Thursday, January 29, 2009

Articles of Faith: I

The constitution of the human spirit balances between two states: that which is good, and that which the average person perceives as evil. This dichotomy is not so much opposing as they are two sides of the same coin. We cannot feel guilt without knowing shame. We cannot experience joy with out knowing pain. We must know darkness in order to recognize the light when it shines. The book of Ecclesiastes describes the struggle to embrace both, and assures the faithful that every moment spent walking in the shadows will be matched by clear skies. There is a time for everything in God's perfect plan: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to cry - all are necessary, and therefore good. This is hard to accept when your stuck in the funky muck, but consider this: how else can we grow in faith if we don't go through tribulation? If the coal doesn't undergo sufficient pressure, how can the diamond be mined?

That being said, the first article of faith is simple: God is good, all the time. It is on this article that this blog is based. Interestingly enough, it is this first article that is most often attacked by the the enemy, especially during times like these. When doubt and worry bleed through the headlines, we hear hostile threats in our minds - "you can't" "it's impossible" "give up!" Oh, that devil - what a liar! Yet even obvious lies are believed when fear is at an all time high. People grow desperate; they'll believe anything, and do things they wouldn't normally do to get by. This is the faith test: what will you do when you are tried by fire? Remember, he who has faith without works is dead. In other words, what's the point of having faith if it is not tested?

We need to recognize that in order for faith to grow exceedingly, our trials must increase. It hardly seems fair, as if we are being set up to fail. But that, too, is a lie. The greatest stories ever told illustrate that though the antagonist appears to being winning in the middle chapters, the villain loses in the end. That's the good news - we are victorious in the last chapter! So keep reading, your life is God's on-going story. Be the character that refuses to surrender to despair. Secure your armour, strap on your sword, and dare the enemy to do his worst. Cry out name of Jesus and slay those minions - doubt, insecurity, worry, anxiety - bind them all up and cast'em into hell where they belong! You are greater than your circumstance; your circumstance is temporary, you are eternal! Fight with faith and you will receive your reward!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Language of God

I heard the morning show on the way to get coffee and spilled it all over myself when I heard their guest refer to Obama as speaking "like a normal person" versus speaking black, or as he put it - "street".   My complaint to the station was sent minutes later.  "His inference, intentional or not, is that Blacks aren't normal.  Is this what we get to look forward to for the next four years?  I expect some folks are going to learn a lot about their hidden racism as this administration takes shape.  The visibile racism of Jim Crow laws may have diappeared, but the subtle messages - such as how we define normalcy - is equally marginalizing.  As an English professor, I spent a great deal of time arguing that "proper" English suggests to a black "street" speaker that he is abnormal.  Until we change our language and  how we define people, we will continue to have "traditionally marginalized groups."  Whether or not we have a Black president won't change this reality.  Racism is embedded into everything - as this morning's show proved - especially our language!  (Oh, by the way.  Inform your guest that Obama is bidialectical - skilled in speaking more than one dialect.  Being bi-racial myself, this is an acquired skill...but that's another story.)"  I had more to say, but I'm glad I had limited space; it kept me on point.  

After submitting my penny's worth, I felt thankful that God is not a respecter of persons, otherwise we'd have to put up with the same discriminating poof we deal with here on earth. The language of God doesn't degrade or oppress, rather it uplifts and liberates.  Even better, he doesn't often yell to be heard, talk over the other person when she's talking, or argue for the sake of argument.  He doen't use language to sound smarter than He is or indicate what set He's claimin'.  God's language is much simpler. Ironically, it is this simplicity, that causes so much miscommunication.  The western world is not alone in it's knack for making just about everything more complicated than need be.  Our own minds interupt the transmission and we end up lost in translation.  What starts as simple words become loaded - like normal or street - and instantly our historical context, societal constructions, personal judgements, emotions, "issues"  transform simplicity into a big pile of poo.  When we're not layering language with our own refuse,  we overuse words to the point they lose meaning and value.  We  elaborate or embellish, make up riddles, rhymes and over-reason.  I am in awe of how God is able to hear us despite all the noise we call language.

Praise be to God, for when the Lord speaks He is clear, direct, and concise. "I am who I am." (Exodus 3:14)  It doesn't get much simpler than that.  So what, then, is this language of God? It's who He is and it's all there is, and it's all we need to communicate effectively.  I'd tell you, but it's one of those truths you already know.   

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Fire This Time

Today, as I watch history from my laptop, I can't help but have concerns for our new president. Of course I take issue with the media. Not that I would expect anything less from corporate, but the contrived nature of the Obama coverage is tiring.  Because he's Black, every song in the audio video montage points to his race, which is important for several obvious reasons, but I wonder if we will allow him to be anything other than "the first black president?" 

Social constructions do nothing but perpetuate the status quo, regardless of the power behind the bearer of said label.  Labels limit, force conformity, pale in definition the true color of a person.  Most would argue that that is precisely why Obama's election is so significant; he is the personification of King's dream - elected for the content of his character, not the color of his skin.  I'd like to think that is true, but there are enough voters who said yes (or no) to him because of his skin.  Though it sounds good to say we are color blind, witness the coverage today: how often does the media make reference to his race, either through the music or through the voice of the public?  They are limiting him before he even gets started.  But it is not just the media - we are doing it too.

Great expectations often exceed the actual event.  I learned this on a trip from Orlando to Tampa, trying to make it to the beach before the sun.  I wanted to see it set, longed for the moment of peace I once took for granted as a child growing up on the Pacific coast.  That final two or three minutes of ending eased my anxieties, like the "ah-hah" moment at the end of a suspense thriller; satisfaction that the truth has finally being revealed.  I held this desire in my heart, building higher and higher with each mile.  Through the traffic on that long stretch of Clearwater highway, I started to worry I might miss it.  I became desperate, easily frustrated by other drivers.  But, despite my bad attitude, I made it to the beach, found a balcony and made myself comfortable to watch the main event.  It happened, and then it was over.  That peace I hoped for, didn't come.  Not because the sunset wasn't beautiful.  I simply wanted something that no single event can provide.  I sought peace.  What I got was a peaceful sunset.

We seek change, and expect our new leader to provide it. Obama cannot save us, yet we deceive ourselves if we believe he can.  When he doesn't - because no one man can -will we blame him? Shame on us if we do.  When we give someone so much power to lift us up out of the mire, we risk bringing the same person down with our disappointment.  This is unfair, and sets our leader up for failure before he even begins.  Love affairs almost always end up with pain because of the illusion of satisfaction.  When reality sets in, we point fingers at the magician, but we are responsible as we bought the ticket to witness the magic.

We must replace our trust and hope and faith in man and put it in it's proper place - the only One who can save from the mess we're in, political and social, but more importantly, our personal mess.  We have gotten into the habit of looking outside ourselves for change. But every good quote states otherwise - change must come from within.  Biblically put, we must become new creatures in Christ.

Unfortunately our country has lost it's sense of His presence - we've kicked God out of everything important in our lives and turned instead to worship idols.  Cable TV, movies, videos, games, books, drugs, alcohol, sex, anything that will help us escape from ourselves.  We spend our time doing what we believe is important and fit God in where we can.  God is secondary to our personal agendas.  But we'll be the first to complain when our escape route fails.  I worry that Obama has become our next escape.  We risk making him a scapegoat, a good man could be destroyed by the blazing pyre we built for him.  Some have made him into the messiah, but recall what happened to the true Christ.  The people crucified him! 

Let's not label him as such, not just because it's blasphemous, but because labels bind us to a set of societal expectations that are often contradictory to our true nature. We are spiritual beings born into physical bodies.  It is the world that makes our flesh more important, more valued, more inspirational, than our Creator.  If this is the road we are traveling, there is not much Obama can do to help - we're doomed before we get a chance to start anew.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nowhere But Here

"We like to think we achieve.  We want to know we have 'arrived'.  But the self is work in progress.  It is the spiritual fashioning of a soul.  And souls grow slowly.  We spend life becoming ready to be human beings worthy of life."  - Joan D. Chittister in Called to Question.

I have been in a constant state of arrival for most of my adult life.    The restlessness to leave started early, I hadn't even reached the second grade before I was ready to go.  Where didn't matter, anywhere other than where I was at the moment was good enough, that is until I learned what anywhere looked like.  

In the old farm house I called home there was a window by the front door.  A blue antique loveseat was placed conveniently in front of this large window.  I would sit on old blue and stare out the window on rainy days, which came to the southern Oregon coast as often as the sun shines in Florida.  I longed to walk out the door, step off the front porch, and disappear down the driveway.  I would have runaway if not for the douglass fir trees stationed like colossal sentinals along our country road.  They looked like trees during the day, but at night they came alive.  Shadows of giants with heavy arms waved warning - leave at your own risk.  I wasn't brave enough to take that risk until I was 15.   I have been leaving ever since.

Departure is easier that arriving, especially when the destination is anywhere - a place always unexpected and so exciting at first.  Everything is new, the people and places strange but familiar.  It is the familiarity that should have given me my first clue as to the limiting nature of anywhere.   Bandon, Portland, Eugene, Oregon.  Richmond, Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles California.  Ithaca, New York.  Gainesville, Florida.  All places I have lived, some by conscious choice, others simply as a result of having no where else to go.  About four years ago I came to realize what it was that kept me moving every three years or so.  No matter what city or town I left, wherever I went I simply found more of the same - suffering, hunger, need.  But the familiarity was not in the location, it was within me.  I could be in Florencia, Cuba and still - there I am.  My surroundings may have changed, but without inner transformation, I would never arrive anywhere.  

I have grown with each move, though that growth is difficult to measure.  Depending what I am measured against, I could be a highly educated and skilled professional in education, or I could be the iconclast outcast who refuses to conform to societal norms.  The tool to determine where I fit between the two is based on societal rules, not one I choose to use, for neither label fits, nor does either amount to much on its own.  I suppose my refusal to use the world's tools for measurement inherently pushes me into the marginal space, a place that is like anywhere - nowhere but here.  I am comforted, however, in knowing that it is here where Christ took his stand.

As I prepare to make my next move, I enter the leaving differently.  I am fully aware of what anywhere looks like and still I'm prepared to step off the porch.  My confidence comes from what is growing inside, partially grown from my perpetual come and go pattern in life, but that is only the rain the comes and goes like the tide.  It quenches my thirst, but eventually the soil dries.  Continued growth requires the magic found in the mystery of God, the call to abide in Christ a spell that defies the laws of any place in time.   The mere promise of peace that comes from the King of Kings shines light on my "work in progess."  The seed of what is growing is my soul, and her longing within me is God gently beckoning, the passion that drives me to keep leaving so I can continue to arrive.  Where?  Anywhere there is a risk.  Anwhere there is suffering.  Anywhere there is spiritual hunger and need.  My step is no longer timid, uncertain. It is an intentional leap.   If I achieve anything, it will be responding to God's will, living a life worthy of his calling, from here to nowhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thanks for at least....

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virture, and if there be any praise, think on these things."  - Philippeans 4:8, King James

This is my favorite verse; it's the best reminder I have to practice the exact opposite of my thinking on gray days like today. Only moments ago, my mind was in repeat mode, playing "poor me" thoughts, triggering feelings of worthlessness, apathy.  Sitting on my white plastic patio chair under the three-foot awning, watching the rain stream down onto the oversized leaves of the bird of paradise that has yet to bloom.  Breath shows in the cold air,  steam from coffee rising like my negative thoughts. Another day, just like any other.  Me, just existing, wasting God's time.  Impatiently waiting for God to call with the good news:  "Congratulations, child!  Your wait is over.  I've got a job for you, you can finally use that ivy league master's degree that put you in debt all those years ago.  Your annual salary should pay it off in just a few years.    Your teenager's poor performance her first semester in college?  No problemo! She'll be on scholarship this time next year.  Husband left you for another woman?  Simple! We had a little chat, he's decided to serve me, and he should be calling any minute asking to be a family again.  Your grandfather's cancer?  Cured!  Your grandmothers hip? Healed!" No worries, God fixed it all.  Yeh, right! And I was the Queen of Sheba in my past life.

There, the winter skeleton of a tree supports one, birds, some shaking off the rain that's finally letting up.  I'm jealous that they don't have to pay rent for shelter.  Behind me, the front door of my neighbor closes anonymously.  I met her when I first moved in, haven't spoken since.  At my feet, my cat meows silently, is she getting sick or is she a reflection of me - going through the motions of living without a voice.  Three year old is at the front door, wants more rice and beans.  "In a minute."  Mommy's busy stewing funk.  "Close the door, you're letting the heat out."  Just paid $250 electric bill.  Another $50 to transfer billing to my new, smaller but cheaper housing arrangement.  At least it won't cost so much to heat this one.

That's the lesson here: think of the "at least....." in every situation.  Still working as a waitress, but at least I have a job.  Lost my child care waiver, but at least I get to spend more time with my child now.  Car needs work, but at least I have a car to work on.  True it's cold and raining, but at least I live in Florida.  The sun will be out tomorrow.  That's little orphan Annie's song.  "Gotta hang on till tomorrow, come what may."  Holding on, God.  Holding on.