Living Stories: I Am Muslim & American

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi


American-Muslims


I identify as a Muslim American woman; the very fact that I have to state this is problematic. We don’t ask people of other backgrounds to identify as “Christian American,” or “Buddhist American.” It’s not that I mind identifying as a Muslim American woman; in fact, it is an honor to do so. This dual identity does not indicate, in the least, that one designation is exclusive of the other; I can be a Muslim and an American to the core, and I never have to choose one or the other.

However, the fact of the matter is that it is unfair to have to constantly profess my humanity and goodness to other humans; it’s essentially an insult, perfectly wrapped and hidden within a bow.

I live in the most diverse country on the planet; I am a minority within a majority and that is not unusual considering the fact that the very base this country was built on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – all of which entails freedom of speech, freedom to practice my religion, freedom to live in harmony with people from every other background, equality, respect, love, and tolerance. My experience being a Muslim American woman in the United States of America has been nothing short of an enlightening and beautiful path that I and millions of other resilient Muslim American women have been treading upon. Being a Muslim American woman is the very core of my essence; it means that I do my absolute best to uphold the teachings of my beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

teachings of love, peace, tolerance of all religions, equality for all, empathy, compassion, and overall goodness.

My religion has taught me to be resilient in the face of injustice and discrimination; during a time where my faith is put under a ridiculous amount of scrutiny and it being represented in such a negative way, it has ultimately made me now more so than ever clench on to my religious values, beliefs, practices, and identity. I have never wanted to visibly identify myself to everyone around me as a Muslim than I do now; I leave my house everyday with my head covered in a hijab, a scarf that represents how proud and happy I am to have the honor to represent my religion and its teachings, my hope is that the principles and teachings of my religion permeate through my character as a person.

I’m a flawed human being and my religion accepts that and guides me through life to be the best that I can be.

In a nutshell, I’m trying to live my life in a steadfast and in a divinely guided manner just like billions of other people around the world, no matter what their religion is. My hope is that thousands and millions of other Muslim girls around the globe will not be discouraged and fear for their lives when they choose to follow their religion and very obviously identify as Muslims when leaving their house.

This is not just about hijab;

hijab is something that I choose to wear because it draws me closer to my Creator and contrary to popular belief, it is not in any way an impediment on my daily life like it has unfortunately been portrayed. It is about my autonomy and my right as a proud Muslim American woman to live my life without being discriminated against subliminally, implicitly, or blatantly. I want myself and other Muslim American women to be recognized for their character, their strength, their humanity, and their resilience in the face of arrogance, ignorance, and hate.

I have experienced compassion, respect, and love from complete strangers giving me compliments ranging from the color of my scarves to words of support regarding the current anti-Muslim climate, and letting me know that I and other Muslims are loved and respected. I could tell you about my negative experiences and the clear instances where I was discriminated against, but I do not want to focus on the negative; I choose to actively steer away from that, as I know that there is always more good than evil and I know for a fact that the majority of humans are not ill-willed, malicious, or spiteful. Humanity is alive and well, and there is so much goodness to look forward to.

13606982_10154327691224660_4903613609203261050_nNajwa Mardini has recieved her B.A. in Health Education.

 

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Living Stories: Race and Diversity

 

 

“Diversity is an aspect of human existence that cannot be eradicated by terrorism or war or self-consuming hatred. It can only be conquered by recognizing and claiming the wealth of values it represents for all.”
― Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

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Hello I am Eugene! Growing up in a mixed community made racism more stereotypical for me than real. My playmates were from Mexico and my closest friends were White. In a mixed race family and community, however, everyone seemed aware of the stereotypes and we governed our lives by them. Interestingly, the stereotypes did not inhibit interaction, relationship, or care. Members of my small community regularly shopped together, learned together, churched together, and grew together.  Sure, everyone believed the Black people were loud talkers, good singers and dancers, the best athletes, and quick to fight. Yes, everyone believed the White people were quiet talkers, decent singers and not so good dancers, average athletes, and quick to tattle.  Of course, everyone believed the Hispanic people had the best food and the loudest, all day and all night parties. Many of these things were true for many members of those groups, but our community did not seem to care. In my generation, we knew who danced, sang, played, and fought well, and we knew who did not—regardless of racial identity. We made it work without great discrimination or overt racism.  Well, at least that was my experience.

In high school, I moved to a predominantly White community and that is when I first experienced racism beyond the stereotypes – even though I did not recognize it as racism immediately. My view did not change, nor did my friend circles, which remained largely mixed. I was a young adult when I encountered and witnessed repeated racism by police, business managers, and authority figures that led to my views changing, and the change was needed. I needed to see what others were seeing. I needed to assimilate my distorted worldview to reality, which was far less kind and far more regarding of color than I had believed. In my adult years, I have learned so much more about discrimination, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and blind hatred than I honestly care to know.

For me, America is that small town of diversity in which I grew up.  People of different kinds and creeds all making it work to bend the rules and getaway with an extra hour of playtime. I do not view my nationality – American – through the lens of my colored skin. Unlike most other Countries, the U.S.A. is ethnically diverse, which leads to unique challenges of assimilation. The diversity of America, the many colors herein, is truly a realization of an ideology that “all people are created equal.”  Racism, this belief that certain characteristics of specific racial groups make one group superior and another inferior, must be eradicated. It threatens the life of individuals, it threatens a family’s ability to pursue happiness, and it threatens the moral stitching of America. I am a realist, however, and I recognize that people are committed to teaching their children and grandchildren to hate and reject others without knowing those others. I would like to hope those numbers are dwindling as mixed race families and communities grow.  So maybe it is time that Americans turn on racists like racists turn on others. Maybe it is time for those racists to be denied accesses, privileges, and opportunities.  Maybe it is time for Americans to say, “We are colored and the biggest Crayola box ever known.”


10530953_10204094553103728_192829007518554277_nEugene Furnace has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.S. in Counseling Psychology. He also has recieved a Doctorate in Behavioral Health.

Living Stories: Nigerian and Race

“…We steal with our eyes closed to the conditions in which the poor, who make our affluence possible, live. We covet what our neighbours have and want more of the same.”

― Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective

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Hello my name is Yvonne. I moved to America when I was seven years old. Before I lived in Nigeria where everyone looked like me.  Being a Christian family I was around white missionaries but what I really knew about the Western Civilization came from movies. It’s not that I didn’t know colonization and racism didn’t exist, it just wasn’t real. Nelson Mandela was the hero of a whole continent and with Sarafina being such an iconic movie, I knew to an extent what racism was. The thing is none of this has been real to me.  When I started school in America I learned about racism as though it was something of this plague that was eradicated.  I learned about racism like I learned about the Scarlet Fever, it happened, killed people, but don’t worry about we have it all fixed now!

The most vivid picture of racism experienced by me in North America was when I was in a middle school health class learning about different types of STD’s  and during health class we learned about different types STD’s. Of course out comes the topic AIDS and the teacher notes that AIDS originated in Africa.  From that moment on my classmates didn’t touch me because I had AIDS. My classmates started a rumor that I had sex with monkeys in Africa which gave me AIDS. You think it’s a joke until someone bumps into you and immediately wipes it off when they think you don’t notice.  I’ve often been called a nigger (or its derivative: nigga) but I just took it as people making jokes rather than peers trying to hurt my feelings. I could not imagine that my peers would think of me as an inferior on the basis of my skin color. It’s even more infuriating to think that my teachers who were in my classes did nothing.

¨Perhaps they did not notice….¨

but then I thought:

 ¨How can a teacher be so naïve (or blind) to the inner workings of her own class?¨

I have to keep reminding people that racism isn’t as obvious as it has been in the past but now it’s subtle. Malcolm X said it best, it’s like a Cadillac and every year they bring out a new model. It is now done in a way that people aren’t outright with their racism but rather sly – so it often carries with you. For example, when I was in high school a few girls in a class were discussing the upcoming powder puff game.  We were talking about how much more fun it would be to tackle one another. In between the classes the school dean pulled me aside and said that,

¨Some girls felt a little worried because I seemed too excited to play tackle powder puff¨

A group of girls talking about something in the exact same tone and I’m the one who’s too excited?!?  Interestingly during the game a white girl was the one who was the most violent to the point of kicking someone while they were down.  But by all means focus in on me!

The biggest regret that I have had is not calling out racism more.  As a woman of color I have had to pretend not to hear every snide remark, awkward look, and ignorant remark –  It’s a full time job I have to do.  Looking back what was stopping me from correcting people who were saying terrible things about Nigeria?  What was stopping me from standing up to people who used derogatory terms towards me? Why didn’t I have those uncomfortable conversations with people?

As a Christian I kept saying that it was because I lived in a not so perfect world which meant that I had to accept the injustice of people like the one’s described above, yet the type of Christianity that says I have to accept the injustice done towards my body is the  colonist white  version of Christianity that has whitened, spiritualized, depoliticized, domesticated and demarginalized Jesus to keep colored bodies like me on our symbolic and literal plantations.

As a Christian I have come to learn that I don’t have to accept circumstances that are designed to oppress me and now I gladly will call out bad jokes and shady remarks even if this means that I have to eat alone. I will gladly let my kids wear all the hoodies they want, and from now on I will hold every leader of the black community accountable for the lack of progress they actually make. I have come to accept that maybe white America may never understand or even want to understand because understanding means that their entire reality will have to change. Nevertheless, I have found self-empowerment through my own black narrative and it is that narrative that has made me a fighter and my oppressors’ greatest nightmare.

I can’t call myself an American because I’m not one. While I am a Permanent Resident I have no interest in pursuing a citizenship.  I honestly don’t know why so many people idolize being an American.  With all the history and current news – I have a culture that I am so proud to be a part of.  Nigeria is a lot of things negative but the positives are so amazing that I can’t even believe I am chosen to be a part of it.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t trade it for anything.


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Yvonne Fyne-Nsofar B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in the area of International Business.

Living Stories: Amerindian and Race

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”

― Ben Okri

The hope of this new blog series entitled Living Stories is to create a space for diverse narratives to be heard, shared, and reflected upon with the hopes of opening up human hearts to the human other in all her queerness. The contributors to this blog series come from diverse walks of life and in sharing their stories they confess to its power to inspire, transform and provoke change in the lives of the human other. Through reading each person’s story, I pray that your hearts be transformed and I pray that your transformation may lead you to act reflectively, compassionately, justly, generously, humbly and peacefully on behalf of the human other.

Grace and Peace

– Rev. Jay How


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Introduction

For many non-white Americans, racism in North America is a reality that is continually experienced by colored bodies. Whether it is in the supermarket, the classroom, in the mall, on the street, on a mission or in the workplace one need not look far to come to the conclusion that North America has a race problem. However, for many white Americans racism does not exist – or if it does exist it only exists at an individual level. In denying Americas’ racist problems, white Americans do more than deny the reality of our continual experiences as colored people but they make us into liars and inventors of false narratives while they play the role of the victim. In light of all that has been said, I leave you with our colored stories from the margins. These are our stories!

– Rev. Jay How


 

I’m Cherokee. I’m also white. I’m equal parts both, though according to my Certificate Degree of Indian Blood I’m 31/64 Cherokee – yeah, the U.S. government registers American Indians. What does that mean? It means I’m well-tanned. It also means sports logos like the Washington Redsk*ns make it difficult for me to convince people that I am not just that white guy pretending to have Indian blood because I don’t have dark skin, a huge nose, or wear feathers. It also means that when Elizabeth Warren claims to have been Cherokee – when she pretty clearly wasn’t – it’s offensive, but to be honest most white people I know also claim to be related to a Cherokee princess – oh you haven’t heard of our royal bloodlines? It also means it’s even more offensive when Donald Trump calls Warren ‘Pocahontas , a real life person who was imprisoned, raped, likely forced into marriage, and taken to Europe to be paraded around as a New World “savage” where she would die in her early 20’s – you know, just like the movie.

Basically, being equal measures red and white is complicated, it’s nuanced. Relatives on my mother’s side of the family are southerners from Texas – a state infamous for its treatment of Natives and likely slave-owners pre-Civil War. My father’s side of the family lived in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and grew up poor with an alcoholic dad. I love both sides of my family, but one set of ancestors caused the suffering of the other and that suffering doesn’t stop when both generations are dead, it keeps on into today. That’s institutional racism. Institutional racism can be subtle and it can be jarring. For a lot of Natives, it’s jarring. Around half of Natives live on reservations, plots of land nobody wanted, far away from cities or valuable resources, and often Natives can’t sell, lease, or purchase land without the approval of the US government. Native Americans are shot by police at higher rates than any other people group in America, we’re incarcerated at high rates, we have significantly higher suicide rates than the rest of the country, we have staggering unemployment rates, our education lags behind the rest of the country and our healthcare situation is a mess.

But I grew up removed from all of that. My dad was a missionary to reservations in California when I was young and I often traveled to the reservations with him. I saw Natives living in third world conditions and at night I would go back to our house in the suburbs. I’ve seen people treat my father differently because the color of his skin, but I’ve never had a teacher or police officer watch me suspiciously. I’ve had to hear about the history and greatness of America, knowing all the horrors that this country is built upon, but no one gives me looks or treats me with ‘kid gloves.’ I’ve had people tell me, ‘Yeah, but you’re not really Native American like your dad,’ and I’ve also had people ask me if I dress up in feathers and perform rain dances. My life is not difficult and I don’t face overwhelming obstacles or stigmas, but I inherited the depression of a people decimated by policies of racial hatred.

My last name is Shade. That’s an English word, but it’s not a typical Anglo name. Cherokees didn’t have last names, but after the Dawes Act was passed in the early 20th century, Cherokees (and other tribes) were required to take on an English last name in exchange for land. It’s a good metaphor for me now. Some people say, ‘Hey, cool last name,’ and most others don’t notice it, but I am always aware of its history.

It’s from this lens that I see the world and the issues dealing with race. North America has a race problem. Its existence was founded upon racism – colonizing Native land – and its economic subsistence relied on it – slavery. There are things we can do better and listening is the first step, but until the conversation shifts away from “Is racism still a thing?” we’re going to be stuck debating whether black lives matter – they do – while everyone collectively ignores people like me who whisper “Native lives matter.” White America needs to understand racism is still a reality today and it isn’t a handful of Trump supporters in the backwoods, it’s the system itself. Our country was founded upon white supremacy and that legal legacy is still in place today. Surely, it is important to condemn individual racism, but that doesn’t change the fact that reservations exist in legal black holes where sexual assault committed by non-Natives against Native women often goes unpunished. Nor does white Americas’ embrace of multicultural values enable tribal governments and Native individuals to have control of their own land and resources. But hey, if we can get a few sports teams to #ChangeTheMascot, let’s call it a win.

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Matthew Shade has a B.A. in English Literature and Public Relations while he is currently working on his Masters’ degree in Economics.

 

Reflexión: El Camino Más Fácil y Difícil

“Perdona siempre a tus enemigos; nada les molesta tanto”.
– Oscar Wilde

“El débil nunca puede perdonar. El perdón es el atributo de los fuertes.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, todos los hombres son hermanos: reflexiones autobiográficas

“Errar es humano, perdonar es divino.”
– Alexander Pope, Ensayo sobre la crítica

“El perdón no es un acto de vez en cuando, es una actitud constante.”
– Martin Luther King hijo.

“El perdón es el nombre del amor practicado entre las personas que aman el mal. La dura verdad es que todas las personas aman mal. Necesitamos perdonar y ser perdonados todos los días, cada hora y cada vez. Esa es la gran obra de amor entre la comunidad del débil que es la familia humana “.
– Henri Nouwen J. M.

“El odio no cesa por el odio, pero sólo por el amor; esta es la regla eterna “.
– Gautama Buda, El Dhammapada: los dichos de Buda

“Porque si perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, también os perdonará a vosotros vuestro Padre celestial. Pero si no perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, tampoco vuestro Padre os perdonará a vosotros las vuestras.” – Mateo 6:14-15

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Lo más fácil sería olvidarse o vengarse de alguien que te ha hecho daño o que te ha ofendido gravemente, pero aquellas opciones no remedian el dolor que llevamos en las profundidades de nuestro ser. Olvidarse o vengarse no puede remediar nuestras lágrimas negras, no puede quitar nuestra indignación y no puede prevenirnos de guardar rencor. Sin embargo, aunque lográsemos nuestra venganza o se nos olvidara la situación nunca sería suficiente en erradicar los dolorosos sentimientos que están dentro de nuestros corazones.

En la búsqueda de nuestra venganza o en nuestro deseo de olvidar nos encontraremos que siempre querremos más venganza y aprenderemos que olvidarse es un cuento de hadas. Por consecuencias de nuestra incapacidad de vengarnos u olvidarnos, nuestros sentimientos nos hacen esclavos y nos encadenan hasta nuestra muerte. En nuestra esclavitud nos convertimos en personas pesimistas, que odian, egoístas, que no confían, que aman poco, frías, cerradas, solitarias, que disfrutan poco, detestables y sin esperanza.

Entonces, ¿cómo nos podemos desencadenar? Nos desencadenamos por el camino del perdón.

El camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. Aún más, el camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por el rencor, el odio, el dolor, el olvido y la venganza. El camino del perdón no es algo que hacemos porque nos gusta, pero es algo que hacemos para liberarnos de nuestra esclavitud. El perdón nos libra, así que podemos disfrutar, gozar y saborear completamente nuestras relaciones con los demás. El perdón es el comienzo de un largo proceso.

El camino del perdón es la vía difícil porque el perdón no es arraigado en la venganza ni en el olvido. En olvidarnos de nuestros sufrimientos no nos enfrentamos a nuestro dolor profundo sino huimos de los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. En vengarnos no nos enfrentamos con nuestro daño tampoco, más bien, agrandamos nuestra hambre para más y más venganza, o sea, un apetito que nunca será satisfecho. En contraste al camino fácil, el camino difícil nos empuja a enfrentar nuestros sentimientos de rencor, odio, indignación y venganza y nos muestra como recibir nuestra liberación. El camino difícil nos muestra que la liberación debe de venir desde una posición de debilidad (el perdón) en vez de poder (la venganza, el olvido). El camino del perdón es más de dos palabras: “Te perdono”, pero es un esfuerzo de nuestro ser hacia la liberación de nuestra esclavitud. En el camino difícil encontraremos la paz. Sí, este camino es difícil pero no imposible. Este camino es difícil porque tenemos que dejar de ser controlado por nuestro justificado dolor profundo para recibir la paz y la liberación.

Paz,

Following Jesus the Human One

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And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Is Jesus of Nazareth God? Traditionally, many Christian`s have often answered this question in the affirmative suggesting that Jesus is in essence God. However, is it correct to suggest that Jesus in essence is  literally God? In my understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission I do not equate Jesus to God – in the sense that Jesus is literally God, rather Jesus is the archetypal Human One who taught and is teaching us what it means to be human. In suggesting that Jesus is God, the writers of the gospels are making theological statements about their experiences with Jesus the Human One pre-Easter and post-Easter.

In saying that Jesus is God the writers of the gospels are communicating to their readers this truth,namely, that in and through the person of Jesus, God is definitively and decisively revealed and experienced.

According to Jesus, being human is intimately related to God and the way that we live in relation with our neighbors both near and far. The way of God (the kingdom message) that Jesus proclaimed was rooted in peace, justice, compassion, humility and it was this message in a violent, unjust, uncompassionate and arrogant world that Jesus’ disciples trusted and hoped. To put it in another way, it was precisely Jesus’ proclamation of God’s way (kingdom) that permitted Jesus’ disciples to have hope for a present where in which peace, justice, compassion and humility would reign. Nevertheless, in rejecting the presumption that Jesus is God – in God’s essence – I do not reject the reality that the Human One is the revealer of Godself. Thus, speaking about Jesus in my perspective is to speak about how God has revealed Godself in Jesus – the Human One.

What does one make of the God-language applied to Jesus in the gospel of John? Was the writer of the gospel of John equating Jesus with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Was the writer of the gospel of John proposing that Jesus – in his essence – is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Or was the writer of John’s gospel using God-language to highlight something different about the person of Jesus?

It seems to me that the Jewish monotheistic writer of John’s gospel did not assume Jesus’ divinity, rather the writer of John used God-language in order to highlight God’s nearness (immanence) in Jesus’ person. In using the term Word (Logos), the writer seems to be making use of a familiar way to speak about God, precisely, a way that sought to understand Jesus’ mission in terms of a Word/Wisdom dynamic.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[1]

Envisioning Jesus in terms of Wisdom/Word is not uncommon to Judaism. In Judaism, especially in Second Temple Judaism the Wisdom/Word of God were personified concepts that were often used to creatively and figuratively speak about God’s actions in the world. Even more interesting, Wisdom/Word categories were concepts used by Israel to talk about God’s nearness to humanity without infringing upon God’s ‘transcendence’.[2] For example, in Proverbs 1-9 Word/Wisdom is portrayed as an attractive and persuasive woman – particularly “Word/Wisdom claims to have been created at or as the beginning of creation, and to have been the companion of God in his creative acts, ‘like a master worker (or a little child)’ (8:22, 30).” Even more, in the book of Sirach Word/Wisdom also praises herself and is described a fashioner of all things (Sir. 24:1-5).[3] In attributing God-language to concepts, such as, Wisdom/Word, Israel was enabled to figuratively speak about how God interacted (and is interacting) with the creation. As one writer comments,

Israel did not insist that the only way to envisage God’s interaction with his creation and with his people was by was by confessionally affirming the oneness of God. Israel in her language about God was more adventurous and liberal (or liberating) in their poetic and metaphorical God-talk. Their understanding of how God acted gave rise to imagery and symbols that at times may seem grotesque, but that together expressed the diverse reality of Israel’s experience of God’s acting on their behalf…Wisdom was not regarded as a ‘semi-divine’ intermediary, but was a way of speaking of God’s activity in creation and salvation.[4]

Thus, in identifying Jesus with God’s Word/Wisdom, the writer of John’s gospel is not suggesting that Jesus is God, rather the writer is suggesting that in the Human One God has come near.

What about Jesus’ uniqueness? How is Jesus unique if he is not God? Traditionally, Jesus’ uniqueness would be understood in terms of divinity. However, while believing in Jesus’ uniqueness, I do not assume that Jesus is God.

The writers of the gospels seem to suggest Jesus’ uniqueness arises from his function as the Jewish Messiah (Son of God). Thus, in contrast to the viewpoint that supposes  Jesus’ divinity, the writers of the synoptic gospels seem to posit that Jesus’ uniqueness flows from his function as the Christ (the Messiah, Beloved, Son of God, the Anointed One).

The writers of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) appear deeply concerned with ‘re-presenting’ Jesus in light of the broader scheme of Israel’s story.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” – Mark 1:1-3

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. – Luke 1:32-36

According to the gospel writers (and the disciples), Jesus is the realization of Israel’s hopes in God to establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth. Thus, the gospel writers seem to understand Jesus’ uniqueness to flow from his ‘choseness’, namely, his ‘choseness’ as God’s Messiah (God’s Beloved, King, Anointed) through whom God has inaugurated the kingdom of Godself.

How does one participate in this way of God (in the kingdom) proclaimed by Jesus? Participation in the way of Jesus demands conversion. In using the word conversion, I do not mean conversion to a particular religion but I mean converting oneself to the way of God that was lived and proclaimed by Jesus.

The way of God is the way of compassion, love, peace, righteousness (justice), humility, virtue (goodness; blamelessness) and it is rooted trusting God. The way of God is a way that stands in solidarity with poor, hurting, suffering ostracized, marginalized and the dehumanized. The way of God proclaimed in Jesus’ person is a way that seeks the healing and restoration of humanity and it is a way open to all people of all colors, religions, orientations and genders – the way of blessedness proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew and Luke. However, in the same manner that God’s way demands conversion it also demands a continual position of repentance from unjust, violent, arrogant, hateful and uncompassionate ways. In participating in the way of God we become people of God’s kingdom – a reality of justice and peace. Even more, in participating in the way of God we become participators with God bringing the Kingdom of Godself into our present reality.

Understanding Jesus through this lens does not place a gulf between humanity and Jesus, it provides us with one to look to in times of weaknesses, doubt, despair and struggle.

In encountering Jesus, we encounter one who has lived and experienced life just as we have, yet in discovering Jesus we find strength to hope in God as he did throughout his life. In Jesus we are provided with the energy to hope in our acts of compassion, justice, peace, kindness, love, mercy and solidarity towards our neighbors and we are given the stamina to hope in God’s restorative plan for the world – a plan that is brought about through our participation with God.

The peace of God be with you.

—–

[1] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. John 1

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? : The New Testament Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). (Kindle Edition)

[3] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[5] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Matthew 1.

Reflection: The Table and Her Scandalous Embrace

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And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”[1]

As I venture to reflect upon the word table, perhaps some readers of this article may find this topic to be quite odd, for the table in many of our mindsets has little to no importance (at least in the west). Yes, it may be true that most holidays, parties and festivals are celebrated around a table, however, the table in our mindset is often a symbol of nothing more than a mere means to an end. Put more simply, when we gather together at the table eating is merely eating, drinking is simply drinking and remembering is only remembering.

However, as I reflect upon the table amidst my Chinese context, the table becomes much more than eating, drinking, celebrating and remembering, rather the table becomes the powerful instrument of inclusion through which one finds herself brought into intimate familial relationships. To put it more simply, the table in a real and sacramental sense becomes the space where one finds that she is accepted and included into a community of people. Thus, the table in a Chinese sense is the means by which individuals are made aware of the familial relationship they share with sisters and brothers.

Not unlike the Chinese table, in my African-American heritage the table has functioned in much of the same way.  Historically, the African-American table has served as the place where family got together to maintain, nourish and grow  familial bonds. As my father comments: “Our African American table is the place where stories are shared, jokes are told and predecessors are remembered.” Thus, individuals discover that they belong to a family and a precious history at the African-American table.

However, in pondering upon the African-American table, I am reminded of how the table has often functioned as a tool of exclusion over and against an instrument of inclusion throughout American society. Seen from the eyes of my ebony skinned history, the table has often operated as a constant reminder of my inhumanity and lack of worth. Such a view of the table can be found in the words of Langston Hughes as he describes his experience as a black man excluded from the American table:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.[2]

Nevertheless, as I think about the concept of table, I cannot help but be drawn to think about the table from my own Christian standpoint. From a Christian perspective, the table of Jesus challenges our notions of us and them (or who is in and out) by welcoming all. Even more, Jesus’ table practices powerfully exposes all the exclusive tables in our own lives by providing seats for all people.

Perhaps this is the reason why the table of Jesus is so controversial, particularly because it welcomes, embraces and calls all people worthy. As seen in the ministry of Jesus,  the table is the place of transformation, liberation, restoration and reconciliation.  The table is the space where the orphan is given a home, the dehumanized discovers her humanity, the outcasts find their welcome, the poor are made rich, the sick are healed, the weak are made strong, and the tyrants are forgiven.

Thus, at the table of Jesus one is confronted with this challenging truth: ‘that all are welcomed and forgiven in Christ’. The truth discovered at the table of Jesus is a challenging one, for it proclaims that all people – irrespective of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, political or religious bent etc. – have a seat at the transformative, reconciling, liberating, restorative and gracious table of Jesus Christ.

[1] Mark 2:15-17

[2] I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes