The Day I Matter(ed)

Ahmaud Arbery.     Breonna Taylor.     George Floyd.     Christian Cooper.

These are some of the recent names in the news making headlines. But they are more than just names. They are more than hashtags. They are human beings! They are sons! They are daughters! They are brothers! They are sisters! They are family! And they matter!!

When will it end? When will Black lives matter? When will Black people be seen for who and what we are – i.e., humanity created in the image of God?

I know how it feels to be unseen. To feel invisible. To feel marginalized. To feel ignored. As a shy, quiet, introverted woman, feeling unseen has characterized much of my life.

But I also know how it feels to be seen. And to feel like I matter. One such day was January 25, 2018.

I attended a women’s breakfast in downtown Atlanta. The keynote speaker was the Honorable Judge Penny Brown Reynolds. I went alone – unaccompanied by a friend or sister – and so I was just one attendee among strangers, yet within a sisterhood.

I arrived in the lobby of the Coca-Cola building and approached the security desk, as all attendees had to be escorted through the building. I informed a security guard that I was there to attend the women’s breakfast. The guard half-heartedly looked in my direction and told me to just stand there and wait for an escort. Nothing more. I complied and I waited.

A few moments later, a well-dressed young woman emerged from the elevator and approached the same security desk. There seemed to be an air of excitement at her arrival, and one of the personnel in the lobby identified the woman to the security guard. “Good morning, Judge!” the guard said with exuberance. “Welcome! We will get someone to escort you in just a minute!” Or something to that effect.

Now, quite honestly, I had no idea who this well-polished woman was, but I clearly heard them call her “Judge,” so I knew she was someone important. As we both waited to be escorted, we nodded at one another and acknowledged each other’s presence. I mentioned that I, too, was attending the breakfast (as I had heard the security guard mention that the Judge needed to be escorted to the breakfast). Judge Brown Reynolds said, “Oh, so I guess we are going to the same place!” We introduced ourselves by name and shook hands.

An escort quickly arrived and greeted Judge Penny Brown Reynolds. But only Judge Brown Reynolds. She asked the Judge to follow her, as she would be her escort. As they started to walk away, I quickly turned to the security guard and asked, “Am I to follow them?” Again, looking past me with an appearance of indifference, she said, “Yes, you can follow them.”

I ran to catch up to the pair, letting them know that I would walk with them. I tried to disregard the fact that I was feeling rather ignored. I was glad to be attending the breakfast, so I just kept smiling.

But then Judge Penny (as she is affectionately known) did something that I will never forget. While the escort was chattering away, Judge Penny interrupted her, grabbed my arm and pulled me closer. Judge Penny introduced me to the escort and said, “This young woman is attending the breakfast also.” In my estimation, Judge Penny noticed that I had not been “seen” and she made sure the escort acknowledged me! The escort politely nodded and greeted me. As we continued to walk to the breakfast venue, Judge Penny and the escort remained in their chatter while I mesmerizingly admired the beauty of my surroundings!

It wasn’t until the keynote address that I began to realize who Judge Penny Brown Reynolds is. She was introduced with all the accolades of a noted celebrity! She is a minister (a public theologian according to her bio), a jurist, a TV personality, a social justice advocate, and a motivational speaker! In other words, she mattered because of her noted accomplishments! Being seen is a regularity in her life.

But to the contrary, my life’s experience is to live in the shadows. To live shyly. To live introvertedly. To live in obscurity. But because of Judge Brown Reynold’s small, but significant gesture, this day was slightly different. I felt seen! For a brief moment in the lobby of the Coca-Cola building, I felt like I mattered!

The next day, I wrote Judge Brown Reynolds a letter. A real letter. Not an email, but a U.S. Postal Service letter. It mattered to me to put my words on paper rather than in cyberspace.

In the letter, I reminded the Judge who I was and tried in my best words to express how her gesture made me feel. I tried not to over-articulate. I wanted her to know that I was writing out of gratitude for how she made me feel, and not because I was enamored with her celebrity status. The purpose for writing the letter was simply that she saw me. And in the letter, I stated just that: “You treated me like I mattered.”

That was the day I felt seen. That was the day I mattered.

Why do I recount this story here? It is what comes to mind when I see Mr. George Floyd being asphyxiated in a 10-minute video — a video that I can no longer watch. It is my response to how my people – Black people – are being mistreated. Why don’t my people matter? Why are we not seen for who and Whose we are?

Within the totality of today’s headlines, my encounter with Judge Penny Brown Reynolds may seem insignificant. Granted, it does not begin to compare to the more compelling issues of life and death occurring in the Black community. But, in my opinion, it does speak to a more profound issue of being seen! It speaks to the issue of who matters and who does not.

Black people have for too long lived within the status quo of a racist American society. People in the Black community have collective experiences of being unseen. We do not seem to matter. Our lives are easily expendable. But one simple gesture can change that. One simple gesture can allow us to be seen for who we are – i.e., members of God’s humanity who live and breathe and have our being! A simple gesture can turn the tide of racism and help us all feel that we truly matter!

Collectively, we are one humanity. I will not (and cannot) matter unless all of humanity matters. Therefore, the day I matter will be the day that all Black lives matter! The day I matter will be the day that Black people will not have to die at the hands of police! The day I matter will be the day that White women will no longer see a peaceful Black man as a threat. The day I matter will be the day that every human being – Black, Red, Yellow, or White – matters!

Today, I challenge you to treat a Black person like (s)he matters. In your daily comings and goings, make an effort to see a Black person. Realize that Black lives are valuable. Black lives matter! When you see a Black man out for a jog, know that his life matters! When you enter into a Black woman’s home, realize that she matters. When you handcuff a Black man, then put your knee on his neck, understand that his cry for breath matters!  When you encounter a peaceful Black man in your local park – stop and see that Black man for who he is, and know that he matters!

Every day for the rest of your life, consider that Black people matter and treat us as such.  I guarantee it will change your life – and protect ours!!

___________________

Follow on Twitter:  @Alexander247_9

 

 

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart!

2016 was my year from hell.  Actually, I don’t like using that word – hell – because despite all of the challenges of that year, there were still many things to be thankful for.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

The year 2016 seemingly started out great!  I was working full-time and enjoying it.  I was active in the church.  And I was building new relationships.  All seemed well!  But that was only January.

And then came February, and my world started to spiral downward!

While I will not divulge all of the details of my inner turmoil, suffice it to say that things just were not going my way.  I was hurting.  I cried daily and privately.  On the surface, I appeared OK.  But internally, I was a mess.  You see, I had allowed people to get under my skin.  I had internalized the negative opinions, words, and ill-will that I perceived were directed at me.  I cared way too much about what others said and thought of me!

As an optimist and a person of faith, I tried to hide my “stuff” behind a facade.  I mean, few people actually wear their emotions on their sleeves, right?  I would guess that most of us hide our challenges behind a mask.  (Read my last blog entry, “Behind the Mask.”)  Rarely do people answer honestly the question, “How are you?”  Most of us simply answer, “I’m doing fine!” and keep it moving!

But beginning in February 2016, things started to fall apart.  There were challenges in every area of my life, the most public of those challenges being my performance on the job.

NOTE:  As I continue my testimony, the goal is not to denigrate the job nor the people who work there.  I still remember them all with fondness.  My goal is to outline how I got to a place of thankfulness.  And I am thankful for the experience.

I loved that job!  I worked hard on that job!  I was comfortable on that job.  However, my superiors were not happy with my productivity.  No matter how hard my grind, the metrics of high performance seemed impossible for me to attain.  This would begin a downward spiral of face-to-face evaluation meetings, emails, and memoranda outlining and documenting my “poor” performance.  The daily barrage of negative feedback sent me into a tailspin of self-doubt, insecurity, and an emotional abyss.  It was causing more psychological damage than I was letting on.  I mean, in my own mind, I was an academic success, having earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate – not quite indicative of the inefficient slacker the evaluations made me out to be.  In previous jobs, I was the epitome of an overachiever.  So, this strange turn of events was one I could not fathom.  My positive self-image was taking a beating, and I was beginning to feel inadequate, unsuccessful, and just no good.

Finally, in November of the same year, I’d had enough.  I quit the job that I loved so much.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ~ Ephesians 6:12 NIV

I made my exodus the day before Thanksgiving.  It was my way of owning my own spirit and forging my own path in life.  I was determined to write an upbeat letter of resignation, emphasizing that my exodus was my choice!  I would be the master of my own fate!  Despite the psychological beating, what could not be beaten was my spirit!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

What I learned from that year was to give thanks in all things – despite the circumstances.  As I stated earlier, there were plenty of things in my life for which to give thanks.  Despite leaving my job, I was (and am still) blessed.  I still have a nice home in which to lay my head!  I still have family that loves and cares for me!  I still have all of the accoutrements of a successful life – e.g., reliable transportation, enough food in my kitchen, a spiritual community, and a quality education!  I get to wake up safely and peacefully in my own bedroom, in my own warm bed, surrounded by the comforts of life.  And… I get to wake up!!  Employed or unemployed, God wakes me up each and every day with a purpose and a calling.

Today, I cling to positivity and thankfulness.  Each morning upon awakening, I tell God “thank you!”

Thank you, Lord, for waking me up this morning!

Thank you, Lord, for giving me a peaceful sleep last night.

Thank you, Lord, that I am not alone!

Thank you, Lord, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

Thank you, Lord, for giving me a reason to get out of bed!

Thank you, Lord, for giving me hope and a future!

For the past three years, I have focused on giving thanks in all things.  My life is not perfect, nor I doubt it will ever be.  But the Lord has been good and merciful to me.  I still have that same roof over my head!  I still have the same bed from which to rise each morning.  I still have family, good food and good times.  I still have laughter – you know, the kind that can only be had with your twin sister!  There is a blessing in having a twin sister, and God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave me mine!  Sniff, sniff!  And for that, I give thanks!

I give thanks that God has given His only begotten Son to die on a cross for my sins.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that I might be saved from sin and death.  And Jesus lives so that I might have the hope and joy of a renewed spirit!

Learning to give thanks has made a difference in my life.  I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I choose to love everybody, whether or not that love is returned.  No longer do I look for validation from other people.  What matters is that I know God loves me and my goal is to please only God.

And so, I encourage you to give thanks as soon as you wake up each morning.  Try it and see if it does not make a difference in your life.  We all have trials and challenges in living, but learning to give thanks can help you walk this journey with a little more joy, a little more peace, and a little more thanksgiving!

Give thanks with a thankful heart

Give thanks to the Holy One

Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son

And now let the weak say I am strong

Let the poor say I am rich

Because of what the Lord has done for us

Give thanks.*

 

*Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart, lyrics by Henry Smith, 1978.

 

Behind the Mask

So, I’m just going to speak honestly about something that happened last Sunday.  But let me preface my comments by stating that I am a life-long church-goer.  Since I was about four or five years old (as far back as I can remember), I have always loved going to church!  I have loved putting on my Sunday best.  I loved sitting besides my mom and listening to her beautiful alto voice!  I still love church organ music!  I still love the old traditional hymns!  And I love the atmosphere of praise and worship in the holy gatherings of other worshippers!

This pandemic we are facing has raised some musings about how we do worship, especially after having to confront myself last Sunday.  In the traditional sense, we are accustomed to donning our Sunday best as a symbol of giving our best to God.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Then there are those who no longer believe in “dressing up” for church.  Come as you are, we say!  God accepts us just as we are.  And indeed, God does.  Nevertheless, our Sunday best – in my opinion – becomes a proverbial “mask” for our base selves outside of Sunday (or Sabbath) worship.

What has gotten my attention is the irony of the mask.  Because we are no longer gathering in houses of worship, rather than donning the “mask” of our Sunday best, we are now donning the pandemic mask to prevent the spread of the virus.  And because we are social distancing, we are ungathering – i.e., we are worshipping in separation or in isolation.

Because we are social distancing, we are donning physical masks.  The proverbial Sunday “mask” of dressing up for church is no longer necessary.  Worshipping from my home does not necessitate my getting dressed up.  Worshipping from my computer precludes my donning the Sunday mask.  What it does, however, is challenge my worship in authenticity.  What do I mean by that?

You see, each Sunday, I hurry to log onto my computer to get to worship on time.  It is important to me that I not miss church – even if it is via remote.  But is my worship experience the same?  That is, does worshipping from my home in front of a computer provide me the same experience as being in the House of God?  This is the serious question I was confronted with on last Sunday.  Why?  Because I had to tell myself to raise my arms in praise during praise and worship.  (I’m taking off the mask and being brutally honest.)  When we are in the sanctuary, my arms will fly up without hesitation!  But last Sunday, sitting at my desk, I found myself spectating rather than worshipping.  I found myself merely watching the service (as if watching television), and not engaging fully in the worship experience.

The truth of that realization hurt!  I had to tell myself to worship and not spectate.  I then lifted my arms, closed my eyes, and began to worship.

I am wondering if others have experienced something similar.  We wear the mask of “holiness” when we are around other worshippers.  But when we are alone, do we maintain authentic, holy worship?  Likewise, when we are physically in our houses of worship, we put on the mask of kindness, love, and solidarity because we see one another.  Or perhaps more accurately stated, we are seen!  When we are in physical proximity to other people, we are conscious of what we do and how we appear to others.  And so, we sing, we lift our voices, we raise our hands, we clap, we dance, we hug, we show love because we are seen!  But during this time of sheltering in place, how has the separation affected us?  How have we shown kindness?  How have we shown love?  How have we reached out to others beyond those within our respective places of confinement?

Now, before you conclude that my worship is anything less than authentic, let me just say this.  As a sociologist, my critical thinking, sociological imagination leads me to question and analyze social behavior, including my own.  I am not suggesting that our traditional worship is inauthentic because we are seen by others.  Rather, I am suggesting that our social behaviors are shaped (or influenced) by the behaviors of others.  We act upon our environment, and in turn, our environment shapes and acts upon us.

My worship in the traditional church setting is shaped by other worshippers around me.  During our time of praise and worship, we call this “ushering in the Spirit.”  The praise and worship leaders have the task of setting the atmosphere.  When they praise, the Spirit enters in, and we all begin to praise together.  But context is also important.  We praise and worship the Lord in the sanctuary because that is where we are expected to do so.  But if, let’s say, the praise team attended a football game together and started praising right there in the football stands, would the entire stadium break out in praise and worship?  I doubt it.  That is because of context.  The gathering in this context is to watch a football game.  No matter how authentic the praise, not many people would feel compelled to enter into worship due to context.  We do not expect to praise and worship during a football game in a football stadium.  (But there is nothing wrong with that if we do!)  Rather, we act within any given context as others would expect us to act.

The point is that we wear the mask that we expect others to see.  In a football stadium, we wear the mask of a sports enthusiast.  In our respective houses of worship, we wear the mask of a worshipper.  We wear the mask of righteousness even though we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We wear the mask of love, even if we secretly despise our neighbor.  We wear the mask of spiritual strength, even when our lives are broken and falling apart!

However, during this time of social distancing, without the context of sanctuary, my worship (and your worship) must be authentic enough to withstand the absence of place.  Worship must come from within, despite the mask.  Worship must be authentic, even behind the mask!

It is ironic that the proverbial Sunday mask has given way to the pandemic mask.  But the pandemic mask has the potential to reveal our true selves.  If the proverbial Sunday mask presented us as holy simply because we show up to the house of worship, how holy do we remain even behind the pandemic mask?  If the proverbial Sunday mask rendered us loving and kind (because we are seen as loving and kind by others), are we still authentically loving and kind behind the pandemic mask?  When the proverbial Sunday mask shows us to be faithful by our faithful church attendance, does the donning of the pandemic mask amplify or hinder our faith?  In other words, are we able to sustain our faith in God even through these uncertain times?

What’s behind the mask?  I pray that the pandemic mask has helped to shed light on what we say is important to us.  I pray that we have clung evermore to God – even behind the pandemic mask.  I pray that we are genuinely kind to one another while living behind the mask.  I pray that, behind the mask, we have realized our true authentic selves.  I pray that we are led to reach out to one another during this time of challenge.  Why?  Because we really are all in this together!

 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  ~ Ephesians 4:25 NIV

Lamentations

The following was written 11 days ago on April 2, 2020.  Then I sat on it, contemplating whether or not to post it.  In the midst of such a critical time, I wondered if I had anything worthwhile to say.  I wondered if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say.  But then, I am a person of faith and a member of clergy.  While I do not claim to have all the answers, I am doing my best to rest in God’s assurance.  It is my hope that perhaps something stated here will be of help to you, just as Prof. Wright’s article was helpful to me (as I explain below).  May the peace of God be with each of you, my readers!  ~ VJ Alexander

April 2, 2020 – My twin sister and I were talking about the Coronavirus and people’s reactions to it, which span a range of emotions.  Some people appear anxious, confused, and worried.  Others are devastated and grief-stricken.  And then there are the faithful who remain steadfast in their Godly faith and often seem (in my opinion) less ruffled by the threat of the virus.

Let me start by saying that I am a person of faith.  I have faith in God.  But on this day, I sat at the crossroads of concern and faith.  The overwhelming, never-ending news of COVID-19 was getting to me.  I berated myself for not having a clear response of faith.  I tried to explain my feelings to my sister, but I could not find the words to articulate what I was feeling.  I was clearly concerned about the increasing number of people who tested positive for the virus.  My heart was pierced whenever I learned of the passing of yet another life.  And yet, I clung to the blessed assurance that God has this pandemic in the palm of His hands.

Both concern and faith emanated from me, yet how was I to reconcile the two?  As I sat down at my computer, I stumbled across an article published by TIME, written by N.T. Wright: “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” *  The article helped me to put my feelings into perspective.  It was not anxiety that had me, but lamentations – i.e., a question of “why” that could not be answered.

Wright acknowledges that Christians want answers.  We look for the rational in the midst of uncertainty and seek to ascribe rationality to God.  We think we know the mind of God, and therefore, we think we have the right answers.  But what if we are wrong, asks Wright?  “What if, after all, there are moments . . . when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing?”  Wright goes on to say, “…perhaps what we need … is to recover the biblical tradition of lament.  Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer.  It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world.” 

Like Wright, I believe that not all events will have a clear-cut answer on this side of life.  Not even the faithful can claim to have perfect insight into God’s mind and ultimate plan.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV

As believers, our lot in life is to put our trust in the Most High God even when we don’t understand what is happening here on the ground.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV

I pray daily, several times of day.  I ask God to help us all.  I ask God to stem the tide of this virus even amidst reports that things will get worse before they get better.  Like many of you, I have prayed not only for those directly impacted by COVID-19, but also for all healthcare workers and hospital personnel; for all frontline workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses; and for all first-responders (e.g., ambulance workers, law enforcement, etc.).  And I pray for pastors.  While all clergy have a role to play as representations of faith in the community, I believe senior pastors carry a particular burden.  The sheep of their flock look first and foremost to them for guidance in times of uncertainty.  The sheep will follow their voice, and so they must stand on the front lines of the faith community.  I feel that in my spirit.  And so, my prayer is that God holds them close and leads them in the paths of righteousness.  I pray that God whispers strength and calm in their ears.  I pray that God imparts a Word of wisdom in their heart and keeps them safe through this time of great difficulty.  And I pray that the rest of us – i.e., all clergy, faith leaders, and the faith community (myself included) – choose to be their armor-bearers and hold them up on every side. We truly are in this thing together!

In the Holy Bible, the Book of Lamentations offers a set of poems lamenting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.  A once vibrant and prosperous city, Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians.  Her people feared that God had grown silent and the great question was “Why?”  But Lamentations is not only a book of sorrow.  It offers hope.  In the midst of our lamentations – in the midst of our “whys?” – there is the blessed assurance that God reigns supreme.  God is a God of hope.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

God answers prayers.  I am a witness.  Yesterday may have its difficulties.  The never-ending news of the Coronavirus can be a bit overwhelming.  I lament; and then I pray.  I ask God to keep me from all anxiety.  Whatever the outcome, let me rest in the faithfulness of God’s providence and goodness.

I am thankful to Professor Wright for helping me to articulate what I could not express.  I will continue to feel empathy and heartbreak for my fellow human beings, but my prayers are answered.  I may continue to lament, but my spiritual strength is fortified.  I may not have easy answers to the question, “why?” or to what God is doing.  Perhaps God does not expect me to.  After all, I am only human.  But I do know that God is sovereign above all things.  My job is to just trust Him.  In the midst of my lamentations, I will trust God.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

 

*N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” TIME online, https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity

Reflections

Have you ever been misunderstood, or felt mischaracterized?  Have you been treated unfairly?  Have you ever found yourself trying to live up to someone else’s image of you, or vice versa, trying to prove that you are not who someone else says you are?  Why is it that people often see us differently than we see ourselves?  Why do people mischaracterize us, or treat us in a manner that contradicts our self-perception?  On the flip side, why do we take on an identity based on what others say about us?  If we are showered with praise, we believe we are great human beings.  If we are criticized or told we are no good, we may act with vengeance, anger, or bitterness – and thereby, fulfill the prophecy.

This is the nature of social beings.  We become who we are based on our social interactions.  We are who we are, in part, because of what others think of us.  If a young girl’s parents or grandparents treat her like a little princess, she may act like the entitled one who should get everything she wants.  On the other hand, if a free-spirited young lad is told he is “bad,” (when in actuality, he is not), he may very well grow up to be the angry young man who acts out in defiance and frustration.  In other words, our identity is reliant on our social interactions.  No man is an island unto himself.  We are not only actors in the social environment, but we are also acted upon.  Not only do we shape our social environments, we are also shaped by our environment.

Charles Horton Cooley’s psychological concept of the “looking glass self” expresses this phenomenon.  The “looking glass self” is a sociological concept that maintains that we form our identities based on how others perceive us.  We imagine how others perceive us, then we reflect that image back onto the world.  Our identity is shaped by our efforts to conform to others’ perceptions of us.  In other words, we are a reflection of what others perceive us to be, and that reflection is then reflected back onto others.

But unless you are a sociologist, you may not consider this phenomenon.  Generally speaking, we see people as either good or bad.  We assume one’s characteristics are inherent.  One is either born a good person or not.  We assume that one chooses wrong over right.  Again, we lay blame at the feet of the individual, or at the very least, at the doorstep of one’s parental upbringing.

But may I challenge you to consider that maybe we are the problem to how one behaves?  That’s right.  WE – as in all of us.  Perhaps the problem with “problem people” is that we view them as problem people.  But suppose those problem people could act better if we simply treated them better?  When we interact with our peers, friends, family, colleagues, and associates, we should perceive them as kind and loving and treat them accordingly, so that they will reflect back to us our perception of them.  Maybe the answer to teenage violence and angst is to see them as kind and loving, and to reflect that onto them.  Maybe the answer to political apathy is to reflect goodness and humanitarianism.  Maybe the answer to police distrust is simply to trust them.  Maybe the answer to criminal recidivism is to treat ex-convicts like they matter.  Well, you get the point.

If we want to contribute to a better world, then perhaps we should treat one another better.  Be careful how you speak to your brother.  Be careful what you say about your sister.  Do not actively criticize them for their failures, and then turn around and blame them for those continued failures.  Instead, speak life to them!  Speak encouragement to them!  Praise them for what they do well rather than tear them down where they may be challenged.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Now, we see through the lens of our own sin.  We see through the filters of our own corruption.  But one day, we will see through the lens of the Holy Spirit!  We will see each other as Christ sees us.  Now, we only know one another in part.  But then, we shall know them fully, even as we are also fully known!

We are in this life together!   No man is an island.  We are known by our interactions with one another.  Therefore, let us love one another.  Let us treat one another with loving kindness.  Let us seek to know one another better, even as Christ knows us.

No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

~ John Donne

Open Your Mouth and Say Something!

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  ~ Psalm 81:10

A few weeks ago, a colleague made reference to a speech impediment I’ve had since the day I learned to talk.  I sometimes stutter.  But contrary to conventional opinion, my stutter has nothing to do with a lack of confidence, level of intelligence, anxiety, fear, or the like – although sometimes emotions may exacerbate it.  Whether anxiety, nervousness, anger, frustration, excitement, or extreme passion — all of these emotions may affect how I speak.  But they do not cause the impediment.

Because my speech impediment is such a defining characteristic in who I am, I was deeply hurt when the colleague mentioned it.  Most people will say nothing and act as though they don’t notice it.  Rarely will anyone call it to attention.  So to have it thrown in my face as problematic was deeply hurtful.  I felt rejected and blamed for something I cannot help.  Imagine being blamed for walking with a limp.  Or rejected because you are short.  Or tall.  Or thin.  Or whatever.  No one wants to feel marginalized for simply being who God created you to be!

I have often wondered why God endowed me with a stutter, and I have wished countless of times that God would take it away from me.  I have dreamed of going back in time and being born without it.  Yet, I know that going back in time is not likely.  I am stuck with the stutter despite how I feel about it.  The best I can do is learn to compensate for it and to manage it whenever I can.

But despite that hurtful day, I have vowed to speak more – not less!  Despite the impediment, God has called me to preach.  For whatever reason, preaching helps to control the stutter.  Furthermore, I am a writer.  Writing allows me to express myself fluently and eloquently.  At most times, writing is my preferred method of communication.

But there are other times where speaking is preferable.  In Psalm 81:10, the Lord promises to fill our mouths if we would just open them.  Since my seminary days some 30 years ago, I have referenced this scripture often.  It is my personal vow to speak God’s Word.  Speak the Word, and the Lord will deliver us from bondage.  Given the myriad of troubles in this world, there is plenty to speak about.  Here are a few examples:

  • There are over 400,000 children in state foster care systems nationwide!1 Speak the Word!  Let the children (and their parents) know that God loves them!  “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” ~ Matthew 19:14 NIV
  • Over 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year! The wasted food could feed about 3.18 billion hungry people!2  Speak God’s Word and feed the hungry! “‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’… He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’” ~ John 21:17 NIV
  • The United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Speak the Word to those imprisoned!  Let them know that they are a child of God!  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” ~ John 3:16 KJV
  • There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves and persons trafficked in the world today.3 Share the Word of God with them!  No one remains in bondage who is in Christ Jesus.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ~ John 8:36 NIV

There is much to speak about.  We just have to open our mouths and say something!  Whatever your challenge, your gift, or your strength, do not let others silence you because you may look, act, or speak differently!  The Lord will deliver you as He has promised to do!  You are unique!  You are wonderful!  You stand out because God made you to stand out!  Matthew 5:16 says to “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

As for me, I will vow to say something.  No longer will I be silent.  It is God’s Word that I will speak.  I am unique!  I am intelligent!  I am called!  I am delivered!  If I open my mouth, the Lord promises to fill it!

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1 https://www.childwelfare.gov

2 https://www.respectfood.com/article/11-facts-about-food-wastage/

3 https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking

 

I Have A Right to Be…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:11-13

It is often said that life is our greatest teacher.  Perhaps there is some truth to that.  God is the creator of life, and therefore, God knows us best.

This week, I was forced to contemplate life – though I often contemplate life anyway.  I am by nature a reflective, pensive, and contemplative kind of person.  So I often think on these things.

But this week, I have been especially reflective about life.  As a result, I have resolved to live differently.  You see, life has revealed to me that I’ve spent too much time worrying about acceptance from other people.  I’ve worried too much about what others think.  I’ve tried too hard to please everyone.  But I’ve learned that trying to please everyone is impossible to do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:11

The Lord knows all about me and it is He whom I will please.

I once heard a pastor preach a sermon entitled, “I Have A Right to Praise Him!”  It was one of those sermons that stays with you!  I often think of that sermon.  And so, if I can borrow from that phrase, I proclaim that I have a right to be!!

I have a right to be what God has called me to be.  I have a right to live as I am created to live.  I have a right to speak in my own voice – stammering or stuttering, eloquent or articulate – it is my God-given voice, and I have a right to use it!

By contrast, I have a right to be quiet when I choose to be quiet!  I have a right to be angry when anger is justified.  I have a right to feel hurt when I have been wronged.  I have a right to know and experience love!  I have a right to express joy!  I have a right to live in peace!  I have a right to live as me, whatever that may be!

Today, I have learned to worry less about what others think.  I have no control over that anyway.  Rather, I will seek the Lord and His righteousness!  I will listen to His voice calling me.  I will be led and guided by His commands!

Sometimes life can seem a bitter pill, and we do not always know the ways of God.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  ~ Isaiah 55:8

But I also know that life is a precious gift, and it is up to us to live life to the glory of God!  God gave us life.  God gave us Jesus Christ, that we might have life more abundantly.

Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  ~ John 10:10

Whatever your situation, know that you have a right to live!  You have the right to be!  Walk in your beauty, because God created you to be!!