Don’t Cry For Me

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I am a dead man. Eventually, that is. If you’re very familiar with my blog, you’ll know that the book of Ecclesiastes is my favorite in the Bible. In his old age, King Solomon becomes the grandfather that I never had. One of my grandfathers died before I was born. The other died when I was young. Therefore, Solomon has become both my spirit animal and quasi-granddaddy.

Some of my favorite moments of Solomon’s wisdom writing are his uses of paradoxes. As when he says verses such as:

“The day of death is better than the day of birth”

“You learn more at a funeral than at a feast”

“Sorrow is better than laughter”

“A sad face is good for the heart”

(Verses above from Chapter 7:1-4).

Just those verses alone are enough to make you think King Solomon was in a loony bin. Who in their right mind would say, “Oh yeah, dying is way better than being born!”

However, looking deeper we will see that Solomon is saying that it is beneficial to look at our own lives and be introspective by paying attention with where we stand with God and with our life. He is saying that it gets tougher to do so when you’re laughing at a party or stuffing your face with a delicious food. Solomon, who loves to host parties with thousands of people and eat giant feasts (1 Kings 4), is claiming that in those joyous times….no one at that moment thinks deeply about their life. He and us are too busy laughing and having a good time. King Solomon is saying that times of sorrow are better because they make you think. They will slow you down and sometimes being slowed down in such a fast-paced world is a good thing. A funeral makes you realize that your day is coming sooner than you realize.

I have been to about 12 weddings in the past 3 years and I never had a moment when I thought about the deep parts of my soul. It is at the funerals where I stopped and became honest with myself. See I could be wrong, but people don’t usually question life during a Super Bowl party. On the other hand, anytime there is a terrorist bombing or natural disaster, people then realize how precious their time on earth is. It is in the deserts when we realize we need God. Maybe Solomon and the Word know a little something.

As Matt Chandler put it, “birth” is about the potential of what can be done. For the Christian, “death” is about the fulfillment of ALL that Christ had planned for us here on earth. It is finished and now it is finally time for the Promised Land.

But wouldn’t I be upset if I died so young? What about getting married with a family and kids? Wouldn’t I be sad to miss Kobe Bryant make an NBA comeback at the age of 42? Don’t I want to one day see N’Sync perform their 30-year reunion tour? Well yes, I would absolutely love to experience all of that. Still, when compared to the glory of Christ, none of that matters. Any other elevated view is idolatry.

By faith, if I were to suddenly die today, no worries. I have had a life lived well. The opportunity of life given to me was a glorious gift in itself. But on top of that, let’s forget about focusing on what we didn’t get to do. How about what we DID get to do?! Here is a snippet of an ongoing list I have that, if I died, can be read at my funeral. Anytime something stirs my soul I try to add something to it. Especially the little things.

So if I die, don’t cry for me.

Don’t cry for me:

– I have laughed until my abs started hurting and I started crying.

– I have already made my family proud.

– I have eaten enough potato chips to feed a small country. Seriously.

– My eldest nephew has cried every time I’ve left his house. So he’s cried for me enough. He has taught me unconditional love better than anyone else in this world. And for that lesson, I owe him more than I can ever repay.

– I have seen people worship the Lord and get saved.

– I have seen someone get prayed over and healed before my very eyes.

– I have been in fist fights and won.

– I have been in fist fights and lost. And learned from them.

– I have watched some beautiful YouTube videos and cried my eyes out with joy.

– I once took a 4th of July vacation to Selma, AL that was more fun than my 4th of July vacation to New York City.

– I got over my fear of dogs….just to impress a girl. But I got over the fear, nonetheless.

– I have been dancing a few times until my legs went numb. And I danced some more.

– I have made friends that I can call family.

– I have been to Vegas and won $128 on the first night.

– I watched the Notebook movie over 60 times.

– I have won a sports championship. Softball. Twice baby!

– I have traveled.

– My mom and dad have become more than just my parents.

– Twice, I have been loudly cheered for onstage in front of hundreds of people for poetry.

– I have been booed offstage in front of hundreds of people doing poetry. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not even getting cheered again.

– I have seen all the Harry Potter movies.

– I have intellectually debated atheists for the faith and not backed down.

– I have discipled and seen.

– I have read a good book.

– I have been to some extremely hippie towns and had a great time.

– I have been involved in 11 car accidents and lived.

– I have witnessed people truly love on one another.

-Some of my favorite memories were playing baseball for hours in the back yard with my brothers.

– I have played soccer in the front yard for hours with my little nephews. Or at least, the odd variation of the game they call soccer.

– I have had times of doing absolutely nothing during hangouts with friends and had a blast.

-I did a summer internship in Vicksburg, MS and….well actually you can cry for me about that. Good gosh that was a very boring time!

– I spent some amazing summers at Clemson University.

– Don’t cry for me…Jesus Christ saved me. I am dining with Him now.

– Don’t cry for me….I am home sweet home.

 

me

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Why I Walk into Church with my Head Down: A Semi-Sexism Story

Tunnel vision. My motion, my focus, is analogous to that of a Nascar driver. Tunnel vision. I park my car, walk through the double doors, tread softly past the daycare commotion, dodge through the packs of chattering people, enter into the main sanctuary, and finally sit down with my eyes glaring toward the stage. My eyes are closed during the musical worship. During the sermon, my eyes are glued onto the preacher. I make sure I am on my best behavior.

This has become my socially systematic ritual in and around the church service. For almost two years I have been unintentionally trained to be careful around the wives – so much so, that my very personality and natural being is completely different on Sunday mornings. I no longer look at the wives or even try to initiate contact with the husbands so not to risk anything. I refrain from being my normally playful, outgoing self for the sake of others. A few times, I’ve actually avoided going to my church and attended somewhere else…just for a rest-break.

Now I love conservatism: theologically, politically, socially, and even in some professional sports. At the same time, I have found myself in a church culture that surpasses the “imaginary” line that should NOT be crossed. It couples ultra Christian-conservatism alongside the strange relational subculture of the seminarian culture and resulting into  fractured, unfulfilled relationships.

One way in which this fracture has overwhelmed me is the issue of women and men NOT being friends in the church.

I have been stressed with this social climate where many of the wives are timid around me and the husbands show possessive body language in front of me when their wives are present. This is not everyone. Neither do I believe that it is a conscious action by others either; to the contrary, it is a “subconscious” action. However, it still hurts us who go through this. It hurts to not be trusted. We are guilty before proven innocent. I can give NUMEROUS examples that I have been through: primarily face to face; also email and social media. Additionally, I have read books and am very cognizant of social norms, body language, and rapport. In church we may say the right words and use political correctness in our lingo… but our actions and communal fruit tell a completely different story.

For a female’s perspective, you can read this lovely article on The Gospel Coalition’s website.

There are at least 5 side effects of this fracture that risk a retardation of friendly relationships:

1)  It causes a nuance of loneliness: This loneliness grows into a feeling of being unwanted or removed from the body of believers. The scriptural illustration, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, depicts the church as a body. If a finger is removed it does not keep growing or playing its part, now does it? No, it shrivels up and dies. In this case the joy of the individual becomes damaged.

2)  This causes a CHAIN REACTION into OTHER basic types of relationships: This climate becomes the air that everyone breathes. Soon, this standoff-ish nature becomes normal between everyone: between other married couples, singles, visitors and members. There have been social psychology studies to show that we will, in certain ways, conform to our environment. In our general case, relationships will become robotic. This can be seen in the decline of some linear, mathematical, doctrinal types of churches. Now I line up with these types of churches, but there still needs to be a line drawn. Otherwise relationships grow stale, empty and mechanical.

3)  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: I fully understand we are called to steward our marriages. That is extremely biblical and good. But where is the line that keeps it from becoming fear-mongering. As I said in an earlier blog, some people “suddenly” lock their car doors when I walk past their cars. True, I am black. Statistically speaking, I cannot blame them at all for being extra careful. However, if we are in the suburbs and I am wearing tailored dress clothes with Cole Haan shoes … maaaybe you don’t need to be afraid of me. That said, if we’re supposed to brothers and sisters in Christ … maybe you can trust that I do not want to kiss your wife in the sanctuary and ask her out for coffee. This fear can lead into believing “something” happened before it ever did.

4)  Personal walks with God are affected: If I have to be a “different person” around married couples then I can begin (or Satan can begin) to tell myself that they do not truly know me. How can I can truly allow them inside my walk with Christ if they do not understand or know the real me?

5)  Both the image of the trinity and Gospel community are tainted: Between God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son…there is no hierarchy. Only delight. They freely give to one another and receive from one another. [John 1:18, 16:12-15, 17:3-5]. Therefore we, being made in that image, should being naturally copying that. We should delight in and celebrate each others strengths. We should spent time together [not limited to small group time]. As one pastor cautioned, “without this happening, subconscious frustration and jealousy will lead to overcritical spirits that will erode the foundation of deep intimacy in relationships.”

We know there is no perfect church. Maybe I shouldn’t bring this up about my own. I love my church and I love The Church. But would it not be hypocritical for me to have called out Joel Osteen’s church, single men, young people, the liberation gospel, lukewarm Christians, atheists, and even Michael Jordan in past blog posts… but then stay silent about a flaw in my own community? No way Jose. Nothing gets fixed if we do not discuss it.

Still, social media isn’t going to solve this. Small groups are not going to fix this. Social media plus Small groups does not equal biblical community. It will have to be pursued and fought for. People do not simply “fall” into deep community – they pursue it. We will have to surrender and sacrifice. And once this is attained … oh my how splendidly holy and beautiful it will look!!! May we care for the needs for one another. I pray that we commune deeply with one another. You know, to get a head start on eternity together.

A Paralyzing Light

It was only a lifetime ago when I saw the glare.

Truthfully, it was a moment ago when I saw the glare.

It shone upon me, presumptuous in nature and foreign in existence,

with a demanding pull which stretched the room from end to end.

Its tangible touch caused the depths of my soul to tingle;

Moreover, its abstract unfamiliarity overpowered my emotions.

My gut-reaction was to close my eyes, as a child splashing in ocean waves.

The others in the room had the same reaction.

Not one of us moved. Not even one.

We wanted to change … from being lukewarm.

We were urged to follow the archetypal Light.

Urged to live as the Light designed.

.

The whispers of the shadows were permeated with darkness.

They were poison by nature but delectably delicious in taste –

with a subtle push that my soul could barely detect.

The deceptive push brought about an alluring temptation to my flesh.

Eventually, I allowed the whispers to take control of my mind.

My focus began swaying away from the promising light.

The others in the room had the same disposition,

I could see that everyone was emotionless. Paralyzed.

Not one of us moving. Not even when the church service ended.

Remnants of Revelation 3:16 echoed as The Light waned and Darkness silenced.

We, the Laodiceans, were left to choose –

Warned to choose.

Urged to choose the joyful light,

but drawing closer and closer toward the alluring darkness.

The Beautifully Hated DNA of a Christian Bigot

Our society is blessed by it. Our society is cursed by it. The very existence of it saves lives. The very existence of it kills. Oh, the ebbs and flows of social media. It has the power to uplift a person and, with the same token, to inflict pain. A few weeks ago, I was spontaneously unfriended by a girl that I was Facebook friends with for one month. When I found out, I was flabbergasted… Flabbergasted.

My first inclination was to suspect that it was a glitch or a mistake, so I requested to be her friend again, ha. That attempt yielded zero results. Weeks later, I finally saw her at a social dance. Without hesitation I innocently asked her why on earth she unfriended me (awkwardness does not affect me). Initially, she was stunned that I had approach her to bring it up. After 10 seconds of silence, she admitted that she deleted me because I was a Christian and she did not want any arguing on her Facebook page. Reason being – she is very liberal, both politically and socially. Additionally, she has a fairly outspoken Facebook page where she posts links and has discussions on trending topics of interest. From my perspective, it is fine that she does that and I have complimented her before on her intellectual endeavors. [In fact, for quality discussions you should encourage people of dissimilar beliefs to comment; but I digress].

However, the question still stands … why did she delete me as a Facebook friend? I was totally nice to her beforehand whenever we were together. Never did I show intolerance. An interesting fact is that in the month that we’d been Facebook friends I was practically absent from Facebook. There was barely a hint given to her to conclude that I was anything more than a typical lukewarm Christian. Therefore, what has happened that caused her to automatically delete me from her social media web when she found out that I was a Christian?

The sad state that our society has grown toward is a state that perceives Christians as hateful bigots. There is now a natural tendency for the public to presume that the very air that Christians breathe at church on Sundays is fuel for us to spew out hate towards anyone who does not follow our holy stance. In reality, that idea is far from the truth. Christians are simply given an awareness of something that is outside this world and we are inwardly transformed to think in a manner that is different from this world (Romans 12:2). Here are four everyday examples that the psychological state of a “Christian bigot” can somewhat be analogous to:

1)   There are women in this world that have experienced the tragedy of sexual abuse. Either directly or indirectly. Many of whom dive into the calling of spreading awareness of sex trafficking, prostitution, child abuse, and rape to the masses. They post links of news articles, volunteer, raise money, etc. The oddity of all this is that most people have a tendency to ignore their cries. For example, we know that each of those types of sexual abuses are tragic, however, how much have we donated to an organization for that cause? When was the last time we volunteered and or even read an article? To be honest, anytime an advocate comes out for those causes, I kind of view them as crazy and as a burden to listen to. The term “ignorance is bliss” has its merit. Those women have gained a deep, tangible awareness of sexual abuse and it has caused them to view the true significance of it in our society. Contrarily, most of us have not gained that same viewpoint and live everyday life as if sexual abuse is not rampant. Which of us are correct? We can say the same thing about people fighting for world hunger, war, genocides, political deception, violence, and other topics.

2)   Extrovert versus introvert comparisons can be enjoyable. Being an introvert, I have realized that extroverts generally view most social events very differently than I view them. Sometimes I can explain to an extrovert that I would prefer to stay in, alone, and watch Netflix. Even with that explanation, because they do not have the same mental DNA/perspective, they cannot necessarily relate to my inclination. And vice versa.

3)   I used to call my parents the Devil #1 and Devil #2 when I was younger. They would discipline me at times and not buy me whatever I wanted. Exactly, devils. As I grew older I realized that their weird viewpoint that was so different from mine was actually in my favor.

4)   Police officers often get a bad reputation. They are called out for profiling and stereotyping. They see hideous activities on a daily basis and get harassed for their inclinations. But looking at their inclination from a hypothetical example– lets say we visibly see that redheaded Irish people are scratching mothers all around the world. Today, you’re leaving your mother’s house and a redheaded Irish person passes you going towards your mother’s house. Are you really not going to turn back around, just in case? Not trying to offend anyone. I’m an African American and any time I walk past an occupied vehicle in a grocery store parking lot, I hear the person “suddenly” lock their doors. The hurt from that sounds hurts each time. But based on statistical evidence, can I completely blame them for their precautions? Police officers have the insurmountable duty to protect us. They have experiences that different from ours and generally want for us to be safe.

With all that said, are Christians being bigots or are they simply burdened with seeing something from a totally different perspective? I think about the girl who unfriended often. I pray that we do become legitimate friends. My friendship with her, however, would not terminate on that. One thing I can say to her in context to her reason for deleting me is that I do, indeed, wish for Jesus to save her. I hope for her. I hope for us. May the world understand that Christians are given a new heart and mind that gives them a perspective on many topics that are different than most Non-Christians. There is a certain way that God designed the world to flow and for people to live. This way leads to eternal joy in our life and in the Lord (Psalm 16:11, John 17:3, John 10:10). We as Christians yearn for everyone to be saved and to seek the face of Christ (Luke 15:7, 1 Timothy 2:4). It sounds weird. But to the Christian, it sounds beautiful and glorious!

AMA: Attractive Mothers Anonymous

All mothers, with the exception of my mother, are gorgeous. It is a universal truth, more or less, that the elegance of a mother blinds the retinas of angels. Beauty buoyantly flows over the earth and retires downward onto the hearty lap of a mother. In similar tone, but in slight contrast … my mother is one gorgeous hot tamale!! My Karen. “Kal-Kal” – as her high school cohorts used to call her. For the record, that’s such a weird nickname for someone that won Homecoming Queen. But of course, it was the 70’s and everything was weird (The Rocky movies were so cheesy).

My mother would flourish if she grew up in this generation. She would probably have over a thousand followers on Twitter. On her birthday, a plethora of her girl friends would post Instagram photos of her on their own accounts just to give my mother birthday love. She would post new Facebook statuses and hundreds of people would “Like” it. She would experience greater educational advances, career opportunities, breakthrough technology, medical advances, and better movies. She could get on eHarmony and fall in love with my dad all over again. My bet is that Kal-Kal would have gone to a fancy university, hopefully Clemson University. In a cliché but simple tagline ….. “My mother would rule the world”.

 

When recently bringing this revelation up to my mother, she insisted that she would still prefer to have grown up in the time period of the 1970’s. She claims that today’s society has a deeper level of superficiality, narcissism, violence, and materialism. After I reiterated the powerful opportunities that she would be gaining, she still stood with the 1970’s. Her mother – my grandmother – was asked a similar question. Growing up in the 1930’s versus the 1970’s; It is obvious of the lack of opportunities that faced my grandmother. She even went on to say that her family was poor and everyone around them was poor. However, even as she is sill tangibly reminiscent of all she went through, she prefers to grow up again in her own time period. Her reasons were because the young people of the 70’s were more superficial, focused on completion, and craving material.

One may argue that past generations tends to romanticize theirs and criticize the ones after it. Here is the thing about that: My grandmother would have to be a fool to attempt to romanticize being a female AND living in the pre-civil rights era. What most of the older generations (religious or nonreligious) are trying to say is that everything – material, careers, economy, powers, fashion, money, music, tastes, health, family, friends – fades away. Life is hard and difficult and no one controls it. No one controls it. Therefore there is no sense in craving to live in an alternative generation. It cannot be escaped.

What matters is the soul. What matters is the direction the soul is pointing. A soul that points inward is useless. What matters is community that you can grow in Christ-like love with. For my mom to focus on having a thin, teenage body and being Homecoming Queen again would be a wasteful goal. What my mother, grandmother and Bible are inexplicitly stating is this:

Want to conquer social media?  It is insatiable and a psychological hindrance.

Want to escape violence?  There will always be evil.

Want a higher paying job?  Money doesn’t bring eternal joy.

Want to do hot yoga & the Paleo diet?  Your body will still inevitably betray you.

Love music?  Songs become repetitive; i.e. Pharell’s hit song “Happy”

Want more friends?  Friends will eventually let you down.

Want a spouse?  A chunk of marriage is tough and stressful.

Want to be single?  A chunk of singleness is lonely and stressful.

Ageing

To be clear, it is not that any of those things are bad. It is more so that Life has taught them that their body is the only body they’ll ever have. Their mind is the only mind they’ll ever have. Externals fade. Therefore, for the believer, the end goal is the kingdom of Heaven and eternity with Jesus. Everything else – good or bad – fall to the waist side. Life is short and our time on earth is like dwindling grass … we must realize that we do not have enough time to focus on externals (James 4:14, Psalm 103:15-16, 1 Corin. 7:29-31). Only then can we begin to attain real joy! A merriment that makes the world see Jesus in us.

The Bible will say that individual “generations” are not the problem, but that the problem is the sinfulness of man (Mark 7:20-23, Romans 3:10-12). Knowingly so, no matter when or where we live … there will always be man present. The wise people see that the world is sinful and they themselves are guilty as well. The sooner we throw ourselves onto the grace and mercy of Christ the sooner we are transformed into correctly seeing that all that we have and all that we have been given in a very very different light. Whatever season you are in, be thankful and be ALL there. We should be weary to place our hope in fleeting success, material, or physical appearance. This concept is reflective of 1 Corinthians 10:31 which can be re-worded into this context by saying, “Whether you live in the 1930s, 1970s, 2000s, or 1400s, do life to the glory of God.”

I’m traveling home for the Independence Day. I will get to see me precocious 4 year-old nephew for the first time in almost 5 months. I’m beyond excited. He is my best friend. So there will be a ton of hugging and laughter. He’s into Spiderman now so I bought him a cool Spiderman toy to make him like me even more, haha. A time is coming when he’s not going to see me as the coolest person in the world anymore. A time is coming when I’m going to look at his generation with an odd look on my face thinking, “Good gosh this new generation is too superficial and materialistic.” Ooh the misconceptions of sin. Touche Satan. Thank God for the scriptures and the revelation of Christ. #boom

The Good Surprise: Joyful Tears for Soldiers & Heaven

It will occur like a thief in the night. Or a sudden surprise knock of the door that changes our demeanor – whether good or bad. The mystery of surprise twists are captured in the best of movies. The genuine joy that can be gained from an undeserving, loving surprise practically outweighs any other combine of feelings. When surprise meets grace …. uncontrollable emotions ensue.

Once again, I have caught myself looking at YouTube videos of soldiers spontaneously coming home to surprise their loved ones. The look of awe and tearful incredulity by the family members is simply AMAZING (2:59 is my favorite). Question – How is it that I can empathize with the shock of the family members? No one in my family is overseas fighting for war. The closest that my family has experienced this was the first time that I came home for a visit after first leaving for college. That is an unfair comparison to someone that has been overseas for 8 continuous months and who’s life can be taken at any given second. Maybe the reason that I/we can resonate with the emotions presented in these videos is because at the deepest part of or being we KNOW that a greater day is coming when we shall feel the APEX of that emotion.

The Bible describes the day Jesus returns as impossible to be predicted or anticipated; not even by the angels (Mark 13:32). The day is described as a thief in the night and a flash (Matthew 24:26 and 1 Corinthians 15:52). To better paraphrase, the Bible says: “One day some of you will be looking at videos on Vine, some will be shopping at Whole Foods, a few will be washing dishes, playing in a football game, a few will be praying over their cancer-ridden child, some will be in the mission field, some will be joyfully skipping in the rain on their first date, some will be watching Netflix before bedtime, waters will be flowing, trees will be dying. Then suddenly, POOF, Jesus and all of his supremacy and glory will come down and do what He was destined to do for the sake of the Father.”

Now for the beauty:

In that moment, when we are facing this holy and supreme being, we will finally see just how infinitely undeserving we are to be with Him. We wouldn’t help but tremblingly bow down in His presence. As 2 Peter 13:10 describes, everything will be laid bare. In that moment, we will FULLY understand how “All of our righteous deeds are filthy rags”. As our life is reflected on in that instant, we’ll be aware how all our earthly “good” lacks in comparison to this epic God before us. Remember that time we read our Bible for quiet time? It does not match up. Remember the time we worshiped for hours? When we see God’s ultimate glory, we will realize that we should have worshiped infinitely longer.

Nothing we did or can do will protect or save us. It is in that instant where will FULLY see the importance of the cross. The magnitude of the love that was shown will blow us away. How can we speak? What emotions will we be feeling? For those that truly believe Christ is their Savior, we may hesitantly mutter something similar to this, “Oh my oh my, why are you choosing me??? Really?? Just crush me. I am dirty and damaged. I can’t even look at your bright perfection.” God, in his warm nature, will then happily tell us, “Jesus has made you clean. He has absorbed the curse and provided the perfection that your soul needed. No wrath for you. Come, join in the wedding supper of the lamb and see true paradise. Come celebrate with ALL my children.” [Galatians 3:13; 2 Peter 1:11]. After all the tears we will rejoice that the curse has been lifted. Mercy Grace Mercy Grace. Those times that you doubted Jesus was real = Grace. That time you were angry at God because of your mother’s terminal cancer = Grace. The staunch atheist that spent his whole life hating God, but in his last days he “genuinely” accepted the faith = Grace.

Oh the joy. The joy. The joy!! May we see and savor the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The One who loves us. Let us see that He is supreme over the missing Malaysian plane, over all universities, March Madness, all the internet, hurricanes, all of science, over Fox News & MSNBC, our jobs, over our stocks & investments, the Frozen soundtrack, EVERYTHING. Yes, currently this all feels abstract; but the writers of the Bible make it seem as if this is right around the corner. Let us dive into his warmth now. Let us put on his armor as we are warned to be watchful as the time approaches (Ephesians 6:13-18). With the same token … let us still enjoy these tearjerker YouTube videos. Honestly speaking, they are AWWWESOME!!

 

Here lies Jesus, King of the Jews: