Red and yellow, black and white…

multiracialThere was an article on the internet this week titled, “Dear White Christian America: Jesus Wasn’t a White Surfer Dude”, and if I am hearing the writer correctly then the History Channel, the producers of  “The Bible” miniseries, and anyone else who dares to portray or conceive of Jesus as “a white surfer dude with blue eyes, long flowing hair, and tanned and toned skin” is most likely racist, right-wing, Christian dominionist (?), Republican, and/or has succumbed to the “power of internalized white supremacy.”   Pshaw!  And here I thought I was being too critical for thinking they were taking a little too much editorial liberty for my liking!

I am a racial/ethnic mixture of black, polish jewish and chinese… just from my mom and dad, and to further complicate my children’s lives, I married a white man!  Haaaaaah!  I am known to embrace and celebrate all the above ethnicities, plus a few others especially when good food is involved.  For years I checked “Other” (as in alien?) on questions of race, but lately there has been a new option, “Two or more races”, so now I just land right there.  Yaaaaay!  In some circles I am not black enough, or I am not white enough, or I am not ‘something else’ enough and once you get past any insecurity, …everyt’ing irie! (Jamaican for ‘It’s all good!’)

Maybe it helps that I was born and raised in Jamaica, where blacks are in the majority, everybody seems to be born feisty (could be the spices), and the National Motto is, “Out of many, one people”.  From age thirteen on I grew up in a church that began as a chinese mission, is now led by a black senior pastor, with a congregation of blacks, whites, indians, chinese, and every combination of those races you could imagine.  I have lived and worked in Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the United States, with people of various religions, cultures and skin color and have learned that every last one of us has the capacity for racist thoughts, words and actions.

The choice to believe that any individual or group is superior and others inferior is not only determined by our ethnicity or the color of our skin, but by the condition of our hearts.  Tremendous power has to be brought to bear against the self-serving desires, motives and values so intrinsic to our nature, that relentlessly drive every single one of us to seek to be higher than, better than, to have more than, …to be gods. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that the only final limitation on our capacity for evil is divine power and intervention.

For example, human beings exploiting and enslaving their fellow man did not begin or end with the African slave trade.  Historical records from time immemorial all the way to this morning’s news prove that slaves and slave traders come in all shapes, colors and sizes; they just wear different clothes.  In human relationships, it is sad that our first inclination is too often to rule over, dominate and establish superiority rather than to serve.  Do you want to test the condition of someone’s heart or the ‘content of their character’?  Give them any kind of power or authority over other people and see what they do with it.  Jesus knew this when He warned His followers;

“…You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:25-28  New International Version

 Earlier He had clarified for them the real source of this and every other sin,

 “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man unclean…” Matthew 15:18-20

 …backing up Jeremiah’s declaration hundreds of years earlier,

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  Jeremiah 17:9-10

 “…the Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

 There is a song we would sing in Sunday school many…many… years ago:

 Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

All are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world

 Simple, maybe, but it conveys a truth that Peter discovered about God:

 … “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.”  Acts 10:34

 Consider the new song John heard in his vision of heaven;

“‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth….’  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”  Revelation 5:9-10, 13  (emphasis mine)

So here’s the thing, regardless of what the rest of society chooses do, every true follower of Jesus Christ must harness the available power of God to resist all sin; including our tendency to give or take offense, especially when it comes to racism, or any other form of prejudice.  What we need to internalize is that God is primarily concerned with the state of our hearts, and He still loves every one of us; those who choose to love Him back, and those who are determined to disavow His existence, throw off His claim to our lives, spurn His commands, and waltz their willful, rebellious selves into the consequences of sin.

Whatever God calls sin, we too must call sin, no matter what color it comes packaged in, but that is not permission to be inconsiderate and insensitive, to go around slapping labels on people, or to take offense at every perceived slight when it is clear there was no intent whatsoever to offend.  It is our responsibility to take a strong stand against every form of racism, and also to stand in support of every victim of racism or prejudice; the ones who are treated as if they are inferior, and those who are wrongfully accused of being racist…yes…the latter become victims too.

 We are all equal because God made us equal, and if we truly believe in Jesus Christ, then we know there is coming a day when the eastern sky will open, heralding His triumphant return to planet earth and I personally will not care if He is blue with pink polka dots!  We are all going to be with Him in the place He has been preparing for over two thousand years and I doubt very much that there will be any ethnic neighborhoods,  so we had better just get over ourselves, purposefully embrace our diversity, and begin here and now… just living the thing.

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From wounded to warrior…

Your love never fails

It never gives up

It never runs out on me.

On and on and on and on it goes

It overwhelms and satisfies my soul

And I never ever have to be afraid

One thing remains,

Your love never fails…

Do you ever get a song stuck on repeat in your head?  This one has been stuck in mine like a mantra ever since my volunteer orientation at Without Permission; a faith-based, non-profit organization doing a great work with local and federal law enforcement agencies to rescue people from human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  So many are lured by a promise of love, the need to belong, and desperate hope for a better life, only to be trapped in a cycle of perpetual abuse.

armor-of-god-1 If I were ever kidnapped by a secret government organization, my memory wiped clean, and my body rigorously trained and honed into a finely tuned, size 5, Jason Bournesque killing machine (stop laughing), then my ‘handlers’ could make me unleash a world of hurt with a single trigger word; abuse!  I just hear the word and I want to fight somebody, which I have not done since I was about six years-old, when… allegedlyit took three adults to pull me off a kid who was trying to beat me up for the second time; two to hold me, and one to rescue him.  I do not recall that incident, but… allegedly… there are witnesses.

abuse: use something to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse; treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, esp. regularly or repeatedly; use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm; speak in an insulting and offensive way to or about (someone); the improper use of something.”  The New Oxford American Dictionary.

 It is appalling how many descriptive words we can now put in front of ‘abuse’ to describe the ways we can repeatedly treat a person with cruelty or violence in order to cause damage or harm; physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, emotional, and on and on.  All of these have in common the debilitating devastation inflicted on body and mind from injuries seen and unseen.  Every survivor is a hero, and the only legitimate position to take and policy to adopt is… zero tolerance!

But perhaps the most destructive abuse that mauls the heart, breaks the human spirit and puts our very soul in peril, is inflicted by people claiming to represent God; purporting to act on His behalf in our lives.  Whenever any form of abuse is combined with spiritual abuse and perpetrated ‘in the name of God’. the devastation takes on nuclear proportions because victims are made to believe that to question, challenge, or fight back against the abuse is to fight against God Himself.  Who in their right minds wants to be guilty of doing that?!

The wounds inflicted by spiritual abuse are not only deep, they become septic almost immediately, flooding heart, soul and mind with deadly emotional ‘bacteria’; bitterness, rage, helplessness and hopelessness.  The sense of betrayal alone damages, if not completely destroys, precious faith and consequently our ability to have a healthy relationship with Almighty God, or His true followers.

I was at the lowest point in my life, wounded and vulnerable, when I accepted an invitation from a friend to a new church that for a time was a desperately needed shelter from the terrible storm that was raging in my life.  Some of the people who were part of that church are still among my closest friends, however as the leadership welcomed and surrounded me with acceptance, warmth and fellowship, I was completely unaware that I was being ‘groomed’ for the emotional, mental and psychological manipulation and abuse that was to come, in the name of Jesus; spiritual abuse, expertly executed.

These leaders used their position of influence over people who were vulnerable for one reason or another to build their own ‘kingdom’. They manufactured evidence of spiritual gifts and manipulated with misinformation about God that was so close to the truth it was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.  By the time they were exposed and moved away, claiming to be ‘led by the Lord’ to do so, they left behind countless people whose faith has been decimated, and to this day some have never recovered enough for them to trust in God again.

Jesus warned about spiritual charlatans, purveyors of spiritual abuse, and the wrath of God is stored up to be unleashed on them.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.”  Matthew 7:15-20

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks!  Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes.”  Matthew 18:6-7

 “For we know the One who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  Hebrews 10:30-31

 However the cry of my heart is for those victims of spiritual abuse who are still unable to separate the truth about God’s nature and character from the lies of the snake oil salesmen who claimed to represent Him.  I ache for too many who have been so wounded that their faith is barely a flicker and the walls around their hearts impenetrable.  Hear me when I say I know your rage, I have felt your pain, I have walked in your shoes, but… I also know Jesus, the Word that became flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-14).  He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy,

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow upon them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.”  Isaiah 61:1-3

 So here’s the thing, no matter how terrible the damage, there is always a way back to even deeper faith, making the enemy of our souls rue the day he messed with us.  We must be willing to immerse ourselves in the healing truth of the Word of God, to emerge restored to wholeness; wise as serpents, harmless a doves (Matthew 10:16), ready to strap on the armor of God,

“…that you may be able to stand against the methods and schemes of the devil…that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” (Ephesians 6:11, 13)

Spiritually armed and dangerous; from wounded to warrior… just living the thing.

From prostitute to princess

Imagine for a minute that you get to be God,  BUT …you are not allowed to start listing people you would instantly wipe off the face of the earth with a single word out of your ‘God mouth’, just because they irritate you!  Instead, the ‘God version’ of you is overwhelmed by love for the human beings you had created, and decides to mount a monumental rescue mission to save all humanity by actually becoming human yourself.  And, because you are God, you have your pick of human forms to take on.

crown Who would you become when you showed up as Savior of the world?  Wouldn’t you choose to be stunningly handsome, filthy rich, with impeccable taste and wield immense power and influence?  What about your ancestry?  Wouldn’t you want an equally impressive blood line, filled with royalty, heroes and celebrities guaranteeing that you would be born with quite a few silver spoons in your mouth?

As it turns out, the genealogy of God who became a man called Jesus, (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-37), is liberally sprinkled with heroes and quite a few kings including David and Solomon who were huge celebrities in their own time.  And them somewhere in the middle of all that awesomeness and celebrity we come across the following:

“Salmon, the father or Boaz, whose mother was Rahab…”  Matthew 1:5

Just for now let’s  ignore the guy with the fish name, look past the other guy who is one half of the most amazing love story ever, and check out his mother, Rahab.  Recognize her? Her name shows up again in the book of Hebrews:

“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”  Hebrews 11:31

Apparently ‘cover-up’ and ‘whitewash’ are not in God’s nature, or part of His modus operandi!  Rahab is one of only a few women included when (God) the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to write down the genealogy of Jesus (also God), and the writer of Hebrews elevates her among those in the Hall of Great Faith, and makes no attempt to hide her ‘occupation’ before she chose to believe in the God of Israel.

Which brings me to the tale of a peaceful Sunday evening, watching an episode of the History Channel series “The Bible” with my oldest daughter.  She is the least talkative member of our family; petite and beautiful, with a razor-sharp wit, and brains for days!  I remember sitting with her in church one Sunday morning as the preacher encouraged to congregation to choose their heroes wisely.  After a slight pause for effect, he asked in his most serious voice,

“Who is your hero?”

I was not sure she was paying attention until I heard my firstborn whisper, under her breath, in an equally serious tone,

“Batmaaaaaaan.”

There may be moments when it is okay to just bust out laughing in church, but clearly that was not one of them, so I struggled to turn the laughter into a fit of coughing. Lesson learned; “She lickle but she tallawah”, which is the Jamaican description of someone who is petite in stature, but a force to be reckoned with!

We watched in complete yet companionable  silence as the story of Rahab and the Israeli spies unfolded on the television screen then without any warning she comments,

“She may be a ‘ho’, but she is not a stupid ‘ho’.”

Oh no she didn’t!  Yes… she… did!  I was doing my best fish-out-of-water impression; mouth opening and closing repeatedly, while she looked at me with her infamous, “Whaaaaaaaaa….t? You know it’s true” stare.  Any Pharisaical outrage was completely overcome by my traitorous sense of humor, because it was true.  Everyone hiding behind those thick walls of Jericho had heard about the God of Israel, and His amazing power exercised on behalf of His people at the Red Sea, and against the armies of the Amorite kings, but Rahab was the only one who chose to put her faith in Him to save herself and her family.

“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you…the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.  Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.  Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.’” Joshua 2:8-13

 Regardless of her shortcomings, Rahab was definitely not stupid.  When Jericho was defeated and completely destroyed in what has to be the strangest battle strategy in the history of war, (Joshua 6:1-20), Rahab and all her family were saved:

“But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho, and she lives among the Israelites to this day.”  Joshua 6:25

 She is just one of the people I cannot wait to hang out with when I get to heaven because I need details people…details!  We know she married an Israeli man named Salmon (absolutely no comment), raised a God-fearing, God-honoring young man of great integrity named Boaz, and among her descendants is Jesus the Christ/Messiah, God in human form, and heir to the royal throne of David.  The prostitute who ran the brothel in Jericho became for all intents and purposes,  a princess.

“…I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.”  Acts 10:34-35

 “…for the Lord does not see as mortal see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

 So here’s the thing, when God Almighty decided to take on human form, it is clear He had no intention of trying to impress any of us and in His economy,  faith in God is the great equalizer.  When our worlds crumble around us, we will not be saved by our socio-economic status or connections to power and influence, but by great faith, in a great God, whose eyes roam to and fro across the earth searching for those with great hearts that are truly His, who are … just living the thing.

Where is my seat?

rosa on the bus1Earlier this week a statue of Mrs. Rosa Parks was unveiled in Statuary Hall in Washington D. C., making her the first black woman to be honored with a life-size statue in the Capitol.  The artist captures her image as she might have appeared on December 1, 1955; dressed in her heavy wool coat, clutching her purse; quiet, determined and defiant as she remained in her seat on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, looking out the window; waiting for the police to come and arrest her,… or worse.

Buses and trains were frequently the flashpoint for exposing and opposing the racism and the segregation imposed by the Jim Crow laws.  Once, Rosa Parks was forced to walk five miles to her home, in the pouring rain.  She had got on a bus through the front door and was ordered by the driver to go in the back. While she was complying with his order, she dropped her purse and as she bent to retrieve it, she half-sat in one of the seats reserved for whites.

Mrs. Parks got off the bus and was making her way to the back door when the driver drove away, leaving her standing on the side of the road,  …in the rain, …after she had already paid the fare.  I sure hope he found Jesus before he died!  Besides, there is now a statue of her in the Capitol building …and, to use a figure of speech, ‘nobody but his momma remembers his name’, soooooooo…

Just four days before that fateful December day, 14 year-old Emmett Till had been kidnapped, beaten beyond recognition, and murdered, allegedly because he flirted with a white woman.  His murder had shaken the civil rights community (made up both black and white people) to its core, so by the time that bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to get out of her seat on the crowded bus just so a white man could sit in it, she was just about sick and tired of this evil that was poisoning the nation, and ready to put her life on the line to “do what was right and not give in to fear.” (I Peter 3:6)

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true.  I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.  I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then.  I was forty-two.  No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.  I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.  Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.”  Rosa Parks.  See more at: http://rosaparksfacts.com

Rosa Parks drew her line in the sand at racism and injustice; which this week had me wondering where would I draw my line?  Where is my seat on the bus?  Where would I be willing to take a final stand …or a seat; to say, “I will not move”?  Maybe it’s because I am a planner at heart; most comfortable when there is at least an outline of a plan or strategy, with some room for flexibility and spontaneity.  Or maybe it’s because the Bible insists on telling us the whole truth, so Jesus gave us this little tidbit:

 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…”  John 15:18-20   

Clearly He did not take Carnegie’s course on “How To Win Friends and Influence People”!  But He does not lie either, and to this day there are numerous places in our world where people are beaten, tortured, imprisoned; lose their possessions, friends, family and sometimes their very life only because they choose to believe in, and follow Jesus Christ.

Many believe that kind of thing could never happen here in our ‘tolerant’ and ‘democratic’ society.  Certainly not with our amazing, iron-clad Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence and the truths we hold to be self-evident, “…that all men are created equal,  that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, …”

Wait a minute, …endowed by which Creator?  The One our children are not allowed to learn about in public schools?  Or the One whose existence and desire for relationship with us so many do not even recognize or acknowledge?  Or, the One who in perfect love and wisdom tells us something is wrong, (for our own good, by the way), and we insist on calling it right… because we are way smarter, and so much more tolerant, enlightened, and evolved than Him?  That Creator?

Truth be told, these days I am not feeling all that confident that the persecution Jesus prophesied could never happen here, in my lifetime.  Hence my reflection on Mrs. Parks’ conviction, courage and strength of character, and a desire to decide ahead of time exactly where is my line in the sand; my seat on the bus?

For three Hebrew boys, Hananiah (God has favored), Azariah (God has helped), and Mishael (who is as God), whom we know better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, their seat on the bus was actually on wide open plain, before a huge statue, and a fiery furnace constructed for the sole purpose of destroying all who refused to bow to the image of a man who desired to be worshipped as god.  Solomon was right (in Ecclesiastes 1:9-10), there really is nothing new under the sun, is there?

This was not their first rodeo either.  When they arrived in Babylon as prisoners, God had given them, and their friend Daniel (God is my judge), favor with the king’s servant, and some ‘mad’ skills in diplomacy, because they would not compromise God’s laws about what food they could eat and point blank refused to eat the king’s food.  Now this worshipping-an-idol-in-the-desert thing was yet another direct challenge to their commitment to obey God’s law:

“You shall have no other gods before Me, …you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…”  Exodus 20:2-6

 When Nebuchadnezzar threatened to have them thrown in the furnace because they refused to bow, these boys did not waver.

“…we have no need to answer you I this matter.  If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, or will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”  Daniel 3:16-18

 Not bad for a speech right off the top of your head!  Maybe because it came from hearts that already knew where they had drawn their line in the sand; taken their seat on the bus. They knew they could not; would not be moved.  Just thinking; maybe I should write a speech from my heart and have it ready…you know… just in case.

“Rosa Parks should have just complied with the bus driver’s request and given up her seat on the bus,” says no one, ever!  On the contrary, the President reminded those assembled for the unveiling:

“In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.”  New York Times

 Things turned out well for Mrs. Rosa Parks…hey, not too many people end up with life-size statues of them in the nation’s Capitol building.  Because of her, and countless other civil rights stalwarts of all races, neither I nor my half-black children, (who ironically have never taken public transportation), would ever have to sit in the back, or give up our seat on a bus or train unless we desire to do so; and we get assigned seats on planes regardless of our skin color.  And, consider, the current President of these United States is an African-American; something which Mrs. Parks could not have foreseen in her wildest dreams or expectations when she quietly refused to move from her seat on that bus.

However, the Bible, Jesus Freaks Volumes I and II, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and so many other books, are full of the stories of people who were persecuted and killed because they refused to back down from doing what was right.  There is never any guarantee that taking a stand, or a seat, and refusing to move will end in accolades, statues, or celebrations.  Whatever stand we take, or seat we sit in, it had better be worth it, in and of itself, no matter what the outcome here on earth.

So, here’s the thing, I am very clear about my line in the sand; my seat on the bus.  I will not oppose the God of the Bible…period!  I will love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself, but I will not stand in agreement with, or stand in support of anyone or anything that is in defiant, rebellious, opposition to God.

No, you will not find me screaming at people, waving offensive signs, or plotting to overthrow anything because truly loving God and loving others completely fills up my plate and keeps me busy enough; if I am doing it right!  I’m no Braveheart; not even close.  I’m just a sinner like everybody else born in this world; saved by the grace of God, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, finding my seat on the bus and …just living the thing.