A Meeting of Love, Humor & Faith
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Black Excellence: Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Chadwick Boseman // Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue 2014 by Annie Leibovitz

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On Spiritual Wisdom and Growth (SWAG): Days 4 & 5 - FORGIVENESS and FREEDOM

The same American literature teacher who introduced me to Emerson, introduced me to Alexander Pope (no relation to the infamous fixer, Liv) the following year in British literature (a.k.a. “Brit Lit”). It was in this class that I first read the epic poem that contained Pope’s timeless words, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” The weight of this sentence surpasses that of all the mountains of the Himalayas, combined! In the most concise moment possible, Pope both acknowledges the humanness of mistake-making and the divinity of *forgiveness*. The very act of forgiveness transports you to another reality of which we have little understanding. I’ve often wrestled with the act of forgiving someone or the One, for that matter. My rational mind cannot even begin to comprehend the necessity in forgiving another for an action I’ve deemed harmful to my well-being. How can I reach this tertiary level of understanding, without becoming blind to the reality I face daily?

Let’s bring this thing a little closer to home.

On March 12, 2013, my mother died. Her physical existence, on this Earth, ceased. Clinically speaking, she was no more. This was my reality. This was what I was faced with. There seemed to be no way of escaping it. I tried to pray, but my mind wouldn’t let me establish that once-deep connection to God. I tried to piece together any “clues” I thought I’d uncovered, only to sink deeper into my confusion. The first thing I asked was, “Why?”, not “How?” Of all of the questions I needed answered, the  “Why?” made me most uncomfortable.

A good friend tried, unsuccessfully, to console me by advising me not to ask, “Why?” with the goal of understanding, but to forgive God for the trouble and pain that’s been inflicted on my heart. The act of forgiveness, according to him would allow me to move on with my life. Initially, I thought this man was trying to diminish the importance of this sudden event and ignore the sense of devastation I felt had been brought onto my world. Expressing forgiveness to anyone was the last item on my agenda, especially to this person who offered those (what I thought was) empty, thoughtless words.

Weeks passed. Those weeks quickly blurred into months. It wasn’t until I experienced a few bouts of depression and participated in self-deprecating acts that I began to realize the value of my good friend’s words. Somehow, he knew exactly what I needed to hear. Clarity of his message didn’t immediately follow; it needed some time to grow and mature until ripe enough to nourish my spirit. Forgiveness saved me from myself. It rescued me from my sinking-down. It cleansed my heart of the hurt and replaced it with love. It re-introduced me to purpose. It re-acquainted me with opportunity.

In November 2013, I was finally able to humble myself and re-commit to God. This was the beginning of my healing process. I was broken—shattered into millions of pieces and thought to be absolutely unfixable. I fell to my knees one night, face soaked with tears, and whispered, “I forgive you, I love you, and I trust you.” I repeated that declaration a bit louder a few times, as if to assure God of my sincerity. Forgiving God was a conversion experience all on its own. Nothing compares to that moment. I felt whole. I made the childish mistake of looking for blame and not looking to God. I still don’t understand why she passed. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be privy to the answer, if one exists, but I’m at peace.

Forgiving God not only led to peace, but it led to my *freedom*. Who the Lord sets free is truly free indeed. What was it like, you ask? Refreshing. Scary. Clean break. Unburdened. Meeting God at the Place d’Émancipation was no easy task. And, enjoying this newfound freedom is just as much of a challenge as it was coming into it. Living unashamedly for me and my God doesn’t sound like much work, but it is. When you’ve grown accustomed to lugging around chains of low self-esteem, negative criticism, and apathy and suddenly freed from them, you initially wander about as aimlessly as a leaf in the wind. But once you’ve found your balance through prayer, through love, through service, through forgiveness, you learn how to walk again, with pride, alongside the One who’s been with you every step of the way. Those steps quickly turn into strides and, before long, you’re running freely into the delight that is the your communion with God.

When I discovered my freedom through forgiveness, I couldn’t stop singing. Spoken words without cadence and rhythm and melody did no justice to the joy I wanted to share with the world. So, I’ll share a song with you to close tonight’s reflection. Todd Dulaney’s “Free Worshipper” perfectly describes the way I felt once stepping out into my reformed self. All praises be to God.

On Spiritual Wisdom and Growth: Day 3 - RELIANCE

Last night, I started rapping with one of my Morehouse brothers, and the conversation ran way into the night. At its close, I couldn’t muster up the energy to pencil down my thoughts, so I’m technically a day behind on this self-reflection piece, but I was in constant thought and prayer all day yesterday.

Most of my exhaustion yesterday stemmed from my Insanity workout. (Yes, I’m crazy enough to even attempt that appropriately titled exercise routine.) A lot of people have asked why I’m so suddenly interested in working out. Truth be told, I’ve always been a rather active, outdoorsy chap; I’ve just been on the hefty side for a fair majority of my life. Never had any issues with blood pressure or [bad] cholesterol levels or shortness of breath (unless I was sprinting after someone who had just stolen something of mine). But, this year, I’ve decided that a healthier lifestyle would top my year’s list of resolutions. And when I resolve to do something, I do it. I become obsessed, nearly to the point of expertise on whatever it is I’m interested in. My current obsession has become healthy eating, fitness, and wellness. Of course a byproduct of this change in lifestyle is weight loss, but I’m honestly not as concerned with the physical manifestation of my efforts, as I am with my overall well-being. No one can change the way I feel about me, but me. And, who knows? My journey to do better and feel better may inspire another, which leads to me to a few thoughts on the many dimensions of reliance.

Back in high school, my American literature teacher opened the unit on Transcendentalism with one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous pieces, “Self-Reliance.” Aside from being absolutely enamored with transcendental philosophy of the interconnectedness and inherent goodness of God, humans, and nature, Emerson’s essay deeply resonated with me. I can paraphrase a few lines here and there, but one, two-word sentence has remained with me throughout the years: “Trust thyself.” Many folks took Emerson’s words as a refutation of the need for a God and a call for a total dependence on self and one’s capacities. Those critics were wrong, but they were also, in a way, right. The God of Emerson existed in himself and was also reflected in the nature he admired. He never explicitly denied God’s existence or capabilities, but he did re-envision the God of the fundamentalists of the period (i.e., early 19th century). According to his theology, within each of us, there lies the essence of God. Our souls are the divine aspects of our being. If we trust ourselves and listen to the voice of God that speaks softly from our cores, then there is little room to err.

Reliance on one’s self for direction, strength, peace, and a host of other necessities for good living also holds a higher purpose. Self-reliance should not only direct your path, but it should also help better the lives of others. Collectively, our individual endeavors should benefit the lot of God’s own. When we rely on ourselves and trust the voice of God within us, any personal strivings will fall in line with the larger goal of bettering the lives of all human beings. You’ll begin to notice that your desires will reflect the values of your community, which will in turn inspire a neighboring town to make a difference, which will provoke another city to be change agents, and so on and so forth, until more selfless than harmful act are being committed worldwide.

Instead of offering a prayer, I’ll close with a request to complete this task:

I urge you to take a few moments out of your day, and just sit and listen. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and just listen. Let God’s voice emanate from within and bask in its beauty. Let those words guide your thoughts and your conduct for the remainder of the day. Meditate on your self-worth and remember to whom you answer. Remember the One to whom you surrender your all—however small. Be giving of yourself in that moment and thereafter. Be grateful. Don’t succumb to distractions following your intimate moment with God. Rely on your inner Godly presence to lead your actions from that moment onward. May the peace of the Lord be with you, always.

On Spiritual Wisdom and Growth (SWAG): Day 2 - EXCESS

Here we are on Day 2 of the fast, and I can honestly say that I’ve already made significant progress in terms of spiritual discovery and redefinition. The process of re-creation is always a difficult and awkward process that requires you to step out of self and take an objective look at your strengths and weaknesses, your surplus and deficiencies. I focused more on the latter portion of that statement today. I examined my life for excess.
In the Western world, we’re often taught that more is better. More money, more knowledge, more luxury, more love. Basically, the idea of “more” automatically tops the value of a smaller quantity of anything. This notion of accumulating as much of something as humanely possible distorts our psyches. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of something, it’s when you’ve acquired so much that instead of discarding and prioritizing, you assign everything equal value and start to drift into this dark and desolate place ruled by greed. It’s the dose that makes the poison.
Generally speaking, excess is unnatural. Nature prefers balance and will do just about anything to achieve such a state. Our brains are great examples. In psychology, there’s a theory of information processing that attempts to explain the way our brains determine if the information it receives is important or junk. As time passes, our brains will strengthen certain connections and weaken others. Eventually, those weaker connections are discarded. So if the information generally helps you better perform your daily tasks, that information will stick around, while the rest of it’s tossed to the brain’s recycle bin or trashcan for permanent disposal. Call me crazy, but I think that this attenuation model of filtering “sensory spam” can be applied to our spiritual selves.
Elimination and storage are two concepts we ought to welcome into our spirits. For many of us, the hardest of the two is elimination, but Proverbs 25:27 tells us, “It is not good to eat much honey, or to seek honor on top of honor” (NRSV). Throughout life, there will be times when we have to eliminate people, things, and ideas.  Every interaction, acquisition, and doctrine shouldn’t warrant a permanent relationship. Over time, those people, things, and ideas will pile up, until you’ve reached a point of exhaustion from carrying an unnecessarily heavy load. Because of your refusal to let go, you’ve now cost yourself time, money, and joy. You’ve stifled your own progress because of your superficial desires for “more.” Then you end up asking yourself, “Was it worth it?”

The beauty of this process of elimination is its conceptual companion—storage. Ridding yourself of the spiritually unfit and unwanted will begin to increase your capacity for storage of better, more fruitful things like God’s love, joy, and positive-minded people. The creation of more space for storage will allow you to once again enjoy even the most trivial of life’s wonders. Peace will find you more easily. Shallow breathing will cease and be replaced with deep, soothing breaths. Anxiety will leave your side, and patience will join you on your journey. Experiencing that growth requires space. Clear the mess, lessen the stress. But, a warning: even in balance, your situations don’t automatically continue on happily ever after. Thieves only come to loaded vaults. So, once you’ve gained just the right amount of your spiritual needs, rest assured that you’ll be a prime target for those with insatiable appetites for your time, your love, your joy, and your space. Just remember that prayer is your shield against these leeches.

I’ll offer a prayer to wrap things up:

God, the joy of my heart, create in me a will to shy away from excess. Allow me to shed those people, things, and thoughts hindering me from experiencing the fullness of your glory. Let a spirit of satisfaction and overwhelming gratitude reach the very depths of my soul. Embrace me as your own, so that I’m reminded that all I need rests in your grace. If I am to be in excess of anything, let it be you, O Lord. Let your warmth and light flow freely through all of my being, so that others may experience your endless love. This, I pray. Amen.

On Spiritual Wisdom and Growth (SWAG): Day 1 - PURPOSE

So, today begins the first day of a week-long fast prompted by the community choir I’m part of: Unique Vision (UV). Our spiritual leader decided that we all should make an effort to begin 2014 with a fresh, renewed mindset via reflection on our respective purposes in this ministry. Another goal of the fast is to gain some foresight into the direction God has for us both individually and collectively. 

To hold myself accountable, I’ve decided to track my fasting journey on Tumblr and use this as an opportunity to reflect on my current position in the group and where God wishes to take me (within this ministry) in the near and distant futures. 

Today’s buzzword is purpose. For members (current and past) of and those of us approaching the Quarter-Century Club, we’ve often heard this word within the context of our lives, more specifically, our careers. It’s become almost second nature to equate purpose and financial livelihood, which brings another buzzword into the mix—passion. Somehow our passions are supposed to act as navigation tools to our purposes in life, but what if your passions are out of line with your purpose? In many cases I see folks, including myself, mistake hobbies and revelrous times for passions, when such activities are merely pit-stops along the way to your true passions. These true passions will lead you directly to your true purpose. The way we come to acknowledge those true passions is through discernment, reached by prayer and supplication. Through prayer you express your earnest desire to have God make plain the work you are to do. Through supplication, you demonstrate your humility and willingness to receive the answers to those participating in an event like a fast. :)

Proverbs 16:9 states, “The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps” (NSRV). These words shed light on the freedom we have to choose in reaching our destinations. God allows us to make mistakes and experience setbacks so that we may grow fully to understand and appreciate our purposes in life. Our spiritual selves will undergo much revision, but the Godly core will remain in tact and untouched. The journey to True Purpose is a long, winding, hilly, uncomfortable one. It will unearth some painful memories and create beautiful ones, as well, but we must stay the course to enjoy the bliss, the indescribably peaceful joy that awaits us at the end.

I’ll close with a prayer:

God, my source of protection, comfort, and inspiration, I humbly ask for your presence along the journey to my purpose. Give me the strength to endure the troubles I am to face, the faith to believe in your powers of deliverance, and the love I will need to recover from any wounds sustained. Let the desires of my heart reflect my true passions and let those true passions give rise to my true purpose. Amen.

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Best of 2013: 1800s Week!

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"From this perspective, I am very much an optimist." - Ai Weiwei

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