Fisk University God God's love grace Uncategorized

Repost: Finding Life in the God-Story

Fisk Memorial Chapel

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was on my way to the Fisk Memorial Chapel one late Saturday afternoon to prepare for the next day’s worship service. It was fall of my junior year — and the university was broke, and unfortunately stuck with me as a makeshift student chaplain. If there was to be leadership for Sunday worship, if there was to be an effort to make ready a space for students to gather to give praises to God — if there was to be someone to choose the morning’s hymns and to figure out how to transpose the keys on the opening and closing hymns and play them on the broken carillon with its keyboard full of stuck and missing keys (and to do that without cussing!), then I needed to get my butt in gear.

As I headed to the Chapel, two brothers (as in dudes — don’t know if they were related!) approached me.  I vaguely heard their attempts at getting my attention, but my mind was focused on the task at hand (i.e., what is the deal with tomorrow’s worship — and where are You, God — do YOU really think this is funny?!?!?!? At least keep me from abusing the campus with wrongly transposed hymns on this broken carillon because everybody’s got enough ISSUES and who needs to hear a weirded out version of “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”!!!!).  

I did not hear the brothers call out to me. Bad mistake. Rude dudes do not like to be ignored. They stopped a few other classmates and asked questions about me — probably something on the order of, “who does she think she is, ignoring all of this double good Mack-daddy-ness?!” From what I understand, these brothers were assured — “she’s not ignoring you, she’s not like that — she just focused on the ultimate challenge for tomorrow.”

And, that did not sit well with the dudes.

Later, they came knocking on the door.

Them:  “We’d like to talk to you.  We heard that you are studying to be a “minister”.

Me:  Okay.

Them:  “Well, let’s talk about that.  We are seminary students here in Nashville — and we know that God doesn’t call women to preach. In fact, it’s ridiculous for a woman to serve as a minister of the Gospel in any capacity.”

Me:  Okay. (But really thinking…ridiculous?  Dang, that’s deep!)

Them:  “Can we come in?”

Me:  Okay. 

(I would like to say that I was being open-minded about this and just wanted to debate with them. The truth is, nobody told me that God did not call women to preach. This bit of info was relatively new “news” to me. Even though I did not meet a woman minister (the Rev. Dr. Karen Y. Collier) until I landed at Fisk University, it did not occur to me that folks had real issues with this until long after I had accepted my call and preached that first sermon at the age of 17. My role model for ridiculousness was James Snodgrass. I grew up watching him walk the Jericho roads in my hometown of Newark, NJ. He invited me and others to walk with him. I watched him challenge the conditions that produced Jericho roads for so many people. It was not glamorous work! Who would volunteer for that? Who would do that outside of being compelled by God? So, I’m thinking the unglamorous work of deconstructing and constructing roads is what ministers do –it just never occurred to me that there were folks who cared that the Jericho Road deconstruction crew be “manned.”

I really wanted to hear why these students thought it was ridiculous for a woman to serve as a minister of the gospel in any capacity. I mean, we were standing on the campus of Fisk University, whose heartbeat was life for formerly enslaved ancestors who proved that God often calls the least expected to do ridiculous things.

Ridiculous? Maybe, I was. Yet even so, here I stood listening to fragments of this conversation. A “first generation” college student standing here because of the whispering dreams of the enslaved – people who dared to hope that their dreams for me would not be too ridiculous for God to honor.

Anyway, I digress….I wanted to hear the arguments so I listened more intently to their conversation, and they were more than happy to share.

Them: (Actually, Dude No. 1) — “it’s really about Eve. She brought sin into the world through her weakness.”

Me:  Wow. You really think that? (But, I’m really thinking…dude, if you think that, my preaching is really the least of your problems, buddy. Just who is your momma?)

Them: (Actually, Dude No. 2) — “no, it’s really about the Apostles admonitions for women to be quiet in the church. We need discipline and order. Going against a direct command like that is a sin.”

Me.  Oh. (I’m really thinking…what about all the other commands and admonitions? Shellfish, pork, relieving yourself within the confines of the camp, differentials in time for “uncleanliness” after the birth of a son or a daughter, slaves obeying masters….gosh, if faith and obedience was really that simple, just who has been in charge of making it so hard???? Get them to stop it!”)

Them: Literally, them — they started arguing back and forth between each other about the real reasons God’s call to me was ridiculous. God prefers men. Black people need strong men in the American context. Women?! The Bible says, the Bible says…..

There was no agreement among them, no consensus on anything except “no women.” But, who knows why? Naturally? Inherently and uniquely sinful? Or, because it was the command of the Apostles, the command of God?

My head swung back and forth as if I were at a tennis match. Pretty soon, They forgot all about Me and argued and debated with Each Other as if I were not in the room. And then it hit me –I experienced a phenomenal moment of grace as this “discussion” was raging on – grace that ushered in a watershed moment for me with respect to understanding myself as God’s own and understanding.

Their discussion shifted from sharing their scriptural “proof-texts” to arguing among themselves about the real reasons God does not call women to lead. As I was registering the disagreements they were having among themselves – and the range of scriptural texts they were throwing around to prove God’s propensity to steer away from women — something happened to me that changed my life forever. By now, these guys had forgotten all about me in the room and were totally focused on their own argument.

I knew that I was where I was, not because of scriptural texts. I was standing in the fullness of who I was – poor, black, female, maybe ridiculous, but called — standing on the campus of Fisk University because of the whole God-story. At that moment, by the grace of God, I saw it: they were arguing about something that God had settled long ago. I am made in the image of God. I could get lost in the “verses,” over which we will argue until the end-times, or I could find my life in the God-story.

Fisk University, 1984

I am still choosing the Big God-Story.

It is a big, big, simple story: God traveled down through generations and interrupted the flow of time and history to wrap God’s self in flesh and to move into our neighborhood. God did this so that God could walk with us, turn us around, grace us with freedom and liberty, show us how much we are loved and teach us how to love one another. That love was not conquered by Calvary and that same love raised Jesus up on the third day for God’s sake, but also so that we would know that our lives — our hopes, our ridiculous dreams, and our spirits — did not have to end in a borrowed tomb. There will never be dead ends with God’s love. For those who pursue that love, there is a charge and challenge for today and a resting place for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s rest is not sleep. It is an exit from weariness, slavery, brokenness and travail. It is entry into the greatest choir of Singers of all time. These Singers never stop singing in harmony — incredible voices of an untold number! (You need voices of all kinds to sing this kind of harmony — the songs of the redeemed!)

It is an awesome responsibility to faithfully extend — every day — the invitation to all of God’s people to find themselves in this big, big, simple story. It is a huge effort to witness to God’s desire for all people, not just some, to be caught up in this story…especially when power prioritizes a few verses of incomplete stories here and there.

Because those dudes really liked to hear themselves talking, their argument raged on without my input. Most arguments do not need my input, hence the conviction that my energy will be spent elsewhere, namely, picking up people (with my hand and with a Word) who have been beaten down on the Jericho Road, and witnessing against the power of that old enemy – slavery. I will be doing the ridiculous work of challenging the conditions that create Jericho Roads in a world where God intends the beloved to flourish.

I thanked God for the grace of the moment. Then I served them popcorn as I worked out in my head the order of Chapel Service for the next day and prayed that I could settle on a simple call to worship in the key of C, the only truly working key on the carillon!

Here is a prayer for anyone who finds themselves on a bench at a world-class tennis match where the ultimate goal is to be overcome and worn out by an argument that is not yours, and not God’s:

“God, send us Your Grace that we might not get lost in anything except the incredibly Big Story of your amazing love. That’s it. That’s the prayer, God. Help us not get sidetracked and lost in texts and arguments. We need our carillons tuned to play your songs in the many keys of a thriving world.”


children community God prayer war youth

Do You See This? Are You Listening?

(High school students march around the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to denounce youth violence. Twenty-two Chicago Public Schools students have been killed since September, including 20 by gun violence. (Tribune photo by Tom Van Dyke / April 1, 2008)

In the last few weeks, school children in Chicago held a rally to call attention to the fact that twenty (22) students have been killed in the past school year alone. They carried signs reading “Don’t shoot. I want to grow up.” Did you see that?

This week, CNN published a story detailing how thousands of children in the United States are being sexually abused in juvenile detention and prisons. Children in the United States….did you hear that?

Today, a child in your own neighborhood –within your own range of sight — will be hurting and afraid to tell someone. There will be no parents around. There will be no trusted adults standing in the gap between them and a major mistake. Will you turn your face away from that?

Above the din of mindless cable television reporting on stuff that just does not matter and well beyond the noise of all the things that serve to distract us from really loving one another, seeing one another — beyond all of that there are these voices that we cannot ignore.

Children cry out by gang-banging, getting suspended, running away, cursing out adults, stealing. They cry out by withdrawing. They cry out by hurting themselves.

“Hurt people hurt people.”

We all are crying out in so many ways. These cries are evident in the statistics that shout the pathologies that are killing our communities. We get so worked up about the statistics, but we are doing nothing more about them wringing our hands in despair, blaming each other, blaming children….and while we are doing all of that, yet another generation falls away from us.

Adults are waging wars all across the world and children are the collateral damage. We are warring and children are dying in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Mississippi, Florida, California, Bosnia, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Darfur, Palestine….and in our own neighborhoods. Even in our own families.

We are so busy warring, fighting and focused on our own adult navels that we don’t hear these voices.

I love the Dr. Seuss story, “Horton Hears a Who.” In this timeless and incredibly important little story, Horton teaches us that there are so many little souls who stand in danger every day because the big souls just don’t hear them, don’t see them, don’t recognize their person-hood. And as the big souls go on their merry way, living, sucking up life, warring with each other, the unseen and unheard suffer as collateral damage.

Today, take a moment to really listen to what is going on in this world. Open your eyes.

1. Tell the media that you don’t want anymore stories on mindless mess. No more stories about people’s sex lives. No more sensationalized accounts of adult obsessions. Demand to know what is going on in this world in the lives of children. The best way to judge a country is by how well it does by its children and its vulnerable populations. And no “the sky is falling reports” about how all young people are going to hell in a hand basket. They are not. Demand to know where young people are doing well. Demand to know the success stories.

2. Visit your local elected officials and ask them — “how are the children doing?” If their eyes are focused on children, then they will have to be creative about finding real solutions for housing, community violence, jobs creation, education, health…they will have to deal with the real issues of our lives. Tell them that you will be watching what they do to reduce the number of guns on our streets. And then, really watch them. For those who continue to do nothing, who cannot build bridges so that people come together to problem-solve, who cannot seem to focus on why they were elected — kick them out the next “go-round.”

3. Look around your church. Is it place of peace for children? Has your church learned how to advocate for funding for positive youth development programs in your community? Does your church speak out to support your local schools? Are young people welcomed? Is there a class offered on how to be a good parent?

4. Make your voice and your face known at the local police precinct. Enough said.

5. Talk to a young person. Really talk. Communication is a two way street, so when you have said what you want to say, close your mouth and listen. Listen to what children say and what they don’t say. And when they do share something with you, honor their courage and follow through on your word.

6. Educate yourself about the wars that are being fought all around the world. Figure out what the commonalities are. Open your eyes and see for yourself — in every case, we are losing a whole generation of children. In some places they are strapping bombs to their bodies. In other places, they are stepping on bombs as they play. Yet, still in other places, bombs are hurled at them as they sleep at night. The Chicago experience tells us that American youth obviously need a police escort just to go to school because our culture, in the words of Marian Wright Edelman has “a romance with guns.” But, mothers the world over know deeply that a bullet doesn’t love anybody. A bullet is no respecter of persons.

I don’t believe that adults just want to war and fight. Rather, I believe that adults just don’t know how to make peace anymore. We don’t know how to listen. Kurt Bestor wrote a most haunting song some years ago when he was in Yugoslavia. The Bosnians, Serbs and Croatians were killing each other, and beyond all of the violence Bestor searched the faces of children and saw terror. He saw children who just wanted to be children: to play across boundaries, to laugh…to grow up.

Listen: children still just want to be children. They just want to play across boundaries, to laugh and to grow up — in Yugoslavia, Newark, Darfur, New York, Afghanistan, Iraq, Your town, Your Family.

Is anybody searching their faces and listening but God?

The Prayers of the Children
by Kurt Bestor

Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.

Cryin‘ Jesus help me
to see the mornin‘ light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.

Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto
but hope for a better day, a better day.

Cryin‘ Jesus help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home,
give me loving arms, ‘way from harm.

Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.

Cryin‘ Jesus help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you’re near,
bringing peace again.

Dali čǔje te sve dječje molitve?

Can you hear the prayer of the children?

children forsaken God Psalms

“I Belong To God”

When those to whom I belong forsake me,
then the Lord will take me up.
Psalm 27:10

I remember the day when I finally understood that I belonged to God.

It was the day when it was clear to me that I belonged to no one else. Not even myself.

To belong to God is an incredible responsibility. I tell my own children when they are expressing doubts about their abilities or when they are on the verge of inappropriate behavior — “Remember, you belong to this family.” It is enough to make us all think and straighten up — even if just for a moment.

When the children with whom you walk begin to doubt their abilities and their value, remind them that they belong to God. They will not get it at first, but hopefully, those words said often enough will become the tape playing in the back of their brains when they get older, when they face mountains…alone.

When they are discouraged.

When they look around and friends are few.

“I belong to God.”

When they have utterly failed at something – they still belong to God.

When they have experienced success…I belong to God.


child abuse children God

My God, My God, Why…..?

A friend sent a newspaper clipping to me last week and it utterly bowled me over. An 11 year old girl in the midwest has given birth to a baby. Apparently, she has been raped by her mother’s “boyfriend.” Family and friends knew of the abuse…and when the police did the DNA testing and determined who the father of the baby was, they did not have far to look: he was still in the mother’s house.

Incredible abandonment.

Incredible cruelty.


I have not yet been able to move from “My God, my God, why….” to “now that this has happened, here is what we shall do.” I’m working on that — but I’m not there yet.

My prayer is an old on…”Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Anything I would write now would be driven by my doubts, my despair over what I read. My prayer is to be a help to people who will be called to walk with this little girl. Pray for those who must step into the gap for her — we all need to move through this moment but first — let’s just face the facts.

Incredible abandonment.

Incredible cruelty.

And it happens everyday to thousands of children in our own midst who often give up on the adults around them, give up on hoping that we will be adults and protect them from the edges.
We have given our children so many reasons to never trust us again. That they do is amazing and a gift from God.

Today — intentionally look into the faces of the children around you.

Look for the signs.

Look into their eyes.

Look at them.

And fix your face so that they will not be afraid to look at you, come to you, trust in you, tell you what’s going on.

My, God, my God….of course, God does know all about this. His own child hung on a cross screaming these exact same words.

The hope for this child, the hope for all of us is that we will come to know that these are not the last words. Despair does not have the last word. Because of what God’s child did on the cross, the last word has to be a word of word of triumph and hope.


Black women God Rachel youth

What are We Doing?

A few years ago, I recieved an invitation to preach for a women’s retreat. I love ministering to women. I love the church. And I appreciate any and every opportunity I get to gather with sisters and “get away.” But there was something about this invitation that just really turned my stomach.

Maybe it was because the invitation came to me about 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Maybe it was because I just couldn’t get the pictures of those children, our children, so incredibly abandoned by the richest country in the world out of my head.

Maybe it was because I knew that the very paper the invitation was printed on cost so much more than what many are willing to give to make a difference in our communities.

I don’t know. That invitation sickened me like none other. And then it hit me: one of the things that structural evil depends on is for women of faith to be preparing for retreats, spa days, getaways and the like. While we are “retreating” our children are being incredibly abandoned. Our retreats don’t even have to be like the much criticized “mega-fest” conferences of which hopefully, many people are sick and tired and done with.

We retreat in little ways every day.

  • Refusing to speak up when a child is being mistreated because “that’s not my child” and “I’m tired.”
  • Refusing to speak up when resources for after school programs, child care, pre-K are scare in our communities.
  • Refusing to speak up and hold our own community institutions accountable for quality and thoughtfulness, not just just cultural competence.
  • Refusing to step in when a young woman is obviously over-tired and overwhelmed and dangerously on the edge of abusing her child.

We have retreated, gone off to focus on “our own.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of the retreat. Jesus retreated often. He took a day here, a morning there to get away from the press of the crowd. But his getting away was not about forgetting. He retreated to commune with God and came back with power for the people. When many of us come back from these retreats and conferences, we come back with empty wallets and purses, disembodied praise DVD’s — and no power to do anything that will make the difference for people who are still hungry for a word from God.

So, I did something with that invitation to preach at that women’s retreat that I rarely do if I can help it: I declined. I did my own hair and nails and bought a new pair of pantyhose. And then I spent the weekend just being “present” with the children in my church — affirming those who needed encouragement, buying new toiletries to give to growing young women, providing an ear and a shoulder and transportation home for a grandmother who is raising her children’s children. I also started doing research about how the children and families in my church’s neighborhood experienced life in that neighborhood.

You can’t change what you don’t know…and I want to know.


A Voice in Ramah…not bought; not satisfied and not consoled until all of God’s children, Rachel’s children (Matthew 2:18), my children see abundant, God-filled life.