Posts Tagged God

All God Wants for Christmas Is You – Rev. Susan Sparks

The Christmas holiday is in full swing, which means that from now until December 25th, we will hear … Mariah Carey.
Every day.
Everywhere.At CVS and Walmart. At Ace Hardware and Macy’s. Even the Salvation Army volunteers will play it on the corner as they collect money.To what song am I referring?

“All I Want for Christmas is You.”

If this doesn’t sound familiar, then apparently, you have not left your home in the past 25 years. This catchy holiday love song from 1994, which reminds us about the joy of reuniting with loved ones, has sold over 16 million copies.

But I had a thought this week. What if we took this ubiquitous song and made it an anchor—a reminder of something deeper than human love? What if we heard it as a love song from God?

Sounds kind of crazy, right – God singing Mariah Carey’s song to us. But the lyrics are spot on, as God longs to reunite with us. Ezekiel 34:11 explains, For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.”

It’s true. God yearns to be with us – at all times, in all places.

Consider what happened a few years ago at the Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill, Queens. Jose Moran, the custodian, had just finished setting up the Nativity scene and gone to lunch. When he returned about an hour later, he heard the cry of an infant. He went into the sanctuary and found a tiny baby boy, umbilical cord still attached, swaddled in purple towels on the floor of the manger.

Later, the police identified camera footage from a local 99-cent store that showed a young mother with a baby, buying the purple towels. Minutes later, she appeared in the church and laid the baby swaddled in the purple towels in the church Nativity scene. The congregation named the baby “Emmanuel,” Hebrew for “God with us.”

Like the Christ child, this little baby entered the world in a place of shame, abandonment, and brokenness. But God was there—at the manger in Bethlehem, at that Nativity scene in Queens, and with us.

Always.

Now, if that is the power of God’s love for us, then shouldn’t we share that same love with others?

Recently, I met someone who did just that. It happened while I was in line at Walgreens. I was behind an elderly Russian woman who was bent over a walker packed with plastic bags that were stuffed to the brim. For several minutes, she shuffled through the bags looking for her wallet, and as the line got longer, people got more aggravated.

All of a sudden, a tall, smiling man with a Walgreens nametag reading “Ababacar” walked up to her. He turned out to be the manager of the store and was from Senegal. When she saw him, a huge smile broke across her face. He called her by name, gave her a hug, helped her find her purse, and walked her to the door.

I found out later that she lived by herself above the store, and that he’d been helping her for years, including preparing food, and bringing her medicine. When I thanked him for what he’d done, he simply said . . .

“If we don’t care for each other . . . who are we?”

Amen.

This week, when you hear Mariah Carey’s song for the 97thtime, stop and imagine that God is singing it to you. Wherever you are, whoever you are. God is longing for you.

Then, take that love out and share it with others. Be a blessing for everyone you meet. Live each day knowing you are part of something greater.

Because all God wants for Christmas is you!

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Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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Go into the world and ‘speak God,’ Merritt tells CBF Advocacy conference|

| MARCH 21, 2019 – BaptistNewsGlobal.com – By Blake Tommey

“The world needs you to speak ‘God,’ especially in this moment,” Jonathan Merritt, award-winning writer on religion and culture, said at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s annual Advocacy in Action conference on March 14 in New York City.

Jonathan Merritt speaks at 2019 CBF Advocacy in Action conference.

“Do you believe in God?” Merritt continued. “That is, do you love God and have you taken a step of faith? Then that spark should start a fire on your lips. Even though ‘speaking God’ is in massive decline in America, all is not lost. I believe we can revive the vocabulary of faith and that’s my prayer for each of you—that you’ll become courageous, vulnerable, passionate God-speakers again.”

Advocacy in Action, traditionally held each year in Washington D.C., kicked off March 11 at host Metro Baptist Church, where more than 60 participants from across the Fellowship engaged the work of advocacy and the urban church. Throughout the four-day conference, participants visited the United Nations, the historic Riverside Church, Tenement Museum and learned about the work of immigration advocacy, religious liberty and racial justice from area Baptist pastors, CBF field personnel and community and government leaders on homelessness and hunger. Participants also visited Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a congregation founded by abolitionist leader Henry Ward Beecher and a central stop on the Underground Railroad.

Merritt, a resident of Brooklyn, joined the participants for their final day of conversations at MBC, where he followed a panel on urban hunger with a plea to reclaim overt faith language. Advocacy, in the name of a loving God, takes place in our everyday speech and conversation, Merritt said. The problem is, he added, hateful and destructive faith language dominates the conversation because moderates and progressives have shied away from talking openly about faith.

“Believers like you and me stop speaking God because we don’t like what these words have come to mean and the way they’ve been used,” said Merritt, whose latest book is titled Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them. “But when we stay silent, all those people who are causing the problem get to hog the microphone.” Too many problematic voices—televangelists preaching for profit, politicians spreading xenophobia and bigotry or pastors peddling condemnation—are setting the tone for Christianity with their words, Merritt explained. “They dominate the conversation because we’ve stopped speaking God.”

In fact, he said, more than one-fifth of Americans admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the last year, and only seven percent say they talk about spiritual matters about once a week. That’s surprising, Merritt explained, because the vast majority of Americans say they believe but do not speak about their faith. As for practicing Christians who attend church regularly, he added, only 13 percent are having spiritual conversations about once a week.

But how does the church find its voice again? How do we regain confidence in the language and vocabulary of faith? First, Merritt explained, Jesus followers must cultivate the courage it takes to have spiritual conversations, even with strangers on the subway or in the workplace. With courage, he said, the church can push past the skepticism and cynicism that typically dominates the public sphere, especially in urban settings like New York City.

Second, he added, Jesus followers must cultivate the vulnerability necessary to make faith language authentic and generous.

“To speak God doesn’t mean to preach at people,” Merritt said. “It means opening your heart and your spirit to share what is inside, to discuss your doubts and your darkness, your struggles and your sorrow. And that takes vulnerability. What are you doing in your life—this month, this week—to nurture vulnerability? You’ll need it to speak God.”

Finally, Merritt charged the church with developing the passion it takes to reclaim faith language. Instead of falling back on cognitive belief statements—a not-so-helpful result of the Enlightenment—Jesus followers must rekindle a genuine love and passion for God, Jesus and the spiritual life, he said. When you truly love something, Merritt explained, you will naturally speak openly about it.

“You know something in your head, but you believe something in your heart,” he said. “In fact, perhaps the best synonym for the ancient word ‘to believe’ is the word for ‘to belove,’ not ‘to know.’ Paul says that we fall in love with God, Jesus and the spiritual life, and that begins to bubble up and spill out of our mouths. So, what are you doing to stoke your love of God and spirituality each day? By nurturing your passion for God, you’ll find that it becomes easier for you to speak God again.”

Ultimately, the story of God’s action in the world is the story of the power of words, Merritt said. With words, God brought life to all creation and endowed humanity with God’s own image. With words, Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor and release to the captive. Jesus’ last commandment was to go into the world and “speak God,” he added. As today’s religious, political and social tumult continues, Merritt explained, the church has an opportunity to reclaim this rich tradition of words and allow faith language to instill grace and hope once again.

Watch a bonus video interview with Jonathan Merritt courtesy of CBF-partner EthicsDaily.com.

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The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks – Laughter

“God is silent.   Now if only man would shut up.”    -Woody Allen
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 am a spiritual seeker and a Leo. As such, I prefer chatty, outgoing deities. I want a God that wants to talk about the same things I do, i.e. me; a God that tells me when I wake up each morning that I look gorgeous; a God that says, “I love you” every five seconds and “You are so fabulous” every ten.

I didn’t ask to be born in August. I didn’t even ask to be a Leo. But since someone or something chose to put me on this earth during that particular planetary grade, one would think that he, she or it would take the time to ensure that my royal Leo requirements were met. Unfortunately, the deity responsible was, I believe, a Scorpio: a private, quiet sign that hates lengthy conversations.

You don’t have to be a fiery lioness to feel the weight of holy silence. We’ve all had that moment when we look around expectantly for some divine response — any response — and there appears to be none. Why does God sometimes appear silent? And why do those times seem to be the ones we most need holy assistance?

One thing I have learned over the years about Scorpios is that while sometimes quiet, they are loyal beyond imagination. Often found in the background, they are nonetheless always there — a bit like Forrest Gump. In the movie, Forrest magically materializes out of the background in some of the major historical moments of the time. Oh, here is Forrest with President John F. Kennedy! Oh, here he is with Elvis Presley! Oh, look Forrest is standing beside John Lennon! You had to look closely to see him, but he was always there.

The ancient Celts apparently agreed with my assessment that God is a Scorpio. In Celtic spirituality, in order to find God, you had to look pretty hard. But if you looked in the right places, God was always there. One of those places was what the Celts deemed “thin places”; places where the boundary between human and holy was so thin, so transparent, you could almost break through. These were the spaces where secular and holy, earth and heaven, ordinary and sacred came together. As the theologian, Marcus Borg explained: “Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God.”

Thin places can take many forms. Some might be geographical, like the desert, where all things are stripped away and life is down to its bare essentials. Others might be found in music, poetry, literature or art. Another thin place we don’t often think of is laughter. Laughter is the ultimate act of letting go. It clears our hearts of insecurity, neediness and stale expectations. It opens it anew to the words or songs or silence we were meant to receive.

With laughter, our hearts are laid bare before God. And in this place where all is released, all becomes possible.

One other thing I have learned is that Leos never believe anything is their fault. That is why it has taken me years to realize that God is silent through no fault of God, but because of my own baggage — my own inability to hear. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton explained: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. [And] if we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes.”

In the end, I still see myself as a Leo with a Scorpio creator. But through laughter, I’ve found a thin place where even Leos and Scorpios are compatible; a point where we let go and stop trying to make God into something; a place of repose where, resting in the mystery, we simply await God to reveal God’s self in God’s own time. No expectations. No disappointments. Just faith that what comes is holy and right and meant to be … Scorpio, Leo or whatever.

(This post is an excerpt from my book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.” Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing.)

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