Click on the above link to view a sermon by Rev. Dr. Kandace Brooks in which she challenges her congregation to step out of their comfort zones and reach out to others, to ask for help or to be of help, specifically to the mentally ill, suicidal, etc.
Are you the hand
That I shake in the pew,
Or on my way out the door,
To the parking lot?
Are you the presence,
In the plate and cup,
Upon the altar,
That is given for me to consume?
Are you the dirty, scarred face,
Of an abused, homeless woman,
Begging on the street,
Around the corner from the grocery store?
Are you the gentle face and eager voice
Of the elderly man
Who comes to my front door,
Struggling to use an iPad to show a video?
Are you the pastor at the soup kitchen,
Who tells me the administrative position
I’m interviewing for requires someone
Who can shmooze with the volunteers?
Are you the book with all the stories
Spoken a long, long time ago,
Written a long time ago,
For people who lived a long time ago?
If so, I’m wondering:
What is your name? Who am I
In relation to you?
Why do you appear differently to all?
I’d like to pin you down,
Put your number and your address
In my contact list.
I’d like to feel you.
I know that’s not how you operate,
If you did, you wouldn’t be God,
Or would you?
Sometimes I wonder.
Gliding along the currents of air,
I’m lifted by the light that shines on me.
Love permeates my being,
Like a spear piercing my side.
The nails are hammered through
My ragged wrists. I cry out,
My God, my God, why?
Have you forsaken me?
The dusk descends and they lower
My cross, loosen my body
And carry me to my tomb.
I stand on a mountaintop.
Throw yourself down!
God’s angels will save you.
Turn these stones into bread.
You are hungry. Go ahead.
Freedom! I am set free by God’s hand.
Risen at last and the tombstone
Is rolled away.
Well, let me say first off that I do have a long religious background. I was raised in the United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida. The interesting thing is, being raised in this church did not interfere whatsoever in me keeping an open mind and resisting stereotypes and prejudice, as is possibly the case in some places. After all, Miami is a metropolitan city and a virtual melting pot of ethnicities and an international gateway to people from all parts of the world.
Although I was a child, and like a child, I took part in teasing, cruel jokes, and other immaturity typical of children all the way through adolescence and even young adulthood (and some for the rest of their life), I have learned to think for myself on most subjects, simply by intellectualism, reading a wealth and variety of literature, and by meeting a variety of people from all walks of life, all of whom usually dispel any stereotypes I held onto, even if just a little bit in the back of my mind.
I think we all have prejudices and stereotypes. In some ways, it is a survival instinct. We try to separate the “good” from the “bad” and those who are in “our group” from those who are not in “our group”. It gives us a sense of safety and security, even if this sense is mostly a delusion. I think all minorities and groups who are persecuted by society benefit from “circling the wagons”, so to speak, in order to get support from those who are of like minds, hearts, and bodies, and gaining power from being in a group.
Now, I say all this right off because I really think that, although religious groups can do these things, and maybe some of them do, I don’t think they are really any different than any other group in as far as whether or not they are religious. Now that’s not to say that if they are made up of people who are already very prejudiced and stereotypical, that they won’t reflect those traits in their religious group, but the prejudice and stereotypes do not originate from the religion.
Coming from a religious background as I have, I must say I have learned a lot of very good lessons through the church. I’ve learned to care for the hungry, the homeless, disaster victims, those who suffer from the ravages of war, those who are persecuted because of their race, sex, religion, etc. And yes, discrimination does still exist in our world, and in the church, and this problem is mostly due to one thing: reverence for the canon of scripture.
Scripture contains some pretty harsh things said against homosexuals, and even worse, these things have been blown way out of proportion by our culture in America and across the world. Homophobia is rampant everywhere. That is a challenge for today’s society that still must be overcome.
I want to end with the greatest thing that religion, my religion, has taught me. The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the greatest man that ever lived. Anyone that has any doubts should read the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four books will give four different, sometimes overlapping, perspectives on who Jesus was, who he claimed to be, and what he means to Christians. I can tell you in short that Christians believe Jesus to be the Prince of Peace, Holy Lamb of God, Son of God, sitting at the Father’s Right Hand in Power and in Truth. Christians believe that in dying on the Cross in complete innocence, Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins of the world, thus enabling us all to attain everlasting grace and peace. Salvation is something that is hard to comprehend without faith, but basically it is the attainment of forgiveness for guilt and condemnation that we earn by falling short each and every day of what we could be, what we were born to be, what God created us to be. With salvation and God’s grace and forgiveness, we can come a little closer to becoming his vision for our lives.
Searching for that connection.
Where is he? She? It?
Where or who is God,
When I am here, in this broken
Body, groveling before the pain
Of existence, desperate for some
Type of relief, some release
From the slavery of my body?
My heart aches. My soul cries out
For mercy, but where is my God?
Where is that freedom, that grace,
That hope, that love, that I once knew?
Where is my identity in Christ?
Where is my savior?
All I know right now is suffering.
Is that you, Lord?
Am I meeting you where you are,
Where you were on that cross?
And if so, what will be the victory?
What great battle is going on?
Is my soul the battleground?
Is my heart the prize?
Is this what it takes to bring me
Back into your fold?
To break me, mold me,
Shape me into something beautiful?
But I have been here before.
I have been broken.
Must I be continually broken
In pain and suffering?
What are you trying to teach me?
And where are you taking me now?