In Shonda Rhimes’ new book, Year of Yes, she recounts being honored by Elle Magazine as a powerful woman in television. As the ceremony hostess ran off the litany of accomplishments of the women in the room, she noted that as the women were being complimented, they did one of three things: Continue reading
When is Grace Enough?
For a long time, I was a proponent of the death penalty. Growing up in a world where an eye for an eye and a tooth of a tooth was the extent of my moral and theological understanding, offering grace to those who I deemed were undeserving clouded my ability to fully see how grace could really apply to them. Continue reading
Cleanin’ Up Christmas
Recently, I began reading the book Christmas is not Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, as a part of an Advent small group series hosted by Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The five-chapter book explores the idea of shifting the focus of Christmas from a me-me-me experience to one that gives-gives-gives to those who are in need. I could run the list of great points Pastor Slaughter presents about the commercialization of Christmas, but this blog is about something much more important. Continue reading
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,
Sitting in the Margins: A Year in Review
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,
God, Justice, and Our Collective Will
As the country waited to hear the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, there were a host of emotions present as we waited to learn Zimmerman’s fate. Many were hopeful that justice would come quickly for 17 year old Trayvon Martin; we ended the night only to have our hopes dashed with a not guilty verdict.
I took some time to look at the response of many people while we waited for the verdict and even afterward. People around the country had a similar request:
I’M WATCHING THIS #Verdict on the trial and I’m stressed awaiting the outcome 🙏. May God’s will be done!!! R.I.P. #Trayvon
— SAMMIE (@PrinceSammie) July 14, 2013
My heart goes out to both sides, i will uplift both sides in prayer & pray that God’s will be done in both of their lives.
— J.Donn (@JayJaydaJett) July 14, 2013
God’s will, will always be done.
— Abigail Pope (@SpiritOfALiones) July 14, 2013
While I could spend many words expressing the feelings of despair and hopelessness people had surrounding these developments, there was a common theme that abounded throughout the night: the need for God’s “will to be done”. As hundreds of people tweeted and posted about wanting God’s will to be done with bated breath, hoping the verdict would offer solace to both the Martin family and supporters across the country, the collective disappointment was met with even more social commentary about how we will continue to wait for God’s will to be done and, as Psalm 94:1 suggests, allow God’s vengeance to do the work that the judicial system could not do.
I am not arguing any facts or failures about this case. The aforementioned introduction shines light on my personal views of the case, series of events, and desired outcome.
I am, however, raising theological questions about God, justice, and our collective will.
I mean, how do we find/know God’s will anyway?
We could use algorithms and formulas to figure out God’s will…
Powerful scripture + past experiences / prophetic word from a televangelist = God’s will?
A bible story + prayer x a seed of faith($) = God’s will?
Here are the hard, theological questions I have about praying for God’s will in the midst of waiting for and reacting to Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict:
Since the verdict was not in Trayvon’s favor, does this mean that God was not listening to the supplication of those who wanted a guilty verdict? Was God’s will to allow the Martin family to not see justice and face the devastating pain of having their son’s killer go free? Does God, in fact, will for George Zimmerman to be a free man? Does this mean that Zimmerman’s life was more valuable than Trayvon’s?
Can we definitively say that our prayers for God’s will to be done come with the presumption that God’s will is like our own? And when these things do not work in our favor, does it now mean that God is in opposition to us?
More importantly, whose will is really at work in the earth?
Is it God’s or man’s?
God gave mankind the ability to choose. Many people call this “free will”. We are able to make our own decisions, one way or the other, with or without an understanding of God’s will for any given situation. I imagine that even when we are fully aware of what we think is God’s will for our lives, we still have the ability to choose otherwise.
Zimmerman made a choice on a cold, rainy February night in 2012. Some may argue that his actions were a part of “God’s will.” Others would scoff at the idea. Nevertheless, it was his ablity to exercise his free will that took Trayvon’s life.
So what does this mean for God, justice, and our collective will?
I’m reminded of Marvin Gaye’s song, “I Want You” where he croons over a carefully orchestrated melodic tune with electric and bass guitars, bongos, and string instruments:
I want you / the right way / I want you / but I want you to want me, too.
During my time in seminary, I’ve learned that God can be quite narcissistic, conceited, and totally consumed with Himself. We see countless scriptures throughout the Old Testament where God’s desire for a monolithic worship experience with His people was of prime importance and this incessant need to be chosen by His people is how much of the biblical text plays itself out.
God wants us to want Him the way that He wants us. He wants us to choose Him, intentionally.
But I’m convinced that God knew that we would not always choose Him on purpose. This free will gets in the way of seeing how amazingly wonderful it is to love God, to choose to be in relationship with Him. Our sinful nature pushes against the very idea.
Because God knew we wouldn’t choose Him on our own, He sent Jesus to show us how serious He was about us choosing Him. I’m being a bit presumptuous, but I think God knew that we would not choose Him on our own — our fleshly nature innately rejects God and our minds would only follow suit in a proverbial rebellion against The Creator.
God sending Jesus was the ultimate example of divine leadership: a leader should not expect their followers to do anything they are not willing to do themselves.
So God gives the ultimate sacrifice (His son) to prove that though He was asking us to make a choice to choose him (something that we could not do through our mind/flesh), He first had to show us what it truly meant to not only sacrifice but to choose intentionally. Choosing had to be a HEART matter, it could not be an act of the flesh. God gave his son Jesus as a HEART sacrifice.
So, when we begin talking about God’s will versus our own, though we have the ability to choose any way we would like, when we consider that LOVE fueled God’s decisions to not only create us but sacrifice for us, we have a new lens to look at how we engage in the process of finding justice for those who have been wronged.
We will never be able to answer the question of what God’s will is — especially when it is juxtaposed against human free will. What we do know however, is the core essence of having any type of will at all, is that every choice is a heart matter — when we live and act in LOVE we don’t have to war with who’s will is at work — LOVE is what drives our decision making and communal interactions.
On the Chase for Justice,