Maundy Thursday reflections: longing and hope

My heart is nearly broken with sorrow/ Remain here with me/ Stay awake and pray

Tonight I shared in a remote Maundy Thursday service through the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest’s Cathedral, which is sharing its social distanced Holy Week services with their many church plants due to COVID-19.

Maundy Thursday is another name for day we remember the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ celebrated Passover with his disciples before he was arrested and murdered. It’s an evening of celebration before their world was shaken.

Jesus gathered with his twelve best friends, washed their feet as a display of service and love, and ate with them, all while knowing that one of them would betray him just hours later. He let that person go to do his business, gathered the rest, and told them to watch and pray. You can read the account in Matthew 26.

Jesus earnestly desired to eat with his disciples at that last meal before his arrest and crucifixion. He longed to be together with his beloved ones, drinking from the same cup and eating of the same bread.

One bread, one body, one Lord of all/ One cup of blessing which we bless/ And we, though many, throughout the earth/ We are one Body in this one Lord

I too long for that. I want to worship in community, to sing with abandon and in the company of 50 other singers, to hug without fear, to HUG. I wish to be in the physical fellowship of my sisters and brothers of faith and with them partake in his Body and Blood as Christ, the Messiah, instructed us.

(My congregation is blessed to be able to partake in the Body “in one kind,” so just the bread, which has been blessed for us. The latter half of every service is devoted to communion, and there is also a liturgy for those who cannot eat the flesh in this time. We were even given palm branches and candles, delivered to our doorsteps for this Holy Week. I am grateful for all the measures the leadership has taken to allow us to worship in as much of an embodied way as possible during this pandemic.)

Despite the unfulfilled longings and the coming darkness, in his message tonight, Father Trevor reminded us of the unshakeable hope that we have as Christ’s disciples. At that last peaceful dinner, Jesus experienced the yearning we are experiencing now in quarantine, for he knew what was to come. Yet he also had hope, which he passed on to his disciples.

The Last Supper was Jesus’ last time drinking wine before his Kingdom is united. And we still await that day when we shall feast at the wedding of the Bride, which is the Church, and Lamb, which is Jesus Messiah, as the book of Revelation describes.

Even as the world crumbles around us — and for some it has always been crumbled or already been shaken — or even as we experience isolation that was not what God intended for humankind, Father Trevor reminded us to hold on to the unshakeable hope we have in Christ.

I can’t get ahead of myself.

It isn’t Good Friday yet, so as we reenact the story through the liturgical calendar, Jesus still has to die. Then we have to wait a dark day thinking that all is lost and everything we put our faith in was a lie. Then on the third day, we’ll be surprised by Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, actually fulfilling ancient prophecy and words promised to his disciples. (And, spoiler alert, he spreads that news through women.)

But tonight we watch and pray.

God of justice, come again

This post was originally sent out during Advent in a newsletter I write for a church. It has been adapted for the Twelve Days of Christmas 2019-20.
Psalm 72 is believed to be a Messianic Psalm, one that referred to the prophesied Christ thousands of years before he was born. In NIV it begins, “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice” (1,2). The prayer for this foretold king, Christ Jesus, is that he will be just.
But it doesn’t end there. The psalmist prays the king will be just towards those who are suffering, afflicted, and oppressed.
Verse four is pretty explicit: “May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” The psalmist goes on to pray that all other kings will come to him in worship, giving him gifts and licking his dust because he is THAT mighty and worthy of their service.
Why?? “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live!” (12-15a).
This God is worthy of our praise. This God is our redeemer. This God is the Messiah for Chicago’s Westside as for the Jews. He is the God for all who are oppressed and afflicted, all who need justice. This God says our blood is precious in his sight.
He is the God for our sons and daughters whose teachers try their best but lack resources. He is the God for our cousins and uncles and fathers who don’t make it home from work due to gun violence. He is the God for our aunts and mothers who give us their all so we can have food on the table and clothes on our backs. He is the God for our sisters with breast cancer and our brothers doing time for crimes they didn’t deserve so many years for.
He sees all our blood and views it as precious. That was true in King David’s prophecy, true when Jesus hung on the tree for our sins and sicknesses, and is just as true today as we both remember his first coming through Mary’s bloody womb in these Twelve Days of Christmas and expect his second coming.
“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen” (18, 19).

What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)
View from Buena Vista. PC: KSB

Three uplifting lessons from 2018

It was at a prayer vigil around the turn of year that I received my words for 2018: delight and grace. Around me echoed free-form, one voice prayer and worship, church members both walking in large circles with their eyes closed as they spoke with God in Swahili and slumped against the wall as they struggled to stay awake. I decided to express myself and not worry what people might think, so I joined in. Thus came the words delight and then grace, and on a later day, “Look up.”

DELIGHT

These kids brought me so much joy. This pool day was especially fun. Photo belongs to KSB.

These kids brought me so much joy. This pool day was especially fun. Photo belongs to KSB.

In 2018, I remembered those words regularly. I took delight in the little things, like pine cones, which I found so beautiful. Spaghetti, too, and dancing in the kitchen while cooking, often brought me delight. And of course, I delighted to spend time with my friends, the kids.

Delight finds beauty in things, and for me those were often simple things. But more than a smile, delight is a deep kind of joy, a desire-being-fulfilled kind of joy, an I-want-to-be-with-you-always-because-you-make-me-smile kind of thing. Sometimes it’s a moment; sometimes it’s a relationship, as with the kids; and always it is excited and joyful.

Delight also comes with the freedom to express yourself, because why does it matter what others might think? More likely, they’ll find your joy infectious, and even if not, your joy can continue.

GRACE

The beautiful Sault family in our house. Photo belongs to KSB.

The beautiful Sault family in our house. Photo belongs to KSB.

Grace is another word for “gift,” which, side note, is the meaning of my Swahili name, Neema Zawadi (translated Grace Gift; my friends in Goma, DRC, named me a few years back). I found everything to be a gift this year. Honestly, the year started out rough and held many unexpected challenges, some frightening, some difficult to bear, some enduring still. But the year did improve greatly over time.

Some of the gifts I was blessed with were the Sault family and their home, where I lived for the second part of the year. I was blessed with the gift of dear friends as well, for which I am extremely grateful.

Grace also travels with forgiveness. This is something I am working on as I realize new people I need to forgive as well as the grace I need to have for myself.

LOOK UP

My friend Ed, whom I had the pleasure of visiting when some friends flew me out to my college town. He knows the value of this lesson as well. Photo belongs to him and me (KSB).

My friend Ed, whom I had the pleasure of visiting when some friends flew me out to my college town. He knows the value of this lesson as well. Photo belongs to him and me (KSB).

Finally, God often reminded me to “look up” this year. Most often this was a message of hope and confidence.

It translates to something along these lines: “Look up, for I am the lifter of your head. You don’t have to make yourself small or hide because of shame or embarrassment. (Remember, grace.) You are significant, and people want to see you thriving. Be confident and lift your head. Look up.”

I especially took these things to heart as a woman growing in my faith and learning about expressing myself with confidence.

Be confident and lift your head.

 

I do not yet have any distinct words or phrases for next year. Usually I discover a theme as it happens, like God’s faithfulness that was so evident during my senior year of high school, though it has always existed and continues to impress me today, or “abundance,” which described my first time in Goma and the riches, beloved-ness, and fullness from that experience, though I did not put the word to it until I was about to leave the Congo. But I am glad that God blessed me with the words in advance to guide me, focus me, teach me this past year.

All I know so far is that 2019 will contain challenges and suffering but that God will be with me through it. I’m not claiming any false blessings of a million dollars or some new car. He hasn’t promised me these things, and I won’t claim a false Facebook prophecy that declares them to anyone who finds it appealing.

Yet I can take courage in God’s constant presence through the Holy Spirit and in the knowledge that despite any troubles, no matter how severe or long lasting, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Praise God for His Holy Spirit!

Have a blessed new year.

PC: KSB

Evangelicals embracing diversity – it’s a thing

Live in harmony with one another…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  -Romans 12:16a, 18, ESV

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. -Psalm 119:13-15, NIV

PC: KSB

PC: KSB


Norma took the stage, her voice shaking as she shared her story.

Through pauses and tears, she told the group about growing up as a migrant worker, not fitting in with her Texan friends because of her Floridian accent, and experiencing microaggressions because of her brown skin. She joined the church in Denver, thinking it a safe place, but still did not fit in. Her stories of regularly being tailed while grocery shopping, for example, are not believed.

This she shared on stage in front of the church itself. Norma pleaded to be believed and understood, said her Latina sisters there felt the same way, and called for unity. Being in a white space can be exhausting when that means people cannot relate to you, or when they question your experiences.


Our church is actually very multicultural,

especially for an evangelical church – that’s why I love it and why I want to share about it with you today. The worship team is equal parts black and white with one or two Asian or Latinx musicians completing the group. Mixed race children zigzag around the aisles after church while their parents mingle.

Yet many people in our community still feel as if they cannot fully be themselves or be known and believed.

We are working on it. We have a diversity committee. We, an evangelical church in a predominantly white denomination, are an example in our intention to be racially inclusive. Though we are still imperfect, the attempts are showing results.

The diversity committee is about two years old, and I have heard women of color say that it has been helpful. The committee is part of the reason why we recently had an untold story event where people of color were able to share some of these microaggressions they experience, and it is why we had a service dedicated to discussing racial diversity.

The space last Sunday allowed for testimony, listening, and lots of applause. The speakers were honest. The message was about unity. You can watch all of the service here. In addition to testimonies, one of the older men who leads worship explained the history of Negro spirituals and shared one.


Unity is important, but we need to dig deeper into what that means.

Harmony, too, is necessary. We do not need to put aside our differences to get along; we need to put aside our division.

A song is made stronger by its different, cohesive sounds – the harmonies. We, as disciples of Christ, need also to embrace who we are and build each other up using our unique gifts. If we try to fit in or suppress the parts of us that have caused us trouble because they stand out, we hurt ourselves and the Body of Christ. We suppress the Spirit within our bodies by suppressing how God made us to be.

Some of those gifts from God are our identity and our very appearance. We are God’s beloved children, designed according to his specifications, just as the Tabernacle was designed with physical measurements for utmost holiness and beauty. Let me share some examples of these gifts:

  • For Sho, it means her dark skin and bald head, her understanding nature and loving spirit. All of that is intentional. She is tall for a reason. She is black for a reason. She is strong, lovely, wise, and holy.
  • For Fabian, it means his ability to speak both Spanish and English, his passion to care for his students and to fight for their best interests, his athleticism and his servant’s heart. He is American for a reason. He is Hispanic for a reason. He is in Colorado for a reason. He is considerate, kind, and intelligent.
  • For Lee, it means his Dragon Ball Z-esc hair, his endless knowledge of everything that exists, and the way he interacts with people. He is Korean for a reason. He is white for a reason. He gets caught on subjects that fascinate him for a reason. He is encouraging, dedicated, and thoughtful.
  • For Djeffrey, it means his big, welcoming eyes and bright smile, his energy, his commitment, his voice, and his body that was made for dancing. He is Haitian for a reason. He is a man for a reason. He is black for a reason. Regardless of how he does his hair or how much energy he has on a particular day, he is serious about people, crazy about Jesus, compassionate, and giving.
  • For me, it means my light skin, my ability to shift between cultures and build relationships, my short stature, and my voice. I am white for a reason. I always seem to be the one who doesn’t quite fit in the crowd, and that positioning is for a reason. I am inviting, knowledgeable, hospitable, and beloved.

David, a Korean-American man who shared his testimony last Sunday, recapped a story where a friend told him not to be “that Asian guy.” He initially agreed with his friend and then thought about it later with curiosity. A woman who shared her story told of the teen girls around her also being told not to act their race.

“Don’t act black,” or “don’t be that Asian guy” is like saying “don’t be the way God made you to be.” It is spitting in the face of God! It is also racist.

God made you in your skin and placed you with your kin for a reason. If you are black, God smiles upon you. If you are Native American, he sees you. If you are Latinx, he is proud of you. If you are Asian, he knows your innermost thoughts and desires. If you are white, he loves you too.


I am proud of my morning church for its efforts to be racially inclusive.

Some ways we can continue to improve are to incorporate Spanish songs into our worship to benefit our large Hispanic population and add some Korean, French, and Creole songs as well. We sing a little bit of Gospel and have recently learned a couple spirituals, but the majority of the worship is still CCM, aka white Christian music. As a white attender, I think we are doing pretty decently, but I know we can definitely push ourselves more for the love of our Body, who is Christ.

Although our church is multiracial and the people on stage represent that, most of the elders themselves are white, and they are all men. Adding more people of color to our leadership (and women, but I have intentionally left gender out of this because that is a different story at our church) will change the way our church is run so that we can grow more harmonious and united and reflective of Heaven.

To other Christians who may be reading this, and church leaders especially, consider taking our model as an example for how to grow your church in the glory of God, and share with me how you have harnessed the strength that comes from the diversity of God’s Kingdom!

Peace.

PC: Rebeka Mwenebitu

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi

“Coka mucie, that’s what he said to me, rudi nyumbani, doesn’t matter what you did. Ningwedete, that’s what he said to me, mi nakupenda, doesn’t matter what you did.”

“Return home,” the song calls. “I love you,” it declares. “Doesn’t matter what you did.”

I’ve been singing this song by Stacy Kamatu and Dira the Band all day. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s God’s message of hope, forgiveness, redemption, endless love.

PC: KSB

God is loyal and faithful, as is his Church. Jesus gave himself for you, and the Church emulates that.

So you’ve slipped back into sin. Return home.

So you can’t see your way back to the path yet. Jesus still loves you and offers you both an advocate and companion for your journey.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said in John 14:6, just before promising the Holy Spirit as a helper.

Friends, advisors, and the Word itself – these too can guide you in wisdom and righteousness.

Return home. You are dearly loved.

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi.