The One Form of Darkness that is Good

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This spring, a thrasher, which is a tan bird about the size of a robin, made a nest in a bush outside of a window in my kitchen nook. It was the perfect vantage point. I’d peak through the blinds, careful not to scare the bird, who I named JoJo, to see how she was doing. She sat on her nest faithfully.

One day, I saw JoJo perched on the back patio, watching me wash the dishes through the wide, bay window. I stared back. “What are you doing off your nest, JoJo?” I asked through the window. “You better sit back down.” I dried my hands, walked to the window and looked through the blinds. The eggs had hatched. JoJo had not abandoned her eggs; rather, she was hunting for breakfast.

For days, I watched the brood. At first they looked like fuzzy raisins. “You’re so ugly, you’re cute,” I told them through the glass. In time, I could distinguish their wings and legs, and their feathers were more defined. When they napped, they huddled together so closely that I could not distinguish one bird from the next.

JoJo and her husband, who I named Chip, dedicated their days to feeding their children. When JoJo or Chip hopped to the nest, the babies flung their necks in the air, beaks wide open—just like in the nature documentaries I enjoy watching. Then, JoJo or Chip would drop food into their beaks and fly away.

One Friday afternoon as I drove home from work, the sky darkened and the clouds threatened to rain. I headed to the store in hope of beating the rain, but there was a downpour. I worried about the birds in the nest. What if they drowned? As soon as I got home, I went to the window and peeked through the blinds. There was JoJo, sitting on her babies.

JoJo saw me and flew away. Instantly, the babies’ heads popped up, and they flung their beaks open, ready for their afternoon snack. They were more than fine.

I chuckled to myself, imagining what it must have been like for the four siblings, mooshed together in the darkness. Maybe it was hot and smelly. Maybe they poked each other with their beaks and talons. Maybe it was so tight that none of them could move.

It is likely that the baby birds did not realize that their lives were in jeopardy because they had no concept of downpours or death. They were merely aware of their hunger and the cramped, hot environment their mother created as she sat on them. JoJo, however, was keenly aware of the destruction that storms bring, and she knew the temporary discomfort her babies would face outweighed death by storm.

JoJo’s expert protection reminded me of Psalm 91:4-6.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

There are seasons of life in which we do not sense the threat of danger. We eat, we sleep, and we spend time with our families—much like JoJo, Chip and the baby birds We have a comfortable routine, and the weather is pleasant.

But in time, darkness gradually emerges, and while we may notice the change, we are not overly concerned because our lives continue as they did before. Like the baby birds, we continue to eat and sleep. Our routines stay the same, even though our environment is changing. But the Lord, who sees and understands all things, knows that the gradual change in our environment is more than shifting shadows; the shadows are warnings of a great storm. Like JoJo, He covers us with His feathers because He knows that we do not have the strength or resources to survive the storm.

While the darkness may seem vaguely familiar, we are distracted by the discomfort we experience. In many cases, we wrestle with the dark weight that rests above us. We yell, punch, and cry at the weight because we are hungry and scared and confused. “Why is it so dark? Why is my life so uncomfortable? What did I do?” We complain and shout these questions into the darkness, but we do not realize that the darkness is not punishment, or some form of evil or violence, but protection.

We are taught to resist darkness, but there is only one form of darkness that is good—and that is the one that emerges because the Lord covers us with Himself to guard our lives because we are too helpless to protect ourselves.

The Man Who Sang “I have decided to follow Jesus”

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Credit: Foggy Bottom Association

I heard “I have decided to follow Jesus” today, and it reminded of the man who sang at the Foggy Bottom metro stop in Washington, D.C.

In late 2012, I stepped off the Foggy Bottom escalator on a grey, cold morning. I heard a powerful, quiet voice, and I stopped and looked behind me. A man with glasses stood near a short, stone wall. He wore khaki pants, and if I remember correctly, he had layered a faded jean jacket over a hooded sweatshirt. There was a brown box at his feet. He sang,

I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus.

No turning back. No turning back.

I walked a little slower so that I could soak in the song and fought the urge to cry. The words reminded me to keep going and to be faithful because I was doing the right thing.

I wanted to linger, but I walked faster because work started soon. I thought about the man at the metro. It was unusual for someone to sing songs about the Lord in public, particularly first thing in the morning. I wondered if he was homeless. I wondered if he had a wife and children. I wondered about the life experiences that compelled him to sing with so much emotion.

That winter, I took the metro more often than I took the bus because I hoped to hear the man at Foggy Bottom singing.

I did not hear him each time I got off the train, but one morning, I armed myself with the only cash in my wallet and prayed that he would be there. I was nervous as the escalator reached the top, but as I listened as intently as I could, I heard his song above the traffic.

Nervous, I walked to where he stood and put the money in the box. He looked at me and nodded slightly. I wanted to say, “You have no idea what this song means to me. Hearing you sing this song makes me want to cry,” but I didn’t. Instead, I replied with a small smile, turned around, and walked to work slowly.

For reasons that are too numerous to explain, I needed the constant reminder that I had decided to follow Jesus, come what may. I was learning that following Jesus came with great costs and that it was sometimes a very lonely road. But that year, I also learned that while I had the option to turn back, I didn’t want to. I had chosen to follow Him, and even though the road was one I probably would not have chosen if I had know what lied ahead, I still did not want to turn back because Jesus was not behind me but ahead. Turning around would mean denying Him and shattering my testimony. The thought of doing either of those things filled me with fear, so I kept moving even though I did not know where I was going.

Sometimes, I still wonder about the man at the metro. I like to think that he’s still there, singing a song that commuters need to hear, encouraging them to keep going, come what may. At the same time, I hope that he, too, moved on to his next destination.

Spring Came Early

Regent Campus

Last year, it took a while for spring to arrive. Cool temperatures and weeks of rain lingered well into May. I would stare at the clouds and think, “It’s spring now. What’s with the depressing weather?” Spring arrived suddenly one day. The clouds and rain moved away, and they were replaced by clear skies and temperatures in the eighties.

This year, Spring has come very early. I caught the first whiff of Spring in early to mid-February when I heard a bird singing one morning. I expected his anticipation to fade as it usually does and reemerge in March, but unlike last year, it did not. Frequent days that reached the lower and upper seventies followed. And when February concluded with a day in the upper seventies, and March began with a day in the mid-eighties, it became clear from the permanently-cheerful birds in my neighborhood and the flowers on the trees that spring would stay.

Spring’s early arrival makes me wonder if the Lord is telling us something. Perhaps he is saying, figuratively, “It’s been a long season, and you’ve had enough winter. Enough clouds and cool temperatures. You’ve had far too many lonely days, trudging through blizzards, and hiking up treacherous, snowy mountains. It’s time for a break from all of that. It’s time for a new day, a fresh season. It’s time to enjoy life again. To be happy, to be at peace, and to experience adventure.”

Perhaps winter ended early because He could not wait any longer for us to experience the grand surprises that lie ahead, just like a father who excitedly awaits the moment we encounter the good things he has saved for us.

I Had a Good Saturday

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I had a good Saturday, thought I did not expect that it would be good at first because I have not had a good Saturday for a while.

I had a good Saturday last weekend, but it was different than today because some sadness was woven into it. I drove to Arlington on Friday to see my buddy Marianne who was in town. We ate noodles and acted goofy. And on Saturday, several roommates of my good friend Kate (me included) surprised Kate and helped her move into the studio apartment she bought in D.C., which has a view of the Capitol. The capitol reminded me of our country. (Jesus, please help us.) And D.C. reminds me of my old life that I miss and never want to return to at the same time. Today marks the fourth year since I left my job there to come here.

Today was different. I went to IHOP, which I had looked forward to because I would finally eat the blueberry pancakes with blueberry compote that I had craved since Thanksgiving but never ate because they are bad for you. And Jin Woo and I never had our IHOP excursion before Thanksgiving dinner. But I ate the pancakes today because Kristin treated me for my birthday.

I went to a line dancing function with my mom that was also a fundraiser for her grade school friend who has cancer. I watched older folk line dance with a smile on my face. I recorded them and sent Jin Woo two videos. They said they do not play the typical line dances like the Cupid Shuffle and the Wobble, so I did not join in because they were too advanced for me, and I was scared. I met Mom’s friends from long ago, who encouraged us to go to line dancing lessons. It’s only two dollars.

Mom and I left, linked arms and walked to the car. I like to escort her cause she’s old, though she isn’t really.

“Help an old lady get to the car,” she says.

Mom drove to the Chrysler Museum because she wanted to get a Norfolk-themed gift for her Texan friend, and I bought a necklace because it reminds me of spring and made me smile.

A friend called me out of the blue. She was in town and wanted to see a movie. I said no at first because I needed to work on a project, but minutes later I messaged her to correct myself.

“No, self,” I had said to myself. “Live your life. Have fun. Be spontaneous. Your friend isn’t in town often.”

At a rather late hour, we went to see La La Land, which reminded me of me and how I like to write. I wondered if my writing will ever get anywhere and get to anyone. But I write anyway because I can’t really stop writing. It’s one thing I do best, and it helps me organize the thoughts in my brain. It’s like thinking out loud but with no sound.

At midnight, I drove home, and I smiled. “I had a good Saturday,” I told myself as I drove down I-64 a little too fast. I had the feeling that more good Saturdays would come, just like the Lord said they would.

“Things will start to change for the better,” He said some time ago.

I believed Him then, but I think it’s happening now.

 

The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

Dear Church in America,

… Although the 2016 presidential election is the central event of this letter, I am not talking about politics. Rather, I speak directly to the Church and address how evangelical Christians’ conservative voting trends have misrepresented the Gospel. What the election has revealed should cause us to weep and repent. …

Source: The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

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Dear Church in America,

This letter is part one of three.

I thought about writing this letter long before I began scribbling it down during church on Sunday. Then, I spent just as much time shuffling paragraphs and rewording sentences as I did thinking about this letter. I hope the time I spent crafting this letter reflects the level of thought and concern I have put into this message.

Although the 2016 presidential election is the central event of this letter, I am not talking about politics. Rather, I speak directly to the Church and address how evangelical Christians’ conservative voting trends have misrepresented the Gospel. What the election has revealed should cause us to weep and repent.

I cried after the election, which surprised me. There were several reasons for my tears, but I will only focus on one. Christians did what I feared we would do: in large numbers, we sacrificed our values by supporting, many of us openly and enthusiastically, a presidential candidate whose actions and words represent the exact opposite of love, which is the epitome of the Gospel.

I expected many of us to vote for Donald Trump because the Republican ticket shelters views about abortion and marriage that are upheld by the Bible. I also knew that many of us would overlook the qualities that make Donald Trump a poor presidential candidate, such as his inability to control his words and tweets (James 3:1-12), and sheer lack of political experience. I knew we would overlook the threat he is to women, people of color, immigrants (particularly those from Mexico and majority Muslim nations), Jewish people, and the disabled. If Donald Trump overtly does and says the exact opposite of the Gospel, how can we believe that he genuinely supports the conservative values he advertised?

I did not expect for evangelical Christians to vote for him in mass. Or, perhaps I knew this, and I was to afraid to face the reality that even though a particular evil that we have not encountered in our recent memory clearly voiced its views from national stages,  we chose to befriend it because it promised a conservative Supreme Court justice, the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, and a return to the biblical foundations of marriage. Unfortunately, evil does not support biblical truths but only attracts us with a facade of agreeable promises, and we align accordingly. Once we align, we cannot turn back.

Isaiah 5:20 cautions against following evil that is masked as good. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Scripture also states that even the elect will be deceived (Matthew 24:24). Have we been deceived? I believe many of us were.

When the outside world reads that 80 percent  (4/5) of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, they are confused. They wonder how Christians could sacrifice their values to support their values by voting for a candidate who is such a radical departure from the basics of the Christian faith, and whose words and actions are a direct assault on the gender, phenotype, and nationality of fellow church goers and the people Christians are called to serve.

From the outside, they see a Church that latched on to the promise of conservative Supreme Court justices, a reversal of Roe v. Wade, and a return to a biblical basis for marriage by sacrificing their brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, immigrants, Jewish, women, and/or disabled. When our observers integrate other factors into the mix, such as his peculiar and largely unknown relationship with Vladimir Putin, lack of experience, and a history of unsavory marriages, they wonder if we have a selective Gospel. When examining his life, his words, and his actions, Donald Trump does not support life or family, and he does not reflect Christ or the values we uphold.

It is likely that I would not write this letter if Donald Trump was a typical presidential candidate who followed the unspoken protocol that we are familiar with that maintains some level of peace: don’t insult people of color, eliminate extremist views from your words and your tweets, don’t openly state or even imply that you have friendly ties with Vladimir Putin, don’t harass women, and hide your dirt. Because Donald Trump is such an extreme departure from the norm, we should have stopped and asked the Lord about the consequences of voting for Donald Trump before we did.

Because our observers know that we are contributors, we cannot redeem ourselves by stating that we had no way of knowing how he would lead the country when his actions and words offend our values. In reality, he never hid his character from us, and he has begun to do what he clearly promised he would do.

Therefore, we have compromised our voice of wisdom in the chaotic remains of a tumultuous election, and the unprecedented protests and immigrant restrictions that followed. We voted for our rights as Christians that were advocated by a candidate who obviously is not for Christ. What an epic trade we have made: we have trusted the untrustworthy to support our beliefs rather than flee from evil.

We can redeem our values and our message of Christ’s ability to restore where there is disorder and strife, but this reclamation requires several things: repentance to God for misrepresenting Him and a trade of our party loyalties that have failed us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, each of us must pray and ask the Lord what He would have us say and do during these times–even if those words and actions cause our friends, families, and fellow church members to ridicule us. Once we are confident we have heard Him, we must move forward in strength and courage (Jeremiah 1), come what may.

– Rachel

Racism in America: The Wound that Festers

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the Charleston, SC shooting occurred.

I wrote this response months ago, but I was afraid to post it because it would mark the beginning of publicly sharing my opinion about serious issues our country faces. I wasn’t ready for feedback.

This post pulls from my  experiences, so I must provide context. As a black American with light skin, I encounter forms of racism that black people with dark skin may not; their experiences are sometimes different than my own. I have also experienced racism from both the white and black communities. This piece is not an attack on a particular group. Rather, it is a clarion call to the Church in America, “We have issues with each other! Let’s humbly resolve them. Do not wait because the time is now.”

Racism is a wound that festers. I sense this when I  mention racism or something related to “being black” or “being white” to a friend, and his or her body language, a brief sentence, or the silence that follows shuts down the conversation. My friends are not rude when they signal that they do not want to engage in the topic, nor am I aggressive or political in my comments.

Our friendship continued, but I must admit that I always felt more tense than I did previously because I knew that the colors of our skin and our worldviews had tapped into a tension that we didn’t know how to resolve because our notions of each other are rooted in our cultures and our upbringings.

After interactions like the ones described above, I am often discouraged. One of my favorite aspects of America is its diversity, so when I encounter racism or a fear of the subject, I realize there is so much work to be done. When I state that there is much “work to be done,” I am not addressing government policies designed to foster equality. Rather, I refer to a change within our hearts and minds about people who are different than ourselves, which can only be achieved through the Holy Spirit and a thorough, critical evaluation of what we think about people who are different.

It is not enough to dismiss this challenge to self-evaluate simply because we are certain that we are not prejudice because of [insert reason]. We must sincerely be reflective and critical of our thoughts toward others, our upbringings, and our interactions with people outside our racial and ethnic groups in order to tackle the work that needs to be done in our communities. Then, we must be willing to listen to the petitions and hurt of the minority groups in America without rebuttal or dismissal because we assume that the progress within government systems suggest that government policies have erased the struggles from the 1960s and earlier.

Though difficult, I know this is possible because I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work in my friendships. I’ll share one of these experiences. About five years ago, a friend visibly tensed up when I mentioned race. I cannot remember what I said, but I do remember that my statement was benign. I dropped the subject and never talked about race again. My friend moved across the country a few years later, and we kept in touch. One day, we had a long phone conversation, and out of the blue, she started talking about a revelation she had about race.

My friend apologized to me on behalf of white Christians for the way black people have been ignored and marginalized in the United States. She talked about slavery, how terrible it was, and how she did not realize how rooted it is into American culture and social structures. I cannot remember everything my friend said, but I remember that I almost cried. I felt like I did not deserve the apology because what I have experienced is nothing compared with what older generations have endured.

I asked how she came to these conclusions, and my friend stated that the Holy Spirit revealed them to her. I was shocked. I felt relieved, lighter, and hopeful because she confirmed that my experiences with racism in America and the racism that my friends and family have  experienced are valid. My concerns are not a result of being hyper-aware of it or imagining that racism is occurring when it actually is not, but rather, it is a daily reality that must be navigated in our homes, churches, places of employment, and public spaces.

She confirmed that those times I was called a “mutt” or an “oreo,” and was told I “don’t talk or act black,” “am so light-skinned that I must not be black,” “am different than other blacks,” and “will only ever been seen as a little black girl” were manifestations of racism and/or prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, those comments were just plain mean and an unawareness of the range of diversity within the black community itself.

She also confirmed that there is a lot of work to be done regarding the reformation of the individual. Racism lurks in the corners of our hearts and minds, and it manifests when we awkwardly bump into into people who are different than us or encounter the ugly moments in our nation’s history.

The reality of the evil America has committed against racial and ethnic minorities can only be healed if each of us, no matter our color or creed, sincerely evaluates ourselves. 

This is my statement for the American Church: we must hear the cries of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have deep wounds that are a result of racial and ethnic abuse and discrimination in America. These wounds are both generational and current. Much like the repercussions of divorce, fatherlessness, physical and sexual abuse, and other forms of trauma that are never dealt with, racism extends through generations. If it is not dealt with, the wounds will never heal because each political outburst or violent interaction between police and civilians will only cause these wounds to fester and spread an unstoppable infection throughout our nation that will destroy our relationships and make the Church ineffective.

I am not saying that we must inherit the guilt of the past. However, we do bare the responsibility of acknowledging that we have inherited oppressive foundations established by those who came before us and become guilty if we continue to perpetuate the racism and prejudice that is ingrained in our history and our culture by engaging in it or ignoring it. This responsibility belongs to all of us, regardless of our color.