The Radical Reversal

I serve as the program director for young adult ministry for the 4 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and am a consultant desperately seeking justice, mercy, humility and love. I am a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and am passionate about prophetic leadership, human rights, fostering radical self-love and providing compassionate care. Visit my website at www.rozellahwhite.com and follow me on Twitter @rozellahw.

The recent news that World Vision USA had decided to honor marriages in all forms – between those of opposite genders and those of the same gender – had many within progressive circles of faith elated. I was one who believed that their decision was prophetic in nature; that by taking this stand they were saying to same-gendered loving folks that their reality was honored.

48 hours later, news came that World Vision was reversing their decision. The article published by Christianity Today cites the following statement in an official letter signed by the President of World Vision and the Chairman of the Board:

“In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, ‘We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.’”

This reversal shows what happens when organizations hear from their conservative base and realize that their decisions come with a cost. I am tired of narrow-minded, life-taking theology winning; of these views having louder voices and monetary might; of these views promoting a divisive faith that gives Christianity a bad name. This reversal is not only disappointing but also perpetuates a common narrative that Christians are unwilling to learn, listen and lead in prophetic ways.

Radical Love

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A Word about Dust

Ash Wednesday

I’m writing about dust as I look out of the window and see white dust fall from the sky. It’s snowing again…

Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return. 

These words are sacred speak that are a part of the Ash Wednesday service liturgy. They are spoken by the pastor as they impose (a fancy word for put or place) ashes on your forehead. These ashes literally mark the beginning of the season that is Lent – 40 days of reflection, repentance, remembering and renewal that all lead to crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Lent is a solemn occasion for sure, but I find it to be my favorite church season. I’m reflective by nature so this doesn’t come as a surprise. I also am someone who appreciates imagery and reminders of humanness; of brokenness, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves and of the need for restoration by something outside of ourselves.

Have you ever really dealt with ashes? Seen someone’s body reduced to ashes? My family cremates our faithful departed. And we don’t bury their remains. We keep them. We choose urns that speak to the person’s life and we create sacred space in our house so that they are always with us. One might be concerned that we are  running out of urn space in my parent’s house… That being said, I’ve seen the body of an elderly loved one go from flesh, bones and spirit to flesh and bones to ash. It never ceases to amaze how one person’s life can be reduced a small baggie full of fine, gray dust. It’s humbling. It’s terrifying. It’s the reality that is life. Continue reading

Just Be – A Reflection on Yoga and Advent

JustBeEnough-Three-Words-2013I am a person of Christian faith, which I have written about here. This time of year is my favorite time of year because, for Western Christians, it begins the church season of Advent. We follow a church calendar, also known as a liturgical calendar, that marks the seasons of our life of faith. Advent kicks off this calendar and it is marked by a season of waiting – of waiting for the revelation of all that is good, holy, just, and compassionate in the person of Jesus Christ. This time is about waiting for the embodiment of peace. This is my belief and as such, I look forward to this pre-Christmas time because it forces me to slow down, to reflect and to be watchful. The watching and waiting take on different forms each year. I was looking back over posts that I wrote this time last year, and I realized how much can change in a year.

As this Advent begins, I find myself in a place of new beginnings. I recently began the process to become a certified yoga instructor and that began with me making a commitment of how I would engage this journey over the next year. After reflecting on my thoughts, I realized how appropriate it was that I was starting this profoundly spiritual journey at the same time that my faith journey enters into a season of just being. I am sincerely grateful for Divine Power Yoga for giving me the opportunity to begin this journey and I wanted to share my commitment with you.

Be present. Be mindful. Be gracious.

I commit to taking a journey wholeheartedly. I will be vulnerable. I will take risks. I will be patient with myself. I will honor the Divine within me and nurture her continuously.

I commit to growing in knowledge of yoga. I commit to seeking out information and reflecting on is meaning for my life so that I may help others do the same. I intend to be fully present in this learning process – approaching each step with curiosity rather than judgement. I commit to study.

I commit to attending to the matters of my spirit through the daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling. I commit to make space for my thoughts and feelings and to situate myself in a posture of reception – being mindful, not clinging to thoughts and feelings that are life taking, but fully accepting the good, the positive and the life-giving.

I commit to reclaiming my body as a holy dwelling place, paying attention to the messages it sends me. I commit to takin in food that nourishes and provides energy. I commit to ongoing exercise and practice that strengthens my body and connects me to the fullness that God created. I commit to be gracious to myself as I embark on this journey, keeping in mind that it’s not about perfection and progress, but it is about practice and process.

It’s not about perfection and progress, but it is about practice and process.

This is true for my faith walk as well. 

How are you being called to just be?

Be present. Be mindful. Be gracious.

 

We Wear the Mask – A Sermon on Suicide by Rev. Tiffany Thomas

mask_1

We Wear the Mask

By: Paul Lawrence Dunbar, 1896 

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

    This debt we pay to human guile;

    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

     Why should the world be over-wise,

    In counting all our tears and sighs?

    Nay, let them only see us, while

            We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

    To thee from tortured souls arise.

    We sing, but oh the clay is vile

    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

    But let the world dream otherwise,

            We wear the mask!

Suicide is the intentional and purposeful taking of one’s own life. Suicide is an acute problem in our community, a problem that we do not talk about. The reason we do not talk about it is due primarily to the generally accepted notion that suicide is a “white” problem. Communally we earnestly believe that black people do not commit suicide.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth… Click here to keep reading the orginal post by Rev. Tiffany Thomas published at Shepreaches.

Secret Shame

This piece was written for ShePreaches Magazine, an online publication for african american women for which I am a columnist. In honor of suicide prevention week, I will be posting daily in order to provide information and inspiration. If there is something that you would like to share, please contact me. Thank you for being the loyal readers that you are. We, not one of us, are not alone…

Love,

Me

Secret Shame Image

On August 19, 2013, actor Lee Thompson Young was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment. His cause of death was ruled a suicide. Lee was a twenty-nine year old black male who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Hollywood.  Lee died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was not left behind and his family, friends and co-workers were all shocked by his death.

On June 13, 2012, the body of writer Erica Kennedy was found in her Miami Beach, Florida home. Erica was a publicist, fashion and entertainment writer and book author who also happened to be the best friend of Kimora Lee Simmons. Erica was a forty-three year old black woman who was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. More information surrounding her death was never released but it is believed that Erica committed suicide, most likely because of an ongoing, secret battle with depression. Much like Lee Thompson Young’s death, Erica’s death sent shockwaves through her community of family and friends.

Suicide is rarely spoken about within the black community. One might say that discussing it is taboo. I think it goes a step further than just being taboo. It is a secret shame….

To continue reading, please click here to see the whole piece that was written for ShePreaches Magazine.

National Suicide Prevention Week is the Sunday through Saturday, September 8-14, 2013 surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2013. The theme this year is: Challenging our Assumptions and Moving Forward Together. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911. 

For Everything There is a Season…

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate our mothers. I have expanded my definition of mother to not just include my biological mother but also include the women in my life who “mother me” – those who provide guidance, encouragement, love, discipline, conviction and never-ending support. For me, these mothers are women of faith who care for themselves and their families. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

Mother’s Day also brings out some darker emotions in me. I am a 31 soon-to-be- 32 year old divorcee who has yet to conceive a child. The assumption by most people is that I will have children at some point. I’ve always struggled with this because I am terrified of physically carrying a child and thoughts of what might happen to my fragile mental state paralyze me. I know now that I am at high risk for postpartum depression and other mental health issues because of my history. Pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a child will exacerbate these issues. However, there is something that happens this day each year, something that I’m quite ashamed to admit. I get a twinge of longing for the role and title of mother and feel like I’m not woman enough because I haven’t born a child. Then I feel guilty for focusing on myself on a day when so many others focus on the amazing women in their lives. And the cycle continues…So, I decided to write about my feelings today.

I had a glimpse of what it might be like to be a mother when I was married. My ex-husband has an amazing son from his first marriage and I was privileged to get to know this amazing child from the time he was three until he was ten. While he lived with his mother on a daily basis, he spent his summers and holidays with my ex-husband and I. During these times I fully embraced the mothering role and was amazed at how naturally certain things came to me. I began to care for and love this boy like he was my own. It was quite surprising to me and I lament that this relationship has been severed. I’ll probably write more on that later…

I’ve always struggled with what it means to be a woman. Is it defined by my gender? Is it defined by my participation in heteronormative relationships? Is it defined by certain characteristics? Is it defined by my role as wife? Is it defined by my role as mother? Is it defined by my desire to want to be a mother, wife or any other role that is lifted up as ideal?

Today at Shekinah Chapel, I heard a message that felt like it was meant just for me on this day. The preacher was a woman who preached on Proverbs 31. I must confess that this is one of my least favorite texts in scripture because of how it’s lifted up as how woman should be. I have always felt like if I’m not the Proverbs 31 woman, I am not woman at all. As the preacher began her message, I told myself to sit still and listen. And I am so glad I did.

The preacher talked about the text and connected it to the hats that we as women are expected to wear. She even used imagery at one point and placed six or seven different hats on her head. It was a powerful illustration because it showed how it’s not only impossible to wear more than one hat at a time but that it also looks just plain ludicrous. I appreciated this sermon on so many levels and my spirit resonated with the struggle that so many women face – to try and be all things to all people at all times and still maintain a certain attitude and character, which is often how Proverbs 31 is lifted up in communities of faith. Towards the end of the sermon, the preacher quoted Ecclesiastes 3 (see below) – For everything there is a season…

Before I knew it, tears started to fall. Even as I write this post, the tears well up in my eyes. But they are cleansing tears not tears of sorrow. I realized in the preached moment today that I am living in a certain season of life, one that has not called me to be a mother or a wife. I feel like I have always fought this reality and made apologies for why I was not living into these roles. Today, I felt like I had permission to shed any and every expectation of me that was not God given. God has blessed me in many ways and I know that I am walking in a season where I am called to be an advocate, a friend, a mentor, an aunt, a leader and a visionary. I am not called to be a mother or a wife right now. And for the first time, I truly believe that it’s ok…

For everything there is a season…

For those who have lost mothers…

For those who have had terrible relationships with their mothers…

For those who long to be a mother and their body’s won’t let them conceive…

For those who have suffered one or many miscarriages…

For those who feel like a failure because they have not become a mother…

For those who will never be mothers and don’t want to be…

For all women who struggle to define themselves against the ongoing tide of societal, cultural, familial expectation…

I pray. You are not alone.

Love,

Me

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

seasonsOfLifea time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time…

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11

Forty Days, Forty Nights

I am a Christian. For anyone who is interested in my relationship with my faith, I’ve written about it here. One of the things I love about the denomination I belong to is that we subscribe to the Revised Common Lectionary. This means that we follow what is called a Liturgical calendar that organizes the year into church seasons. Our new year begins with Advent, which is the time of preparation before the birth of Jesus. After Advent comes Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent and so on and so forth. We are about to begin the season of  Len, which starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and is my favorite season for a variety of reasons. Lent is the time that commemorates Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before officially beginning his public ministry. Christians mark the season of Lent by doing a variety of things including reflecting, fasting, sacrificing those things that would distract us from our faith walk, being in intentional community and practicing repentance – not just apologizing for wrongdoings but physically turning in another direction.

For me, Lent is a time of listening for God and being mindful of those things/people/situations that would distract me. Now, you may be thinking that I should always be listening for God, but I get so caught up in the everyday tasks of life, that I often neglect my spiritual practices. I like to think about Lent as the time that calls me to be focused and disciplined. I believe that God is always active in my life, but that I’m not always attuned to how God is working and Lent provides the time and space to just be…

This Lenten season I am excited to be participating in a group that is discussing Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression by the Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman. Dr. Coleman is facilitating this group that will be journeying together through Lent as we reflect on depression, faith and life. A key part of this group is to journal your reflections after each day’s devotional reading. I will be sharing my thoughts here on Embracing My Shadow. I am doing this for a number of reasons:

  1. I want to continue to reflect on the way that my faith has impacted my struggle with depression.
  2. It’s important for me to have a space where I can write my thoughts.
  3. I want to be held accountable by my Shadow Lovers.

I look forward to this time of clearing – to a time when I can let go of those things that are distractions and reflect on how God might be speaking to me. I am not planning to do anything else other than this devotional group during Lent. I ask for your prayers and support during this journey.

You may not follow the Liturgical Calendar. You may be disconnected from the church. You may not even be Christian. But I truly believe that we can all benefit from times of reflection; times when we become centered and seek renewal. I look forward to this journey.

Love,

Me