Sunday, March 23, 2008

A different look at the black church

I made it the early Easter morning service today. The dance ministry presented an amazing depiction of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The mass choir sang "Don't cry, he is not dead. He has risen" while an angel comforted Mary and the other mourners. Despite the words of the song, the experience was so moving that I don't think there was a dry eye in the sanctuary.

But it didn't take long to realize that we weren't crying because Christ was dead, we were crying because of the incredible and excruciating price he chose to pay so that we could live. Our tears were tears of awe, humility, gratitude and praise. We cried because knowing that we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we also know that anything is possible. And no matter what we're going through, we were reminded today that God can and will bring us through.

During the service, we were also blessed with a selection from a nationally-renowned Christian musician, Angella Christie, who's reached the top of Billboard's Christian instrumental music chart. She played an incredible arrangement of "Great is Thy Faithfulness." I couldn't find the video on youtube, but I did find a very old video of her highly stylized arrangement of another old school gospel favorite, "By and By."

There's been so much discussion and apprehension about what goes on in "the black" church over the past few weeks because of the video clips of Oback Barama's paster, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Certainly, there are as many different experiences within black churches as there are within white churches, but it seems that a very one-sided, and atypical, portrait of black churches has dominated the airwaves of late. So, in my pursuit of balance and authenticity, I offer this video, though it's old, as a view into my black church experience. While we clearly don't have a famous musician join us each Sunday, and the hair styles and fashions have changed, this is what goes on at my church every week.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Still on the journey: Week 4

This morning will be Week 4 for my women's support group. I find myself looking forward to this very special time of fellowship each Saturday morning, and this week in particular. For the first time in a long time, I've had a very difficult week. While I still have so much to be thankful for, I've been struggling emotionally with a serious and unexpected personal issue and with the stress of a new job. I know that I can't talk about the specifics, but simply being in the presence of these supportive and loving women is such a blessing to me. I know that when I ask them to pray for this situation, I know that they will.

My "homework" assignment for the week was to practice cultivating the ability to do more listening and less talking when I'm praying. And as much as I hate to admit it, this is something that I need a LOT of practice on. Early in the week, I feared that this task would be difficult for me, and of course God knew that even better than I, because He gave me a reason to practice this new skill just when I needed it the most.

The night before last, I felt so low that all I could do was cry. I wanted to pray, but the words wouldn't come. My mind and heart were so heavy that I couldn't even think of a coherent string of words, much less utter them in prayer. So, I did the only thing I could do. I cried. And then I cried some more. Finally I cried out through my tears "Why God? Why this? Why now?"

Almost immediately the tears stopped and I felt comforted. The pain didn't go away, but it lessened. At first I thought that maybe it was the sleeping pill beginning to kick in, but I soon realized that it wasn't that at all. Because instead of drifting off to sleep, I felt as if God had placed the answer to my questions in my heart... "This is a test."

I didn't feel the anger or anxiety that I'd feel if a professor had just sprung an unexpected pop quiz for which I was totally unprepared, and told me that my entire grade for the class depended on how well I did on the test. It felt much more loving than that... sort of a "you said this is what you want... now it's time for you to see if you really want it" test, one that would ultimately be for my benefit.

Suddenly I started so see the situation a little differently. I have no idea how things will turn out, and I'm still prone to start crying at the drop of a hat, but knowing that even this is part of God's plan for me makes it somehow easier to bear.

Yesterday morning, I decided to indulge my guilty pleasure and see what my daily horoscope had to say. I know there are mixed feelings about horoscopes, but I do admit that I sometimes take a peek, and when I do, I usually find just the message I needed for that day. I chose to believe that God can speak to us in any way He chooses, so why not in a horoscope too? Here's what mine (Pisces) had to say:

Conflicts place unreasonable demands on you now, especially if you believe it's your responsibility to fix a situation that is actually beyond your control. Consider how you hold on to familiar behavior patterns because of your fear of change. Old habits are being tested by new circumstances, so don't waste valuable energy by struggling; let go and make room for what will follow.

Last night I felt much better than I did the night before. I feel a sense of comfort, a sense of peace, a sense of how God is using me in this situation, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A quiet rant

Have you ever had "one of those days"? Today was one for me. I knew when I woke up that it would be a trying day at best. I didn't sleep well because I'm concerned about a personal health issue that recently cropped up from nowhere.

My initial perceptions on the state of the day were confirmed when I showed up at work to find no one there. Why is that a problem? Because I'm a temporary employee brought in to take over for the office manager while she's out on maternity leave. The thing is, we were supposed to have at least 2-4 weeks of training before she left. But her son decided not to comply with my most heartfelt wishes that he delay his arrival until the latest possible moment. In fact, the little angel decided to arrive a month early, and after only 3 DAYS of training! There is a wonderful part-timer who will be working with me in this small two-person office, but as my luck would have it, she was off today and tomorrow.

So there I sat alone all day, juggling two phone lines and a fax machine, all of which felt compelled to ring constantly, and also handling numerous new staffing requests that needed to be scheduled and assigned, resolving six pages of telephone messages and notes, working on a new project and more. My "things to do first thing in the morning list" already has 12 items on it!

And to make matters worse, in my haste to try to use the bathroom between phone calls, I somehow managed to drop my cell phone into the toilet. Needless to say, the phone is history, along with the 50+ telephone numbers that were stored in the phone and no where else. It was then that I realized that I didn't even know my mother's or my guy's phone numbers by heart. How sad is that? A new phone, minus my much-needed telephone directory, should arrive tomorrow. The good news is that I had insurance against the loss. The bad news is that it cost me $70 to replace a phone that I paid half that much for only 6 months ago.

Today I also confirmed that a purchase I ordered 6 weeks ago was "delivered" last week, only I never received it and no one has any idea where it is. I got a bill from my dentist's office saying that my former dental insurer denied coverage on my last dental visit before I got laid off because I wasn't covered at that time, when in fact I was. My appointment with an agent to discuss my unemployment claim has been scheduled for a time that I can't attend because I'm working now, meaning that I may not receive benefits for the time that I wasn't working (and I still don't have a full-time job). And, because my new prescription discount card won't be effective until April 1st, I have $180 worth of meds waiting for me at the pharmacy that I'll have to pay for out of pocket tomorrow. I'm sure there's more, but I can't remember right now and who cares anyway?

I'm too emotionally exhausted to even think eating dinner, much less fixing it, but I think I can muster enough energy to pour myself a very large glass of wine. Then I'll snuggle up on my couch and watch back-to-back episodes of In Treatment to remind myself that as bad as things seemed today, they could have been much worse. Hope your day was better!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A new dialogue on race

I don't consider myself an Obama supporter, at least not politically. While I think he is inspirational on many levels, and I like his style, I disagree philosophically with him on many policy issues. That said, I grow more and more impressed with him as time goes by, and today was certainly no exception.

I have been following the recent controversy concerning the comments of Barack's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright with mixed opinions. On one hand, having grown up as a member of the same denomination, the United Church of Christ, I know that these preachings are not representative of the entire denomination, despite what recent media clips might suggest. While I've since moved on spiritually, many members of my family are still very active in the denomination and not only is UCC not racist as a body, but I'd be surprised if nationwide, the membership was more than 10% black.

I also recognize that although the anger and vitreol of Rev. Wright's comments were extreme, I'd be lying if I said that I haven't heard those types of sentiments before. In fact, while I strongly disagree with the manner in which Rev. Wright's views were expressed, history bears evidence to generations of despicable treatment of blacks from slavery through Jim Crow and beyond. While most would have to agree that the state of the African-American union is much better than it was in my grandparents' generation, there is still work to be done to heal wounds that run so deep and to reverse the consequences of hundreds of years of unequal treatment.

Yet, on the other hand, I do reject the notion that all white people are evil, rich racists, as much as I reject the notion that all black people are illiterate criminals and drug addicts. I am blessed to have many very dear friends who are white, and I have heard some of the most racist statements uttered by blacks. I have been denied jobs because of my skin color and I received an academic scholarship to graduate school as part of an affirmative-action program. Was I qualified for those jobs? Absolutely. Was I smart enough to get into grad school on my own merits? Without question.

The bottom line is that race is not simply black and white. There are countless shades of gray, and as many perspectives on racial issues as there are skin colors. It is difficult, and dangerous, to rely on 15- or 30-second sound bytes or opinions from politically-biased pundits to develop meaningful positions on racial issues. As with any controversial subject, context, perspective, world-view and personal experiences are all inextricably bound in the tapestry of race relations. There are no easy answers to the pains that plague us or the divisions that still divide us, but one thing is certain. Unless we can begin to honestly, openly and humanely begin to discuss the very real issues of race in our culture, we will never be able to move beyond them. On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with Obama. Can America move forward? Yes, we can.

So forget the sound bytes. If you haven't heard Obama's speech in its entirety, it's worth 10 minutes to listen to it here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Standing by unmanly men

I was shocked (although I probably shouldn't have been) and saddened (who wouldn't be?) at the sight of Mrs. Spitzer standing by her man as he resigned as the Governor of New York today. I don't think there's anything else that needs to be said about the former Governor's alleged participation in a prostitution ring. But when is enough enough when it comes to high-profile men further publicly humiliating and disgracing their wives in public?

There's a part of me that wants to be angry at "public wives" who allow themselves to be shamed publically as they stand stoically by their husbands as they confess (or deny) sexual allegations that have been made against them. I know that this is one of those situations that I shouldn't pass judgment on unless I've walked a mile in the wronged wife's glass slippers. But I simply can't understand why these women show up at the press conferences to stand by their men.

I understand full well why the accused husband, his political advisors, agents (in the case of celebrities), lawyers and financial advisors would stress the importance of having the wife stand by her man in a show of support. After all, if a man's wife, the one most deeply hurt by his betrayal, can forgive him, then who are we as Joe and Jane Public not to do the same? But what's in it for the wife? Is it ever in her best interest to stand there for the prying eyes of the world to see? I've heard the case made that some women do it for the sake of their children. That may be, but as a mother myself, I'd have to wonder what kind of message I'd be sending to my children if I stood publicly behind my husband after he'd betrayed every vow and promise he'd made to me and to them. I think I'd be telling my children that this type of behavior is acceptable, when it clearly is not.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in the power of forgiveness, and if a wife chooses to forgive her husband, that's certainly her right. But for Heaven's sake, why do women believe that they owe it to anybody to stand there with him in the midst of a public scandal, pretending like everything is just fine when it so clearly is not? Where did this idea of wives falling on the sword for their cheating husbands come from? And how do we make it stop?

That said, as a Christian woman, as a former wife, and as a mother, my heart goes out to Mrs. Spitzer. While I completely disagree with her decision to stand with her man today, it was her decision to make. I pray that she and her daughters will find comfort and healing. And I hope that there's a big fat settlement check waiting for her at the end of all this. She certainly deserves compensation for the job she performed today.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If I'd known then

I turned 49 earlier this week. Never before has the term "age is just a number" felt more true. I'm not at all stressed about approaching the big 5-0, but it's probably because I feel at least 10 years younger than my chronological age. The fact that I look much younger is an added bonus. Yet, regardless of how young I feel, the reality is that I've been an adult for 30 years and I've learned a lot during that time.

My 19-year-old daughter planned her two-week trip home from being stationed in Iraq to coincide with my birthday which has been a wonderful present. Among many other things, the 30-year age difference between us crossed my mind as we reminisced over our years together. I marvel at how different her life at 19 is from the way mine was at 19. Times have certainly changed, but we're also very different people. I'd like to believe that she's learned a lot by living vicariously through my triumphs and my mistakes over the years, but only time will tell if the lessons that I've struggled so hard to impart with her have taken root.

If I'm going to be honest, I must admit that my mother probably said the same thing 30 years ago when I was 19. And I now know as well as she knew then that 19-year-olds think they know everything, and hardly need the advice of an old, square, nerdy Mom to tell them about life. While my mother clearly wasn't able to prepare me for all of the particular situations I've faced in my adult life, she laid a very strong foundation which served me quite well in my professional life. She instilled in me a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence and an understanding of the importance of balance.

I've been thinking about the life lessons and values that I want to impart in my daughter. There are too many to count, but if I had to pick ten of the most important, I think they would be these (in no particular order):

  1. Make saving money a priority. Having a good-paying job is a blessing, not an entitlement, regardless of how hard you work or how smart you may be. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and there's no way to know if, or when, you'll experience a lay off, an extended illness, a major unexpected expenses, or any number of other challenges. Start saving money when you don't need it, so that you'll have it when you do. Establish a budget and stick to it. Use credit cards wisely, and as infrequently as possible. Enjoy driving a car that may be old, but that's paid for. Buy only what you absolutely need or love. Don't buy more house (or rent more apartment) than you can comfortably afford. Resist the temptation to by designer brands when generic alternatives work just as well. It makes no sense to spend years paying for things you no longer use, that you purchased with money you didn't have, that you bought to impress people that you don't even like.

  2. Remember that your job is what you do, not who you are. I doubt that anybody on their death bed looks back on their life and wishes they'd worked more hours or received more promotions. It may not seem like it now, but life is too short, and much too precious to spend it all working. Career success is important, but much more important than your title or your profession is your commitment to doing your best to live a full and satisfying life in whatever line of work you choose. That said, I hope you'll find work that you love, and if you do, you'll be incredibly lucky. But if not, at least find work that you enjoy - you'll spend too much time there not to like it. And remember that your worth is defined by how you live your life, not what's written on your business card. If you don't love your current job and can't find one that you do love, consider your job a means of paying the bills, not a value judgment on your worth as a person.

  3. Take vacations. It's a big, beautiful world out there and there's so much to see and do. Be adventurous, be spontaneous, and of course, be safe. Your life will be enriched beyond measure if you make the effort to expose yourself to different cultures, listen to different types of music, try different types of foods, and most importantly meet people from different walks of life than your own. Plan to make memories, and then go out and do it!

  4. Choose your battles wisely. Even the generals of the mightiest armies knew that it is foolish to fight every battle simply because you think you can. Some causes are definitely worth fighting for, others simply aren't. It may take a while, but if you pay attention, you'll discover how to tell the difference. If you must fight, remember that it's brains, not brawn, that wins the war.

  5. Plan carefully for your retirement. I know this is the last thing on your mind right now, but it is so very important to start planning early. Believe it or not, there will be a day when you're too old, too sick or too tired to work anymore, and that day is going to come a lot faster than you think. That doesn't have to be a scary prospect if you're prepared. But if you're not, the very thought of it will keep you awake at night with fear and worry. Find a good financial advisor and develop a plan. Stick with it, even if it's not fun.

  6. Understand that when it comes to friends, it's quality not quantity that counts. When you're young, it's cool to have a lot of "friends", and the term is defined quite loosely. But as you get older and wiser, your definition of true friendship will evolve and you may find that there are not as many people in your close circle of friends, which is probably as it should be. Pick your friends wisely and then honor and respect those friendships. Be slow to get angry and quick to forgive. Respect each other's privacy and guard each other's secrets. Make room in your heart for the spouses and eventually the children of your close friends, even if you were there first. Keep in mind that as you get older, people move away and lives get more complicated, you may not see your friends as often, but the bonds of true friendship run much deeper than that.

  7. Pick your men wisely. This is a big one. Other than the decision to accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, I can't think of another decision that can have as much of a positive or negative impact on the quality of your life as the men you choose to become involved with, and most importantly, the man you choose to marry. This choice will affect your happiness, your home, your physical well-being, your finances, your children and just about every other aspect of your life. Know and love yourself first. Decide what you do and don't want in a relationship and set boundaries concerning what behaviors you will and will not accept. Strive to find someone who will accept and love you unconditionally, but at the same time will lovingly encourage you to be the best you can possibly be. Remember that looks and physique and salary are nice, but the character of a man's heart far outweighs how cute or cut he is, or even the size of his bank account. You're much better off with a man of modest means who loves you wholeheartedly than a millionaire who treats you badly. And most of all, remember that not every man who says he loves you does.

  8. Tithe. Make tithing a priority in your life, regardless of how much money you make. Tithing involves more than giving a tenth of your income, it also includes giving of your time and your talents. Help others when you can. Do volunteer work. Find a church family and become an active participant. Be a good friend and a good neighbor. Contribute to worthy charitable causes, or start one. And when you give of your time, talent and treasure, do so with a joyful and thankful heart.

  9. Laugh and love as much as you can. I believe that laughter and love are two of life's greatest medicines. No matter how bad things get, try to find something to laugh about, even if you have to laugh through your tears. Look for the best in all circumstances and in all people. Sometimes it's hard to see the blessings when we're in the midst of the storm, but I assure you that they are there. Aim for a life as full of laughter and love as your heart can hold. You'll be glad you did.

  10. And most importantly, put God first in all things.

Love always,