Sunday, January 01, 2006

Celebrate Kwanzaa: Imani.

On this, the seventh and last day of Kwanzaa, we focus on imani (faith) and "believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle."

I spend a lot of time writing So what can I do posts about physical health and mental health, but it is just as important to cultivate spiritual health.

For me the spiritual health piece is most important, since give me peace and purpose, and informs how I develop and maintain my physical and mental health. suggests:
Spirituality is the way you find meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life. Many people find spirituality through religion. Some find it through music, art or a connection with nature. Others find it in their values and principles.

For me, spirituality and spiritual health comes through my personal relationship with God. Regardless of how you "find meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life," make sure you do so. Be healthy, mind, body and soul.

As humans, we are all members of that first African Diaspora. And accordingly, the principles of Kwanzaa apply to us all. Manifest the Kwanzaa principles today, this week, and all year long.

What a way to start 2006! A blessed new year to you all!

"The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." - Malcolm X


Karama said...

I was honored to be the Women's Day speaker at Summerhill AME in September. Here's a DRAFT of my talk. It's long, but I hope you enjoy it. - Karama

I chose for a theme today, a topic that is near and dear to my heart, one that has been particularly helpful to me in the last few years of my life. I’d like to talk you about Finding Freedom through FAITH.

Finding Freedom through FAITH.

The scripture for today message is Ephesians 3:14-21. I’m reading from the NRSV:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

“Abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” That sounds pretty good. It’s a lot. And since we can’t ask or imagine it, we certainly can’t accomplish this by ourselves. But as Christians we know that through God all things are possible.

Of course, we have to have FAITH in God to do “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”

Faith is a word we hear a lot about. Sometimes it just means “having confidence”

You can imagine someone cheering “You can do it! I have faith in you!”

But Christian’s know that faith in God is more than just confidence.

Sometimes faith is used to mean loyalty. My new husband and I just pledged to be faithful to one another. And while that kind of faith is important, faith in God is more than that.

So I looked up FAITH in the dictionary. The first few definitions were all about confidence, loyalty and belief without proof. It wasn’t until the fourth def that I found the meaning the matters to us this morning:

“The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.”

James Baldwin, our great writer, wrote about faith in 1963. It was in his essay “The Fire Next Time” an impassioned call for civil rights, justice and equality for black people in the US and all people everywhere. In it, he quoted Hebrews 11:1

FAITH is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. The NRSV says it this way: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

We can break the dictionary def into two parts. The first is “The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God”

Think about a mom and dad playing with their baby. They toss the baby up and she smiles and giggles, clearly enjoying it. She has no worry, no fear, no expectation or concern for failure.

Even if they swing her in a new away, she still shows no worry, no fear, no expectation of failure. Same response even in a brand new situation.

This is, at least in part, the kind of faith we need to exhibit in God. A strong faith sustains people. It sustained our ancestors, it sustains those uprooted by Katrina, and it will sustain us.

Equally important, faith frees us from fear and worry. With an all knowing, all powerful God who adores us, what do we have to worry about? What do we have to fear?

This kind of faith is necessary because sometimes God ask us or requires us to do things that may be unexpected. When this happens our minds and hearts have to be open enough, free enough to do what God asks us to do.

Remember the definition of FAITH “The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.” Let’s focus on the second part “a trusting acceptance of God's will.”

Think about how Abraham was call to sacrifice his son Isaac “ whom he loved”

Listen to Genesis 22:2 - And he said, Take now they son they only son Isaac whom who lovest and get they into the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering upon on top of the mountains which I will tell them of.

Now this is in the time of the Old Testament, and sacrifice wasn’t uncommon, but still. This is Abraham’s only son, a son he had late in life, and now God wanted him to sacrifice him!

A lot of us, if we were in that situation would hem and haw, and try to find a way out of it. But listen at how Abraham responded. The very next verse reads

And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddles his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac and his son and clave wood for the burnt offering and rose up and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Abraham didn’t procrastinate, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t grumble, complain or question. He did what God asked him to do.

How is this possible? Abraham had FAITH. He’d seen what God could do:

- Led him out of Haran and to the new land of Canaan. 75 then
- Made him rich in land,cattle, silver and gold.
- Made he and Sarah have a child. She in her 90s, he over 100.

You can read the whole story in Genesis. The important thing is that Abraham didn’t take credit for his successes. He gave credit to God. So when God asked him to sacrifice his only son, Abraham prepared to do so.

Abraham knew doing God’s will was always the right thing to do. He trusted God.

We have to do the same thing. This was reemphasized to me just this year.

After I finished grad school . . .

(off site job, intellectually stimulating, worked from home, wore what I wanted, made my own schedule, no commute. Had time to take dance classes, Spanish classes (met Kwadjo), creative writing classes. I gave talks on career development, tutored at children’s service agency and volunteered at a medical reclamation organization. I even got a two poems published.)

This was a GOOD LIFE and I was quite comfortable.

Well things went on for a few year, and as often happens, things changed in the industry I worked in. First, the company was bought by a California company. We didn’t know what to expect but we soon found out. There were massive layoffs. 40% of the workforce was cut.

My colleagues (those of us who were left) got worried. Many of us started job hunting, I was no exception.

I sent out resumes, and got rejected. Then came more layoffs. I decided to go back to school and enrolled in an bioethics masters program. Still more layoffs. A few of my coworkers found other jobs and quit. I was still sending out resumes.

Then they closed the entire CA office. I was amazed that I still had a job, but I was still looking for another one. One morning, I was on my way out of the house for an interview, and found I had a completely flat tire. With no time to change it, a friend loaned me his car to go to the interview. Just as I was entering the highway, I got rearended.

God was telling me to stop. So I decided that no matter how many layoffs they had, no matter how many offices they closed, I would stay put until God showed me the next step.

Folks thought I was crazy but I stayed. Then, on the day before Thanksgiving last year, I got a call from the Dean at Emory offering me the perfect job. I would be doing exactly the kind of work I believed in and was already doing. Helping black folks become scientists. It combined the career development and bioethics work I was already doing for free. This was the job God had for me. It was crystal clear. So even though I took a drastic pay cut, and had to start commuting to work, buying clothes and making other lifestyle changes I took the job at Emory.

I knew that God would work out the money and other details because I was doing God’s will. That is the best I or anyone can do.

Having faith in God frees us from fear and allows us to do God’s will.

But how do we know what God wants us to do? There are at least two ways:

1) the Bible tells. It’s full of instructive verses that tell us to worship him, follow his commandments, love and serve others, be humble, and more:

Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day (Psalms 96:2)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22)

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiates 12:13)

2) And thankfully, we can form personal relationships with God by talking directly to God in prayer and listening closely and carefully to what God shows us and tells us. That’s how I got the job I have now.

And the movie director Spike Lee gave us a hint in his 1989 film. I bet y’all know which one I’m talking about. ‘Do the right thing”

While we build that relationship with God and while we study the Bible, we can always “do the right thing” We have to do the right thing, the ethical thing, the Christian thing even when it’s unexpected, uncommon, unpopular, or temporarily inconvenient.

We can find so many ways to love, worship and serve. And if we are ever uncertain about what God want us to do, we can just open our minds and hearts and ask the Lord “ Lord please guide my words, please guide my actions.” And she’ll do it.

So we know that Faith frees us from fear and worry and allows us to better do God’s will. In fact, that’s what FAITH is “a secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.”

We develop faith because Jesus died and lives again for us. God promises us everlasting life if we love him, show faith and do his will. Everlasting life praising God is wonderful thing. But wait, there’s more! There’s a benefit that we get in this life here on earth too! I’ve already mentioned it: FREEDOM!

The world might have us believe that things are hopeless. The country is at war; people are killing and be killed. So many people, men and women, are coming home with injuries to their mind, body and soul.

The news has stories of all kinds of crimes that make us fear for our safety. Those are followed by stories of old diseases and new diseases that make use fear for our health.

We worry that that we’re not fitting in or doing well, and we’re jealous of those that do. We fret about making mistake with our families, coworkers, children or spouse. And if we do make a mistake we feel shame and guilt. If someone wrongs us, as often happens, we feel anger, disappointment, and sometimes seek revenge.

It may seem hard to imagine a world or even just one life (my life, your life) that is free of these concerns. But I’m here to tell you, this morning, it’s possible.

Our God is powerful, all knowing, everywhere all at one. If we do exactly as she tells us, what do we have to fear? The ability to understand and carryout God’s will for us is the greatest blessing I can imagine. That is our best, and we can do no more than our best.

Because when we do our best, when we do God’s will, we are free from fear weakness, worry, shame, homelessness, guilt, jealousy, disappointment, anger. We become free of all the things that tie us down, wear us down and keep us from being all that God would have us to be.

Even better, a faith in God that allows us to follow her singlemindedly frees us to be strong joyous, proud, hopeful, reconciled, concerned committed, calm, cool, collected, brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous, smart, happy, and more in any and every situation. That’s exactly what God wants from us. In fact, it’s what we already are. We just have to let God’s will reveal it in us.

Nelson Mandela said it almost like in Ephesians. You all remember him. He was a leader among South African Blacks and his fight for justice, freedom and equality landed him in a hard labor prison for 27 years. After he got out and apartheid discrimination ended he went on to become the first democratically elected president in South Africa. In his inaugural speech in 1994, he said:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

On this day, I challenge all of us to find the freedom to manifest God’s will in our lives so that we can become the brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous people God wants us to be and accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

Thank you.

Karama said...

Don't forget to eat some black-eyed peas!

Karama said...

For more on all the days of Kwanzaa, check out this Kwanzaa tutorial . Enjoy!