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Tag: joy

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.

Quiet nuh!

I should probably be doing something else (like work) but longhair….

I laugh when my students hear my instruction and protest. “So does everyone understand? Are there any questions?”

“This sounds like work!”

It is.

They (the infamous secret government that controls us all) say that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. I have found truth in that. A cornerstone of my theology and worldview is that God intends for us to enjoy life.

Life is to be enjoyed. Truly. And when you are locked into what you’re supposed to be doing THEN you get that fulfillment which allows you to never work a day in your life.

But as Bob says, “the harder the battle, the sweeter Jah victory”.

I have a tough time teaching Steinbeck. I get why Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are American classics. I would even entertain a notion that Steinbeck wrote with a prophetic voice in his time. But when my ninth graders call him boring, I can’t disagree. I remember being so bored by Grapes of Wrath that I wrote my final paper on the half I’d read. I even ended it with something cheeky like “who knows if they’ll ever make it to California?”

My English teacher was a good sport and said it was certainly an A paper but as I’d only read half the book she could only give me half the points.

Merry Christmas.

As bored as we are, a bigger issue to me is our study justifying their misogyny. Our book discussions always had somebody calling Curley’s wife a thot or students being incapable of seeing her perspective.

During a discussion where we confronted the issue, another teacher blamed rap for the misogynistic views.

That annoyed me though.

Misogyny is older than the Bible. Rap didn’t start it but it carries on tradition (like country music, movies and general society)

Sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable and I hear temptation tell me to look elsewhere. There has to be somewhere where my gifts and talents are appreciated. I can do so much more with a greater platform, it says.

But I am content in this stage because I recognize the journey and little interest in forcing fate before God’s time.

I get frustrated but then I look back.

I remember the hospital bed (it got better).

Leaving Trinity (it got better).

Living with my in laws (it got better).

Returning to Richmond (it got better).

So now, no matter the obstacles, difficulties and certitude that evil wants to destroy you, I can be reassured that the One who got me out of the hospital, kept my Beloved and I, and blessed us with the lil fella has not forsaken us and has no plans to.

As Paul shared in 2 Corinthians:

We  are  hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we  are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Enjoy the day my friends. Tell any doubt or insecurities, “Quiet, nuh!”

“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.

Redeeming the Time

 

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I’ve been studying Ephesians 5 this month and have been stuck on the question, “What does it mean to redeem the time?” It’s inspired by the advice given in verses 15 and 16,

“ See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV)

When I think about what it means to redeem the time I think about how love adds value. The days are evil, and indeed the world is a cold place if the dominant narrative is loveless. People doing them, showing no concern for one another and living like they are the center of the universe.

There’s a lot of temptation to live for self but we must resist the tragedy of selfishness. Living only for yourself is not truly living, it’s limited. It feels foolish sometimes and even lonely when you muster the courage to love. Truly loving one another and wanting the best for another person can even seem countercultural but it is who we ought to be.

I am convinced that love is transformative. Love changes circumstances, it creates room for joy and enlarges the possibilities of endurance. My prayer for you is not mere survival but I am believing God that you will thrive through any circumstance you are facing. I know we all have concrete difficulties in our lives but I am praying that the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) mature, develop and are made evident in the way we treat one another.

We are called to, “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NKJV) We need to ask ourselves what would our lives look like if we took love seriously? How would my relationships improve if I followed God’s example and walked in the way of love?

Phillipians 4 Therefore,…

Phillipians 4

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

Be United, Joyful, and in Prayer

2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And[a] I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Meditate on These Things

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippian Generosity

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Greeting and Blessing

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.[c] Amen.

Rejoice! This is an exercise of joy.

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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