Lupus?! A wha dat?!

Just another emcee who gets free. Vessel of philanthropic vision fueled by theophilic purpose.

Tag: Christianity

With gratitude

My sons and I, November 2020.

Three years ago I was in Brooklyn Hospital Center enduring what would become a three month long stay. I would spend Thanksgiving in so much pain that the last thing on my mind was a plate.

Everyday I would rise at 6, read scripture, and worship God while singing along with Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” I would hold on until 9am or so when I knew doctors made their rounds, clamoring for updates on my condition. Could I go home soon? Would I make it home in time for my youngest son’s first birthday? I wouldn’t.

So standing in front of this hospital means another opportunity for me to show gratitude. You don’t have to make it. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, impermanence stands at the top of the list. Life is truly a vapor.

God nah sleep

Zechariah 10 has been my comfort. A counter to the narrative that faith is anemic in times like these. Some take comfort in criticizing rage and pretend that God can be reduced to a justice less peace. This desire to preserve normalcy, this desire to have one behave one’s self while there are knees on our necks is borne in fear. Fear that your myopic readings of Romans 13 won’t be enough. Fear that you didn’t spend enough time with the prophets. All that book learning and you never took the time to see how much God cares about justice? You look for God in your things. You look for God everywhere but the margins. Where God always is. You speak of reconciliation. You have soothed yourself to sleep with the dream of bringing together. You refuse to acknowledge that reconciliation is the repair of the master-slave dialectic. You want to be woke now. You’ve commodified woke. Prolly will commodify non-commodifying soon enough. But all of it means nothing unless you confess. All of it means nothing unless you admit you are complicit. You cannot be the hero in this story, we already have One. Our hero hears our blood crying from the ground. Our hero weeps. And our hero nah sleep.

Persistent widow prayers

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20)

In 2015, as I rode the G train, I would listen to “Pray For Me” by Kirk Franklin. The message of the song resonated with me. I was a new father, living in a new apartment, and starting a new job. I needed all the prayer I could get. 

I loved how the song opened with vulnerability on Kirk’s part. His voice made me think of a wounded healer, someone who has been beaten down but remains hopeful. 

Those feelings have been fixed for me in this season. Walking with a limp but trying to lead, be an example, be loving. 

I’ve found myself despondent at times. Too often, reminding myself that I am not sick. Even though I am at risk, I am well.

Reminding myself of this, encouraging myself really, has become a ritual. Deepening my praise by showing gratitude for daily bread in the midst of global crisis.

I am grateful for the privilege of sojourning through quarantine with family. I am grateful for my job, my students, friends, extended family, and a community that still gathers–electronically–to worship.

I feel blessed in the midst of this storm. It’s a familiar place. So many days in the hospital, through both severe flares, were filled with laughter in spite of the physical pain and dire circumstance. But I know everyone is not there. I know many people are too smothered by despair to find anything to smile about.

I’ve been sitting on this writing since Holy Week. Since Lupus, I’ve been drawn to the solemn holidays that force you to consider mortality. Ash Wednesday and its reminder of how dusty we are. Good Friday.

I wanted to share this on Good Friday because Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” felt more appropriate than ever. These words really ring in the hollowness of isolation. Jesus quotes the psalmist in psalm 22 and opens the door for all who feel rejected and alone. I believe that New York is the worst place in the world for loneliness. Perhaps one could render loneliness into solitude if they were, say, a rancher in Wyoming. But to be in a place so dense with population and to feel alone, is a uniquely cruel torment. 

 

It’s a call for us to innovate our love. Who is our neighbor and how can we be neighborly while socially distant? 

 

To love from a distance has become a critical form of hospitality in this time. We have to smile from a screen or behind a mask. This is difficult but I pray that you find new mercies everyday. I hope you discover new ways to love your neighbor. A radical love that pierces distances and binds us together. Let’s pray for one another. Let’s pray for people we don’t even like. Let’s confess our inadequacies. Confess our need. 

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

The Waiting

Most of life is waiting anyway right?

Scripture tells us to “Wait on the Lord and be of good courage,” (Psalm 27:14). It makes sense to couple patience with courage because waiting can really weather you. One of the things about illness that I actually appreciate is that it eliminates the façade of control. Things aren’t completely out of your hands, just mostly.

I have found myself answering “How are you?” with “I’m okay,” a lot more than is probably polite. This recovery is like a dance, two steps forward and then one step back.

I had my second round of Benlysta last week. Next week is my last round before we move to monthly doses. The treatment hasn’t worn me out as much as I anticipated. The first infusion had me in the bathroom all weekend, the second just made me sleep a lot.

My coumadin appointments are getting spaced out also. Initially, I had to see the doctor every week as we figured out the right dose of warfarin. This was tricky because other medicines were being reduced or introduced so the INR number (how they measure your blood’s ability to clot) would be all over the place. Since it has been the same for three appointments in a row, they are able to put a little space in between my appointments.

Next week I meet with my Cardiologist and GI doctor. Rheumatologist told me I’m healthy enough to cut my hair so I think I might finally shave haha.

Supermarket Verses

Was it you?

That used to scold me

when I’d put items back

in the supermarket

out of place?

Can you believe how she looks now?

I bet she won’t stop working out

until she gets definition

on her abs again.

I heard she wants to lose ten pounds.

That’s too much pressure.

Just live.

 

Our cashier isn’t interested in the exchange of pleasantries.

Her loss.

But I get it.

Full day of work, last shift. It sucks.

Don’t know how much I’d smile.

From the looks of my grocery bagging skills, don’t know how much use I’d be either.

 

You always make me bag!

I never understood that.

The times when you are paying I get it but I had money in my pocket this time!

We’re standing in the wrong places.

 

I must be lousy.

The cashier bags these items with ease.

I manage to get three bags worth of groceries into the cart.

She seems so unencumbered by the categories.

Flawless. She knows to put kindred items into the bags. Record time.

She doesn’t smile but she packs these groceries with love.

Reminds me of Ms. June from the cafeteria in Davidson.

Made the best sandwiches on earth!

Three hundred kids in line, each one leaving with a piece of her love.

If you looked close, you could see her painting with mayonnaise and mustard smiles.

 

God I’m hungry.

 

This morning I tarried over dishes.

Mind isn’t clear if my kitchen isn’t.

And it made no sense to cook a good meal in a dirty kitchen.

I can’t fathom taking on the enterprise of straightening up when I felt so weak.

Two pieces of toast should suffice.

I’ll take them with a grapefruit juice so I can keep my constitution.

 

Downed medicine, to these dishes.

 

Remember how meticulous Prednisone made me?

I felt so focused when I came home from the hospital.

Everyday was a challenge.

A milestone.

An opportunity for victory.

I thought I died everyday.

 

Standing in front of the microwave, clutching my chest

Determined to set the time so at least when you found me

You would know when it was.

Shaking in the hospital bed, calling for the nurse.

It all felt over didn’t it?

Slipping away seconds before I belched something serious.

Both times.

So embarrassing.

But I learned that most things you think are gonna kill you

Are usually just gas.

 

I know you hate washing dishes.

Who could blame you?

Felt like every time we talked you were washing.

Were you the only one who had to do chores?

I hate your mom for that.

You seem like Cinderella to me.

 

There’s a method to my madness for sure.

I like to take utensils put them in a bowl.

With oatmeal crusted on the side, it’s ripe for soaking.

The cups are rinsed so the contents don’t spread in the dishwasher.

Nothing more disheartening–in the realm of kitchen cleaning–then having to rewash dishes.

Waste of work, wasted motion.

Lost time we can never reclaim.

 

It’s always a mountainous task.

The mountain becomes a hill

The hill becomes a drying rack

The rivers in the dishwasher roar

My work here is done.

I’m a fan of two sleeps

Yeah, I know, I make fun of how you sleep so much but it’s how i was raised.

i slept in a lot, don’t get me wrong,

but being in my bed past 8 made my grandma assume my sickness

dyam lazy, a sin less desirous than ailment


You remember how mad I was?

The whole day felt cranky.

Just left your parents house,

just left our lives in Charlotte

We were on our way

We must know 13 like the back of our hands now

traipsing from Maryland to the Turnpike

The heaviness of it all

Maybe I’m writing heaviness into my memories

I do remember getting mad

I told you to park in the driveway but you wouldn’t listen

You wanting to park on the street made no sense to me

this rage that i knew had to be displaced

an accumulation perhaps of debt for sins passed.

moments of insubordination, disobedience.

something wholly emasculating about not being listened to

Reminding me that I did not know what the hell I was talking about

 

Driving has never been my strong suit

Don’t know why I didn’t learn when most teenagers did

Young for my class, schooled in a different state than I lived

A hurricane of factors convincing me I didn’t need it

I tried it. Didn’t hate it but it didn’t make me come alive.

Only in my dreams that turned nightmarish.

Conscious of my feet

needing the break but growing heavy on the gas pedal

Reaching for the break with my left foot ensued panic

 

I panic with parking decks

Remember our trips from the seminary to the apartment?

Grew comfortable with the 3 mile trek

Til that brother came careening out of the parking deck

All I saw was doom impending but it wasn’t that bad

Save his lady yelling at me

Why sisters do that anyway?

Don’t they know words cut?

I mean, he was cool

I was cool

You were cool

But she had to trip

for no reason

 

After that I hated driving again.

took a while for me to get over how it felt

when my cousin yelled at me for losing focus

I get so anxious about driving my hands turn blue

only way I calm myself is remembering I drive for you

 

I never felt anyway about you being better than me

Always made me feel like we were progressive

You drive, I cook, I might stay home with the kids!

Could not care less about how it looks

I can be more than a good man for you, I can be a good human

Certainly felt neither when you stopped at the curb

 

It was so simple to me

Pull into the driveway

Say hello to the family

Bring bags upstairs

Come back downstairs

Eat

Fellowship

Sleep

 

We got out of the car

I thought about how I was going to announce myself

To Grandma and you flew upstairs without a word to anyone

I turned

Ready to make a joke with Grandma but saw she was sleeping

Never knew how she slept soundly on hospital beds

Dialysis so taxing she had no choice but wonder if she truly got rest

My aunt told me that she just had dialysis earlier and was feeling awful

Does dialysis ever feel good?

 

I came upstairs to sleep

Pretty tired but not enough to forget being pissed

Naturally, I gave you the silent treatment

It’s never as refreshing as intended.

One thinks silence puts the offending party in their place

shows them the essential nature of your words

cripples them through the verbal war of attrition

but sleep was your defense

the heavens rocked with the ripple of your snores!

my teenage ghost petrified by the tree chopping

How can I savor silence while you sniff electronic music?

Well played my dear, well played.

 

When you wake, I air my grievances!

Feign innocence then assume all guilt

A tactic oft employed but I am always jarred

You had no idea, you are the worst.

Of course neither is true

I’m caught preserving self-esteem and a righteousness that isn’t worth it

 

I was called downstairs

My aunt’s voice was wrong

Grandma no longer breathed

I couldn’t pray

I stood convinced that her chest would raise

Never thought it’d be this way

Always feared I’d be hundreds of miles away

A phone call bearing the news

I still think of her and lose myself

It’s the triggers of rye bread

the reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger

So random the grief and the regret.


I remember when I knew I loved you

Felt it stirring for some time you know.

The slide from being cool and feeling healthy

 

We didn’t speak every week

Then I saw you everyday

Not able to imagine without you

 

Can I love without loss?

If I let on will you be taken away?

I’m a Job of sorts.

 

That day I made up my mind

To tell you how I felt was so beautiful.

We drove over to the next town

(Votin’ in the primaries)

One of those days where we matched by mistake.

Black shirts and khaki shorts

Made history and strolled.

Down the avenue was a dog and his man

I coolly stepped in front of you

Easing us off the sidewalk and onto the grass

Said peace to them both and stood in front til they passed

A big deal for me.

 

I am not far removed from german shepherds

Walking on blocks had to make sure none were loose

Recess interrupted by pitbulls and rottweilers

Made me run and find someone worth standing for.


I was someone once.

Full of potential.

 

Funny how potential is so much like credit.

Don’t know how good it is til it’s used up.

 

I used to fear peaking early.

But laying in that hospital bed

certain it was all over made me content.

 

If this was how it ends then I used my time well.

I loved.

My regret, my reminder of failure

is to know death means I’m leaving you.

I would never give you the life we hoped for.

You’d have the stench of widowhood.

Would you remarry and find the life we were looking for?

 

Would suitors handle you like produce

Discover this imperfection

Deem you less choice?

Did I ruin you?

 

It’s the triggers you know.

So random the grief, the regret.


Breeze

Nights like these I miss the breeze

You don’t know how I bleed for you

Swing from poplar trees for you

The silence so violent

The summer so arrogant

I sit and I long

I long for the breeze

 

Who knew leviathans brood by oceans?

The arms that nursed you curse me daily

Fountains of iniquity that raised you to fail me

 

Yet in spite of these frailties we thrive

with dancing shoes

with cold sweat

with short breath

falling hair

failing lungs

my

heart

beats

 

Oh cactus, you stubborn fool!

A desert for your kingdom

A lifetime with no reprieve

I too dream of home untarnished

Gentry dreams make me grieve

 

My home has no garden

No shelter from trees

But still I find comfort

when I’m blessed by breeze

“Do You Want To Be Made Well?” (John 5:1-17)

The Problematic Pool Party

Calvary Gospel Tabernacle

8.30.2015

John 5:1-17

“Do you want to be made well?” Seems a bit silly doesn’t it? Of course I want to be made well!  But I wonder…if in like a parallel universe this brother might look at Jesus and say, “Meh, come to think of it, lying down… it’s not so bad! I’m fine, really! I’ve got a Good view right here! plus the cool off the pool is refreshing at times. Yeah, I might stay a while…”

 

I love this situation. There’s a bit of agency included in this encounter with the Christ. Not so much agency that it gives license to twist the gospel, or reduce the gospel into some sort of self-help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps message. No friends I believe we have a situation where once again our Lord calls us, even us, into community and responsibility for one another.

 

The man who has been suffering in this story has been suffering for a long time! Scripture tells us in verse five that he has had his infirmity for thirty eight years. This man was a staple of the area, time and time again seeking his healing in the pool but unable to receive it. When reading this scripture my mind was drawn to the brothers and sisters I have encountered in my travels. At Penn Station, both Newark and New York, it would be impossible to pass through and not see a brother or sister experiencing homelessness. A brother or sister in desperate need of help. Food. Shelter. Some recognition of their humanity. Some dignified gesture that reminds them that they are not forgotten.

On the subway earlier this week I sat and watched two separate occasions where gentlemen attempted to gather the passengers’ attention and ask for help. Some change. Any food. Leads on shelter. Clothing for their children.

Walking around my neighborhood in Brooklyn I encountered two more men. One in a wheelchair trying to find shelter. Another asking for enough change to get bus fare.

In the encounters this week, I fear that I fell among the number whom James addressed in James 2:15 and 16. ‘If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’

You see I’m normally happy to give. A cheerful giver even! But I found myself with eyes glued to my book on the train, unwilling to open my wallet in public and give what I could. I gave a dollar to the brother in the wheelchair but found myself pretending to be unable when I really was unwilling to help more. The last brother was very polite and I wanted to help him too but I was unwilling to use my debit card to buy his fare. In all of these instances I felt my spirit bursting to grab hold of these brothers and love them; praying for them, encouraging them, showing the vitality of our faith, letting them know my works are grounded by the moving of the living God.

I made no such statements. My mind more attuned to my bank statement. Dollar bills held hostage by the tyranny of bill collection. And I paint this picture for you because I consider myself a good, charitable person. A nice guy even. Yet still I must wonder, like popular hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar wonders, “How much a dollar cost?” I’m not afraid that I’ve blocked my blessing nor am I fearful of any divine punishment as a result but I pray that God’s love pierced their situations in spite of my inaction. I am confident that my anxiety, my cowardice, could never build a wall high enough to impede the Lord from lifting them out of their circumstances. No doubt, this is the gospel but it is far from a license for complacency.

Brothers and sisters, in truth, we serve an awesome God. A God who continually calls us to participate in God’s life. Instead of seeing one another as an inconvenience how transformed would we be if we saw one another as an invitation to follow Jesus.

I wonder how many people we know in our own lives who are stuck like the brother by the pool. I love this story because I not only see Christ’s example but I see myself by the pool. I joked earlier about the parallel universe where the man is actually content where he is. But when I think about the ways I have answered “Do you want to be made well?” with complacency, fear, anxiety, or doubt, it is no laughing matter. If we are really going to be about this life and really trying to grow in our walk with the Lord then we need to be real about the ways that we too are attending a problematic pool party.

I would never go so far to call lupus and the difficulties that followed my illness a good thing but I saw so many examples where God used this tragedy to bless me. One example of this is learning to receive charity. We feel good when we help other people. There’s an extra puffiness we experience when we know we can reach out and help somebody. Maybe we even believe we are sowing a seed of some sort by helping somebody. I always wonder if I have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2) whenever I have helped somebody. But brothers and sisters, on the opposite end of that spectrum…it is not fun to need help.

Our culture teaches us to preserve our dignity at all costs. Some of us have been burned by needing help, ridiculed for taking a handout, seemingly suffocated under the weight of our shame. But receiving charity is not a mark of failure. No one gets anywhere by themselves. Both Thomas Merton and Dennis Brown agree, “no man is an island.” There is a strong sentiment within the culture to prove how much you are trying, that you are can do! But I submit to you that a crucial component of Christianity is reaching the limits of your agency. Where your try just is not enough, and you need to be made well.

This is beautiful to me because the man tried and it was not enough. Living with a situation like his for thirty eight years…that’s more than enough evidence to believe that this is his lot in life. That perhaps contentment in this stage would be wise. Save him from some heartache. Why try to get in the pool again? But thank God that this man’s story does not end there. He encounters Christ and Christ invites him to participate with God. It is a slice of being a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Faith is participatory; we cannot afford to hold onto what we have whether that “have” is excess or doubt. We need to be available in order to be made well.

In verse 8, Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”


I wonder what we can accomplish when we believe in God more than we believe in our circumstances. It seems that faith always has to come with a level of absurdity. If I tell you I’m going to breathe my next breath you probably won’t be that impressed. But if I’m telling you that while I am in a hospital bed recovering from pulmonary embolism, some faith may be required.

We cannot be so married to our dignity, caught up in our sense of self that we forfeit these opportunities to participate with God. God is calling us to be made well. God is calling us to ask our brothers and sisters if they want to be made well. What’s realer than that?

Truthfully being faithful is difficult and I think we develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with our problems. The devils we know seem better than the ones we don’t. (Or as my great, late grandmother used to say “Never lef sure fi unsure.”) But what happens when we quiet our circumstances enough to hear the Master’s voice beckoning us to “Rise” take up our beds and walk. Don’t worry about where you will go, just get going.

In verse 17, when it is clear that some members of the community are offended by what the Lord has done, Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

Everytime I see this verse, I think about Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing “God is working.” It is seductive and rather simple to write off your life, write off the world even, and stay convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I wonder what happens when we take the Lord’s Prayer serious enough to believe that God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Not focusing on the situation (and surely not ignoring it, by and by) but believing that God is working, that God loves you enough to invite you to participate in that work and making yourself available so that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am convinced that we cannot follow Jesus by ourselves. To be Christian is to be in community. And the beautiful thing about the beloved community is that God continually calls us to love folks we may not even like. The least of these. Those the rest of society has the leisure to forget. We do not have that leisure.

We see in Deuteronomy 10, verses 18 and 19 that God “administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Lord provides the example then calls us to be holy as God is holy.
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So where are we in this story? Are we going to be like our Master or are we going to care more about our sense of order more than one another? I pray that we guard our witness closely. It is conflicting, and rather silencing to say we love God when we do not show that love to our neighbors. In what ways are we forgetting that Sabbath was created for man and not man for the sabbath? (Mark 2:27)

Brothers and sisters, you do not need me to convince you of the world’s brokenness. The problematic pool party has too many attendees. Despair seems more logical than hope. Too many feel that it is over but praise be to God, we know the author of our story. And He intends far more than this. You are not defined by what ails you. You are not a prisoner of your problems.

May we see our Lord as our example and walk with such empathy. He got directly involved in the mess, he was not far removed. He lived His life worshipfully. May we open our eyes and pray with our feet so that we too may worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Forgiving Trump

  
Photo by Gage Skidmore/Huffington Post

Now I don’t normally want to talk about Trump because I consider his contributions nothing more than the dregs of our society. To call him a scoundrel is saddeningly as controversial as an announcement that water is still wet. To be honest I am enjoying his success in the political arena because it is an indictment on the country. White supremacy dies once Americans acknowledge our complicity. Systemic racism does not exist because of “them”, it exists because of “us.” (I mean, it’d be nice to just blame this all on white people–slow down respectability politics, I am not agreeing with you–but Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas and every other person of color who lets their self-hatred shine shows that white supremacy, ironically, is an equal opportunity employer.)

I first noticed this Trump video a few weeks ago and it made me pity him. In the video, Donald is asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness and he is demonstrably uncomfortable. He speaks about how folks are often surprised to learn he is religious and then waxes poetically about his late pastor, name dropping his book, and reminisicing about how captivating said pastor’s sermons were.

The interviewer does not let him off the hook. The audience laughs at this show of authority and Trump eventually admits that he has never asked God for forgiveness. He assumes that his effort and desire to do better next time should suffice, or maybe even the elements of bread and wine at communion get the job done. 

Trump’s answer is perfect to me. It encapsulates the errors of human pride in a wonderful way. Here we have a man who regularly displays misogyny, racism and an utter disregard for others. 

(Two dope TV ideas: Iyanla needs to bring Trump and Rosie O’Donnell on “Fix My Life”. Like why is he so mad? Unlike other targets of his misogyny, his barbs come with the kind of intimacy birthed from a destroyed friendship. Why you so mad Donnie?! 

2. I want this whole campaign to be an episode of Unsung with special guest narrator, Herman Cain.)

With Trump I see a man who reminds me of the judge in the parable of the persistent widow (One who “did not fear God nor regard man” Luke 18:1-8). Trump tries to use his privilege and sidestep the conversation entirely. But name dropping a pastor cannot save you. Trump then talks about his own efforts, “to do better next time”, but this only exposes his misdiagnosis. The offense we each commit against God is far more severe than a misunderstanding. Perhaps when I offend you, I can strive to learn from that mistake and do better next time. But sin’s stains run deep. And no matter how much we endeavor, no matter how much we hope to learn from our mistakes, it is a complete waste unless we ultimately encounter our futility. How we cannot clean our own hands. How desperately we are in need of a Saviour. 

Trump proverbially enters the right building but is on the wrong floor when he speaks about communion. His description of communion turns it into a work of righteousness which sells the sacrament short. If communion is a mere work, the heavy lifting is done by us. After all, we are the ones who go to church. We are the ones who take the bread. We are the ones who take the wine. Yet communion is much more than that. It encapsulates what the Christian life is, participating in the life of Christ. The focus cannot and never should be on what we do (which if we are honest, is not much). One enters into the Christian life at the edge of one’s futility (“God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Luke 18:13) but one matures through worshiping God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Trump, like all of us, must get dissatisfied with his own works. Lose the love he has for his own ability to make a way. This walk is not about showing God how well you are trying; we get nowhere until we humbly admit we can’t. 

The Richie Righteous Episode #STCDNW

Heatrock of the Week KB feat. Lecrae “Sideways”

“Here Lies The Dragon…” (Rev 12:7-12)

It fascinates me when I think about those peculiar bedfellows. Hope and despair.

How can we be victorious when it feels all is lost? Much more than mere feeling, or passing sentiment, how can we sing our song in a strange land? I confess that there are times when I feel all thumbs. When I can tell no one is buying what I’m selling and there are low points where I cannot blame them.

No one needs compelling evidence that there is evil in this world.

The news, our communities, our lives are filled with examples that convince. Freddie Gray‘s smashed larynx and nearly severed spine in Baltimore. Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston. Tamir Rice murdered in Cleveland. Eric Garner and Eric Harris expressing with their dying words that they cannot breathe, to no avail.

I remember when I learned about the way crucifixion kills. I never gave it much thought coming up. I guess I just thought the nails piercing the skin forced one to lose too much blood on the cross. Coming up we always sang about the blood. Communion was about the blood. Movies and television shows always depicted Jesus shedding a lot of blood so I suppose I put two and two together.

While it is true that one loses a lot of blood when crucified that is not the primary cause of death. Crucifixion is an exceptionally cruel way to die because amongst the nails piercing your skin and the practice of breaking the bones (which Jesus was not subject to), asphyxiation is the primary cause of death. While on the cross, your body stretched out, breathing becomes a laborious task until it is an impossible task and breathing stops. It is a death void of mercy.

Leaves little wonder why Jesus in the midst of such agony would quote the psalmist in his plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We too must wonder if we have been forsaken. When this bitter soup is continuously reheated and the actors tragicomically fill their roles. Everyone fulfilling their duty to the zeitgeist. Eat. Sleep. Outrage. Repeat. Unfriend people on Facebook. Attend a march or two. Refuse to watch mainstream news. Ultimately feel overwhelmed, perhaps defeated but begrudgingly press on. Does our blood cry from the ground?

I am encouraged by my inability to excuse myself from God’s presence. The psalmist has found nowhere to go where God is not. The psalmist reveals that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there. God is in our streets, with us in the jail cell, in the paddy wagon, with us as we mourn, with us as we suffer.

This presence comforts me but perhaps you remain unconvinced of its significance. Perhaps you cannot see the benefit of God’s presence in these circumstances.

Victory as presented through a biblical lens is peculiar. Scripture speaks about swords being beaten into plowshares, lions eating straw and a time when the wolf and the lamb will feed together. These examples are hopeful examples, a time when we will have to study war no more but ring hollow in our landscape because our society is disinterested in turning instruments of war into tools of agriculture. Our society cannot comprehend why one would eat straw when one is an apex predator, fully capable of sinking one’s teeth into whatever one chooses. Our society has conditioned us to believe the lamb has gone for the okey-doke and it is only a matter of time before the wolf’s plan is fully revealed and that foolish lamb gets got. Our society has created a lens where anyone who concedes power is foolish, might makes right and just hospitality is weakness.

There’s no room for the gospel in that worldview. When one hears the gospel under those conditions they must hear a toothless message. Where turning the other cheek is no longer an act of endurance but is a capitulating act of cowardice. You hear that a lot in the struggle, don’t you? Where the struggle is reduced to either being a disciple of King and non-violence or a Malcolm X type of brother who ain’t with all that. The gains gotten through non-violence seem inconsequential to the hell still being caught that an alternative seems seductive. We reduce Malcolm to a righteous Rambo who kicks in the door and takes everything back. But this lens sees only what it wants to see. It has no room for gleaning lessons from the lives actually lived by these men and is often unwilling to broaden that lens to include the men and women through whom we have reached this point. There is a danger when we can no longer learn. When we’ve figured it out or made our world so small that our context has the only hell being caught.

And let us make no mistake: people the world over are catching hell. There is something cold and sinister about making someone legitimize their suffering. Why is my personhood disquieting? Why must I assert my dignity? Who made it ok for me to be irrelevant? Or silenced? It should not be subversive to say black lives matter. To live my life confidently, knowing that “I am not forgotten” as the singer says, “God knows my name.”

It is exciting to see our text today on a cosmic battleground. Michael, the archangel defeats the dragon. As a result the dragon and the dragon’s angels are thrown out of heaven. When we look at verse 9, where the dragon is thrown, the verb used to show Satan’s defeat, eblethe, we see that this verb is passive. It is a device used in scripture referred to as a divine passive. An action that is initiated by God. Michael represents God’s combat capabilities but this triumph over the devil is achieved by God.

When I first read Paradise Lost I was in awe of the swift defeat Lucifer received when he attempted to revolt against God. The character appeared shocked and dismayed; simply didn’t know God had such capabilities. The same is true and much more so in this text where a cosmic battle of majestic magnitude is won through an act of humiliation.

Verse 11 tells us that the ones who were accused by the accuser have “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” It is on this plane, in our terrain where this cosmic battle is won. An ultimate sign of shame, defeat, complete dehumanization is the device used to reveal real power. Christ performs the greatest act of empathy the world will ever know. Unwilling to be a sideline savior, Jesus offers himself and reveals himself as the Christ. It gives a greater understanding to the power of prayer, coming together as community and what is possible when the lordship of Jesus Christ is taken seriously. Here we see what happens when what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Our tendencies are challenged. Our worldview is subverted. Every misconception of what power actually looks like is destroyed. Victory is found in the blood of the lamb.

I am mystified by verse 12. It is easy to create a perennial parallel here; rejoicing in heaven and running through the earth with my woes. The evil that we face on this plane is deadly; you don’t need me to tell you that. It is a cost we know too well. But it is not the end of the story. The devil is no match for God. Evil, no matter how ubiquitous, has not received a blank cheque. This hell we are catching is nothing more than the death throes of a system that is falling and cannot get up. Every lash it makes against us, another proof of its demise. It cannot last, it will not last, it does not have the victory.

Brothers and sisters we must live victoriously. Not guided by the boots on our necks nor seduced by tales of alternative means for power. New Testament scholar Eugene Boring notes “If Revelation teaches anything, it is that the power by which God brings the kingdom is the power of suffering love revealed in the cross.” Our Lord stands at the door and knocks; calling us to participate in God’s life. Live passionately for justice. Let your life testify to who God is, what real power looks like. Amen.

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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