Category Archives: Faith & Spirituality

Suicide, Church Folk and Spiritual Leaders

DepressionAfter hearing the news of a pastor, Teddy Parker, whom I do not know, it was clear to me that I should wait to post anything about it in this forum – first, out of respect for his family and those who knew and loved him; second, because of what it triggered for me on a personal level, I needed a minute.

Hearing stories such as this one, hits way too close to home. I not only ache internally, but it hurts so deeply that the pain becomes physical. As I sat weeping and sorrowful a few thoughts came to mind as I thought about not only this tragedy, but many more people who struggle to keep living – people for whom deciding to live or die is a daily decision; hell, never mind “daily,” but a moment by moment, hour by hour decision.

Relating to Parker, I did not want to assume mental illness played a role, yet I am not surprised as it is now being reported that he perhaps endured years of struggle with mental illness.

As an African American with a historical association and rearing in predominantly African American communities of faith, I was disappointed (not surprised) by a few of the reactions I read.

Most of the responses/reactions I read said things like:

Pray for pastors, they have a hard job

The devil is busy

Congregations/church folks need to take it easy on pastors

Pastors are human just like everybody else.

The above statements are not only lacking, they are also a bit. Let me explain.

“Pray for pastors.” It is easier to say “pastors have a hard job,” and we need to support them, not be a burden them than it is to address issues of mental health care. It is easier to spiritualize issues than to address practical needs. But easier doesn’t equal helpful. As a fellow struggler, many faith filled people sincerely believe that the way healing and wholeness happens is for me to go to church, pray, call on Jesus and trust God to make a way – period! I am not opposed to praying and such, but when that’s where it stops, first it make me want to cuss, then it moves me to educate and enlighten in hopes of dispelling ignorance.

Should we pray for pastors? YES! Should we pray for those who battle, and I do mean battle mental health challenges? Also yes! Is that all we need to do? NO. Will prayer alone keep pastors or anyone else from ending their lives? Not at all!

“The devil is busy.” OK, and the point is what? That’s my first reaction. But beyond that, I am not convinced that the devil had anything to do with this suicide. I believe we need to take a deeper look at reasons why people end their lives. As one who has walked through depressive episodes, I find that there are a host of “spiritual” people who take the easy way out by being hyper spiritual and glossing over real issues – somehow unable to open their minds to the realness of mental illness and mood disorders – medical conditions that need treatment, not statements like “the devil being busy.” Once it is discovered that such phraseologies are impotent, some walk away, abandon the struggler and just stand aloof.

“People need to take it easy on their pastors.” What the hell?! The first problem is that this statement is an indictment on congregations and to say such things in the context of this young pastor’s death is to accuse and make assumptions regarding how his congregation treated him. Second, though I have been in church all my life and have awareness that church folks are a bit trifling and downright cruel and unreasonable at times, there are some things that we as spiritual leaders have to take ownership of – our self care, utilization of the word “no,” refusal to play into being put on pedestals and the like. Perhaps ego won’t let us destroy that beast? Perhaps our passion and drive for ministry and serving God won’t let us quit or take regular breaks? Who really knows?

Pastors are human just like everyone else. This is true – very true, but the fact that there is such a big deal being made over the fact that a “pastor” completed suicide suggests we don’t really believe that. Perhaps a shift in thinking is necessary – the position does not make one less human nor super human.

So in thinking not only about Parker, but about how we relate to each other, more specifically those who endure mental illness, I offer these alternative responses:

1Give people permission and space to say “I’m not ok.”

2. Be a “safe person.” Meaning, when someone musters up courage to bare their souls and expose their hearts, be trustworthy, be loving and nonjudgmental and if you can, resourceful.

3. See pastors as “people who pastor” rather than “pastors who are people.” There is a difference. If pastor was no longer the profession, she/he would still be a person. Experientially I have been a staff minister (paid & volunteer) and in a few instances what I did/my work was important but my person/who I am did not. That’s enough to send anyone over the edge. Value people not simply positions.

4. Don’t assume the worst about people who end their lives. Ending their lives does not make them bad people. They are not selfish people. They are not weak people. They are not crazy people, they are not demon possessed. They are not Hell bound. They are people whose hope ran out, people who tried until they could try no longer. They are people who live with an illness, yes it is an illness, some illness is physical & some illness is mental.  They are people who would have continued to live if they could. And most likely, it hurt them deeply to have to leave those they love.

5. Check in on people. It’s not enough to be aware of a person’s struggle and distance yourself from them, waiting for the next time they reach out to you or if it’s a leader just wait for their faith to kick in. Check in from time to time, ask how they are doing, be a friend.

6. Remember that it is not necessary nor appropriate for you to fill every space or moment with your words. Presence is a priceless gift to offer, just be there.

7. Some situations don’t need a bible verse. Nuff said.

8. The absence of a smile does not equate to the absence of faith, but often an indicator of pain.

9. The presence of a smile does not equate joy and the absence of depressive conditions. Some of us are skilled at putting our smile on like we put on clothing. Not every smiling face is content and at peace, sometimes if appropriate it is good to gently go a little deeper [with a person’s permission of course].

10. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Some will appreciate that because it opens the door for them to share their story, open their hearts and help you with “knowing” more deeply.

11. Never ever never, under any circumstances be trite or offer empty platitudes or clichés. Mental illness for some people, at given points in the struggle, is a matter of life and death.

Well, that’s a long list but not at all extensive, so if you have other things you would add please do so in the comments section. Gone are the days when we can just keep the stigma going regarding mental illness and think it’s ok. Lives are lost because of our silence and refusal to engage the topic. People give up because they feel the need to suffer in silence and hide their truth rather than let people in. We can do better.

Here are just a few resources that might help:

Talking Mental Health in the Black Community (Huff Post Live recording)

Wrestling with God and Depression

Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression – Monica A. Coleman

Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting – Terrie Williams

Hyperbole blog post – Part 1 & Part 2

Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes – Therese Borchard

Beyond Blue (the blog)

Say Yes to Grace: How to Burn Bright without Burning Out – Kirk Byron Jones

Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers – Kirk Byron Jones

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Believing When All You Can Do Is Doubt

 

Credits: Fairfax CC

Photo Credits: Fairfax CC

The use of paradoxical and polar opposite concepts seems unavoidable to me these days. Perhaps indicative of where I am with life right now; perhaps it is because paradox is important and needs acknowledgment and pondering. Some realities are nonsensical in the truest sense of the word. When bad days turn into bad weeks, and bad weeks become bad months; when “one of those days” turns into multiple bad days; when the God of more than enough seems like the God of less than enough, barely enough, not nearly enough – believing and doubting appear simultaneously possible.

Dialog with others reveals that one can be in relationship with God for years, and still reach a point in life where the existence and involvement of God is questionable. They are not sure whether what they have believed is truth or a hoax. Would we still classify them as believers though they are in a place of doubting?

Sometimes disillusion and discouragement replaces clarity and hopefulness. No need to deny this – if God is God, it makes sense to me that God prefers honesty above pretense. Crying, praying and wondering, yet hoping, and shutting down, going silent in prayer and drawing odd conclusions.

Quite a few Christians that I know are ok with reading about ancient Bible characters that doubted, experienced and even did negative things. Yet somehow, when it comes to people today having some of the same experiences, we gasp, point fingers of shame and should not, as if God does not understand and as though God also gasps. Hiding behind the stories of others and denying our own realities is hypocrisy at its best.

A notable difference in our stories and their stories – both positive and negative, faith filled and doubt plagued, is that their stories are recorded in a book published for all of us to see and read. With reluctance we expose our hearts and put aspects of our lived experiences on display. We share the good, and hide the bad, thereby creating an allusion for others, conveying a message to others who struggle that the struggle they face is somehow unique. Falsehood helps no one! Though our lives are not recorded for any and everyone to read about, we are still just as human as they were. But it’s easier to talk about “them and those,” than it is to acknowledge “me and mine” – distancing ourselves from their stories as though they are somehow not our stories too.

But the question remains, is it possible to be a person of faith who questions? Is it possible to believe and simultaneously doubt and question everything you once believed and were nearly sure of – especially when God seems distant and uninterested in us and the things that are hurting us? Could it be that even when doubt overwhelms our existence, there is still a minutia of faith that remains?

There are places within ancient biblical text that allude to the possibility – people such as the dad of a child in trouble who cried “Lord I believe, help my unbelief,” or Thomas, a follower of Jesus whom we label according to his moment of doubt as though “doubting” is his first name.

Being honest about our doubts is somewhat scary. But could this being we refer to as God be more compassionate than a finger pointing, shame on you type of God, welcoming our doubts and receiving our questions as prayer or at the very least honesty? Perhaps God understands when no matter how hard we try, things don’t change? Perhaps God understands when smiles are replaced with frowns and laughter with tears? Perhaps God even understands when our faith and confidence turn into doubt and fear. Maybe God is “standing” gently by us, listening, guiding, and compassionate towards us.

I have doubts, no sense in lying about it – moments when I question as deeply as Job and laugh as boldly as Sarah and Abraham. There are things that I don’t know, there are things that I thought I knew, but I am no longer so sure of. But if God is in fact real, I know that I am loved by this God. What I don’t know is how much I trust/believe.

Many Christian folks will never admit to having doubts, after all we are referred to as “believers.” Truth is, sometimes we feel abandoned, alone and disregarded by God and by others. Sometimes the strength to hope, to dream and to continue moving forward eludes us. What I have discovered is that when courage does comes and we feel free enough to acknowledge doubts, a friend or two walks away. They may not call it walking away, but their silence speaks volumes, their decision to no longer interact with you, and ask “how are you?” are not so subtle hints that they have abandoned you. Individuals who only desire to hang around you when you are a happy, believing faith filled, positive Christian and stand aloof and at a distance when you are filled with pain, and not so happy and positive, are…, well I don’t know what to call them???

All I know is that pain – whether physical or emotional, is real. Some pain leaves us speechless. We want to talk, but no words will come; we want to scream, but our vocal cords won’t cooperate (plus, it might disturb our neighbors too). Sometimes all we can produce are moans, sighs, tears.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, because even in the trying nothing works out and all that remains is disappointment. Sometimes just when you think you are moving forward, growing and progressing, you discover that you are bound to the place where you’ve always been.

Sometimes we have more questions than answers. And whether we believe the character Job in Hebrew text is real or fictional, reading the book of Job reveals a clear picture of questioning as a result of what one is experiencing – questions for God, questions for himself and questions for his friends. Here are a just a few:

QUESTIONS FOR HIS “FRIENDS”

But why? Have I ever asked you for a gift? Have I begged for anything of yours for myself?

Have I asked you to rescue me from my enemies, or to save me from ruthless people? Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to? Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation?

Look at me! Would I lie to your face? Stop assuming my guilt, for I have done no wrong. Do you think I am lying? Don’t I know the difference between right and wrong?

“Is not all human life a struggle? Lying in bed, I think, ‘When will it be morning?’ But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn.

QUESTIONS FOR GOD

Why won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow! If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you?

QUESTIONS FOR HIMSELF (reflection)

Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? Why was I laid on my mother’s lap? Why did she nurse me at her breasts? Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light?

I don’t have a lot of answers. I do, however, have a plethora of questions. And I choose honesty over pretense and I believe God is honored in honesty.

All of the questions may not get answers, but we can still ask them as a means of being honest about our hearts, what we feel, what we wonder about and to release some of the pain we feel; to help us process our grief, suffering, pain. And who knows, we may eventually arrive at a place of peace with the unknown and incomprehensible even if the questions and doubt never go away. Having doubt does not mean that I don’t have faith; it just means that faith is not the only thing I have.

When we clean up our stories and present the censored, sanitized version of those stories, concealing the truth of whom and how we are – sure we maintain the image of perfection, but that doesn’t make it real and actual or helpful.

Having doubts and denying those doubts doesn’t somehow make them less real. Being annoyed with unanswered and unanswerable questions due to the trouble not only in our individual lives, but also in the world around us – racism, injustice, poverty, illness, the list goes on, is natural and human.

Life can cause us to identify with Job who in essence says that no matter where I look or which direction I face, I cannot find God and the evidence says that God is not there (Job 23:8-9). This is not Job’s starting point in relation to God and if we keep reading, it is obvious that this is not the ending point. BUT it should not be denied, dismissed or ignored that these words are also part of his experience in relation to “God.”

I am guessing that quite a few of us have these experiences, but to avoid shocking, confusing and devastating those near to us, we remain silent about these times, and only give voice to our faith filled, confident moments. The problem is that this approach is not real – it makes us a fraud, hypocritical, and quite frankly insensitive to others. So own your doubts, be unashamed of where you find yourself in life and try to keep moving forward.

 

Acceptance and Approval

When all others have stopped, God is still applauding you.
– Kirk Byron Jones

20 Things I Am Learning About Pain and Suffering

Photo Credits: freefoto.com

Photo Credits: freefoto.com

My last post on the problem of pain and some of the needs that come with it was somewhat raw, but real. Here are a few things that I am learning – in no particularly significant order.

1. One of the greatest gifts we can give to folks having a difficult time is letting them know they are not alone. Never underestimate the gift of presence.

2. Having people around you who believe when all you can do is doubt, is priceless

3. The theological perspective of “you must have done something wrong to be going through what you’re going through” is flawed, twisted and a bunch of #%&@%#!

4. Just because a person is still holding on doesn’t mean they’ve never considered giving up.

5. It’s ok to question God, correct or argue with crazy responses from friends, and admit that you despair of life and sometimes despise the day you were born like Job did (eventually, I must write about that brother and his wife too).

6. When you are so angry that you don’t have anything to say to God, having praying people in your life helps. They pray for us when we can’t (and don’t want to) pray for ourselves.

7. Honesty is better than pretense.

8. Folks who claim that they have never been pissed off at God or wanted to give up could possibly be lying or maybe just need to live a while longer in order to find out that it is possible to get there.

9. When people are courageous enough to expose their heart/soul, we should be compassionate enough to support rather than run away from them/avoid them.

10. Sometimes the people you never expected to “be there” are there in ways that provide healing and a sense of relief. They listen more than they talk, they call, they check in with you….

11. [In relation to claiming the status of “friend”] Asking people what they need is so much better than assuming you know what they need. It might even preserve/strengthen a friendship

12. Sometimes people ignore you in the name of “I didn’t know what to do/say,” which leads to an increase in your feelings of isolation.

13. Sometimes forgiving those who add to your pain (knowingly or unknowingly) is frustrating and difficult.

14. God provides others when some neglect you and say they “thought” they needed to give you space. What!?

15. Every smiling face is not happy…. When you take time to look beyond the surface, sometimes you’ll discover the pain of a soul that is crying. Be kind. Be gentle.

16. God can handle expressed anger and doubt and will love us anyway.

17. Faith = holding on when everything in you has quit, given up.

18. People say a lot when they are silent and sometimes the silence is just plain loud!

19. Presence truly is a gift – just being there goes a long way. Nuff said. (I know I said that already, but it’s worth repeating). 🙂

20. Scars are evidence that not only have we been hurt, but that we have been healed. But when the wound is still fresh and open, gentleness is appropriate.

 

I am pretty sure that the list is not complete, I am continually learning…. What would you add to this list?

 

Fixing It Is Not Our Job

Depression_Female2

 

One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to “fix” it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery. – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

When God is Not Enough

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?

 

The Black Church, Obama, and Gay Marriage

I am about engaging with conflict and being ok with disagreement. I am about diverse and vast views of the Bible while still maintaining my spiritual journey with God. And I am about the spiritual ethos laid out by Billy Graham at the 1996 inaugural luncheon of then President Bill Clinton when a reporter asked him why he was in the presence of an obvious “sinner” such as Clinton; Graham stated: “It is God’s job to judge. The Holy Spirits job to convict. And my job to love. I’m here doing my job.”  – Dan White Hodge.

Read the entire post HERE.

The Church and The LGBTQ Community.

***This is the unscripted/unedited version of what’s on my mind***

About a year ago I fearfully shared my journey as it concerns the subject of homosexuality. You can read it HERE. Though it is not my tendency to cower in fear and be silent when the occasion calls for speaking, I found myself hesitant. Here I am a year later and the core of my being is moved to a point where silence is no longer sustainable.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I want to care about Gay/Lesbian folks. I sincerely believe that what is happening in my heart is the moving of God within me. I care about people – period. I also hold a special place in my heart for groups of people who have historically been marginalized and even ridiculed from pulpits in churches. Preachers have proclaimed messages of “get right because it is wrong” without providing love and support and seeing the LGBTQ Community as human. We can do so much better!

The reality is that caring will cost me. On some level it is costing me now. By caring and being a voice I risk losing friends, having people who KNOW that I love God question my role and calling as a spiritual leader or pastor; I risk being misunderstood, rejected and encountering those who believe that the only role I have as a spiritual leader is to tell the LGBTQ Community that they are living in sin and need to be changed. I believe there is a better way to interact with the LGBTQ Community – some of whom are my Christian brothers and sisters.

Human sexuality and God’s view of it is not nearly as simplified as some lead others to believe. The Church’s silence is at times deafening and our shunning is destructive. I absolutely believe that we not only should, but can do better.

Yesterday, President Barak Obama gave voice to his affirmation that same-sex couples should be able to marry. Members of the LGBTQ Community rejoiced. Some members of the Christian Community were outraged,others agreed with him, and still others were silent (whether because of ignorance, fear, apathy or something else). Whether we believe homosexual practice is a sin or not is really not the point to harp on. At the heart of the matter is the issue of humanness, equal value and learning HOW to love people well.

I don’t have all of the answers, but what I do know is that we need to be open:

1. To authentically enter into people’s stories

2. Listen for the purpose of understanding (not to fix or convince of our perspective)

3. To thoroughly think through what we say we believe & why we believe it

4. To consider that whether right or left, Christian or not, Gay or Straight, we each are capable of being right or wrong

More to come on this subject in future days. In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or privately.

God’s Grace

Through success and failure, through disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment. Through church abuse, tokenism, and risk taking. Through major accomplishments, and a few blunders. Through questions, answers, good moves, not so good moves. Through transitions, stability, security and scarcity – the Grace of God has been there all along. I can’t wait to see what God does next!!

How about YOU?

It Doesn’t Make Sense

Though I have been a follower of Jesus for over 20 years, I must be honest and say that during the journey it hasn’t always made sense to me. Lately as I read the Bible and really think seriously about some of the stories contained therein I find myself realizing how far fetched and outlandish some of the stories are. Here are some examples:

Fully grown man created from the dust of the ground and a fully grown woman created by use of that man’s rib

A guy being put in a den of ravenous beasts, lions to be exact. And living to tell the story. He even took a nap while he was hanging out with them

A sea of water parting long enough to allow thousands to cross to the other side on dry ground. (no mud at all???) Be serious.

Dead people coming back to life after being dead for 4 days.

People blind all their lives eventually being able to see again either because Jesus honored their faith or because He decided to make some mud out of God knows how much saliva and smear it on a dudes eyes

And that’s not even the half of it. The Bible has some bizarre stories to tell….

And then as I live life from day to day, following Jesus seems like the last thing a person should do – the pain in the world, the things that simple don’t work out favorably for me, living with more questions than answers, not to mention years upon years of waiting for Jesus to return like He said over two thousand years ago that He would.  But still I keep following and calling Him my Lord and acknowledging Him as Savior. WHY?

Why do I keep following? It’s simple. #1 He changed my life. #2 He Himself is life and hope. #3 I still believe. #4 His love constrains me.

5 Reason Why I Love My Church

After much searching for a place where I could worship God, and grow in character, relationally, and use my gifts to serve others, I have finally found a place to call home (or should I say, God has lead me to a place)! Though the demands of school, work and ministry interfere with my ability to attend every Sunday, I can honestly say that I love my church. Here are a few reasons why

1. Commitment to Diversity/Being Multicultural – Worship style, staff, and congregation mirror the neighborhood where we are located. It’s refreshing to see diversity not only in the people who lead up front, but also to hear it in the selection of music genres and preaching. Sure, we have some growing to do in in this area, but what’s already a reality is worth celebrating. There is an authentic commitment to celebrating a variety of cultural groups without pressuring individual groups to culturally conform to any other culture. In essence, there is encouragement to be ones authentic cultural self. What helps us is that River City Community Church is a learning congregation that is willing to have complex and candid conversations regarding social issues, race, and ways to build authentic relationships both within amongst attendees and within the community of Humboldt Park.

2. Casual Environment – Casual sounds too casual and for some it may even appear slightly irreverent. But casual takes some of the edge and intimidation off for those who walk through the doors (whether Christian or not Christian). Though I grew up in a local congregation that required wearing “Sunday Best” (and yes I know the history behind it for African Americans), it is so liberating for me to be able to come as I am, not feel pressured to look like a superstar, be able to stand or sit as I worship, and encounter people who are not stiff and unapproachable. Not to mention, it is a place of prayer where God is at the center of what we do. I love my church!

3. Children are Welcomed- As a former Children’s Ministry Pastor, one of the first things I noticed about my church is the commitment to children and families who attend. I also noticed that this commitment extends far beyond just those who attend and reaches to those in the neighborhood as we partner with a local school.

4. Pastor and Leaders are Authentic – In the past I have been in intensely hierarchical church environments (admittedly, I find that structure somewhat unhelpful). The leadership at River City is very difficult to describe. They are personable, approachable, humble, behave as though they understand that with God there is no hierarchy in the family of God, and yet their style of leadership makes you want to follow them, listen to them and learn from them and this can happen without leaving their presence feeling “less than.” Go figure.

5. Care for the Local Community where we are located – One of the aims of RCCC is to transform the city of Chicago through neighborhood development. There will always be more that we can do to work towards this goal, but the investment in the local community is at the heart of who we are. Whether it gets worked out through offering ESL classes, giving away backpacks and school supplies to local families, partnering with other community leaders and working together to learn more about the community and learn how to best serve them, this church is invested and it shows.

There are many other reasons why I am glad to have found a home with this group of Christians, but the above are a good start to a sneak peak into why the love is there.


Greek 101

Random list of things that I learned from my first semester of NT Greek:

#1 Sometimes no matter how hard you try you can still fail.

#2 When you fail, try again.

#3 Temptation will come, resist it.

#4 God must be amazing to create something as small as a brain and enable it to retain an such an abundance of information

#5 Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do in order to get where you are trying to go

#6 Sometimes professors are gracious, appreciate it but don’t abuse it.

#7 The older your brain is, the harder it is to learn a new language.

#8 A cheering committee is NECESSARY – discouraging moments will come, you can encourage yourself, and it’s also good to have a handful of people who will also encourage you. (I have huge appreciation for my supporters)!

#9 Color coding, attaching paradigms to the walls of your house, listening to audio versions of vocabulary, and taking note cards with you wherever you go (and I do mean wherever), whenever possible will make people wonder about you, but also help you get through the Greek experience.

#10 Never, ever, no never, ever – I repeat NEVER get behind and plan to catch up later! Playing catch up is for the birds and you don’t have wings! Avoid slacking off at all cost!

#11 Make sure that you eat well, sleep and exercise. It may feel like there’s no time for it, but making time for these things equips you to face Greek a whole lot better than you would by neglecting these practices. Trust God enough to take time out for self care.

#12 Pray, pray, and pray all the way through, and while you’re at it ask others to pray too!

Long list, but just think, this is only after ONE semester, with TWO more semesters of Greek to go! Lord…!!!

New?

Change is inevitable. But you knew that already, right?

Recently both Facebook and Twitter,  two of the most popular social networking sites, changed the appearance and functions of their sites. Facebook started by enticing us and making the “new profile” optional, and Twitter introduced “new Twitter.” So far uses of Twitter still have the “option” of using “new Twitter” or accessing the “old Twitter.”

However, Facebook, after a period of making the new profile optional is now sending messages to users who have decided to stick with the profile format they have been using all along to communicate to them that soon the “new profile” will no longer be optional, but required. You got it, all must switch over. I’m guessing that eventually Twitter will decide at some point to do away with the “old Twitter” too.

A quick historical glance will reveal that things are changing all the time, whether its going from analog tv to digital tv, wires to wireless, landline to cellular, or even further back. Some of us are old enough to remember 8-track tapes, 45s, floppy discs, cassette tapes and tape recorders. It hasn’t been limited to technology, there was the Jerry Curl, big hair, afros, long haired hippy looks, the types of shoes and clothing we used to wear in contrast to what we wear now. You get my point – things are changing all the time.

I find that we welcome “new” in a vast number of areas of life – a new year, a new haircut, new furniture, new tv, new computer, a new house, and more. However, the human reality is that there are some things we would just prefer remain the same. Is it because we prefer familiarity? Is it because we’re afraid? Is it because it’s easier? Is it because of the unknown aspects of the new? I guess only the individual can really say what it is for them.

As I’ve done ministry in a variety of local church contexts and other contexts one of the most frustrating and normal realities that I have observed is the commitment to the “old” way of doing things – how we used to do it is the way we do it and plan to continue doing it, the things that we used to do that worked, we will continue doing now, even if they no longer work, etc.

I have concluded that holding onto what God did in the past as He guided and inspired ministry ideas, practices and methodologies with such a tight grasp that we won’t let go, is to simultaneously close our hands and be unwilling and unable to receive the “new” things that God may be wanting to do in and through us. And eventually, a refusal to change can lead to limited effectiveness, and cultural irrelevance and an perpetual state of always being behind.

God always has more. God has always been a culturally relevant God who moves in unique ways in order to reach people where they are. I absolutely believe that He has more to give us and desires for us to keep moving forward.

“New” requires adjustments, and sometimes even inconvenience, but “new” is not always bad, sometimes is actually really good – not only for us, but for people around us!

Try it and see what happens.

New Years “Magic?”

I am always baffled by this time of year when people start using language such as “2011 is gonna be my year,” “it’s my season,” “taste of Heaven in 2011, and other churchy and not so churchy phrases, such as “out with the old, in with the new,” “next year will be different,” New Year, New You.”

I suppose those phrases are not all bad, and for many the climax of an old year, and the beginning of a new year serves as a marker – a time to pause, reflect, and dream again. So, I’m not totally opposed.

However, for many these catchy phrases, and lofty goals and enthusiasm prove to be just empty words, because around Jan 15th things go back to normal and many spend the bulk of the days of the new year dabbling in sameness, procrastination, and stagnation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a pessimist or a kill joy,  my only point is that anticipation, hope, and excited expectation should not be limited to one day/time of the year and viewed as though because it’s a new year things will somehow be different. Truth is that some of us could have and should have started in November or December rather than put aspirations off until January 1. Others may not find a new spark of creativity and aspirations until February or March, or maybe even October and rather than wait until the calendar strikes a new year (2012), they just need to start where they are and refuse to delay. There is no magic in a date.

It might also be helpful to remember that entering a new year with lofty dreams, without taking time to think,  strategize or plan keeps us in a lulled sleep continuing to dream dreams that never become reality. Though I don’t believe that things will somehow magically be different/better just because the calendar rolls around to January once again, I do believe in setting goals and having hope for better tomorrows all year long. Whatever you have planned, try some of the following practices all throughout the year to keep yourself moving forward:

1. Just Start! By mid year or even before people start the cycle of waiting ’til the “new year” to start something again. Just do it – the calendar date holds no magic whatsoever.

2. Think Deeper Thoughts. When is the last time you read a book? Have you had any conversations with people who know more/differently than you know and allowed them to pour wisdom into your life? Have you had deeper conversations with people who think differently and believe differently than you? Are you still saying the same things, quoting the same Scriptures, singing the same songs, teaching the same lessons, etc that you did last year? What steps will you take to increase your knowledge and understanding this year?

3. Decide not to Squander Opportunities. Every day is an opportunity to make a difference – whether small or great in the life of someone else. Don’t waste the moments you have, maximize them.

4. Be Determined. Life is a combination of things that come easy and things that come with hard work, tenacity, and courage to keep pushing forward in the midst of challenge, adversity, and struggle. Don’t let stuff stop you. If you have a goal, keep moving towards it.

5. Start New Relationships and Readjust Some Old Relationships. I’m not suggesting writing people off, but maybe in addition to the relationships you currently have you might need to initiate some other relationships that will enhance your growth and development as a person. Relationships are always risky – but that’s just the way life is, so go for it.

6. Pray. I place this last, not because it’s least, but because all of the above will be much more difficult without reliance upon Wisdom and a Power greater than yourself. God hears, listens, and helps.

Happy New Year!!!

Wanna Be

Most people use the term “wanna be” as a negative connotation, referring to a person who attempts to be someone that they are not. None of us should do that – we are all uniquely designed and should celebrate that. Personally, I believe that in another sense, there is nothing at all wrong with trying to be a “wanna be.” I am a wanna be in that I:

  • Wanna Be more like Jesus
  • Wanna Be more than I am today
  • Wanna Be further along a year from now than I am today
  • Wanna be a better woman than I am right now
  • Wanna be the best at my life calling that I can be

I know this is simple, but hey, we should all want to be something/someone better than we currently are. Being a “wanna be” means that you are not stagnant, that you have aspiration, and set goals to move in the direction of all that you can become.

Who are you now? And how do you move forward, higher, and deeper on the journey of becoming all you have the potential to become?