Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quieting the Mind

I'm pretty bad at quieting my mind and I wonder if it's an introvert thing. I have no problems focusing, but when I stop moving and doing, a new level of activity begins. I do so much in there that when it's time to shut everything out there's a whole world of hustle, bustle and fun ideas waiting to explored rolling around in my skull. So much so that when it comes to prayer, I have to do it out loud, and conversationally.

I first noticed this was difficult for me when, during a spiritual symposium my leadership program in college had us doing, the minister leading it asked us to spend a week focusing on meditation (which freaked out my very religiously conservative boyfriend at the time). The deal was though, that instead of emptying the mind as some Asian religions teach, you're supposed to focus on God.

I remember coming home, hopping up on my extra long twin with the salmon-colored sateen duvet, leaning back against the painted cinder block wall and closing my eyes. Immediately, there was a whole world of thoughts, ideas, memories and fantasies to play with. I used to have an email signature that said "my mind is my playground" and that's exactly what I was facing...trying to concentrate on God surrounded by the things I found most comforting and entertaining.

I did though, improve.

But not too much.

I woke up to pray this morning and sat quietly. I was immediately surrounded by the sounds of songs from YouTube, memories of Thanksgiving, feelings of missing my grandmother, replays of the previous days' sparring and plans of what I'd have for breakfast. My cousin had just told me the night before that she had issues quieting her mind to pray and I chuckled at the mess I was trying to wade through to find the peace I needed to really meditate and converse.

But then I thought to pay attention. Thoughts aren't 100% uncontrollable or random. They happen for a reason and are reflections of choices we make in our hearts, minds and spirits every day. I looked at my hodgepodge and saw a reflection of priorities. Those things were on my mind because they were where I'd put the most emotional focus.

I'd been watching videos on YouTube of old songs to calm anxieties about going back to work. Thanksgiving  was full of new memories of seeing family. I'm fresh into the grieving process of saying goodbye to my grandmother. I'd had a phenomenal day, sparring with a higher belt at my gym who beat me beautifully...and...food's just a big deal to me.

I take away from that though, that in the last month of holiday preparation, burying a friend and relative, belt test prep and closing out a work year, I have been praying less and focusing less on God. It happened subtly, but it did happen. No...I take that back...I've probably been praying more...but mostly prayers of my own grief and concern for the emotions of those around me. My schedule is returning to normal now though, and while I'd gotten in more time talking to God out of burning necessity, I'd fallen off talking to him out of desire.

That is what I learned from the mess in my mind this morning. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Putting Politics Above Faith

I just started posting on race and this subject, I think, is one of the biggest sources of soreness and division between different races of Christians (within races too actually). Maybe it's a weakness on my part, but when a fellow church goer approaches me (or sends me an email) and begins demonizing democrats/liberals/socialists, I IMMEDIATELY put up a spiritual wall (among others). I don't even classify myself as one of those three, but the assumption of agreement alone I find extremely off-putting.

I'll be honest--I receive these exclusively from White, Republican/conservative contacts. Don't get me wrong, I get some pretty...um..."irksome" forwards from Black, Democrat/liberal contacts too, but for the life of me I don't remember one being based on a political party.

I don't like re-posting the work of others, but a friend sent me this and considering the number of blatantly false emails I receive from believers who seem to have no problem bearing false witness against people they've deemed the enemy or people God has allowed to be in power, I felt it was warranted. I was originally published here. Two points jump out at me...

1) That forwarding blatantly false emails involve doing two of the things God hates and
2) "Just forwarding" something doesn't absolve the sender of responsibility any more than it would in the case of gossip.

Here's the post...

As campaign season begins to heat up, I am preparing to find more of those crazy political e-mails in my in-box. They often come from an unsuspecting source, such as a childhood friend or a brother-in-law, and they’ve forwarded it to everyone in their contact list. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that spin fantastical tales of malicious gossip about some prominent politician.

A few years ago, I received an e-mail about how the Clintons had murdered Vince Foster, along with dozens of their political enemies who had also died under mysterious circumstances, such as cancer and old age. I also have gotten an e-mail informing me that George W. Bush “masterminded” the 9/11 attacks in order to start a war on terrorism. If that were true, I only wish he had spent a tenth of his time masterminding the occupation of Iraq.

No one has been the subject of these scurrilous e-mails more than President Obama. In the virtual world, he was born in Kenya, went to school at a Madrassa, will not pledge allegiance to the United States, used a Koran to be sworn into office, and is a socialist, communist, terrorist, fascist, Black Panther, Black Muslim, and the anti-Christ.

Recently, a sweet Christian woman sent me an e-mail comparing President Obama with Hitler and the rise of the Fourth Reich. This “theory” was attributed to a friendly looking professor (his photo was included) under the subject line “What if he’s right?” Of course, he isn’t right. In fact, he didn’t even say it. According to Snopes, this professor disavowed all knowledge of the e-mail and the original source was traced to an anonymous poster on a right wing blog.

It does not surprise me that there are political operatives who are not above smearing their opponents. What is disturbing is that otherwise good people have no reservations about perpetuating these kinds of vicious lies. When I’ve confronted people with the fact that their e-mail is not true, the general reaction is to slough it off, as if they are absolved of all responsibility since they merely forwarded it. Or, somehow, the rules don’t apply if it is about some prominent person who they don’t agree with politically.

The Bible is very clear about how it views this type of behavior, no matter what the excuse may be. There are several verses in the Bible about submitting to our appointed leaders. (Romans 13: 1, 1st Peter 2: 13 and 14, Hebrews 13: 17). In Titus 3:1 and 2, Paul tells us, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

By doing a little fact checking and applying some common sense, most of these e-mails can easily be proven to be factually wrong. “Forwarders” are not only abdicating their responsibility to seek the truth, they are engaging in the act of spreading rumors and possibly giving false testimony. Willfully participating in this behavior hits on at least two of the six things the Lord hates. “…a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:19)

So why do nice people so readily forward these hate-filled missives? Most of the ones I’ve seen are written to play on preexisting prejudges and fears. Like watching a scary movie, the reader willfully suspends their disbelief in order to participate in the narrative of the (fictional) story, such as being persecuted by an evil, oppressive force. Of course, this has the result of demonizing the other side and creating an even deeper divide in families, communities, and the country.

The participator of these campaigns are also allowing themselves to be deceived in another way…Many of these e-mails have embedded “cookies,” allowing the host sender to track each forwarded e-mail. This enables the originator to build a list of active addresses, which they can then sell to spammers.

When someone sends out an e-mail to all their friends, they are not only giving the gift of spam, they are also becoming willful participants in a very real form of gossip, deception, and character assassination. Based on scripture, these “forwarders” are putting their politics above their religion. Perhaps they should ask themselves, do they really want to be on the side that is willing to spread lies to win an election? If so, what does that say about their politics – and their religion?

When in doubt, it’s always good to go back to what Jesus tells us, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12: 36) And don’t get Jesus started on the larger issue of judging others. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7: 2)
So, crazy e-mail forwarders, consider yourselves warned…If I read that Barrack Obama is a member of the Illuminati or Mitt Romney has a secret family in Canada, I am obligated to let you know that this behavior is not acceptable. Paul tells us, “For those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” (1st Timothy 5:20) I’m not sure, but that may mean I am supposed to “reply all,” and that’s just going to be awkward for everyone.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

White Hug, Black Handshake

So it's time to shift this blog. I kinda knew it was coming since my Brazilian jiu jitsu blog has shifted recently too to more of a business focus.

I'd still like it to stay relatively focused, so I'm taking a step back from one topic that I think doesn't have much left for me to explore personally...singleness. Not that there isn't more to discuss, but I've come to a few "conclusions" that don't think merit too much more writing...

  • God doesn't intend for everyone to be married, regardless of what family, national or church culture says
  • The social and church focus on marriage flies directly in the face of the many Biblical examples of singles serving God
  • Christians are just as susceptible to marrying for social, superficial and downright stupid reasons as non-believers, and we're subject to the same repercussions (though God can help you through)
  • Neither status is inherently morally superior to the other and both offer special opportunities for growth
  • We segregate too much
  • Neither understands the other well and everybody needs to talk more 

In its place, I want to address race. Why? Because churches are insanely segregated (something I think is culturally based, but I think we as Christians should be able to grow past) and I have some unique experience in the area. For the past 25 years, I've been "the Black one". I now attend a predominately White church and went to predominately White, Christian elementary and middle schools. I hung out with some Christian groups in college and again..."the Black one". At the same time, I attended predominately Black churches for the first 25 years of my life, and got to see "the White one"...the converse of my experience...played out a couple of times.

Second "Why"? Because I've heard the whispers and comments and assumptions that easily could drive people away. Both groups believe their cultural take on Christianity is outlined in some unknown book in the Bible, and both go to extra effort to maintain those "scriptures", speaking their prejudices openly and alienating (sometimes I think intentionally) those that are different.

I've thought about it since I started this blog and while I didn't intend to write on race when I first started, I've always wondered how I would kick something like that off if I did. I figured...why not start with the first thing an outsider would experience entering a church? The greeting.

I think it's pretty common knowledge, but greetings (and the inherent personal space) are highly cultural. From contact-less Japanese bows (best greeting ever IMO...but I'm not a big toucher and am a bit of a germaphobe) to Latin kisses, they run the gamut. The tricky part? Perception and adjustment. If you're not used to contact, you will see higher contact cultures as invasive. If you're used to more contact, you'll see a group as cold and removed.

So yeah...the hug. If I'm wrong, correct me, but I don't think White Americans were always universally huggers. I'm sure there's some corner of the country out there that makes a habit of hugging people they've known for all of five seconds, but I'm going to say it's a relatively new development. I noticed it popping up in churches the same time I saw it in business (the day my CEO hugged me totally caught me off guard). I've accepted them as one of those things minorities learn to adapt to. Part of the whole "minority rights, majority rule" or "when in Rome" deal.

Just as I learned the cheek kiss during my days dancing salsa, I've learned to bow when visting my brother in Japan. Neither though, like the hug, will ever be comfortable or natural. I was raised in a Black family and a Black church, and hugs for me will always be reserved as a signal of familiarity...not necessarily deep, long-term or profound, but I still find it weird to hug someone I've never said more than "hi, how are you doing" to. When I started attending a Black church in Orlando during college, there were very few hugs because hugs are "special" for Black people (I'd dare to say even outside of the US). We're more handshakers until we've talked a bit.

So what's that mean? Nothing and everything. Religion and faith are highly personal and comfort is a big deal...but...

I read a piece a while back written by an organizational consultant who was called in to a women's organization who wanted to attract more racial and economic diversity. The consultant made suggestions about making meeting times that were accessible to women that worked. She recommended opening health and beauty discussions up to racially diverse products and health conditions that affected Black, Latina and Asian women. After acknowledgement of their validity and brief discussion, all suggestions were politely and softly rejected. Why? Because the board was concerned that their current members would inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

And that's what I think almost any discussion of race in the church comes down to. Comfort.

New people are uncomfortable walking into a strange church. Current parishioners are uncomfortable with demographic shifts. I've heard it all. "You know she's just here to get a Black man." "Every time I come there's more of them here." Statements of discomfort and fear of change. Since there is such a strong social component to church attendance, I don't think it's possible for an organization, or individual visitors to get past those issues unless the possibility of discomfort is accepted or even embraced as a component of Christian growth.