A few weeks back, I recorded an iTunes Podcast with Sarah Bragg, host of Surviving Sarah, a podcast focused on what it means to survive — survive life, yourself, your kids, your jobs, whatever! [I stole that from her site, btw!]
If you know anything about parking at Emory University, you know it can be quite the task to park on or around campus — especially if you’re a commuter student and don’t have a parking pass!
Sometimes I park along the street where Barnes & Noble is to save on my commuter parking swipes in the deck or when my visit on campus will be short. Today I parked in my “Oh thank you Jesus I found a spot!” location on the street. I usually follow the sidewalk around the corner and up the hill to campus, but today I noticed a few students walking through a lightly wooded area on a makeshift path that heavy laden feet have created.
I hopped out my car, followed the path that I saw them on, and actually cut through my usual route closer to Candler. I thought to myself, “Well look at Gawd!”
Here’s the thing: sometimes you don’t know the path to your destination exists until you see someone else walking it first. Sometimes we don’t understand why our lives go a certain direction but know that the path you take to success will lead other people to their destined path as well. We’ll all get there after while, won’t we?
Share this simple lesson with someone you know who’s looking for their path, too!
On the Chase,
This morning, as I was getting off of the Emory shuttle, I was walking down the sidewalk when I realized there was a woman walking in tandem with me.
We were walking so in-sync, in fact, from the outside, it probably looked as if we knew each other. I thought it to be rude to walk so closely to someone and not speak to them, so I turned my head and said, “Good morning!”
She responded in-kind and, after asking me where I was attending school, she began to tell me that her husband was a minister for many years but after going on a missions trip to Budapest, they returned back to the states not as committed to their congregational beliefs as before.
I asked what denomination was she and she said they were a part of the Conservative Church of God.
“Ohhhhh…”, I said. “Real conservative! Missions work usually kills any kind conservative views!”
We both laughed.
She said, “We came back and realized that what I believed didn’t work in Budapest. That’s the point if the Gospel, right? It’s supposed to work everywhere! What good is the Gospel if it doesn’t apply to all?”
She said she returned to the States jaded — her husband left the ministry — and, they’ve found peace with living with and for Christ in their own way, with their own understanding of the Gospel being something for all people. Funny note: she mentioned that her mom still cries out, “You’re going to hell!” because of her newfound understanding of the purpose of the Gospel. This Southern white woman then exclaimed, “Well, I guess that’s where I’ll be going, then.”
What a great God moment. She’d rather choose hell than oppress folks with views that don’t allow all them to be able to relate to and receive the liberative Gospel of Jesus Christ. Turn up for Jesus, indeed.
Her question still resonates with me, though: “What good is the Gospel if it doesn’t apply to all?”
I mean, really! What good is it if we use the Gospel of Jesus Christ to limit and hinder and refuse and ostracize and condemn and separate and divide? The Great Commission, to take the Gospel over all of the world, is not only the missional work we’re all called to do, but also the lens through which we view and express our faith. (See Matthew 28:16-20)
Our beliefs, especially those that are shaped through denominational allegiances, can sometimes offer a narrow view of what it means to stand with those who want to experience Jesus. I know that I’ve had some beliefs about Jesus, God, and the Gospel that were limiting and seemingly made me look and feel superior because of my understanding of Jesus. (My very limited understanding, may I add)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is. for. everybody.
Yes, even them.
If how we view Jesus and use the bible in relationship to other people does not include them, their experiences, and contexts, then we ain’t doing this thing right.
Here’s the bright side: you can learn a whole lot (about life and Jesus) by talking to strangers, though!
On the Chase,
This week kicks off a brand new year for the students at the Candler School of Theology and I really can’t believe that this time last year, I was a first year student, bright eyed, bushy tailed (read: haired!) and eager to start on a new journey.
I remember posting this status on the first day of orientation:
Then, I didn’t know how all of my experiences had lead me there, but I knew that the pull from God to go that direction was the right thing to do. It didn’t always make sense, but I was sure that I was on the right track.
Throughout the course of the year, my ideology about God and people would change drastically. The embedded theologies that have been with me for decades began to shift as I read and searched the history and context of familiar texts finding new meaning in them.
Ideas I had about “certain people” and varying “ideas” were dropping, shifting, molding, and taking new shape.
Some folks told me I was “losing my Jesus.”
I just laughed. If the only knew that what was happening behind the Tweets, Facebook posts, public worship, and every day life was drawing me closer to Him.
In the last year, I’ve been broken, depressed, lonely, fearful, afraid. I’ve been displaced and, for a moment, I was living out of my car. Months later, that same car was repossessed. Relationships were broken and my pride and ego was crushed to pieces. For a very serious moment, I considered dropping out of school and thought that I had made a horrible mistake trying to pursue God in such a “grandiose” way.
How could a path so certain be filled with so much brokenness and figurative (and literal) death?
The answer was right in front of me: God was desperate for me to experience something much more than a change in theology or continual exercises in critical thinking. He wanted me to experience what it truly meant to be a part of the marginalized.
I am a marginalized person; I am a Black woman and a single mother who uses public assistance to keep things afloat. My position in the margins have always been there. My marginalized seat as a Black single mother who is on public assistance is well worn, but the experiences in the last year have introduced me to what it is like for families to scramble to find emergency housing and what the working poor face as they have limited transportation and must rely on the kindness of others and public transit to travel around the city for work and school.
As I found residence in a new section of “The Margins”, parts of my elitist, privileged views were revealed. They were ugly. I became one of those whom I once turned my nose up at, who I had no patience or compassion for. My degrees didn’t matter, neither did all the blessings that I was afforded over the years. God leveled the playing field. He made me see things the way He sees things.
Once God restored me with a place to call my own and a little cash car I was able to buy with a whole bunch of favor (and unexpected funds), I realized that everything I had experienced, as brief as it had been, was enough for me to have a newfound compassion and understanding of what the heart of God is. It taught me that this life we have, these things we possess are nothing — they have no weight — and they are never to become a place of comfort for us.
God kept me when I wanted to quit — when nothing was making sense but I was still required to keep moving forward.
During the most desperate of times, God ensured that my pride (that I held soooo tightly) wouldn’t hinder me from being able to receive from people He brought to me to help me.
All of the furniture I own, every dish, bed, and pot, was given to me — for free. (Remember this? Yeah, good seeds come back.)
A number of other things have happened that have blown my mind — all kinds of opportunities — that have made the last year’s pain just a distant memory. Weeping may endure for a night… (y’all know the rest!)
There are so many things I could name that has changed in the last year, but the thing that I can say that has changed the most is this:
I treat people differently.
I try not to use my “Christian privilege” to make people feel inadequate or less than. I try not to take scripture out of context to appease my own fears and insecurities about my misunderstandings of others.
What I’ve learned in the first year was simply how to treat people better: the estranged, the outsider, even myself.
I could attribute a shift in theology for that. I really could. But, as we know, there’s no greater teacher than experience, right?
As I begin year two in this journey, I am desperately seeking vocation. I am trying to understand what God wants me to do with my life’s experiences — and show me how to shape them into purpose.
I know things won’t be easy this year and year two will present its own set of problems. But I am thankful for where I am in this moment.
I’m also very thankful to the friends, family, classmates, professors, staff members, and even strangers who kept me moving forward when my feet felt stuck in the cement.
Here’s to year two, y’all!
Keep an eye on this blog for conversations about what I’m learning this year — and tell a friend!
On the Chase,
I’ve been in a love affair with a guy named Daniel for years. He’s accompanied me to church, bible study, Sunday school, and small groups. He’s been my shoulder to cry on when life’s kitchen had the heat on hell and reminded me that there was always a “fourth man” standing in the “furnace” with me. It was his life’s story that reminded me that even in the mouth of the lion, God will save me, redeem me, and elevate me.
All of his heroic stories shaped who I am. I believed what every preacher has ever said about him and I never questioned whether or not the miraculous things that occurred in the book of Daniel were really legit.
Today, I found out that they were not — they’re fictional.
Yep. Fictional, fake, made up, fabricated, imagined.
I sat in the lobby of Candler this morning with my mouth agape and my heart tormented.
“What do you mean, book of historical commentary on Daniel, that the stories of heroism that I’ve held so dearly is fictional?” I asked myself.
I flipped through my bible’s commentary to find some kind of solace, some explanation that would solve this crisis: how could these stories I’ve held on to for so long be fictional? How could something that mattered so much be historically and literally inaccurate?
I took to Facebook and threatened to jump off a classroom table if I had to really accept the idea that the stories in Daniel chapters 1-6 were fictional (Chapters 7-12 are considered Apocalyptic Literature and requires its own discussion!) My embedded theology had been challenged, and though it wasn’t the first time, it surely hit me like a ton of bricks.
I got a little pushback from friends and associates on Facebook, of course.
“The entire bible is made up!”
“Today, it feels like I just learned Santa isn’t real. Why even teach it?”
Another said, “What is the point of seminary? To teach you that the Bible is farcical?”
I had to figure out what was making this break up with Daniel’s heroic stories so tough and where I would go from here — as a seminarian and as a Christian.
The running joke with many seminarians and their friends/families/church community is that seminary admits a Christian and graduates an atheist. “You lose your Jesus in there!”, they say. We gain insight to the historical and literal contexts, so much so, that in some way, what was once an infallible now becomes… questionable.
What, then, do we do? I came to this conclusion (because losing my Jesus ain’t an option) — whether the stories are factual or not does not matter.
The truth remains: God’s sovereignty, power, and desire to have relationship with us is a consistent, irrevocable force.
When we read scripture, we have to learn to separate the facts from the truth. The fact of the matter is, the stories told in Daniel chapters 1-6 may not have happened. Historians don’t even know who authored the book and, as the stories of Daniel take its course, there are some quirky things happening within those aforementioned chapter (like the text switching from Hebrew to Aramaic then back to Hebrew).
The truth is, however, that God’s power is real, that He will go to great lengths to save His (or Her) people, and that no matter where we are and under what circumstances, we can rest in the fact that God is there to save us. Through Daniel, we learn how to live/act in a world that may expect us to live contrary to what our God tells us to do — be and remain faithful to Yahweh is a key theme of the book.
Someone asked me, “If some of the stories in the bible aren’t factual, then what’s the proof that God can do anything at all?”
That, my friends, is a personal thing — what YOU believe God can do based on what you’ve read and understand is your own personal discernment. Knowing the history behind the story doesn’t change what I believe about God; if anything, it enhances it.
It helps me to see God in a new way; it complicates yet simplifies, narrows yet expands, empties yet fills.
In a lot of ways, I feel like knowing that sometimes the story and even the characters are totally made up moves our loving affections away from these biblical personas and to the one who really matters: God.
I know it won’t be the last time that I read something in scripture that really challenges what I’ve thought to be true (I’ll write about my disappointment in Job and my tears shed over Genesis in another post) and it is this level of questioning and critical thinking that I hope will help make me into a really awesome minister/writer/pop culture commentator/praise and worship leader/dancing machine.
I’m still working on what to do with these feelings about my man Daniel; like any love affair gone awry it takes a minute to settle into things. I am glad, however, that God walks us through this process of getting over what doesn’t matter and getting to the root of what does.
On the Chase,
Today, the Candler School of Theology had the opportunity to host Voices of Hope, a choir composed of women who are currently in prison at the Lee Arrendale Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison two hours northeast of Atlanta. Candler has been abuzz about their arrival for weeks; “A life changing experience!” one of my third year classmates exclaimed. “You’ll really understand what it means to worship freely,” another one commented. After seeing Voices of Hope (VOH) perform today, I’ve can say that both of them were right.
As I got dressed this morning, I began to think about the women who too were getting dressed to prepare to come sing to us. As I freely put on my lipstick and fitted skinny jeans, and as I changed my mind on what top to wear a few times, I thought about the women who may look like or even be my same age as me who are brushing their teeth in their cells, using a small mirror’s reflection to comb their hair, and doing their absolute best to make a good impression on us who were coming to listen to them. In tandem, we woke up today, prepared ourselves to come to Candler, and arrived with expectations of something great.
Words cannot really express how powerful it was watching these incarcerated women praise God in spirit and in truth. What a juxtaposition it was to see their beautiful robes swinging with every beat and their well shined prison shoes and khaki pants peeking from the bottom.
One woman told me that she had been in jail for 19 years and wasn’t sure how long she would remain in prison. She sang, however, as if she was free from everything. All of the women did. Free from the past, free from the present, free from it all. With hands lifted, they gave us a roller coaster of emotions; at one point, the entire chapel was in tears.
What does this have to say about our own worship experiences with God? If one can be in physical bondage but can still worship God so freely, what is keeping those who are “free” from doing the same? These women sang of victory, liberation, faith, justice, and a hope for the future despite their incarceration. Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed…even if they are confined to a prison cell. The idea of “freedom” is relative. “We” are free, yet we live bound by the past, our fears, our inadequacies, and our shortcomings. “We” are free, yet we sit tight-lipped in church, slow to speak to our neighbor, and use religion as a means to control the “others”.
When it was all over, students from the ConEd site served the women their lunches. We catered to them, got them anything they needed; I wondered when was the last time many of them had a catered lunch with a full wait staff. They disrobed and we were starkly reminded of the “labels” that had been placed on them: they were “owned” by the Department of Corrections. Their spirits, though, belonged to God.
Today reminded me that this idea of “freedom” is such a relative term. It reminded me to stop taking my own freedoms for granted and use every moment I have to give thanks and exert intentional actions into my praise and worship with God. Knowing scripture, having the most profound exegesis, or have a good Holy Ghost dance means nothing without an understanding of freedom in Him and a heart of servitude. Serving God begins and ends with serving the least of those among us.
On the Chase,