Category Archives: Faith

Staring Fear in the Face

I am not a risk taker.

I am Conservative Guy.  I am Mr. Play it Safe.

It’s to the point that I won’t even try new foods.  The other night someone offered me some asparagus.  I have no idea if I’ve ever had asparagus and I promise you I couldn’t tell you what asparagus tastes like.  I said, “No thanks, I don’t like asparagus.”

Not true.  To dislike something you have to try it first.

When I go to the grocery store I buy the same products every single time.  I even have my routine down.  It begins with the soap and contact lens cleaner, moves on to bread, frozen dinner section, cereal aisle, produce, beverages, meat, see you later.  There is never a variation.

Okay, sometimes I do it backwards, but that’s only if I’m feeling dangerous.

Food is only one example.  Growing up, all I ever wanted was to become a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.  I watched my ‘Boys every Sunday and dreamed of someday catching passes on the Texas Stadium turf.

My first chance to play real football came in seventh grade.  The gear was sweet.  I had never worn actual shoulder pads or buttoned up the chinstrap on my own helmet.  I took it all home, put on the uniform and went straight to the mirror.

Continue reading Staring Fear in the Face

You Shoulda Known

Greetings

Happy Saturday to you all. This is the month when everyone is getting ready to buy gifts for friends and family, put lights on the house, and decorate the inside to reflect the Christmas spirit. I encourage all who read this to reflect the Holy Spirit while you celebrate the birth of Jesus. Santa is not the only one who sees you when you sleep and knows when you’re awake.

I happen to come across a passage in James that I’ve always found to be that “anti-gray area” kind of verse. I wanted to share it because it reminded me of just how tough it is to reflect Christ every day. Surely I’m not the only one who knows that being a Christian is not the easy choice or a cop out; it’s hard work. I also hope you understand what I mean by work because some people might already by thinking, “well, works don’t save you.” James 4:17 reminded me of just how high God sets the standard.

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I don’t think this needs any elaboration on my part. It’s pretty self explanatory. I also don’t want you to think I’m taking the scripture out of context so I encourage you to read the verses leading up to this and the ones after. If you have a difference of opinion, feel free to reply. As I said earlier, I know I’m not the ultimate authority on the Bible so if I need to be corrected in truth just let me know.

Wrap Up

In short, all those times I knew I should’ve done this or wished I had done that, I had sinned. I also believe, even before I ever read this verse years ago, that I had known deep inside and realized it. This verse just put it in stone for me. I also encourage you to really think about all those times this has applied to your life. Lets both try to not repeat our past mistakes and move forward spiritually.

This is the season to celebrate Christ’s birth. If you aren’t reflecting Christ this month and every month, well, you “should’ve” known better.

Keep each other in prayer.

 ~ by Alfred Lamar Jackson

Simple Sabbath: Our Legacy

Lamar was thinking about his daughter today when writing about Legacy.

by Alfred Lamar Jackson

Good Saturday to you all. I hope your Thanksgiving holiday went well and you were able to celebrate with friends and family and be thankful for all the blessings, great and small, God has given us. I didn’t participate in Black Friday. I never have and hopefully never will have to. If you did participate in Black Friday, however, I have no ill will toward you – it’s your time and hard earned money!

I’m still in Jeremiah.  I do enjoy looking for relevant truths in the Old Testament just because some people think that the Old Testament isn’t applicable to modern times. I came across a passage that made me think about what I will leave my children with once I die unless, God willing, He comes back to finish the “story.” It is strange what becoming a parent and being responsible for another life does to your thinking.

Jeremiah 22:8-9 reads,

People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?” And the answer will be: Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served false gods.

Now I have no idea when Christ will return, but I don’t think it will be before my daughter grows up. I could be wrong (smile). However, it makes me start to think about, as a father and as a believer in Christ, what I’m going to DO about what I leave behind to my kid(s). In the scripture, Jeremiah has been chosen to prophesy for God about the coming destruction on Israel by the Babylonians. He is continually distraught about his task because he knows it will happen and because God has already decided the city’s fate. He still tries to urge people to repent and even leave if they will. In the end Jeremiah’s generation will be left with a legacy. Everyone will know just why they were destroyed.

As a resident in this great country of America I am slowly watching the descent into darkness portrayed in the government and social medias. There are still bright lights and God is still working, but ultimately I know how the story ends. The question I ask myself is “What am I going to do? What can I do to make sure she and her generation doesn’t have to repeat the same mistakes? Ultimately I  must leave her in the ever so capable hands of God. Yet, the father in me wants to protect her and fight off the evils inherent to this world.”

Continue reading Simple Sabbath: Our Legacy

Simple Sabbath: Matters of the Heart

by Alfred Lamar Jackson

Good Saturday to you all. I pray you are refreshed and ready for what God has in store for your life.

I felt extremely blessed to go on a family vacation and just relax, for the most part, an entire week. If you get the chance you should definitely go and check out the U.S. Virgin Islands. The best island is St. John in my opinion. It’s small enough to not be crowded, yet big enough to sight-see and stay in a nice place.

"I felt extremely blessed to go on a family vacation and just relax..."

Heart Felt

Today I wanted to share with you something I read from Jeremiah about the heart. It’s something that I think might get overlooked when people are on the subject. If you could picture the heart as a pair of eyes, I would liken them to someone with tunnel vision. When we go with our heart (or emotions) we are often mislead, let down, or get easily confused. Jeremiah 17:9-10 reads,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.Continue reading Simple Sabbath: Matters of the Heart

Chicken Soup for the Blogaholic’s Soul

In casual conversation, I am likely to mention treatment options for Kate, Bowen, or Jessie, or how the Stone family is doing these days.  What you won’t know, however, is that I don’t actually KNOW these people, at least in the traditional sense.  You see, I follow blogs…lots of them.

Most of my favorite blogs were created in times of tragedy or in response to a medical crisis. I often have to steel myself to click the links, as these posts certainly aren’t mindless reads.  My heart seizes at the news of an agonizing decision to be made and I regularly shed tears over the unfathomable experiences of these families.  They are desperately reaching out for help and support, and I find myself magnetically drawn to them.

Some find my hobby a bit morbid and wonder why I torture myself by actively taking on the pain and grief of strangers.  While the subject matter is indeed difficult, the rewards are many.  First, however, I have to get past being a selfish human.  Just like many children create imaginary friends who have problems – fear of the dark, aggression, etc. – as a safe way to talk about newfound issues, I think reading about the sad and tragic side of life helps me process emotions about my own worst fears.  However, in acknowledging the really hard realities of life, I sometimes develop the “I’m glad it’s them and not me” syndrome.  I have to squelch those thoughts so that I can focus on the people and their needs, and not just the fears their stories evoke.

As a result, I can attest to the tremendous beauty and inspiration that often rises from the ashes of tragedy and helplessness.  I am refreshed by the way in which I can touch and be touched by people’s hearts across so much distance.  The written word is incredibly honest, heartfelt, and the authors are completely transparent.  In a world where the truth is often buried beneath layers of you know what, reading something so raw and heartfelt is meaningful.

When I stop the whirlwind of life to catch up on these families, I feel a renewed sense of faith in humanity.  I admire the strength that resonates from their words and I deeply hope that I would have equal fortitude in their shoes.  As strong as they are, they are also at their most vulnerable, and this allows them to put on paper the thoughts that most people could never speak.  I think this is a strong connection point for me personally given that I’ve always been better at expressing myself in writing than in face-to-face conversations.

Part of that ability is simply dissociating from what the world expects me to be or say, and simply writing what I feel without the risk of immediate and sometimes awkward reactions.  I love real, but being entirely real is usually the exception and not the rule.

Finally, in addition to the gift of inspiration I receive from these blogs, they also provide me the opportunity to give back in a profound way.  I’m not a doctor, so I can’t heal the sick.  I’m not a millionaire, so I can’t offer riches to fund medical treatments.  However, as a woman of faith, I can add my voice to those interceding on behalf of precious families who need guidance, hope, and strength beyond what they can muster on their own.  I believe firmly in the power of prayer and that giving away my heart and prayers, whether to close friends or virtual strangers, simply expands my capacity to do so over and over again.

It’s only fitting that I include information on a few of my favorite blogs, and I encourage you to post a comment with additional links.  There’s nothing like a shared bowl of chicken soup to warm us all up!

http://renziandleeannestone.blogspot.com/ – Oklahoma City couple Lee Anne and Renzi Stone lost their almost one year old son to a sudden epileptic seizure.  They honor little Isaiah by sharing their daily challenges and joys.

http://www.audreycaroline.blogspot.com/ – Angie is the wife of Selah singer Todd Smith.  While expecting, Todd and Angie were told their daughter had many life threatening conditions and would not survive outside the womb.  Her book, “I Will Carry You,” details their experience and utter reliance on God to make it through to the other side.

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mcraekate – Kate McRae is a six-year-old Arizona girl living with a very rare form of brain cancer.  Her mother writes regularly about treatment options, highs and lows, and specific prayer requests.

http://www.carepages.com/carepages/JessicaBoone – Oklahoma teenager Jessie Boone suffered massive head trauma during a ski accident last year.  Her mother chronicles the numerous touch-and-go moments, months in hospitals and Jessie’s current journey.

http://www.kellyskornerblog.com/ – Kelly is an Arkansas gal who began writing when doctors said her newborn wasn’t expected to live.  After a difficult beginning, she now has a healthy and happy daughter and another on the way.  Having also suffered infertility for many years, she is an inspiration to those women desperately hoping for a baby.

http://bowensheart.com/ – Matt Hammett is the lead singer of the Christian band Sanctus Real.  Their son, Bowen, has a severely underdeveloped heart.  They are journaling their experience and sharing the love of God through their words and stories.

A Rare Not-So-Silent Sunday (Updated Sunday Night)

Our faith writer, Lamar Jackson, is having a beautiful vacation with his family on a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean.  I’m filling in for him and decided to post a Simple Sabbath thought on Sunday, breaking our normal “Silent Sunday” framework.

I’ve recently become vaguely aware of the The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lausanne movement.  The Economist published an article on October 28th about the history of their purpose, struggles with mission and most recent progress in Cape Town.  I’ll be posting thoughts this afternoon about my perspective on this article, the history and movement, and what it means for Christians in our geographic area.

Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Sunday – silent, or not.  Prefacing my post this afternoon, I’m going to share a Bible verse with you.  The last two phrases have given me food for thought regarding this particular subject and I’ll begin with them.

7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. ~ Romans 13:7

** Sunday evening follow-up.

So, it’s not “the afternoon,” but rather the evening.  I found my words for this article harder to write than I had anticipated.

I’ve struggled, as a Christian, for the past ten years or so with what seems to me to be an escalation of Christian persecution in our country, as well as persecution of others by Christians.  Difficult to define my emotions, I suppose I would say that it appears some sort of negative quid pro quo has been taking place…through the media, through various Christian groups, and recently through social networking groups.

I’ve been mortified at times by messages I see posted by those I know to be Christians on Facebook toward ethnic groups or minorities.  The same is true toward those who put forth a political view different from views held by those making the responses.  At the same time, I’ve seen a new pervasiveness in the media of cartoons making fun of Christian views, and political pundits turn downright nasty when making statements about Christian beliefs.  It’s been hard to see destruction, rather than common ground and relationship-building.

I recall one day I read a statement written by someone about an article discussing spirituality and the words were so incredibly harsh I began to cry.

But then I heard the story about a gentleman who had been an Al Qaeda operative, who when released from Guantanamo, went back to his homeland and rejoined the terrorists.  However, he changed his mind, turned them in and averted an explosion – thus saving lives.  I also read the Economist article I noted above.  I can see hope of shifts; I see various Christian groups (even some of our missionaries in our own church) joining hands with other religions including Muslims and making a difference in international communities.

I see these things and I am encouraged.  I also read these Bible verses and am encouraged as well:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e] (Meaning…you leave him/her to decide how to respond or think about the situation, not that you “Make” them feel guilty. – RDK)

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:14-21

So I suppose that my Not-So-Silent Sunday thought for our normal “Simple Sabbath” message is this: Be gentle, be respectful, be compassionate, be loving…to all those you meet as best as you can.  A loving human is more powerful than anything else I’ve ever come in contact with…show your power this week, okay?

All the best, Red Dirt Kelly

Gianna Jessen, The Book of John & Faith Wednesday

I love that we have wireless at my place of employment, AND that I can take a quiet moment when eating lunch.  I’m using this time to share my quiet moments of thought I had early this morning.  Thoughts that are still with me six hours later.

1) The Gianna Jessen video from 2008 is an interesting opportunity to revisit your views about life, death, politics and values.  Speaking in Queen’s Hall of the Parliament House, her message is delivered to an audience representing great diversity.  A message representing one voice, standing for many others.  If you’ve not seen the piece, I would recommend it for several reasons…One of which I address in my “second lunch-time point.” I chose to share this link because it’s her 16 min. speech in full, but will require a Facebook account to view.  You can search for the video easily in two parts on your internet browser if you avoid FB…

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW VIDEO

2) My second thought is this.  Regardless of what you believe, where you fall on this issue, or how you personally wrestle with feelings on one side of the line or the other, I would encourage you to embrace all human beings and think about loving them…without attributing a “sin” or behavior toward rationalizing how things are…or aren’t.

I was reading from John 9 this morning, and was thinking about how many clients I see in my office who struggle with the sins of their parents, or grandparents, or other family members.  Much of this “sin” is simply their family members’ inability to understand the consequence of their actions…or ability to empathize due to their own damage or pain.  Many clients feel they are being greatly punished for the sins or consequences of their family history.  Their pain is very real.

However, my message to you, the public, on this Faith Wednesday is this:  Turn these thoughts around, and think about the OPPORTUNITY your struggles or setbacks provide you to live out your faith, and glorify Him who you call Father.  Gianna Jessen does.  I try to.  Thousands of heroes and heroines do across the world every day.

Yes, this is a Christian message.  But it holds for people who have other faiths as well.  Or, for those without a faith to call their own.  Good luck, today, taking up the opportunity you have been given…with whatever struggles you are bearing…to use it to glorify and spread a positive message for your Savior.  For your faith.  And/OR, for the good of those around you.

Take care, Red Dirt Kelly

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  John 9: 1-5

A Kairos Moment at Culp’s Hill

by Josh Bottomly

Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments.  By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life.  It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.

Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life.  But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.

The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness.   It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic.  Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis.  It was a sobering reality.  By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith.  The silence of despair grew firm within my chest.  On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through.  Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.

Culp's Hill

While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader.  He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign.  I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece;  I was definitely up for it.

After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs.  “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt.  “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”

As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.

The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.

As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill.  Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.

About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th.  General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.

“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”

Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire.  Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear.  Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”

At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up.  They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th.  But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line.  Their position was untenable.

Union fortifications built to ward off the Confederates.

With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic:  commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall.  There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.

As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes.  I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible.  I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh.  I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.

Effects of Union shot and shell on Culp's Hill - photo by William H. Tipton.

Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.

At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who.  They feared they were shooting and killing their own men.  As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.

Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.

But the line never broke.

After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground.  I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice.  But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.

A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

~Isaiah 50:10a

For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul.  During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence.  My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans.  I came closest to God in my questions.  I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed.  Did he know my pain?  Did he see my suffering?  Would he respond to my cry?

As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray.  Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).  I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt.  The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.

In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near.  For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite.  Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence.  What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day.  And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line.  Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness.  We would feel the sun on our faces again.  We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds:  a new day had arrived!

~~Note:  Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.”  This post is a revised piece from that book.  For more information visit http://fromashestoafrica.com/

Burn

by Mark “The Howard” Hinderliter

If you happen to read this, know that it is being written through insomnia.  Not that I’m incoherent but, occasionally something just takes up so much space in the head that sleep won’t come, TV won’t help and there’s no compelling novel waiting to lull me.  Just an engineering textbook.  The textbook could actually work as an insomnia cure on another night, but not tonight.

Let me say first that I’m not a political liberal.  I think our country’s founders were pretty smart guys who enacted the best system of government they could given their study of history and the political and societal realities of their time.  And this system has withstood the test of time:  self-centered politicians, elitists and those who believe they are entitled to something that belongs to another.

Having said that, I am deeply bothered by the church in Florida whose pastor wants to burn a Quran to commemorate 9-11.  Apparently, this man is disturbed by the proposed Mosque planned near the site of the World Trade Center in New York City and what he sees as the world’s cowering to fanatic Muslim extremists.  Burning a copy or copies of the Quran on 9-11 is his and his congregation’s response to these current events.

When I first heard a news report of this planned burning, it was in the context of General David Petraeus warning that it could fan the flames of hatred and endanger our troops in Afghanistan.  And I have to admit, I was not swayed by the General’s argument.  My first reaction was, “Tough, what goes around comes around.  Burn our flag and the Christian Bible, we’ll retaliate.”

I am frequently a very conflicted man on these sorts of things.

Left to my own devices I’d probably join the pastor.  Left to my own devices I’d promote the death penalty for murderers and rapists.  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said out loud when hearing the report of a homicide or a rape, “bullet in the head will put a stop to that.”

But I have to admit something.  I’ve read the words of Christ.  I’ve read the words of the Lord spoken through the prophets of old.  Sometimes they confuse me and seem to conflict.  But when I think about the actions of Jesus on earth and I ponder what he would do in a given situation, I don’t reach the conclusion that he would act hatefully or act in retaliation.

Now there were certainly things that irritated him.  Turn his Father’s house into a goat market? Serious irritation.  The hypocrisy of religious leaders, those who should know better? Their behavior earned a tongue lashing that may not be over yet!  But burn someone else’s religious book?  I can’t see it.  Jesus was and is a walking endorsement of the love of a Creator God who would do anything for any of us.  Including radical Muslim haters.  Because if they took the time to know Him their behavior would change.  Children of the King learn to act like the King.  If they seek Him over self.

I don’t know anything about this preacher in Florida other than he wants to burn a book.  But I can look at history and see that when people follow a charismatic leader rather than the King, hatred and destruction usually follow.  Waco, Guyana…but from Waco came Oklahoma City.  And Jonesy didn’t go alone.

Those who would call themselves Christian are called to love their enemies and pray for them.  Vengeance is for the Lord.  If a Koresh or a Jones claims to be the Lord’s instrument of vengeance or retaliation, run away.  Leave them to their own destruction.  Do not join them until you have read the red letters for yourself.  That one chooses to be tolerant of another’s beliefs does not mean he condones them.  He chooses to love that person until the light of the Kingdom shines through.

Maybe I can sleep now.  If not, the text book awaits me.

From a White-Skinned Father to a Black-Skinned Son

Josh and Silas, November 2009

I am a white-skinned father with a black-skinned son.

A little over a year ago, my wife, Amy, and I adopted our son, Silas, from Ethiopia.

Silas turned two in December.

Today our conversations tend to revolve around our favorite snacks – yogurt and lemon pound cake at Starbucks – and favorite TV characters and movies – Elmo and Ratatouille. We also squabble very little these days. Sometimes Silas will take a swing at me when I take away the Wii joystick. And other times he’ll treat the cheese sandwich I made him for dinner like a Frisbee.

One day, though, Silas will want to talk about other things.  Like the color of his skin. And my skin.   And his mother’s skin.   And pictures and events and people and dates he finds in his history textbook.

There are some historical dates I don’t want to broach with Silas then. August 12th, 1955, for example.  That’s the day Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, was brutally lynched in Mississippi by white, southern, “Christian” men.

Then there is September 15th, 1963. That’s the day when four little girls were killed by a white supremacist bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Or April 4th, 1968. That’s the fateful day Dr. King had his hope-filled voice silenced by a sniper’s gun.

But then there are days in America’s history I can’t wait to explain to Silas.

Days like December 1st, 1955, for example.  The day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. That small, defiant “no” reverberated out into a large, defiant “no more.”

There are other days, too. Like August 28th, 1963. The day Dr. King delivered his famous message, “I Have a Dream.” It was a day unlike any other day. It was a day of dreaming of another kind of America.

And then there was November 4th, 2008.  Obama’s presidential victory.  And then there was January 20th, 2009.  Obama’s inauguration.

These are dates I look forward to telling Silas about – not as a student of history, but as a participator in making history.

Baby silas
Baby Silas

And I will tell Silas this: whether one voted for Obama or not, one could not argue that it was a significant symbolic moment.  And a storied moment with deep biblical resonances.  From hundreds of years wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and oppression.  To now the new days of exploring the “milk and honey” land of equality and opportunity.

Undoubtedly, MLK glimpsed the Promised Land from a distance.  Like Moses.  Like a dream just beyond his grasp.  But Silas, you, and others of your skin color will experience this land as a blessed reality.  Like Joshua.  And the nation of Israel.

I can only pray that this new land for you will shimmer with the topsoil of fresh possibility, and contain in its seedbed the promise of renewed dignity.  But, Silas, there are still weeds trying to choke out these verdant seeds.  For though the “color line” W.B. Dubois spoke of has been broken in America’s political establishment, it still exists in America’s religious establishment.  95% of the evangelical church, for example, still remains divided along the color line.  Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr.’s truism stills rings true today:  11 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.  Perhaps, though, Silas, by the time you come of age, that small, subversive 5% of the American church will have grown and spread through the body of Christ like a lush vine.

Voting though won’t bring this change.

Only Spirit-led repentance will.

I can only pray that you discover these seeds pods of repentance bursting within my heart.  And your mom’s heart.  And your grandparents’ hearts.  And in the hearts of all of those who you know that call themselves Christ followers.

I am reminded of observing MLK Day last year.  You, your mom, and I celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with our adoption community at the Queen of Sheba, a local Ethiopian restaurant.  On that special day, our dear friends, Eric and Tara, received their referral picture from Ethiopia of their soon-to-be-adopted baby boy, Malak. That night we laughed and cried over Malak’s picture, ooing and awing at his large black eyes and his luminous smile.

Later that night as I lay awake in bed and reflected on that festive evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact Dr. King were alive today, would he approve of couples like us and the Silvestres adopting black children. I also thought about how far we have come, from an age of colonialism, where Africans were our slaves, to this new post colonial age, where Africans are now our sons. And I wondered if Dr. King could have even dreamed of such a day when such transformation was possible. Who knows really? But it makes me wonder if at the Queen of Sheba, if just for a fleeting moment, with our bellies full of freshly baked bread, and sweet Ethiopian wine on our tongues, and with you in our arms, and Malak’s picture in front of our faces, if we did not glimpse even if for a moment, the future community of God, the eschatological days when the old age of hatred and racial division will be truly over, and a new age of love and racial harmony will have begun.

As I closed my eyes to sleep, I suddenly recalled Dr. King’s words spoken days before he was assassinated.

“The end is reconciliation;

the end is redemption;

the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

And remembering these words, Silas, I thought to myself, Perhaps the end has already begun.

-Josh Bottomly

Editor’s Note – this article is reprinted from Relevant, an online magazine. It was published as a Martin Luther King Day feature dated Monday, January 19, 2009.  Josh is the Director of College Counseling at Casady High School in Oklahoma City.  He coaches basketball, is a husband and now a father of TWO children from Ethiopia. Silas has a little sister.  She joined the family in June of this year.

Day 33: God Created my DNA and He Reminded Me of the Code in St. Mary’s Cathedral

As a young girl, my parents prepared my brother and I to seek an expansion of perspective beyond that which our own community had to offer.  Comprised within this family plan were experiences of art, travel and educational enrichment.  The mode of delivery usually meant we were loaded into the farm truck and driven to some event in Oklahoma City…despite any resistance on our part.

These “field trips” might have included a classical concert or perhaps a lecture from an archeologist who had discovered pitch clad shards of gopher wood on a limited time-window excursion in Turkey.  Sometimes, the evenings were capped off with an ice cream cone at Kaiser’s in the heart of downtown.  At the time, I’m sure the ice cream was my favorite part.  I do recall, however, feeling the hair on my arms lift as I touched the Lucite bound tiny pieces of what I thought might be Noah’s Ark.

My K-12 formal educational journey was also important in how I began to view the world.  I learned of fairness and the magic of discovery from the effective teachers, and of injustice and constriction from those less able.  The good must have outweighed the challenging, however, because every cell in my body seeks new understandings to this day.  It’s in my DNA, and God reminded me of this by giving me a gift on Day 33 that I’ll never forget.

This past Sunday I attended The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Expectations had already been set on my part simply knowing that C.S. Lewis had preached his “Weight of Glory” sermon in that very hall.  John Wesley spoke there on many occasions, and before the College system sprang up in Oxford, the church served as the location for the educational exercises such as group lectures or exams.  This was at a time in the 13th century when scholars actually lived with the professors to receive their education.  This church is central to how the entire educational context was set throughout Oxfordshire.

Eucharist began at 10:30 and I came in the door at 10:32.  I was handed a Hymn book and a guide to the service, was shown an available seat and sent on my way.  Being an evangelical, I’ve learned to watch the other attendees and the pastor carefully when participating in a service such as that offered at St. Mary’s.  There is standing, sitting, standing…and sitting.  And standing.  There is also a participatory portion that the audience reads by following the service guide.  All these machinations are unfamiliar to me, but easy to follow.  I’m glad, because it left much of my mental energy available to absorb everything else. Comments continued after the photograph…

I’ll not provide the entire sermon, nor all my thoughts during the service.  Indeed, some were too personal, too humbling, too set on the holiness of our Lord.  However I will share a bit of that for which I am grateful:

1.  I’m grateful for the chance to have heard the message delivered by the Reverend Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church.  From the moment he began to speak, my rapt attention zeroed in on his outline and it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life.  Scripture, poetry, philosophy, education, human suffering and regard – all these concepts and perhaps more were laid before those attending and asked to be considered on behalf of our Creator.

2.  I’m grateful for a greeting time wherein the only task was to reach out to those around us and utter this simple phrase, “Peace to you,” or respond, “And to you as well.”  This made me cry – the simplistic form of a gentle greeting and a gentle return. Wonderful.

3.  I’m grateful for a communion service where each person was reminded with one phrase, “The body of Christ,” that which they were taking as they were handed a piece of bread.  And I’m grateful to have been given the chance to drink from a community cup real wine, the edge of which was wiped with a cloth and given the person next in line.  I’ve never shared a cup with others, and it is a compelling experience.

4.  I’m grateful to have had the chance to sing all verses of the selected Hymns, generally written in Old English verse, accompanied by an organ whose song filled the highest corners of the cathedral.  I know the notes lifted up our voices and sent them to the Heavens.

5.  And, I’m grateful for the reminding affirmations for all who participated, each time we read along during the service. An example: “We are the body of Christ.  In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.”  Another: “Great is the Mystery of Faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Blessing and honor and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen.”

With every affirmation stated by the audience, my faith was affirmed and deemed a righteous pursuit.

I don’t know if I’ll get to attend a service at St. Mary’s again.  However, for me, it was as if my spirituality had attended an inspirational conference – – a conferring or communion with God.  A renewal was given to me and for that I am grateful as well.

I’ll leave you with a poem that was read during the sermon.  The discussion was about how one person might say a leaf is green due to the chlorophyll, another because the evolutionary sea life was purple – so green was refracted, and another – a poet – might say “because it means renewal.”

Peace to you.

~~~~~~~

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin