I’d garner a wage that if you’ve ever stepped into a church, you’re familiar with the “Offering” moment. It’s generally a time in the service where someone will get up and give a brief message about the importance of tithing.
It is almost comical how quickly the energy in the room changes in this moment. People revert back to high school tendencies and hide their faces for fear of eye contact and looming shame.
At the church I currently attend, they pass buckets down rows and I, as discreetly as possible, glance at how much my neighbor has contributed while simultaneously feeling the need to defend why I have nothing tangible to place in the bucket because I give online. All of this, of course, happens in seconds. Then, the moment passes and everyone seems to release a collective breath, almost as if to say, “OK, we’re done talking about money.”
A lot of times when we hear sermons on giving, we hear it from the perspective of “Give because God’s going to give it back to you.” Another perspective is “Give because God will punish you if you don’t.”
I’m not going to argue against those perspectives. I want to offer a new one, perhaps, a deeper one.
This Giving Thing is Nothing New
2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are basically an offering message nestled in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Without getting too much into the historical context of this passage, let’s establish a little background to set the scene.
It’s important to read the letter as a whole. Paul was attempting to re-establish his authority with the Corinthian church. There were “false prophets” trying to usurp his relationship with the church; there were questions around hierarchy within the church as it pertains to spiritual gifts, etc., etc.
Needless to say, the church at Corinth needed a stern talking to. While this was going on in Corinth, according to Colin Kruse’s The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, the Jewish Christians of Judea had been hit hard by outbreaks of famine during the reign of Claudius (emperor of Rome AD 41-54).
Theologian Tom Wright goes on to explain the sensitivity of Paul’s ask. Wright states, “[Paul] knows that at every stage the project is a tricky one: persuading the Gentile churches to hand over money, especially the Corinthian church that had seemed to rebel against him; taking the money safely, and with proper accounting, to Jerusalem; and delivering it acceptably to the church there.”
There’s one passage in particular that I’d like to highlight. 2 Corinthians 8:4 says, “… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of
sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (emphasis mine).
We could all learn a thing or two about giving
The summer after I finished university, I moved in with a family from the church I was attending. It was a pretty new experience for me, living with a family I barely knew and having to get used to their customs. For example, every day at 6 p.m., dinner was on the table and we had family dinner. I was expected to be home for dinner every night, something I’d never experienced before.
One night, I was running a bit late. I didn’t think it necessary to call because I figured they wouldn’t miss me, or they wouldn’t notice or care that I wasn’t there. So, imagine my surprise when I walked in and everyone was at the table waiting on me to get there.
I was floored and embarrassed at the same time. I was lovingly, yet sternly, reminded that dinner is at 6 p.m. and I should kindly let them know when I’ll be late in the future. It was a shift in worldview for me. Because I was now seen as a part of their family, I was expected to act like a part of their family.
In the same way, since we, as Christians, have now been welcomed into God’s family, we are expected to act differently. We are expected to be generous.
God so loved the world that he gave … generosity is a character trait of being the Lord’s people. Our capacity to give exists only because God first gave. We give because, through Jesus Christ, it’s in our DNA to give.
It isn’t by force or threat that we should approach generosity. It is with full conviction of who we are in Christ that we live generous lives. It goes far beyond one moment one day a week. It should bleed into our everyday lives. Urgently search out ways to give.
I’ve challenged myself to carry dollar bills and bottles of water and fruit in my car because I know I’m going to pass homeless people on the street. It’s a simple way to purpose to be generous. It’s our privilege as the Lord’s people to do so.
As an American, it is very difficult for me to understand the conflict in Syria; the depth of which encompasses hundreds of years of political and religious battle lines.
Modern technology brings international attention to the plight of the citizens there. Images surface and are reposted thousands of times over and are difficult to avoid. We carry the world in our pockets, while somehow being ill-equipped to handle the knowledge that it brings.
It’s almost easier to ignore the news altogether for being crippled by an inability to immediately do something about what we see and hear. However, chosen ignorance can lead to apathy, and that we must not give in to.
FACTS AND FIGURES
Syria is a land rich with cultural and historical influence. It is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world with archaeological finds.
Professor Joshua Mark writes, “Syria was an important trade region with ports on the Mediterranean, prized by a succession of Mesopotamian empires.”
It has six world heritage sites, but unfortunately, its current conflict has brought unimaginable damage to this historically rich land.
Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, and more than one million have been injured. Over 12 million Syrians—half the country’s pre-war population—have been displaced from their homes.
The Free Syrian Army formed in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, who has international supporters such as Russia. There has been ongoing violence against citizens that has been condemned by the UN and other countries.
On April 7th of this year, President Donald Trump launched missiles at a Syrian air force base in response to the use of chemical warfare. There are four major players in the conflict: Assad and his regime, Kurdish forces, ISIS, and other opposition. This in no way encompasses the depth of war in Syria, however it gives us at least a starting point to comprehend what others are facing.
I don’t know what it’s like to become accustomed to hearing bombs. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a perpetual state of grief. I don’t know what it’s like to hide under rubble and wait for death to come.
However, I do know that there are people in this world who experience these things and more as a part of their ‘normal’ life. I’m not o.k. with being knowledgeable of what’s going on and doing nothing about it.
We lose a sense of our humanity when we’re not moved by the plight of others. To quote a pastor I know, “we can not do everything, but we must do something.”
While everyday people like me may not have any say on what decisions are made by governments involved in this conflict, there are certainly ways to play my part. Our response: get educated and get involved.
As stated earlier, we have access to the entire world through our phones. Do a little research, don’t just take a Facebook user’s opinion on the matter. Research viable news outlets. Look at sources outside of America.
I’m thankful for tools, such as this timeline crafted by BBC News, that help give an overview of the history of the conflict.
A quick way to get involved is to donate money. Preemptive Love is an organization that is dedicated to “Loving the People No One Else Will Love.” They are on the ground in war-infested places that were otherwise unreached by any kind of aid.
In Aleppo, they’ve set up a kitchen where thousands are being fed. Aleppo is located with ISIS forces to the west, Turkish-backed rebels to the northwest, Kurdish militias to the northeast, rebels (including Al Qaeda) to the east, and government forces all to the south.
Matthew Willingham, Preemptive Love’s Senior Field Editor, writes, “When families in Aleppo ran for their lives, they didn’t have time to pack a lunch. When bombs are falling, you don’t stop to raid the fridge or whip up a sandwich — you run.”
Since December 2016, donations made it possible to make 790,540 hot meals, 2,000 sleeping bags, and 2,000 food packages. The beautiful thing is refugees, serving refugees, run the hot meal kitchen.
Preemptive Love is passionate about restoring dignity to the person by empowering them to be the change in their community.
It’s hard to imagine leaving my comfortable home, my steady job, my family and friends, and going to a country so ridden with war. It’s easy to leave that job to the missionaries who risk martyrdom. However, all of us have a responsibility to fight on behalf of humanity. We are the answer. Don’t become paralyzed by apathy. Preemptive Love states, “Every day, you make choices that either sustain conflict or transform it.”
For more information on Preemptive Love and ways to get involved, click here.
“Are you brown all over?”
The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”
He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.
There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”
My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.
In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.
I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.
It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.
I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.
Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well? Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.
If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.
We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of, being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.
Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.
When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.
With us being several weeks into 2017, you might have already gotten slightly discouraged or fallen off track when it comes to the goals you’ve set for the year, so we thought it may be a good idea to revisit those resolutions with an update. While setting goals, people tend to be very whimsical and sometimes unrealistic with their New Year’s Resolutions and how they want things to manifest in the upcoming year. So to assist with maintaining your goals, serving your purpose, and most importantly achieving the goals you’ve set, here are few tips:
SET SMALLER GOALS
Yes, I said it. You have to begin small. I know that you probably aren’t use to people telling you to think smaller when it comes to achieving something, but studies show that when you attempt to achieve smaller goals, you are more likely to be successful at reaching them. If one of your goals this year is to lose a substantial amount of weight, instead of aiming straight for the intended target, set a smaller one. If you want to lose 40 or more pounds, instead of focusing of the entire 40, concentrate solely on losing the first 10 to 15. And, don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you reach your halfway mark.
SET MORE PURPOSEFUL GOALS
Maybe this year you want to travel more, but what else? The point of a resolution is to make a positive change, but remember to ask yourself: “Will this change also be beneficial to my overall purpose?” While working towards your 2017 goals, think about the positive outcome in completing these goals and how it contributes to your purpose. And, as the months go by, remember to keep in mind how successfully completing such goals will positively affect those around you. Make sure that you are allowing the light that shines within you to beam and even reflect onto others. To be able to share your life’s purpose while achieving your goals? I’d call that a true win!
YOUR PURPOSE IS NOT THEIRS
Your year won’t look the same as the next person’s simply because your purpose is not the same. While nurturing and tending to your goals this year, make sure to focus on your own individuality. Your resolutions will never be identical to someone else’s and that’s ok! No one has the same purpose, therefore no one will have the same goals. Staying focused on one’s self is key to achieving your greatest potential. Think of it like coloring, if you stay within the lines, you will create your own beautiful picture.
So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.
February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.
But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.
The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.
Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.
But there’s a middle ground.
Discerning the Difference
Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.
As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well.” I tried again, a bit louder.
“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”
Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”
Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.
But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).
Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.
The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.
Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.
As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.
Home by Toni Morrison
The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.
God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.
The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates
From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizen is an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.
Are there other titles that you’d like to add to the list? Share them below.