Love, for Goodness Sakes… (Thoughts on Faith)

I don’t want to be weak & ineffective. And I do not want to be mean-spirited. Most definitely in my faith. But I find myself caught in between two ideologies & it’s a tough line to tow. On my right, the militant & unashamed, wearing theological combat boots & bum rushing through  a person’s wounds & hurtful history in order to dominate the conversation with their own piety. But of this they aren’t aware. On my left, the blended believer whose faith is so contoured into the universe, it’s hard to know where their feet are planted. They unintentionally coax people into embracing their sickness, often giving no true remedy. 

Honestly, I can only share with others the God that I truly know. During my church’s prayer service yesterday, I heard the following, “Don’t be afraid to talk about my Love.” 

Why be fearful talking about God’s Love? And how are we missing it by dwelling in either of the two extremes: militant Christianity or passive Christianity? My guess would be we are defining Love through our own experiences, rather than through God’s explanation. 

The militant believers are afraid of using Love as the center of their evangelism and theology because it appears weak. In their eyes, it waters down the Gospel, taking away the urgency in the call to repentance. 

On the other hand, the well meaning passive Christians oversell the Love aspect as if God is not multifaceted. They take the compassion of God and dumb it down to the fickle level of human experience. And that would be doing the world a great injustice. My feelings change often. But the way God feels about me never will. It isn’t necessary to be overly emotional to help people identify with this Truth: God truly loves me. 

Romans 8:38-39 sums it up immensely:

“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If we have an inaccurate view of God’s Love, then we cannot fully grasp the Gospel in its totality. I can have a head knowledge of how sin entered the world or how I need a Savior, or even the difference between good and evil, but if I do not let His Love affect me, to the point that I am fully convinced of it more than anything else, then I run the risk of dwelling in the extremes of my Faith. Either I conjure a emotional counterfeit that lulls the heart into a slumber or I will push potential believers into a corner of self-righteousness. 

God is Love. And He loves you. There’s more, but it’s that simple.

Trekking Through Madness.

“I have traveled through madness to find me.” – Danny Alexander

 

I’ve spent countless moments giving off a bit of my light, but mainly in secret. My biggest nightmare has never been to give a public speech or being the center of attention. (Although those things are terrifying…) I’m most afraid of being perceived as faking it. Being disingenuous. That I’d be characterized as a phony.

Someone would assume that the things I truly love, the passions and beliefs I carry, I may not be as passionate about as I claim. Or that my abilities and skills probably won’t match what others perceived. It’s funny because the price I’m paying for coming out of hiding; for being me out in the open, is that now I’m looking over my shoulder. Aware that others are, in fact, watching. And they are constantly drawing conclusions about what they see or don’t see. It makes me paranoid, honestly.

I know that the right answer is to not give a single care about what others think. But you must understand something about me: I care. And I cannot help it.

One of the struggles attached with being a self-declared empath (google that one) is that I’m aware of others without trying to be. I can feel variations of others comfort levels, hear depths within the inflections of someone’s voice, feel tension the second I walk into a room. While navigating through this, I often gather that what I’m picking up is directed at me. Ha. Insecurity is poison for an empath.

Beyond wanting to be liked (which is what we all want if we’re honest), I desire to be helpful. Effective. I want people to leave my presence with more good things than they came with. I understand it’s not all on me, or about me, and I often do not have the power to make things happen 100% of the time. But I’m aware that a tiny bit of my own madness can find a way to attach itself to others…..if I’m not careful.

Wrestling with Greed: A Cautionary Tale

I dreamt greed almost killed me.
I woke up abruptly with my shoulders hunched and my body shaking because it was right before she snapped my neck into two that I’d opened my eyes.
At first, Greed had taken on many forms:
An overweight neighbor who’d lost her home;
my mother, but with much grayer hair and soft hands, needing me to feed her before she got a hunger headache. Or a pastor I once knew who kept asking me to serve in yet another ministry.
There was always Legitimacy behind their pained monologues.
The large neighbor chased me swiping at my last bag of possessions that I carried on my back. All she wanted was my daughter’s baby doll that resembled one she had as a child. She made multiple attempts at this doll until I screamed at her, “This does not belong to you! Why can’t you just go buy one like everyone else?”

That’s when her face contorted from sadness to rage. She moaned from her soul then; focusing her eyes on to me. From then on she repeated softly “No fair. You take faster than you give. No fair.” I didn’t understand what she meant until the moment she had her fingers interlocked around my throat.
I was somehow responsible.
She did not always go by her current name, I realized. And she had a story filled with loss before I decided that her level of need was uncalled for. It was then I shared her rage.
“I get it now”, I gasped through a struggling breath.
Her eyes widened and she loosened her grip;
Sat on the sidewalk in front of us and immediately I saw the sadness had returned.
It hovered over us like a cloud; shielding the sun. But even in the haze of the gray I saw her more clearly.
I realized the only reason greed did not kill me that day is because I learned her real name.

She wasn’t Greed, she was Poverty.

Self-Efficacy, etc.

Literally defined as “a person’s belief in their own abilities and competence”.

This has been one of my biggest challenges, truthfully. No matter the amount of growth or comfort in my own skin, I still manage to look over my shoulder to compare my progress with another’s success. Granted, jealousy was a rare occurrence, but no amount of mountain top experiences secured my mind in thinking that I was doing much better with “life” than I was assuming.

I remember being the main one jumping through hoops for attention. And like a chameleon, the lengths I went to for a reassuring nod depended on the circumstance/environment. Fear kept me from chasing accolades to an extreme level, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually — I laid myself bare.

Here I am, dreadlocks past my shoulders, slightly weird style, and a rebel to the American dream — and I still struggle to not look over my shoulder for approval. This time around, it’s for the arts-driven or alternative culture crowd. For those who rebel simply for the sake of being controversial. For example, I protested about Kony in 2012. I cared because I was told to care. I didn’t want to be the one person NOT caring. It was uncool to not care.

Lots of people are “caring” now. Isn’t that funny?

……….

So, I’m reevaluating my choices, trends, and pursuits; wondering what I truly care about. What makes my heart ache, break, and soar? What would I care about if no one saw or I didn’t have a social media account to use as proof? What if no one else cared…or disagreed…what would be so important to me that I carry on anyway?

I’m learning to accurately take inventory of my own journey. Because its not enough to be free to walk your path, but maturity comes when you can begin to process where you are. Change your mind or hairstyle if you want. Take that workout selfie because you’re proud of yourself; not to brag. And not feel a need to answer every question that crosses your FB page, for the sake of peace.

For most of my life, I assumed that only two extremes existed among people: those who have the spotlight, and those who are left to give the applause. But I’m realizing that I can be center stage in my own life and that be enough. More than enough.

No matter the age, we are naturally narcissistic; desiring to shine and show off our best attributes. Especially in the workplace — with the competition for promotions and reputations among colleagues. I used to envy the person welcoming harmony and being a team-player without the drama of workplace politics. But now I’m becoming that person.

Little by little.

50 Shades of Black & Blue

Confession: I spent much of my life being an in-closet feminist.

Not only did I recognize how women are viewed as having minority status, but I soon saw countless examples of how women seemed to exist for a man’s pleasure. I understood the Biblical design for men/women, but yet my ideology of equality and shared submission battled with the way things actually are. And I was angry and even bitter.

When you only have your rights to rally for, it’s easy to simplify the struggle to a moment of protest. A single march. But it appears that something as simple as an erotic book series can ignite talks of inequality.

For example, I should be able to read a book surrounding a straight-laced young woman, who lived her life suppressed, finding a supposed “sexually liberated” experience. Anyone discouraging me from reading are being oppressive, right? After all, men are able, and even encouraged, to be sexual. Women, however, are expected to be both Mother Theresa & Nikki Minaj when beckoned.

I want to read these books. Because it is my right as a person. I should do it without being judged.
Simple.

But then I gave birth to a woman.
…well…she’s a toddler now. But it is inevitable that she will become a woman.

I’m not responsible for her gender. God already took care of that part. But I’ve been given the thrilling, tumultuous task of showing her how to be a woman (Lord, help me.). She may not take one ounce of my teachings/example with her into adulthood, but darn it if I won’t still try.

The process of rallying for certain rights become complex when you are considering how it will affect the next generation. I’m picturing Naomi as a 29 year old, and I’m praying that she will not only feel equal with men, but that she will recognize her uniqueness/role as a woman.

Regrettably, books like 50 Shades of Grey does not give respect to a woman’s uniqueness. Only nods to the most debased version of her desires. A 2D version of the fire that a woman’s heart actually contains. It shifts the perspective too far right that love becomes abuse. But isn’t that the typical narrative that we hear of a woman in love?

Crazy. Desperate. Ultimately misused.

I know it is not a philosophy book or a textbook for Women’s Studies. And I understand that the poster-child for the Anti-50 Shades movement are largely conservatives. However, communities are coming to this book’s defense as being normal, acceptable treatment between a man and a woman. And that is not what I want my daughter to desire; not in her love or her sexuality.

This book teaches that pain is the path to desire. I won’t nick pick here because I understand people have various tastes. But this isn’t about having different desires, but about the definition of desire being altered. In my opinion, true desire is only unlocked when two things are present:

Safety
Commitment

By safety I mean a relationship where two people can explore and deny any part of the sexual intimacy. Being tied up, blindfolded, coerced, manipulated, and emotionally and physically gagged does not create safety for the woman. It only enhances the distorted satisfaction of the man. The woman’s satisfaction is not a byproduct of this set up. A happy accident, at best.

And then there’s commitment. When two people make the ultimate commitment (dare I use the M word here: Marriage), they are declaring openly that they share the responsibility to respect one another: mind, body, and spirit. In these books, there was no such commitment made, leaving this woman in danger of being physically, emotionally, and spiritually wounded by an already wounded man.

Another complex portion of rallying for rights is recognizing your part in narrative. The young lady in the first book constantly pursued the man, even after him telling her to stay away.

Raising, not simply head-strong, prideful, self-absorbed young women, but those in touch with their identities is integral to helping them know when a potential relationship is toxic. Not simply knowing what they are attracted to, but gaining a wisdom about what traits to stay far away from.

Ultimately, it’s not all about changing policies or evening the playing field at the end of the day. The heart is hard to legislate. As it has always been, confident, wise women will till their own fields. I will teach my daughter and daughter-types to conduct themselves as if no glass ceiling exists….until it no longer doesn’t.

Concerning Charleston.

I have a confession to make:

This morning, after reading through countless updates on the Charleston massacre that occurred at the infamous AME church , the night of June 18, I wept. Angry, painful tears. It was the first time I’d actually cried when hearing of stories with race as a backdrop of the tragedy. I wasn’t expecting to cry. But I genuinely felt something well up in my soul when I read the specific script the shooter uttered before he opened fire on the attendees…after having spent almost an hour sitting among them while they had Bible Study.

Those people had welcomed him. They were doing exactly as their faith instructs. And without warning, 9 lives were taken. My tears became angrier as I read a 5 year old girl was there that night and had only survived because her grandmother told her to “play dead”.

This wasn’t the first time I felt angry. From Eric Garner’s death by choke hold (#Icantbreathe), to the shooting of young Trayvon Martin, I was able to find strength to carry on despite constant evidence that the undercurrent of racism was getting stronger and bolder.

But today, I wept. Not only because of the blatant act of domestic terrorism that ended 9 lives. No, I cried because public opinion (and some of my friends/acquaintances) still refuse to see that there is a race problem in America. My pain continues to be policed and forced into politics and generalized explanations (e.g. mental illnesses) that makes me feel I have NO room to properly grieve. I want to lash back in anger, but I know that reacting will only add to the wounds that exist.

Here’s a summary from an article on CNN.com:

Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Pinckney, said she heard about what happened inside the church from a survivor, a close friend.
Johnson told CNN her friend recounted the man coming into the church, asking for the minister.
“My cousin, being the nice, kind, welcoming person he is, he welcomed him to his congregation, welcomed him to the Bible study, and he sat there for an hour … At the conclusion of the Bible study, they just heard just a ringing of a loud noise, and it was just awful from what I heard,” Johnson said.
When the son of her friend pleaded with the shooter to stop, Johnson said the gunman replied: “‘No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.’ And he shot the young man.”
Her friend pretended she was dead.
“But she watched her son fall and laid there. She laid there in his blood,” Johnson said.
From what she heard, the gunman reloaded five times.
Before he left the church, he asked one of the elderly members whether he had shot her, and she said no.
“And he said good, because we need a survivor because I’m going to kill myself,” Johnson told CNN.
A law enforcement official said witnesses told authorities the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people.”

This was undeniably a hate crime, where black people were targeted. There was fore-thought. And I’ve been told countless times today, both directly  and indirectly, that my emotions aren’t warranted. The script of my outrage has been snatched from me in an attempt to change the conversation.

Majority culture is allowed to be vocal and outraged about abortion. Christians being targeted by ISIS. Supporting the troops. Even gun control (or lack thereof). But bring up racism and doors will slam shut in your face. It is the pink elephant that Americans cannot talk about. It does not exist. It cannot exist.

Accepting its existence would mean that we would have to have an old, uncomfortable conversation about the very fabric of American culture. We would have to miseducate and reeducate our children about what it means to be racially unified in America. Apologies would have to be given and accepted. Change would actually have to happen. Social justice would have to become synonymous with Christianity. And hypocrisy would stick out like a sore thumb, finally, instead of being successfully hidden in the threads of our nation. And I would no longer have to apologize for being young, black, and angry.

Timing

I remember having a TERRIBLE sense of timing.

When to confront. When to complain. When to begin or end a relationship.

During our dating years, my husband would poke fun at me for having this major flaw. I would deny it, of course, but looking back on it I see that he was completely spot on. Lately, I’ve become obsessed at the way timing plays into my life’s circumstances. No conflict or occurrence is random to me anymore, nor are they without a smidgen of meaning attached. I swear, if I didn’t love Jesus so much, I’d be one of those folks reading the palms and the stars, and instead of Naomi, my daughter would have been named “Serendipity”.

…that does have a nice ring to it though, you think?….

I learned from certain biblical passages (try Ecclesiastes 3, for starters…) that God infuses His purposes and plan for us with both strategy and intention. He isn’t a god who loves anonymity, but He loves to place His signature, with bold strokes and lines — in ink– on our lives. He wants us to know that He’s the artist, the producer, and the author of it all.

He will even risk getting the blame for the bad stuff….because the good stuff is SO. GOOD.

So, I pay extra attention to the order of the story…the order of my story. Because I know that when I do, I will see his signature in plain sight. So plain that it can be overlooked, even.

So, I guess this post will serve as a caution/encouragement: Look up. Pay attention. God is speaking all the time, even when He isn’t talking.