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Los Angeles, California, United States

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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Humanity Is A Choice

Happy New Years everyone! As I begin 2015, I look back on the previous year... well years actually... to summarize the highs and lows... things I've accomplished and have yet to accomplish... my struggles and blessings received... what I have done and what I want to do, to establish a trajectory for this new year, 2015.  

Having worked in ministry for over seven years, I can say with complete honesty that I have seen and heard some rather distressing things from people.  The horrific things individuals have experienced at the hands of others.  The horrible things people have done to themselves. The brutal things people have done to others.  I have spent ten years of my life witnessing, experiencing, praying and interceding for hours on end to the point of tears, for those left in the wake of the human wreckage left behind by these events.  And this experience has brought me to this conclusion. Humanity is a choice. 

We are all born, whether we want to admit it or not, into the animal kingdom.  The binomial nomenclature used to define us is, “homo sapien”, meaning human or literally translated, "wise man".  Black's Law Dictionary goes further to define us as "homo vocabulum est naturae; persona juris civilis , meaning Man is a term of nature; person of civil law.1  Being a person of nature... and what "nature" means,  is what I want to discuss.

Merrian Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the state of nature as "a creative and controlling force in the universe" and "the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing". What anyone who watches the news or has any familiarity with history knows, is that the "inherent character" of the homo sapien is that of aggression.  Our species was able to survive in nature, dispite our small stature in comparison to other mammals, because we are the most dangerous thing on this planet.  Homo sapiens are at the top of the the food chain...  we are the dominant creature on planet earth, but our intelligence and dominance is not what makes us  human beings.

Personally, I believe that being a "human being" is a higher form of life.  It's more than just self awareness, but awareness of a "being"  that is higher than us.  Acts 17:28 says that, "in Him we live and move and have our being"... and that our "being" is that breath of life that was blown into the first man's nostrils which caused man to become a living being [Genesis 2:7].

Everyone who has lived for any length of time has experienced some degree of pain.  Pain, unfortunately is a part of life and learning how to deal with that pain in ways that don’t do damage to ourselves or others is the work of life, and a good part of why many of us belong to faith communities.  It certainly is the reason I left the Catholic Church and joined a charismatic, non-denominational, spirit-filled church.  I needed the cathartic, redemptive experience of praise and worship to help me deal with… to heal from past hurts.  I needed the balm of Gilead, and in the Catholic Church, that was not available to me.  I needed to know that along with the cross that we all must bear as believers...  the temptation of sin, illness and rejection, all things that Christ himself had to deal with,  that I also had a refuge in prayer and that we are to pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17].  I needed to know that I had a defense in knowing the Word and the promises of God and that I could fight back against evil when it afflicted me.  I needed to know that I could put on the “whole armor of God”… that there actually was an armor to put on… in order to stand against the wiles of the devil in that evil day [Ephesian 6:10-13] and that the "evil day" was not any specific day, but any day that I was faced with pain, disappointment, illness, loss or temptation that afflict all of us in life. I needed to know that praising God is one of the most powerful weapons there is against negative situations because “praise stills the avenger”[Psalms 8:2] and that "stilling the avenger" sometimes means changing the situation, but most of the time it means changing me in the situation, the avenger in me... that I do things God's way, and not my own.  I needed to know all I can do, is what I can do, and  that as long as I have done what I'm supposed to do, and put my trust in God's word and cast all my cares on Him, that He would care for me. [1 Peter 5:7] I needed to know that I as a believer, have a God-given, blood-bought covenantal right to expect God's intervention because heaven and earth shall pass but His word would never pass away [Matthew 13:31].

Knowing these things, and believing God's word, is what makes me a human being.  It elevates me above the state of nature, and brings me into His divine nature, where I truly can live and move and have my being.

1Black's Law Dictionary 6th Edition, Centennial Edition 1891-1991;  (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1990), pg. 736.