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Tag: Gospel

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.

I couldn’t call when You were dying

I’ve let my loved ones know

That in the event I’m on a plane

And think that I have arrived

At the end

I won’t make a phone call

No terror, or reminders of love

No semblance of intimacy thousands of feet in the air

No delusions of a life wrapped with a bow

Too dissimilar to death’s scar

The jagged pieces of lives shattered to pretend that we can ever truly be prepared

Earthquakes happen so frequent

We believe it’s man’s machinations

A revelation of Revelations

Or Mother Earth’s menstrual cramps

How regular and majestic

Coupled with threats of tsunami that kept me refreshing the page until the alert fell asleep

I forced myself awake determined not to find Wednesday with news you were no more

I opened WhatsApp to close it

Texted then wiped it away

Impersonal at the very least

And that’s never my intent

So I relearned that inaction is an action

And determined that I’d rather refresh then prepare myself for a final conversation

We’ve been doing so much better!

Rebuilding what never was

Though false alarm

I’m reminded that my instinct is well founded

A monument to catastrophe

How small we are in the face of the ineffable

Skin in the game

Had a chance to write something for Wendy McCaig’s blog. Here’s a taste:

Enough work has already been done to make every claim of ignorance ring hollow. When I talk about the plight of black people in this country and receive a shocked response, I know I am speaking to someone exercising their privilege. Their ignorance takes me back to my first year in seminary when I first discovered how white supremacy is a religion unto itself. I remember standing in the bookstore, furious because books that talked about me and my experience in this country were not required for core courses. One could matriculate and graduate from my institution and never encounter the black experience much less contemplate their complicity in white supremacy. My rage was in the reduction. I loved myself enough to know I could never be an elective.

“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.

My Tribute- Andrae Crouch

The Laugh to Keep From Crying Episode #STCDNW

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The Laugh to Keep From Crying Episode #STCDNW by Di Baddest Chaplain on Mixcloud

Cleaning My Lens

The second sermon I delivered this summer while interning at All Souls Presbyterian Church. 

Chris Burton

7.13.2014

All Souls Presbyterian Church

Cleaning My Lens (Romans 8:1-11)

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, ESV)

 

I’m a creature of habit. Once I get something I like I usually stick with it. I might have five favorite restaurants in town but that would mean I just get five different meals. I’ve been buying a clean version of the same sneaker for over a decade now. I’ve got other shoes that I like but always want a pair of crisp Nike Cortez in my rotation. My mom has been trying to get me to buy a new phone for a year now. It has a slight, very fine crack on the screen but it doesn’t bother me so I haven’t gotten it replaced. Even these glasses! I have had them for three years now, which is no good, but I like them and haven’t been straining my eyes too much so changing them has not been as much of a priority as it should be. Truth be told, I would not even have them if it weren’t for my time as a middle school basketball coach where one of my point guards obliterated an older pair during practice. They looked a lot like these and I’d probably still be peering over them to this day.

 

So yes, I confess, I get attached. I like what I like and I’m sure that I have developed a formidable resistance to change. This is not always good. Routines can afford us stability, and stability is socially acceptable but what do we do when said routine is a bit more constricting than mere stability? What do we do when we get stuck?

 

Our faults, our shortcomings, our sin, our shame. All these conspire within us, trapping us in a perverse cycle. We say things we wish we did not say, we do things that we know we ought not to do.

 

Last week we heard Rev. Keyes illustrate the inner turmoil using the apostles’ words. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV) Paul articulates the war that rages inside of us all. Knowing better and doing better aren’t always a packaged deal. Our actions can betray us. No matter how disciplined we are, and successful we have become, we are all susceptible to failure.

 

As much as I am moved by the poem Invictus, my relationship with Jesus Christ calls me to thoroughly disagree with the last stanza.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

     How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

     I am the captain of my soul.” 

I pray that I may never desire to be the master of my fate. I’ve tried it my way and have proven myself unqualified for the job. I have come to find no profit in being the captain of my soul.

 

Paul’s letter is good news for all us. You may not fashion yourself to be a creature of habit but the truth is, living life on our own terms is a recipe for failing habitually. Submitting ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ is an acknowledgment that we have no business being captain.

 

Let us look at Verses 3 and 4 once more:

 

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

 

Recently I began asking God to equip me to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit daily. Galatians 5:22-23 tell us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV) It has been said that “The fruits of the Spirit, or effects of sanctification, which are begun in us, do not ingraft us into Christ, but declare that we are grafted into him.” 

 

There is nothing you or I can do to earn God’s love. There is no hope for us in and of ourselves. Our hope is in Christ. The kindness that we demonstrate, the love that we have, any and all of the fruits of the Spirit are there as evidence of the work God is doing in us. In my preparation I encountered this quote from William Barclay that resonates, “Because of what Jesus did, there opens out to the Christian a life no longer dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit of God, which fills a man with a power not his own. The penalty of the past is removed and strength for his future is assured.” (Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans (Revised Edition) Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975 p.103)

Forgiving yourself because you have been forgiven. Step out of the shade of shame and walk in the Son’s light.

Bitterness can corrupt. I remember praying for God to give me forgiveness. I knew that I was at risk of phoniness, in danger of proclaiming a hollow gospel if I did not walk in forgiveness. I prayed for forgiveness so much that it became a part of my daily routine. From time to time I would imagine dry soil, almost like red clay and I’d see a tiller pulling up that soil, breaking its hardness. And I would see this image again and again. I didn’t correlate the two, my prayer and my vision until much later but I am confident that I am able to demonstrate forgiveness because of the good work that the Lord has done in me. Matthew Henry once noted that “By the Spirit the law of love is written upon the heart, and though the righteousness of the law is not fulfilled by us, yet, blessed be God, it is fulfilled in us.” I am free to walk in forgiveness because of the Spirit that dwells in me.

 

I believe that forgiveness is a central component of our faith. Through Christ we have been forgiven. How can we follow Him and not extend forgiveness toward others? I have no doubt that it is a process, a journey too arduous to complete on our own. But I am even more confident that it is one we can complete through yielding to the Spirit and forfeiting any claims to the captaincy of our lives.

 

We’ve heard the story from our Old Testament reading several times and it never stops amazing me to hear of Esau’s forgiveness.

 

Esau stands with Joseph, the prodigal son’s father and Our Father who chose to show solidarity instead of shame.

 

Living a life free from the burden of our failures isn’t done by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

 

Let us seek the Father daily. Ask for the Spirit to till our hearts and nourish us so that we bear the fruit that is pleasing in God’s sight.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

5.13.14 STCDNW

In this episode of STCDNW Di Baddest Chaplain discusses misogyny, celebrating others’ success, and what to do when jokes go too far.

“Songs that can do no wrong” is hosted by Di Baddest Chaplain on the globe, Chris B. Only on #Soundbooth Radio 1. http://www.soundboothradio1.com

Stay connected. @ChrisB06 on Twitter, @dibaddestchaplain on Instagram AND dibaddestchaplain.tumblr.com

12.2.13 STCDNW

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In this episode of STCDNW Di Baddest Chaplain debuts songs off of Christafari’s Reggae Christmas album, Bri joins the show to recap this week’s episode of Preachers of LA, plus we go on a musical ride featuring Alicia Myers, Lecrae, Lavoi$ier and much more!

“Songs that can do no wrong” is hosted by Di Baddest Chaplain on the globe, Chris B. Only on #Soundbooth Radio 1. www.soundboothradio1.com

Stay connected. @ChrisB06 on Twitter, @dibaddestchaplain on Instagram AND dibaddestchaplain.tumblr.com

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