I admit it. I almost fell for it – that small voice that tries to convince you that not much has changed. It didn’t dawn on me until I was on my way home from an early evening service. I was asked “How are you?” I replied “same stuff different day.” In my defense I was tired (not the best excuse). However, the service went really well and I left slightly energized because I was going home to be with my family to celebrate my brother’s birthday. On the drive home it hit me – that question about how I was doing was an altar question, an opportunity to pause, take a couple of deep breaths and be thankful for the genuineness of the individual to care enough to ask the question. Upon further reflection, I felt really bad when I realized that the day hadn’t been the same at all. When in the weariness of life and we are just going through, we don’t have to find an altar – the altar comes to us. At the moment of encountering that question it may have been a different day, but certainly not the same stuff because in the form of a question, the day came with a gentle reminder of love: that thing that shows up when you least expect it, that something which happens when you need it the most.
I made sure I got out today. It’s not often that the weather is this warm in October. It was however mostly the brightness of the day that got my attention. I couldn’t let it go by as I’ve done so many times in the past. But today no depth of my emotions would allow me to settle in and make up some excuse for not taking the opportunity. I suppose I could have found some park with children playing or ventured through serene county woods looking for a babbling brook but I wasn’t really interested in watching children play or escaping the everyday. The purpose was to simply go on a quick journey outside of the house. So I went to the mall. I talked to some people, smelled some fragrances and got caught up on the latest electronics. I know this all seems like a simple thing, perhaps even a little ridiculous. It was barely a two hour adventure, but just enough time to enjoy the brightness of the sun. On the ride back home I think to myself – God is good.
While it is God who changes the heart of humanity, it is the actions of humanity which help to create the catalyst for change or stifles change from taking place. Without change we risk becoming slaves to the in-equitable conventionalism in human society. This slave mentality preys on other people’s hope that if by their action they work hard they will be rewarded, all while the system in place perpetuates the status quo which does not allow any such “reward” from ever taking place, thus starving people to death because hope does not feed, action feeds. Yet it is never the action of the conventional wisdom in place which blames the starvation on not working hard enough or the real kicker – they simply didn’t live long enough.
“…you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” You know it’s coming. Yet, the physical process of change always seems to kick in before the mental process. You are so used to doing something one way without thinking about it, that when you are forced to physically make a change your mind rebells it. The reality is that you’ve become comfortable with the way things have been because you’ve either benefitted from it or you’ve adjusted to the conventionalism of the practice in such a way that you are numb to the possibility that things could actually be better if you are open to the transition that you know is going to take place. We must begin to understand that the survival of the fittest is not about losers and winners, the weak and the strong, or the poor and the wealthy but rather about equal accessibility in order that everyone may be fit to survive! In other words, it’s not just about you or me or anyone individual. It’s about the whole of the neighborhood; the whole of the community; the whole of the church; the whole of the country; and most importantly the whole of humanity, all of which was created by and to this day belongs to God. How we respond to one another, whether in the convention of the day or in the midst of inevitable transition, is suppose to reflect our Christian responsibility to ensure access to the wholeness of righteousness, justice and peace according to God. How we respond to one another should reflect our willingness to uproot that mulberry tree in which only a select few are given access to reach its fruit and begin to plant trees of faith that produces fruit to which everyone has access.
“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face.” These are the words from a woman who though born with sight and hearing became blind and deaf, due to illness at 19 months. Helen Keller would become an author, political activist, and lecturer. When the Presiding Bishop visited St. Mary’s this summer, he asked for which Mary was our congregation named, Mary the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene. I smiled and said, Mary the mother of Jesus. It later got me thinking about the connotation. While I was certain of my answer, I wondered what it would have been like to be named for Mary Magdalene, perhaps a woman of means yet said to have had many demons. Could there be any deeper contrast than to the innocent purity of the mother of Jesus? Historically this early 20th century congregation though birthed out of the sin of racism, had early innocent beginnings much like the young child that was reassured that “Through God all things are possible,” we’ve held to that truth. However, through the years we’ve also suffered some demons and yet survived. We’ve been the beneficiary of God’s grace, an ever present holiness, and along with the many volunteers and partnerships, today we are able to look the world straight in the face from the street corner of a little town called Chester, PA. Because of the gift of these relationships ours is not a blind journey and the next time someone asks for which Mary, I will proudly hold my head high, smile and simply say yes. Besides, like Mary and Mary we must do what we are called by God to do, or it won’t matter so much as to which Mary for whom we are named.
Photo from “A.D. The Bible Continues: The Body is Gone”
“I’m not over it, but I am open to it.” This is the response by a woman who was told that she is going both blind and deaf, after being confronted with the idea of getting over her eventual loss. We never really get over loss. It doesn’t matter what it is. We always remember what it was like when we had something that we no longer have. Yet the loss of one thing is opportunity for something else to enter in, not necessarily to take its place but rather to move us in another direction, physically, spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Lord God help us to make every day count, to be like Jesus when he walked out of the wilderness, physically weakened but strengthened by your spirit, fully broken open to receive your wisdom and be guided by your compassionate love. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
In the earliest known game of chess, the piece we know today as a pawn was represented as a tombstone; a marker for the dead. The fact that a tombstone is used in a game of strategy circa 600AD (or perhaps even earlier) is evidence at least to me that “life” after “death” is a long held and lasting belief of every possibility by the hand of the most high strategist. If the tombstone reaches the opposite end of the board it not only gains “new” life it possess power equal only to one other piece, the queen. It has the power to move in any straight line, any number of spaces available, in any direction, forward or backward. Perhaps today we may feel like a tombstone as part of this game of life. What we feel, and who we are in the hands of God is nothing short of a life making its way to the other side as conquerors, royal queens. We shall stay the course and let our praise be to God and God’s Kingdom. “…she rose from where she lay prostrate.” Judith 10:1-23 (Apocrypha)
Lazarus sits at the gate of the rich man and the rich man ignores him (Luke 16:19-31 ). Haman a wealthy official in King Ahasuerus’ court sees Mordecai sitting at the gate and despises him because he does not bow to his position of authority (Esther 5:1-14). Desperately waiting for assistance, both are seen as having no value, less than human, looked down upon, forgotten and plotted against. The plight of Black lives today are once again played out on video; Terence Crutcher in Tulsa Oklahoma, waits for assistance as his car has stalled on the road. He surrenders his hands to the air, but is seen as having no value, less than human, looked down upon, forgotten and plotted against. FOUR officers surround the him. His body is pumped with electricity, followed by a bullet and he dies. Mission accomplished. How can anyone be comfortable with this violent oppression, which includes the silence, ignorance, triangulation and justification characteristic of the oppressor? This active arrogance, internalized authority, unmerited privilege and distorted perception of life is merely hatred in disguise. I am a black woman, wife and mother. By the end of the day, there is a real possibility that I, my husband or either of my two sons will not arrive home alive. In whole or in part I will not be my own oppressor! Don’t ask me to understand. Don’t try to dissuade me from what my eyes clearly see. Don’t ask me to wait and be patient with the pervasive backwardness of our own constitution that is systematically and wrongfully supported in our society by such atrocious acts against Black lives. No debate necessary. Justice delayed is justice denied. #Black Lives Matter.
“Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther 4:4-17 In relationships, triangles in and of themselves can be a good thing. They help to check and balance the sides and force accountability for the positions we hold in the relationship and the actions that we take. However, when an issue arises that causes tension to one side, when is the right time to do the right thing? Esther was part of a triangle relationship, one in which she believed she had little power or authority. Though she served the king, she was also accountable to a higher authority. In the physical world it may seem as if we are in a powerless position, when in fact spiritually we may have been strategically placed for such a time when we recognize that our own self-preservation is not guaranteed and it becomes necessary to go beyond what we believe is the limit of the triangle we are in and do the right thing. The life of our spiritual integrity of who we are is at stake. The alternative is death, and for us that’s no way to live. “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27: 17 – 18 There is a tv commercial about a man struggling to write and after placing a mint of some kind in his mouth a unicorn appears. The man looks up and says “I believe in you.” Suddenly his creative juices begin to flow. Of course unicorns are mythological creatures. Yet somehow represent the mystery of what is possible showing up in our lives and letting us know that there truly is a greater good within us. Today, may the mint on our tongue be the Word of the Lord encouraging us to continue to believe. O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.