Today I Saw God
On Saturday, April 14, I had the privilege of joining about a dozen other leaders from Floris United Methodist Church and about two hundred others at Annandale United Methodist Church to participate in the Bishop’s Convocation on Race and Reconciliation. Most of us from Floris came because of our connection to our congregation’s new racial reconciliation initiative, and we anticipated hearing how our bishop and other leaders would lead those gathered to be more effective agents of change and reconciliation in our communities.
It’s not easy getting up to spend a Saturday in church. However, between worship together, a challenging presentation by our keynote speaker Romal Tune and small group training on facilitating difficult conversations, I found myself seriously considering my own race for one of the first times in my life.
As a straight, white, Christian male, thinking about my own identity is not a normal thing for me to do. Most of my life experience has occurred in spaces where most people look like me, speak my language and believe similar things that I do. I have lived a lot of my life in a dominant context, meaning that, not because of any decisions of my own but because of a system from which I benefit, my voice is often heard in conversations and in communities when others’ may not be. For a long time, I bought into the same lie that many white people believe, that I don’t have
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Rather than keep racism within the bounds of interpersonal actions, our working definition of racism focused more on how racism acts as a system of racial prejudice developed and sustained by institutional power. This shift in focus led us to consider our own participation in the racist systems that uphold our society and realize that being white does not mean being without
As we had these conversations, a phrase from our keynote speaker Romal Tune stuck with me. At one point, he spoke about what white people can do in response, and that deciding to act is really hard. Because of the ways our society has been set up to benefit the white elite, in some sense, any action toward racial and socioeconomic equity requires those in power to give up and share that power. In other words, as Tune said to those of us who were white in the room, “There is value in your silence.”
The moral weight of our work hit me squarely in the face
I do not claim this responsibility as an egotistical white man looking to continue fixing the world’s problems with my own solutions. I claim this responsibility at the invitation of my non-white sisters and brothers to join the effort they have maintained their entire lives: working to make sure our society views them as people and as nothing less
My white sisters and brothers, we cannot put the burden of equality on those who have borne the burden of oppression for far too long. Be informed. Be empathetic. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. Be willing to listen and learn. As Tune told us, our past is not our future, but the past has dramatically shaped our present. I invite you to join the work of our racial reconciliation initiative to help shape our future, so you too can discover the value in others that far outweighs the value of our silence
I've identified as a Christian longer than I can remember. I grew up in a Christ-centered family, went to Sunday school and bounced around churches and denominations as I went through college and eventually struck off on my own. Yet, throughout my life as a Christian, I never felt truly at home in my church community. The church I grew up in espoused an elitist, legalistic dogmatic brand of Christianity to which I simply couldn't relate. The church I attended in college consisted of a small faith community composed mostly of elderly members with whom I, as a young college student, had little connection. When I moved to the Northern Virginia area to pursue my graduate studies, I began attending the local mega-church, but found myself lost in the immense crowd of congregants. More than anything, I desperately desired to find a faith community of members who truly cared about others, and took real risks to live Christlike lives.
I found that community home ten years ago when I walked through the doors of Floris United Methodist Church. I was (and, if I'm honest, still am) blown away by the love and generosity shown by the members that comprise the Floris community. I had finally found a community of like-minded believers who truly strove to model Christ's love to those around them; furthermore, I had found a church that wasn't afraid to take risks to spread love and alleviate suffering.
The Floris UMC community is highly active in our own backyard of Northern Virginia, where members work to serve meals to area homeless (FACETs "Hot Meals" Program) and provide tutoring and meals to at-risk youth at a local elementary school. The generosity of the Floris UMC community, however, extends far beyond the reaches of Northern Virginia. In 2000, Floris UMC members and clergy helped found the Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital in Sierra Leone, a ministry that has saved countless lives, driven down infant and maternal mortality rates and served to educate and provide services to over 500 children in one of the poorest countries in the world. If these ministries weren't enough, for as long as I can remember, the Floris UMC clergy have opted to give away the entirety of the offerings collected at Christmas Eve (often totaling several hundred thousand dollars).
To put it simply, the Floris UMC community is deeply special and unique. Unfortunately, the Floris UMC community, like most all brick and mortar churches, has been geographically constrained to those members within driving distance. While I'm highly fortunate to live near Floris UMC and her sister church Restoration Reston, countless others across the globe stand to benefit from entering into the Floris UMC community. That's why I'm incredibly excited be a part of Restoration Worldwide, the first truly virtual Floris UMC campus, which kicks off today. While Floris UMC has live streamed its worship services for years, Restoration Worldwide offers the unique opportunity to break the constraints of physical geography by enabling people from across the world to actually become a part of the Floris UMC community, engage Floris UMC members in online small groups and receive pastoral care from Rev. Ashley Allen, the Restoration Worldwide Minister. And that's just the beginning. We here at Restoration Worldwide plan to roll out new ways for Christ followers across the world to integrate themselves into the Floris UMC community, but we need your help.
- First, give us your feedback. This is an evolving ministry unlike anything we've ever attempted. We need your insight into what works, what doesn't, and what you'd like to see in the future.
- Second, invite your friends and family, however far away, to be a part of our community.
I fell in love with the Floris UMC community ten years ago. The selflessness and compassion of our community stands as a beacon in a dark, hurting world. Please join us as we strive to shine that beacon across the world, to anyone with an internet connection. Come join our community. Welcome to Restoration Worldwide. We're glad you're here.
The post Not Your Parents' Brick & Mortar Church: Welcome to Restoration Worldwide appeared first on Today I Saw God.
Each year when Groundhog Day arrives I am inevitably reminded of the Bill Murray classic of the same name in which a disgruntled and unhappy man is faced with the question, "what would happen if we were forced to repeat the same day over again until we got it right"? Murray's character, Phil, is cursed to repeat a celebrated holiday in which humanity anxiously awaits the response of a groundhog required to face the fear of its own shadow. Should the groundhog see its shadow and retreat back to safety, the world is doomed to another six weeks of winter weather. In true Murray fashion, he hilariously navigates his way through the repetition while pride, righteousness and fear keep him from the path that could lead him to salvation. Comedies do not normally ask important philosophical questions but in this case spoiler alert "Groundhog Day" asks us to take a look at our own lives and determine whether or not we are truly living up to our potential and following the "right" path. Heartwarmingly and with perfect comedic timing, Phil learns his lesson while discovering the true nature of friendship, love and success.
When I was younger I saw this movie as a clever comedy that my parents used as a way to wake my brother and I for school in the morning. Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" would play incessantly on the record player until we were awake enough to stop the noise, just like Murray's character experienced every morning he awoke to discover it was still Groundhog Day. As the years go by, it takes on a different meaning for me. I first realized that Phil was just like me. He was not entirely satisfied with his life as it was but was not sure how to change it. Unlike me, he was magically given a reset button each day until he got it right. Once I became a Christian, I started to see that Phil was more like me than I ever realized. Just like I am, Phil is asked every day he wakes up to choose God's path and not his own. It is a daunting choice, and one both Phil and I fail at constantly.
Phil would not be described as a giving person before his transformation. He avoids connection at all costs and uses sarcasm and humor to avoid conversations. It is no wonder that Phil is unable to keep or make friends with such a negative attitude towards other people. He gives as little of his own energy as he possibly can to each interaction and therefore gets just as little back.
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you."Luke 6:38
I unfortunately find myself using this same tactic, especially when it comes to awkward conversations. No matter how well I know a person, I will resort to some sort of joke to cut the tension I imagine to be present or to avoid sharing something personal. As Phil can attest it takes practice, a lot of hard work and emotional energy to fully give of yourself in each interaction you have.
Phil is also one to exaggerate the truth. Constantly yearning for greener pastures, he tells everyone that he has a better job waiting for him yet year after year he never actually goes anywhere. Similarly his love interest, played by Andie McDowell, does not even claim to have a better job, but simply dreams of bigger and better things. Like McDowell's character, I fall into the dreamer category. I start things and never finish them or imagine what could or should be different and never act on it. Countless books have been written on this subject alone and as a dreamer, I am not ashamed to say I have read most of them. The most recent of these I acquired this past Christmas and devoured in two days. "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho tells a philosophical story about a boy searching for his purpose in life. The boy reaches the same conclusion that Phil eventually does.
"People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel they don't deserve them, or that they'll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren't, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly." "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and eternity."
Phil eventually realizes that dreaming of success is not success. He has to face his fears head on, just like the groundhog faces the sun, to make his dreams reality.
"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be Impossible for you." Matthew 6:33
When Phil finally follows the right path, he wakes up the next day to find that while he is free of the unending repetitiveness of his poor choices, he must soldier on in life making new choices in hopes of remaining on the right path. God is asking us to do the same thing. Every day we wake up to a new day and make choices. Whether right or wrong we must soldier on and every day we get the same reset button that Phil received.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2
God gives us a choice and forgives us when we make the wrong one. He offers us a reset, through forgiveness of our sins, so that we can keep trying to discern what God wants for our lives.
What we choose to do with each day is up to uswe can either face our fears head on walking into the warmth of spring, or we can cower in fear of our choices leading us down into the dark unending cold of winter. I would love to say I am someone who recalls Bible verses on command, but instead I have them posted inside the cabinet I use as my office, written on my Bible, on my desktop screensaver, in the bathroom and literally anywhere I can paste it to remind myself of His word. I strive to be the person God wants me to be and have to remember that like Murray's character discovered, it takes a lot of practice (and prayer) to become my best self. If I remember the words in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me", I can rely on the fact that I do not have to be perfect because God will give me all I need if I ask it of him. My ability to choose is God's gift to me and whatI become as a result of my choice is my gift to God. God eagerly awaits my choices just as I eagerly await our famous groundhogs choice to face the sun.
Music has been hard for me for the past year or so. I know this seems strange coming from someone whose career is fully entrenched in worship, but at some point it simply stopped bringing me joy and singing started to feel like work. Music the medium from which my very soul and essence were molded no longer brought me alive. I drove to and from work in complete silence and rarely played songs simply for enjoyment while I cooked or cleaned.
This is the second time in my life when this has happened, and I know myself well enough to recognize that this is a cry for help from my soul. I should not be surprised, because last year was the year in which I faced something no one dreams of, yet many experience. My marriage came to an end.
Divorce is terrible. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens a divorce to the amputation of both of your legs. Like an amputation, you wake up feeling phantom pains of the parts of you that are now missing. However, rather than limbs, it feels more akin to the removal of part of your soul, your identity and your future. In a world that once felt secure, you suddenly feel completely off balance as your finances, living situation, friendships and identity all change in an instant. In marriage, you open yourself up to trust another human being with your most intimate and vulnerable pieces, so to realize that person is possibly someone else entirely creates a chasm that is incomparable to any other type of grief.
I've spent the last year alone as we worked through the separation. The year prior was spent in very serious spiritual discernment. This decision did not come lightly and followed years of counseling and professional guidance. I would not recommend or wish this outcome on anyone, yet I can say without hesitation that I have learned a tremendous amount about life, relationships, and myself through this journey.
I have learned that you should never judge another family's decisions, because it is very possible that you have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.
I have learned that some couples are able to work through hardship and breaches of trust, so long as both parties are committed to growth and true repentance.
I have learned that I do not have the power to change, fix or save anyone no matter how much I want to.
I've learned that no one knows how to act around grieving people, but really the best thing you can do is simply show up over and over again. Listen -love – repeat.
I am slowly learning the beauty of community and vulnerability. Unfortunately I walked a lonely path for a long time by isolating myself and carrying secrets that felt too shameful to share. However, once I opened myself up to sharing the darker parts of my life, I was able to find a community of women for whom this is also a reality. I found that I can in fact trust others with the darkest parts of myself and that this is what God wants for us. If you are currently harboring pain alone, I beg you to find someone you trust.
The past few years will not make it to my top ten list of favorite years, but I have hope for the next one. My goal for 2018 is to focus on rebuilding my life and becoming the person God intended for me to be. I hope to stop pleasing people and start pleasing God. I will strive to heal and recover from the brokenness I have experienced, and to use it to minister to others. As clich as this sounds, I truly need to spend some time getting to know who I am and learn to love myself.
Divorce feels like a death and I can't say that I feel fully alive yet. However, last week something beautiful happened. Alone in my new apartment, I turned on a gospel station on Spotify. Slowly, I found myself tapping my toes, then singing along, and eventually I was fully dancing to the music in my kitchen. I may not be there yet, but as the music, God, therapy and healthy relationships continue to heal me, I know that soon and very soon I will be alive again.
Today, I did things a little differently. There was no sudden urge to wake up and try to do ten thousand more things that I could not accomplish but would make me anxious anyway. There was no mad dash to put in my contact lenses that give the false perception of perfect sight. I was not rushing past the mirror after my shower; fearfully dreading the steam evaporating too quickly and forcing me to take in the visage of my less than perfect physicality. The frantic search for my body shaper and the rush to heat my flat irons to straighten my naturally curly hair was utterly absent.
Today, I paused to glimpse my full form; one that was shaped by the inconsistencies of self-doubt, overeating, extreme physicality, multiple pregnancies and childbirths, and the stillness of utter exhaustion. I stared at the scars from too tight shapewear that strained to give my bulges of womanhood – excess weight from having a child, losing a child, and having twins, weight fluctuations, and genetics – into a form that somewhat aligned with the requirements of American society. I flopped my "bat wings," as my nanna calls them, knowing they would never lead me into flight. I smirked at the faint remains of my "birth line;" a line that all the women in my family have that is our built-in pregnancy test which runs from the lower abdomen to the sternum and darkens once pregnant. I shake my head at the days when I didn't know what it was or why it existed. I regret many of the stretch marks that were not the result of my children but the result of seeking food as my solace because I didn't have friends who would understand what it was like to be in my skin, in my economy, or in this world as me. I marveled at the stories every inch told of a life imperfectly led and all the potential that lay before me in it.
Our bodies tell such grand stories. They hold so many memories and moments, yet we dismiss them as machines or a necessary evil to be accepted as an "intelligent" species. I have been guilty of being dismissive and cruel to my body, intentionally and unintentionally. I have even gone as far as starving it, poisoning it, cutting it and forcing it to be more like society says it should be. I remember hearing growing up that God made me in His image, that He has known me since before I was born, and that I am part of Him just as He is part of me. So, why do we – no, I – mistreat and dismiss something that is so precious?
While watching The Greatest Showman last week with my daughter for her birthday, these thoughts kept coming to me throughout the movie. It led to my momentary pause of all the things I do to restructure who I am to be what I believe others want me to be. But there is something unapologetically beautiful about all the characters in the movie that I found inspiring and wanted to embody. Yes, I realize it is a prettied up version of P.T. Barnum and his evolution of the circus, but the overriding themes of self-acceptance, contentment in what you have, and the love of diversity really convicted me.
These characters and their story initially rang so true because I too often feel an oddity and out of place, but willing to put it on display because it feels less lonely in the spotlight. I saw elements of myself in Lettie, the Bearded Lady, who has the beautiful voice but the world thinks is a horrific misstep of nature in her size and masculine face. I knew the frustration of Anne and Phillip's love that society disdained but felt so divine. I relate to the fat man who feels much larger than he is. And I humbly accept my similarity to P.T. Barnum who is always trying to prove himself to those who really matter the least, even though it feels like they matter the most.
The wonderful turn of events is, the gift of song, that has brought me to this stage has helped others share their oddity and malformations too. I have witnessed a huddled mass of outsiders that feel rejected, unworthy and unloved make a beautiful rag-tag crew of love, dare I say, a family, in the wreckages of our lives through church and the gift of community there. That is the beauty of God's love – when practiced not just preached – which shows in how we view our bodies and those of others. These shells that some covet and some cover are just temporary shells of the amazing gifts that God has put on this earth to share with one another. Energy is constant, not the human form. We are all connected by that energy to bring joy to each other. To revel in the odd and fantastic. To admire the extreme and bizarre. To embrace the strange and exotic. To love the misshapen and grotesque. We are all, at some point, one or more of these things to everyone else around us. I am so glad God gives us so many chances to see how amazing and beautiful we all are. It is amazing the fantastic and impossible things that can be possible when God brings together those whom the world would think make the unlikeliest team. I am thankful for the creative as well as the stoic, the cheerleaders and the naysayers, the loving and the bigoted, the intelligent and the ignorant, as well as the righteous and the broken. They are all beautiful souls and opportunities of love existing in beautiful bodies of varying mass and construct. How lucky we are to be apart of this circus. And how grateful I am to finally see I am blessed to be part of it all.