Choosing Life, One Generation at a Time

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Today, I sit before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants.
– Deuteronomy 30.14

The task that is laid before the people of every generation is whether or not they will follow after God. Will they build upon the good works and faith of the ancestors who have gone on before them? Or will they turn away from the path laid out before them and embrace chaos, destruction, and death instead, pushing the world further away from existence? Will they seek to redeem the despotic decision making of their fore fathers and mothers by fighting for justice and telling God’s good news about deliverance? Or will they, like their ancestors before them, persist in grinding the face of the poor for power and profit?

No matter the good done by those before, subsequent generations are expected to affirm their commitment to living a life modeled after God’s ideas rather than imperialistic obsessions with greed, evil, and death. While the idea of generational blessings has merit from a theological standpoint, this idea still clarifies the need for each generation to stand for justice and righteousness. No generation of people are exempt from having to make such a commitment, each is called to decide and declare its allegiance to God – most notably in times of transition including political and economic instability.

This is the challenge that the Israelites faced after being freed from Egypt. Three generations made distinctly different choices in their decision to follow after God. The first generation, or Moses’ generation, exhibited unfaith even though they witnessed with their own eyes God’s saving power. In spite of all that God had done for them – parting the Red Sea, dropping bread out of the sky, and so many other miracles – they complained, worshipped idols, and also simply refused to believe in God. As a result of their actions, they died out in the wilderness and failed to fully inherit all that God had for them. The second generation, Joshua’s generation, made different choices. Unlike their parents before them, or perhaps because of them, this generation inherited the Promised Land as a result of consistent, albeit imperfect obedience to God. The third generation, not knowing anything about Joshua or how God delivered the Israelites, pursued evil. The people of this generation, and even ones proceeding after it were consistently described as ones who did was what right in their own eyes and had little regard for God.

Similarly throughout the lineage of the Davidic Empire in Israel, each generation made different decisions in terms of how they would either follow God by pursuing justice, mercy, and humility or turn away from God. David, though an ardent worshipper, compromised his faith by pursuing prestige, power, and possessions – even those that belonged to other people. Although God gave his son Solomon the authority to build the Jewish Temple, Solomon greatly oppressed those within the kingdom to not only pull off the building of this great edifice but other visible institutions of the Empire. In addition, his pursuit of political power at the expense of his love for God cost him the intimacy that he once enjoyed with God. And Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, decided to further depart from God’s will instead of improving upon his ancestors weaknesses. Although he knew about how his father Solomon bought and sold people for the sake of expansion, and how David – his grandfather – was responsible for so much bloodshed, both within and without the kingdom, Rehoboam vowed to make things even worse for the people when presented with the opportunity to ease the burden of the oppressed: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (I Kings 12.11, NASB).

Yet, disobedience and departure from the ways of God came with a cost. In each instance when a generation chose to pursue injustice instead of embracing God’s shalom, there was catastrophe. Though this catastrophe was most often felt among those who were already oppressed – after all, vulnerable and marginalized communities often pay the most in times of civil and political unrest – there were consequences for every decision that squelched the opportunity for God’s love, peace, mercy, and justice to be felt among God’s people. Such was the case with Rehoboam – his persistence in following evil was a pivotal moment in Israel’s history that precipitated the downfall of the empire. Unfortunately, the kings that arose after him made similar decisions which only hastened the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of the people.

God always gives us a choice. Because He is patient and kind, not willing for anyone to perish, He consistently extends to each and every one of us the opportunity to chose Him. Not just to believe in Him or express faith in Him, but to back up what we believe about God by our commitment to pursue justice, love, and mercy instead of injustice, hatred and war.

Somehow we forget that this is what God is concerned about. We forget, or rather we do not know, that God’s heart aches for the broken and despised in this world. He grieves over the fatherless, the widow, the foreigner – people who have been made poor because of the systems of this world. Because He is concerned about them, He demands that we be concerned about them. Over and over and over again throughout the biblical text, He raises our consciousness on the plight of these and asks us to choose: Choose life so that you may live. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Liberate those in prison. Preach good news to those who are hopeless as a result of their condition.

God’s Clarion Call Today

Once again, we are at a point in history where God is asking us – and by us I want to specifically address Christian believers and also recognize that He extends the same invitation to the rest of the world – to make a decision. I call out the Church specifically because, unfortunately, we have a track record of ignoring social problems – if not condoning them – for the sake of comfort and security. In our time, right now, people across the globe are suffering tremendously because of the United States’ obsession with power. Because of power, we wage war against nations with impunity. Because of power, we consume the world’s goods – without care for who or what we are dispossessing even if the one that is being dispossessed is the earth itself. Because of power, we make allegiances with nations who are bent towards evil and ignore the plight of nations that are suffering because of our policies. 

And that is just what we are doing to people outside of our nation’s borders. The things that we are doing to our own kin are just as atrocious and despicable. Although this nation has always despised Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC), we are now seeing this hatred at a heightened level. The policies that were arguably covert since the Civil Rights era are now overt making it nearly impossible to deny that racism and white supremacy not only exist, but are still preferred weapons of war against non-whites. Will we stand to see stand to see Latinos deported, Muslims targeted, Blacks criminalized, American Indians lose even more land, LGBTQ persons increasingly discriminated against, and the poor of all races and cultures pitted against each other as the nation hoards more and more resources? Or will we stand and say no? Will we make a clear, unequivocal statement saying that we not only support these moves but will resist them through civic engagement, advocacy, civil disobedience, and prayer?

In recent history, the Church was called to make a similar decision. This time, the location was Germany and the people who were being persecuted were the Jews. As Nazism increased in the country, there arose a strange marriage between nationalism and Christianity, where the church produced anti-Semitic literature, banned Christians of Jewish ancestry from membership, and defaced the sacred scriptures – throwing out the Old Testament and amending the New Testament scriptures to erase Jesus’ connection to Judaism.

In his book, Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice, Dr. Curtiss DeYoung writes that in spite of the fact that church leaders were bothered by these moves, many refused to speak against Hitler. “They were encouraged at how the Nazis were reviving the nation’s morale and economy. And Nazi anti-Semitism was far from foreign to much of Christianity, which had a long anti-Semitic history, based on church teachings that Jews were guilty as a race for the death of Christ. (Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice p 30).”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few pastors – let alone Christians – who took a stand against Hitler noted how incapable the church was in standing up for justice, in spite of the teachings of the Jesus who advocated for such a witness against evil empires and oppression. For Bonhoeffer this “revealed the problematic character of its entire past: its veneration of and obedience to the state, its support for the traditional class system, its resistance to social change, its indifference to the plight of workers and the poor, and its opposition to socialism and working class politics” (ibid, 35). Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer was not just referring to the church in Germany but the entirety of Western Christian witness noting that delegates at the World Council of Churches held in Denmark of 1934 were resigned to the reality of war in Europe. At such a critical time in world history, Christians failed to speak and exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit working on the inside of them.

Listen, I’m not equating what’s going on in our nation and conspiring nations to what happened to the Jews – although there are strikingly similar comparisons that we must stay vigilant about. However, regardless of the scale of evil – whether it is concentrated in one region of the world or widespread across the globe – as Christians, we must speak out about it. We must speak if it affects us directly and we must speak if it does not. As a result of the church’s failure to speak, millions of people died in the Holocaust – Jews, blacks, people with disabilities, and anyone Hitler found a political threat, including Bonhoeffer himself. As a result of the church’s inability to extend compassion, love, and justice to others, millions more in our own life times are living lives under siege. Will we ignore their suffering and turn a deaf ear to their cries as did the church in WWII? Or will we choose life so that we, our descendants, our kin around the world, may live?

Oh, I pray that we choose life. Today, in this moment, let it be said that this generation chose life. Let it be said that we resisted. That we prayed. That we gathered around the dispossessed. That we extended God’s love to those who are near and far. That we refused to hide behind comfortable Christianity and took a chance on love, took a chance on God. That we welcomed the kingdom of God among us as we provided for the needs of those who are without. That’s my prayer for you, that’s my prayer for all of us as we embrace this New Year.

With love,
Happy 2017

Belonging and Survival

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The human condition is predicated on the premise that we belong and are needed by others. In order to survive and live life well, we are dependent on the presence and generosity of those who surround us – not only for provision but for meaning, relationship, and warmth as well. Just think about it: in creating humanity, God recognized the need for Adam to have a companion, a wife, a compadre in the struggle who he would be able to do life with. In His own words, God said that it was not good for humans to live alone. Such isolation not only gives us an inflated vision of ourselves but it denies us the opportunity to love and be fully loved by others.

Babies are born utterly dependent on their caregivers and as they mature into adults, they remain dependent on parents for years to come. Adults, in their old age, are dependent on younger family members, social programs, and so much more in order to provide for their needs. Every one of us is a part of a family, a community, places of worship and/or culture where we give our time, talent, and treasure. None of us are able to survive without these connections. We can neither go it alone or imagine that others can go it without us. Such demands that we relinquish selfish ideologies that place ourselves at the center, understanding that the center is much bigger than we ourselves, it consists of all of us. All of us are needed, important, valued and loved.

We cannot imagine for one minute that we could have it any other way. It may seem convenient at times to distance ourselves from others, minimizing our commonalities and mutual need for connection in order to survive. At least, that is what we are told – that life is a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers and that in order to survive, some of us just have to lose. In this alternate reality – alternate because it has no truth in it – people grow richer and more powerful by annihilating all of those who get in their way. Truth is, the act of casting others off comes with the cost of one’s own demise. Remember Cain? Many of us, I’m sure, recall the way in which Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and greed. Many of us, I’m sure, have grown up mourning the loss of Abel. And while, Abel’s loss is tragic, the greatest tragedy of the story is that in Cain’s murderous act against his own brother, he likewise separated himself from community and love. He cut himself off from the very human fabric of which he denied his brother.

Likewise, every time we deny others the opportunity to live and be free, we cut our own selves off from the same opportunity. When we choose profit over life, we rob our own water supply, diminish our own land, and compromise our own ability to breathe fresh air. When we marginalize communities through acts of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, we cause our own communities to be less safe and driven by acts of fear and aggression. When we trust in politicians instead of the testimony of our neighbors, we put our own lives at risk of being exploited by their despotic policies and practices.

Darwin – in so many ways – had it wrong: our survival is not predicated on the extinction of others. The opposite is true, our survival as a human people necessitates the wellbeing of others. If we want to exist, live, be free, and do well, we have to ensure that no one – on account of their race, religion, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or income – is marginalized for the sake of the advancement of a few or even the security of many. Picking others off just so that some can get ahead only creates an incessant cycle of finding a new class of people to demonize and vilify – until there is no one left.

We are not each other’s enemies; we are each other’s best chance at making it! We are our best chance at putting to rest all of the ways in which we allow ourselves to be cut off from each other. We are our best chance at combating climate change and uprooting white supremacy. We are our best chance at dismantling patriarchy and homophobia. This is not to say that God doesn’t have a part to play, this is His world after-all, but we have to stop using the will of God as a crutch to justify our spirit of do-nothingness. The Spirit of God will do what the Spirit of God will do, and fortunately for us, God often chooses to work through the hearts and lives of human beings. Throughout the Word, the history of the world, and in this present moment, God calls us to recognize our interdependence and out of that recognition, pursue love, justice, and mercy with all people without distinction.

God does this because He knows the ways in which division and disconnection destroys all of us. After-all, He was there when Cain killed Abel. With His own eyes, God saw how Abel’s act made him a fugitive and wanderer on the face of the earth.

And He saw how sin destroyed the unity between Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).

And how fear caused Sarah to abuse and misuse Hagar (Genesis 16; 19).

And how desperation separated brothers Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25, 27).

And how out of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37 – 50).

In each of these instances, the very act of exclusion that people used in hopes of survival cost them greatly. Acts of exploitation and oppression always come at great cost – not just to the marginalized but to the oppressor as well. This is because God in His infinite wisdom, created us to survive on the connection of others so that when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. As the South African concept of Ubuntu affirms, we only exist because of the existence of others.

Today, let’s commit to walk back toward one another. I know we’ve been through a rough year, a year marked by violence and chaos on a local, national, and global scale – all of which has been heightened by the lies the we’ve been told about each other. Some believed those lies for various reasons – be it fear, hatred, or bigotry – but at the root of them all was the need for survival.

Let’s reject the lie. Every day, starting from today for the rest of our lives, reject the lie that someone else’s life is costing us our survival. Every day, let us rehearse the truth that we know about each other – that each of us are loved, valued, and needed. And then, let us reach out and form unsuspecting alliances to bring each other in.

Because we’re worth it, I’m not willing to give up on us!

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Question: Do You Really Believe in the Resurrection?

Do you really believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

No, this is not a trick question.

Do you honesty, whole heartily believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? At a deep, fundamental level in your heart of hearts, when no one is looking, really believe in what Jesus came to do, and accomplished on the cross to the point that you have reoriented your whole life around it?

Prior to the advent of Jesus, we as a human race were without a hope in the world. As a result of the sin of one man, Adam, every person in the world was born separated from God and doomed to spend an eternity away from God. And try as we might, there was nothing that we could do to fix this. Since the beginning of time, humanity has tried to earn God’s favor in order to rectify the damage that was caused in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first turned their hearts away from God. Yet the affects of sin were so great, so massive that all of the good works in the world weren’t able to take away its sting.

Enter Jesus.

Romans 5 tells us that in the same way sin entered the world through one man, Adam, that the free gift of eternal life has been made available through the sacrifice of one man, Jesus Christ. In his death, he took upon himself the penalty of sin for all of humanity, so that no person would ever have to face the reality of eternal separation from God. After spending three days in hell, he rose from the grave and is now seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf.

Do we believe this?

If we do, we must also believe and come to see that the purpose of the resurrection isn’t one dimensional because the effects of sin are not one dimensional. You see, sin didn’t only affect our relationship with God, it corrupted our relationship with everything in this world! Through the sin of one man, Adam, the relationship that we have with one another, the earth, the environment, and even animals have all been affected. A quick read through Genesis 3 bears truth to this and shows that sin has reoriented so much. However, in Christ, we are in the process of being reconciled to all of these things but especially to one another. The power of the cross has destroyed the wall that used to divide us and has made us one (Ephesians 2.15 – 17).

Do we believe this?

If we do, our belief must alter the way that we live. Instead of allowing bitterness, discord, jealously, hate, fear and unforgiveness to define our relationships, we have to give way to love in the same way that Christ loved us. Christ loved us while we were still sinners, meaning that we didn’t do anything to merit his favor and grace, and in that love, laid His life down. God may not be asking us to lay our lives down in the same way, but he is asking, rather compelling us to live sacrificially in a world that desperately needs Him. He is asking us to put aside the baggage that we are carrying around from those who have hurt and wounded us, and choose to embrace one another rather than wallow in self-pity and feelings of victimization. He is asking us to surrender preconceived notions and stereotypes that we hold toward each other, and instead see our neighbors, our family, our friends, and even our enemies, the same way that Christ sees us. He is asking for us, people who claim to follow him, to model the truth of Gospel in the way that we treat each other, see each other, talk about each other so that those around us will likewise believe in this God who gave up so much just so that we could have eternal life.

Back to the Basics: Love God, Love Others

A man came to Jesus and asked Him what was the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your heart, and with all you mind…and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39). Nearly 2,000 years have passed and God’s Word to us is still the same – Love God and love others. God’s directive sounds easy enough in theory, but the problem is that we often don’t know what this looks like practically speaking in our day to day lives. What does it look like to love God and people with such intensity? What are practical examples of us doing so?

Before we answer these perplexing questions, indulge me in a brief exercise. Grab a pen or pencil and something to write with. List all of the ways you identify yourself and how you interpret life. Include such things such as nationality, religion, education, sexual orientation, life experience, family of origin, race, political persuasion, marital status, and any other thing you can think of. Once you have your list, take it and fold it in half and then place it aside. Now we are ready to talk about the Word.

According to the Word of God, loving God means putting Him above all else. It means putting Him before family (Matthew 10.34-39), before wealth (Luke 18.18-26), before career (Mark 1.16-20), and even above our own comforts (Matthew 16.24-28). Loving God means meditating and abiding in His Word, talking about it wherever we go with whomever we are with (Deuteronomy 6.4-9). And it also means keeping, or obeying, His Word (John 15.10). Practically speaking, loving God takes the form of following spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, and giving. But it also means keeping oneself from committing certain behaviors that are displeasing to God such as lying, theft, slander, murder, adultery, sexual immorality among many others.

Loving God also means loving others. In fact, the Word tells us that if we hate others, we don’t really love God (I John 2.7-11 and I John 4.20). We love others by treating them the way that we ourselves would like to be treated – with respect, dignity, mercy and more. We love others by forgiving them when they have sinned against us (Matthew 6.12 and 18.21-35) and also by being reconciled to them when a fracture in the relationship has occurred (Matthew 5.21-24). We also love others by meeting their needs. If we don’t, the Word of God tells us that the love of God doesn’t abide in us (I John 3.17). We are to heal them (Matthew 10.8), give them food to eat, water to drink and visit them in prison (Matthew 25.34-40), preach the gospel to them and set them free from spiritual and physical oppression (Luke 4.18, 19), and share our wealth with them (Acts 4.32-35). It doesn’t get much more practical than this!

Now that we have looked at the Word, lets go back to our folded list. The reason I had us do this initially was to expose our presuppositions. You see, we often interpret the Word based on our experiences, not based on what it actually says. The result is that we end up viewing the Word of God through those experiences, instead of looking at it with fresh eyes. In the same way that wearing rose colored glasses distorts the image of the world around us, reading the Word through our presuppositions, distorts what God really has to say to us. Unfortunately, we then take our misinterpretations of the Word and live our lives according to them, and also expect others to do the same. No wonder the world is in the state that it is in!

Here is a serious question that we must ask ourselves as we look at our list: Which of the things that we have identified keep us from loving God and loving others the way that God requires? Is it culture? If it is, we need to start looking at our culture with fresh lens so as not to abandon it but to critique it and live in a fresh, new way in it. Is it our past experiences, maybe somewhere along the line someone has hurt us so badly that we can hardly find the strength to love much less forgive. If it is, its time to lay that pain at the foot of Jesus Christ, allowing Him to heal the deep scars that still lay raw on our soul. Is is prejudice against another people, another race, or someone who is simply different than us? If it is, its time to lay aside the stereotypes and misinformed fears that we have towards the other and love from the heart, the same way that God loved us.

The areas that each of us need to work on may look different, but the goal, nevertheless is the same – to Love God more deeply and to love others more fully. To be clear, this is not easy work and there will be days where we fail at this on all fronts simply because we are human beings that have fallen short of the glory of God. However, we cannot allow, neither does God accept, this as an excuse. We must keep pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ in our lives .

A Few Thoughts about Reconciliation. Feedback Please!

I am currently reading Exclusion and Embrace by Mirslov Volf and came across this powerful thought about reconciliation:

“The work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because, at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it.”

Powerful right! But how does this work out in practice? How do we do this without being taken advantage of? How can we embrace those who have hurt us deeply, without risking the same injury and disappointment again?

Let me know your thoughts on this…

I Am Not My Hair…So Who Am I?

Although its been almost 15 years, I still remember the time I lost my hair because of a bad relaxer. It was 1997 and I was 14 and going to this hair dresser down the street from where I lived in Milwaukee. Unlike other hair dressers I had been to in the past, she knew how to give me style that was appropriate for my age, meaning that when I came out of her shop I left feeling grown up instead of like a little kid.

However, I began to notice that my hair seemed to need a relaxer a lot quicker than it had before. I also noticed that it was thinning out. My mother noticed it to. She took me to her hair dresser, who I had been to before, and she told me that my hair was falling out due to being over-processed. I did not like the sound of that. But rather than cut it off and start over, I waited it out. I got braids and after taking them down, I waited a few months before getting another relaxer so I could give my hair a break. Slowly but surely it started growing back, but it was not very long. It never really was. But still, at least, I was not bald-headed.

Over the next few years, my hair just kind of existed. I mean, it was not unhealthy but it sure was not stellar. I guess somewhere down the line I just accepted that this was the way it was, but deep down inside I longed to have long, flowing hair. I envied my sisters and other black girls around me who were able to grow their hair past their shoulders aimlessly. I wanted that for myself but did not know how to get it.

After moving out of state for college in 2001, it took me a few years to find a hair dresser I really liked. By the end of my sophomore year, I  found a lady who was pretty good at keeping my hair healthy and stylish, but then she went and cut off nearly half of my hair. I was so irate, I did not know what to do. But she said that I needed it because my ends were so badly damaged, which was true, I had been having problems with them for months. So I suck it up and after a few months, my length was back where it was before.

Over the next few years, I went back and forth between me losing my hair and then growing it out to a certain length and plateauing before I would start losing it again. I have never dyed my hair, I didn’t wear a lot of extensions or put a whole lot of product in it, but something was not working. Somewhere in between my senior year in undergrad and first year in seminary in 2006, however, I started seeing another hair dresser who thought that maybe it was time for me to give up my relaxer and go natural. It was not that I was diametrically opposed to the idea, actually I had tried to do it numerous times before, but I could not get over the fact that not having a relaxer would mean that my hair was not straight. I did not want to walk around with a fro or nappy hair, so I resisted even though my hair remained trapped in this vicious cycle.

But then the hair dresser I was seeing informed me that she was leaving the salon and referred me to someone else. I was okay with that, and she was a good stylist. Yet from the moment that I started seeing her, she kept saying that the sides of my hair were frail and thin, and that she wanted to cut them off and leave the back long. Now I don’t know much about hair styling, but in my mind, what she was describing was a mullet. She assured me that it would not look like that at all, so I let her cut it. And guess what; it looked like a mullet! I tried to hide the sides behind headbands but there was not much else I could do because it looked bad.

So, I decided to get the rest of my hair cut, by someone else mind you, and give this natural thing a try…again! By then it was 2007. Knowing myself and my tendencies all too well, I just kept my hair braided during the transitioning period and cut it off in between me getting it braided again. It took less than six months for my natural hair to grow out long enough for me to feel okay with cutting off the relaxer and sporting a short fro for a while. Honestly, I loved my new style, but I was still self-conscious about my hair not being straight.

I was having an identity crisis about my hair in its new state, so as soon as it grew out long enough, I started flat ironing it. There were times when I would twist it or wash and go, but for the most part, I kept it flat ironed. Although I could tell my hair was healthier as a result of me getting rid of the relaxer, and it was growing a bit longer a bit faster, my ends were still breaking off every once and a while. And I would get so frustrated because I could not figure out what I was doing that caused my hair to react this way, or at least, I did not want to admit that I needed to lay up on the heat as well. I thought I could have the best of both worlds and would pride myself in being able to have my hair curly one day and straight the next.

Then I got married and got pregnant. That was in 2009. Half way through my pregnancy, the ends of my hair broke off again, but by time my daughter was born they had come back stronger than ever. For the first time in my life, my hair was noticeably past my shoulders and I loved it. Of course, I continued to keep it flat ironed, after having a baby the last thing I wanted to do was put up with the fuss of my own hair. However, right before my daughter turned one in 2011, my hair started to break again and I knew that it was not breaking from the pregnancy, I had already experienced that. No this was something different.

And so, I decided to lay off the heat for a few months. I wore my hair in protective styling, kept it conditioned, and did whatever I could to keep it healthy. After two months of wearing it like this, I could tell that it had grown quite a bit, at least the front and sides of my hair had. When I went to my hair dresser, however, she told me that the breakage in the back of my hair was even worse than it was before and recommended that I get it cut. So I did, knowing that in a few months it would be back.

That was November of 2011, and after three months of no noticeable difference or growth, I knew something was wrong. You may think that I did not get myself a whole lot of time here, but I know my hair, and I know that it grows back quickly. On top of that, I saw that even more of my hair was breaking off. I instantly knew what I needed to do; I needed to stop flat-ironing my hair.

But here was the thing, because I had flat-ironed my hair so much, most of my ends were straight even without heat. So I cut them off myself, yes I am a little impatient, and basically started the process of growing out my natural hair all over again. And it has been a process that has required a lot of hard work. I have to keep my hair moisturized and conditioned on just about a daily basis because my hair has a tendency to get a little dry and brittle when I don’t which means more breakage. I have invested in essential oils and frequent youtube videos and blogs to get advice about what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. Even though it has taken a lot of time, the results have paid off. My hair has come back! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! And my flat irons are at the bottom of my linen closet buried out of eye sight.

I am grateful for the strides that I have made with my natural hair, but I have to be careful and understand that no matter what I do with it that I am not my hair! This knowledge has been key in me transitioning from a relaxer to being natural, from wearing it straight to keeping it curly and everywhere else in between. As black women, and women in general, we get so tied up in our looks and ideas of who we should be, what we should look like based on what society says. But who we are runs much deeper than these things. We are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, cousins, friends, pastors, neighbors, leaders, bankers, nurses, and so much more. We are loved, favored, blessed, talented, resourced, intelligent, beautiful and powerful. We are the image of God, expressed through Christ. So our identity, my identity, ought to come through these things. Not our hair!

Thoughts on They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky

I recently finished reading a great book about the Lost Boys of Sudan. “They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky”  tells the story of several boys, well now they are adult men, who fled their villages during a period of war. Against all odds, these boys crossed deserts, survived wild animals, and dodged bullets and bombs left and right. And they were all no older than seven years old. For years, they walked and traveled – first to refugee camps in Ethiopia and then to Kenya when the situation in Ethiopia turned for the worse.

As I read the book, I found myself thinking that although this was a horrible situation that it happened along time ago. The story starts in the 90s and carries through to 2001 when the authors were able to come to the United States. Unfortunately, however, the conflict in Sudan persists. I am not sure if it is a continuation of the same one from a few decades ago or if a new conflict has emerged, all I know is that Sudan is still bombing and starving its citizens and that is heartbreaking.

Although Sudan is very far away, the people and the situation that they are going through matters. Not just in a oh, I feel sorry for you kind of way – pity only dehumanizes people and does not really provoke any change. But the people of Sudan matter because they are intrinsically connected to all of us. We identify with their pain and suffering, not only because it threatens justice everywhere, but also because we feel it within our own beings.

This goes in line with the African philosophy, Ubuntu. Ubuntu in its simplest definition is explained as such: I am what I am because of who we all are. Bishop Desmond Tutu further describes this philosophy:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

The principle of Ubuntu, however, has deeper origins than Africa. Actually, if we look to scripture we will find the spirit of this philosophy all over the place. It starts in Genesis 4, when God wants Cain to give an account of his brother Abel, who he murdered, saying that the blood of his brother was calling to God from the ground. Although Cain is explicitly involved in this injustice, we ourselves become complicit actors in the evils of our day when we keep our mouths shut and do nothing. Whether we are explicitly or complicity involved, God’s question to all of us remains the same – Where is ‘Abel’ your brother, or perhaps instead where is the ‘Sudanese refugee’ your brother, or the ‘widow’ your sister, the ‘orphan boy’ your son, ‘the slain Syrians’ your neighbors, the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor, the voiceless. Their pain, their suffering, their blood calls out to God and He holds us accountable for their whereabouts because we belong to them and they belong to us.

So how are you responding to God’s question? Where are the oppressed and the marginalized in your midst, and what is God calling you to do about it?