Rainbows, Confederacy and the Cross Pt. 1

Today marks an historic event, nearly one month after the slaying of nine African Americans as they gathered to pray, South Carolina removed the confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.  And I am glad.

I was on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina, when I first heard news of a shooting.  We had traveled from Florida with five other families to disconnect and recharge for a week.  With very little cell coverage, if any where we stayed, we heard bits and pieces of news of a shooting in a church, but knew very little details.  The following depicts our conversation in the early part of our ride home as we became privy to the reality of what had occurred.

“People died in that shooting.”

“What?!  How many?”

“Nine. The shooter intentionally left one alive to relay a message…and he’s still at large.”

There were four passengers in my car, two black, two white.

My son, fourteen years old, removed his headphones to ask, “Can we stop to use the restroom?”

My immediate response was, “NO!”  My eyes had just caught sight of the sign declaring our official entry into Charleston, South Carolina.  IMG_3529 Unfortunately, out of necessity we had to make a stop, but I warned my young backseat travelers that it needed to be quick and why.  I recall the emotional temperature of that gas station distinctly.  Managed by both black and white employees, the vibe was still…sullen, eerily quiet, a stark difference from the culture we’d left behind in North Carolina.   

As we returned to the car and resumed the conversation, I found myself saying immediately to my friend, “This guy is not well.”

In the days that followed I pondered upon how quickly I ran to that conclusion.  As a disclaimer, I would not say this was due to the nature of my profession, but to the natural observance of the capacity of human nature.  I had to make sense of this tragedy quickly and my first response was to find him sick, not full of hate.  Later on I understood that I couldn’t allow my mind to entertain that level of evil, therefore I gave him another label that quickly put the scarier thought to rest — he was sickThat was that.  He couldn’t really have wanted to kill those people who kindly invited him into their prayer group, whose presence he sat in for an hour, who likely showed him God’s love during their last moments on this earth.  NO, he was sick, not hateful.

And that was the delusion that I chose to take comfort in.

Our nation has been on the verge of racial unrest as we are questioning the responses of our men in uniform as black men are dying, in circumstances where their white counterparts are not.  We debate the minute details on social media platforms to determine if fair treatment was given to those held in custody, while raw video footage tells a different story.

A fraternity out of Oklahoma State University is removed from campus and its members expelled after it is revealed they boldly recited a racist chant in unison en route to an event. (CNN OSU).

The attached link shows William Bruce James II, an alumnus of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, visibly burdened as he shares his disappointment to hearing the news of the lack of character demonstrated by the group of men associated with his chapter. CNN – William Bruce James II

Stories like this reinforce the reality that we are in danger of a term I call — ignorant ignorance.  Ignorant, out of innocence because you simply aren’t aware, coupled with ignorance because you speak words you do not care to educate yourself about.

I am believing this is part of the problem.  We may have fast forwarded through the ugliness of segregation and racial inequality so quickly, that we have new generations that are not completely void of racism, yet do not truly understand how far we’ve come because we do not want to talk about it…and potentially admit it still exists.  Racism does and will continue to exist, if we do not continue to take active stances against it.

President Obama’s eulogy of the late Reverend Clementa Pinckney, quoted the state senator saying, “Across the South we have a great appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a great appreciation for each other’s history.”

Today the flag came down and I am glad.  As a child this was a symbol of hatred and something I feared.  As an adult I understood other layers of symbolism behind it, but the undertones still remained.  Let’s not wait for another undeniably hateful tragedy for movement to continue forging in the right direction.  We cannot continue to brush this problem under the rug, we are indebted to those who fought so hard to bring us to where we are today.  Let’s set the fear of “stirring the pot” aside and work together to radically change our future.  We owe it to our past.

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Update! Do you believe in Modern Day Miracles? I do!

A little over a month ago I asked this question here on this blog, because I knew I had been blessed to be in the presence of a miracle unfolding.   Although we knew it would take time for the culmination of this miracle to unfold, the reality of the miracle was sealed in my mind that day, because ONLY God could have orchestrated the details to occur in such supernatural succession, that it would have been foolish to doubt that His plan would succeed.  As the details surrounding this monumental event continued to unfold, more began to believe in the reality of this miracle.  God’s hand was in this, around this, before this and in front of this.  He had prepared the minds and the hearts of those He needed to move as quickly and decisively as He needed them too.

Being privy to details that only a few knew, my mind was blown at how God chose to bless the faithfulness of a couple, while rocking the worlds of those that surrounded them. I do not think that it was a coincidence that He chose to center this miracle in the presence of a core group that had the capacity to influence a multitude…He wanted us to see first hand, to be ‘eye-witnesses’ and share His story — GO, TELL — just like others did thousands of years ago when He walked on this earth, and even before and after. The God of the Bible is and has always been the God of today.  He can do in your life, what He has done in countless others…we just need to believe that He can.  He shows up, in the midst of our everyday Christianity to remind us that He can to exceedingly more than we could ever ask or imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV

This is not just a story of a baby, just like the miracle of Jesus is not just the story of a virgin birth.  God is preparing us for greater things, your experience and perhaps your participation in the things of God are limited only by the depth of your belief in what God is capable of – “according to his power that is at work within us…

He is able, are you able to believe?

Update! What is the difference between Guilt & Conviction?

Thank you all for your responses on social media and on this blog.  I enjoyed reading your thoughts!  When I considered posing this question it was a result of a thought I shared with a friend the week prior.

Here’s what was impressed upon me:

Guilt turns you inward, conviction turns you upward towards God.

When I think about guilt I think about our internal thoughts about ourselves in relation to our behavior, past actions and even sometimes the perpetual consequences of our actions.  We live in seasons of guilt when we are convinced that there is no recourse for our failures.

When I think about conviction, I consider it as the point in which I know my thoughts or actions have been sinful and I consider it a good thing.  It’s the point in which I become aware of a clear fork in the road where I have the blessing to choose to make a shift in the right direction, before I settle into a season of guilt where I have lost sight of this opportunity and am instead trapped inside my feelings.  Guilt keeps you buried, conviction sets you free.

Responding to conviction is courageous though.  It requires the convicted to acknowledge a failure —to oneself, to God and maybe to another.  This step of courage is followed by a HUGE win, because we are immediately set free from the bondage the secret sin would have otherwise held over us.  This is not to say that we escape the consequences of our actions, but the guilt that prevents us from moving forward is no longer in our way.

One final thought: choosing to follow where conviction leads, paves the way towards breaking the chains of patterns of destructive behavior.   I would rather bear the sting of conviction, than live in a cycle of ignorance that prevents me from living the life that God intended.

Well folks, these are my thoughts!  I look forward to hearing more from you during next week’s Question of the Week!

Update – Do you think crying is a sign of strength or weakness?

Thank you all for joining the conversation on facebook and twitter! We learn from each other :)).  

I am going to respond to this week’s question with two simple words: Jesus wept.

Jesus was anything but weak.  Jesus was fully man and fully God. (If you need further explanation on this – you can ask Him when you get to heaven 🙂 ).  I know many of us have heard this verse before.  Today I want to examine the context of this verse to understand the necessity and purpose of our tears.

The Death of Lazarus

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”….

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11, NIV)

Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead four days before he arrived to wake him from the dead.  There is always purpose and layers of purpose in His actions and movements in our lives.  This story is no exception.  Here Jesus needed those who were watching and following to understand with certainty the fact of Lazarus’ death.  15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”  One layer here is to demonstrate the power of Christ through the Father.  Interesting enough, Jesus did not doubt the power within Him to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Yet, as we read further along in the passage, we see Him modeling His humanity as well – the second layer.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus wept.  He felt sadness and allowed Himself to express it.  That was not weakness.  Those in observance attributed it to the depth of His love.   Jesus allowed Himself to weep and to feel the sadness, BUT He did not stay there.  He continued to move, as He was called, to fulfill the Father’s will.  But nowhere in here was this seen as a sign of weakness — it was a natural emotion considering the death of His beloved friend (even knowing He was going to bring him back to life).  Some commentaries say that He was grieving the lack of faith from those who followed.  I think that we become scared of allowing ourselves to feel sadness or pain because we are worried that we will become stuck there.   The reality is if we do not deal with our pain, it will ultimately hold us back.  Nothing irritates me more than the “encouragement” that comes in the form of this statement, “Be strong” when it reinforces not showing emotion.  If strength is seen as an avoidance of feeling, then I do not want any part of that.  True strength comes from facing our heartaches and trials head on and dealing with what comes…like Jesus did in the days and weeks leading to the cross.  He cried out to God while there, demonstrating that He felt the pain, He felt the burden of our sin,  He felt the absence of the Father under the weight of our sin, AND He kept on moving and endured the cross for us and for God’s glory.

This is a longer post, but I could have easily added more, because I feel that this is a part of becoming unplugged.  By truly modeling our emotions, actions and direction after the One who modeled perfection.  We have become so lost in the ideals of our culture that we have forgotten the origins of how and why we were created.  Continue to seek after your purpose in this life and I believe that you will find true freedom.  I will leave you with this quote that I captured from a fellow therapist, “We need to feel, in order to deal, so that we can heal.”  Be strong my friends and start feeling.