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Los Angeles, California, United States

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What Is Sacred?

After attending a memorial service for someone I used to work with, I was feeling the weight of mortality. I listened to people telling stories about this person... how they had impacted their lives... some funny... some touching... and began to think about life in general, and how fragile it is. No one was expecting this person's passing two years earlier. They went from being the epitome of vigor and deteriorated quickly. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. Watching the process... listening to how this person was memorialized, I felt the need to reflect... alone... on the meaning of life and to draw close to God.

I drove to a little coffee shop in Los Feliz (that's in California for those of you who don't know), sat down and began reading a book by Richard Rohr called, “What The Mystics Know: Seven Paths to Your Deeper Self”, because reading Richard Rohr has a way of calming my soul. I read Immortal Diamond at exactly the right time in my life and it confirmed so many things for me. It was an absolute gift from God. But this time, when I got to page five of “What the Mystics Know” I was struck by one word that stopped me cold, and I have not gotten past that one word since. It has taken me on a quest, to see if I really understand that word, if we as a society understand that word, and how our collective understanding of that word has changed over time... and how it's changing now.

The word in Rohr's book was “holy”, which I quickly looked up and the first word I found used to define holy was “sacred” and that's the word I have been investigating. I chose “sacred” because it seems to be more readily accessible to the religious and the non-religious. We use the phrase “Is there nothing sacred?” in common speech to express a feeling of violation... that something was touched that should not have been. That a thing or person or institution has been altered in a way that is not “good”, that it has been defiled.

As a recovering Catholic (honestly, I don't think I'll ever recover completely, and there are days when I'm kinda happy about that) and former choir girl, I have a fair understanding of things that are “holy” or “sacred”. I come from a church with sacraments, which are sacred rites in the Roman Catholic Church. The Eucharist is sacred, the monstrance used to hold the Eucharist is sacred. The Altar is sacred. And the way all of those things are handled is important. There is a way to behave when you're on the altar. For a long time in the Roman Catholic Church, there was a short fence or railing the kept the common parishioner off the altar. They could kneel and pray there, but they couldn't come onto the altar unless summoned by the priest. In some of the older churches, this railing is still there. That's just how sacred the altar was.

As a choir girl at the age of 9, I knew how to behave (and that I had to) on the altar. Our girl's choir was seated on the right side of the altar, not in the choir loft, (that was for the boy's choir). I would watch how carefully the priest and the altar boys (there were no altar girls back then) handled Holy Communion. How purposeful every move was... and being on the altar, I had a really good vantage point to see.

When I left the Roman Catholic Church and joined a spirit-filled, charismatic, non-denominational church, my definition of “sacred” was altered and expanded. The altar was still handled with care, but it, and everything and everyone on it was alive... and lively! The minister sang and jumped and danced and shouted, as did the rest of the congregation, and all of this was sacred. People wailed, sometimes in gratitude, sometimes in pain, as they brought their hearts to the altar to be restored by the Great Physician... to lay their burdens down at Christ's feet... to give their hearts to God... to ask Jesus into their hearts to be their Lord and Savior.

I learned that Christ was alive and interested in the minutiae of my life... that He numbered every hair on my head [Matt. 10:30] and saved every tear I've ever cried. [Psalms 56:8]. Even the crosses were different. In the Roman Catholic Church, at the center of the altar, there was a crucifix... Jesus is still on the cross and the focus is on Christ's suffering, his sacrifice for us. In my new church, there was an empty cross at the center of the altar. Christ has risen! He has transcended the cross, that instrument of torture, the place where he paid for our sins... He has conquered death and hell. He is our resurrected Lord! He is victorious and His suffering was so that we might have victory as well... those of us who believe! This is the Good News of the gospel and that news was and is very sacred to me.

For the first time as a believer, I had hope, not just for the life hereafter, but for life here. I learned that Jesus is alive and well, and willing and able to work and move in my life and in my heart here and now! That weeping may endure for a night... as in dark night of the soul... but joy does come in the morning! [Psalms 30:5] No longer a suffering soul, but victorious in Christ, the risen Lord. And it was this knowledge that caused me to ultimately leave my career in television, and work in ministry for seven years.

Now that I have discussed my understanding of the word, “sacred”, I want to look at the place of the sacred in society. Do we, in the 21st century still find anything sacred anymore? I think a lot of people are asking this question and I decided to ask a number of people that question myself. I started with the baristas in that coffee shop in Los Feliz and here's what they said... 


Both the man and the woman at the coffee shop touched on an important aspect of what sacred means,  that we... people... designate what is as sacred.  That whatever people call sacred, actually becomes sacred and the woman takes it a step further by saying that the human spirit is intrinsically sacred, meaning that it's "sacredness" exists without the need for human designation.  I completely agree, although we arrive at this conclusion coming from very different places.

Neither the man nor the woman at the coffee shop are believers, yet they seem to know intuitively what some churches and nations have periodically forgotten... that we as individuals and as a society have both the right and the responsibility to designate what is sacred and I believe we should take that duty very seriously, in part because of what the woman said... the human spirit is intrinsically sacred.  

In John 1:4 & 1:9  Jesus is referred to as both life and light and we are told that this light illuminates everyone that comes into the world... and that includes the non-believer.  I believe that this light is our human spirit.  It is what God breathed into Adams' nostrils [Genesis 2:7] and because it is "God-breathed", it is self-existent and therefore it is sacred. I believe also that is why what we designate as sacred, becomes sacred... because the breath of God in us declares it so.

In March of this year, I attended a panel discussion at St. John's Cathedral, an Episcopal church here in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Guibord Center.  It was called, "Beyond the Veil: Life After Death" and in addition to some of the mainline Christian dominations being there, some of the major, Non-Christian faith traditions were represented there as well. 




I was able to speak with four of the Non-Christian panelists pictured above.  Swami Sarvadevananda of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the California Sikh Council and a cultural intelligence educator and advisor to the Department of Justice, Imam Dr. Ahmed Soboh, Religious Director of the Chino Valley Islamic Center and Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels from Temple Beth Shir Shalom.

Swami Sarvadevananda's answer to my question, "how do you define sacred?" was very short but to the point, Swami Savadevananda Interview.  Noringin Singh Khalsa's answer was longer and more complex, and it actually echoed what the baristas mentioned.  That anything could be sacred... Niringin Singh Khalsa Interview].  Imam Dr. Ahmed Soboh had this to say, from the Islamic perspective... Imam Dr. Ahmed Soboh Interview .  Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels said... Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels Interview. What I found most interesting in Rabbi Comess-Daniel's answer is that everything in creation is waiting to be made sacred.  This was something that I hadn't heard before and really resonated with me.

For the traditional Christian perspective, I decided to ask the senior minister at my current church, Dr. R. Scott Colglazier at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.  Dr. R. Scott Colglazier Interview.   

Dr. Colglazier's primary focus is on three aspects of the sacred, time places and ritual, however, what resonated most with me was his statement that almost anything can be made sacred when viewed in the right way.  This confirmed what Rabbi Comess-Daniels said, that everything in creation is waiting to be made sacred.  By the way, I visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels in downtown Los Angels after our talk and personally, I didn't find it cold, but solemn.  The edifice itself wasn't what moved me, but the way light flooded the space did, and that's what made the space feel sacred to me... as if God Himself was illuminating it.  The building was merely the backdrop for the His Light.



After speaking with Dr. Colglazier, I decided to present this question about the sacred to a coworker of mine, Dave Suchanek.  Dave is a Millenial, that much talked-about, ever nebulous demographic that, according to Bloomberg and the U.S. Census, is quickly becoming the largest voting block in our country.  As I, a Gen Xer, gets older, this group is going to have a greater say in what is deemed sacrosanct in our society. Dave and I have had a few conversations about faith and politics and although we don't always agree, we do however find points of agreement, so I thought getting his perspective for this would be useful.  Dave Suchanek Interview  

Dave believes that there are certain things that in the depths of our souls, everyone knows are sacred.  He believes that everyone knows on some level that human life is sacred.  I wish he were right about that, but with recent events in Paris, London and Manchester, not to mention the atrocities committed throughout history, I don't believe he is.  I wish I could say that religion is the perfect way to cause people to know that life is sacred, but we all know that religion has been, and for some, remains the reason for taking human life... that religion has been the vehicle for many of the atrocities committed throughout history, but religion is not God.  It is merely man's flawed attempt to access the divine. 

Several people that I interviewed for this post have stated that anything can be sacred... that we have the power to make times, places and rituals sacred... that the human spirit is sacred... that life is sacred... and that all of this "sacredness" can exist, divorced from religion, which implies it can exist divorced from God, but I don't think so.  

Maybe our concept of God is just too small, especially for those of us in religious communities. We get caught up in doctrine and dogma and religious tradition and our church culture and forget that God is bigger than all of that.  I'm not saying that religion is bad in and of itself, it isn't however, it is only as good as the people who practice it.  It is our imperfect attempt (which accounts for all the wrong that's been done in the name of religion) to access God... to experience His presence... to please him... to keep ourselves "in" with God. It is not God.  I believe we have to be willing to look past our own religious background, our narrow view, and open ourselves up to new ways of experiencing the sacred.

A few weeks ago, I decided to take myself out to dinner.  I hadn't had a night out in quite a while and I decided to go all out... dinner and dessert at a nice restaurant... live music... the whole works.  This practice for me is sacred.  It's "me" time... a time to feel relaxed and pampered, however, my evening did not go as planned.  The dinner wasn't that great.  The live music wasn't great either and I decided to leave the restaurant early because I just wasn't comfortable... I didn't even stay for dessert.  As I walked out of the restaurant, I decided to walk down the street to Cafe Figaro, a little French bistro in Los Feliz, CA, for coffee and dessert to try and salvage the rest of my evening.  At least I knew the dessert would be good.  Seated at my table, waiting for my waiter to come back and thinking about how disappointing my evening had been, I looked across the room and recognize someone I hadn't seen in a very long time.

Victor Hugo Zayas is an Artist... a sculptor, painter, and art educator, who I met in, of all places, South Los Angeles, an area not known for its trendy arts scene.  I lived there my last two years of college and worked there with my mother, who founded a church there in an area called, Hyde Park, a high crime, under served community... the stereotypical "South Central L.A." community you hear about in rap songs.  When either I or my mother wanted to take a breather (a mental health day we called it) and escape the stresses of the ministry and that environment, we always had to go out of the community... the Marina, the Westside... because there was no place safe or attractive in the community to do that.  So you can imagine my shock and joy when I stumbled upon Victor Hugo Zayas and his cafe in the L.A. Design Center on Western Ave. between Slauson and Gage, in the heart of South Central Los Angeles.  It was like finding water in the desert.  I could get a bite to eat, a good cup of coffee, read and study in a creative, stimulating environment and he even had a little library!  Art everywhere... paintings, sculptures, drawings hanging from the ceiling!   And he taught classes!  He even had live music there some nights.  And all this within walking distance of where I was living, and believe me, in "the hood", that is rare.

I hadn't seen Victor in over ten years, but we had kept in touch through social media. I facebook messaged him, we waved and he came over to my table and we greeted each other as old friends. As we were catching up, I realized that I hadn't talked to an artist yet, and it would be great to get his thoughts on what he finds sacred, and for him, it's art... Victor Hugo Zayas Interview.

Victor's idea that intuition and self-exploration are sacred, and that he could achieve the sacred through art was profound and I completely agree.  One of the reasons I love art and earned a degree in Visual Communication is because I've always been able to access a deeper part of me through art.  It's one of the reasons I find painting, especially abstract painting challenging, sometimes bring me to the point of tears, because it allows me to tap into what is real in me... my truth... and God is the Spirit of Truth.  It allows God to speak to me, through me, paint and canvas, and ultimately brings me closer to Him because paint doesn't lie.  Art doesn't allow me to hide truths from myself... what I'm really feeling... and forces me to articulate my feelings visually and really look at them and gives me the opportunity to bring them, and my heart before God in truth. I find the process engaging, emotional, exhausting and incredibly fulfilling, especially when I produce something that I like.  

My chat with Victor ultimately brought me back to what Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels said, that everything in creation is waiting to be made sacred... every thought... every action... every deed... waiting to be made sacred by us... by God in us.










Saturday, December 31, 2016

A conversation on art and faith with Artist, Teresa Hill

I had the pleasure of meeting artist, Teresa Hill at "Alimento", an art show held at my current church, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.  I was immediately drawn to one of her paintings, "St. Ty", 

a portrait of a "beatified" man holding an open pomegranate with bees buzzing around it.  

The painting held my attention because as a former Catholic, the light around his head and face, his upward gaze and the use of color... the reds and oranges and yellows... and the use of light and dark, reminded me of renaissance paintings of saints.  This figure, "St. Ty" seemed to be in contemplation, which caused me to contemplate him... what was his story?  What was he contemplating?  He was wearing a red hoodie, set in modern times.  Why was he being portrayed as a saint? And what was the significance of the pomegranate and the bees?  What was the artist trying to say?

I stood infront of this painting for a long time, wrestling with what I didn't know and had no way to find out because there were NO ARTIST NOTES!!! (a pet peeve of mine) and in absolute frustration, I finally walked away. But I kept catching a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye because I was drawn to the rich colors... I loved the use of light and shadow... so warm and inviting to me.  

So as I'm turning away, trying to distract myself from this painting, a woman and her daughter walked up to me and started a conversation.  It's Teresa Hill, the artist who created the painting that so drew and perplexed me.  When I found out who she was, the first words out of my mouth were, "You're pomegranate guy!  Ok, so what's the deal with pomegranate guy!"  

As we talked, I found out that "St. Ty" is actually a portrait of her ex-husband, who used to be an animator for a well known studio here in Los Angeles, and this is how she saw him... somewhat other-worldly, with a gift (the pomegranate).  However there was also the ideas of both pollination (life) and danger that surrounded him and his gift (his artistry) represented by the bees.

I found our conversation really enlightening and so enjoyable, not to mention the fact that it relieved my frustration over her painting, that I told her about Ikthos, and asked to do an interview with her and graciously she agreed.

On December 19th, one week before Christmas, Teresa and  I met at Copa Vida, a coffee house in South Pasadena, California, to share coffee (for me, an elixir of life), conversation and thoughts on faith, her art and the meaning of life.  The conversation that follows, most of which you will be able to hear below, was an hour and forty three minutes long, which I've condensed to an hour and twenty three minutes (sorry that was the best I could do.  There's a lot of good stuff). 


"The Whistling"
The Hatchling"
We spoke about her take on her Southern Baptist background, or what she calls her "point of awakening", her interpretation of scripture, which can be seen throughout her work, where her faith journey has taken her outside of the Southern Baptist tradition and her views on life in general.  We discuss specifically, "The Whistling", "The Hatchling" and "Eve Revisited", a work currently in progress.

To my more traditional believers out there, I would ask that you listen to our conversation without judgment.  Teresa has gone beyond most of our comfort zones, but the echoes of what we were taught are still there.  I have to admit that I don't agree with all that she believes in, and that's perfectly ok.  We respect each other enough to listen to each other, which I believe is much needed in the body of Christ today and I know I grew from our conversation, as I believe she did as well.  We plan on speaking again.

I believe this is all a part of the journey Christ intended us to have as we each "run our own race".  She is running her race and I am running mine and maybe by sharing our stories of lessons learned, we can assist one another.  The body of Christ, "joint supplying joint."







Tuesday, September 13, 2016

That City Upon A Hill...

With all that has been happening in our country, the United States... the shootings in Dallas, the nationwide protests... the social tensions that plague us as a nation... I have felt the need to look back at what we are about as a nation. To return to its beginnings. To try and remember why we are here in the first place... why we exist as a nation. And that brings me back to what John Winthrop called us in A Model on Christian Charity. We are intended to be “That city upon a hill”, but are we? Have we really ever lived up to our calling?

When Winthrop used that phrase, he was referring to the gospel of Matthew. The full quote from Matthew 5:14-16 reads:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.

It was Winthrop's prayer that this nation would be a beacon of light to the world. A place were people could come and hear the Good News. A place were people could practice their Christian faith freely, without persecution from the state. A place where the individual could be a self-made man (or woman), free from the rigid social constraints of class conscience Europe. A place where you could own land and the government couldn't confiscate or occupy it at will (hence the 3rd amendment which came later). A place where all men could be free to live a quiet and peaceable life. This unfortunately is not the America we live in today.

This year, in the month of July alone, There were at least 5 black women killed in police custody and according to the website, “Mapping Police Violence.com, there were at least 102 unarmed African Americans killed in police violence in 2015. That's approximately 2 a week. I don't believe this is the America Winthrop envisioned and it certainly isn't the land of the free or the home of the brave where we can all live a “quite and peaceable life”. [1Timothy 2:2]

Now I will be the first to admit, that not all of our Founding Fathers were as progressive as the document they wrote, which states that “...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ” There were some that didn't believe that the Africans they enslaved were human at all, which is one of the reasons we had a three fifths compromise... a compromise which violated the spirit of our Constitution... a compromise which never should have been made and unfortunately, a compromise we are still feeling the repercussions of. In God's economy, no one is three fifths God's creation... or three fifths his son or daughter and Christ did not die for three fifths of a soul or three fifths of the people, but “God so loved the WORLD (all of it and everyone in it) that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever that believes on Him shall not parish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]


Now this is not the first time we as a nation, have had problems living up to our better selves. Unfortunately, it took a civil war to correct the error of the three fifths compromise. It took the civil rights movement to correct the error of Jim Crow and the real question is what will it take to right our course in the current dark night of our nation's soul? One good thing about all of the turmoil we are currently experiencing is that it is bringing the poison of racism (and hopefully all the other “isms”) to light, so that we can be, once and for all purged of it and the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, so that we can truly be that shining city on a hill Winthrop envisioned.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Seeking "Church"

This past April, I celebrated my 49th birthday. Not quite the big “50” but significant none the less and I wanted to do something special so I decided to take myself to London. It was my first trip abroad and I was really excited... excited for the adventure I was about to embark on... excited for seeing a new and different county, excited because I was traveling alone, something I love to do... to meander the streets finding new treasures... taking my time to take in the city.

One of my “must” stops was the Temple Church, which is the knight's Templar church that was featured in the DaVinci Code. I wanted to go there because I was looking for a connection to the early church... the first century church... because this church grew under such tremendously challenging circumstances. Crucifixion, being fed to the lions, mass murders and persecutions were par for the course for the early christian community. This is the reason the sign of the fish, the Ichthus, is used today to represent Christianity, because the ichthus was a sign used by persecuted believers to identify each other.

Drawing the sign of the fish in the dirt was a secret signal, known only to believers, that stood for Christ. It was a visual reference to Christ's miracles, Him multiplying two fish and five loaves, feeding five thousand [Jn. 6:10-13]... and then four thousand [Mark 8:1-9]... it was the only way for believers to safely reveal themselves to each other, and although I changed the spelling (someone else was using it) the ichthus, was the inspiration for this blog, “Ikthos”... a way for believers in The Way, believers in Christ, to identify one another and share their faith with one another in a safe space, where we can engage one another, nurture one another and truly be that “body fitly joined together, joint supplying joint” [Ephesians 4:16]

What I found among the effigies and stone and stain glass was a living church steeped in tradition. The majority of the service was sung, as the early church and even the Latin Roman Catholic mass was sung. The Temple Church was consecrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 10, 1185AD by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem and has existed continuously. The feeling of history was palpable, however, I believe the service I attended, was very different than the services attended by the early christian believer.

The early church during Roman oppression, met in private homes, catacombs and as Justin Martyr replies to his interrogator Rusticus, the Roman Prefect, “Wherever it is each one’s preference or opportunity....” 1 This was a church under seige... where being revealed as a member could get you put in prison, tortured, interrogated and ultimately killed... and yet it grew.

After Constantine “converted” (I'm not sure he converted to Christianity or if he converted Christianity for his own purposes), the reverse became true. If you didn't accept Christ, join the church (and at that time there was only one) and worship exactly as they said, you could be tortured and/or killed. If you dare have a difference of opinion or a unique experience that differed from what was taught to be the norm, you could literally loose your life. One would think we've come a long way... or have we?

There's much to be learned from the past. And although events and circumstances have changed our society... what we know and in many cases, what we as modern believers find important, the truth of the Gospel, the Good News, never really changes because people, the one constant throughout history, never change. We never loose the need to be loved, unconditionally. We have never and will never be perfect so we will always have a need to be perfected, and that is what the love of God, in the person of Christ Jesus does. He perfects that which concerns us. [Psalms 138:] In every way. In our body He heals, for he is the balm of Gilead. He gives sight to the blind and raises the dead. In our hearts, for he heals the brokenhearted and in our mind He frees us from fear by giving us the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Tim 1:7. And yet we have movements within modern Christendom, that want to make the church be more “seeker friendly” as if those who seek Christ today are really any different than those who sought Him when He walked the streets of Galilee. Zacchaeus, the short tax collector in Jericho who climbed the tree so he could see Jesus, didn't have any greater need to “see Jesus” than any other vertically challenged person would today, except Zacchaeus made the effort... he labored to “see”. And I don't believe Jesus responds to us today with any less graciousness or love than he did to Zacchaeus. If we make the effort, Jesus shows up, and He dines with us... he heals our hearts, stills our minds and nourishes our spirit... or at least that has been my experience.

Although, my visit to the Temple Church was special, something I'll remember, it was my experience at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle that moved me to tears. I was there the week after Easter, and there was a very simple, very large cross with a large crown of thorns draped over the top, hanging over the alter. It looked like it had been created with builder's lumber, not artistic or polished or “beautiful” by any modern aesthetic, but more beautiful than anything in either church because it represented the love... what Christ was willing to do for us... what God was willing to sacrifice for us... God's labor of love for us. There is no need to make our faith any more “seeker friendly” because Christ has sought us. The work to get us to God is done. It is finished.



____________

1Christianity Today, “Where Did Christians Worship?” by Christopher Haas. Issue 37

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-37/where-did-christians-worship.html

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What It Means To Be "Royal"

Hello everyone and Happy Holidays! I hope you had a blessed and merry Christmas and that you will have a blessed and prosperous new year!

Recently, I've had a couple of conversations on what it means to be “Royal”. Royalty has become a hot topic in modern culture. Prince William and Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge, The recent wedding of Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist and the recent royal nupitals in Monaco have gotten the whole world it seems, talking about royalty... what it means to be royal... the pomp and circumstance that comes with the title... the parties... the traveling... the state events... it seems the whole world is mesmerized by their glamorous lifestyle. Average, middle-class people are willing to go into great debt or go to great extremes to have a look of opulence, which they equate with being “royal”... to have a dress like Catherine or a hairstyle like Sofia or your pop star de jour. They will change their mannerisms, their look and occasionally their speech, all in an attempt to be like “royalty”. But are all the public events and pomp and circumstance what it really means to be “royal”?

Out of all the recent royal couples out there, I think I admire Prince William and Catherine the most, not because they are royalty, but because they appear to be very down to earth people. They take care of their children. Charles goes to work everyday just like any young husband and father. Catherine does her own grocery shopping, just like any other young wife and mother. They just happen to be heirs to one of the oldest, successive monarchies in the western hemisphere and yet doing “common”, everyday, mundane things, like doing your own grocery shopping, isn't beneath them... down to earth and in some ways, a little Christ-like.

Black's Law Dictionary defines “royal” as, “Of or pertaining to or proceeding from the king in a monarchical government” [ 6th ed. p. 1330]. In the book of John, Chapter 17, Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” [Jn. 17:1-5] Jesus was asking God the Father, the First of the trinity, to restore him to the fullness of his divinity because his work was done.
Christ was and is and will always be the ultimate royal. He willingly cast off the fullness of his divinity, to take on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth [Jn. 1:14], to become the son of Mary, a simple young girl and to be raised by Joseph, a simple carpenter [Lk 1:20]. He allowed himself to be subjected to all of what it means to be fully human... pain, loss, need, temptation, hunger, humiliation and ultimately death [Matt. 27:50] and only at the very end, at his most human point, did he ask, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me” [Matt. 27:46]. Christ is the ultimate royal in that he was willing to suffer the cross, all for his people... you and me... for the Kingdom of God.


This Christmas, as I sat in church singing Christmas carols and looking at the beautiful lights and decorations, I thought of the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a savior... I thought about the day Christ is born in a manger (not a palace)... I thought about the wise men who traveled to pay tribute to Christ, one of only two acts of pomp in his life (the other being Palm Sunday) and how simple and beautiful and awe-inspiring these moments are, and I wonder if we today have any real understanding of what it means to be royal at all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

God Is Not A Man!

"God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? " 
                                                                                              - Numbers 23:19

I was praying this scripture the other night, as I often do, because it is my habit of pray the Word of God back to God... not only as a point of covenant, but also as a reminder to myself of what promises, rights and privileges I have as a believer... as a citizen of the kingdom of God and also as a reminder of the eternal nature of God. I pray Numbers 23:19 almost every night, normally pausing at “... that he should lie”, because I find it comforting to know that God never lies... He might just be the only one who doesn't, but this night, I paused earlier in the verse at, “God is not a man” and I literally gasped when I said it because I got new revelation in that moment of utterance of what that phrase really means.

God is Not a man. He doesn't have any of the faults or weaknesses of mankind. His nature isn't flawed as man's is. He has none of the limitations of mankind. He is Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways, [Isaiah 58:8] therefore he doesn't lie or make mistakes or go back on His word. His Word is settled in Heaven [Psalms 119:8] and heaven and earth shall pass away, but His word will never pass away. [Matthew 24:35]. God is a spirit, and those of us who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth [John 4:24] and even though I knew all of this before, and have prayed this scripture hundreds of times before, in that moment, at that time, it expanded in my heart. It literally took my breath away.

God is immense and endless. He has no beginning and no end. How easy it is for me, with my finite mind and my finite life, to forget, or not fully understand just who it is I'm speaking to when I pray. His BIGNESS!!! (I would scream it on this page if I could) in contrast to my smallness, is wondrous and beautiful to me... it makes me feel safe and happy and excites me... it makes my heart sing. It gives me peace to know that what ever matter I bring to Him in prayer, it is handled. I can leave it with Him in confidence, knowing that He is well able to handle it. That there is nothing too hard for God. That there is no matter too irrelevant for God... nothing too small, nothing too great. That he is “Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam” Lord God, King of the Universe... the ONE who set the stars in the sky and created all the planets and put them in their rotation. The ONE who created every living thing... from the smallest to the greatest (including me)... and He is the ONE I am speaking to when I cry “Abba Father”. [Romans 8:15]

That one thought, of God not being a man, took away all of my anxiety, all my fear and put my heart in perfect peace. I breathed a sigh of relief, chuckled to myself and just began to praise Him... for being Him, knowing that I am His, engraved on the palm of His hand [Isaiah 49:16] and that nothing... no not any thing can separate me from His love [Romans 8:39]


Sunday, May 10, 2015

What is "Black"?

A while back, I was having a conversation with a co-worker.  We were discussing ethnicity... he being Jewish and me being African American, and when I mention to him that I had other blood besides African, he looked at me and said somewhat dismissively, "Felicia, you're Black" as if that were the sum total of my existence... as if he somehow knew exactly what that meant.  I as an African American don't completely know what that means and it is not the same experience for every American of African descent.  Personally, I don't think there is one definitive answer, but a colllection of answers based on an individual's African ancestry, what part of this country their family is from, their socio-economic background and what community influences, and not just Black, have taken root in their family.  Did you grow up in an homogeneous environment?  Did you grow up Protestant or Catholic or Budhist or Muslim or Atheist?  How political was your family?  Was race a topic of conversation or was it just that unmentionable thing you dealt with individually, but didn't dare acknowledge, in an attempt to be "just like everyone else".  

The reality is, as Americans of African descent, we're not "just like everyone else".  We're not even just like other African Americans because collectively, we are made up of such a large genetic pool.

I just recently got my DNA tested and was suprised to find out just how mixed I actually am.  According to Ancestry.com, I am 82% African and 18% White.  What I found interesting was how inconclusive the terms "African" and "White" really are.  


As you can see in my results above, "Africa" , or rather my Africa, is represented with a total of eight different countries.  All of which have different cultures and languages and customs and bloodlines with different biological and genetic traits. "Africa" is no more singularly Black than "Europe" is singularly White. And what I found here is just the tip of the iceberg.

I was referred by one of my new-found cousins, to another site called, GEDmatch, which takes the DNA results I got from Ancestry.com, and cross-references them with global DNA databases that are being compiled by researchers from around the world.  These databases are more specific to region and ethnicity, and gives a more specific view of where my DNA came from.




When  I uploaded my DNA to GEDmatch, I found that in addition to the eight African countries found by Ancestry.com, I can add North Africa, which could include any of the countries in the horn of Africa (the Omotic peoples) and Eastern Bantu, which may include Tanzania and/or Kenya.  

In short, I'm kind of a sampling of the continent of Africa... a mixture of many different countries and cultures... an African gumbo with the main flavor being West African, but definitely not limited to that region.  But is that what it means to be "Black" and is being "Black"the same as being "African" or  "African American"?  

As an American, with African and European ancestry, I think about this question alot.  Although I'm medium brown-skinned, I've never felt completely accecpted in the Black community.  When I say "Black", I mean a community of mostly African Americans. I've been called, oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside) wannabe, too proper (you'd think that was  compliment, but it really isn't), uppity and as a child, those terms were very hurtful.  I've always felt more comfortable in a more ethnically mixed environment.  I'm not saying that I wasn't called names there, it's just that I understood why... my difference was more obvious.When I was younger, this caused me to be socially awkward and as an adult, socially cautious.    I've always said that my phenotype doesn't display all that is in my genotype.   I never understood why some blacks found me so different... that is, until now... and I've only discussed my African ancestry.

People tend to forget that African-Americans, meaning the descendants of African slaves brought to this country by whites, are a very unique group of people.  Of course, other countries throughout the world bought African slaves, but few of them had  as diverse a mixature of other ethnicites as the United States.  In England, the Africans who did mix with whites, only had English and maybe some Scottish and Irish to mix with.  In France, they only had the French.  In Germany, Germans. In South and Central America, mostly Spanish and indigenious peoples.  But in the United States, there were English, Irish, Scottish, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Native Americans and Jewish (I'm 2% Jewish). All these groups were involved in the slave trade (foreign and/or domestic) and all of these groups owned slaves here in the United States.

When I look at my European ancestry, my genetic portrait becomes even more complex.  In addition to the four main white groups found in my Ancestry.com DNA results, I can add peoples from the North Sea, Baltic, Eastern European, Western Mediterranean and Atlantic regions of the world




  Factor in Asia (yes I've got that too)




and this doesn't even include my archaic DNA, which includes ancient DNA from Siberia, Hungary and Montana (yes, North American) which would suggest Native American ancestry, but that doesn't show up in any of the other results... go figure!





After reviewing just MY OWN DNA, you can see why defining what "Black" is, for me anyway,  might be just a little more difficult than some might imagine... and more difficult for African Americans than blacks in other parts of the world.

Now back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post, "What is Black"?  For me, the answer is all of this.  I feel no need to ignore (I do lean toward some of it more than others... but that's just natural selection, right?) any of the DNA found here.  I've recognized traits from almost all of these groups, and had friends from many of these groups.  I have always considered myself multicultural and enjoyed learning about peoples from all over the world and have been blessed to go to school with people from many of these cultures from a very early age.  Now, I can contribute my ease and preference for dealing with people from other cultures to my DNA to some extent, but my personal reason has always been my faith.

I grew up Catholic in Chicago, IL in the 1970's and attended Catholic schools that were very ethnically diverse.  One school in particular, Holy Name Cathedral, I used to call the little UN.  In my 3rd grade class of 17, we had students from at least 6 other countries and all socio-economic backgrounds... from diplomat's kids to kids from the projects and I landed a little lower than middle.  We all kept up with current affairs, played the Eyewitness News game, and talked politics over lunch.  I was there for 3 years, from 3rd to 5th grade and of all the elementary schools I attended (a total of 5), Holy Name was my favorite.  As diverse as our backgrounds were, we all shared the same guiding principles... the tenets of Christianity... To love God with our whole heart, soul and being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. [Matthew 22:37 & 39]  We didn't always get it right, but it was our standard... the bar we were expected to reach. It was not an option and I thank God for that... that experience and that bar because it has forever shaped the person I am today.

So maybe the better question me is "Who am I? This is a question I can answer a with greater certainty.  I'm an old Catholic school girl who grew up to be a Congregationalists woman... because my faith comes first.  I'm an American of African, European and Asian descent with global influences.  I'm a woman of color, an artist, writer and woman faith, who has shared my faith, prayed for, cried for and led many in a prayer to receive Jesus in their hearts.  I'm a believer... and that's more important to me than other label.  That is truly who I am.