Updated: Feb 6
A New Blog and soon to come Video Series that will lift up real stories about real people...
. Shared Daily to Weekly...
. Lifting Up Life Changing Stories Informed by New Testament passages such as Acts 8 when Phillip, a wondering follower of Jesus, met one of the strangest persons he had ever seen, a Black as night spiritual seeker from Ethiopia...
. Exposing Light in a World of Darkness Intersections making spaces, making room
. Stories revealing glimpses of what happens when we embody "Here I Am, Lord" availability to meet strangers God wants us to meet.
. Revealing epiphanies in places we go to everyday like the grocery store or the gas station, epiphanies springing from A-TONE-MENT WHEN AND WHERE the divine realm we call "heaven" is embodied among ordinary people like you and me...
You Mean This Can Even Happen among people like you and me?
People who consider ourselves to be too shy for that to happen during a first time encounter where we discover God continues to breathe new creation breathing epiphany?
You mean this really can happen today, Lord?
. Stories That Go Along with the Sounds of Classic Groove like the music George Harrison sang back in the Day (1969);
During A Time of Civil Unrest inspiring the Civil Rights Movement?
. Encounters revealing rising up renewal that occurs here and now in a world that stinks like "s" because we have become accustomed to the proliferating pollution of a world that stirs and spreads stench SEPARATING SIN because we spend more time trying to be right instead of daring to embody the authentic ups and downs that take place on the wilderness like journey to the promised land called, right relationship?
In the background, can you hear the chorus to this catchy tune which we can't help but sing no matter how hard we try?
And the name of the song is....
"My Sweet, Lord"...
My sweet Lord; Mmm, my Lord; Mmm, my Lord
I really wanna see you; Really wanna be with you; Really wanna see you, Lord; But it takes so long, my Lord.
Inspired by teachings of Jesus of Nazareth such as, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." (John 15:12-14, "New Living Translation of The Bible.").
After that drum roll introduction to the new series, here's a real life story that occurred January 27, 2023.
. TODAY, I MET HAYWOOD
After an intense week of study leave at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, I felt rather tired of wearing a sport coat and dress pants. So, I decided to put on my washed out jeans and black coat with the insignias, "Good Year Tires" on the heart side, and "Piedmont Trucking and Tires" on the right. It's a coat, Ryan, our son, used to wear when he was sixteen working a job preparing to enter his first vocation as a mechanic.
After the little more than one hour drive from Durham back home where we live almost full time at Zooland Campground near the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, I stopped to place an order at Chu's Express, Chinese take-out.
As soon as I opened the door, I saw a tall stocky African-American man. I smiled. Likewise, he looked at me. He read the insignias on my jacket and smiled. He said, "Do you eat here very often?" I said, "Every now and then. I think the food's pretty good." I asked, "Do you eat here very often?" He said, "No, it's my first time." The Chinese middle aged woman who works there covers as a cook and also as hostess. I waited about five minutes, felt pretty tired, and asked, "Have you already ordered?" He said, "Yes!" I stared at the silver ringer on the counter and thought I'm tempted to ring the bell. I said, "I hate to ring the bell because she's working the jobs of at least two people, but I kinda need to get going over to the Food Lion next door to pick up some groceries." He looked back in the kitchen, gently waved at her, and she hurried out of the kitchen to take my order.
I ordered something for Helen, my wife, and myself. I paid for it, and said, "I'll be back after I pick up some groceries." She smiled and nodded. Then I looked over at my new friend and said, "Do you travel to Asheboro very often?" He said, "Yes! I'm a truck driver!"
I said, "Thanks, man for being a driver." He seemed surprised. I said, "Since you drive back and forth from Greensboro a lot, I assume you drive local. Did you ever drive cross country?" "Yea, man," he answered. I have driven in every state East of the Mississippi." I said, "Wow!" Then I asked him some questions: "Did you ever drive in New York City?" "Yes," he said. "I drove in Brooklyn and Queens. Of course, there's no way tractor trailers can drive in Manhattan." "What was it like to drive in New York?" He told me a little about what it was like.
Then I asked, "Where do you live?" He answered, "Greensboro." I inquired, "As compared to Greensboro, do you notice a difference here in the culture?" Emphatically, he said "Yes!"
I answered, "So do I." "I love the ethnic diversity in Greensboro." I asked him, "What is your experience with racism? Do you think it's getting better or worse?" He said, "Worse!"
"Yea, man," I said. There's so much killin' going on. For instance, recently I heard about a teenager in Raleigh who lived near a golf course. He got out a sniper like rifle, killed his brother and next door neighbors. Then he lay down in a ditch and took target practice with real ammo on joggers. He assumed a sniper like posture flat on the ground, took careful aim and started randomly shooting whomever entered his 'sights' both black and white. The guy is white. I heard he was placed in Juvie."
He looked down, tears swimming in his eyes and said, "What's this world coming to?" My response? With feeling I answered, "I'd have to cuss if I told you how I really feel,"
I took a deep breath and prayerful pause,
"In my opinion, I think persons are hurting so bad they are exploding all over the place." Then I said, "You know? I used to live in Greensboro. One reason I loved living in Greensboro is because there is so much ethnic diversity. When I lived in Greensboro, I was part of a congregation on what used to be called High Point Road and now is called Gateway. It's located in a community where many of the persons who self-identified as white moved out. They did not feel safe. More apartments sprung up over time. White people moved out; refugees from around the world such as Sudan and Nepal and Mexico moved in.
When I lived there, I prayed 'God, help me get to know whomever you bump me into. Persons we once called refugees became friends. Getting to know them as friends helped to wake me up to their perceptions. They taught me a lot about what it looks like to trust God when you're being persecuted because you're not part of the majority group. They found jobs and sent money back home. When they praised God, they praised God like they were back home even in Greensboro. Why? They felt at home in the sanctuary, the place where they hoped we really gathered to open ourselves up to the presence of God with us. Over time and it took time, step by step, uncomfortable conversation by conversation, we started to get to know one another. Some persons who self-identified as white accused my wife and I of loving black people more than we loved white people. They left the church. Many others stayed around. It was a bit uncomfortable but they wanted to be like Jesus, they really did.
We grew to love brothers like my dear friend Asford from Ghana.
Asford and I used to walk the streets together. When we walked, we talked. I remember one time he said to me, "Bart, I didn't realize I was black until I moved to the U.S.A."
I looked at my new friend, reached out my Clorox bleached looking white hand and said, "I used to think I was white." He looked at me kinda funny like. I smiled and said, "I think one of the reasons there is so much racism going on is because persons who call themselves Christians think of themselves as white Christians." He leaned into the conversation. Finally, I asked, "What's your name, man?" He said, "I'm Haywood!" I said, "I'm Bart! I bet you can tell I'm a preacher."
He laughed like a piece of the puzzle was solved. I said, "Haywood, I bet you're getting tired of hearing me preach?" He said, "No, man, I like it!" So that's like saying Amen!" to a preacher and I preached some more.
I said, "Brother Haywood, here's what I say to persons who self-identity as white, "I'm not white." They look at me really strange wondering what kind of medicine I'm on. Then I ask, "Who told me I was white? Does the Bible tell me I'm white? Does God tell me I'm white? I'm Bart, a Scotch-Irish, some English, a bit of Norwegian and German red neck out of the West Virginia hills." They laugh. Then I say, "You know for some time I've heard you complain about the movement called Black Lives Matter. You know why I think there's a difference between self-identifying as black as compared to white? It's because I can trace my ancestry. When one of my ancestors, Timothy Ryan, left County Cork Ireland back in the 1700's, he got off the boat in Philadelphia and served four years as an indentured servant. Then he got some land in an out of the way place that reminded him of home, the Western hills of Virginia. He was only one step above slaves who were treated like indentured servants for life for generations to come."
"Ancestors of slaves have a whole lot harder time tracing their ancestry because their names were taken away. As property of Master, new names were forced upon them including a last name branding them as property."...
Black Lives Matter is a way of saying "Our histories, our stories matter too!"
Now those of you who know me know that when I get excited I loose all sense of time and place. Then he said, "I'm not really from Greensboro. I'm from Thomasville." I said, "In 1972, when I was thirteen years old, I moved from Western Maryland to Lexington, North Carolina. (That's only a ten minute drive from Thomasville.) Soon; thereafter, I started washing dishes at The Holiday Inn Restaurant . I met my first African-American friend in the kitchen. His name is Richard."
I gave him one of my cards and invited him to keep in touch.
To sum it up...
You know the lyrics of the song, "My Sweet Lord," ring true:
My sweet Lord; Mmm, my Lord; Mmm, my Lord
I really wanna see you; Really wanna be with you; Really wanna see you, Lord; But it takes so long, my Lord.
As I've become more open to realizing every person I meet is my kin because we all share the same Holy Father, I realize getting to know Big Brother Jesus, Yeshua, Savior, Friend; resembles a long and tiring pilgrimage that requires perseverance along the ups and downs that occur when we dare to get to know each other.
Along the way, we realize each person we begin getting to know helps us get to know the God made flesh in Jesus. Each person we dare to become real with along the journey of intimacy helps us recognize stranger as friend. This is integral to becoming the authentic human beings God desires us to be.
Yes, it takes so.... so.... long, Lord!
(A confession: When I realized for the first time that Harrison referred to "My Sweet Lord" as Krishna, Krishna, I felt deeply offended and changed the dial every time I heard it on the radio. Not too awful long ago, it dawned on me: "Bart? When Harrison sings "Krishna, why can't you simply sing the Hebrew name for Jesus? When George Harrison sings "Krishna," sing "Yeshua!").
Anticipating first time encounters such as the one I had with Haywood leads to real life, real action praxis where we embody prayers such as:
Dear Big Brother Jesus, in this world where so many persons act out the excruciating dysfunction of unsettling tears too scary to name, we feel like we're drowning . In this, I gotta take somebody out with me before I go kind-a world, go before us Dear Friend. May all persons who call Jesus, 'Friend,' dare to stumble into ways you breathe Oneness. Replace the BIG I in the middle of this mess, The BIG I wear like a mask is worn out, stuck! It's suffocating me! This Big Mask I wear not only blocks COVID germs, it blocks Son-light.
Have Mercy on me O Lord! I'm worn out trying to deny the root causes of sin. I'm worn out in a world that is worn down from being pummeled by Master's of the Present Popular, Prevalent I! I'm so stuck in the middle of ME so much so dear Jesus all I feel like I can do is isolate from inter-dependence, lay on the ground and take pot shot target practice on any expression of life I see. I can't breathe. I CAn't breathe.. I CAN'T Breathe........ I CAN'T BREATHE!!!
Divine Prophet, 'the way, the truth, the life," uncover creeping crud cluttering souls bearing burdens projecting darkness.
Remind us we are kin. Help us RE-MEMBER by daring to Live into a Real Life Like Sitcom called 'Stranger Things!'... Help us dare to become uncovering Prophets of agape who dare to become curious asking why do we deny suspicious breath constricting scripts that tempt us to place persons in human designs that sneakily place cloudy lenses over our eyes that tell us to treat the image of God embodied before me like an object to be manipulated and used for my own benefit. Why are we so resistant to naming and exposing the better than/ lesser than categories that spread dis-ease. DIVISION! DEATH! SIN!
Yes, it takes so long to get to know you Mysterious Names the Hebrews called Yahweh. Yes, it's a lot easier to sing along with George Harrison the chorus of My Sweet Lord' than it is to take deep breaths through the agonizing labor pangs that occur in delivery rooms, unexpected places, where new life bearing water breaks and strangers recognize kin!
Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Crumble walls, boulders, borders stone by stone. Awaken all we who try to exist in isolation. Shine your Light upon horrifying film revealing splintering walls.
Walls spread like wild fire and we look like zombies who no longer feel any feeling at all! Reveal the rock slides that randomly come out of no where even though we do all we can to keep fence them somewhere else . WE build bigger and higher walls seeking to protect ourselves from persons who appear to be the most vulnerable. We jump on the bandwagon and treat refugees like cursed lesser than animals who should have stayed home. Stay out of here we cry out! We're already messed up! We're drowning in our own sin! Don't bring your mess, your "s" with you! Who cares about your infants and your children? Who cares your running for your lives? So we let fear win the day and assume most persons crossing the border are drug dealers and cartel members. We are too afraid to walk the streets where gang members recruit vulnerable children and offer them a place to belong! How can we dare to let more persons bearing pain in?
Never mind our ancestors left their mess across the sea to find the promised land only to end up trying to exterminate indigenous Americans in the name of Jesus and progress as defined by self proclaimed winners based upon number of persons murdered. The people with the biggest, the most, the best weapons win. Holy Spirit, shine the light and show us all of the causes of the landslides we ignore! Shine the light on all he walls we help build!
Re-member the Body of Christ so we can do more than only toss out Personal Flotation Devices to persons washed out by floods caused by greed, pride, idolatry! Church? Crisis control, giving CPR , handing out Personal Flotation Devices is important. Can we do more? Can we come together with persons across suspicious societal scripts, find ways to swim upstream and discover next best steps to remove systemic causes that nurture mistrust and division one step, one action, one stranger becoming friends with another stranger at a time? Help us prevent the rock slides that devour the earth and her eco-systems! Help us base the foundation of our lives upon The Only Solid Rock: Jesus, The Christ! Our prayers of lament rise for all persons everywhere including El Paso, Ukraine, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, China, Hong Kong...
Bring us together! Now! Lord! Now! Bring us together Lord! '
For in him (Jesus) was life; and the life was the light of men.' "Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the three hounds that pursue us: fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, NEED HAVE NO DOMINION OVER THEM'...
(The sentences in the paragraph listed above in bold reveal contemplative wisdom as recorded in the classic book by Howard Thurman, "Jesus and The Disinherited." The book is still available today. It was first published in 1949.).
When we dare to ask the Holy Spirt, help us trust you triune God, Father God goes before us transforming strangers into friends. In the words of Howard Thurman, we claim "these hounds of hell have no dominion over us!"
Thank you Lord for my new found kin, Haywood, and Chu's Express for providing a table to share conversation while waiting on food.
... a picture reminding us connection occurs among strangers who gather around the table of holy communion, share sacred stories, listen to each other and hear Holy Father introducing us to some kin we never knew we had, family we didn't know we shared the same blood with until we dared to believe Jesus really is our friend! He shows up in everyone we meet. All we need to do is show up, listen, and go on "kin-domadventures" that occur when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to listen, practice Christ-like empathy and become eucharistic friends.
(I heard the phrase "eucharistic friendship for the first time back in the year 2000 when I read a book that changed my life, "Transformed Judgment," written by Dr. L. Gregory Jones.)
CHEERS, JESUS' FRIENDS ARE OUR FRIENDS TOO!
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