Friday, April 15, 2011

Diary of a Mad Hebrew Prophet

 [I couldn't find this devotional at the beginning of this quarter. When I found it, I decided to revise it for my blog.  I hope you enjoy.]

In Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Helen Simmons-Carter (Kimberly Elise) certainly had good reason to be angry with her husband (whom she supported through law school and for whom she delayed her own dreams) when he decided to cast her aside for a younger, gold-digging woman.  Charles (Steven Harris), Helen’s husband, moved the other woman into their home while throwing Helen out. Helen declares at one point, “I’m not bitter. I’m mad as hell.”  Her anger permeated her entire being causing her to lose the compassion and love her husband admired in her when he was sane.  When her anger turned to madness, she dumped a paralyzed and filthy Charles (she refused to clean him at first), wheelchair and all, into a tub full of water; she watched with fiery eyes as he gasped for air in vein and the air bubbles diminished. I remember being horrified thinking “surely she is not going to let him die” ~easier to say from my sofa.  Later when Charles regains his sanity (the other woman abandoned him after his stroke and she couldn’t get his money) he says to Helen, “Even though I almost destroyed it, I know you still have a heart.” The pain of betrayal and of being cast aside like a soiled dish rag can be so unbearable that a woman (or man) cannot see beyond the spoken and unspoken decree that people who act wickedly deserve nothing more than wickedness, even after they change their ways. And we feel it is our duty to deliver the blow and God’s duty to back us up.
    Many of our emotional and relationship problems stem from anger.  Anger can manifest as ungratefulness, grudge holding, jealousy, hatred, alienation, depression, self-righteous indignation, and annihilation – a desire to take life or to give up on life.  We even become angry with God (or the God in front of us; the one we can reach out in touch in the one who hurt us or in ourselves) like Jonah.  The first time we know that Jonah is angry is when the narrator tell us so.  The second time is when God asks Jonah “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”  Jonah, answers ‘Yes, angry enough to die”.  Jonah’s anger morphs into an emotional rant about his desire to die.  We have been here before with Jonah, have we not? Jonah’s only responsibility was to preach the word God gave him; to make the presence of God audible, as Abraham Heschel would say. The people’s response; God’s actions were not in Jonah’s control.  Yet, he is angry enough to want to die over things about which he was given no control. Jonah had only to enjoy the shade of the bush while it lasted; he did not create the bush nor the worm.  Again, he is angry over things he could neither create nor destroy.
This is the second time, Jonah wants to die.   When God changed God’s mind, Jonah’s anger boiled over sinking himself into a deep, annihilating depression.   God acted with hesed – showing mercy, compassion, and/or loving kindness.  The God Jonah knew proved to be the same God as described by the urban dwellers in Nineveh.  Only the “righteous”, the familiar, those who share our name deserve the depth of God’s mercy.  We don’t always like a God who let’s people bounce back from wickedness without apparent consequences. 
Jonah’s minimalist, pithy sermon, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” resulted in the repentance of an entire city.  We preach for hours and nobody and nothing changes.  It is the power at work, not the length and intensity of the sermon.  Those few words were the Presence of God audible. 
God can do as God pleases in the space of a people’s lifetime – as long as one lives God can redeem.  God is concerned and sits among foreign peoples.  Don’t confuse the message of the prophet with the God who sent the prophet.  I may want you to suffer and die for your wickedness as proof of my calling; But God wants you to live as a testimony God’s power and God’s being. 
When God “changed God’s mind” about the bush he sent to shade Jonah from the hot sun, Jonah again got so angry he wanted to die.   It’s not about the bush; it’s about a God who can by any means and at any time protect and save under any circumstances.  The bush and the worm manifested the activity of God; Jonah was to reveal God – and God is more than six words, even if they come from God.  God’s goal is never destruction but redemption.  Doom is never the last word about God.  God does not throw mercy to the wind when he sits in judgment.
When Great Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to a joint meeting of congress in early March (2009), he made an intriguing statement: “judgment is a summary court in perpetual session.” While we may have issued a verdict and are ready to execute the sentence, God’s court is still in session.  PM Gordon Brown continued that he learned from attending his father’s church as a young boy that when there is hardship and suffering, we will not and cannot pass by on the other side.  Wickedness cannot be divorced from human suffering.  God sent Jonah with a message not so that he might warn before striking them with lightning; but to relieve the suffering resulting from their wickedness – the prophet (or the woman or man of God) is the person who does not pass by on the other side of the street.  God heard cries imperceptible to others; and communicated a response through God’s prophet.  The prophet cannot lose sight of the foresight and compassion of God.  Do not confuse sinners in the hands of an angry God with sinners in the hands of an angry prophet(ess).  If only the depth of our anger about things matched the dept of our mercy and love for all God’s children – Women, Children, and Men; Heterosexual or Homosexual; American, European, Middle Eastern, etc.; Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, etc. It’s not about the Bush; its not about the angry prophet.  It’s about people in the hands of a merciful God.

Friday, April 8, 2011

We have this in Common. Lenten Reflection

 Acts 17:26-28
Although disturbed by the multiplicity of idols that adorned the ancient Greek city of Athens, the Apostle Paul was not so flustered as to miss the significance of an altar inscription “to an unknown god (theos)” and the opportunity it afforded to address their commonality (17:23).  We know this God, Paul declared. The Greek Theos which is translated God here is not a name and it can be and is used to designate another god. Like the god to which the inscription pointed, God has no name. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament book of Exodus where Elohim meets Moses at the pseudo-burning bush, the self-identification Elohim gives Moses at Moses’ request is YHWH.  YHWH literally translates it/he will be/is. It is not a name but designates and/or declares future and/or present existence. Hebrew Bible scholar Wil Gafney argues in her article “Reading the Hebrew Bible Responsibly ” in the Africana Bible, that Moses changed Elohim’s name to adonai, which is the patriarchal masculine LORD. But Paul equates or at least associates this “unknown god” with God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that inhabits both arenas (17:24). In that same verse, Paul further argues that this same God does not settle down (katoikeõ) in temples made with human hands. This lesson is both for the Athenians and for the first century Israelites (Acts 7:48). In the Hebrew Bible/OT God does indeed show up in the Tabernacle or tent of meeting constructed by the Hebrew children. And God meets God’s people in the first and second Temples.  But God is not restricted to, confined by, or cemented to human-made structures. As somebody said “In him we live and have our being,” 17:28. God comes and goes as God pleases and transcends human-made structures.
Thus, within their constructed religious traditions humans have in common the inability to contain, restrict, or confine God.  We have this in common regardless of our religious affiliations. For as 17:26 states God made all nations of human beings to settle down (katoikeõ) or inhabit the earth and we are bound to the earth and we have boundaries that designate where we live.  We as humans have in common our limitations. But there was one named Jesus who shared our humanity and whose settling-down was temporary, and God raised that man (17:31).
Black women in the civil rights movement quoted this declaration in Acts 17:26 as a ground leveler. Because of the common humanity they shared with the people who disenfranchised them, they were willing to struggle for their right to register to vote and to cast a vote, unhindered. But of course, they did so against enormous odds as their oppressors continued to raise the bar requiring that blacks be able to read in order to vote despite the rear-view mirror restrictions against teaching slaves to read; requiring first generation black voters to have relatives who voted in previous elections; requiring blacks to copy verbatim and interpret the U.S. Constitution even when their oppressors did not, could not, and would not.  Yes, convinced of their common humanity black women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, and Ella Baker taught educated would-be black voters to read the ballot, to recite the entire Constitution, to write or signify their names, and to persist in the face of imminent threats to their habitations, to themselves, and to their families. 
 God raised Jesus. We believe God raised Jesus from the dead. The power of God exhibited in the resurrection is a reminder of our common humanity for like Jesus incarnate in human flesh we cannot transcend or defeat the grave.  God raised Jesus. We must meet death face to face. We have this in common.  But we have also in common the possibility of resurrection, which signifies the power of God to do what we as humans cannot do for ourselves. So we can dream big beyond the bounds of our habitations and our human limitations.

Singing Grannies-We'll say "Uterus" -- It makes us Proud

I love these ladies.  Hope you enjoy the song!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Little Green Dresses: A Lenten Reflection

"[The other disciple] bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself." John 20:4-5 (NRSV)

My mother believed as long as you had soap (even homemade from scraps) and water, you had no excuse for being dirty. We seldom got clothes from department stores. Mommy regularly dressed us in clothes from the Charity Newsies, Salvation Army, or St. Vincent De Paul's. Sometimes the clothes hung off our shoulders or hung loosely around our waists, but we were always clean.  I remember one winter my mother walked from one side of Columbus to the other to get winter coats for us. At times it was more difficult to get our clothes even from the thrift stores, particularly when my mother was ill.

This might have been the case the year Ms. Vy Evans brought my older sister and myself matching bright lime green dresses with short puffed leaves and accordion pleats from below the bust down. We got a lot of use out of those fancy department store dresses. My mother kept our dresses clean. When we couldn't afford to go to the laundry mat, she had an old scrub board. She (sometimes we) placed our clothes in a tub of water and used the scrub board (and sometimes homemade lye or scrap soap) to wash our clothes; and probably those lime green dresses too. We hung them on the clothes line so that the purifying rays of the sun would dry them. We must have kept those dresses until they fell apart from washing or we could no longer fit them, whichever came first.  I remember hearing a church sister at my grandmother's church telling another church sister,  "those children wear the same dresses all the time." We were still in elementary school. She hurt my feelings and I carried those bruises for sometime.  We were clean and our hair was combed. But that was not enough for those church sisters.

I'm sure some well-meaning parents are saving up for or laying away easter clothes for themselves and their children because they want to fit in with everybody else who will be strutting down the church isles in their new Easter outfits. I'm sure that the church sister's comment about our little green dresses had a lasting impact on me so much so that I for years uncritically prepared for and marched in the Easter fashion show and thought I should donate an easter outfit to some worthy child. (Poor children need clothing all near around.) But I no longer feel the need to buy a new Easter outfit at all and certainly not at all cost. God loves ME and is able to make me clean and keep me clean. Clean is good! I am grateful for the power of God that informs and reminds me that I am somebody regardless of and in spite of my clothing and accessories. The clothing I wear or cannot wear has not the power to free me from the oppressions of others or of my own self-hatreds and sense of inferiority.  The clothing I wear or cannot wear does not guarantee that somebody won't talk about me or look down upon me. Clothing will not lift me out of the grave of disrespect and/or abuse afflicted upon me because I dare to live, dare to be me;  dare to speak my mind; or  dare to struggle against evil where I see it. Clothing is nothing more than a temporary covering. No matter how much money we put into clothing, it will not do for us that which only God can do for us--lift us up out of the many tombs that would draw the life out of us.  "You can have the clothes," my God declares, "but you can't have her."  Those little green dresses were nice, for as long as they lasted. But as with all clothes and material goods their usefulness is limited and temporary. They have no saving grace.