Peace starts within. Peace cannot be found in material things. Peace cannot be found in the most splendid of a vacation, though I must say, it would be nice to relax on a lovely island right about now. Sorry, I digress. Peace is the ultimate gift that some will go to the end of the earth to search for but will not find it. Peace is what we are all wanting to experience during this time in our history. Would you be surprise to know that this peace that I speak of already resides in you? Yes, in you! If you have taken a yoga class or participated in meditating, the first thing you learn is to how to breathe, close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Yes, your breath. There is this soothing sensation that as you are experiencing your breath for the first time it is like your being is aware that your presence on this earth has a purpose. Your being on this earth is required for others to breathe, for others to find peace.
Before he was murdered, Jesus prepared his disciples for what they were about to experience. He tells them, “Peace I leave with you; then almost at a second thought, as to say no, that’s not enough, he then says, “my peace I give to you.” For someone knowing he is about to be murdered, Jesus turns inwardly and blesses those whom he loved. I believe as George Floyd breathe his last breath, he too, by calling out to his mother, turns inwardly and offers his peace to those whom he loved.
Imagine a world that speaks peace before a weapon is raised. Imagine a world that breathes out peace instead of greed. Imagine the world breathing in unison, aware of our collective breaths being present to give instead of take. Imagine the earth renewing herself, because we breathe life into her. Imagine a world that realizes our collective peace have the power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. Yes, our peace, this peace which is a gift from God. This kind of peace you cannot get from the world. It’s impossible. In fact Jesus says to his disciples, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” This kind of peace is already in you.
So today, take a moment, close your eyes, breathe peace into your space, then breathe peace out in the world. Let’s make this place better. God is depending on me and you! Let’s not let her down!
We woke up again to a cloudy, cold and rainy day in Philadelphia. It is Sunday. This day we would usually find ourselves in our perspective church buildings gathering for worship. My husband and I attend different churches. We are both ordained clergy, he in the Lutheran tradition and me in the Methodist tradition. We practice our faith a little differently, but we come back to the centering of our faith, which is Love. This quiet Sunday has provided me the opportunity to meditate on why this particular day of the week is so needed during this pandemic crisis the world is experiencing.
It is becoming difficult to get up on Sunday mornings and not be able to head out to the church building where I get to see people like Sister Woods, who has a way of correcting and loving you at the same time. For those of us who grew up in the black church, you already can imagine a Sister Woods, so you know she don’t play! Sister Robyn, who is that true black “sistah” that carries the justice torch and will stand toe to toe questioning the scripture, forcing pastor to deal with the injustice so many don’t like to take in the pulpit; the young children and teens inspiring adults to do better because, well you know, we really don’t have this spiritual thing all together and the children are there to remind us that we are not all that smart. I miss sitting and singing songs of Zion with my folks! Now, don’t get me wrong! I do like the fact that I can stay in my pajamas all day, look at a virtual worship service, sing off key in the privacy of my bedroom and make ugly faces if I kinda don’t agree with the pastor’s sermon. And now, I find myself surfing on Facebook Live for community, for belonging, for hope and in my search, I have found so many wonderful worship services that have sparked me to think differently about Sunday mornings. And this is what Sundays bring.
Sundays offer us the opportunity to start over again. It is a beginning of the week where we can decide to do things differently than the previous week where we may have experienced stress, the frustration of seeing the hurt in people eyes as they formulate lines to either go in grocery stores or stand in food lines for long period of time; anxiety that is heighten when another first of the month is about to roll around reminding us that mortgage and rent are due soon. Sundays offer the chance to seek compassion and acceptance. Sunday offers hope, dreams and rest as we prepare ourselves for the coming week. We get another chance, to try again, to study again, to live again, to take another step and just maybe we will experience new possibilities, amazing adventures because embracing Sundays gives us clearer vision and strong will to continue on.
So I offer this to you. During this time where we are staying home, which is the most loving thing we can do for everyone right now, find a worship service online that speaks to your authentic self. If you come across a worship service that preaches hatred, racism, homophobia, sexism, white supremacy, log away! Find a worship service that speaks of love and only love. I am a Christian. But you don’t have to be. A community that embodies love is all that matters. Allow Sunday to become your new beginning that happens over and over again, gaining strength over and over again, growing in grace over and over again until Sunday is everyday.
A favorite song from my Christian tradition, written by Daryl Coley, speaks this way:
When Sunday comes My trouble gone. As soon as it gets here I’ll have a new song. When Sunday comes I won’t have to cry no more.
Every trial, every tribulation will be left behind – When Sunday comes.
(The Prophet’s Complaint) ” O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ”
God we open ourselves to you. We stand before you hurting and confused. Our world is in desperate need of your arms to hold us. We are scared, tired and weary. Hear us, O God. We have faith God. Our faith did not leave us. We stand before you angry. We stand before you human.
Heal the sick. Protect the helpers. Protect the elderly. Protect the young.
We stand naked before you God, with all of the ugliness, rudeness and unloving things that we have done. Forgive us O God! We need you. Don’t turn away from us. Amen.
I started writing this piece on February 20th. I stopped for some reason, but I find it to be relevant as we are in the midst of a pandemic with Covid-19. So from where I left off…
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Faith Forum 2020 in Las Vegas, NV. I was overwhelmed with joy, seeing people operate in their perspective faiths, for the goal of liberating the oppressed; the low-wage worker, the transgender, the single parent, the uneducated child, all of God’s children that we pretend not to see. And what a place to gather, a city where residence struggle for housing and living wages. The moment we got into the Uber, the driver asked us whether we were there to party. Once we told her the reason for our visit, to be in a space with other like-minded loving people of God, she immediately said, “I am taking care of my friend’s four children, because she is homeless and her children were taken away because she had no place for them to live.” One of us gave her information to contact an organization in her city. I don’t know how anyone else felt in the car, but I wanted goodness to happen immediately. I wanted those four children to have their own rooms and a big backyard to run and play. That would not happen today. Unfortunately for many poor families in our country, playing in a backyard is a far away dream. We were dropped off in front of this glamorous hotel. The driver offered us free water just for being a customer. I’m sure each of us offered her a silent prayer.
During the forum, we had the opportunity to hear what others were doing in their perspective communities, transforming neighborhoods, prison reform and speaking to government officials concerning fair education funding. I felt proud to be among what I called great prophets, speaking to the Goliaths, telling them that all people are to be treated fair and these prophets would not back down. It was amazing! But then I had to deal with my shit. As I sat listening, I wondered where have I participated in transforming power. Wanting the four children to have their own room is one thing but how have I helped back home, creating space for prosperity among my neighbor, speaking on behalf of the voiceless? Realizing at that moment, that my wanting was a far away dream as well. Yeah, I could imagine it, the beauty of raising my power fist in the air, the feel good feeling of sitting at the table with all these strong prophets, but I wasn’t doing shit to make a difference. Seriously, nothing!
It dawned on me that I was invited to this table. Invited by good people who believed in the work of justice. Growing up in the 1960 South, whenever you were invited to someone’s house, you were taught to be respectful. You were appreciative and you smile a lot, nodding and being quiet. I understood from this moment that every table I’ve been invited to, if it’s a new job, a new church, a new community, a new school, a new oppressor, whatever. The mere fact of me believing that they invited me in, I should be nice and respectful, quiet and appreciative. At least I was surviving at the benefit of their invitation. I realized that I’ve been sitting at the table all my life believing that I should just be glad to be at a table. God forgive me. I screamed with joy in front of those prophets who invited me and said, “I have a right to be at this table, I don’t need to be nice or kind!” I’m so glad at this table they comforted and smile and said… “We would be glad to be invited to your table!” These were the most powerful words I had heard in my life time. I didn’t know what to do next! But at that moment, I mattered! All the injustice I could never explain, all the pain and guilt of growing up in an oppressing time and accepting scraps from the table because I just wanted to merely survive! At that moment I had power. My table was worthy enough.
As we all go through this pandemic we need to be aware that others will invite us to their table, not physically of course. But they will invite us when they are trying to figure out how to make a living on an unemployment check. They will invite us when there is not enough food in their cupboards, they will invite us when their communities experience gentrification, they will invite us when their health care no longer exist, they will invite us when they are unable to bury their child due to senseless gun violence. And they will invite us as Covid-19 tears apart all they have worked for. I never sat down at the table of the Uber driver taking care of four children. I heard her and smile, nod. Maybe none of us that day, actually took time to sit at her table. It requires the discomfort to leave ours, knowing that we may not have all the answers or knowing that maybe just sitting with her trouble is all that’s required. Maybe we didn’t think her table was worthy enough or maybe we just wanted to feel good, smile, nod and dream of what can be instead of dealing with the ugliness of what is. The Uber driver table is worthy. The four children’s table is worthy. The homeless mom’s table is worthy. Sitting at the table means that you will probably get food thrown on you, you may not like the main dish, the kool-aid may not be sweet enough, but hey, deal with! Don’t you think they’ve sat at your table long enough?
Sit at someone’s table where life happens and trouble comes. Don’t rush through the meal and conversation; it is a worthy table with worthy people.
I was attending a visit with a client and his daughter when suddenly I had this urge to check Facebook. I gasped when I saw the first status of my friends were from my niece with the message, “It is with sadness that Carl Pinkney passed away on Jan 2, 2020.” Immediately, I ran out of the room in tears that my nephew, who I called my brother was gone. I wasn’t upset on the way I found out about his death; that wasn’t an issue. I was upset because I never told him how special he was to me.
Carl and I were born ten days apart. Carl was the oldest. Carl’s grandmother, Katie, took me into her home when I was only a couple of hours old. If anyone from the South read this, they would understand that when a young teen girl gave birth and was unable to take care of her child, there were families who stepped in and raise that child. No questions asked. No legal papers drawn. This was how shame and caring functioned at the same time. This is how Carl and I met. Babies who would be raised together, sleeping in the same crib, starting kindergarten together, first grade, fighting with each other and being friends. We were inseparable. We held hands walking into our kindergarten class together and when we went to first grade, we were in the same class. I always felt safe because he was near.
Our homes were next door to each other and I spend almost every night at Carl’s house for supper. To be honest, Carl’s mother, Katie’s daughter-in-law, was a great cook. I felt like I belong sitting at their kitchen table. At Katie’s house there was just her and I, but the house next door was always filled with laughter. Carl love telling jokes and sometimes they were not clean jokes. One time, his mother actually washed his mouth out with soap. He was my hero.
Carl and his family moved to another part of the county when he was a teenager. His high school and my high school were arch rivals. Of course, Carl’s high school had the better football team and marching band. Carl played saxophone in the band. He idolized his older brother, Earl, who also played saxophone. Earl died when we were eight. We still found ways to see each other on the weekends, partying in places we should not be, smoking weed and drinking Colt 45. His friends became my friends and vice-versa. After graduation we attended the same college; we both dropped out. We both seemed to be chasing a dream or chasing life that would, so we thought, make us whole and complete. Carl joined the military. I moved to New York. We became distant from each other, chasing whatever desire we had that demanded us to give up our childhood.
This is what I remember about my brother, Carl kept his childhood alive, I gave up mine. He always had a twinkle in his eye because he kept chasing life. The way my niece described him, Carl was optimistic. He never lost hope. Even in his flaws, and there were many, the twinkle was always there. Carl lived life on his terms that were always not so pleasing to all of us, but he lived life still chasing the fullness of it. He struggled, got back up, struggled and got back up again. He told stories, yes some fabricated, but he had a gift of gab and he knew it. His stories were warm and humorous; his mission to make people laugh at themselves, stop and see the beauty and struggle of life.
Carl purchased a home in October of 2019; something that may seem simple for some but for him, it was major! After his 60th birthday, which was August 2019, he finally did something to let people notice that he could never fail. He was proud! He posted pictures of his home on Facebook, with emphasis of the pool in the backyard. He standing proudly with his wife after signing the mortgage papers, with key in hand! I can only imagine him saying, some folks counted me out, but God never did. He won’t get to swim in that pool but I’m sure he takes delight that his grandchildren will. He won’t get to sit in the rocking chair on the front porch, sipping on ice tea, or something else, telling his stories, but I’m sure those of us who love him will sit and sip ice tea, or something else, re-telling his wonderful fabricated stories and remembering to laugh at ourselves.
Carl was baptized a few months before he bought his home. His vices tried to defined him but he kept seeking life and he kept seeking his dream. I love him for that. I believe he found peace. I believe he knew, this time for sure, that he could never fail. Failure just wasn’t in him. John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world!”
I hope we all can learn from my brother. Carl would say this; “When the world is kicking your ass, because the world will, never give up, never give in, never stop fighting, never stop believing; because God has already ordained that, you will win.”
I decided to start a blog… I’m not sure if I can call it that, but anyway! Let me start over here. I decided to start a blog because I was turning 60. The blog was not focus on anything specifically, just whatever my thoughts were at the moment. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so I guess I just didn’t have any thoughts I wanted to share. To be honest, it’s been a little rough and a little embarrassing to share anything.
I retired, but I think I told you that already. Anyway, I haven’t been motivated and no not looking for anyone or anything to motivate me but turning 60 has stumped me. Yes, I can blame age on my lack of motivation! I have that right! I know there are many wonderful women 60 and over doing amazing things and living life to the fullest; Oprah, Gayle, Chaka, Lynn, Alfre, Loretta,Debbie & Phylicia, and of course I can’t leave out Angela, which I’m still working on getting those killer arm muscles, since the age of 30? Oh well.
One thing I’ve learned through this period of drooping, is that it’s unfair to call young people lazy or unmotivated. I’m here to tell you, old folks (okay middle age?) can be lazy “af” too! (Can I say that?).
So, I am now 60 and really have no time not be honest with myself. I know when I’ve laid in bed too long, I know when I’ve had too much wine, I know when I haven’t been kind. I know when I have not shown compassion or share in the burden of my neighbor. I know that along with others, I have hidden my face and quiet my voice from injustices I have seen recently in our country. I am aware of the lack of education funding for public schools and the lack of affordable housing. I see that young single mothers today receive less than young single mothers in my day. I acknowledge that voter suppression is a real freaking thing and I can’t just sit by and watch it happen.
Yeah, I’ve been lazy, unmotivated, just pure selfish. So God I seek your forgiveness. I have everything to get me up from this place of gloom and it’s really up to me to now get up. I have to make that decision to be inspired, not to make everyone say, “Wow she’s amazing! Of course, if that happens, I would be thrill; why lie? But let’s be honest….it’s really not about age and seeing what you have not done in this wonderful life you’ve been handed, instead it’s recognizing how important your being in this world matters to someone who still don’t know how amazing their life can be.
So instead of trying to race against my age, which is nothing I can do anyway, maybe I can just learn to be and to love.
Recently a clergy person tweeted a different view of looking at the Prodigal Son, a parable Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32. The clergy came from the perspective that the younger son is not a terrible person but from the view that possibly the son could be gay and when the Dad greets him on his return back home, his Dad affirms the son, and says I love you. I actually thought that view was great. Reading the Bible through the eyes of someone else, a marginalized and oppressed group of people can be quite compassionate.
For me I read this parable through the eyes of a black teenage boy who is struggling with a mental illness. I notice that every time I hear this parable preached in the church it is always that this young son was too fast, cared too much about himself, didn’t want to obey his Father and wanted freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. This preached word was always built on behavior, a bad terrible behavior, the young son has a sinful nature. The young son didn’t know what he had…and so he was taught a lesson. Now returning home, the Father embraces him and therefore God embraces the sinner when you return home.
I wonder why the young son is viewed through our eyes as being sinful. I wonder why we accept this view. Could it also be the young black boy who suffers from a mental illness is trying to cope at home but can’t and tries but becomes addicted to things he thought would make him feel better, realizes he made a mistake, didn’t think things through all the way. And Dad doesn’t focus on the “why” of the young son’s journey but instead embraces him and the family sets out to try again.
We do great harm at times to ourselves and to other people in our lives when we make the “why” a defining point of a person. Even the young son had determined that he was unworthy, he was no good, all because he spent all his money, became homeless and the only thing he could determine, because his journey wasn’t a successful one, is that he is not worthy. We make up the reasons we want for why someone is homeless, why someone is broke, why someone is gay, why someone is mentally ill…and we labeled them as unworthy. But you know….God will love you…when your behavior warrants an understanding from us.
I am a female black clergy concerned about our black youth who are dealing with mental illnesses. For me this is not a taboo subject. It is imperative that we view scripture from the lives of these young people whose journeys are different, but whose journeys are also worthy.
And yes, when reading this parable it becomes obvious that we are all the older son. The one who has already judged the “why” because we have determine that God sees others through our eyes.
Last Sunday I went to church. I wasn’t exactly excited about going. I did go out of responsibility and unfortunately that was about it. Church for me has become a difficult journey. I don’t know why or maybe I do and don’t want to admit that in this adult life, church is not what my mother told me it is, a place to welcome you and to love on you and to get saved. Really… my mom didn’t say to welcome you or to love on you (I thought maybe that would just make me feel better) but she did say to get saved. But still there is something that I quite can’t put my hands on. No, I’m not excited about going to this place but when I’m there, preaching, worshiping, praying, I so enjoy seeing people happy, smiling and letting them know that they matter.
Throughout church service with the choir singing and people sharing their hopes and pains, it is all so beautiful until the call “to be saved”. I could not shake the uneasy feeling I had that something wasn’t right about this. People who gathered into church came because of a number of reasons. Some that I can think of are to be part of a community, some seeking to find forgiveness, some who are seeking to be loved, some seeking to get into a heavenly realm, some I guess seeking to be saved because they believe themselves to be unworthy. But “being saved” seemed to be the only reason the church exist. And on that thought is where I find church difficult.
What would happened if all Christian churches would take people as is and not define them needing to be saved, but instead needing to be accepted and loved?! What would happened if people were able to walk into a church and breathe and not fear because the world is scarier enough to deal with?! What would happened if the church decides that all who walks through the door has no judgement but only the opportunity to become whole?! What would happened?
And what are we being saved from? Or saved to? And will God only love me if I get saved? I don’t remember Jesus ever saying anything about this to the point where we put so much emphasis on it that the church only becomes concerned about one’s salvation so you can go to heaven….until then…well… you’re on your own!
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This is not a call for individual salvation….this is a call for community salvation. And eternal life is not something we look to experience after death but living life fully now, living life with hope and assurance, with love and acceptance. I mean is the church really just saving for the “way up yonder” moment and the right now doesn’t matter?
As I’m writing this, I just happened to see someone on a website holding up a sign saying, “Repent or Go go Hell!” Ugh!!
Yes, we seek God to enter our lives….all of what our lives look like. ALL OF WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE…and I truly believe God can handle what that looks like! God transforms, not the church. The church, the ecclesia, the community supports…not damage.
I’m at a point in my life, as a preacher of the Gospel, as a sister of humankind, as a wife and mother I want to greet all those who enter into the church and welcome them, hug them and let them know they are saved from ridicule, judgement and self-doubt. I want them to know that God has always been with them. I want them to know that God loves them, relax and just breathe. And that the community, the ecclesia, seeks salvation along with them and God will provide that for us all.
My husband and I pray every night before we go to the sleep. Our prayers are sometimes short, serious and sometimes our prayers have a sense of humor in them. Our prayers are for our children, our nation, our dreams and we even pray that the person who is doing all the farting under the bedcovers will stop! We take turns in praying and to be honest I try to get out of praying when it’s my turn. I think because as a child, I was taught that prayers were to always be serious, always sound intense and that you should quench your eyes, shutting them real tight and sweating profusely because you wanted to make sure that God or your Higher Power knew your prayers were sincere.
How can anyone really pray when you are already stress about praying? It makes no sense. People project images, pretending to be something or someone they are not. All of us do it, at times. And the older we get, we realize that we don’t need to play those games anymore…it becomes tiresome and hey God, you’re gonna get what you get…. I figure you can handle it. So I pray in my authentic self, my words are not grand, sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I get on my knees, but most times, I hold my husband’s hands and we lay in bed and begin to pray.
We pray to release our thoughts and concerns into the universe, our hopes and our aspirations and we believe that a Creator who creates the universe so carefully can take our prayers among with others who have a love for humankind, sprinkle those prayers and nourish the earth with those prayers that are prayers of love. Prayers are never to be selfish, never to used as a device like a genie in a bottle and definitely never to be used to pray to a god to hurt people. Prayers are an opportunity to hold the hands of your neighbor who you may never see or know but your very being shares with them a belonging to this universe created for all. Your authentic self in prayer mixed with everyone’s else hopes and aspiration produces a beautiful light that beams in our homes and communities but a prayer that is self-righteous, a prayer that is only to project an image produces nothing….it’s just noise in the universe.
Tonight it’s my turn to pray. I will be my jovial self, laughing and telling jokes, being who I am, holding my husband’s hand, having the air fresher close by and talking to my God, just as I am.
Youth Ministry. How do we define this? So many churches have youth ministry programs that they provide to members and their neighboring communities. These ministries involves bible reading, bible games, sleep-ins, trips, bean bags, church sports teams, arts & crafts, ring ceremonies for sexual abstinence and maintaining quiet with concerns for friends and classmates who sit in youth ministry along side them who are unable to impress who they are. They enjoy the times that they are with friends but youth ministry for them is a struggle.
As a black female preacher in my early years, who worked with young people, first serving as a youth choir director, then working as a youth director, my concern was that these young people, that God allowed me to inspire, that they would grow up to be anything they wanted to be in life and to be successful, living full lives themselves, that their children would grow to do the same. But I never had to consider or was aware that I should consider that their sexual orientation mattered in order to live productive lives. In the late seventies and early eighties, at least in the black church, that was never a thought. Sure there were members in our churches who we talked about being gay and keeping things hush, hush. We thought it was not important, this was an adult thing and adults knew how to handled any conversation about sex or sexual orientation. But now this is not an adult conversation. It is not a hush hush moment.
I work with young people today. Today is not like the seventies or eighties. And because gay voices are no longer hushed, because these generation of children have friends who have same sex parents, have teachers, principles that march proudly in their communities during pride month, who have teammates that stand tall and play in who they are, I wonder in youth ministry programs are we providing a space and safety for our children who identify as LGBTQ, do they feel safe enough to voice who they are without being rebuked or us going to get the holy oil to sprinkle their sins away? When in youth ministry we talk about dating and love, how do we speak on those subjects? What happens when a young boy or girl raises their hands at a sleep-in and ask the question, will God still love me if I’m gay, if I’m queer? The answer can’t be to say hush. Not this time.
Our churches look like the communities in which we live….or they should be. Working with young people today I can tell you that they are looking at the members in the churches they attend which look nothing like their communities. And they are beginning to ask the questions. Can I bring my friend to church? Can I ask my favorite teacher to my choir’s concert? Will the youth ministry support me when I march proudly in my local pride parade?
Love and acceptance has to be the overwhelming message in youth ministry today. To minister to a person is to minister to the entire person. I do know that there are some young people that are struggling with their sexuality and on Sunday mornings, in a worship service, can be one of the hardest things they endure.
Someone is probably saying right now that well if we teach Bible our children won’t be like this or like that. Let me just say this. I remember a relative who at the age of five we knew he was different. There was nothing evil about him, there was no demon embodying him. He was the most perfect five year old. He loved life and enjoyed helping him mom with his baby brother. He loved church and God. As he grew, the church and community began to distance themselves from him. He died of an AIDS related illness. His funeral was held in a church. But between the time of 5 and upon the time of his death which I believe he passed away in his late twenties, the church never served him any kind of love or care. Listen to me closely, his love for God never wavered. Nor did God’s love for him. God loves our loves our ALL CHILDREN! So should we.