Walking in the Shoes of Another

All the Colors We Will SeeWhat does the world look like if you are the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in Anchorage Alaska? How do you experience life differently when your husband who you met in South Africa is from Zimbabwe and together you raise your family in Charlotte?

Patrice Gopo gives us a memoir that speaks of her journey and her experiences. She tells of what it was like growing up in Alaska as one of the only black girls in her class and school. She tells of her journey towards discovering who she was and how she was different. She tells of how she initially resisted some of those differences in herself and how she finally began to embrace them.

They say that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes can give you a better understanding for someone. “All the Colors We Will See” is like a long walk down windy roads, following someone who has dealt with her own difference and come to grips with them. Gopo describes the emotions of seeing the Confederate flag hung on neighbors’ homes, on gas stations, and even what it was like when it was finally removed from the statehouse in South Carolina’s capital.

Gopo takes her readers through her childhood and what it was like when her parents decided that they could no longer make their marriage work. She takes us to Jamaica to visit the homeland of her parents. She draws her reader into those moments when she struggled with who she was and makes us understand just a little bit what it looks like from the other side.

Since my own awakening to the privileged upbringing and experience that I had, I have been drawn to stories like Gopo’s which help me to see beyond my own little world. “All the Colors We Will See” helps readers feel just a little bit of what growing up different feels like as Gopo describes things that many of us may take for granted.

What I appreciated about Gopo the most is the grace with which she writes. She never takes an accusatory tone for all of those times when she encountered those who diminished her difference in being black. Even the thoughtless words that escaped people’s mouths were met with grace and compassion by Gopo, a reaction with which I know I would struggle.

“All the Colors We Will See” is the story of a journey that has not been completed. Gopo gives us a window into that. For those who desire to see beyond themselves and try to understand just a fraction of what others may have faced or may be facing, Gopo’s account is worth exploring.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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Something’s Coming

It’s been quite some time since I’ve really been able to dream. I’m not talking about while I’m asleep, but while I’m awake. I haven’t had dreams of what could be as I’ve found myself so encumbered by what is and how to manage all that’s going on around me.

Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe you used to dream, you used to think big thoughts and grand ideas. Maybe somehow, some way, those dream, big thoughts, and grand ideas slowly dissolved away.

Well, there has to be a way to get them back again.

When I’ve found myself in that state of emptiness in the area of dreams, it seems that somehow I’ve taken my eyes off of God and placed them firmly onto myself. Kind of like Peter when he walked on water, instead of focusing on Jesus, I look at the storm raging around me and begin to question how I’m going to do it. Instead, I need to remember that it’s not me but Christ in me.

When I cast off the things that encumber me, I find myself anticipating with excitement what could be. It’s like that song from West Side Story, “Something’s Coming.”

It’s only just out of reach

Down the block, on the beach

Under a tree.

I got a feeling there’s a miracle due

Gonna come true, comin’ to me!

I’ve been saying to the people around me for a number of years that we need to dream dreams that are so big that only God can accomplish them. I’ve also told people over and over again that I’ve never preached a sermon that wasn’t written to myself first and foremost. A friend reminded me the other day that I’ve also said that criticism is autobiographical but he added that sermons are autobiographical as well, at least they are for me.

I don’t like to stay still. I like to move. I’m an activator. I’m a challenger. I’m a change agent. I’ve come to grips with those things and I am learning to embrace them. Sometimes it’s disruptive to other people and sometimes it’s disruptive to me, but status quo is rarely something that I can allow myself to grow comfortable with.

Something’s coming. I can feel it in the air. I can sense it in my very being. The best part of it is that there’s no way that I can do it on my own, it’s a dream so big that only God can accomplish it. Honestly, that’s the only way that I would want it to be.

 

Inspired – A Book Review

inspiredRachel Held Evans, in my opinion, is a good writer. She is engaging and has a way to express ideas in compelling fashion. She can tell a story, crafting the details in a forward fashion as she draws her reader in. All that being said, I find myself, often, in mostly disagreement with her opinions and ideas.

“Inspired” is a book about the Bible. Evans has grown tired of Christians who have held to the old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” This book is an exploration of the different genres contained in the Bible, how they might be considered in light of their genre. Evans bucks up against the various descriptors that people have put on the Bible, particularly those in the evangelical camp when they have called the Bible “inerrant” and “infallible.”

Evans writes, “What business do I have describing as “inerrant” and “infallible” a text that presumes a flat and stationary earth, takes slavery for granted, and presupposes patriarchal norms like polygamy?” To me, there is so much to say in this statement alone, far more than this review has word space for. It’s an ironic statement to me, coming from Evans considering her constant pushback against the variable interpretation of the various genres.

There were times when I felt myself nodding along with her. She writes, “When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, perspicacious, certain, absolute – then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic.” Having read the Bible through on multiple occasions, I can embrace this statement, and there is nothing more frustrating, to me, than to find people trying to use the Bible as a science textbook when it was never written as such.

Evans explores the various genres of the Bible within “Inspired.” Before each chapter, she writes a shorter prelude to the genre, in narrative form. This, to me, is where Evans shines. She is creative, witty, and engaging when she writes stories, As I have seen with other writers who have gone beyond their gifts of prose and story to fancy themselves theologians, when they stick with their strengths, they flourish. But I get it, Evans has an axe to grind and her writing is the greatest gift and tool she feels she has to grind that axe.

She is honest as she deals with the Bible, chronicling her own struggles and upbringing. She describes the Bible as, “smudged with human fingerprints” and goes on to describe the Psalms, among my personal favorites, as the “blotchiest pages of all.”

I appreciate Evans writing of her journey with the Bible. I can empathize with the struggles that I have had with this ancient book that believers call “the Word of God.” My struggle with the approach that Evans takes is that it just doesn’t seem to allow for any consistency. It feels to me as if the Bible can be read like a Choose Your Own Theology book, coming to a particular section in which the reader can determine which course of action or theology to embrace.

As seen in the quote above, Evans uses the word “magic” to describe how the Bible may be seen. My chosen word would probably be “mystery,” and I’m pretty sure Evans even uses that word in her book. As humans, we always seek concrete answers, answers that we can taste and touch and feel. But life rarely affords us the luxury of such answers and the Bible, in my opinion, is similar.

Evans and I can both agree that the Bible isn’t the place to go to find out whether or not to date the love of your life, whether to switch jobs, whether to move, or the place to go to answer countless other questions that we humans can so often become entangled within. Instead, I see the Bible as the written Word of God, revealing himself to us, and the story of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, who mysteriously provided a way back to God and a means to redeem and restore us.

Evans holds off her most controversial chapter, and the chapter about which she is most likely most passionate, until the end. In the chapter entitled “Church Stories,” Evans fires off about her stance on same-sex relationships and how she interprets Paul’s letters. She fully admits that Paul is the biblical writer who confounds her the most.

Context is key in reading the Bible, but part of that context is to see how God has revealed himself to us through this written word that we call the Bible. When we take into account the context in which a particular section of the Bible was written, we also have to take into account how God has revealed himself, his will, and his intention in the entirety of the Bible. When we fail to do that, we can easily find ourselves in a Choose Your Own Theology book.

“Inspired” is the third book that I have read by Rachel Held Evans. It may be the one that I have found myself with more takeaways that either of the other two, but that doesn’t mean that the conclusions to which we both arrive are the same. As a book exploring the genres of the Bible, “Inspired” was worthwhile. If exploration of the Bible and its genres is your desire, I would recommend more scholarly resources to explore the genres deeper. If an opinion piece that chronicles personal struggles and viewpoints is your goal, this may be just the book for you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Seeing With Your Heart

I am a visual person. I like to be able to see things. I have a white board in my office where I can write out the things that I have to do and even work out ideas. It gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and stare at the thoughts and ideas written on it. I can work them out in my head but right there in front of me as well. My thoughts come to life in a visible way, allowing me to see where I am going and order my thoughts better.

When I can’t see things, I panic. My anxiety rises up. I flip and flail like a fish dropped on dry land, struggling for breath and wondering when I will get a glimpse and see what I have determined in my head is necessary for me to see in order to move forward.

It’s funny how the things that we can so often think are necessary for our survival are far more expendable than we actually think. We obsess over things that seem crucial to us, viscerally reacting or even overreacting. Then we realize that we can live without the very thing that seemed to crucial and integral to our own plan.

Do I need to see, or do I just WANT to see? When I can see all of the pieces laid out in front of me, it’s really easy for me to wallow in my own self-sufficiency, elevating myself to a plain far above where I belong. Seeing all of the pieces may seem comfortable to me, but it mostly eliminates my need for trust and faith in God. If I can figure it all out myself, if I can seem to be self-sufficient, if there is no mystery, what’s the use of faith anymore?

A friend of mine describes the Christian life as being a combination of the two simple yet difficult tasks of trusting and obeying. It’s one step after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Onward. The mundane yet laborious task of putting one foot in front of the other, not always knowing where your footfall will be three steps or ten steps or twenty steps from now. Only knowing where the next step will be. Like the psalmist’s words, a light to our path doesn’t shine for miles in front of us, it simply lights the way for the few steps that lie immediately ahead.

I’m beginning to see that what I think I need to see may be just an extension of my need to control things. Maybe trusting is less about seeing with our eyes and more about seeing with our hearts. Maybe all I really need to see is what’s immediately before me so that I abstain from self-sufficiency and I lean more on God, who has promised to guide me and provide for every step.

I’ll continue to resist, I can be assured of that. I’ll continue to search for ways that I can see what I was never meant to see. But in my search and in my resistance, perhaps I will find that the same vision that I have prided myself in with my eyes may transfer over to my heart and I will begin to see things not as I want to see them, but as I need to see them. Perhaps I will find that as difficult of a task as it is to see with my heart, it will serve me so much better in the long run.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Ten Years in the Same Place

Gibsons Pentagon 2008 editToday marks my ten year anniversary in Virginia. Like so many anniversaries, I can’t believe that it’s been that long because it doesn’t seem as if a full decade has gone by since we moved here.

At the same time, as I look back over the past ten years, more has happened than I could have ever imagined. If someone had told me ten years ago all that would transpire in the years to follow, I think that I may have tried to alter the future in whatever means possible.

In these 10 years, the following has occurred:

– I started and finished my Master’s of Divinity

– My wife and I had another son

– My wife and I had a daughter

– My mom died after a six month battle with cancer

– My dad died twenty-one months after my mother

– I was involved with a difficult church transition

– I transferred my ordination into the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church)

Those are just the big picture highlights. If I really stopped to document everything, it would be a bit overwhelming.

I’m certainly not the person that I was when I arrived here ten years ago. I have been given the gift of a whole lot of people who have taken time and invested in me. I have been blessed with great friends, great neighbors, great co-workers, and a great church family.

I’ve not always done things well or right, but I am grateful for the grace shown to me by God and by so many others. I’m glad that people did not let their first impression of me drive them completely away. I’m grateful for second chances.

I need to be honest and say that I’ve felt a rumbling within me lately. I’m not sure for what though. The only thing that I can say is that it’s for whatever is next. Something is waiting right around the corner, and I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about what it could be. I don’t want to move from where I am, physically at least. I feel like I have invested much and I’m just beginning to see some of the fruit of the investments and labor.

I’m not sure how much more patience I’ve gained in the last ten years. If anything, my patience has grown a little as my understanding has grown a lot. That’s kind of humbling because my understanding is still not nearly what I think it should be. But it’s in the journey that we are changed and transformed. Change and transformation takes longer in some of us than in others.

In the words of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I’m grateful for all the people who have come across my path over these last ten years especially,. I’m expectant to see what happens over the next ten years.

 

Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the word “overwhelmed” a lot lately. It’s probably because I’ve been feeling it…..a lot. Overwhelmed with emotion. Overwhelmed with activity. Overwhelmed with thoughts. Overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with anxiety.

The word “overwhelmed” means “to turn upside down, to overthrow.” But like so many other words, it can mean something so different based upon its context. While we (or I) may use it more often as a negative word, it can easily be used in a more positive way.

Lately, my use of overwhelmed has felt much more negative. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my mom’s death and no matter how far I get from that day, it seems that it still has as severe of an impact as it did when it first happened. I can feel the anxiety and sadness rising up within me. I can feel myself getting overwhelmed.

I’ve had some additional responsibilities on me over the last two months. I’ve found myself growing in many ways, learning how better to manage my time and be more efficient. At the same time, there are moments when I feel incredibly overwhelmed, overcome and overthrown.

Even Jesus, as he prayed in the hours leading up to his death in Matthew 26, was overwhelmed. At least that’s how the New International Version translation of the Bible renders it. “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

But I think we can be overwhelmed with good. I think we can be overwhelmed when people do things for us that leave us speechless. I think we can be overwhelmed as we look at the blessings that we have in our lives rather than looking at what we don’t have.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve thought more and more about how I want to be positively overwhelmed. I know that I will not stop being overwhelmed by other things, but how will I choose to respond?

I had a rough night last night. Didn’t sleep well. Tossed and turned. Dreamed restless dreams. Other than the overwhelming emotion of what tomorrow represents to me, a few other things were thrown at me in the past few days that completely threw me off. I’ve felt vulnerable, detached, disconnected, and aloof. While it was nothing compared to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 26, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed.

I really felt like I had no choice but to do my best to allow myself to be overwhelmed by God. My go-to place for that is the Psalms. I have always appreciated the raw and honest nature of the Psalms. So, I put on my head phones, laid on the couch, and let the Psalms be read into my ears.

And you know what? It worked. I was overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed with the goodness of my God. I was overwhelmed with his presence with his people. I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness. I was overwhelmed with the salvation that he brings and offers to us.

I think the key to finding the positive aspect of being overwhelmed is to know where we need to go to find it. I will oftentimes go to the wrong place, some place that doesn’t fulfill, that doesn’t really meet the need. When that happens, it does the reverse of positively overwhelming me and I feel even more overthrown. We can all find places that will give us a temporary reprieve from the overwhelming feelings we face.

But in the Psalms, we find the God who is there. We find the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We are not alone. We may be overwhelmed, but if we really stop to think about it, we can be overwhelmed by all that God is and all that he has done for us.

This past Sunday, we sang this song in our worship service. It’s a song that I’ve loved from the first moment that I heard it. I had forgotten about it until Sunday and as the music washed over me, I was truly overwhelmed.

Jesus Journey – A 40 day journey

Jesus journeyThroughout the history of Christianity, there have been two ways that people have looked at Jesus. Jesus was God in flesh, incarnate, revealing who the Father is by the things that he said and did. He was seen as more superhuman than human and much more divine than just a man. This is a view of God from above.

The other way people have looked at Jesus was simply as a man, someone that we could relate to who happened also to be God in the flesh. His pain was experienced so that we could know we were not alone. The oppression he faced was faced so that those who are oppressed can relate to him and find comfort in who he is and what he has to offer. This is a view of God from below.

No one has ever existed before or since Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. Trying to find the balance between Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be problematic. Trent Sheppard sees the emphasis having been much more on Jesus’ divinity, which is why he wrote “Jesus Journey.”

In “Jesus Journey,” Trent Sheppard looks more at the humanity of Jesus. He doesn’t deny or diminish his divinity, but he draws from the stories of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to paint a picture of Jesus that helps the reader to see him more human than maybe they have in the past.

Jesus was hungry, Jesus got angry. Jesus was stressed. Jesus needed sleep and rest. It might be easy to gloss over the humanity of Jesus in a reading of the gospels, but Sheppard tries to accentuate the accounts that help the reader see Jesus more realistically. He also does a good job of reminding the reader that the way that we see Jesus, two thousand years later, is not necessarily the way that the disciples and others of his time saw Jesus. It was a stretch for them, a process of belief that they entered into, to come to the place where they saw him as the Messiah.

Sheppard also breaks up the book in sections to look at the relationships that Jesus had with his parents, his Father, his friends, his death and suffering, and his resurrection. Through personal stories and anecdotes as well as the accounts found in the gospel, Sheppard weaves his way through the life of Jesus helping the reader to see the humanity of Jesus.

While I didn’t find anything outstanding here, I appreciated what Sheppard wrote. Having grown up in the church, it’s too easy to look at Jesus as the superhero and forget about his humanity. Sheppard does a good job of not deemphasizing Jesus’ divinity while reminding his reader that Jesus went through all of the things that ordinary humans have to go through as well.

“Jesus Journey” was a worthwhile read and could be useful as a devotion. Sheppard lays out his book in such a way that the reader can go through it in 40 days. The chapters aren’t too long and this could easily be a book that someone could read through during the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Eyes In Front

I’ve written on here before about my running. I’m not a big fan of running, but I’ve been trying to make it a discipline that I follow in order to keep some cardio activity in my life. I usually tell people that I don’t like running but I like how I feel when I am running. That doesn’t mean I actually feel good when I run (I usually feel terrible) but that in my life, when I consistently run, I feel pretty good.

Since the Spring, I’ve been struggling with running. I’ve felt tired and lethargic, but I’ve kept it up. Then we went on our cross country trip and while I started out strong, I fell off the wagon and went a month (pretty much the length of our trip) without running. My last run took place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

As I start to get back into it again, I’ve realized that it may be the worst time of the year to start it up again. The humidity is high and hangs on you like a soaking wet sweatshirt. Every step feels as if my legs weigh tons. Since my pace has slowed considerably, I’m trying to find the right balance and have yet to get there.

After running consistently for a few months, I began to realize just what a mental game running can be. At first, I was running with music, but I decided to take advantage of the stillness and quiet of the pre-dawn hours and simply breathe in the moments. My allergies aren’t too happy about those breaths, but I persist.

But the mental game of telling myself what I can or can’t do is a much bigger battle than I ever thought or imagined. “You can’t do this.” “You’re too slow.” “Look how much further you have to go.” “Can you really get there?” All these statements and questions plus so many more run through my head.

As I was running this morning, I was in the home stretch and a thought occurred to me. I was looking too far ahead. I was missing the ground right in front of me because I wanted to see how much further I had to go, how much longer that I had to endure. But looking too far ahead was making me miss what was right before me and it was distracting me.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels in life. I have a tendency to want to see the road much further ahead. I play out in my mind all of the next steps to make sure I’m prepared, but in my preparation (or so-called preparation), I am distracted and unfocused on what’s right before me.

So, I’m learning to focus on what’s right before me. It’s easier said than done, at least for me. I want desperately to see and know what’s coming, but I need to focus on just a few steps. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Or in the words of that great philosopher Dory, “Just keep swimming!”