Friday, February 25, 2011

Who are you at your office?

I've gotten a couple of reminders recently about what people remember about you as a coworker. People deeply remember hypocrisy. It makes you question everything a person has said or done. I think Jack Sparrow said it best..."you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly, it's the honest ones you have to watch out for." People like consistency in behavior and saying "I'm a Christian" fills in expected behavior in their minds. We have a's been skewing toward the crazy, bigoted and abusive in the US lately, but it's still a brand.  

A coworker and I were sharing stories of people at work who weren't what you initially thought and she recounted one of her previous jobs where a man at her office who spent a large amount of his time on the job doing duties for his church (an issue akin to theft unto itself) was caught with a meth lab in his house.

It's very similar to another situation where a coworker was an open church goer, consistently manipulated and used people in the office to get what she wanted. I've heard it brought up twice. "And she's in church every Sunday."  

I guess you could say these are just examples of non-Christians finding fault with believers...but I have yet to hear the "and he/she claims to be a Christian." line brought up in response to one-time bad's always in reference to long-term behavioral issues. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Where do White people go?

I feel like my church experience is somewhat unique, but to be honest, I have no real information to back that up. It's just not your typical story of life-long attender at the same church/raised in the church and left/never been a day in my life. Long story short, I was raised in a Black, Southern Baptist church while attending a White, Southern Baptist School (you'd be surprised at how different they are) until high school. I was a deacon's kid who, after finishing college and moving back to my home town, left the church I was raised in and changed to what I initially thought was a non-denominational church that was predominately White (turns out it's Evangelical).

Well, the last few messages have had a distinct emphasis on staying connected. I can say with almost 100% certainty that in my 20+ years at my old church and visiting other Black churches, I've never heard that spoken on. Even hearing my pastor mention it seemed odd at first, but I'm starting to get it.

It's funny how many things we take for granted because of our backgrounds and life situations. Being Black and a fringe member of the Facebook generation, the idea of being's something I'd have to fight to achieve.

I remember when I first started attending Cross Community Church and would go on vacation or trips, only to return to people not knowing where I'd been. The idea of letting people know where I was was completely foreign to my old church, I had five generations of my family attending, along with multiple classmates, friends and neighbors. If I sneezed, SOMEBODY knew I was catching a cold. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's very much particular to non-transient populations...which, in this case, means Black Americans. We have tended to stay in the same cities/geographical locations for generations, attending the same churches and schools as our parents, living lives very much focused around one community. I never had to make time to spend with people from church because they sat next to me in class, were coaches on the football team, worked at the grocery store and passed out awards to the annual neighborhood house decorating competitions.

So when someone mentions staying connected, I've found it's something I have to make an effort to do now, and I imagine that's what most of the churches population has to do too. My mother attended another predominately White church for a while and was left with the same surprise at how proactive they had to be in staying in contact with their members.

It seems obvious looking back at it's crazy how different churches can be because of cultural influences. Problems and traits that are daily companions in Black churches aren't even a blip on the radar in White and vice versa. One of the assistant pastors at the church who spent time in China once hinted at how different churches can become when developed through different cultural filters. It's really got me curious.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I can't believe God would forgive him...

I was talking with my cousin the other day about how difficult it can be to accept the idea that any of us, even those generally considered "unsavory" are up for a chance at salvation. It's been one of those concepts I've always somewhat superficially accepted under the canopy of "God is good...why not?", but never really internalized.

I was reminded a few days ago after reading Christians' harsh and condemning reactions to MMA fighter, Vitor Belfort's recent discussions on his relationship with God.
Check the fight shorts

I've mentioned it before, but my life has been very much changed by picking up the practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (the grounded, less punch-ful part of what you see in mixed martial arts matches.)...socially, physically, emotionally...all kinds of little and big changes that have completely taken me by surprise.

So yeah...I'm likely testing for my blue belt some time this year. Not to go too deep into the ranking system, but blue belt...generally takes about a year to two years of regular practice to achieve and is the point where you really start training the art. When I started, blue belts were super human to me...they could do such amazing things. I honestly never even considered wearing one, I just kept coming to class and all the guys (and ladies) kept encouraging slow, winded, falling and failing, inflexible me to keep pushing.

As it gets closer, I've found myself wondering if I REALLY deserve to wear one...I mean...there are guys (life long wrestlers, former football players, weight lifters) that wear the same blue color and could DEMOLISH me if they wanted. How am I allowed to put on this same belt as those who breezed through life as a white belt while I'm still winded and crouched after sparring?

One of the great things about the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that they take just about anyone who walks (or rolls) through the door. 300lbs over weight? Come on in! 90lb female? You too! Blind? Yep! (that's my school in the video...hee:) Yes, you're evaluated based on pure, applied skill, but the person you were when you first stepped onto the mats is also taken into account. I totally get that now. It's a hard, complex sport, but it takes more courage to keep showing up if you're not "a natural".

As a Christian who spent most of their lives with the values, customs and behaviors that characterize (but doesn't define) Christians drilled into them from a young age, it can be easy to forget or ignore how far some people have to travel in their spiritual development to get to get to where they are.

It's essential to remember though, that the reward is not our call to make.

I really couldn't care less...

Totally unrelated, but I chose that title because one of my pet peeves is when people use that phrase incorrectly and say "could" instead of "couldn't". The mistake gives the complete opposite meaning the speaker intends. Stepping down off my grammar soap box now.

One of the things I like most about my pastor is that he not only makes those stories you've heard hundreds of times at church seem new, but that he pushes past the superficial snugglies that many of us settle for when reading and interpreting Biblical teachings. Today's message was centered around the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37. 25) which, for me right now, is crazy pertinent. At the end of the sermon, the question was posed "Which character are you?" I'm honestly likely all of them at any given time in different areas of my life. 

It's definitely one of those passages that's worth revisiting and reevaluating frequently in a person's life, but today, the definition of caring really jumped out at me. This is a combination of some of the points listed...

What caring is not...

  • Doing what you want, how you want, when you want it. In other words, someone caring about you doesn't always mean it's on your terms nor will it always make you feel comfortable.
  • It doesn't mean we can solve all of everyone's problems. As in the case of the Samaritan, short or long, sometimes we can only walk part of the way.
  • Feeling bad. Pity is feeling bad. Compassion is being motivated to act.
  • Enabling. That's a hard one, because sometimes, especially if you've been enabling someone in the past, the reaction to stop doing so can be ugly.
  • It's not a one way street. He told a story of a member who stopped attending church for six weeks just to see if anyone would contact her. No one did...and in those six weeks she was busy not contacting anyone either. (This one REALLY stuck with me because relationship testers are a sore spot of mine.)
What caring does mean is that...

  • What affects you, affects me, both good and bad. 
  • It's going to cost you. Money, time, effort, emotion, convenience stability. It's really not free.
Some interesting points...
  • The parable didn't happen in church. It happened during the daily routines of church people.
  • Caring includes those closest to us...the ones easiest to take for granted.
  • Caring includes those you don't know...the ones easiest to ignore. 
  • Caring includes those that appear to be ok. In a country like the US where we tend to think money fixes all, it's easy to forget that even those with plenty of physical resources can be broken and beaten.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Counting Smilings

So I've been sick for the past couple of weeks. Not normal When I catch a cold, it generally turns into a sinus infection...which means I can't lie down...which means I can't sleep properly...which means everything gets thrown off. I was an hour late for work for a week. I slept through my alarm for church. I missed two weeks at the gym, which I am now paying for.

So yeah, I spent multiple, consecutive nights wide awake at 2am, sneezing and making friends with my neti pot. A generally annoying and miserable situation. But...sitting there...I found glimmers of enjoyment watching cartoons and playing scrabble online with friends in other time zones. (just a tip, don't play scrabble while sick and sleep deprived. You WILL lose. Multiple times.)

Today I really got to thinking about the little blessings that come in the middle of negative situations. I was in between two stressful conference calls at work and a friend sent me an IM about his stamp collection. No big deal, but it was one of those situations where you find out something new and interesting about someone you've known a long time. I smiled instantly. Having that little glimpse of a reminder of a great blessing in my life washed away loads of stress.

2010 was a bumpy year for me. It was supposed to be a quiet, down year, recovering from the drain of grad school. I tried extending myself in new directions and honestly, I left even more tired and a bit disappointed that I didn't travel internationally. Work picked up. My efforts to try more extroverted activities in areas that I'm already interested stressed me something awful. Through that though, I've developed an even keener eye for the little bright things that shine through the clouds in my life.