Today I Saw God
I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be. Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:
So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord. Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others. We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.
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.