Monday, March 24, 2008

God is a White Man

So, in keeping with my previous post, I thought I would pay tribute to God's male attributes and say thank you to the guy who helped me plug a tire today.

My wife called from the gas station down the street. She had a flat. Our kids were in the car, and it was approaching nap time, a sabbath that if not respected can result in dire straights (not the band). I was just about to make my lunch, so I considered asking here to fill it with air and limp it the one mile home. Of course I knew better. The right thing to do was go put on a spare and take the tire to be plugged while she got the kids in for a nap.

As I got to the car and started working the jack I began to begrudge myself for not getting a jacket. I steeled my nerve and resolved to deal with the limitations of the tiny car jack and cold weather. A snow flake or two buzzed by to mock me.

That's when a red pick up with a ham radio sticker on the back of its diamond plate tool box pulled up. Out stepped a guy with a kind of Tye Pennington, clean but blue collar look stepped up. I'm thinkin', look buddy, there's damsel in distress here. I'm fine. He sized up the situation without hesitation or judgment and showed me an easier way to use the jack involving the portion of the handle I neglected to attach. Instantly my defensiveness melted with the knowledge that I had just lost all man cred.

I never got his name, but he instantly took over. He took the tire off and looked for a nail. Finding none he said, "If we had some water we could check it for a leak." I went to get a water bottle while he filled it with air. He had some soap that he added to the water bottle to make it easier to see the leak. Once located he plugged it and put it back on the car.

Again, I never got his name, but I got a little of his story. He was a mechanic who had been out of work for three months and was living with his brother. He was on his way to see someone else in another town when he happened by. He didn't even let me repay the 75 cents for the air. We shook hands before he left and I said, "I hope God blesses you the way you have blessed us." He replied, "Oh, God does. It's just not always the way I want it to be." I agreed, and he drove off, but not before surprising us with a blast from his air horn! I am ashamed to say that I don't even know the color of his eyes. I must not have looked in the eye very much.

Now sometimes I get a little cheesy or sappy, and the last thing I would want is to trivialize the gospel. But I can't help but be reminded of God's presence in ways big and small through this encounter. On a basic level it was a dispensation of grace, mercy, and providence to have a person I judged help me in such a fashion. But there is so much more of God's intimate character that I find here. God speaks to us in signals that not everyone receives (ham radio). God comes to us regardless of the cost or inconvenience God might incur. God does take over, when we allow God to. God enjoys our participation, even if we don't know which end of the jack is the handle. God has all the right "tools". God's actions are their own rewards. We can not repay God, and God does not want us to. When we realize how much the heaven's rejoice (air horn) when someone is saved, it fills our hearts with joy as well.

Call me cheesy. But today, I had an intimate encounter with the God of the universe through the simple actions of an average white man who is down on his luck. He gave out of his poverty, where I struggle to give out of my abundance. May become more like him, so that others may see God in me. Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God is a Black Woman

While in seminary I read an article by James Cone called "God is Black." Here's an example:
The black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism...The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering...Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity. (A Black Theology of Liberation, pp. 63-64)

Although I disagree that God as revealed in Jesus Christ is for some people and against others, this has informed my concept of God tremendously. I have long been uncomfortable with the Sunday School personification of God as an old white man with a big beard. Often I have jokingly said that the woman who played the Oracle in the first Matrix film was the best personification of God I'd seen. Loving and kind, knowing the person and attending to him fully in due time, she had the wisened look of a person who had endured suffering and knew that it indeed had an end. She was willing to accept loss in order for the one she was attending to to know his true identity and purpose.

So, keep all of this in mind when I tell you about a personal encounter with the God of the universe. It was Sunday morning, February 17. I had been with my dad in hospice care through the night, expecting him to die. I really had not slept much, and I was just about to take a shower when she came by. I was contemplating going to church, but really did not want to leave Dad's side. From the bathroom I heard someone walk in, look around, and leave. I could tell it was a woman in dress shoes. I quickly ran out in the hall to see if it was my step mother and found a well but modestly dressed black woman in her late 50s or early 60s. She had a KJV Bible clutched tightly, and a look of compassion on her warmly smiling face. I said hello and asked if she had come to see my father. She said that she was a volunteer, and was just checking on whomever might be there. After a few more pleasantries she said, "Oh, you're a believer!" Her eyes became even more delightful and her armed loosened a bit on her KJV. I asked her to pray for me and we held hands. I don't remember the words, but it was like someone singing my heart's song. She held me as I cried. I thanked her, and she was on our way.

How often do we say that "Christ has no hands but ours"? How often do we act on it? Jesus Christ came to me that day, in that hour. And I'm here to tell you, God is a black woman. When the greatest desire of my heart was to go to God and worship, she came to me. She transformed my understanding of worship. She held me like a babe and called me beloved. And now my greatest desire is to do that for someone else.

In the Matrix the Oracle tells Neo to know himself. John Calvin reminds us that a knowledge of self is derived from a knowledge of God. Jesus Christ tells us that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. On this Good Friday I am consummately aware that I have not loved my neighbor as myself, nor have I loved as I have been loved. In a world at war with a silent unless cheering church... in a world where human trafficking supports a global economy I benefit from... in a country where racism and sexism are dominating our political processes instead of concern for justice and the inalienable rights of all humankind... in a world where teen culture has become a target market with such value that corruptibility is valued more highly than virtue... in this world we need a day like today. We need a Good Friday to challenge us by the reality of the cross. We need to be reminded that the path to resurrection involves a cross. We need to be willing to be present in each other's pain, to make the sacrifice of fearing rejection, giving up our own time, and seeking God's presence in the one who is suffering.

God came to me in the form of a black woman. Yet still I wonder about God's activity in my life and in this world. And then it hits me... on Good Friday. I am a part of God's activity. Of course I knew this before. But how often have I cared? Really, how often have I been too busy to care where the different products I buy come from and what soul was burdened to get it to me? It's too much to bear. Or is it? I thank God for the cross and the resurrection! I thank God for the realization of how horrible this world is and how complicit I have been! I thank God that Sunday is Easter, and that each day I can live as an Easter person!

Yes friend, I am a believer! I believe in forgiveness. I believe God is present and active in this jumbled up, shook up world. I've seen her. The question is, will I show her to someone else? I sure am gonna' try.