Very recently I experienced a major life storm. OK, let me stop lying. Truth be told, I am right in the middle of it at this very moment. Some days it is difficult to get out of bed, other days I wake up disappointed that I woke up alive.
As I talk to people and watch folks move through life, my senses are heightened and my eyes come open to the pain that tons of people are experiencing. I am not the only one. Whether it is something as traumatic as the recent attacks in Boston or as traumatic as the emotional and mental anguish that is felt day after day or losses – small and great; there are even some who can’t imagine life getting better and face each day with dread as they endure the illness of Depression and other emotional or mental illnesses. Sometimes life hits hard. Many times it is beyond our control.
As a person of faith my first instinct is to look in God’s direction for help. I look to God because I realize that I need a source greater than me to draw strength from. It’s almost automatic for me. However, as I hear statements such as: ”You don’t know that God is all you need until God is all you have,” it makes me want to holler.
Some profess this as though it is absolute truth. Certainly I have had moments when things were stripped away and God proved to be present in the middle of it. But is God really enough? Is God all that we need? God is all powerful and all loving, yet in a crisis God is not all that we need. Sounds contradictory in a sense – “all” sufficient and yet not enough? Hard times have a way of revealing this. Hard times also raise awareness regarding what types of friends you have in your life. I have found that the following are some of the types in our lives.
Midnight Hour Friends - These are the people who you can call on and count on. They are dependable, they see through fake smiles and know how to reach into the core of your being and leave you feeling loved unconditionally.
Fair Weather Friends - They like to hang out with you when things are good and you have on your happy, fun face but disappear or stand aloof and gawk when times are tough for you, waiting for you to get it together so they can rejoin your presence.
Fickle Friends - They are unpredictable, you never know where you stand with them. They are usually unreliable and are great at making promises that they don’t keep – and they give you no explanation
New Friends - These are the relational surprises. When you met them, you never imagined that when things got tough they would be there with a shoulder to cry on and strength to lean on when you are weak.
Strangers who Behave Like Friends - These are the people you encounter from time to time who lend a helping hand when they see you in need (and they don’t expect anything in return except a “thank you).” They don’t know you well at all, but still care about you enough to help.
Faithful Friends - These are people who have seen you at your best and at your worst and still see you as valuable. They are confidants, conversation partners, people you can talk to for hours and have it seem like minutes. Everybody should have at least one or two of these.
I suppose we need all of these types of people in our lives. Sometimes the tricky part is figuring out who’s who and discovering that the folks you thought were one type of friend were actually another. But what is not tricky is knowing that we need more than God, we need each other.
On a personal note, if all a person has for me when I am in deep trouble, heart hurting, and a “can’t pick myself up” kind of pain is a sermon or a scripture to quote, keep that, because I can preach a sermon and read a scripture my damn self. But the ones I have found most helpful are people who can push past the religious jargon and egotistical tendencies to try and prove how spiritual they are and simply lend a listening ear, give a hug, and yes, let me yell a while when I need to without a whole lot of commentary or put “offness.” These things and more help people make it through life storms.
One of the many messages of the Resurrection of Jesus is that it’s not over when it looks like it’s over – there’s more to the story. I know this, but from time to time I must admit that I am a walking, living breathing contradiction, i.e. I believe yet I don’t believe. I believe need help with my unbelief. Some will be honest and admit that there is a level of hell that we can go through that can cause wondering, doubting, despair. We still have faith, but cannot and should not deny the struggle. The evidence that faith is still present is seen in our courageously getting out of bed day after day even when it doesn’t make sense to do so.
Sure, we have promises given by God [to others] as read in biblical text that modern readers can live by that inform faith in the ever present presence of God. But as God seems absent and inactive (and even when we sense and believe that he is present), we need the people who know us and love us to be there. God’s presence is not the only presence needed to sustain us through hard times. Each created person needs another created person (or two or three or more).
There are people who love me so deeply that they refuse to let me walk through life alone. These individuals grasp the concept of what it means to be the living, breathing, realized compassion of God and presence of love. Not only do I value them, I aim to be like them in this way – they show me how to care by caring.
During seasons of life when I experience more defeat than victory, more tears than smiles, and more frustration than peace, pious platitudes won’t do, neither will empty “I’ll pray for yous.” I need the physical presence of human beings whose compassion won’t let them abandon me. How about you? And more importantly, who can you be this kind of person for?
It’s amazing how death makes you think about life. It’s also amazing that when someone amazing passes away you wish that everyone would have been blessed with the opportunity to know them. As I posted updates on Richard Twiss – health status, progress and eventually the taking of his last breath on February 9, 2013, I discovered that only a handful of my friends knew or had been privileged to experience the wisdom, knowledge and spiritual insight of my Native American brother in Christ. And yet so many in other facets of my life and around the world were privileged with the opportunities to learn from Richard.
As I sit here with weeping heart, I am reminded of how kind, genuine and humorous he was each time I heard him speak. His commitment to being fully who he was as a Native American Christian gave me more freedom and peace about being fully who I am as an African American who is Christian without pressure to conform to the dominant White cultural norms. I am grateful. When you have some time check our some of his messages/videos.
I am also hopeful that more will take time to listen to videos of him speaking, contribute to the organization he founded with his wife, and read his work though he is currently no longer with us. His impact was huge, many tributes have been written in his honor by those impacted – you can read a few of those here, and here. You can also visit the LEGACY PAGE that has been created.
Rest in Peace Taoyate Obnajin, thank you for standing with your people, and for considering all of us your relatives – you taught us all well.
On this day, not because of any special holiday set aside for the commemoration of modern African American women, but because of sheer gratitude, I pause to celebrate the lives of a few African American women whose voices and contributions to society and to me, are worthy of acknowledgment. These are those who are not quoted on Facebook/Twitter, are not found in history books just yet, but I consider them worthy of applause, admiration and appreciation. These women provide the necessary encouragement for me to be fully me. They teach me the meaning of bringing my whole self to the party.
As a mature, and continually maturing woman, their wisdom and courage to live authentically into who they are, has shaped who I am and who I am becoming. In short, they inspire me to “be…!” Half of them are individuals whom I know personally, others I have learned from at a distance, but each of them through written and/or spoken word – whether via books, video, blogs, or invaluable one-to-one conversations, are in part responsible for the courageous woman I am becoming. This post is my way of saying “Thank you.”
For those who wonder why I have chosen to highlight African American women, please know that it is not due to prejudice. Rather it is due to an awareness of my history and the challenges that women of color have faced in regard to the silencing of our voices. So, here they are.
Dr. Zina Jacque - During a time in my life and ministry when I lost all hope and confidence that there were woman in ministry who had achieved high accomplishments without wearing a cloak of arrogance, God placed Zina in my path. Her mentoring, advice, strategic ability to pose the right questions to me, and most of all her friendship has transformed my life. She seldom tells me what to do/what she thinks I should do, but through the skillful use of questions she helps me think more deeply. I’m grateful. She knows my flaws and STILL sees me as good – never once has she been a voice of condemnation. Everybody needs a “Zina” in their lives – what a gift, and what a true friend!
Dr. Jossie Owens - My former pastor who demonstrated what it meant to be secure in her role as a leader. My plethora of questions were not a threat or source of intimidation for her. Her door was always open to me, and her love was without condition. During a time in my spiritual journey when I was wounded by the actions of other church leaders, her compassion, patience, wisdom and humor brought healing to my soul and gave me courage to give ministry another chance.
Dr. Wil Gafney - Her bold Kingdom voice often leaves me wondering how she gained the courage to write the way she does, serve in the setting which she has chosen as an African American woman – I have never encountered anyone like her. She is one whose life gives me “permission” to be different and know that it’s ok to be my authentic self. Dr. Gafney is fierce, a skillful communicator (written and verbal), and one of the boldest scholars I have ever beheld – she tends to leave me asking “did she just say that?!” When I “grow up” I want to be as bold, daring, knowledgeable, and wise as she is. Classy, to say the least!
Dr. Pamela Lightsey - Her commitment to scholarship, social justice, diversity and inclusion in the face of opposition not only amazes me, but instructs me in what it means to believe so deeply in equality for all people that I am willing to bear the cost of my convictions. She consistently holds nothing back, and refuses to mince words to appease the majority. In her absence I refer to her as my “hardcore” older sister in Christ. She inspires me, perhaps more than she realizes, and her approach to life and ministry has gradually caused me to resist the temptation to “punk out” when others desperately need me to stand up and speak up about subject matters that many within the Church would rather keep a hush about.
Princess Kasune Zulu - A women of tremendous courage, faith, and hope; and my friend. When she prays with and for me, I never doubt that God is listening; when we talk I walk away much wiser. She has overcome the loss of both parents at a young age, she is a surviver of HIV/AIDS, world-wide speaker and advocate for those living with disease, and an entrepreneur – leader of Fountain of Life in Zambia. Her Beauty is both external and internal. Though she has sat with US Presidents, she maintains a common touch with whomever she encounters. We’ve talked with each other, prayed through challenges, and I am honored to call her friend. This is my sister, a confidant, a spiritual leader in my life and one of the most humble sisters I have ever met.
Dr. Monica Coleman - There are societal issues that most spiritual leaders shy away from or only whisper about behind doors of privacy. However, Monica Coleman holds nothing back when it comes to public dialog regarding depression, sexuality, abuse, and the female body. She opens her life to us, unashamed to own her struggles, and as a result, the stigma of these issues is being erased.
Carol Louis-Maire - One of my biological sisters. Her triumphant spirit, sisterly love, and courage to endure sickness and pain has inspired compassion in me for individuals who battle illnesses with stigma attached to it. She is why I am in ministry today. She is why I have way too many books on my shelves. She is why I believe prayer works. I started ministry because of her mentoring and gentle nudging to study, learn and live into the call and plan of God for my life. I couldn’t ask for a better older sister – and in all of this serious stuff, her sense of humor is slightly outrageous, and she is the only one who can get away with referring to me as “youngest.”
Willie Mae Kelley (1931 – 2000) – Yes, this is my mother! Not only did her love for family stand out to me, but her love and intentional care for other families in the neighborhood was equally outstanding; she loved me with spontaneous, thoughtful gift giving – no holiday needed, but with each small/great thing given came the phrase “I saw this and thought about you….” Whether it was flowers, a card, miscellaneous item that she knew would make me smile, it was all her way of telling me how special I was to her. And through this as well as the things that she hoped to achieve in life, but never did, she inspires me to keep pushing forward with love for others an determination not to waste my time or rob the world of my good contribution.
Yvette Flunder - Songstress, preacher, advocate, organizer, trailblazer for justice and equality. I could write more than a few pages about this woman of God. The opportunity to sit in a seminary class with her on the topic of “sexuality and spirituality” changed my life and reminded me of the significance of making space for all of God’s children. There are points where we absolutely agree, and other points on which we differ. Nevertheless, her life shows me a different way, and a fresh approach to what it means to love all people.
Dr. Emilie Townes – Scholar extraordinaire! The embodiment of wisdom, and by her example of following God and using the uniqueness of her voice and story she empowers those younger than she to go further, deeper and grow stronger. I admire her so deeply that when I saw her recently on the campus of a local seminary I was too awestruck to say anything. Sometimes being in the presence of greatness leaves me a little speechless, but luckily for me I later had the opportunity to join in on a conference call with her and just listen! Now if only I can sit in on a class, seminar or workshop with her – surely this will add to my respect and admiration.
Terrie Williams – We’ve never met, but her journey through the darkness of clinical depression which she has chosen to publicly share in Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We Are Not Hurting in order to give voice to the challenges of mental illness within the Black community, is noteworthy. She speaks up when it is no doubt safer to be silent. This deserves recognition.
Renita Weems - Her skilled use of words captivates me even when I don’t want to be. Works such as What Matters Most, Battered Love, and “Just a Sister Away” make me rethink what I thought I might have known about the Old Testament. She’s my elder sister in the Lord! The lens through which she sees and understands biblical texts never ceases to challenge me and provoke deeper thinking. Her style awakens adventure within me.
As time goes on, I am hopeful that this list will expand, but for now I salute the women whom I have named and described above along with a few others such as Kentina Washington, who embodies compassion; Kim Thomas, who is more amazing than she realizes; Alise Barrymore, who models a different way to pastor, Olive Knight, who believes in others and helps them find their voice, Keyonda McQuarters, who is the best example of parenting I have ever met, and Alisha Lola Jones, a young woman who encourages me to be about all that I need to be about. There are countless others who keep going even when they could easily quit – thank you for hanging in there! For the multitude of African American scholars whom others tried to convince me didn’t exist, and the women whose faith is large, passion for their work intense, and skills unmatched, I am grateful. Through their lives and witness they have taught me to be bold, vocal, compassionate, and reach toward all that I have the potential to become.
Who are the African American women who have shaped who you are/are becoming? Leave a shout -out to them in the comments.
Everybody has them. You know, those days, sometimes weeks, months and even years when the things you hope for, wish for, pray for and even work for, just don’t seem to happen.
Recently I have been involved in an employment search. I am graduate level educated; I have not only skills, but experience; I have sent resume after resume and received rejection letter after rejection letter. Truth is, there are days when I simply would prefer quitting, giving up and being done with the search for that place where I can do great work and make other folks lives better. During these moments, as during other moments in my life, the one thing that keeps me hanging on is “DETERMINATION.”
We all need it, especially when losing heart is presented before us as a viable option and the intensity level of the discouragement we feel nearly overwhelms us and sweeps over us like an ocean wave.
Where does determination come from? Where do you get it? Usually for me it involves:
When we are hungry enough for what we are reaching for, determination becomes more powerful than discouragement and we press on, we move forward with every ounce of strength we can muster. Hunger/desire will take shape differently depending on the person, but for me, during this job search it means improving myself while I wait – reading, listening to helpful audio, cultivating my writing skills, and of course continuing to send apply for jobs. There are some things that I desperately want in life, so I keep going and also look for different strategies and approaches to take to get me where I need to go.
I realize that not everyone who will read this shares my Christian faith tradition. If you don’t perhaps for you it is important to tap into whatever source of strength and hope that is a part of your faith practice. For me, God is everything – life, breath, hope and strength that far surpasses my limitations. Looking to the God of all creation and trusting this Gods’ accessibility and provision is what helps me continue during tough times.
The truth is that we all have something(s) to offer the world. The truth also is that we all can be better versions of ourselves. Taking time to assess strengths and the specific areas where we need to grow is all part of the determination process. Need a class? Need to read a book or article? Need to connect with folks who know differently than you know? Growth is ALWAYS an accessible option – even with limited financial resources, there is always a way.
So, when all else fails keep holding on. Even when you claim strength, take a risk and then fail, and it causes you to doubt your strength/capability, and entices you to give up and refuse to try again; cry if you need to, regroup, get back up again (whether on your own or with the assistance of some friends), dust yourself off and keep trying.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact some days are just plain hard and make you want to throw up both hands and just scream! But after you do that, keep pushing forward – be determined!
For those of you who clicked on this link wondering if this writer was herself coming out as a same gender loving individual, I am sorry to disappoint you. You’re here now, so hopefully you’ll keep reading.
LGBTQ folks are not the only ones who “come out.” Coming out has a variety of implications and applications for those who have been silent regarding societal issues, subjects, and beliefs. Fear of negative reactions and rejection from friends stands in the way of honesty and transparency. Conversations with individuals who are now unashamed to speak boldly and courageously regarding their sexual identities has informed me of one reality - “coming out” is not easy!
Yet there comes a moment when we must decide to live by our personal convictions rather than be guided or controlled by other people’s opinions of us.
Over the last year or so I have felt compelled to “come out.” No, I did not come out as a lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender individual. Rather, I needed to “come out” as an ally and voice for a segment of society and even of the Christian Church that is often ostracized, treated as less than valuable, and excluded from participation in the life of local churches. I had to come out regardless of what people would think; I had to come out of a place of silence and begin to speak up and speak out in love for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who have been hurt by the Church. We’ve done some serious damage to individuals and inflicted emotional pain that will not be healed by inflicting more pain – it will be healed by unconditional and radical love. We can and must do better, and I “come out” as a voice that says that we must do a better job of loving all people in the name of a Savior who shows us how to do that well.
I do not know the experience of being a same gender loving person, but I have been in far too many situations where I felt as though I needed to beg for acceptance and space, whether it was because I am a woman or because of my race. I’ve been there, done that, and don’t want to do it anymore. However, because of my familiarity with what it feels like to be an “outsider” – as a woman, and as an African American, it makes me more sensitive to the needs of others who are yet being ousted and shunned by the “majority.”
Recently I had the privilege of taking a seminary class on the topic of Sexuality and Spirituality with instructor Bishop Yvette Flunder. For some, it is problematic that I even allowed myself to be instructed by an openly same gender loving Christian leader (as though she has nothing of value that she can teach us).
It is imperative that each of us, regardless of where we stand on the topic of sexual identity, be willing to listen to one another and even learn from one another – whether they are individuals whose views are similar or different from the ones we hold. Willingness to take the course was a form of “coming out” for me.
This course was relevant in that it provided much needed dialogue among people of faith. I walked away with many insights and what was most impressed upon me was the need for transparency. In many communities of faith a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” regarding sexual identity is real. Cultures of shame and secrecy abound and thus fosters environments where people find it more safe to live life on the down low.
- Who does this help?
- Has closeted living really helped anyone?
- When individuals do come out, do our negative reactions help or do they fuel hostility and push folks back into the closet and further encourage a culture of secrecy?
Perhaps it is time for all of us to “come out” and honestly discuss what we believe and why we believe it. Maybe it’s time for each of us to “come out” and come clean regarding bigotry, hatred and an unwillingness to listen and learn. Maybe it is even time to “come out” and question long held assumptions.
- What are 3 to 5 qualities/character traits that you desire to see/expect of leaders?
- What is your ministry’s vision/mission/goals? What tasks need to be done to move you forward?
- Who do you need to accomplish those goals and fulfill your mission? What skills are needed?
- What needs to get done? Why does it need to get done? Who can do it besides you and the normal faithful few?
- What type of mentoring, and training is necessary?
- What types of administrative systems would help?
- What leaders are already in place? How are they developing leaders?
- What types of evaluative tools will you implement to keep people developing?
- What are some tools you can use to provide off-site training for leaders (blog, twitter, facebook)
- Assume that prospective leaders are in your church (even if you haven’t spotted them)
- Recruit specifically rather than generally
- Provide training/development and ongoing support
- Delegate authority along with delegating tasks – be willing to give up control
- Shepherd/care well for those leaders who commit to investing their time and energy
- Invest in leaders by encouraging and supporting growth – fund a training, buy a book
- Let leaders “catch” good qualities and practices from you – let them experience you leading them well so that they too can lead others well
- Use technology to your advantage – training/development does not always have to happen on-site, in a meeting. Make the best use of a leader’s time