Be Revealed

A Sermon For January 19, 2014, Amos 5:24, Galatians 3:27-29, John 1:29-34

[Race Relations Sunday/Baptism of three sisters, 3, 2 and 9-months-old during the 11 am worship service]

In one of several emotionally packed scenes from the epic film 12 Years A Slave, Edwin Epps, who believes the Bible sanctions his right to abuse slaves, becomes enraged when he discovers that the young female slave Patsey left the plantation.  Upon her return, Patsey, who daily picks more than 500 pounds of cotton to avoid a beating, reveals to the fuming Epps that she went to another plantation to ask for soap so that she could bathe:

Epps, unwilling to believe her story and angry over her act of defiance, forces another slave, Solomon Northrup, to whip Patsey. Eventually Epps grabs the whip from Northrup and brutally lashes her. In essence, Epps like many slave owners of the time, refuses to recognize Patsy as a beloved creation who is claimed by a loving God in the waters of baptism.

12 Years A Slave-posterThe dehumanization of Patsey is taken from the pages of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir whose film adaptation recently netted a Best Picture Golden Globe Award and nine Academy Award nominations, including best picture, best director, best actor, best supporting actress and best screenplay. 12 Years A Slave tells the true story of Northrup, an African-American musician from New York—a free man—who is kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in Louisiana.

12 Years A Slave has garnered much attention for its accurate portrayal of one of the darkest periods in American history. And the notice the film is receiving is timely considering that many congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) commemorate Race Relations Sunday in their worship today as a way of honoring the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King on Monday.

Along with other 2013 movies like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, the big screen retelling of Northrup’s life as an indentured servant has stirred up immense conversations and feelings about the occurrence of slavery and racial discrimination—both then and now.

Film critics and moviegoers have observed entire theaters sobbing throughout the entire 2 hours of 12 Years A Slave, including grown men covering their eyes or turning away during especially graphic scenes.

It’s remarkably powerful to think about how 150 years after the abolition of slavery, the history of that horrendous time can still evoke suck heartbreak and lament.  Quite possibly, we mourn the sins of the past because the same hateful mindsets thrive mightily in today’s climate.

While slave plantations are non-existent in this country and the nation is half a century removed from the days of segregation, lynching, vicious police dogs and water-hoses and the cross-burning Klan, slavery and racial discrimination creeps into every part of society nowadays.

We still live in a world where people fail to honor the love of Christ in another human being—

  • A report from the 2013 Global Slavery Index found that nearly 30 million people around the world are living as slaves.[1]
  • A U.S. government study reported in 2012 that more than 42,000 adults and children were found in forced prostitution, labor, slavery or armed conflict worldwide.[2]
  • Surveys conducted in 2013 by the renowned Pew Research Center showed that 46 percent of blacks and 16 percent of whites see “a lot of discrimination” toward blacks; And 70 percent of blacks and about 37 percent of whites say “blacks are treated less fairly in their dealings with the police.” [3]
  • Statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center which monitors hate and bigotry show that hate groups have increased dramatically in the last six years, from 149 to 1,360.[4]
  • Since January 2013, the news have been filled with stories of racial discrimination, racists attitudes and cultural assumptions:

Racial Discrimination Collage 1

The Trayvon Martin case;

voters protesting the Supereme Court’s decision to strike down a section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act;

Celebrity Chef Paula Deen who testified in a lawsuit deposition that she used the “n-word” and threw Old-South plantation-themed parties; and

Phil Robertson, the star of the hit reality TV series Duck Dynasty who told a reporter that the impoverished black adults he worked alongside as a teen were always happy, happy, happy and never complained about their civil rights.

Racial Discrimination Collage 2

Megyn Kelly, the Fox News Anchor who insisted that everyone should accept that Jesus was a white man when he was actually a Galilean Jew born in Roman-Palestine;

African-American teen Christopher Rougier who was told by a teacher at his New Mexico high school that he couldn’t dress up as Santa because he was black;

An MSNBC segment in which host Melissa Harris-Perry (who is bi-racial) allowed a panel of guests poke fun at former Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandson; and

African-American actress Tamera Mowry who told Oprah Winfrey that she had been called “a white man’s whore” because her husband is white and they have a bi-racial child.

Racial Discrimination Collage 4

New York-born Latino-American pop singer Marc Anthony, who traces his heritage to Puerto Rico, was widely blasted on Twitter for his rendition of God Bless America at the All-Star Game. Many felt that it was wrong for an illegal Mexican to sing an American song;

America’s Got Talent competitor, Sebastien De La Cruz, a 11-year-old who received similar criticism for singing the National Anthem in his native San Antonio during the NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Miami Heat. Several people on Twitter accused the boy of being an illegal who snuck into the country to sing the anthem;

Nina Davuluri, a native of New York who became the first contestant of Indian descent to be crowned the winner of the 2014 Miss America Pageant, was attached on social media for being an Arabic terrorist. Others ridiculed Nina for her family ties to India, labeling her “Miss 7-11”; and

Last week’s episode of the hit series How I Met Your Mother in which the all-white cast put on yellow make-up and dressed in stereotypical Asian attire to foster an ongoing gag about humorously slapping a good friend.

Racial Discrimination Collage 03

Justine Sacco, a former PR executive for IAC Media Company, who made headlines by tweeting: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white;” and

Famous comedian Steve Martin who in response to a question about how to spell “lasagna” tweeted: “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?”

And pop legend Madonna, who on Friday (talk about sense of timing) used the n-word “as a term of endearment” in an Instagram photo of her white teenage son.

As Christena Cleveland, a researcher and social psychologist at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn, put it in a December magazine article:

There is still a long way to go. I don’t think people understand when we are separated; nothing good can come from that. All we do is misperceive each other. All we do is develop these boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I don’t think a lot of majority-culture Christians understand how bad these issues really are.”[5]

Judging by the racial diversity of the congregation here at Pleasant Hill, I would surmise that many actually do understand how bad racial discrimination is these days.

At the same time, I also realize it’s easy for anyone to respond to these examples of racism by saying “Oh it’s not as bad as it was 50 years ago,” or “there are a few members in my family who use the n-word but that’s just an older generation that is set in their ways” or “you can’t judge racial tensions by the dumb and ignorant things people say on social media or TV.”

Maybe those responses have a ring of truth to them. But maybe the examples of racial discrimination I just mentioned also reflect the prejudice that occurs on a daily basis in average cities and neighborhoods across the country.

In case you’re unsure, let me offer personal stories from some non-white friends I spoke with this weekend about the ways they experience racial discrimination:

As a parent, I’ve had the opportunity to get know some of the church families whose children are my 5-year-old daughter’s peers, like Ted and Abby R. and their two children.

Ted, who is black and hails from Chicago, is a new elder on Session who serves on the Christian Education Committee. Abby, who is white and grew up in Oregon, is on CE’s Preschool Board and both parents teach church school.

This past August, Ted and his daughter were out shopping when Ted noticed another shopper react oddly to him.  Bewildered by the person’s actions, Ted immediately posted on Facebook: “Just had an old lady see me in Wal-Mart and clinch her purse. Shaking my head.”

……………………………….

One of the most valuable ministries here at the church is our partnership with Rainbow Village, which holds its After-School tutoring and mentoring program in the upstairs classrooms during the week.  The success of the program is due largely to the incredible leadership of its program director SB, an African-American mother of two grown boys and a grandmother of two toddlers.

SB said to me over the phone that what she often finds most disturbing is perceptions of who she is based on the color of her skin. She told me that over the years, some whites, after meeting her, would later remark privately to her employer about how Sondra is so well spoken and articulate. “They seem to be impressed that I’m not talking ebonics,” she said. “I wonder how they thought I’d be. Wouldn’t they think that if I work at Rainbow Village, I would be professional?”

SB says that while she believes race relations have come a long way, there is still more to be done. She says she longs for the day when she doesn’t have to over-worry about perceptions or even take precautions when speaking to her sons about how they should behave in public. “I always tell them to be polite as they should but I usually have to tell them more. I tell them that if the police are talking to you, don’t move. Stand still. Give short answers. Don’t reach into your pockets, even if nothing is there. I think it’s wrong that I have to be over cautious and give such special instructions but it’s what I have to do.”

I think it’s fair to say that few, if any, whites have ever been given those type of instructions, much less have to worry that their words and actions might be greatly misconstrued by authorities.

And yet the shooting deaths of Trayvonn Martin and much more clear-cut cases—like the killing of Florida A&M student Jonathan Ferrell and 19-year-old Renisha McBride—gives every parent and guardian of a racial and bi-racial children enough reason to give precise directions about behavior, all to ensure more innocent blood isn’t spilled.[6]

…………………..

An inspiration to me in my ministry is Derrick Weston, a 34-year-old African-American and Presbyterian pastor who is director of the Pittsburgh Project, a non-profit community development in Pennsylvania.

Derrick has a passion for talking about church transformation and issues of poverty and racism. When I asked him to share his experiences with racial discrimination, he wrote me the following email:

Where I have most commonly experienced racism is in the area of other people’s expectations of me. Assumptions about how I should dress, how I should talk, what kind of music that I *must* like, assumptions about my athleticism (which were almost always wrong!)… I don’t think most people think of those things as racism, but they certainly are. When you tell people that they are not allowed out of the box that you have for them, that is oppression….I had some awful things said to me when I served a church in Springfield, Ohio. Worries that I would bring “my kind” to the church. Lucky for them, “my kind” wouldn’t go anywhere near that place.

……………………..

WorrPHOTO-Cover-and-Bruce-720x380ies over “another kind” coming inside the Church is a statement that our denomination’s former moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes Chow, has also heard in his ministry along with other racially charged comments. Several months ago Bruce was sitting in a coffee shop when a white person came up to him and said in their best Asian accent: “You no rike riving here, you can rive somewhere else.”[7]

Bruce, who is a California born Asian American with Filipino and Chinese heritage, writes in his book But I Don’t See You As Asian: Curating Conversations About Race, that we can’t afford to brush aside or ignore the racism that pervades our society:

When we choose to dismiss or avoid these difficult conversations, we reinforce and remind people of color that they are still the other. We are not expressing a willingness and yearning to embrace the wonderful complexity that is brought to the larger human family…We must keep talking about race and how we engage the conversation, because how we do these things impacts the ability for people of color to full live and achieve in society.”[8]

How we have these conversations about race—how we engage others about their experiences and stories—also impacts the ability for the newly baptized to speak boldly and confidently of God’s love for all races and cultures.

For Christians, our starting point for having these conversations and working toward racial reconciliation is immersed in the words of the apostle Paul who wrote to the early church in Galatia:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

Our desire to create racial harmony and seek out the holy in another human being is attuned to the wild cries of John the Baptist who witnesses the baptism of Jesus:

Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel…I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” (John 1:29-42)

Our purpose for carrying out the promises we just made for those three girls at baptism–to nurture people in the love and mercy of Christ–is rooted in the prophetic words of the vine grower Amos who proclaimed:

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Our baptisms in Christ remind us that regardless of our cultural differences, we all belong forever to God.

Our baptisms remove the sin and injustice from our lives, washes away the hate, the discrimination and misperceptions we have toward those of another race.

Our baptisms free us to be rivers of justice and streams of righteousness and peace for people of color.

Our baptisms in Christ reveal us as beloved creations that are called to love one another, especially those who are mistreated because of their differences.

So may it be. So may it be.

Amen.

………………….

Preacher’s Note I: Following the sermon, the congregation sang the Hymn #757 “Today We Are Called to Be Disciples” from The Presbyterian Hymnal: Glory to God. For the Benediction, I read stanza three: “Pray justice may come rolling down as in a mighty stream, with righteousness in field and town to cleanse us and redeem. For God is longing to restore an earth, where conflicts cease, a world that was created for a harmony of peace.”

Preacher’s Note II: As I researched the topic of race relations for this sermon, I found several articles that provided eye-opening insight into the issue, allowed me to process my thoughts and feelings, and that should be shared with others as a way of continuing the conversation:

–‘12 Years A Slave’ Inspires True Conversations About Slavery, NPR Morning Edition, Jan 16, 2014

Seeing Opportunity In A Question: Where Are You Really From, NPR Morning Edition, November 11, 2014

White Men, Black Female Bodies, and Renisha McBride, by Christena Cleveland, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, Nov. 19, 2013

No Turning Away, or Back, After Seeing ’12 Years A Slave’ by Cathleen Falsani, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 28, 2013

The American Church’s Absence of Lament, by Soong-Chan Rah, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 24, 2013

After Racial Strife, New Pledge Commits Christians to Unity and Solidarity, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 24, 2013

The Most Controversial Sentence I Ever Wrote, by Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 24, 2013

The ‘S’ Word, the ‘D’ Word, and ’12 Years A Slave’ by Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 17, 2013

Waiting For Another MLK by Carlos Malave, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 16, 2013

–’12 Years A Slave’: A Film Of Moral Gravity by Brian McLaren, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 15, 2013

How Feeling Each Other’s Pain Changes Everything, by Christena Cleveland, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 15, 2013

–‘12 Years A Slave’—Could It Happen Again? by Paul Louis Metger, Sojourners Magazine, http://sojo.net, October 14, 2013

–Some Brief Thoughts on ‘The Butler’ by Derrick Weston, from his blog http://derricklweston.wordpress.com, August 14, 2013


[1] New Global Index Exposes ‘Modern Slavery’ Worldwide, BBC, October 17, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24560937

[2] U.S. Traffiking Report Reveals ‘Modern Slavery’ Toll, BBC, June 19, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18514626

[3] For African-Americans, discrimination is not dead, Pew Research Center, June 28, 2013, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/28/for-african-americans-discrimination-is-not-dead/and King’s Dream Remains An Elusive Goal, Pew Research Center, August 22, 2013, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/08/22/kings-dream-remains-an-elusive-goal-many-americans-see-racial-disparities/

[4] Southern Poverty Law Center, “What We Do”, http://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/hate-and-extremism

[5] Chasing the Dream: The Year’s Best Film, 12 Years A Slave, exposes religion’s ugly history with race, by Emily McFarlane Miller, Relevant Magazine: Faith, Culture & Intentional Living, Nov/Dec. 2013

[6] During the 11 am worship service, I removed—in the interest of time due to having three baptisms and a Choir Anthem—the paragraph where SB talks about the instructions she gives to her sons and two paragraphs that followed, regarding how whites don’t have to worry about such things and the killings of Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride. I did preach these words at the 8:30 am worship service.

[7] How I Survive Everyday Racism by Bruce Reyes-Chow, August 30, 2013, Huffington Post: Religion. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-reyeschow/how-i-survive-everyday-ra_b_3833714.html

[8] Excerpt from But I Don’t See You As Asian: Curating Conversations About Race by Bruce Reyes-Chow, p.22-24. Self-Published. 2013.

Re-Think Church: Advent-Photos

Like many Christians, I’ve been participating in Rethink Church’s Advent Photo-A-Day. Although I have been taking and sharing a photo per day on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I keep forgetting to also share the pics on this blog. So, 21 days late, here is what I’ve witnessed and re-thought during this Advent Season:

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Be What We Were Made to Be

A Sermon for Sunday October 27 (Reformation Day & All Saints’ Day ) Romans 12 (Eugene Peterson’s The Message)

Shades Valley Presbyterian Church Youth Retreat, Camp Lee, Anniston, AL, 1991. Bonkey is wearing the green hat. Andy is pictured in center of photograph.

Shades Valley Presbyterian Church Youth Retreat, Camp Lee, Anniston, AL, 1991. Bonkey is wearing the green hat. Andy is pictured in center of photograph.

For more than 20 years, during the days that lead up to Halloween, the memory of a significant event in my life resurfaces like The Creature From The Black Lagoonthe death of my friend Bonkey Nezariah McCain, who at the age of 17 was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in the late evening of Friday, October 30, 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama, and pronounced dead at 12:01 am on Saturday October 31.

My tearful mom shook me from my blissful sleep later that Halloween morning to tell me the horrifying news. I staggered out of bed in utter disbelief. It was hard enough to comprehend that a beloved member of our church’s youth group at Shades Valley Presbyterian and a fellow classmate at Shades Valley High School had died, but more difficult to fathom that he was killed.

A member of SVHS’ football team, Bonkey and his teammates had been innocently celebrating their win over another school by eating at a local Pizza Hut. As the players walked out into the parking lot to head home, two guys in a car drove by and opened fire into the crowd. Although Bonkey wasn’t the intended target, he took three bullets to the chest. No one else was injured.

Bonkey’s death shook the community. Bonkey was a remarkable young man who had a deep love for God and people. He had that unique ability of making friends and connecting folks to one another regardless of their differences. And he had big dreams of getting a higher education, playing in the NFL and doing good for others with the gifts God gave him.

The day Bonkey died, I was awoken to the harsh reality of fear, pain and sadness. And yet, in the midst of the shock and grief, my instinct (like many of my church friends) was to not crawl back in bed and isolate myself from the world. My immediate desire was to shower, get dressed and be with my friends.

Within a few hours, our youth group had gathered in one of our friend’s homes. We sat there and held one another as we cried and lamented and expressed our anger over a senseless death. We made phone calls to share the news with friends who lived and attended Presbyterian churches in other parts of central Alabama. They immediately got in their cars and drove to Birmingham. By dinner that evening, there were close to 50-60 people, youth and adult advisers from eight separate high school youth groups, squeezed inside a friend’s living room. Holding onto one another, we cried some more and we told stories about Bonkey’s life and we prayed.

And our advisers reminded us that God grieves with us and yearns for us to live together in love and hope and peace.  They cautioned us to not become jaded by the brokenness and pain of the world. They encouraged us to push against the culture of selfishness, hate and violence by showing God’s goodness in all that we say and do…together.  They proclaimed to us that we—despite our momentary anger and loathing over Bonkey’s death—were called to continue to be the mercy-filled body of Christ in our daily lives.

Our advisers, our God-bearers of the faith, echoed the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the early Christian church in Rome:


Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without ever thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God…God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you….

The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. …

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other…

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply ….Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone…Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do…Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

I realize that Paul’s letter may sound too idealistic and naïve to 21st century ears. Paul’s instructions don’t seem feasible during a time in which there is great upheaval divisiveness, and bitter contention in our nation and world.

To some, they are nice-feel-good words that you say to cheer people up. It’s not practical advice.

Except that Paul’s teaching about how Christians should live is actually possible to practice and not some pie-in-the sky idea. Paul’s message is firmly grounded in real-life experience. Paul, like many Jews and Gentile followers of Jesus in those days, lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire and its cruel emperor who decreed himself a god among mortals.

The apostle knew that the only way followers of God could survive the ruthless, conquering military machine of the Roman Empire, the great body politic, was by becoming a part of a body that is greater than any corporate entity, nation, kingdom or ruler—

The body of Christ.

 Made up of chosen people who each find their meaning and function from the body that has shaped them with exquisite design and awe-inspiring purpose.

Paul believed fervently that human beings were created by God to be together and live as one body in love and gratitude to the Creator. To detach one’s self from the whole body of Christ served no purpose.

A person could be alive and functioning but essentially that person was dead in their soul because of their detachment, as useless as a cut-off toe. The individual was like a re-animated corpse that aimlessly wanders the countryside looking for opportunities to rip off the parts of living bodies.

AMC's Walking Dead, Season 1 commercial poster, courtesy of Google Images

AMC’s Walking Dead, Season 1 commercial poster, courtesy of Google Images

Many of us can identity with that metaphor of zombies (which is all the rage these days)—an individual or an individualized culture that seeks to devour our uniqueness, turning us into mindless creatures that fit into societal norms regardless of the harm it does to fellow human beings.

That allegory is so relatable to our lives and world that 3-16 million people tune in every week in the Fall to watch a show about an apocalyptic world overrun with zombies called The Walking Dead, which is set in metro Atlanta and currently being filmed an hour away from here in the Peachtree City area.

The reason for the show’s popularity may surprise those who have never watched an episode and suspect its all for the sake of guts and gore or just get twitchy watching gruesome stuff. But The Walking Dead actually offers a much deeper over-arching message about humanity that is loaded with spiritual and societal themes—particularly individualism v. community.

At one point in the story, Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy of the fictional King County, Georgia, gives a group of survivor’s the “from now on it’s my way or the highway speech” if they are planning to outlast the widespread zombie epidemic. The group is reluctant at first but quickly decide that Rick’s leadership is exemplary and his intentions are in the right place.

However, over the course of several episodes, Rick and his friends, who have sought refuge in an abandoned Georgia prison, encounter the residents of a nearby town called Woodbury and its leader, The Governor. A crazy narcissistic dictator, The Governor views himself as the savior of civilization and is willing to resort to the most deplorable measures to achieve that goal.

Courtesy of Google Images,  Photo Collage of still images from AMC's The Walking Dead, Episode 15 "This Sorrowful Life" March, 2013

Photo Collage of still images from AMC’s The Walking Dead, Episode 15 “This Sorrowful Life” March, 2013, Courtesy of Google Images

Because other survivors are always a threat to his quest for supremacy, the Governor threatens to attack Rick’s group at the prison unless they hand over a particular group member to be tortured and killed. Realizing that he has been losing his sanity and was wrong to ever assume sole leadership, Rick gathers his fellow survivors for a meeting. With sorrow in his eyes, a lump in his throat and guilt in his heart, he tells them: [1]

When I met with the Governor, he offered me a deal. He said he would leave us alone if I gave him Michonne. And I was gonna do that to keep us safe. I changed my mind. But now Merle took Michonne to fulfill the deal and Daryl went to stop him and I don’t know if it’s too late. I was wrong not to tell you. And I’m sorry.

What I said last year, that first night, after the farm, it can’t be like that. It can’t. What we do, what we’re willing to do, who we are, it’s not my call. It can’t be. I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me.

This is life and death. How you live…how you die, it isn’t up to me. I’m not your Governor. We choose to go. We choose to stay. We stick together.

There have been numerous moments in my life and ministry where I thought I was solely in charge, the only person making the tough calls and decisions, which were always absolutely right.

I have become, at times, too well adjusted to a culture that thrives off personal success, self-importance and fierce individualism. I have gone from being self-reliant and independent to arrogant, pretentious, judgmental and hateful in seconds. I have been, as my 5-year-old daughter Katie says, a “butt-butt.”

I have been like the demented Governor who is hungry for power and his own needs to be met at the expense of others or I have been like a crazed zombie who rips into others without thinking about the pain and suffering it causes them.

And all that conceited desire to be absolutely right and satisfied all the time (which were my choices) has always separated me from God and the body of Christ.

That’s why I need others to keep me from being detached from the body of Christ. I need that community of faith—made up of people from every time and place—to keep me connected, to keep me in check, and to remind me of the Creator’s unconditional love and my worth as a member of Christ’s body, God’s kingdom.

Intuitively we know that we are the greater good, not because we are perfect and do everything right but because we are the people of God. We know that each of us is so much better when we are together and not alone. We are so much better when we are “marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body.” We are so much better when we “just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other.”

The most well known saints of our time, the ones who seemingly look as if they did things all on their own, understood the importance of togetherness and community all too well.

Martin Luther King Jr. needed Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin and John Lewis and thousands of other civil rights activists during the days of segregation. Never could he have fought the battle alone.

Mother Theresa needed the Missionaries of Charity to help her care for the poor, the sick and the dying in Calcutta, India and other impoverished countries for more than 50 years.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu needed the Rainbow Coalition and the support of Christians in the West to lead non-violent protests against apartheid in South Africa.

Even now, we need one another to do ministry in our country and across the ocean. Because Lord knows, not a single one of us can do it alone. Try to teach all the church school classes by yourself or single-handled lead both Middle and High School youth groups or do every part of Family Promise or the Red Cross Blood Drive or Rainbow Village ministries alone and you’ll witness disastrous results.

Foremost, an individual who chooses to go solo or walk away from the body of Christ will likely forget their meaning and their purpose in the first place. Without the body of Christ to remind that person who they are and whom they belong to, the individual could end up leading an unfulfilled life.

The gospel truth is that we need one another to live. We were wired to be nothing less than a community that does God’s work together—loving deeply, blessing our enemies, discovering beauty in others, avoiding revenge and overcoming evil with good.

This we know.

This we trust.

This we believe.

So “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Amen.


[1] AMC’s The Walking Dead, Season 3, Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life” March 2013

Rain Down

Courtesy of Google Images and iBibleverses.christianpost.com

Courtesy of Google Images and iBibleverses.christianpost.com

A Pastoral Prayer for Sunday September 15, 2013, inspired by the hymn “Holy Spirit, Rain Down” which the congregation sung prior to the prayer:

Holy Spirit,

rain down your peace and love

in a world that is so desperately in need of such things

rain down your peace and love

on the broken, the sick, the poor, and the prisoner

rain down your peace and love

in communities such as Colorado where homes and lives are literally being wiped away.

rain down your peace and love

so that they may rise above the waters and carry one another to higher ground

rain down your peace and love

in places torn by violence and war, from our suburban neighborhoods and city streets to cities, towns and countries across the ocean

rain down your peace and love

on those who experience abuse, torture and injustice

rain down your peace and love

on children who suffer at the hands of madmen—

whether it be in Syria or in our own country.

rain down your peace and love

on the city of Birmingham, the deep South and the nation as it remembers

the deaths of 4 little girls—

Cynthia Wesley,

Carole Robertson,

Addie Mae Collins,

and Denise McNair—

who were putting on their choir robes when the bomb of madmen erupted through their church 50 years ago today

rain down your peace and love

as we reflect on the Light that has since shined through those dark days of racism and segregation

as we ponder how the ugliness of prejudice and hatred and injustice still pervades our society

rain down your peace and love

on the Church, grounding it in your promise that we will be loved and never abandoned

rain down your peace and love

on our very souls, transforming our hearts and opening our eyes to see you more clearly in our lives

Holy Spirit,

rain down your peace and love

as we pray together in the way Jesus taught his disciples, saying: “Our Father…”

Remembering 4 Little Girls: The 50th Anniversary of The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing

God still has a way of wringing good out of evil…And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

 

4 Little Girls Killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, Sept. 15, 1963: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair

4 Little Girls Killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, Sept. 15, 1963: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair

Tomorrow, Sunday Sept. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed four little girls as they were putting on their choir robes prior to that morning’s worship service.

As a reporter for The Birmingham Post-Herald (1998-2001) I was assigned the task of covering the re-opening of the case when authorities, in May 2000, discovered new evidence implicating two ex-Klansman who had been long-time suspects of the crime.

I preached a sermon last year about confronting evil in which I shared my experience interviewing Thomas Blanton Jr. in August 2000, eight months before he was convicted of the bombing.

Reporting on Sixteenth Street Bombing case  and interviewing those who were connected to the event in 1963 and 2000-2001 was an eye-opening experience. I was immediately thrust into the history that shaped my hometown of Birmingham and the deep South, and ultimately my identity as a pastor and a Jesus-follower who believes whole-heartedly in justice, equality and love for others, regardless of race, creed, culture, gender and sexual orientation.

Carolyn McKinstry from her book "While The World Watched" Tyndale House Publishers (Feb. 1, 2011)

Carolyn McKinstry from her book “While The World Watched” Tyndale House Publishers (Feb. 1, 2011)

My faith and belief that the Light will always shine in the darkness is strong because of the encounters I had with those who lived through the African-American Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. One of those individuals who served as an inspiration to me as a reporter and whose words echo in my life and ministry today is Carolyn McKinstry, the author of While The World Watched (2011) in which she reflects on the day of the Sixteenth Street bombing, her friends who were killed that day, the Civil Rights movement, and her life since.

On Tuesday May 1, 2001, a few hours after Blanton received a guilty verdict in the Sixteenth Street Bombing, I had the privilege of interviewing Carolyn McKinstry outside the church.

Here is the story as published in the Wednesday May 2, 2001 edition of The Birmingham Post-Herald:

………………………

Church member glad to see chapter end

by Andy Acton

Birmingham Post-Herald

Carolyn McKinstry awoke Tuesday morning feeling unsettled. She was still feeling restless when she went to her job as a consultant with Accenture. Throughout the day she had a hard time concentrating on her work. The restlessness wouldn’t subside.

Later that afternoon, after stopping briefly by Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where she is a member, she went home. Ten minutes later she received a phone call from friend Antoyne Green, a reporter at WBRC-6. Green told her that Thomas Blanton Jr., an ex-Klansman, was found guilty of murder in the bombing that killed her four childhood friends 37 years ago. The verdict came a week to the day after the trial started.

“I felt this surge, and it was this overwhelming relief that we can move forward with our lives and the church can move forward with what it needs to do,” said McKinstry, who was 14 years-old and sitting in the sanctuary of the church on Sept. 15, 1963 when a bomb exploded beneath her. Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Robertson, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were killed in the blast.

On Tuesday, Blanton, 62, became the second man in 24 years to be convicted of murder in the bombing that turned the nations eyes to the civil rights struggle that had inflamed racial tensions in the South. Former Ku Klux Klansman Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977.

McKinstry, now 51, said after Green told her the verdict, she was silent for a few minutes, what she described later as shock. While standing outside the church Tuesday evening, McKinstry said she and others who were close to the four girls were not expecting another guilty verdict.

“I think we had emotionally detached ourselves because we didn’t want to be disappointed,” said McKinstry.

There was a look of both relief and reflection on McKinstry’s face as she stood in front of the church steps. Her eyes welled with tears as she talked about the verdict.

“Now it has an ending. It has a final chapter, a chapter we can live with, an ending we hope will help the family have some feeling of closure,” she said.

McKinstry said friends and family members were surprised the verdict came so quickly. “We felt like we’d get 1963 repeated,” she said, recalling the feeling that the bombers never would be brought to justice.

A vice president of the church’s board of directors, McKinstry said the bombing and its aftermath will be a “great teaching tool” to share around the world and with future generations.

“This story was all about hatred and racism….These were four very beautiful young girls, and they will always be missed by their family and church,” she said. “We want to make sure the events that led to their deaths aren’t repeated.”

Memorial window at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, given as a gift by Wales not long after the bombing.

Memorial window at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, given as a gift by Wales not long after the bombing.

McKinstry said the church will remember the four girls with a special service Sunday. “We will reflect on those times and God’s goodness,” she said. McKinstry said the church will also open it’s doors today through Friday for anyone who wants to pray and reflect on the bombing. By Tuesday, about 50 people had come inside the church’s sanctuary to pay their respects to McKinstry and other members, she said.

The story of the bombing may have one more chapter left. The trial of Bobby Frank Cherry, a 71-year-old ex-Klansman, who was to be tried with Blanton, has been postponed pending a medical evaluation.

“Our position has always been that we left things in the hands of God,” McKinstry said. “If the system says he is fit to stand trial. If the system says he is guilty, then he should go to jail. We leave that in their (the system’s) hands and God’s hands. …We will remain low-key and reverent. A lot of our posturing (throughout the Blanton trial) has been out of respect for the families.”

……………………………….

For those of you who are reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing or learning about it for the first time, check out the extraordinary documentary 4 Little Girls by Spike Lee and to read all the mainstream news articles you can find on this tragedy, including this excellent piece from Time Magazine: “Fifty Years After Bombing, Birmingham is Resurrected”

I also encourage you to lift up prayers for the families of Cynthia, Carole, Addie Mae, and Denise who long for the day they will see their girls again; for Carolyn McKinstry; for the congregation of Sixteenth Street; for the city of Birmingham that continues to move forward toward equality; the victims of racism, slavery and other forms of injustice today and the men, women and youth who fight hate and intolerance through peaceful and non-violent means.

High Five!

Hard to believe it’s been 5 years since our beautiful Katie was born into the world. What an amazing and joy-filled time it’s been! Eagerly looking forward to the next five and the five after that and the five after that, etc. Grateful for my wife for throwing a fun party at Chuck E. Cheese, our child and this day!

Katie celebrating her 5th Birthday with a "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" cake at Chuck E. Cheese

 

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Week Links: “Beauty”

There is a design, an alignment to cry/Of my heart to see/The beauty of love as it was made to be

–Mumford & Sons “Sigh No More” (2009)

This week, I was struck by stories and projects that captured (and even flipped preconceived notions of) beauty:

Created Equal

Seeing the beauty in all whom God has created, via the website ufunk.net, “an amazing photo project of photographer Mark Laita that focuses on the contrasts between people, the lives and cultures through beautiful portraits in black and white.”

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Face Transplant Recipients Goal: A Kiss 

Beauty is transcended in this moving story of Carmen Tartleton from CNN.com, pictured here with her boyfriend whom she says “was able to see me through my scars.”

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Jason Collins, Chris Broussard and the Faith of the Guy in the Arena

An excellent column by colleague and writer extraordinaire, the Rev. Emily Heath, on the beautiful faith and courage of Jason Collins.  Also read Jason’s exquisite essay in this month’s issue of Sports Illustrated in which he describes how a relative saw the beauty within him since he was a child:  “The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. ‘I’ve known you were gay for years,’ she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release.” 

Jason Collins: The Gay Athlete

“Imaginary Worlds” Gets Your Imagination Going

This preview in  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of a new exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens shows that often seeing and imagining beauty go best together.

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Phillip Council’s fan-made video of Gungor’s Beautiful Things

The chorus of the song goes: “God makes beautiful things out of dust”  ‘Nuff said.

God Talk

 Sermon For Sunday April 14, Exodus 3:1-5, 9-10, 13-15; John 8:12-15, 18:33-38

[Note: This is part 2 in a month-long sermon series "Bad With Religion, Good With God" Last week, Dr. Dave Fry, the head of staff, explored the idea that many people feel Church is a place where they have to be perfect all the time and say and do the right things to fit in. Compounding this is the belief that God demands perfection and that we are to think and speak about God in a certain prescribed way.]

Over the last couple of months, the adult church school class that (associate pastor) Holly and I teach, has been exploring the big questions of Christianity through a video series called Animate Faith.

The first lesson, offered by public theologian and author Brian McLaren, focuses on a common struggle among people of faith:

Who exactly is this God we worship?

Is God a mighty fortress, solid and unchanging?

Is God a mystical, unknowable force that floats around us like a vapor?

Is God (in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith which we affirmed moments ago)

“infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute?”

Yes? No? Maybe?

Truth be told, none of us actually know whom God is 100 percent of the time, which makes it challenging to discuss matters of faith if we are unable to speak of God with any certainty.

And yet there are those who speak about God with such certitude that it actually prevents honest and loving God talk and distract us from the reality of God in our lives and world.

During the 8-minute Animate Faith video, McClaren explains:

Sometimes, when I hear people speak about God, I feel like an atheist. The God they speak of I don’t believe in: A God who loves Christians but hates Muslims; or a God who pours luxuries on the rich but consigns the poor to poverty; or a God who cares about human souls but doesn’t care about conserving and protecting our beautiful, fragile planet. So if you ask me, ‘Is God real?’ I first have to ask, ‘Which God are we talking about? And what do you mean by God?’

Let’s first take a look at the Kataphatic tradition of using words and images to talk about God, which most Christians practice on a routine basis:

Image from "Animate Faith" lesson on "God: Faith As A Quest."

Image from “Animate Faith” lesson on “God: Faith As A Quest.”

As seen in the image above, many depictions of God come from scripture. God is referred to in the books of The Bible as

YHWH,

Creator,

heavenly Father,

king,

and the almighty.

Others illustrations come from a mix of life experience, knowledge of how the world works, a particular theological view and modern twists on biblical descriptions. God is a

watchmaker,

chess master,

the man upstairs,

a still, small voice,

a mother bear,

and what is likely considered the most popular representation of God throughout history—The Old Bearded Man.

There are as many portrayals (if not more!) of the Bearded One as there are words and images for God:

The stern workaholic Old Bearded God as illustrated by the 16th Century Renaissance artist Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel AND 21st Century LEGO builder Brendan Powell Smith in the book The Brick Testament.

portrait of God on the Sistine Chapel by 16th Century Renaissance artist Michaelangelo

Portrait of God on the Sistine Chapel by 16th Century Renaissance artist Michaelangelo

God creating man by Brendan Powell Smith, "The Brick Testament" 2013

God creating man by Brendan Powell Smith, “The Brick Testament” 2013

The wise, wistful and witty grandfather Old Bearded God as played by Morgan Freeman in the 2007’s Evan Almighty and 2003’s Bruce Almighty, and George Burns in the classic 1977 comedy Oh God!

Morgan Freeman as God in 2007's "Evan Almighty"

Morgan Freeman as God in 2007’s “Evan Almighty”

George Burns as God in 1977's "Oh God!'

George Burns as God in 1977’s “Oh God!’

 

The whimsical Old Bearded God as presented in literature,

the best-selling satirical book The Last Testament: A Memoir by GOD in which God makes snarkycomments about everything from the creation of the world to American Idol,

 and the beloved children’s book Cat Heaven, in which God, dressed in a colorful outfit, reads to cats that curl up on his bed in heaven.

The Last Testament: A Memoir by God (with David Javerbaum), Simon & Schuster, November 2011

The Last Testament: A Memoir by God (with David Javerbaum), Simon & Schuster, November 2011

"Cat Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant, Blue Sky Press, September 1997

“Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant, Blue Sky Press, September 1997

And the silly fun-loving summer music festival Old Bearded God—a barefooted guy with brown skin, a beard, and a Dr. Seuss hat—my favorite because it’s the description my 4 and half year old daughter Katie gave me (and which I drew) on Friday when I asked her what God looked like.

"God According To Katie Acton" illustration by Andy Acton, Friday April 12, 2013

“God According To Katie Acton” illustration by Andy Acton, Friday April 12, 2013

There are many forms and expressions for God, some of which attempt to explain how God interacts with human beings (a few gleaned from scripture, others from particular religious beliefs) like:

Law Enforcement God who is watching and waiting for us to screw up so he can punish us.

Scorekeeper God who is tallying our good and bad deeds to determine whether we fall on God’s good side or God’s bad side.

Lightning-Bolts-From-The Fingertips God who delivers wrath …in dramatic ways.

These views of God’s personality or character, while commonplace,

are also problematic. They do a great deal of damage to the image of God and Christianity in the world. The distorted notion that God

relishes the opportunity to punish,

keeps score of good deeds,

delivers electrifying wrath or,

flippantly causes bad things to happen,

come from certain Christians (most notably influential religious and political figures) who have scared other Christians into believing such nonsense so they can sit in righteous indignation and power over everyone else.

They project these views of God in the public sphere in a vain attempt to keep people in line—to adhere to an absolute correct way of thinking and talking about God, of interpreting God’s word in scripture, and living out one’s faith in God.

They ultimately try to contain God in a box and only let what they want of God to be pulled forth from their box.

But God cannot and will not be contained, confined or controlled.

God is, in the words of the Exodus story, a flame of fire in a bush that is blazing, but not consumed.

And from that fiery bush, the indistinguishable God chooses the shepherd Moses to go into Egypt:

The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

Moses says to this Divine Spark burning in the desert wilderness:

“If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 

 God replies:

“I am who I am. …Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”…‘The Lord,the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

“I am who I am” 

That is God’s name. That is who God says God is.  Not

The Holy Burning Bush

The Old Bearded Man

The Man Upstairs

The Creator

The Almighty

All wonderful nicknames and descriptions but not the official name of God,

The name of all names,

“I am who I am” 

“Ehyeh aser ehyeh” in the Hebrew

The word ehyeh is the first person singular imperfect form of the word hayah, which means “existed” or “was.”

So “Ehyeh aser ehyeh” literally means, “I will be what I will be”

“I am who I am”

God’s name for all eternity.  Not the

judgmental,

punishing,

score-keeping,

wrathful deity

that some Christians want God to always be to scare others into belief.

“I am who I am”  

God’s title for all generations. Not solely the

Creator,

heavenly Father,

king,

man upstairs,

still, small voice,

or

old bearded deity

that some Christians want God to always be to simplify or water down faith.

“I am who I am”   is not easily seen, felt or touched.

“I am who I am”   is not accessible in the same way that you and I are accessible to one another.

When we pray to God or worship God, it is difficult to form the most exact, concrete and consistent image in our minds.

But still,  many of us have this feeling that there is something more going on in life that allows us to experience such amazing depths of

knowledge,

creativity,

joy,

love,

mercy and hope

in our relationships with one another and the universe. We have this sense that there is some mysteriously divine and benevolent source behind it all.

And that sense that there is something greater than all of us which also desires to be intimately connected to all of creation is what it means to practice the Apophatic tradition.

Held alongside the Kataphatic ways of speaking about the God, we are reminded through the Apophatic method that “God can never be reduced to images or contained by words.” At the end of the day, when all the God talk has subsided, “reverent loving silence is sometimes the most eloquent form of theology.”

In his recent book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, author and pastor Rob Bell points out that:

When we talk about God we’re using language, language that employs a vast array of words and phrases and forms to describe a reality that is fundamentally beyond words and phrases and forms.

Words and images point us to God; they help us understand the divine, but they are not God…When God is described (in scripture) as father or mother or judge or potter or rock or fortress … those writers are taking something they’ve seen, something they’ve experienced, and they’re essentially saying, ‘God is like that.’ It’s an attempt to put that which is beyond language into a frame or form we can grasp…And sometimes language helps, and sometimes language fails.

When God-in-the-flesh, Jesus, dwelt among humanity more than 2,000 years ago, language about who God was and what God was doing failed the religious leaders and the Roman Empire.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the scheming scribes and Pharisees whom he has just stopped from stoning a woman caught cheating on her spouse:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in  darkness but will have the light of life.”

The indignant Pharisees tell Jesus that his testimony is garbage. And Jesus calmly responds:

“Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards;[a] I judge no one.”

The Pharisees and the scribes are unrelenting in their view that God will come among the people of Israel as a mighty warrior and king like David or in the form of sinister storms and plagues (just like in the old days) to vanquish their foes, the Roman Empire.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ time are absolutely certain God is a Law Enforcement/Score-Keeping/Lighting Bolts type deity; never would God come in the form of a peaceful-loving, mercy-bearing carpenter’s son from the two-bit town of Nazareth in Galilee.

And so the language the Pharisees and scribes have for understanding God fails, preventing them from recognizing that

“I am who I am”   the light of the world

that shines through darkness,

that comes and goes on its own accord,

that judges no one,

is standing before them.

Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus—betrayed, beaten and bound in chains—is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor and figurehead for the Empire.

Pilate asks somewhat condescendingly if Jesus is “the king of the Jews,” which triggers a dialogue between the two about who Jesus or God is:

Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to (The Jewish authorities) … But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?” Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Pontius Pilate’s allegiance is to multiple Roman gods and to self-proclaimed savior emperor named Caesar who seeks to conquer the world through violence and oppression.

Pilate could care less about the God of Israel and even less about a man who has been brought forth on charges of blasphemy. But he is certain that Jesus’ kingship cannot overshadow Caesar’s throne.

And so the language (or lack thereof) that Pilate has for understanding God fails, preventing him from recognizing that

“I am who I am”   whose kingdom is not from this world,

 whose followers are not called to fight violently for their rabbi’s release,

who embodies the truth that is God,

is standing before him.

God can never be summed up in one word, phrase or idea to serve our own agendas or fit into our nicely wrapped packages.

God is beyond anything we can deduce and imagine.

“I am who I am”  is the one who hears the cries of those in pain and liberates the downtrodden and oppressed

“I am who I am”  is the one whose light comes into the world and radiates love in the darkest of places

“I am who I am”  is all this and much, much more

That is the truth, “forever, for all generations”

 Amen

…………………………………………………..

Resources:

Animate Faith, “God: A Quest for Faith” by Brian McLaren, http://animate.wearesparkhouse.org/, 2012

Re:Form Faith, “Traditions” http://reform.wearesparkhouse.org/traditions/, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell, Harper One Publishing, 2013.

Week Links: “The Artists”

So this new feature “Week Links” is becoming more of a Friday-Saturday posting instead of Friday only. But, hey it’s  better than posting the following week. Without further adieu, here is a round-up of stories that recognize the “The Artists”–those who are creating and those who will create no more but leave a legacy of beauty and whimsy for the rest of us:

Artist Hong Ye Plays With Her Food For 30 Days

Your mama always says “Don’t play with your food!” But when you are an adult with artistic flare and a camera, that rule gets tossed out with uneaten, spoiled leftovers.

For almost every day last month Malaysian artist/architect Hong Yi (who often goes by the nickname Red) created a fun illustration made with common (and occasionally not so common) food. Her parameters were simple: the image had to be comprised entirely of food and the only backdrop could be a white plate.

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Why just dream of being part of a comic or a superhero movie? Just draw and photograph yourself into one!

Gaikuo-Captain, has put himself in the middle of his creations. Apparently he originally just wanted to make a profile photo for himself and then ended up with this series of awesomeness!

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Carmine Infantino: 1925-2013

The modern superhero look we are familiar with today was largely due to the incredible talents of Carmine Infantino who worked at DC Comics during the Golden and Silver Age of comic books (late 50s to mid 70s).

It’s not a stretch to say Carmine was one of the most influential artists of our time. Whether he was bringing the first appearance of Barry Allen to life, or building a bridge between Earth-One and Two in the legendary “The Flash of Two Worlds” story, chronicling the adventures of Adam Strange and reinventing the look of Batman and his entire family, he breathed new life into every character he encountered, and also made a name for himself as a respected and skilled publishing executive. A supreme talent and versatile creator, Carmine stands tall among the legends of comics.

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Jane Hensen: 1934-2013

Behind every visionary is a grand encourager and partner. For Jim Henson, the creator of the beloved Muppets and Sesame Street characters, his muse was his wife Jane:

Cheryl Henson, who is president of the Jim Henson Foundation, said her mother had provided ballast for her father’s creative freedom and was his artistic collaborator throughout their life. “She encouraged him to take risks,” she said, “always urged him not to compromise.” In the Henson family lexicon, she said, “We called her the great maza shelaza of the Muppets.”Roughly translated, she added, that meant the mother of all Muppets.

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Roger Ebert: 1942-2013

Although his health had been in decline due to a valiant battle with cancer, the news that legendary movie critic and Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Roger Ebert had died rocked a lot of people this week. He was the average day movie goers reviewer and a great lover of film. I will miss his reviews and his writing which was never dumbed down or condescending to the reader/movie-goer.

Roger loved the movies and big ideas and great conversation and hard work. He loved the very idea of living a full and examined life, and he was an inspiration to millions of others. Movie fans adored Roger, of course, but so did all of us who at times can feel that electric surge that is life itself.

There are numerous articles on the web regarding Ebert’s death and his impact on pop culture. I recommend this tribute by another legendary movie critic, Peter Travers and this wonderful piece on Ebert’s religion.

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