Monday, August 30, 2010

Momma and Me...

Life changes bring relationship changes. The most noticeable of these relationship changes is between my mother and me. In recent years we have grown closer. She was my number one fan until I got married (I didn't think it humanly possible, but my husband beams more than my mother when I speak/preach/do something amazing). But still, not only do we connect as women, but with my recent status change, we relate as wives. We have more in common than we had ever imagined.

On Friday, after a long day (and week) at work, my mother took trains, planes, and automobiles (ok, really cars, two trains, and a taxis) and made her way from Mount Vernon to Edison. I picked her up from the Edison train station just an hour before she was to turn into a pumpkin, but she and I were both hungry, so we went to dinner at the Olive Garden. We ate well, except my gross entree. After dinner we drove back to my new home. I gave mom a tour and then we sat up, watched television, talked, and laughed until the hubby got home from work. Mom stayed up a bit longer to chat, but at this hour it was possible she was going to turn into pumpkin pie.

Hence, on Saturday mom slept late. She both needed it and deserved it. When she finally woke up, we had coffee talk, got dressed, and got started on our day. We had a, massages, manicures, pedicures, and dinner with the hubby. There was no time to waste!

I will spare you the FABULOUS details of our day. But I will share with you a special moment between mom and I. We had just pulled out of our complex. As we were driving it was quiet for a moment when mom, with a sweet smile on her face, said, "Can you believe that I am here visiting you at your house?" I can imagine that in her mind, she had traveled back some 34 years to that day when I was born. She was holding me in her arms. She was looking into my eyes. She was praying to God that her daughter would have a beautiful life. And here she was, some years later, seeing and experiencing what she had prayed for.

It is amazing the way that relationships change and grow. Though there are days when I wish I could go back to the days when stress was not part of my vocabulary, I am grateful for the many days when the beauty and wisdom of maturity is evident. I can recall a time when my relationship with my mother was turbulent, at best (the combination of teenaged girl and menopausal mother don't mix well). But now, I am grateful for my mother—the woman, the wife, my friend.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Solid As A Rock pt. II

Enough Said. Amen and May it Be So....

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

So, I was soooo not the girl following tradition when it came to our wedding two months ago, but it seems my book choices for this summer have followed the pattern Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Go figure! Here is what I've been reading this summer:

Something Old...Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I read Things Fall Apart when I was a sophomore at New York University (well over a decade ago, gasp) in my African and African American Literature Class. This is a classic book, masterfully written by Chinua Achebe in 1959. Last week, my cousin came to visit and picked up off the shelf. We both recalled enjoying the book, but I could not, for the life of me, remember what it was about. So yesterday, as I prepared to go get my wig tightened up, I tossed it in my bag. Nothing like a stint under the dryer to get started on a good book.

I finished the book this morning. The language was beautifully poetic. Achebe wrote, "The night was impenetrably dark. The moon had been rising later and later every night until now it was only seen at dawn. An whenever the moon forsook the evening and rose at cock-crow the nights were as black as charcoal."

Onkonkwo's life was beautifully tragic. He rose from nothing, made something of himself, and was so intent to be a man of power and valor that, I believe, he slowly drove himself back into the nothingness. There were times when I wanted him to emerge on top. There were times when I was so disgusted by his lack of balance, his extreme patriarchal stance, and his disregard for all things feminine that I wanted him to be humbled. Still, his end was not one that I wished for. It was simply sad.

At the end of the book my spirit was not at rest. My unrest came with reading about the negative impact of Christian mission work in Nigeria. I was not troubled by the depiction, for I know that it is true. (I had a similar kind of rest sitting through my Church History 2 class when we looked at the photographic images sent to America by missionaries of the Africans that they had "Christianized" which was really code-speak for civilized/westernized/whitened.) I was more troubled—as I always am—at the way that the gospel as been used like grenades and the way that Christianity has torn people apart.

Something New... A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim

I know I'm usually really deep, but the truth is, I chose this book because I liked the title and the cover. In this instance my superficiality paid off. This collection of related short stories made me laugh, cry, get angry, and think on the goodness of God and the power of love.

As it is a newer book (released March 2010), I don't want to give away to much. That said, I am posting an excerpt from the official press release: The narratives are set in the imaginary Midwestern town of South Gateway, where second-generation offspring of the African Americans involved in the Great Migration have pieced together a thriving if uneasy existence. Centered on the lives of a diverse cast of well drawn characters, the stories evoke a uniquely American epoch; a time and a place that is vividly rendered here with the twin peaks of horror and nostalgia. With police brutality on the rise, the civil rights movement gaining momentum, and wars raging at home and abroad, the community Jabari Asim has conjured stands on edge. Against this backdrop, the people in each story also struggle with everyday grievances such as love, child-rearing, adolescence, and domestic abuse. Each vignette is achingly chronicled and creates a piercing portrait of humanity.

Something Borrowed... Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth

This one wasn't really borrowed, but it did come highly recommended from my girls Kem, Kimberly, and Yvette. It is also one of Oprah's faves. So I picked it up, read it, and I must admit, I wasn't impressed.

As one who has spent more money than I dare admit in the weight loss industry (gym memberships, home equipment, DVD's, books, etc.), I felt like I got got. As I read the book I couldn't help but think that all of the women at the retreats Roth held were white. Not that I have anything against white women, but I think that when folks write books and they use a general term (women) that they should consider a multiplicity of ethnicities and cultures and the various ways in which food operates in various cultures. Plus, the God piece was too airy for me. There was not enough foundation for me.

Something Blue...The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

Caution: Do not read this book if you are premenstrual. The tears just flowed and flowed and flowed and I was in my good week!

I devoured this book. It wasn't a feel good book at all, but it was a think good book. It made me think about children, child prostitution, parental responsibility, poverty, globalization, patriarchy, and the ways in which they all work together. The main character, Batuk, was a girl after my own heart. I think it was because she was a writer. It is amazing the cathartic nature of writing and the way in which creativity can keep someone alive in dire circumstances.

On another note, the book is set in India. Batuk is from a rural Indian village, but most of the book is set in Mumbai. My husband and I live in a heavily populated Indian community. When I am out, I look for Batuk in the faces of the girls and woman I encounter. It seems silly, I know. But I am sure that I will see her one day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Making the Sermon: New Life in Lament

On Sunday, for the second week in a row, I preached two sermons. On Sunday, out of nowhere, I fell asleep so hard it wasn’t funny (except to my husband). I now call this the sacrament of the post-preaching nap. It is indeed sacred time!

Monday...began the sermonating process all over again. I read the lectionary texts, chose a Psalm, and began to meditate on it. (This process takes some time.)

Tuesday… I couldn’t shake Sunday’s hymn of praise, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I woke up singing it (again). I kept singing and singing, silently and out loud until I surrendered to it. Instead of preaching from the Psalms, like I had planned, I focused my sermonic musings on Lamentations 3:19-24. I have learned that when the Holy Spirit is nudging you in a certain direction, it is best to be obedient and go that way. I sat with the text, reading it over and over again.

Wednesday…I read the text in the morning and let it have its way in me as I went shopping, to lunch, and to the movies with my cousin Michelle and her daughter. They were spending some time with me in NJ, and what a blessing it was.

Thursday...I exegeted by the pool. Michelle, Najah, and I made our way to the pool at noon. We spent a total of 3 hours there. I spent my time reading the text—this time I read through the entire book of Lamentations, twice, to get context for Sunday’s text. The I began doing a word study, taking notes, and asking questions of the text.

Friday...went to the pool with books in tow. Poured over them. Closed them. Closed my eyes. Soaked in the Sun. Walked back to the house and prayed to God for the Word to bubble up in me and overflow before the end of the evening. Put the key in the door. Began singing Fantasia’s new song, “Bittersweet” in my head. Changed clothes. While changing clothes it hit me.

Saturday...sermon hitting me while driving. Wrote it down as soon as I get out of the car. Don’t want to take the Holy Spirit for granted. Officiated my first funeral, alongside Pastor Weaver who offered the eulogy. Read the text. Slept on my mom’s couch (I had a splitting headache) and then got up to write the message. I thought I was going to preach from an outline, but as I began crafting it, full sentences came out. So, I went with it. Just before 10 p.m. my headache was so painful I had to stop and go to bed. The words were in me, but they just weren’t on the page. I prayed for a healing touch and for God to have His way.

Sunday...God had His way. I woke up at 5:20, headache long gone, and fingertips ready to preach the word to my keyboard. The words poured out of me and I finished in time to get dressed and make my way to worship. The air in the sanctuary was still, for both services. I preached, and while there was little call and response in the moment of proclamation (I am coming to realize that I am not that preacher), there was an outpouring of response after the service. Our people are carrying burdens, feigning smiles, and not expressing their anguish/grief/sorrow/anger/frustration to God mostly because they have been taught not to complain. It was as if todays sermon finally gave them permission to take everything to God in prayer.

Here is the text:

Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

Here is an excerpt:

Have we forgotten how to Lament? Have we lost our ability to lament? Have we forgotten how to remember our pain and suffering?

In Orangeburg, South Carolina there was news of a 29 year-old mother of two young boys who smothered her sons and placd their bodies in a river. According to CNN News, “Authorities said Duley, a 29-year-old unemployed, single mother, may have been fed up with criticism from her mother and that her increasing frustration could have led to the killings.”

She was fed up, but I wonder what would have happened if she allowed herself to lament?

I am the first to admit my fascination with celebrity life, and my fascination with our cultural fascination with celebrity life. I watch Extra and Access Hollywood in addition to CNN. As such, I have been intrigued by the events surrounding singing sensation, American Idol, Fantasia Barrino. Alleged extra-marital affair. Alleged sex-tapes. Pending lawsuit. News of such threatening to permeate the radio airwaves, TV news media, and the blogs. In other words, folks would be talking about it. That is a heavy burden to bear. And so, Fantasia, according to news reports, swallowed a bottle of aspirin and took sleeping pills. It sounds like she was trying to take her life…to fade away without anyone noticing.

She was overwhelmed and afraid, but I wonder what would have happen if she allowed herself to lament?

Even as I was finishing this message, there were the sounds of kids screaming and yelling. There were the sounds of foul words being slung in every direction. There were sounds of their shoes clicking the pavement. I heard glass breaking and horns honking. These sounds were followed by the roars and beeps of police sirens. I heard an officer over her loudspeaker tell the young people to “go home.” My heart became heavy. I was saddened at the state of affairs in our neighborhoods. I was saddened that our children live life on these streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go without trouble all around them. I was saddened because, for some of them, home may not be any safer than the streets.

O church, I wonder what would happen if we lamented for our children?

These stories, which are but examples of countless happenings in our world today, cause me to think that we have forgotten how to lament. These stories cause me to wonder about the ways in which grief, sorrow, and anger becomes toxic when it is not expressed. I am convinced that when we don’t lament, grief overtake us. When we don’t lament, the grief kills us. When we don’t lament, the grief moves us to harm others.

The book of Lamentations is much like the Psalms, in that is a collection. Lamentations contains five chapters, each of which is a poem, focused on the “suffering, confusion, bewilderment by those who were in Jerusalem after the Babylonian conquest in 587 BC.” These were a people in captivity with hearts so heavy they could not contain it. The writer of Lamentations, whom many believe is the prophet Jeremiah, understood sin to be the cause of the suffering of the people. In the first poem (v.8) he says, “Jerusalem has grievously sinned; therefore she is removed.” Later, in verse 18 he writes, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandments hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow...” The writer knows that the sin of the people had consequences that they were living with at the time of the writing. Their captors, the Babylonians, were less than kind. They were starved and murdered, and their women were raped. This was a difficult time in the life of Ancient Israel and Lamentations is the heartfelt expression of that experience.


To lament is to passionately express one’s grief or sorrow, it is a mourning, an articulation with disappointment or regret. Lamenting in the biblical tradition is one method, one type, of prayer.

Lamenting is not complaining. They may sound similar, but there is a difference. Complaining holds within it expression of annoyance with a situation. Complaining is whining, griping, and grumbling about a situation. While lament is expressing sorrow or grief over a situation. Hear the difference. When we complain, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t like it, and it seems you have no idea what you are doing.” When we lament, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t understand it, it hurts more than words, but I’m giving it to you because I know that you have a plan for my life, for good and not for evil, to give me a hope and a future.” When we complain, we are saying, “God get it together!” When we lament, we are saying, “God help me to get it together.” We are not to complain to God, but we are to lament before God.

There are different kinds of laments. Different moments when lament is the most appropriate form of prayer...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Appreciations...

My new home is about 53 miles away from my parents home, and 56 miles away from my work at the Bethesda Baptist Church. Needless to say, I am spending a lot more time in my car than I ever have. Up until this point, my jobs and schools have always been within 20 miles of my home. Well, with this kind of commute, I have new appreciation for prayers for traveling mercies, cruise control; EZ Pass and good music. This combination makes the journey easier on long nights (like the night I was so tired I completely missed my exit).

So teach us to number our days...

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

For two mornings in a row, I have been at Homegoing celebrations. Both services were for women that I did not know. I was serving in my official ministerial capacity at both services. I have an overwhelming sense of grief, and overwhelming sense of hope, and a desire to live these days as best I can. Our lives, on this side of time, are but numbered days. And though we are living to live again, it is equally important to live as one who believes that Jesus came that we might have life abundant (John 10:10).

So live, my friends...Live!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Solid As A Rock...

As I as driving home this afternoon, listening to Marley Marl play old school R&B on 98.7 Kiss FM, I felt old. Really old. I didn't feel old because I could sing along with every word of every song he was playing, thereby showing my age. No, I felt old when the following though crossed my mind: They sure don't make music like they used to...

I mean really. That is on par with attributing every problem that every person has to drugs. You know what I'm talking about... Whether someone is 3 months behind on rent, isn't taking care of their child, got fired from yet another job, or lost 20 pounds rapidly, an older (and usually wiser) person will ask, "Is he (or she) on drugs?" Some don't even ask. They just declare, "That girl (or boy) must be on something." Well, I find myself doing that. In fact I did it earlier this week. (Don't laugh, you know you do it too!)

Back to the matter at hand. I must admit, I don't trust Trey Songz like I trust Teddy Pendergrass. I don't think Beyonce and Jay-Z can say anything worth holding a candle to Ashford and Simpson. Don't get me wrong. There are some new folks doing it right now. (Case in point, Jeanelle Monet. Girl can sing and dance and probably could have kept up with James Brown in his heyday.) But for the most part, music today isn't saying too much. At least nothing worth listening to.

Well, in honor of my age, and in celebration of a song that really inspired this newlywed on her ride home, pump up the volume and press play. Now they were saying something....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Gotta Be In It To Win It...

I just registered for my first 10K race. I must admit, though I am not yet in tip-top shape, I feel good about it. There is nothing like a deadline to motivate you. So, on Saturday, September 25th I will run my first 10k race. Woo Hoo!

The race is benefitting the Monmouth County Foodbank. If you want to donate to the cause, and support me in the endeavor, please visit to donate.

Monday, August 16, 2010

King and Queen...

Image shot by Bob Rothman Studios

Making the Sermon: Discerning the Real from the Fake

This past week my preaching text was Jeremiah 23:25-29. Heavy on my mind was the weight of the new office that I hold and the ways in which uttered speech affects the lives of the people. Our speech, as preachers, can harm or heal. At the end of my life, I want to be known as a woman whose words were breathed by the very breath of God; I want to be know as a woman whose words mattered. I want to be known as a woman whose words were healing. There is a balm in Gilead!

I chose my text early in the week from the Revised Common Lectionary. I do not come from a tradition where lectionary is used, but in my Advanced Preaching class, I learned to use it. (I also really like the African American Lectionary.) Lectionary is indeed a valuable tool for the preacher. It helps to guide the preacher through the Bible so that he or she may guide the people through the Bible, without falling victim to preaching the same texts over and over again. As I establish my preaching rhythm, I am interested in establishing a way of choosing a text that is not haphazard. That is not to say that I don't rely on the Spirit to lead me to a text, because I do. I also know that the people who hear our preaching do not live their lives episodically or haphazardly. Our preaching—my preaching—must have some continuity. This is wisdom gleaned from Rev. Dr. Gary Simpson. For that I am grateful.

Like I said, I chose the text on Monday. I spent Tuesday through Friday reading it over and over and over and over in again in various translations. I read the text at the pool. I read the text at Panera Bread. I read the text in my living room. I even listened to the text when I was out for a walk. During those days I was jotting down notes here and there as they came to me. There were moments, mostly when I was washing dishes, when I would hear the sermon in my head. At those moments I shut the water off, found my pretty preaching journal, and proceeded to write until it all came out. By the time Saturday morning hit, I didn't have a lot written down, but there was a lot ruminating in my head.

I didn't have a lot written down because I was being lazy. This was a hard text and I did not shy away from it. That did not make writing the sermon any easier. I knew early on, based on what I was hearing from the text, that folks weren't going to be "shouting down the aisles." But yet, I imagine folks weren't shouting when Jeremiah preached either.

On Saturday afternoon I finally opened up my laptop and knew that I wouldn't close it until the sermon was completed. The words poured out of me. For that I am grateful to God! At one point I knew the sermon was getting long. I mentioned this to my husband. An hour later the words were still pouring and my fingers were still clicking away on the keyboard. "Editing down, I hope," said my hubby. "Ummm, yeah, sure. That's what I'll be doing once I add this one more thing," I replied. He gave me the look. I kept typing. I typed until this phase of it was done. And I went to bed feeling good, ready for the Holy Spirit to complete the sermon on Sunday morning. It's not done until you preach it...

Here is the Text:

“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal.
“The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD.

“Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD,
“ And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

Here is an Excerpt:

And Jeremiah wasn’t the only one living in troubled times and a world with false prophets. If I did not know any better, I would think that our text from today are not the words of an ancient prophet, but rather the words of a present day prophet stirring people to know the real word of God over the false dreams of prophets. Jeremiah preached under pressure, and is that not the case for the preacher/prophet today? Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord in the midst of war, famine, despair, hopelessness, and nihilism. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord in a world rife with racism, classism, and sexim. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord while physical violence, emotional violence, and sexual violence are inflicted in the lives of people. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord while our children suffer in inadequate schools, our people live in inadequate homes, and healthcare is still a privilege for some and not a right for all. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord, speaking a word of hope in the midst of brokenness.

And it is this brokenness, this turmoil, this presence of pressure, that is fertile ground for the false prophet. You see, today, we have a proliferation of false prophets in our midst. False prophets see the brokenness in our world and capitalize on it. They use it as a way to pervert the Word of God and prey on the hearts and minds of the people. The text tells us a few things of note about false prophets. For one, they prophesy lies in God’s name. They build their ministries around untruths. They are frauds, masquerading as spokespersons for God when they really only utter falsehood. Don’t get it twisted...they will throw some Word in the mix. Make it sound real good. But remember, that is exactly what happened with the serpent in the garden and look where it got us.

Secondly, the false prophet will sell you a dream. A false prophet will tell you that God is going to give you something beyond your wildest dreams. Usually this prophesy is steeped in the American dream--health, wealth, prosperity, big houses, big cars, big bank accounts. And you find out that this prophesy is really just a pipe dream. In this society, in our current culture and ethos, we have been taught to fill our voids with stuff. Instead of promising you the peace that passes all human understanding, the false prophet promises you a piece of American pie. Instead of promising abundant love--agape--from God, the false prophet promises you abundant things to fill the empty spaces in your soul.

Lastly, the false prophet is not an authorized mouthpiece of God, but rather one who prophesies from the deceit in their heart. At their core, false prophets are wicked. At their center, false prophets are frauds. In the depths of their heart is not the love of God, but rather a love of lies and trickery.

I used to understand prophets as folks who stood in the pulpit, sometimes speaking in tongues, while intently surveying the room for someone to whom God wanted to speak directly. I encountered prophets who sometimes spoke harsh words, most times promised people an end to their suffering (or a new car), and never spoke to me. I now have a new understanding of prophets, rooted in the Old Testament tradition, where prophets are messengers of God, called to speak truth to power and motivate communities to live into their God-given identity. Think about it, when have you ever read where Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Ezekial, or Haggai promised someone a new car, a new house, or a new job. Better yet, do you know of Jonah telling the single ladies of Ninevah that they would be married in six months. The prophets did, however, on many occasions, call people into a new way of being where they walk in the word of God and the beauty of holiness.

False Prophets…will tell you their dreams.

Real Prophets...speak the words of the Lord.

False Prophets…prophesy lies, and twist the word of God.

Real Prophets...speak what thus saith the Lord.

False Prophets…cause people to forget God.

Real Prophets...keep God front and center in the hearts and minds of the people.

False Prophets…will have you chasing after money, cars, houses and clothes.

Real Prophets...will have you chasing after God.

False Prophets…work out of their own agenda.

Real Prophets...say nevertheless Lord, not my will, but thy will be done.

False Prophets…are detrimental to your walk with God.

Real Prophets...say, “order my steps in your word.”

False Prophets…tickle the itching ears of the people.

Real Prophets…speak life to the broken hearts of the people.

False Prophets…will tell you what you can and should be according to American values rooted in consumerism and materialism.

Real Prophets…will tell us what we ought to be, according to values and standards of Almighty God.

False Prophets…are interested in profits, replete with dollar signs and lots of zeros.

Real Prophets…are interested in the integrity of the prophetic office, replete with repentance and salvation.

False Prophets…will prey on you.

Real Prophets…will pray for you and pray with you.

Fake Prophets...will tell you that Jesus is a way.

Real Prophets...will tell you that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Fake Prophets...will tell you that sin is of no consequence.

Real Prophets...will tell you that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life!

False Prophets…will give you a word for the low, low, price of 19.95 payable by check, credit card, or money order.

Real Prophets…will give you a word and sacrifice their lives in the process.


The real prophet is inspired by the breath of God and the word of God. The very words they utter come directly from the Word. His or her words are God breathed. Biblical scholar, John Patterson writes, “two people may wear the clerical collar and the ministerial garb but one may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the other may be a dedicated spirit like Jeremiah. One may be the victim of illusion and the other may be the voice of God. How can we discern things that differ?” (64). Further, he states, “the inspired speaker is discerned by the inspired hearer...” (65-66)

Beloved, you must be inspired hearers.

And the way that we become inspired hearers is to be inspired readers. Beloved, we must know the word of God for ourselves. We must be in relationship with the word of God. We must meditate on the Word of God. We must hide it in our hearts that we might not sin against Him. We must eat the Word, savor it, digest it, and then live it.

Beloved, let us be inspired readers. Let us be inspired hearers. Let us be inspired by Almighty God so that we may discern the real from the fake and so we never forget God’s name.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Making the Sermon: Standing Up, Praising God

Yesterday I preached a sermon titled Standing Up, Praising God. The sermon text was Luke 13:10-17, the story of the bent woman who was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. This text grabbed hold of me about four weeks ago. In fact, I thought I was going to preach it on the third Sunday in July, but the Spirit wouldn't let me. It wasn't ready and there was another word for the people. That is to say, I had done a close reading of the text in several translation and done a word study in the Greek several weeks ago.

Earlier this week I returned to the next. Even though I had worked through the text, new insight appeared. I wrote them down in my preaching journal and waited for the sermon to come.

Wednesday: read text, take notes, no sermon.

Thursday, read text, take notes, still no sermon.

Friday: read text, take notes, three sermons.

Saturday: read text, read commentaries, take notes, still three sermons.

Ok, how does one go from having no sermons to having three sermons? I literally had three different titles and three different ways to approach the text. The question was, God, in which direction would you have for me to go? I was preaching two services, so technically I could have preached two messages. Surely there didn't seem enough time to prepare two messages. Plus, for Sunday service, I like to have my message ready by Friday. Sure, I get fresh words on Saturday and will not hesitate to edit, but I am not one who likes to write a whole sermon the night before it is preached. For real God, I need to know something.

I decided to give God a break. I packed up my stuff, got in the car, and made my way to Panera Bread. Surely, surely my ten minute drive was enough time for God to speak. Plus, I needed to get out of the house. Although working at home is good for me, since sermons are written for people to hear, sometimes I need to be in a place where I can see and hear real live people when I am preparing my messages. It reminds me that these messages are not neutral words being flung in the air, but that peoples lives are in the balance and they need to hear "what thus saith the Lord."

So God, what's it gonna be?

(d) none of the above...

When I got in the car, my husbands car that I loooove to drive, Ron Kenoly's "Mourning into Dancing" was playing. Just as I heard the words, You turned my mourning into dancing again, you lifted my sorrow. I can't keep silent, I must sing for His joy has come, it hit me. These are the words of praise, based on Psalm 30:11, that the woman in the text may have uttered after being touched by Jesus. I knew then that I needed to tell her story. I needed to give her voice, as she is mostly silent in the text (with the exception of unquoted praise). I knew that someone in the congregation was bound and needed to know that just a touch from Jesus is enough to set them free.

And so, I arrived at Panera Bread and began to type. It was like the notes I had collected over the weeks poured out of me onto the page. I did something I had never done before. That is, I preached the sermon using first-person character development. I had heard it done before and thought it an effective method of preaching (people love a good story), but I was always afraid that I wouldn't be able to inhabit the character. It is hard to step into someone else's shoes, even our ancient foreparents in the faith. At times, writing the sermon was painful; Imagine living with a bound soul and a bent back for eighteen years. At times, writing the sermon was amazing; Imagine just how beautiful and authentic this woman's praise was. First person narrative preaching invites you to imagine the sights, sounds, emotions, and even perhaps the smells in the moment in which the text took place. It also invites you to think about the thoughts, words, and gestures of and between characters that were not included in the text. First person preaching requires Holy Ghost imagination. As Marvin Mickle writes of first-person preaching, "...[it] may be entertaining, is not designed primarily for entertainment purposes. It is meant to be inductive, to lead people deeper into a biblical scene or into a moment in the life of a biblical character when some significant encounter with God takes place."

Here is the text:

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Here is an except:

Have you ever had back pain? I am talking about back pain so severe that it hurts to walk, it hurts to sit, it hurts to lay down. I couldn’t even talk or sneeze or laugh without being in pain. Have you ever had back pain so severe that you cannot even stand straight? Well, for eighteen years, I was literally bent over.

Can I be honest? When you live with pain, bent over like I was, for so long, it’s like the pain becomes your friend. You learn to live with it. It is a normal way to be. I knew I was in pain, I knew I was bound, but I just thought that was my life and that it was always going to be that way. In some ways, I had forgotten the joy of being free. I could no longer remember what it felt like to be straight. But on that day, I learned that I did not have to live my life bound.

I have heard it said that “Back pain is not only painful, it's debilitating and inconvenient…” and I must say amen to that. But as inconvenient as it was, I never stopped going to the house of worship. At the synagogue, I was able to commune with God. At the synagogue, I was able to worship, albeit silently. At the synagogue, I was able to hear the word of God and be encouraged. Even though I was bent over, I never lost my love for God, my love for the teaching of the Word, and my hope that one day things would be different. In that time of worship, in the presence of Almighty God, it was like my pain momentarily ceased. So, I did what I always did on the Sabbath morning...I woke up, got dressed, and made my way to worship.

While most of the details are clear, I cannot seem to remember what I had on that morning. It couldn’t have been anything too fancy. I had not worked in years, being bent over and all. Most of what I owned was meager. No purple. No gold. No linen. A simple garment, I am sure. But it didn’t matter much anyway. No one ever noticed what I was wearing. To most people in this congregation, I did not exist. And if I did exist, I certainly did not have a name. Every Sabbath day I would go in and out without anyone every really noticing me. Well, they did notice that I was bent over, but beyond that I may as well have been invisible.

I sat in the same place week after week, next to the same people and no one ever said a word to me. No one asked about my family. They didn’t know if I had a husband. They didn’t know if I had any children. They didn’t know if I lived alone or if there was someone to take care of me and help me out with my needs. They didn’t know if I even had a job. No one ever invited me over for afternoon fellowship. No one even offered to pray with me. They made assumptions about who I was and how I came to be that way.

Some thought I’d been bent all of my life. What they didn’t know is that I was not born that way. There was a time when I stood straight and tall. Some thought that I sinned to cause my condition. What they didn’t know is that I didn’t bring this on myself. Eighteen years ago, the enemy bound me up. I tried everything that I could to raise myself up, but nothing worked. That thing was spiritual. I was under attack of the enemy. My soul was extremely burdened and my back told the story. Yet they didn’t care. The good people of God could care less. They had formed their opinion, and to them, I was nobody...just a woman bent over in two. But it was easy for me to be just that to them...because I was so crippled, I could not look up at them...which means they never had to look me in the eyes.

But I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first time in a long time that anyone had ever looked at me, I mean gazed at me and saw who I was.

This day was like every other Sabbath day, so I thought. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be a day that I would never forget, a day that my life would change forever.

When I arrived at the synagogue there was a man teaching. I could not see him, being hunched over and all, but I knew that I did not recognize his voice. He was not one of our resident teachers. I had not experienced his teaching before, but I had certainly heard about him. He was a traveling teacher from Nazareth and word on the street was that he preached and taught with an amazing authority. More than that the streets buzzed about the miraculous works that He had performed on his way here from Galilee. He healed a woman with fever, cast out evil spirits, made a paralyzed man to walk, raised dead little boy back to life, and audaciously healed a man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath! And here he was, in our midst, teaching. And I must say, the word on the street was right. This man was captivating. His teaching was powerful and fresh, and I soaked up every word of it.

But then something strange happened. He looked at me. I could not see him look at me, but I felt his gaze. His eyes did not linger long. It all happened so fast. But I do remember that I could feel his compassion overshadowing me. For eighteen years, people have gawked at me with disdain, confusion, and the worst of all, sympathy. They looked at me like I had two heads. They looked at me like I was an animal, like I was less than human. But this man, this man looked at bent over, broke down me and I felt loved. But like I said, it all happened so fast, and the next thing I know, he stopped teaching. I cannot remember if He was mid-sentence or if He finished his thought, but clearly the lesson was not over. He stopped teaching and it was silent. You could hear a pin drop in the congregation. All eyes were on him, but his eyes were on me.

Mickle, Marvin. The Star Book on Preaching. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2005.

Making the Sermon: An Introduction

Welcome to the newest feature on my blog! I thought if John Landis could be known for "The Making of Thriller" and Puff Daddy (I refuse to call him Diddy) can flood MTV airwaves with "Making the Band" then surely the blogosphere would be ready for "Making the Sermon."

Some of my favorite homiletic texts are those that speak to the creative process of preachers. My all time favorites are Dr. Cleophas LaRue's Power in the Pulpit: How America's Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons and Jana Childers' Birthing the Sermon: Woman Preachers on the Creative Process.

Currently, my creative process is being developed. This I do know: my best sermons are birthed when I am resting, exercising, and taking good care of myself. A few months ago a sermon preached itself to me as I was running the loop at Giralda Farms. I couldn't get home fast enough to write it down! Now, in my new role as Assistant to the Pastor at the Bethesda Baptist Church, with regular preaching responsibilities, I am getting into the habit and rhythm of sermon preparation. Today was spent looking for and waiting to be found by next week's text.

This new feature will give you a glimpse into the joys and challenges of sermon preparation of a young preacher trying to find her way. Enjoy!

Just What the Doctor Ordered...

Ok, so not really. But it makes for an interesting title. Read on...

In an effort to take better care of myself and in response to the state of clergy health, I scheduled visits with my (new) primary care physician and ob/gyn. The visit with my PCP, a wonderful Nigerian woman, went very well. She took her time, asked great questions, and really listened to me. At the end of my visit, she gave me a clean bill of health, save my blood tests. She promised to give me a call when the results were in from the lab.

That was last week Thursday.

Fast forward to today.

I got up early, watched my hubby get ready for work (tee hee), and then made my way out the door for a walk. This morning I wanted to walk with ease, so I left my fanny pack (don't laugh, at least it is Armani) and my phone at home. Some forty-five minutes later I returned to the house and saw the red light blinking on my Blackberry. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. There were a few text messages and a missed call from a number I did not recognize. Thankfully this person left a voicemail.

You have one new message.

Hi Donna. This is Dr. Nelson. Your blood work came back and I wanted to discuss the results with you.

Gasp. Discuss the results. For what? What could she possibly have to say? I am healthy, right?

See when hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol run in your family, well, you get a little nervous about discussing results of blood work. Add to that the high fat/high carbohydrate foods I've been eating since graduation coupled with the minimal body movement and you get full fledged anxiety.

Well, this sure put a damper on my morning.

See, upon returning from my walk, I was going to have a light breakfast and then spend some time in prayer. I was all set to bathe in God's presence when I became flooded with fear.

Ok, Donna. You're a big girl. Just take it to the Lord in prayer. What was that song you prayed yesterday, "What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry. Everything to God in prayer." Well, blood work counts as everything, so lay it at God's feet and then call Dr. Nelson.

But, but, what if I am overreacting? Worse yet, what if it is really bad. Maybe you should call her and find out the results so you know exactly how to pray.


Good morning, this is Donna. I am returning a call from Dr. Nelson.

Blah, blah, blah. Can you hold?

Sure, I'll hold.

The line wasn't the only thing being held. What I didn't say to the receptionist is that I was holding my breath, too.

Hi Donna. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Your blood work results came in.

Still holding breath.

Everything looks good.

Praise God!

Your sugar is good! No issues with diabetes. Your cholesterol is great. Your liver and kidney functions are good. Thyroid is good.

Notice a pattern here.

I am concerned...

Hold on. Pattern shift. Concerned? About what? You said everything was good!

...about your levels of Vitamin D. Normal is 30. Your levels are at 27.

I did tell her about my seasonal depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is closely linked with a Vitamin D deficiency. Among other things, light therapy is one of the treatments for SAD.

Dr. Nelson, can I get Vitamin D supplements?

Sure, but the best way to increase your Vitamin D level is to spend thirty minutes in the sun, daily.

Excellent! I planned to go to lay out by the pool later.

We both chuckled.

That's great! Just make sure you get out in the sun. You probably won't need a supplement, but if you do, they sell them over the counter in liquid form.

Thank you. blah. blah, blah...

After I hung up the phone, I prayed. I was thankful for God's mercies which are new every morning!I was thankful that the results were positive. I was thankful that where I did have an issue that it could be easily remedied. I was thankful for last winter, one where I walked outside, at least four days each week, for an hour or so, soaking in the sun. I was thankful that I didn't have any crying bouts or major issues with my depression last year. But I was also thankful for God's reminder that if I am to have a good winter this year, one free from the blues, that I would need to begin preparing now.

So, in preparation for the coming winter, as I store up my Vitamin D, I spent three and a half hours at the pool! I lounged. I read. I prepared for next Sunday's sermon. I swam laps. But through it all, I soaked in the rays of the sun as I bathed in the grace of God.

And just in case you are worried, I slathered on my sunscreen. We all know that black don't crack, but that doesn't stop it from burning.

(check out this recent article in the NY Times about the current state of clergy health