On Loving God with your Heart and Soul

Continued from: Loving God with your Intellect


MATTHEW 22:37 AMP

And He replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect). [Deut. 6:5.]

There is too much data in this universe. No matter how much I know I’m always building my perspective with missing information. I know my intellect cannot tell me everything. At some point, heart and soul must step in where she fails me (and even those fail me too sometimes but hey! We try our best, right?)

We are crazy surrounded by things we can’t use our ordinary senses to interact with. This is one of my favorite illustrations of that.

So, the intellect allows us make mental sense of data we gather through our physical senses but there exists this idea that there are unseen forces we interact with all the time using some sort of internal compass. Cultures and religions all over the world have a concept of this: intuition, 6th sense, third eye, sensing “auras” and “energy,” discernment…

When we’re introduced to ideas outside the range of our 5 senses, we tend to shut down. It doesn’t make sense to the intellect and we don’t have a robust vocabulary for it. We call it crazy or pseudo-science. But I mean, I can’t see a radio wave with my eyes, yet it exists; someone had to be the first one to build a radio – a complex process that I imagine was fraught with many failures along the way. For many generations, no one knew wireless communication was a tangible possibility; we had to collectively evolve to be able to create the technology we have today and I don’t think spiritual things are that different. I think the idea of spiritual perception overwhelms us especially when it doesn’t work like we expect. I think we’ve gotten quite worn out with it all, which is understandable[1]. We stop pressing in to find out what’s going on when things move from logical to intangible or (dare I say the dreaded word?) mystical. We expect it to be easy. It’s not. The art of learning how to feel in the right direction is complex.

Coming from the Christian perspective, we talk about prayer, worship, prophecy, discernment, faith… things that are received by the heart and soul. Generations of devout believers have seen miraculous things happen when they reach out for God past the logical and into the intangible. These practices breed a wide array of emotional responses. Sometimes, those feelings are explainable and sometimes not. I am fascinated by the stories of people who move using the eyes of their hearts, even when they can’t explain why they feel something so strongly, and get to see amazing things happen.

I’m talking about the freaky Jesus stuff. I’m talking about my best friend landing in Haiti for a mission trip. She goes to a woman’s house – someone she had never met – and the woman says, “I had a dream about you and your team yesterday.” My best friend then prays for the woman and she receives a miraculous healing in her leg. Like, that kind of stuff. I have ZERO logical explanation for that. This is the kind of stuff you see in the book of Acts, the kind of stuff my cessationist friends firmly believe don’t happen anymore. And you know,  I’m not just talking about a one time fluke. Stuff like this happens to her ALL the time and stuff like that has happened to me too.

I had a very interesting experience with one of my favorite bands. One day, while listening to their CD, I felt an urge to write them a message and pray  a blessing over them. I specifically felt like I should pray for them to love each other like brothers. The theme of brotherhood was huge on my heart as I penned my prayer to them. I didn’t expect a response and I didn’t get one.

Months later, they were playing a show an hour away from my town. I was so exicted that I wrote them a little fan letter saying that I really appreciated the way they expressed  the teachings of Jesus so poetically and prayed a prayer of blessing on their work. The night of the show, I hopped in my 1990 Honda Accord and headed there. My car made hellish noises that night; I pressed on anyway. After the most amazing concert of my life, I gave the letter to one of the roadies and asked him to pass it on because I thought the band wouldn’t be available to sign things after. I headed to the merch table and the front man was standing right there. I won’t lie, I fangirled a little bit. I was so excited that my words didn’t really come out right. I told him I loved his music so much and asked if he’d sign my guitar. I told him I had given a letter to one of the roadies for them.

Here’s the interesting (yet sad) tidbit. During the concert, they opened up about how one of the band members had just lost a member of his family and I later found out it was a brother. That night of the show was said member’s first time back after a few weeks. It was emotional for all of them. The story online was heartbreaking. 2 months after that concert, I got a reply to my first message to them. They thanked me for praying for them and said, “We couldn’t have gotten this message from you at a better time.” I’ve often wondered if they recognized my name from the second letter and if that was what made them respond.

This was a pretty simple story. I reached out into the void because I had a nonsensical feeling in my heart but for them, it was important. That is one of my favorite types of stories. In loving God with my heart, He often loves and helps other people around me.

Another time, I had an experience where the last thought in my head before bed was this random “knowing” that I was going to run into a specific person the next day – someone I knew was coming into town but had never met. I ended up running into that person at the park and we talked a bit. He was in town screening one of his movies. We became friends on Facebook and I messaged him a few months later to encourage him in his craft and in his ministry. It was a long message but I felt strongly, spiritually led to send it. He responded saying that the message came at a time when he felt like what he was doing was monotonous and routine. Sometimes, he thought about giving up but he said, “Your reminder sparked something in me that I believe came from the Holy Spirit.” He’s continued pursuing his craft and ended up working with some really impressive people in the music and movie industry.

I know there are times I encourage people and it’s just a nice addition to their day but there are these other times where, on the other end of my words is a life and death situation for somebody else. Sometimes, I try to pray a little more seriously and listen a bit harder so I can hear something specific for someone. In those moments, I feel God is working.

And I’ve seen people do spirit-led ministry wrong and seen them do it so right… no different than watching someone work a piece of new technology. Sometimes we don’t understand it and we push the wrong buttons and nothing happens and we say it’s broken. Other times, people give it a go and they gradually figure out how praying and worship and prophecy and healing works and they grow to lead amazing ministries that change the world, one person at a time.

Then sometimes, it doesn’t “work” and we don’t know why but that’s okay because in the times we have “done it right” it is so powerful and so worth it that we keep pushing through to understand this thing… this marvel… the Holy Spirit and what it means to worship in Spirit and in truth and that is investing your heart. That is loving God with the part of you that feels it even when you don’t understand.

What I sense physically isn’t always enough for me. Sometimes, I have to listen past what I am actually seeing and hearing and allow the light in my heart to guide me. That looks quite messy at first because it is usually an illogical choice but in the end, intuition and discernment have proved to be blessings not curses. The end always justifies the pain it took to get me there. That is why I am less afraid to trust God when things look a little crazy. I know in my heart, He has put assurance there, that it’ll all work out and He hasn’t failed me yet.


[1] The original statement read, “I think we’ve gotten quite lazy with it.” which I don’t agree with anymore. It implies people aren’t trying hard enough. That’s not necessarily true.

 

On Loving God with your Intellect

(Edited: Thursday, November 12, 2015)

MATTHEW 22:37 AMP

And He replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect). [Deut. 6:5.]

Intellect: (noun)

the power or faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels and that by which one wills.


I think a lot of the church traditions I’ve come out of are pretty good at teaching us to worship God with the part of us that “feels” and the part of us that “wills” but there’s something about worshiping God with the part of us that “knows” and “understands” that makes us feel helpless. Sometimes, I can control my emotions. Sometimes, I can control my will but I can’t really control the data I receive through my senses (not unless I actively lie to myself).

I think It’s amazing that He created us to love Him with the part of us that gets geeked out on taking in facts, on studying mountains, principles, science and logic and connecting it back to the Originator of the supreme pattern of life; and to know that is good religion; that is worship.

JEREMIAH 33:2-3 NCV

“These are the words of the Lord , who made the earth, shaped it, and gave it order, whose name is the Lord : ‘Judah, pray to me, and I will answer you. I will tell you important secrets you have never heard before.’

I don’t remember if I’ve ever heard that preached – how to love God with your intellect – but I think it should be. A huge part of us calculates, questions and studies everyday things. We should be comfortable loving God with that aspect of ourselves. It would probably stop a lot of Christians from feeling like their day job is “secular” or separate from worship.

I’ve found God many times in front of a computer screen, programming my brains out. I remember taking my first robotics class a few years ago. Our assignment was to create a robot that would not run into a wall. The test was on an L-shaped path. The robot was supposed to go straight, turn a corner and go straight again. Sounds easy enough, right? No. It takes a lot to create a moving robot that doesn’t run into walls. Hang with me.

I have a point. I promise.

-Elle Woods

STEP 1: Mechanically assemble the robot.

First, you are given

  • a core (the empty brain of the robot)
  • motors and tires (for movement)
  • sensors (to help it interact with its environment) and
  • lego pieces (to connect it all).

Assemble the robot of your choice

STEP TWO: code code code

Teach your robot basic survival skills by giving it’s empty brain instructions to follow. You’re importing libraries, connecting to the motors and sensors, naming them, telling them what to do in different situations e.g. Robot, when you sense an obstacle 5cm in front of you, turn and scan for a different path (and so on).

STEP THREE: incremental testing & debugging

Then (and this part is crucial), turn on your robot to watch it do things. It will do nothing. Proceed to spend 3 hours looking over your code to find the missing semi-colon that broke everything.

STEP FOUR: Potential infinite loop

Repeat steps 2 & 3 about 5000 times. Consider majoring in music. Try any combination of steps 1, 2 & 3.  Eventually, you will have an autonomous robot that doesn’t run into walls.

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To me, the study of technology is the practice of slowly comprehending the improbability that anything functional was ever created. I felt kind of amazed by myself after that project. I make it around corners without running into walls ALL THE TIME (and that’s only one of the things I’m good at). I had to bow before God’s artistic and engineering prowess. It was definitely a spiritual experience for me. If someone sits across a table from me and calls my existence a happy accident, I have the most difficult time seriously considering their viewpoint simply because of its statistical improbability. We could sit down and calculate the odds together. It’s not “the bible tells me so” or I just feel it or I wish it were so. I actually think so. I don’t believe we are an accident and that belief which was once purely spiritual, is now, for me, intellectually sensible.

Loving God is definitely “feel”-centric and “will”-centric but I think that is just a portion of what it means to connect your existence to Him/Her. Artists, writers, chemists, physicists and all sorts of other normal people easily discover the extraordinary in the ordinary as they open their intellect to God.

You know why parables are powerful? It’s because someone connected the dots on what otherwise would have been a boring story or an uninteresting data set and they made it divine. What is so amazing about a woman losing a coin? Jesus made it divine. That is loving God with your intellect.

But I’ve seen subsets of Christianity that encourage you to shut your eyes to the concrete and focus more on finding God purely in the mystical, the emotional, the ethereal… This approach often demonizes the intellectual process of accepting God however He might choose to show (or not show) Himself.

I get it. It’s scary and sometimes you get lost along the way. You’re not in control. It’s not about your emotional prowess. You just have to accept whatever comes. It is sincerely believing that God really is His own being, that He reveals Himself when and how He wants and that we are at the mercy of that.

But if He’s real, then He’s real, right?  If He’s good then He’s good. If He’s just, then He’s just. If all these things are true in scripture, then they’re true in the physical world right? So, let’s stand in real time and see if God shows up. One of two things will happen:

1. Truth will change for you or

2. Truth will be solidified for you

But whatever happens, is it not better  to have the truth than to have a lie?   The thing faith does, is that it leaps  into the questions and asks God, “Catch me.”

And I believe God is faithful to catch us.

PSALMS 91:15 NCV

They will call to me, and I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue them and honor them.

It sounds similar to Satan’s call for Jesus to test God but actually, it’s  closer to Peter’s bold prayer: “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 28:14, NCV)

Because if He really is who He says He is, then we will find Him wherever we look. And I won’t spend my time worried about Galileo’s claim that the earth revolves around the sun. It’s probably true… And God is the one that made it that way.

COLOSSIANS 1:16-17 CEV

Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen, including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities. All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him.  God’s Son was before all else, and by him everything is held together.

Disclaimer: (I hate this part but with the Internet-age, I feel I have to add a few footnotes) Because the moment a Christian hints at intelligent design, there’s that awkward, “Oh. So you’re one of those, eh? Don’t believe in evolution?”

And… no. I’m not a biologist though I took some classes… But I do think the idea of evolution sans God is akin to believing that if I leave an iphone in a room long enough,  it will eventually become an iphone 6. I believe in guided evolution. Someone taught us to evole. Someone/something programmed us to evolve. That’s pretty much it. I wonder sometimes why we give technology the benefit of complexity even more so than biological beings. We’re so cool and so complex. Accidental seems insulting.

Part 2: On Loving God with your Heart and Soul

Ramblings of a sinner, Probably the worst, Hopefully getting better (Part 3)

This is the final installation in this series. Nathan shares how he prays through his struggles with the spiritual doing/undoing he has been through. He also shares an audio installation he created and some resources he found helpful.


What do I do on those days when I feel like I am going backwards? I first pray in silence offering no words to God but my submission. I read some of Mother Teresa’s writings. This particular excerpt I keep near me:

“Listening is the beginning of prayer, and what we listen to is the voice of God, God that cannot deceive or be deceived. Then if we keep silence, silence cannot be corrected; if we speak, if we answer back, we make mistakes. IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART GOD SPEAKS; let God fill us, then only we speak. Often we say uncharitable words. They come from us, from our heart, not from God speaking through us, because we are not listening to God. If you want to know how much you love Jesus there is no need to ask anybody to tell you; you are old enough. In the sincerity of your heart you will know it yourself, if you practice silence…. Try to be alone. Try to keep that really deep silence to get rid of bitterness or hatred.”

-Mother Teresa

I go to God in silence on those days. I go to God and remember, “You are within me. You are the life force of the universe. In you, O, God I have my being. You are my breath. You are my heartbeat. You formed me in the womb.” Then silence. I believe that being present in the moment with God is heaven on earth.

Second, I remember stories of people throughout humanity that might have felt like they were going backwards rather than forward while fighting for justice. I remember reading about Ruby Bridges. Her story has stuck with me. She was a young six year old black girl in Louisiana. She was the first person to integrate William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. She went an entire year as the ONLY person in that school. The other white children (aka their parents) refused to go to school with her. can’t imagine being little Ruby. I am sure on some days she went home and cried to her parents thinking this all had to be some huge mistake. She probably did not want to move forward with her position in making schools in New Orleans a place for everyone. She stayed though, or she was forced by her parents. My point is that she probably did not always feel like this was the right decision, because clearly not many other people supported her. I remember stories like hers when I do not feel like I am making a difference for others. People try to accuse me of only doing this for myself, but I really hope I am sitting in the place for others. I think of Christ staying on the cross for all of us, even though he felt so alone, so burdened, so hurt, and ultimately… completely rejected.

Lastly, I ask for mercy and remember that God is faithful. In the book of Hosea, you see God change his mind against his wrath towards his people. You see his anger turned into overwhelming love. His anger overshadowed by that love. I now see that as foreshadowing of what he did on the cross. He defeated his own wrath and the evil of the world by showing us true sacrificial love that overwhelmed the grave. This Love moves toward others rather than the self. This Love says you are all invited to my table. This Love tears down boundaries. This Love fulfilled the law. This Love is stronger than temple walls. This Love is so strong and unstoppable that nothing in all creation can separate you from it when you surrender to Jesus Christ. This Love is the gateway to life.


I wanted to include some links that have helped me on my journey! Maybe they will help you too!

[part 1] ● [part 2] ● [part 3]


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Jonathan Kent Adams is an artist from Yazoo, Mississippi. He studied painting under Mary Beth Mckenzie in New York, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi. Other than that he enjoys being a barista at Highpoint Coffee, candles, heaters, red wine, music, and conversations about what make us beautiful. In his words, “I guess most importantly… I’m child of God and so are you.”

Ramblings of a sinner, Probably the worst, Hopefully getting better (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3-post series where my friend Nathan shares his journey toward self acceptance as a child of God and as a gay man.


I always love in scripture how God shows up in unexpected ways throughout the Bible. He showed up in a bush. He came to us born of woman who was not married. (Side-note: Have you ever thought about how difficult it would have been for people in Jesus’ time to process that GOD was born to a woman who was not married before she became pregnant?) In Ezekiel God reveals that he will no longer be found only in the temple. He deconstructs the temple and basically reveals that God will be found outside of the temple in the future. AKA King Jesus will be riding a donkey. But in all seriousness this is extremely beautiful that God would be found outside of what was once an exclusive place. Jews believed God would show up as a warrior, but instead he let his enemies kill him. In the old testament, widows and eunuchs were seen as cursed or inferior (could not procreate) but towards the end of Isaiah God reveals that those people will be first in the kingdom, and they should rejoice in the present. Why? Because the kingdom of God is an adoption process not a natural birth right and the Kingdom of God is at hand, here, now, and to come. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Christ alive after his death. Why would God choose a woman when most people at the time only listened to the men for spiritual revelation and guidance? Yet, God revealed his defeat of death to someone unlikely. Someone unexpected. There are many more examples of God coming to us in the unexpected.

What if God is coming to us in the queer community? What if when God says there will be no male or female in heaven… that the queer community is the undoing of the security and ways we idolize gender? What if the queer community is a peak into heaven?

Since I now live openly as a gay person, I live in the tension of letting God undo all the psychological mess that I created by going to him for years believing I was cursed. Much of my relationship with him depended on my struggle to overcome my thoughts about guys. Now, I am learning all of the areas of my life that I need so much more grace. I gossip a lot with or about people sometimes. It’s extremely easy for me to become jealous of others in the art community. I become selfish sometimes in my relationship. I can be very selfish with my time and how I spend it. I do not do enough for people that cannot help themselves. I am not vocal enough about how incredibly wonderful and indescribable God is. Basically, I used to think being gay was the only reason I needed God. Now, I know I need God. Period. Some friends have told me that I am following the world, but they often do not think about how you really are choosing a road less traveled by remaining a christian and being openly gay.

So many queer people dismiss christianity because of the harm the church has caused.But to stay in that tension… Its hard and humbling. I have never felt like I have more purpose, even though sometimes I feel like I am losing.

As I have transitioned into undoing my old thoughts about how to be gay and christian, I sometimes feel as if I am on top of the world and other days I think I am going backwards. This is the main thing I thought was important to say. I have read a lot of stuff about all of this, but no one ever seems to admit the challenge of going through this. One day I was a bit discouraged, because I had been doubting myself, and my relationship with God. BUT there is an intersection in Oxford where MDOT is completely changing the way traffic flows in order to cause traffic to flow better and have less traffic jams in the area. Most locals I talk to hate the new transition, even though we know eventually this change will help the traffic flow in the future. The problem is that on some days the new construction and changes have made the traffic jams worse than they have ever been. Then some days you see the traffic flowing better than its ever been. (This is the kind of tension I often find myself in my walk with God.)

I was encouraged that day while driving, because I had to remind myself that we all hate change and sometimes it seems like we are going backwards but sometimes that’s a byproduct of our resistance to change.

And my change requires deep psychological rewiring; only a God who knows me can undo the old patterns of thinking. That situation is so similar to me with where the church may be going with the the LGBTQ community… and even though it may seem like we go backwards sometimes,

hopefully we are being made more in the image of God.

[part 1] ● [part 2] ● [part 3]


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Jonathan Kent Adams is an artist from Yazoo, Mississippi. He studied painting under Mary Beth Mckenzie in New York, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi. Other than that he enjoys being a barista at Highpoint Coffee, candles, heaters, red wine, music, and conversations about what make us beautiful. In his words, “I guess most importantly… I’m child of God and so are you.”

Ramblings of a sinner, Probably the worst, Hopefully getting better (Part 1)

Over the next 3 days, my dear friend Nathan is going to share his story and his journey with us as a gay man and a Christian.


Geez… I don’t really know how to write this without giving you my life story. I don’t know how to write this without telling you I was always attracted to guys growing up. don’t know how to write this without telling you that I have had girlfriends thinking my thoughts would eventually fade… that I have read books… that I have talked to pastors… that I have had to sit and talk with many friends about my future as a gay person in the body of christ… that I have lived in two polar opposite places in America… that I have spent most of my life from around 7 to a few years ago thinking something was tragically wrong with the way I was made.

Age 12 to 21, you would find me in private asking God to change me, to make my attraction to men go away. It’s basically the same story you have probably heard if you are familiar with conversations around this topic. I spent 4 years after I came out believing it was wrong for me to be in a gay relationship if I wanted to keep walking with God. I not only believed this but spoke at bible studies about it. I wrote letters to large groups of my christian friends talking about my struggle with being obedient to Christ while being a gay person. During this time in my life, I found people like Wesley Hill. He wrote a wonderful book called “Washed and Waiting.” He is a celibate gay christian. He helped me for the first time see the gay part of me as a gift that God could use, but I could never enjoy the intimate companionship of marriage. He argued that people of LGBTQ community needed to have deep rooted friendships with in the church to meet their emotional needs. He talked about how this was an area the church struggled with in general with all single people. Jesus was single from what we know. Paul was single. The problem for me was that it was a sweeping curse of celibacy to all people that were in the LGBTQ community. Paul made celibacy seem more like a gift that he celebrated not necessarily something that was forced upon groups of people.

I always thought it was beautiful that I could actually marry Christ one day as a part of the church. He is my bridegroom, and I am the beloved. To me that is a queer thought. A strange thought. A beautiful thought. A life changing thought. I wondered why I could not live this as a reality here on earth. No one in the churches I attended or talked deeply about my life with, told me that other christians existed within the body that believed I could enjoy that companionship with another person. I would find this out on my own when I went to live in New York City to take painting classes. I attended a small church called St. Josephs. I noticed within the congregation a few gay couples. After leaving, I emailed my religion professor from the University, and asked her if gay christians could really exist? That experience and email started the journey of me seeing myself fully embraced by God. Fully welcome. Fully celebrated. Not just part or parts of me, but the whole. My professor encouraged me to read different books by different people rather than the ones only written by celibate gay christians. She introduced me to James Alison. I have spent many a night chewing on his words, weeping as I felt this spirit within me stirred, but confused as ever at the undoing of some things I held so deeply as truth about myself.

I would later read a book by Gene Robinson. He was one of the Bishops for the Episcopal church. He is openly gay. He married and is now unfortunately divorced. (This doesnt really help a case for gay marriage, but his honesty and story did help me process through some aspects of moving forward even if people close to you do not support you.) He was so brave at letting God be his strength and refuge as so many people left that church, sent him hate mail, threatened his life etc. I have read books by Mark Achtemeier and Matthew Vines. I remember watching Matthew Vines’ sermon on youtube before he ever had the book deal. Both of these men talk more about the six passages that theologians talk about when discussing the issue. I will attach some links if you are interested more with that. I was always reading articles on both sides trying to figure out what I thought intellectually on the issue. I was also biased, because I wanted a relationship. I wanted someone to share life with me. Then one day crying on my knees in prayer, “God is for you not against you” kept going through my head. God is for you not against you. So I moved forward in faith that God would keep me and that if I was going down the wrong path that he would lead me back. I found that both sides could justify what they believed God wanted for the LGBTQ community. Another professor showed me articles that were written by pastors during the civil rights movement. Some argued that slavery and segregation were what God wanted and others condemned interracial marriage. These articles opened my eyes to how you could not really argue with these people, because they were certain they were right. I found that the conservative side never really admitted that they could potentially be wrong on the LGBTQ issue. They were definitely wrong with their justification of slavery and segregation. I also found this among real life friends. They were always certain they had the right interpretation of scripture and perception of my life. I will be the first to tell you that I may be wrong. That we all may be wrong. I hope that is not the case though. I hope that I am bringing God glory with my life and not myself. I hope that what I see is a progression in scripture of God using unexpected ways and relationships in order to reveal himself to humanity.

[part 1] ● [part 2] ● [part 3]


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Jonathan Kent Adams is an artist from Yazoo, Mississippi. He studied painting under Mary Beth Mckenzie in New York, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Mississippi. Other than that he enjoys being a barista at Highpoint Coffee, candles, heaters, red wine, music, and conversations about what make us beautiful. In his words, “I guess most importantly… I’m child of God and so are you.”

Genderless God

Lately, I’ve been practicing imagining God in different forms. The other day, He was a black woman with a huge afro like Mary J Blige’s character in the Black Nativity movie.

Because what are all these forms we imagine when we pray? If you’re like me, you use a visual when you pray and it’s usually a vague representation of stuff from movies. Sometimes, I imagine stereotypical Jesus sitting next to me. And since I’ve never seen Jesus, I’m essentially praying to an idol – an image crafted for me. It’s weird to me that some people will be offended by my new visualization practice but seriously what does God look like? I don’t know. He’s not a person. He’s a spirit. What does a spirit look like? I don’t know! What do I look like? I don’t know. I don’t interact with my spirit through my eyes. I’ve never seen my spirit.

A few months ago, I was reading an article about a Sikh woman and she said,

“this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually]”

I about jumped out of my seat with excitement at that statement. Even though Christians (technically) believe that, Sikhs have it way more together on this genderless God thing than we do.

A few years ago, translators of the NIV bible decided to release a gender-neutral bible and some people were just not having it. I’m not even talking about retranslating God’s gender references. I’m talking about expanding “brethen” to “brothers and sisters” in an attempt to

So I wonder how difficult this post might be for some people. A moment of silence.

Pressing swiftly along! While preparing this post, I read a piece titled, “Our Genderless God.” The author made a fabulous series of points:

“Most of us would say, if asked, that we don’t believe God has a gender. Instead, God transcends gender.

But we tend to use masculine pronouns for God because the Bible does. Yes.

We imagine God as male because Jesus called God ‘Father’. Yes.

Because Jesus, the image of the invisible God, was a man. Yes.

Because dominant images of God are associated with strength and power, with active and protective roles and we’ve been taught that strong means male… Ah.

Because we understand God in part by how we understand ourselves and the theologians who have had the most influence through Christian history have been male… Ah.

Because God is the highest and the greatest and the very best of the best, and our experience tells us that a person at the top is probably male… Ah.

Do you see where we start to have a problem?”

We know God is a spirit and not a person. We know we are images of Him and He is not an image of us… but we’re so small and we don’t know how to reach up out of ourselves so we still picture a white man speaking English (except on rare occasions when Morgan Freeman plays God on “Bruce Almighty” or William P. Young depicts God as a black woman in “The Shack.”)

We box God up. We assign human qualities to God so that we will be able to think about Her in a relatable way but She is not human. The box, the form, the object… It’s not for God; it’s for us. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove! It just seems like God was breaking all the rules.

God has to step in to expand our minds. He has to help us. And I believe She can help us unbox Her. Because I want GOD, not just my idea of God. So I knew, I had to shake up my preconceived notions of Him Her just to get started on the journey. I couldn’t just say He was more; I had to imagine God as more and ask Her to help me see truth, beyond my comfort and beyond my traditions.

God is the sourceless source of all, the eternity in which time subsists… God is not a dude. He doesn’t have a penis. She is not a woman. She doesn’t have a vagina. God is the intelligent, sentient, all pervasive force throughout the Universe. While many believed in a different god for the sun, the wind and the waves, we said, “Elohim is one,” that Elohim is the force behind all the forces physicists talk about. Elohim is the infinity that math teaches. Where all things have a beginning and an end, Elohim is the constant. Let us change our language to respect that. Let us not limit that truth we profess. I’ll admit that I don’t know the best way to unbox God but I am trying a few things. Honestly, I think God should have His own gender pronouns! She is in a class all by Herself, after all.

I look forward to the day when I close my eyes to pray and I see nothing. And beyond that, I look forward to the day when I open my eyes and I am shown everything.

Day 5: Jesus and Racism

This is the final post in a 5-day guest series on racism + the church. It has been an awesome journey and I would love to keep this category open. Maybe the discussion will continue in the future with more amazing authors! Amber Lowe will be closing us in prayer.


There are two things about racism that should be clear by now—what it is and what it is not. Critical race theorist Alan Freeman defines racism as an intentional, albeit irrational, deviation by a conscious wrongdoer from otherwise neutral, rational, and just ways of distributing jobs, power, prestige and wealth. This unjust distribution of power is based on the premise that one race is superior to all others, and that alleged superiority must be maintained by any means necessary. Therefore, racism is not simply a biased, preconceived opinion about a race of people. That’s prejudice. Prejudice can indeed fuel racism. But racism is more systematic as it infiltrates and influences systems and structures controlled by the powerful.

So, what is the Christian Church’s business with racism? How should the church respond to an evil ideology that has been present—particularly in American society—since the “founding” of this country? Maybe the better question is why should the church respond to racism? Of course racism has been violently and discreetly claiming the lives and daily wellbeing of Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics in this country for years, decades, and centuries. Of course racism is a threat to justice. And of course a basic belief in numerous religions is to love thy neighbor. But what other reasons compel the Christian Church to respond?

The answer to this question became apparent to me during my tenure as a seminary student, and its implications run much deeper than quoting Ephesians 4:3 and the Golden Rule. During the first semester of my final year in seminary, as I sat in Social Worlds of the New Testament, I listened as one of my classmates discussed her final paper topic. As an international student from St. Lucia, she was interested in Jesus’ encounters with foreign women—particularly the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 whose daughter was tormented by a demon. After “exegeting the text,” the St. Lucian student arrived at the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t perfect and without blemish or error as Christians so often believe. And the reason why Jesus wasn’t perfect is because Jesus referred to the Canaanite woman as a dog.

I sat straight up in my seat when the St. Lucian student said this. I wasn’t at all shocked at the claim that Jesus wasn’t perfect. I mean, he was human. What shocked me was the fact that I never paid much attention to this particular biblical passage. “So, you’re saying Jesus referred to the woman as the b-word?” I asked. “No,” the student responded. The student pointed to her research, which revealed that the Greek term for “dogs” as used in the text—kynaria— really means “puppies” or “household of dogs.” More specifically, the designation was not a Jewish term for Gentiles; it was a standard insult as also evidenced in Euripides, Aristotle, Quintillian, and others.

“Jesus used a racial slur to identify this woman. Jesus was a racist,” the student claimed. Jesus? A racist? Really? As the thought raced through my mind, I reminded myself of what a racist is and what a racist isn’t. For Jesus to be a racist, he has to be in a position of power and deny this woman of another ethnicity something that she needs, and this denial has to be based on her ethnicity. Otherwise, Jesus would be simply exhibiting a prejudicial sentiment Jews had long possessed toward Canaanites.

My silent mental line of inquiry about the claims this student made about this alleged racist nature of Jesus suddenly intersected with the topic of my own final research paper—the socio-political context of demon possession and exorcism in first century Palestine. Based on research inclusive of decades of social scientific and anthropological studies on the topic, I found that anthropological studies show a close relationship between demonic possession and social tension, such as class antagonisms rooted in economic exploitation, conflicts between traditions where revered traditions eroded, colonial domination and revolution. Therefore, demon possession is defined as an ancient form of mental illness, and the situation in Roman controlled Palestine allowed for frequent demonic possession.

Based on these findings, New Testament scholars and I concluded that the Canaanite woman’s daughter—for example—could be experiencing mental illness as a response to abject poverty caused by colonial domination. And because of this illness,  the Canaanite woman is in search of something or someone that could aid in healing her daughter. For the Canaanite woman, that something or someone was Jesus. The Canaanite woman who found herself at the intersection of poverty and her status as a  female widow begs for favor from Jesus.

But Jesus called her a dog in response to her request, as the St. Lucian student stated. And not only did he call her a dog, but the Canaanite woman is also initially rejected by Jesus who is in a position of authority. He’s the one that many in his community have referred to as the messiah. He’s the one who has gained a huge following among poor, destitute Palestinian Jews. And he’s the one who allegedly has the power to heal the woman’s daughter. But he irrationally and intentionally denies healthcare to this woman’s daughter based on her ethnicity, based on the preconceived notion that Jews are superior to Canaanites.

However, as the St. Lucian student later pointed out, the Canaanite woman helped Jesus to see something about himself that had been embedded in his Jewish psyche long before he found himself in human flesh in first century Palestine. She helped him to see that he allowed his prejudices to keep a child from receiving healthcare. She helped Jesus to see that he could not continue to limit his message of justice, liberation, deliverance, reconciliation, and healing to the house of Israel. It was as though the Canaanite woman handed Jesus a mirror that not only reflected himself singularly but reflected himself as the summation of his historical racial bias. The St. Lucian student arrived at the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t perfect, but through listening to the voices of the marginalized, he did learn from his mistakes.

And it wasn’t just the St. Lucian student who had arrived at this same conclusion about Jesus’ once racist nature. The following semester, I cross-registered at another seminary to take a Politics of Jesus course. The issue of harsh Jewish treatment of foreigners according to the biblical text arose once again. While the instructor and other students cited Old Testament examples, I cited Matthew 15:21-28 in which Jesus was the perpetrator. This response didn’t sit too well with a few students. I had succeeded in “messing up their Jesus.” But a white female student approached me during the lunch break an expressed her gratefulness for me citing Jesus as an example. “I brought that up a few years ago in a bible study on that text. Jesus called that woman a dog. He racially slurred her, and that’s like calling a black person the n-word. We gotta deal with that.”

Why should the Christian Church concern itself with the business of racism? Because the leader of our movement who although, according to Luke 4:18, proclaimed in a synagogue that the purpose of his ministry was to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover the sight of the blind, and let the oppressed go free, was once himself a proponent of the systematic superiority of one race at the expense of another.

But where do we go from here? Although it may not be accepted by many, what do we do with this information and revelation about Jesus the Christ? Revisiting Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail provides insight and direction to a solution for this question. From his jail cell in Birmingham, King expresses his frustration with members of the white Church as he writes on a roll of toilet paper “I felt that white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Like King, I too have recognized the silence and complacency among members of the white Church, many of whom I know as friends. Ironically, I’ve found more support from my white friends who are atheist. Either my white Christian friends divert attention away from the issue of racism by stating “all lives matter” and “I don’t see race,” they proclaim the cliché that “Jesus paid it all” which doesn’t really say much, or they are silent altogether. But King lets us know that it is not enough for the black church to be the sole opponent of racism. To exorcise the corporate demon of racism and begin the healing process, there must be a collaborative response and action.

Just as Jesus listened to the cries of the Canaanite woman and her ill daughter, members of the white Christian Church must recognize its role in the maintenance of white supremacy and institutionalized racism by listening to the battle cry “black lives matter.” And the white Christian church must then move to listening to now acting, responding, standing in solidarity, and fighting.

Like Jesus in Matthew 15:21-28, the white Church must move beyond the ideology of choosiness and embrace the ideology of Christian universalism which helps groups persevere despite persecution. After all, this is how the early Christian Church survived oppression and persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. And like Jesus, the white Church must learn from its mistakes. Learning is vital to survival. And lives are at stake if you choose not to learn.

References

Crenshaw, Kimberle, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas, eds. “Introduction.” In Critical Race Theory: the Key Writings That Formed the Movement, 1. New York: The New Press, 1996.

Hendricks, Obery. “Call the Demon by Name.” In The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted. Reprint ed, 1. New York: Three Leaves, 2007.

Newsom, Carol A., Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley. “Commentary on Matthew.” In Women’s Bible Commentary. 3rd ed, 1. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

Wogaman, J. Philip, and Douglas M. Strong, eds. “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” In Readings in Christian Ethics: a Historical Sourcebook, 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.


Amber

Reverend Amber Lowe is a 2012 English graduate from the University of Mississippi. She is also  an ordained travelling deacon in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and serves on the ministerial staff at the historic West Mitchell CME Church in Atlanta, GA. Amber is a recent graduate of Phillips School of Theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center. From there, she received her Master of Divinity with a concentration in Ethics, graduating Summa Cum Laude.

Amber is currently in the application process as she plans to obtain a PhD in religion/ethics/public policy. She plans to begin coursework Fall 2016. In the future, Rev. Lowe also plans on pastoring, teaching seminary and university courses on social theory and the intersections of public policy and religion. In addition to her commitment as a minister of the Gospel, Amber enjoys writing poetry, reading, and Zumba.