Word of the Week

What's the standard answer to the question: "How are you?" That we seem to ask one another constantly.

"I am fine." Right?

But are we always fine? Are we always full of good news with a smile on our face? No. I don't think so.

A resounding theme I think of this blog is that of authenticity.

I want to figure out how to live my life with as much honesty as I can. (And so I write . . . )

I want to figure out how to live with others with as much honesty that I can. (And so I invite you to read and join in the conversation . . .)

Teachers of authenticity can be found anywhere, I think. Even on top 40 radio.

I've found myself hitting the repeat button to a song called "Bruises" a duet between Train and Ashley Monroe from the Album California 37 released last year. The framework of the song is a dialogue between two people who haven't seen each other in 10 years-- a typical event for many of us throughout our lives.

In the mix of their catching up in the song, the two learn that life had been hard to both of them (divorces, job failures and more) and there is no need to pretend that they are happier than they are. In the end, this is the chorus that rings through:

These bruises make for better conversation
Loses the vibe that separates
It's good to let you in again
You're not alone in how you've been
Everybody loses
We all got bruises
We all got bruises

I would love to fix it all for you
(I would love to fix you too)
Please don't fix a thing whatever you do

And I love its message of authenticity.

We all can so easily put a front. It's easier. We can all pretend. It's less vulnerable. We want to think that we're as put together as the next person.

Yet, is this what the best parts of this journey called life are about? In my experience, no.

But those who ARE willing to talk about "the not so put together parts" of their lives can often feel isolated real fast. Why? Because in self-revelation, a community of those who believe in "I'm fine-ness" are invited to leave their comfort spaces.

Such is not true of course. We are all wounded in some way. We all have memories from our past and experiences of our present that rub us in painful ways. We all have nights when we can't sleep because the deep troubles of this world seek to take from us peace.

And the people who are willing to admit such are those I want to know more of in my life.

Because isn't it true that when you're with someone who doesn't claim to have it all together that you feel comfortable doing the same?

I know we can't live our lives to the fullest without allowing for authenticity. It's good for me. It's good for you. We've ALL got bruises.

Macklemore has been one of the most played new voices on the hip hop scene this season, especially as millions have fallen in love with his hit, "Thrift Shop."

And can I say, I'm in love with the social advocacy flavor of his entire body of work, The Heist. Macklamore is not your average rapper putting out more of the same. He's redefining his industry. He's challenging the norm.

Consider these words of the song, "Same Love."

When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
Cause I could draw, my uncle was
And I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She's like, "Ben you've loved girls since before pre-K"
Trippin', yeah, I guess she had a point, didn't she
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math like
"Yeah, I'm good in little league"

A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those who like the same sex had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think its a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Playing God
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don't know
And God loves all His children
And somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 hundred years ago
I don't know

And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

If I was gay
I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
"Man that's gay"
Gets dropped on the daily
We've become so numb to what we're sayin'
Our culture founded from oppression
Yeah, we don't have acceptance for 'em
Call each other faggots
Behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate
Yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It's the same hate that's caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that lead people to walk-outs and sit-ins

Human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!

When I was in church
They taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren't anointed
And that Holy Water
That you soak in
Has been poisoned
When everyone else
Is more comfortable
Remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans
That have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that's not important
No freedom 'til we're equal
Damn right I support it

We press play
Don't press pause
Progress, march on!
With a veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
'Till the day
That my uncles can be united by law
Kids are walkin' around the hallway
Plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful
Someone would rather die
Than be who they are
And a certificate on paper
Isn't gonna solve it all
But it's a damn good place to start
No law's gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it's all the same love
About time that we raised up

Love is patient, love is kind
Love is patient (not cryin' on Sundays)
Love is kind (not crying on Sundays) [x5]

Sure, some of you might not be in hip hop at all. Some of you might be offended by the confrontational tone in the lyrics (and I agree, some of the words are harsh). But regardless, the message is a powerful one.

Macklemore calls out people of hate (including those within his own community) for what how they are putting dogma over love when it comes to LGTBQ folk.

He speaks a message that resonates with the millions who purchase his music. He speaks a message that my high school and college aged friends are thankful to hear (finally someone speaking their language!)

He speaks a message I believe of "calling out" when it comes to the church in American today. He calls gay rights a civil rights issue. He says it is time to change.

And I agree with Macklemore.

It's an especially important message on weeks like this when large Baptist bodies like those Southern Baptists-- who are up to their same hateful tricks again condemn the Boy Scouts (of all people!) for their acceptance of men in their programs regardless of who they love.

"Wake up, church!" is the theme I believe Macklemore is giving us in these lyrics.

Wake up and love your neighbor-- all of them.

Today, Whitney Houston took me to church.

This afternoon from 12 noon- 4 pm I watched the entire Whitney Houston funeral via the life stream. By the end, as her body left the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey while Whitney's version of "I Will Always Loved You" played, I was in tears. I couldn't believe how moved I became or how not restless I was through the entire service.

Initially, I sat down to watch the service out of pure vocational obligation-- when religion holds a promote place in the public square (i.e. a church service is featured prominently on national tv) I feel it is my pastoral responsiblity to watch. But, I kept watching because of the poignant, faith-filled words and that the most unlikely of preachers and speakers brought to the gathering.

Though I am a child of the 80s and grew up dancing around the house with a hairbrush singing, "I Want to Dance with Somebody," I wouldn't have not considered myself a die-hard Whitney fan. In fact, have been among the folks who have stood back during the media spectacle of the past week saying under my breath, "What is all this fuss about? It's not like we knew her personally." But, maybe all of us just thought we did.

The bright light of fame begins to convince us, with any well-known celebrity, that we are their friend too. It is easy to believe that we too grew up on their same street as a child, shared a coffee meeting with them last week or in some cases, or that we've read journals of their deepest thoughts. With such a bright light, it's true, I like millions of others, I believed too, that I knew Whitney (even though such is of course false).  Even with all the illusions of a celebrity's passing, death is death. And, death evokes sadness. When death comes too soon, when mothers bury daughters, when teenage daughters face life without their mothers, and when the future seems spoiled in the questions of "what could have been?" we cry.  What a daughter, what a mother, and what a voice that we'll never hear in this life again!

In this grief, all of us went to church.

As the sermon began, Rev. Marvin Winans, a family friend, commented how much he respected Cissy Houston (Whitney's mom's) leadership in bringing the funeral to her childhood church. While pressure in the planning process intensified to include a large public concert or memorial service, Mama Houston (as they called her) stuck to her gut. Knowing that her baby was brought into the world in church, she'd need to go from the world from it too.  And, Marvin Winans, went on to say to Cissy directly, "You were responsible for bringing the world to church today."

And for the entire four hours of non-interrupted television on CNN, we, as onlookers, sat with grief of a music icon gone with God's hope of resurrection given at the center. 

From Tyler Perry really getting into a message about grace leading us our life through, as it did for Whitney to Kevin Costner describing their shared Baptist upbringing and abiding friendship, to family members and other business associates highlighting Whitney's spiritual compass and love of scripture, even with all of the demons she went to battle with: it was church. The funeral was authentic, life-giving, straight talking, love filled, church. For me, it was four hours well spent of  spirit filled connection with God with other faith seekers-- nevermind how famous, affluent, poor or unknown they may be. Together in person, on cable news, or via the internet, we went to church.

In this trip to church, the spirit from which this service flowed represented for me the best of what this place can be:

Thank you Whitney for taking us to church today. The spirit of the life you lead, the legacy you left behind, and the faith that carried you (even when life seemed like too big of load to carry you sought to keep going and learning from your mistakes) uplifted our hearts. And, though we will miss you in this life, we know this after church today: your spirit soars on praise of your Creator. Can I get an Amen?

"What brings you deep joy?"

"What stirs up in your happiness that is long-lasting?"

"How do you feel God has gifted you for service in the Body of Christ?"

Such have been questions our adult Sunday morning class has been considering over the past two Sundays in our "Congratulations, You Are Gifted!" class. January in worship and in all aspects of church life is focused this year on calling and spiritual gifts. We're even having a special community gathering on Friday night (and Chili Cook off too) to talk over all of this in an informal setting. We're claiming that the life of discipleship is all about first knowing ourselves and in the authenticity of God's gifts to us serving others accordingly. Biblical texts such as I Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12:1-10 have been keys to this study.

Yet, what I have found in teaching is many folks really don't know what brings them deep joy and some have never studied spiritual gifts before. So, we've been starting with the basics. Beginning with detecting clues about what makes each of us tick, what moves us and what our aspirations for our future might be.

We began the discussion Sunday with everyone sharing their answers to some fill in the blank questions. One of these was: "Movies, songs, books, art, experiences that have touched me the most are…"

Though I didn't answer it in class, if I did, I would go to first to the song, "Say"  sung by John Mayer. It is a ballad I sometimes listen to on Sunday mornings in effort to gear myself for preaching. It is good not to be afraid to say what I need to say. It is good to be filled with confidence that no matter what God will find a way to speak through me. I'm sure Mayer was not thinking of the preaching task when he recorded this, but for me, he is:

Take out of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so-called problems,
Better put them in quotations

Say what you need to say [x8]

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living up the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead,
If you could only . . .

Say what you need to say [x8]

Have no fear for giving in Have no fear for giving over
You'd better know that in the end
Its better to say too much
Than never to say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say [x24]

I look forward to what the next two sessions of our "Congratulations, You Are Gifted" class will offer all of us. My hope is that all of us find a way to "Say what we need to say" about our own lives and begin to live into our calling and spiritual gifts as a community.