Tag Archives: Community

The Color Purple

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to attend a church service in the poor area of the city.  I came to the service because my girlfriend invited me.  It was a big day for her as she announced to her church family her intentions of seeking elected office to be the community’s representative at City Hall.  Although she had previously told me why she wanted me to come to the service, it did not dawn on me what was happening until I arrived.

I entered the large building and walked towards the sanctuary.  Most people in the building were dressed in Advent amethyst to Lenten lavender and wore stickers or hats that had my girlfriend’s campaign slogans on them.  As soon as the reality hit me, my thought bubble distended with, “since when does it make sense to bring politics into the pulpit?  Haven’t these people ever heard of separation of church and state?”  The tenor of God’s voice then reverberated across my chest as he said, “My house is also this community’s gathering place.  They know that without me, they have nothing.  Bringing together all aspects of their lives into this common space is their way of ensuring I am in the middle of everything they do.  They unapologetically follow Me and use My word and My Spirit to guide their every decision.”

The Spirit then gently nudged me and said, “That was not a scolding.  It is just important that you adjust your perspective.  Remember what the scripture says?”  Romans 13:1 tells us, “Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power.”  He continued with, “Now settle down.  This anxiety is not good for anyone.  We do not bring you to any place without a purpose.  His greater good is always His will.”  As though He could not hear my thoughts, feel my heart, or read my mind, the words on the ticker tape that arrogantly scrolled across my head was, “okay…(grumble, grumble)…Show me.”

Then the organ began to play.  The choir swayed and clapped as they sang.  A church-goer began to rhythmically jangle and clang a tambourine.  Shivers ran down my spine.  The smug and negative thoughts continued to flow.  I said to myself, “Ugh!  I don’t care for Gospel music.  Its sound, tone, and tempo remind me of the hypocrisy of others I experienced in my youth.  About that time, a party of four approached the rear most pew where I was seated and tried to squeeze into the space for three.  I though “ahh!!! And my exit strategy has arrived.  How fortuitous!  There isn’t enough space.  I stood up and with the façade of grace and offered my seat to the fourth person in the party.  As I backed up to make room for the person to sit down, I bumped into an usher who said, “Aw baby!  They made you move and took your seat?  Don’t worry.  Come right on up here with me.  I have the perfect place for you.  Follow me!”  She walked me from the way back last row slanted pew to the seventh row center orchestra middle of the pew.  Just before she walked away to seat others, she said, “See, The Lord works everything out.  He had something better in store for you; a place right up here.  He’s always looking out to pull His children closer in.”  Her words pierced my heart and pushed the pause button on my mind.  My muscles involuntarily pulled the corners of my mouth towards my ears as I desperately tried to control the twitching of my eyes.

Because I was now the only one standing in the middle of the sanctuary and believed it would be embarrassing to me and insulting to others if I walked out, I crossed over others to access the middle of the row.  As I sat down, the infant next to me puked on her mother and began to cry.  Pandemonium nearly broke out as the well-dressed people around us seemed to scatter away from us as though the second sighting of the baby’s breakfast was contagious.  Without thinking twice, I asked the mother if I could hold the baby to allow her to clean herself up.  She said, “yes”, handed me the baby and thanked me.  I cleaned the baby’s mouth, wrapped her in a receiving blanket and rocked her.  The gentle motion and cheek to cheek contact soothed us both.  Before I knew it, the baby and I were swaying in sync with the choir to the humbling song Because of Who You Are followed by I Give Myself Away.

After the choir was seated and while the announcements were being made, in His fatherly voice, God said to me, “Now that you are softened up a bit, we can talk.  These folks have been filling this sanctuary and inviting my spirit into everything they do for the last 160 years; raising the roof and rocking eight city blocks every Sunday in My holy name.  They make no claims to perfection or having everything right.  While you are across the river worshiping in your un-prescribed way, they too are in here seeking me.  Your preferences are personal to you but are in no way biblical.  Show me where I have spoken against the hanging of a large photo in the foyer of the shepherd (and his wife) that I appointed; where singular raised fingers in white gloves is sacrilegious; or where the selection of choice clothing in blasphemous.  Be very careful of your internal criticisms of My children.  If not, you may begin to resemble that which you resent.  Just as I speak to you in a way that you can understand, I do the same for them.  Their language is called Gospel and they know the benefits of being governed by Me.  Now keep caressing that sleeping baby while you hear this powerful, just-what-you-need word from My anointed and appointed shepherd.”

In his chock-full-of-rhetoric syncopated way, the pastor delivered a riveting message from Esther chapter 4, focusing particular attention to the part of verse 14 that says, …for such a time as this.”  The points I took away from his message were:

  1. Our lives become the result of whatever we are willing to accept
  2. Faith is the evidence that something unseen is real
  3. Breakthroughs only happen in the lives of people who can believe beyond what they have been through
  4. God gives us proof of what he is capable of doing
  5. Ignore the voice of doubt    And
  6. If the seemingly impossible is going to happen, God will have to work a miracle.

He reminded the community of the fate and destiny of many generations past and future.  He said, “We have been called colored against our will.  Now we choose this color as a symbol of His will for our future and prosperity.  As we commit to continuously pray for the strong sister who has been uniquely placed in our lives and in our community to be the voice of His people, please join me in supporting her campaign to be there to represent for us and to be in service with us.”

Three things were abundantly clear to me as I left the church:

  1. Always stand on the side of God. Anything else is directly against Him.
  2. A loving heart, mind, and soul for God has the power to conquer every injustice or disappointment the world can bring.
  3. The only future that exists is one that stems from worship and service to Him.

The song that resonated with me throughout the rest of the day was Citizen Way’s Evidence which says, It’s not a flag on a field.  It’s not a sign in my yard; not a cause that I joined, not a phrase on a coin.  It’s the change in my heart…Might be the pain that you share; might be the time that you spend or the war you don’t fight; backing down from your pride after all, in the end.  Mercy and grace and compassion, they’re only words without action.  I need hands that are open, reaching out for broken hearts.  ‘Cause that’s the only way this world would ever know who You are.  Love is the evidence.  Love is the evidence!

Be the love!  Be His humble servant.  It is the evidence.  I pray that every day, I walk into every assignment He gives me with humility, openness and love; that I am able to suspend judgment and embrace alternate ways; and that I enter the room soft-hearted, teachable, and ready to serve.  “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ties That Bind

In the (VOICE) prologue of Romans chapter 15, “Paul says he is free to eat, but he is not free to injure another in what he eats.  Personal freedom must always give way to corporate responsibility.  To put it another way, the gospel of love demands that we surrender individual liberties for the sake of our brothers and sisters.  We see this demonstrated powerfully in the example of Jesus who gave up His life and freedom for the sake of the world.  When we live by this ethic, we create a community marked by warmth and hospitality.  Food, drink, and holidays may well be personal options within the kingdom.  But justice, peace, and joy are communal essentials for life in the Kingdom.” 

My good friend and great teacher is also a musician.  I had the great opportunity to attend one of her concert performances last night.  It had been a full day beginning with a graduation followed by a lunch engagement and then the concert.  I had committed to them all, separately, weeks ago.  Although all of them were pleasant and inspiring experiences, the thought of leaving home at 8am on a Saturday, knowing that I wouldn’t return until after 11pm, was cognitively challenging.  However, my long drive home from the concert gave me a chance to reflect on the many blessings laid at my doorstep during the day.

The commencement ceremony was a small celebration with the family and friends of the 250 or so graduates of a local institution of higher learning.  It was a festival of achievement for the 19 to 62 year olds receiving associates to doctoral degrees.  It was a proud moment and a joyous occasion to see the fruits of the hard work and sacrifices that the students as well as their support systems had endured to experience this day.  My friend, married with a 15 month old baby, received her PhD in Information Assurance.  It was a journey of many years, walked on the paving stones of diligence, creativity, tenacity and perseverance.  If the image of her beauty and stateliness in her regalia is indicative of her future impact in her field, this world is guaranteed to become a better place.  I was honored to be there for her and am privileged to be a part of her life’s journey.  My takeaway was the role you play in someone else’s life is not tied to rank, rather the essence of who you are.  Never under-estimate that position!

My lunch engagement was with a close friend and confidante.  Our schedules have been such that we have not been afforded the opportunity to break bread with one another and catch up on the intimacies and intricacies of our lives.  To accentuate the experience, we ate family style at an Ethiopian restaurant; sans dinnerware with injera on our laps.  We spoke of my relational transition and navigating the narrowing and treacherous roads in front of her.

The late day meal and conversation seemed to exponentially slow time compared to the previous seven days.  It was re-enforcement of my yogic lesson of the week of “the space between our thoughts is where the learning occurs.”  Prior to receiving and practicing that lesson, my mind had a hum that was louder than usual.  The audio was as if an entire hive of bees had commandeered the microphone connected to my inner ears.  The visual was like trying to read fast-moving ticker tape in Sanskrit or Arabic, where I could not tell where one word ended or another began.  I had also been having recurring dreams of the downward curvature of words that ended with a period.  In the dreams, the words were in English but I could not read them.  I knew that the part I could see was a fragment, but I didn’t know if it was designed that way or if I was only able to see a portion of a complete message.

Stillness after the meal allowed me to practice the lesson. I was then able to understand the dream as well as the essence of the engagement.  I knew that the punctuation of the mind creates the clarity that allows growth.  In other words, symbols are given to us that warn us or cause us to stop.  The cessation of motion does not impede forward progress, rather it allows it.  Without an understanding of where one thing stops and another begins, we would have no clarity or discernment and our thoughts and lives would run in perpetual, nonsensical circles; i.e., slow your roll.

Near dusk, I finally made it to the concert.  It was a locally sponsored private outdoor musical event held on acreage adjacent to the host’s residence.  There were 15 to 20 guests in attendance.  My friend and her band of professional musicians entertained and enthralled us for two hours with titillating originals and sultry cover songs.  The purity of her voice and the creativity of the music, through the backdrop of a star-dazzled sky on this crisp spring night, stirred my heart and warmed my soul.  As I began to formulate the question asking why she was not playing to a larger audience or on a national stage, the thought collapsed on itself and dissipated – thankfully.  In that moment, I realized that my friend is a highly accomplished musician who was gracious enough to invite me to a private showcase of her music.  She is not in search of stardom because she is already there.

After the thought marinated in my mind for a few moments, the band played a Curtis Mayfield song – and the lesson hit me like a ton of bricks: There is a distinction between making it and being discovered.  There have been several people who have made it in their field who have been great influencers in my life.  I have been acquainted with a few people who have been discovered and although they did well in their own right, they pale in comparison to the numbers of influencers.

Today, the notorious names are factoids discussed over cocktails while the influencers are household names who have made a difference in my lineage and legacy.  Curtis Mayfield was my uncle’s mentor and frequently visited my grandmother’s house; my mother went to high school with former Oakland A’s baseball player Dave Winfield; my cousin dated rapper M.C. Hammer’s brother; singer Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone sang at another cousin’s wedding; etc.  I met these folks but I don’t have a relationship with them.  However, it is the many unnamed villagers who nestled me in, loved me and provided structure and sustenance to bring me this far.  It is to them that I owe so much.

The long drive home helped me to bring the cascade of thoughts, experiences, and lessons together:

  1. Dream big and dare to fail
  2. We each play a significant role in the lives of those around us
  3. The small sacrifices we make for one another pay forward huge dividends
  4. Time is not ours to make, take, spend, or save.  Instead, give this moment 60 seconds worth of distance run
  5. We are called, not to reason why, but to tie ourselves together and bind as the fabric of His community
  6. He uses entire villages to support just one of His children – but each one counts
  7. The worth of the individual in His community cannot be calculated in currency
  8. Our small acts of obedience are large cries of worship to Him

Jason Gray sums it up with Every Act of Love, “I said, God put a million, million doors in the world for his love to walk through; one of those doors is you.  Oh – we bring the Kingdom come; Oh – with every act of love.  Jesus help us carry You alive in us.  Your light shines through; with every act of love we bring the Kingdom come.”  Romans 15:1-6 says, 1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us.  Strength is for service, not status.  Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’  3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.  ‘I took on the troubles of the troubled,’ is the way Scripture puts it.  Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us.  God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.  May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all.  Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!”  (MSG)

From Breslau, with love

“On the question of relating to our fellowman – our neighbor’s spiritual need transcends every commandment.  Everything else we do is a means to an end.  But love is an end already, since God is love” – Edith Stein.

God created us to live in community with one another.  We are all souls created in His image.  He uses others to guide us and light the path beneath our feet – a path that leads back to the foot of the cross, a place of love.  In Home, Daughtry sums it up well with, “The miles are getting longer, it seems, the closer I get to you.  I’ve not always been the best man or friend for you.  But your love it makes true and I don’t know why.  You always seem to give me another try.  So I’m going home, back to the place where I belong and where your love has always been enough for me.  I’m not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong; I don’t regret this life I chose for me.  But these places and these faces are getting old.  So I’m going home.” 

Last week I had the chance to speak with a mentor and friend from 35 years ago.  She is a woman of great wisdom, patience and insight who has a keen understanding of long-term investment.  In my formative years, she spent a lot of time imparting lessons on me that she knew very well I didn’t understand.  Nonetheless, she passed the information on with the determination to prepare me for my future, holding out hope that understanding would come.  Although my talents and gifting seemed light years away from coming together, she knew that time would pass quickly and seemingly in the blink of an eye, God would put those pieces together with dime-size precision.  When I look in the rear view mirror at that part of my journey, I see an assertive but confused little person, caught up in the fog of war, who lacked the ability to discern the Commander’s intent.  Having figuratively and literally been through war, she saw an enterprising pre-teen who would go on to do great things.

Our conversation was both intimate and inspiring.  As she did years ago, she repeated last week.  She filled my basket with more than I could consume in the moment, knowing that I would use it to feed the future.  Specifically, she reminding me that:

  1. Hope is a necessary virtue.
  2. Nothing here is ours.
  3. The Lord gives quiet assistance.
  4. My only cut card is love.
  5. We need time with Him to sustain working for Him.
  6. Do not concern yourself with what you may lose when there is so much to gain.

By the end of our conversation, I realized we were no longer the old lady and the girl, but rather two friends from different generations sharing similar experiences.  Her patience with me as a child taught me that there is something deeper than disagreement.  Her insights and experiences shared with me as an adult made me know there is something beautiful in connection.  Proverbs 3:13-18 tells us, “You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight.  She’s worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary.  Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth; nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.  With one hand she gives long life, with the other she confers recognition.  Her manner is beautiful, her life wonderfully complete.  She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.  Hold her tight—and be blessed!” (MSG)

My reflection on the conversation drove home the notion that life’s journey is not a series of unplanned disjointed twists and turns, trips and blunders, setbacks and disappointments, triumphs and victories, and achievements and successes.  Instead, it is a highly planned, coherently organized movement of people, places, and things, designed to bring us back to Him.  God uses the bumps to slow us down and redirect us and the open-country road to build us up and encourage us.  Ellie Holcomb in The Broken Beautiful says it so well:  “I’m better off when I begin to remember how You have met me in my deepest pain.  So give me glimpses now of how You have covered all of my heart ache, oh with all Your grace.  Remind me now that You can make a way.  That Your love will never change, that there’s healing in your name; that You can take broken things, and make them beautiful.  You took my shame and You walked out of the grave.  So Your love can take broken things and make them beautiful.  You say that You’ll turn my weeping into dancing; remove my sadness & cover me with joy.  You say your scars are the evidence of healing; that You can make the broken beautiful.”

Life is not a linear, even-paced walk.  We will stumble into the valley as much as we walk on the mountaintop.  When the going gets rough and forward progress seems like an impossibility, God doesn’t just tell us to find a way.  He makes one for us.  He places teachers, mentors, and sponsors on our path; people who light the way, hold our hands, sing praises of encouragement, and show us that “it” can be done.  He places them there to soothe our misplaced aggression, bandage our bruises, lighten our spirits, and give us wings to fly.

Like my teacher and friend (and her mentor), we are all built to be blessings to one another.  So get going!  Soar high and generously sprinkle His love on everyone you encounter.  Be a Godly teacher, mentor, or sponsor and friend in your next human engagement.  Share your story of God’s love and grace with those you meet.  Do so and your actions will teach people this:  “I am Lady Wisdom, and I live next to Sanity; Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street.  The Fear-of-God means hating Evil, whose ways I hate with a passion — pride and arrogance and crooked talk.  Good counsel and common sense are my characteristics; I am both Insight and the Virtue to live it out.  With my help, leaders rule, and lawmakers legislate fairly; With my help, governors govern, along with all in legitimate authority.  I love those who love me; those who look for me find me.  Wealth and Glory accompany me — also substantial Honor and a Good Name.  My benefits are worth more than a big salary, even a very big salary; the returns on me exceed any imaginable bonus.  You can find me on Righteous Road — that’s where I walk — at the intersection of Justice Avenue, Handing out life to those who love me, filling their arms with life—armloads of life!” (Proverbs 8:12-21 – MSG).  Thank you, my friend!