical from the normal so as to distance God from one’s every day life and happenings.

They got it wrong. The natural and the supper natural co-mingle every time your heart, a muscle roughly the size of your fist, pumps oxygenated blood through the body. When we allow life to slow down and consider the gravity of every second, the beauty of complexity in what seems to us as minutia, we see God.

The sacraments are actions or occurrences that open up  deeper meaning to point to Christ. These things are typically considered baptism, confirmation, marriage, last rites and so on. I do not desire to be disrespectful to those who practice sacraments as devotion to Christ. I believe each one is beautiful, a moment in time that means something. But what I wish to say is, what if we can see God’s provision in the rain dripping from a tree, what if we can see his character in how a mother holds her child, what if we can see his familiarity with us, in the comfort of curling up with a good book.

Ok now I am feeling a little too Thoreau! I’m learning to slow down. To experience. To gaze. To enjoy. To relax. To love. To live. To play. To be in awe of creation. To be in awe of minutia, which leads me to be in awe of Christ.

The other day I had the most pleasant moment. A man was outside mowing his lawn and I got hit with that pungent smell of fresh cut grass as soon as I opened my door. Then I remembered my dad. He would spend a warm Saturday morning cutting grass. Usually we would have the windows open and could hear and smell what he was doing. My mom in our little yellow kitchen and gospel music blaring in the family room that usually meant to us kids that we needed to wake up and they planned to force a productive day on us. I would peep out the window and see my dad. He wore his hat tipped up so high on his head. lol I am not sure why he did that. He had these beat up old grass cutting shoes. They were so dirty he would leave them on the porch. When I was younger we actually had a barn door on our kitchen that let out to the back porch. We would open the top latch and let the air and light peek in that little yellow kitchen. All was right with the world.

My moment of grass smelling was a way to thank God, for the beauty of family, for my childhood and the security my dad and his dirty shoes brought to my family. For me those grass cutting days was a reminder that my dad took care of us. What a sweet moment found in the minutia.