“Ga-head, Tell Me I’m Unworthy” – Susan Sparks – Shiny Side Up

JUSTICE UNCATEGORIZED POSTED ON SEP 18, 2017 BY SUSAN SPARKS

“Ga-head, Tell Me I’m Unworthy”

This blog was also preached as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. View it on YouTube.

A long time ago, in a land far away . . . I was young. In that time of tender youth, third grade to be exact, I decided to flaunt my budding creative/performer genes and do a book report in front of my class. Feeling that everyone else’s report before me had been lame (at best), I decided to act mine out. And I chose a book – on Elvis.

So here I was standing outside my classroom door, waiting to make my grand entrance, and I glanced at the reflection of myself in the glass doors. The polyester pants, go-go boots, and plastic guitar weren’t that big a deal – but the sideburns, oh yes, the sideburns, they were a problem. I constructed them of cotton balls that I had dyed black with shoe polish and glued to the sides of my face. They may, perhaps, be over the top, I thought to myself.

Before I had time to reconsider, the door opened and our teacher’s voice bellowed out: “Our next book report is by a special guest all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. Boys and girls, please welcome Elvis!”

I took a deep breath and walked into the classroom, strumming the guitar, singing “Hound Dog,” and making a motion that looked like I was doing a hula hoop.

When I finished my grand entrance, I stopped and struck an Elvis-esque pose.  “Thank ya, thank ya vur much.” I was so proud. I thought I had just done the greatest thing ever. But then I came back to Earth and realized that there was utter silence from the class. Then hysterical laughter. And not laughter as in this is funny, but laughter as in she is so weird. And they kept laughing, even the teacher was laughing. My nemesis, Allen Roberts, yelled out, “You’re stupid!” and that’s when Elvis, tearing up, ran out of the room and left the building.

While I got a “B” on the book report (I think out of pity), that experience branded an ominous message into my little 8-year-old brain. Creativity, uniqueness – who I was at my core – was bad. It made me different – and being different meant people would reject you.

My story is rather privileged, as I could camouflage the creativity. But there were other kids in the class who were judged and couldn’t camouflage – like my friend Cassandra who was one of the few black students in the school. She was set apart as different and couldn’t morph or change, and had to deal with the rejection head on.

There are many versions of this story in life, where who we are at our core sets us apart as different. It could be our personality; it could be our inherent gifts; it could be our race, our gender, our language, our religion, our nationality, our sexual orientation. And the world judges different as bad and rejects it.

We’ve all experienced it in some form – some of us on a more privileged level and some of us not. But the result of being different – no matter how we experience it – generates the same obstacle. And that obstacle is shame.

Shame is corrosive, it eats away at us from the inside. It dictates our choices because we treat ourselves as we see ourselves.

If we don’t see ourselves as worthy, then we will drive ourselves into the ground in an attempt to become worthy. We will say yes to everything. We will fight to be the best at everything. We will destroy ourselves in order to be worthy.

Brothers and sisters – my message today is three words: We – are – worthy. Every single one of us is worthy. And here’s three reasons why:

1) Our worth is not based on the judgment of the world.

Just look at God’s words to Samuel: “Do not consider appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7).

2) Diversity is our strength.

Diversity is nature’s strength. We see it from Mount Everest to Death Valley, Pekinese to draft horses, black holes to exploding stars, the Navaho people to the Maasai tribesman in Tanzania. Nature’s ability to change, adapt, and evolve comes from its diversity.

So, too, diversity is our strength — our greatest gift. It’s what sets us apart in the sea of robotic corporate soldiers. It’s what makes each of us irreplaceable.

The tragedy is that in constantly shunning our diverse gifts, we grind down our uniqueness to a smooth, slab of conformity.. It’s like the old saying, “If you try and hammer a round peg into a square hole, you destroy the peg.”

3) Authenticity is our gift – our greatest gift.

The psalmists tell us that. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

The jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker put it another way. “If you don’t live [the blues], it won’t come out your horn.”

God made us this way; gave all of us fearful and wonderful gifts. Who are we to tell God that we’re not worthy?

I am reminded of the powerful words of Kristin Beck, a retired Navy Seal hero – deployed 13 times over two decades, including stints in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. She received the Bronze Star Medal for valor and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. She is also transgender.

And when our President announced this summer that the US military would bar transgender people from serving, her response: “Let’s meet face-to-face, then you tell me I’m not worthy.”(As a New Yorker, I imagine her saying in a slightly different way: “Tell him to meet me face-to-face. Then, @!#&(%*# Ga-head, tell me I’m unworthy!”)

When we live into our truth, when we stand firm in the face of judgment, we are a witness and an invitation to others to do the same. Of course, we may never know it. But just because we don’t see a big scoreboard with the names of the people healed, helped by our actions – doesn’t mean they are not there. It’s like the old saying, “The farmer does not put a seed in the ground then scream over it. In faith, he leaves it alone.”

So we plant, we wait, and we live into our truth. We stand firm in the face of judgment, and we offer a witness and an invitation to others to do the same.

This week, when the world starts to tell us that we’re lesser, when we feel ourselves beginning to shrink, pull away, weaken . . .

Remember those words in Jeremiah;

Remember that diversity is our strength and authenticity is our gift;

Remember the image of US Navy Seal hero Kristin Beck, so that when the world comes at us with judgment and shame, we too can stand face-to-face with our critics, and say with power and authority, “Ga-head, tell me I’m unworthy.”

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God Works; We Work – Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global

As our nation celebrated Labor Day, giving attention to the role and dignity of workers, we should also consider the role of human agency in accomplishing divine labor. Theologians always interrogate such things! Surely the work of Christians is more than simply fueling the engine of capitalism; meaningful work also participates in God’s intention for the world. Yet, determining how God is at work in this world is one of the hardest theological challenges.

Think about the urgent crises confronting us. People of faith pray for deliverance, trusting God to hold back the waters of the sea or help them elude their enemies pushing them over the border in Myanmar or rid them of the malignancy growing in their bodies or quell the rising tide of white supremacy. Fervent prayer may not create the conditions for which they pray; however, many continue to trust that God’s providence will prevail. We must ask: through what instrumentality?

Reading narratives of deliverance in Scripture evokes hope for God’s mighty acts to be victorious once again. Many preachers and Sunday school teachers have followed the lectionary texts from Exodus in this extended season after Pentecost. We have noted the trickery of Shiphrah and Puah, the resistance of Pharaoh’s daughter and Miriam, and God’s call of Moses. We have pondered the extended saga of Israel in Egypt, questioning why deliverance was long delayed.

In these early chapters, the writer declares that God has “heard their groaning,” and “remembered God’s covenant,” “seen the misery of the people,” and has “come down to rescue them from the power of Egypt.” The suffering of the people touches the heart of God, although God leans the plans for deliverance upon humans who are themselves part of the oppressed. The means by which God has come down to rescue does not seem very sturdy, and how God will be involved is at question.

God’s commission to Moses is for him to go to Pharaoh and “bring my people out of Egypt.” God’s promise is very simple: “I will be with you,” and the proof that it is truly God who sends him is this: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall all worship God here on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). What? It is only after the liberation is accomplished that Moses will know who propelled him into this high stakes mission? Oh my!

I often hear persons wonder out loud why God does not work in our day as God worked in biblical times. It appears that God does indeed work in the same way, inviting people to shared responsibility for God’s handiwork, which we inhabit and stain and heal. I believe that God is always calling humanity to do the needed holy work and that God is the power behind the actions of those courageous enough to trust God.

In a world where things can go terribly wrong — such as the human evocation of climate change that wreaks havoc — God is using every means to mend creation. The incarnation of Jesus teaches that God’s primary means of conducting redemptive work is through a partnership with humans who were tasked at the beginning to tend God’s handiwork. A long, grinding and luminous history of evolution antedates the human arrival, albeit a particular stewardship is required of those whom God has granted dominion.

Kathryn Tanner reminds us that God works in history at a different level than humans. For Tanner, divine and human agency are not in competition with one another. Because God is not in the same order of being as creatures, God’s power is universally extended and is at work in all things. Thus, there is no zero-sum game that suggests the more God is at work, the less humans can do — and vice versa.

Tanner, rather, points us to a renewed vision of how the incarnation determines how divine and human agency can be at work in the same person, who is a paradigm for how God chooses to accomplish the divine purpose. She calls us to think about God as “gift giver,” who not only imbues the Christ with holy presence to transform the horizon of human hopes, but makes possible human participation in Christ toward the same goal of redemption. Her theological vision that Christ is the key to what God is doing everywhere in the world guides our thinking about how human work and godly work always interface. Through God’s humility, we are always ingredient to saving work.

In times of challenge, trusting that God is at work empowering humans to work for the good of all is reassuring. It also prompts courageous action. While it is common to think that we are waiting on God, actually both God and others are waiting on us.

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Our Trip Out West

Our trip out west was an unbelievable experience. It is a trip I have wanted to make for such a long time. I had thought that the best plan was to visit out of the country places first and then there would be plenty of time to travel our beautiful country. We had some wonderful trips to faraway places we had read about in school. We loved our trips to New York, Chautauqua and San Francisco and New England.

Our trip to Green Lake, Wisconsin last summer gave me the courage to make this trip. My personal travel agent daughter directed us to the Fairfield Inn in Spearfish, South Dakota. It is about 40 miles from Rapid City. This inn has a wonderful breakfast and Rose Mary looked after us like a mother hen. One morning she even had our place set for us.

My goal for years has been to get into every state. On this trip we added four more – South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. I now know what a prairie looks like. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was our first national monument. The General Store in Aladdin is 127 years old. There are 15 people in the town. The lady in Baker, Montana bragged about the sparkling condition of her Porto let. The Badlands are spectacular and Crazy Horse is thrilling. Of course, Mt. Rushmore was the most memorable for me. The Vore Buffalo Jump was fascinating. It was Jan’s favorite. Spearfish Canyon is absolutely beautiful. Carol really enjoyed the music both at Mt. Rushmore and the flutist at Crazy Horse. We saw one lone buffalo in Custer State Park.

As always we met wonderful, interesting, friendly people along the way. We meet wonderful people everywhere we go. I have four states left to visit” Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon.

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Susan Sparks: An experiment conducted by the Washington Post.

Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger.

I heard a story recently about an experiment conducted by the Washington Post. On a cold January morning in 2007, a man posing as a street musician played for commuters in a Washington D.C. Metro Station. Over one thousand people passed by. Six people stopped momentarily. About twenty gave him money. In total, he collected $32. He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded.

Here’s the irony: the man playing was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most renowned violinists, playing a complex concerto on a $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius.

In life, it is so easy to rush by our blessings. They are all around us — everyday — yet we miss them because we’re focused on our iPhones, our watches, or our to-do lists. We choose busyness over blessings. We would do well to remember the old saying: “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still just a rat in first place.”

This week when you are rushing about, make yourself stop for a moment and look around. Who do you see? What do you hear?  The odds are someone around you is playing beautiful music. The question is . . . will you notice?

Susan is a Baptist minister and the author of, Laugh Your Way to Grace.

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