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“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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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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Morning Worship: God’s desire and intuition is to forgive, Hill says  

by MARY LEE TALBOT on   The Chautauqua Daily

“Please forgive the intrusive nature of this sermon. It is not my right to initiate a visit to the attic of your soul, and even to suggest the climb into the attic is rude,” said the Rev. Robert Allan Hill at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

His sermon title was “Forgiven” and the Scripture reading was Luke 7:36-50, the woman with the alabaster jar.

Like Virgil with Dante, guiding the poet through the levels of hell, purgatory and heaven, Hill acted as a guide through the attic of the soul.

“The Gospel intrudes on the soul and truth steadily advances on us,” Hill said.

Hill walked the congregation, figuratively, up to the second floor, turned on the hall light and pulled down the chain that opened the porthole to the attic. Most of us, he said, had not been to the attic lately; there were mothballs and the coverlets of personal history.

In one corner was a uniform from World War I, a pair of bobby socks and an “I like Ike” button, three Beatles albums — Greatest Hits, Abbey Road and the White Album — a Jim Croce tape and photographs. Who are those people in those photographs?

“We will leave the wardrobe for another day because only lions and witches come from wardrobes,” Hill said.

Back in the corner is a small, low box tied with baler twine that no one else knows is here, but “you know, remember, understand and care.”

“Regret” is the word written on top of the box, “a short synonym for hell.”

Hill told the congregation to open the box, untie it and let all that was in it fall out. He called it a “gutsy” thing to do. To have regrets is part of being human. Can you live with being human, of being a little lower than the angels?

“I know because I have boxes in my attic and I make this climb seldom,” he said. “I know about ‘if only,’ not just vicariously.”

Hill said that he asked to journey with the congregation to have the opportunity for healing.

“I truly doubt that anything in your box will surprise me; it is your regret, your attic, and it is different from mine,” Hill said.

He called the box a “box of impeachment brought against us,” but the laws of the soul don’t give way to “lawyerly cunning.” Even if we try to believe that we have never said a cruel word or had a myopic judgement, “the box does not lie, nor does the conscience or life.”

Yet there is a word that must be spoken.

“It is a God word, and only God speaks God words,” he said.

If you don’t remove what is festering, it will cripple you, Hill told the congregation.

“ ‘God forgives you’ is the divine promise and intuition,” he said. “Jesus taught us to pray for it. John Wesley asked his pastors, ‘Do you know God to be a pardoning God?’ ”

This is good news in the face of a box of regrets. It is sometimes hard to hear “God forgives you,” but if you know that God is a pardoning God, then God has known you in Jesus Christ.

Hill said there were several verses that the congregation should remember. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” When Peter asked if he should forgive someone seven times, Jesus told him 70 times seven. Paul wrote that Christians should be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving as God in Christ has forgiven them.

The second piece of good news is that other people are more willing to forgive than one might know or expect, Hill said.

“You may have to ask and say ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said, “but most people, when confronted with a heartfelt apology, will willingly say, ‘Don’t worry, I forgive you.’ ”

But what might hold people back most from accepting forgiveness is the ability to forgive oneself.

“You have to let yourself off the hook; you are not 101 percent perfect,” Hill said. “Theologian Paul Tillich said that you have to ‘accept your own acceptance.’ ”

He asked the congregation to travel light toward a common hope. When in doubt, throw it out. Forgive yourself, take the box of regrets out to the curb and “let the heavenly garbage truck haul it away for good.”

“I forgive you, you forgive me,” Hill said. “As William Blake wrote in his poem ‘Broken Love’: ‘And throughout all Eternity, I forgive you, you forgive me.’

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Humility, Kindness, and Welcome: Hard but Biblical Calling – David Jordan*

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

There is, in the American character, an exceedingly hopeful and optimistic spirit. I believe righteousness and kindness are embedded in the hopes and dreams of this nation. Though sometimes twisted in irrational ways or hidden behind today’s political climate, we continue to share, as Americans, a desire to welcome the stranger, to see the rejected of other lands as a new and potentially vital part of our own. Yet, because of various pressures and difficulties, that vision — that hopeful trajectory of a positive future — is threatened. In some areas of our country where crime and illegal immigration have appeared to increase in tandem, it is tempting to leap to associative conclusions.

The complicated dynamics of our current time should not be minimized, nor should the legitimate concerns of the many caught up in the maelstrom of confusing policies and inappropriate behaviors on all sides diminish the power and necessity of welcoming the stranger. At the bedrock of our nation’s character (and inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty) are these words from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These sentiments correspond well to what Jesus intoned in the face of harsh opposition as he continued to reinforce: “Love the alien as you love yourself; for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

The tendency for many, and the constant temptation for all, is to blame problems on those who are new or different or those we simply don’t understand. Yet, consistently in this country and throughout Christian history, we remember the legacy of the stranger, the heroic actions of the unwanted, the new insights and contributions of the disregarded and even despised.

Let us “pursue righteousness and kindness and find life and honor” and live out biblical wisdom — together — as we seek those new insights so necessary for our spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth. Watch carefully around you today — at the store, in the office, around the neighborhood, on the news — and look for positive signs of compassion, openness, courage and new insights about living together in harmony. And as you do, consider another passage from the Bible:

But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 66:2).

Just as the Statue of Liberty represents the spirit of human hope and the ideal of this nation and democracy, this verse from Isaiah is a bold reminder of our biblical hope — and spiritual goal. God’s expectation is for our humility to exceed our suspicion. Though tempted to criticize and look down on those not in our circle of friends, the biblical calling is to bless, welcome and empower “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

Now, let’s look at the full text of Emma Lazarus’ poem. She, by the way, was from a Jewish immigrant family originating from Germany and Portugal. Notice in her sonnet the echo of this biblical theme of humility and welcome while alluding in comparison to the ancient Colossus of Rhodes:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let us together, with genuine humility, ponder what this means. In our churches and places of worship, and in our nation as a whole let us deliberate with mutual respect: How wide is the door? How humble and contrite is our spirit? Consider the role of a Christian regarding the various social issues of our day. The ongoing controversies with immigration, how we respond to refugees, the emotional debates surrounding LGBTQ concerns, relationships with the Muslim community, concerns about the those without homes — these and many other issues remain highly charged within and outside the Christian community. Without a coherent and well-articulated message from active citizens who are also committed Christians, all of us will continue to struggle.

Let’s face it, humility, kindness, righteousness and welcoming the stranger — these are tough in today’s political and social climate. They are also very biblical, and remain as necessary today as they have ever been. Let us work together and rise to the challenge.

Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
— Reinhold Niebuhr

*David Jordan is teaching pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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