July 2015: Featured Post lifeseek.org is featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
I went to a Dave Chappell show recently and of course, you are not sure what he will say. The only thing you can be sure of, at least in my eyes, 80% of it will be funny, the 20% will be meant to offend. Like many of his predecessors, he aims to make social commentary while making us laugh. For what it’s worth, no pun intended, he does a great job at doing both.
But, he said one thing that really struck me and it could not be overlooked. While shadow boxing with the audience, jabbing us with his humor, Dave punched us in the gut with, “Christianity is just like Whitney Houston, it sounds good but one day it’s going to end up dead in the bathtub.” Of course most of the audience groaned out a laugh. The show continued on with more laughs and thankfully, no banana peels, but his statement stayed with me.
I started thinking, maybe Dave has a valid criticism. Not that Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection could eventually be ineffective, but culturally, in America, what Christianity is, could lose its effectiveness.
To borrow wisdom from my dear friend T. Simpson, “Christianity has become more about appearances than actual transformation and deliverance.” And so often churches around the nation have been the first on the scene but have also announced when the red light was on that they were on the scene.
As a cultural entity, Christianity has done very good things around the world. Feed the homeless, provide shelters, built hospitals and schools, and appropriated what is now, the greatest holiday ever. Sounds good.
But we have also made to some effect, Christ’s church, ineffective by incorporating things that are flashy but no substance. We have conferences and concerts with lights, smoke machines, lasers, and the like that it is more entertainment than it is about God. But in the midst of all of that, some people have been lost to who Christ really is and what the purpose of the church is. The mature, who are very small in number, can embrace it as worship and praise. The rest see it as just another event or something else sociable. That leads to disgruntled people like Dave who can say what he said.
If you allow me to go to the Bible, “do not by your eating, destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14: 14-15). That is what the culture of Christianity has allowed to happen. We have put on a great show and from the spoils of it, we have poisoned ourselves.
So what is the answer to this problem? One is, decide that being a follower of Christ is not [just] a lifestyle, it’s the way, and I mean the way of life. Back in the ancient times, if you put on a cross that meant you were marked as a criminal for life. The cross was not a light thing, it was serious and if you were scheduled to be crucified, whatever you did to receive that punishment you did that knowing full well it would have consequences.
So in that, we have to live with purpose. We have to reach out to the world and to our brothers and sisters, cameras or not, and say that we put them ahead of ourselves. We will always have critics and cynics but when we show genuine love, we can rise out of that bathtub, referenced during Chappell’s performance, and be who are supposed to be, servants not divas.
No decries. No decrees. No desires granted. No dreams fulfilled.
We need to repent because Christ died, while we were sinners. He took our punishment, our death, our sins. He took that on Him. God put our sin on His Son so that we may know Him, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
And now, we must repent, have a change in our mind, if you will, and put on Christ. We must put on Christ not because He is going to fix our relationships, take care of our depression, stand for black lives, give us a great business idea, make it alright between our co-workers and managers, heal that hip or shoulder that has nagged us for years, or have someone pay for our groceries in a time when we really need that $72.88 for something else.
We need to repent and put on Christ, have the mind of Christ so that we may know Him, ” the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent,” as it is written in John 17.
For far too long, we have lived off that magic prayer at some youth meeting or holiday service and believed that if we do good here and there, we were saved.
Like the lepers, we were slowly dying without ever knowing it and thought that our separation was because only God understood us but in truth, God separated us so that we would never infect others of our unrepentant sins. “You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
It is time to put first things first. Make the main things the plain things and the plain things the main things. We need to learn of God’s ways and follow Christ. Put away our dreams, our visions, our plans, our clocks, our calendars, our life coach’s strategies and “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, water, clothes, i.e. the basics to live] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain undeniable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is included in The Declaration of Independence (US 1776.)”
The truth is the world got it wrong. Something that God quickly began to teach me as I attempted to watch the well-known movie The Pursuit of Happiness. As we embark on what is easily the most hostile election year to date, it is evident we need to pursue what Jesus instructed from the first day of his ministry. We need to pursue the Kingdom of God.
As Christians, too often we associate ourselves and our circumstances with the pursuit of things that make us happy or feel good. This takes us away from the purpose of God in our lives. Happiness by definition comes from the root word, hap – which means luck, chance, or fortune. This sets the way to create an idol in our lives, one that causes us to focus on the pleasures of life and the circumstances that surround them. Take note this is something God clearly speaks about in Isaiah 65:8-12. This is even true when it comes to the election and voting for a person who makes you feel good, or even secure and happy, not necessarily what lines up with the will of God.
Does that mean that God’s will is for us to never be happy? By no means. Quite the opposite in fact. God wants us to be happy. Jesus preaches it very much so in Matt 5:3-12 commonly known as the beatitudes. Take note, however, this sermon is preached as characteristics for those who have entered into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). ‘Blessed’ in Greek means happy and in Aramaic means prosperous. What does that mean for us? It means that in order to be really happy (blessed), we need to pursue God and His Kingdom. Deeper than that, seeking God, staying in His will, produces joy, and that is something that is not dependent on circumstances, it is indwelling and solely dependent upon God.
“And so the Shortest Day came and the year died.” -From “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper
Today is December 21, 2020. It is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere—the shortest day of the year regarding the proportion of daylight to night light. Susan Cooper’s poem, “The Shortest Day,” illuminates the mystery of this day and speaks to what so many hope. Namely, for the year 2020 to die. For most, today is the shortest day in what has felt like the longest year in a century.
Looking back on 2020, I’ve discovered promises and possibilities within this year of the pandemic. These promises and possibilities were found during moments of significant meaning-making. Many made meaning by looking to sacred text for some parallel experience to the pandemic’s plight and impact. The foremost prolific biblical scholars of the last half-century released their own reflections. In April 2020, Walter Brueggemann released “Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty.” N.T. Wright released “God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath” in June 2020. Both writers offered reflections on the possibilities and promises of a pandemic.
The biblical text that has captured my imagination and shaped my meaning-making process most recently is Noah and the flood. In many ways, it captures the essence of my experience of the dual pandemic: coronavirus and racism. Genesis 6 describes the divine grief and sorrow experienced after witnessing humanity’s shortcomings. After 40 days and nights of rain, the global flood reached all of creation and spared only those of Noah’s household who had followed the instructions to shelter in place within the ark. God promised Noah that there would be new possibilities after the global pandemic: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22 NRSV).
Although the promise to “be fruitful and multiply” was extended to Noah and his sons, the possibilities would not be enjoyed equally. Sometime after the flood, Noah planted a vineyard, made and then overindulged in its wine, and fell into a drunken stupor. Ham, the youngest of Noah’s three sons, saw his father’s nakedness and told his older brothers. To avoid the shame of seeing their father’s nakedness, Shem and Japheth walk backwards into their father’s tent and cover him. When Noah awakes from his stupor and learns of his exposure, he shames Ham by cursing him and his descendants to serve his two older brothers and their descendants in perpetuity.
As Isabella Wilkerson, in her most recent work “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” explains, Ham and his descendants (Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan) were cursed not only to servitude but also to black skin. This understanding would be co-opted by Eurocentric readings of the text in the Middle Ages to inform the first pillar of caste: “Divine Will and the Laws of Nature.” Since then, white superiority and black inferiority have been thought of as edicts of divine will following nature’s laws. This false promise has fueled the global racism pandemic’s brutal possibilities for at least the last 400 years.
My personal reflection on the dual pandemic’s impact in Genesis 9 reveals what people of African descent had experienced time and time again. We uncover the nakedness of the majority culture’s shortsighted use of and indulgence in the possibilities of the promises of “seedtime and harvest” before being cursed and subjected to a subservient class within the social caste. As a result, we are disproportionately impacted by preexisting conditions as essential workers from the past plantation to the front lines of essential industries today.
What hopeful possibilities and promises can be found when those who reveal the naked truth of our forefathers’ vulnerability are cursed and shamed, while those who hide this truth are blessed and dignified? On this shortest day of light, I look again to my biblical ancestors’ for a glimmer of hope. Hindsight affords us a re-reading of the biblical text to discover the promises and possibilities therein. All of the descendants of Ham journeyed south to the continent of Africa. They took the promises extended to Noah’s descendants and made use of the possibilities afforded to them, including taking dignity and pride in their black skin. In hindsight, my re-reading has revealed the many insights to be gained from making biblical Africans great again.
There are 5 (the number of grace) such examples of biblical Africans that provide models of excellence worth noting— The Queen of Sheba, King Tirhakah, Ebed Melech, Simon of Cyrene, and the Ethiopian eunuch (a court officer of the Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians). I will reflect on these biblical African models throughout 2021. In these personalities, I see the possibilities–purpose, power, posture, position, and passion–within the promises of life before, during, and after a pandemic.
On this shortest day, just hours after the setting sun, we bore witness to the “Christmas Star,” that is, the “great conjunction” and solar passing of Jupiter by Saturn. Some 400 years had passed since the last occurrence of this celestial event. Unlike the temporary promise of annual vaccinations or even celestial meetings, the promises of Christmas are eternal. They address all sides of the problems we face and speak to the need for salvation. Salvation offers us a glimmer, no a beam, of hope through the possibilities of knowing that God is with us.