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