Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm wishing on a star...

The vast sky over Tennessee was a sight to behold last night. I'm from the concrete jungle and have been an apartment dweller all of my life, so it is rare that I see stars. The closet thing to stars I see are planes making their descent into Laguardia or Kennedy airports. Well, I saw the stars last night. The stars last night were declaring the glory of God. The stars last night sang me a love song. The stars last night, in the words of Darius Lovehall in Love Jones, "opened my eyes to the possibilities of a thing."They beckoned me to stay a little while longer.  They were brilliant. Resplendent, even. Last night I saw the Big Dipper (clearly and without a doubt). And at thirty-three years old, I saw my first shooting star. It was a night to remember.

I quickly made a wish. It wasn't hard to think of. In fact, it had been lingering in my mind, in my heart, and on my tongue for the last few days, months, and years. After I made my wish, I marveled and asked the folks around me, "Did you see that?" One did. He looked up, smiled and affirmed my sighting. Secretly, I wondered if he made a wish. I wondered what he wished for. He is a native Tennessean and is used to seeing the stars put on their show. Shooting stars may be such a regular occurrence to him that wish making isn't part of his experience with shooting stars. Whatever the case is for him, I know that in that moment I had become enchanted and hopeful. That night sky opened up the opportunity for worship. That shooting star become a moment of prayer. For a moment, everything stopped—sound, time, space—and I was at the altar of the Lord. That shooting star altered me. I am forever changed. 

As I drove home from my star gazing, I recalled the stories I'd heard about shooting stars when I was younger. Not the science of shooting stars—the fact that they are small, quick burning meteors—but the romanticized myth of shooting stars. We all know that I am a hopeless romantic. If my memory serves me correctly, shooting stars are supposed to be good luck. They are like birthday candles; They are used to invoke wishes. Well, I am convinced that God heard my invocation. Whether by shooting stars, birthday candles, or on bended knee, be sure to be enchanted by God and hopeful that He hears and answers the prayers of those who delight in Him (Psalm 37:4)

(image taken from ShootingStar2.jpg)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This is how I look without make-up... has been a while, years even, since I last listened to Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun. This album was the soundtrack for the summer of 2001. I can see Kem, Shannon and I, all bohemian fly girled out, headed to the Baltimore Harbor to see E. Badu and the Midget with the Blue Jumpsuit on (aka Music Soulchild). In any case, while in Memphis, I jacked the album from Courtney and downloaded it to my iPod. Well, somewhere between Memphis and Gallatin, I rediscovered the song Cleva as the words spoke to me in new ways. It spoke to me in ways that it had not—could not have—spoken to me when I was 25 years old. I would dare to say the song ministered to me. 

As I've grown older, I have come to love myself more—so-called flaws and all. Last week, Courtney tried to comment on my blog several times. It didn't work, so she ended up telling me what she was going to write. It was something about the beauty in being naked (vulnerable). So often, I (we) put on--clothes, make-up, and masks. Sometimes we put them on to attract others. Sometimes we put them on because we are afraid others will not love our authentic selves. Sometimes we put them on because we, ourselves, are afraid to face our own selves. Well, what I recognized is that for me to attract others, I need to present my naked self, my without make-up and masks self, my unencumbered self. 

I used to think I had to be (or get) perfect before anyone would love me. I worked out like crazy. I even wore my contact lenses to appear less smart. I tried to hide my quirkiness. Well, these days, I'm good with who I am: thick. I've got thick thighs, thick glasses, and thick hair (even in places women don't want hair to grow). But I'm clever with a camera and words. And, I'm alright with me. Are you alright with you?"  If not, I dare you to let E. Badu minister to you...

This is how I look without makeup
And with no bra my ninny's sag down low
My hair ain't never hung down to my shoulders
And it might not grow
Ya' never know

But I'm clever when I bust a rhyme
I'm cleva always on ya' mind
She's cleva and I really wanna grow
But why come you're the last to know?

I got a little pot in my belly
So now a days my figure ain't so fly
My dress ain't cost nothin' but seven dollars 
But I made it fly
And I'll tell ya why

But I'm clever when I bust a rhyme
I'm cleva always on ya' mind
She's cleva and I really wanna grow
But why come I'm the last to know?

Alright, alright, alright
Alright, alright, alright
Alright, alright, alright
Alright, alright, alright yeah

Alright with me
Said that I'm alright with me
Said that I'm alright with me
Said that I'm alright with me
Said that I'm alright with me
Said that I'm alright with me

(Self-Portrait 2009 of what I think is one of my best features)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Truly, MJ was an experience.

I was driving from Gallatin to memphis when I got the news of Michael’s passing. I was about an hour into my drive, somewhere south and west of Nashville. The news came via text: MJ is dead. Instantly, I knew the text was about Michael Jackson. I mean, that is how big he was. All you had to do was say his initials and I recognized. Anyway, when  I got the text, I was in disbelief. I happened to be on the phone with my roommate. “Google it,” I said. She did, and the reports had not been confirmed. So at that moment, he went from dead to rushed to the hospital. Whew. How crazy would it be for Michael Jackson to be dead? I breathed a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong, I know that death is a part of life. But like Tupac and the Notorious BIG, I felt like there was more. More Michael to be experience. Truly, he was an experience.

But there was no more. In a matter of minutes, the reports (and truth) of his death started coming in. I felt myself welling up with tears. I became deeply saddened not only because of his death, but because he was a troubled soul, because he gave of himself—his gifts—freely and often, because we abused his person while enjoying his music. We talked about him, instead of loving him though his pain.

Even as I write this, I am saddened. I cannot bear to hear the reports of his troubles. I don't want to speculate about the details of his death. I don't want to write anymore. I just want to go dance. So, before I leave Memphis, I will (we will) get up on somebody's karayoke stage and pay homage to a legend lost. RIP Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Or I could write about watching fireflies dance in the night.

There is just so much to write about, and at the same time, I am at a loss for words. I have attempted to write this blog entry on four different days, about twelve different happenings, but every time I sit down to type, the words escape me like David Davis back on the Lincoln School playground circa 1985 during an intense game of tag. The words are hiding behind rocks, under the slide, and in the corner of the entryway to the cafeteria, yet I feel like I owe it to you, my readers, to write something. I especially feel a responsibility to my mother, who out of love and pride, read my entire blog in one day. She's checking in (hi Mom!) and I do not want to disappoint her. 

Don't get me wrong, I have been writing, but mostly in my journal. See, there is stuff happening in Tennessee that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. I could write about the the dusty film of racism that covers Gallatin, (and greater Sumner County) like soap scum in the sink of a seedy gas station bathroom. Or I could write about getting pulled over by police officers for speeding (on the way to church) and praying fervently as they approached the car, "Please God, let these be the kind of cops who like black people."  Or I could write about feeling like a school girl when a certain guy comes around and flashes his beautiful smile. Or I could write about sitting by the lake on the swing, with Jack and my iPod, singing India Aire's "I am Ready for Love" at the top of my lungs. Or I could write about the way I get pumped while walking at the Gallatin Civic Center anytime Mary J Blige's "Just Fine" or Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" comes on my iPod. Or I could write about going three weeks without coffee (on purpose). Or I could write about talking to my mother every day (to ease her heart and mine) for the past twenty days, something that has never happened since I've been living on my own. Or I could write about Big Momma's house—real live Southern hospitality extended that has not left me alone, or without family, or without bangin' macaroni and cheese for the last three Sunday afternoons after church. Or I could write about questioning the effectiveness of integration of schools after hearing the stories of both the profound sense of pride and responsibility instilled in black children at Union High School (the only school for black students in the entire county) and the decline of education and nurturing of black students after schools were desegregated. Or I could write about tokenism.  Or I could write about white privilege. Or I could write about the way the thunder sounds like it is coming from God's belly. Or I could write about the warm kiss of a 98ยบ breeze. Or I could write about watching fireflies dance in the night. 

But here, in this space—cyberspace—I cannot write about any of it in detail because to do so would be to invite you, my readers, into the depths of my heart. To do so would open the door to intimate places that few can enter. To do so would make me more vulnerable than I desire to be. So perhaps the words are not escaping me. Maybe, just maybe, I am holding the words back. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay...

In 1967, just days before his death, Otis Redding recorded the following lyrics:

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Well, this evening, after a long day at work and a difficult reentry in the world of exercise, I sat in the backyard in a swing close to the lake and just watched. I wasn't alone. Jack, a three-year old beautiful black lab was sitting next to me as I stroked his head and told him about my day. As we were sitting, instinctively I began singing that Otis Redding tune. I sang it a few rounds until it dawned on me; I wasn't wasting time. 

At that moment I had a revelation. My spirit echoed the words of Habbakuk: But the LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him (2:19-20). As I sat, looking out on the lake, I was overwhelmed by the presence of God. The trees, the lake, the vast sky, and everything else in my view was in fact the temple of the Lord. I had been talking with Jack, but I got quiet. My head got quiet. My heart got quiet. My soul got quiet. There was a stillness that is reserved only for the reverence of Almighty God. 

I wasn't wasting time. I must admit, I have bought into the lie that if I am not doing something that I am wasting time. Well, my definition of doing 'something' has changed. Even as I sat there, seemingly doing nothing, I was acknowledging Almighty God. In that moment, I  actually discovered time. It was a time like none other. It was devotion time. It was prayer time. It was worship time. It was praise time. So I sat, and took it in. And Jack did too!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A lesson in the Cheerios© box...

Since I've been a preacher, my eyes have been opened wider to the profound lessons that show up in the everydayness of life. Some might call them kairos moments. When ordinary time stops and something extraordinary happens. This monring I has a kairos moment while eating Cheerios©.


OK, so really it happened before I even poured my cholesterol reducing breakfast into a bowl to enjoy. (See the post on balance.) I opened the box and looked so my hands could get a grasp on the inner plastic bag. When I looked down, I noticed something that struck me as odd. It was a plastic wrapped white and green piece of moulded plastic with a piece of white cardboard backing it. I was hungry and running late, so I didn't pursue the matter further in that moment.


While eating my Cheerios©, I did what most people do; I read the box. Well, on the back of the box I saw that the box contained an Ice-Age pencil topper. A ha! The mysterious piece of moulded plastic was a pencil topper. I wish I could say I was excited, but I wasn't. 


I know, I know. A five year old would have been excited for this Ice-Age pencil topper. Perhaps. But since I am a five year old at heart, or at least when it comes to toys found inside of cereal and Cracker Jack© boxes, I began to reflect on my disappointment. It wasn't my age, but it was the lack of surprise, anticipation, and mystery. I mean, the pencil topper was just handed to me. Almost twelve hours later, I still haven't opened the thing!


Back in the day, the toys were never just handed to you. You had to do one of two things to get a toy from the cereal box. Getting the toy either involved eating the ENTIRE box of cereal (my mother's preferred method for us) or digging you hand way down deep and getting kid cooties on every morsel of cereal until you finally had the prize in hand (you guessed it, my method of choice). Never, never was it just given to you. Of course, I always wanted the toy, but there was something exciting about waiting for it, earning it, digging for it, and then finding out which of the four I was going to get.


And so, as I drove to work this morning (did I mention yet that I am in Tennessee!!!), I further reflected on this situation. Perhaps I've been in Seminary too long, but I cannot help but think theologically about the prize in the Cheerios© box. I cannot help but know that God has something great in store for me, for us, but that it isn't going to be handed to us. In fact, when it is, we tend not to appreciate it. I also cannot help but think about my mother's preferred method of getting the toy. What a lesson. Wait for it! Enjoy the journey! Do what you need to do (in this case eat the cereal) to earn it! Anticipate it! And when you have gotten your nourishment, sit back and play with it...whether it is your dream job, your dream partner, overflowing joy, abundant peace, unfailing love, or an Ice-Age pencil topper!


So even as I do this shalom work in Tennessee, I know that I must get the nourishment I can from this experience. I cannot dig in and expect to see results, but I must wait because, "But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” In other words, they that wait on the Lord will get the toy at the bottom of the Cheerios© box.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

He guided me to Tennessee...

I believe I was in ninth grade when Tennessee came out. It was the first single released by Arrested Development. I was attracted to them as a group—the language, the history, the sociology, the anthropology, the activism, the truth, the justice, and the love that deeply shaped their experience, and consequently, their lyrics. (I must note, I also LOVED their bohemian, pre-dirty backpacker sense of style.) In some ways, these lyrics are apropos for this leg of my journey. (I’m writing this as I sit in my connecting flight from Charlotte to Nashville.) 

Lord I've really been real stressed

Down and out, losin ground

Although I am black and proud

Problems got me pessimistic

Brothers and sisters keep messin up

Why does it have to be so damn tuff?

I don't know where I can go

To let these ghosts out of my skull

Last year, I was quite stressed, navigating my way through ministry (church work, school work, work work). I’ve seen and heard some things that have caused me great distress: communities in despair, hopelessness, insecurity, lovelessness, and injustice. I’m not pessimistic, but I certainly do need a place/time to, as Speech of Arrested Development said, “let these ghosts out of my skull.” Decompression. Journaling. Reflection. 

My grandmas past, my brothers gone

I never at once felt so alone

I have been blessed with meaningful relationships this year, both at Drew and beyond, so I cannot say that loneliness is an issue. Though distance separates us, I’ve grown closer with my mother, praise be to God. Through prayer, intentional time to cultivate a relationship, I’ve grown closer to God. At times I’ve had moments of loneliness, but generally, I have felt both connected to God and the folks in my life. Feeling lonely is rather tough when you live in a house with two amazing women of God!

I know you're supposed to be my steering wheel

Not just my spare tire (home)

But lord I ask you (home)

To be my guiding force and truth 

For some strange reason it had to be

He guided me to Tennessee

But still, I’ve been doing much of the steering in my life. I, too, want the Lord to lead me and guide me, to order my steps. Actually, I know that He already has ordered my steps. Truth is, I want to walk in those paths of mercy and truth, purpose and destiny, that God has ordained and planned for me.

So going to Tennessee is as much about my own Shalom as it is about the Shalom of the people in Gallatin. It has to be that way, especially considering that we are woven together in, what Dr. King calls, “an inescapable garment of destiny.” As I move forward in my “being still” and listening attentively to God about my current and next steps, I am confident that the place where revelation and metamorphosis will happen is in Tennessee. For some strange reason, He guided me to Tennessee…

It is strange in that it a new experience, a place I’ve never been before, people I’ve never interacted with. By definition, to be strange is to generate a feeling of uneasiness and to cause one to be unsettled. Tennessee is strange in the newness of it all, but I’m not unsettled. I am trusting God.

©Image taken on US Airways FLight 1021 en route to Nashville, Tennessee

© Tennessee by Arrested Development, 1991.