As I mentioned last week, our family will be celebrating #BlackHistoryMonth through various experiences. This week’s theme was experiencing the history of food and entertainment.
Entertainment and History combined:
Cicely Tyson, an incredibly talented and versatile actress, died on Jan 28. She was 96. We decided this would be a good time to watch her film that earned her an Oscar nomination, “Sounder.” I won’t tell you everything about the movie but set in 1933 Louisiana; it does highlight the injustice of the prison system, inequality in education, and the labor-intensive life of sharecroppers.
The movie is also filled with history and literature. Women read from W.E.B. Du Bois, and talked about Harriet Tubman and Crispus Attucks. And I loved the depiction of a strong Black marriage and family that loved each other deeply and longed to see everyone thrive. To see that was on the big screen in 1972, when the film was made, encourages me.
We ate at a Nashville favorite: Prince’s Hot Chicken. While there, I got to chat with the owner, Ms. Andre Prince Jeffries, the original owner Thorton Prince’s great-niece. It is a Black-owned business founded in 1945. The story goes that Thorton Prince believed her husband was cheating, so instead of confronting him, she wanted to feed him extra-spicy chicken. Thinking she was about to stick it to him, she fed it to him and surprise, he loved it! I don’t know what happened to the marriage, but I do know that she went on to make that chicken for the general public.
At home, we ate recipes out of Bibi’s Kitchen featuring recipes from African grandmothers. This week’s meals were by Ma Gehennet from Eritrea. One was a delicious beef stew called, Firfir. Delicious! And a stewed spinach dish called Zebhi Hamili. Thern and the kids loved these dishes!
Next week’s theme is music!
There isn’t much I find more delight in than caring for my children. They are a joy to be with. I could listen to my daughter’s belly laugh and my sons deep, yet still child-like, voice chatter all day long. I have had four miscarriages and I do wonder if that loss has helped me to see just what a gift from God my children are to me. But even still, when I think about this wonderful responsibility and the joy of being a mother it’s not what defines me. I don’t define myself as a mom first and I don’t believe it would be good or helpful to my children if I sought to find my identity in them either.
A New Creation, a New Identity
I am a new creation. The old is gone and with this comes a new identity (Col. 3:10). My old self has died and my new life with Christ means a new identify with him too (2 Cor 5:17). With this new birth comes a new identity. I no longer live for myself. Paul wrote about this new creation in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2: 19b-20). Being identified with Christ means full and free acceptance by God, the ability to approach a Holy God, no condemnation, complete forgiveness, righteousness before God, and presentation to God one day as blameless and perfect. Now that’s amazing grace! This is an identity that can never be taken away from me. Ever. No one can take it away from you either.
The moment you or I begin to place our identity, our hope, in anything other than Jesus we will be joyless, left striving and empty. If our identity is in our children and they fail, for example, we may be embarrassed and afraid of the opinions of others. If our identity is in our children then any move these image bearers make begins to be a reflection of us—either we feel good about ourselves or we are discouraged. When our identity is in our children our measure becomes their performance. This not only damages our own spiritual health and joy, it damages theirs too. The pressure will be felt and our children will bear a burden they never were meant to bear—they will become figurative gods.
One of the most caring and loving things I can do as a mom for my children is to acknowledge and live as this new creation with my new identity. I love them most, I believe, when I am resting in my identity with Christ and not trying to seek my identity in motherhood. I want to be an example to my children, not of a perfect person, I’m not—I make mistakes and my children see them—but as a desperate person. I want to be calling out to God, spending time in His Word and learning all I can about Jesus. I want my kids to see that I confess my sin, repent and receive God’s grace. I trust that as I live out my identity and pour myself into Christ, my kids will reap the benefits and so will I. I may never learn to sew extremely well, I may not have the cleanest home, and I probably won’t be organized enough to pull off the soccer mom role, but by the grace of God they’ll know me as a mom who loved Jesus first and who found my identity in him.
This is part of my first draft series. You can read about the series here: http://www.trillianewbell.com/2019/01/17/first-draft-blogging-series/
Also, if you haven’t heard, we are doing an online Bible study! Learn more here: http://www.trillianewbell.com/2019/03/01/announcing-god-us-online-study/
Lately, I’ve found myself evaluating in greater depth what I’m spending my time and attention on. I’ll ask myself questions like: What is the most important thing for me to do today? Why am I interested in this post? Will this help my family in the long-term? These questions aren’t born out of a struggle with guilt, by the grace of God. And I am not operating under a system of rules that I think will add to my favor before the Lord, by the grace of God. The reason for why I’ve been asking these questions isn’t complicated, it’s simply learning to guard the little time I have within the 15 or so hours that I am awake within a 24-hour period. But these series of questions have led to more questions like: What do I find myself obsessed with? What would I like to do this year? How can I serve my neighbors better? What have I done for my church lately?
Thus, the start of a new series…
Over the summer, I’d love for you and me to explore questions together. These questions won’t likely be theological questions, rather I want to explore practical everyday life questions that might be actionable, or they could lead to confession and repentance in an area, or maybe the questions will help to stir love and affection for the Lord. They will likely be questions that I’m asking myself or asking my friends. They may even be questions based on a trend I see via social media.
And I’d love for you to participate.
If you feel compelled, I’d like to hear your answers to these questions either via the comments section of this blog or on my social media posts. I hope you would join me as we think and reflect on various aspects of life together. Every now and then, I’d love to feature your answers on my site. I’m going to give you a bit of a head’s up for next week’s question, which is: What Am I Truly Obsessed With?
I was inspired to ask myself this question after seeing someone quote a friend who said she’d like to be obsessed with the thing she’ll be obsessed with for eternity (paraphrasing). Next week, I’ll seek to answer honestly about my obsessions and then share why I hope to be more obsessed with the person I will have the joy of being obsessed with for eternity.
Until then, are there any questions you’d like for me to explore? Any questions you think would be useful to consider as an online community?
(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)
By John Starke
I wake up and it’s still dark. It’s quiet now but that won’t last long. The kids will be up soon, hustling to pour their Cheerios, comb each other’s hair, and throw their backpacks on to shoot out the door before the 3 Train comes to take us away to our day. But not yet. It’s still quiet. Just me and my coffee.
I have lists and notes scattered around my desk, tempting me to start the day early. There’s a lot to do: people who need care, a sermon that needs some attention, and a few meetings that need some thought. But not yet. There’ll be time for that soon; not enough time, for sure, but time nonetheless. Since there’s never enough time I’m reminded that all I am, all I long for, all my hopes and plans can never be fulfilled and accomplished in time. Time always runs out and leaves me disappointed and my heart doesn’t accept the limitations that Time offers. It has eternity pumping all the way through to the bottom. I need something more than just enough time.
My notes, preparations, and lists will have to wait. I move from my desk to my chair in the corner. Psalm 141 helps me pray. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Yes, that’s a good way to begin, “incense before you.” Like an aroma that provokes pleasure and satisfaction, that’s what I want my prayers to be like.
But how can they? The Psalms are filled with what seems like the writers’ inner conflicts of knowing (or at least confessing) that God is their only refuge in their neediness and vulnerability, yet at the same time they’re always hauntingly aware of their lack of merit to expect God to listen and act on their behalf. In Psalm 141, the psalmist will get to praying against his enemy, whoever he may be. But surely the psalmist is slightly aware that there’s at least a bit of the enemy in him. “Let my prayers be counted as incense before you.” Counted, reckoned something they inherently are not: a pleasing aroma.
Break my prayers down to their essential elements and you will find contradictory longings and desires. You will see wants I am ashamed of. What are these doing here? If you poke around, you see repentance and hopes of reconciliation, but also cravings to be vindicated and to have an ease of conscience to just get along with my day without the nagging weight of sin hanging around. Let me be washed clean, but is there an express lane? Let my prayers be counted as incense. Let my half-hearted prayers be counted as full-hearted.
A few days ago, I read Psalm 138, which seemed to begin with a running start; “I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.” “Whole heart”? I look down at my coffee. What did David have for breakfast that gave him this “whole heart” prayer? Who can deliver me from my enemies and who can deliver me from my prayers? Sitting in my old chair with fresh sins, can my prayers truly be counted as incense before you?
Jesus tells me not to think my many words can beautify my prayers enough to be heard. Babbling and going on as if I can impress or charm the Almighty is silly talk more than prayer. But my impulse to babble is, at its root, a sign that my heart knows its shortcomings. My babbling is just my darkness talking, acting like an angel of light again. That won’t work. It never works. It just turns my prayers into court arguments and me into a court jester. But Jesus knows this temptation. He is a sympathetic priest who is acquainted with my weaknesses. “We can go together,” he tells me. “That way you can enter with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
My prayers will have to be reckoned as incense. Beauty will have to be a gift I receive by faith. My prayers will have to begin in the posture of reception, an active welcome. So here I am, in my old chair with fresh grace again. The blood of bulls and goats doesn’t count me as incense. Violence was enacted elsewhere, once and for all, and beauty has been given by grace.
Now there’s nothing left to do but enjoy this gift and tell him everything that’s on my heart. My whole heart. Faith is believing that he enjoys it too. I have about half my coffee left and 20 minutes until the kids start stretching. But not yet. Eternity has tabernacled with me and given me friendship and company.
More about John: John Starke is the Lead pastor of Apostles Church Uptown in New York City.
(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)
In 1976, the United States government officially acknowledged this month as an annual celebration of noted Black historians, scholars, educators, and publishers. Growing up, school days for me during the month of February meant learning about historical Black figures like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. The posters commemorating these important historical Black figures would go up and we’d be required to dive into heavy research on who these people were and what they did. But just as quickly as the posters went up at the beginning of February, they disappeared when the calendar turned over to March 1. As earnest as our research had been, once February ended, these historical figures were basically forgotten.
February is a wonderful time to reflect on the lives of Black Americans and the remarkable contributions they had on society. It’s a time to teach kids about American history. It also presents a great time for local media to highlight the “heroes” of their respective communities. But I have a love/hate relationship with this month because I believe it should be more than month long. I wonder if there’s a different, perhaps even better way, for Christians to approach embracing the historical significance of Black Americans and culture.
Set Aside, But Not Equal
I don’t mean to suggest that Christians withdraw from the celebration of Black History Month in culture at large. By all means, we should honor worthy heroes along with the mainstream. But the better way I’m suggesting — the Christian approach — is to celebrate Black history throughout the whole year.
Many of us have a real desire for racial harmony. But cramming our heads full of history for one month won’t necessarily build a broad awareness of the issues our country still faces. If anything, the fact that we have this one month segregated from the other eleven reminds us that we’re still a long ways from real reconciliation.
Personally, the experience I had growing up made me sense the topic of Black history to be less important than others. We set aside a month for study and then bleached any further mention or learning for the rest of the year. It seemed like filling a quota — we were doing something that was assigned, but wasn’t worthy of learning about for more than 28 days.
But I think, for American Christians, there are deeply compelling reasons to learn beyond February. Here are two reasons why studying our country’s history and important African Americans has year-long significance:
- We gain perspective.
Getting to know our shared history throughout the year can help us gain understanding and perspective. Specifically, in the church, it could be a means of building community and helping us learn how to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Bearing the burden of another is a way to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Our nation’s history of oppression and segregation continues to carry a sting for many, both white and black. Understanding the gravity of the situation can only help us in relating to the pain so many still carry.
Knowledge and understanding of this history can be a catalyst for open dialogue. Of course, we wouldn’t want to assume that knowledge equates to full understanding, but it can help. Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, this knowledge can display a genuine interest in and love for others (when done as unto the Lord).
This knowledge could have eternal significance as well, it could lead to opportunities to share the gospel.
- We welcome greater diversity in our homes.
I thank God for my parents and their desire for us as their kids to know about other cultures. But that’s not all they were teaching us. By exposing us to the pain of our history, they also taught us to forgive and love. My father in particular is the reason why I am so passionate about reconciliation and believe that it is possible. He taught us to love our neighbor—even though it wasn’t a conscious Bible teaching. We had an open door policy, so to speak. It started at home. That’s where it begins. It begins with a conversation over the dinner table.
We can all benefit from learning and discussing history, especially as it relates to culture in the United States. Learning about culture can open the doors for hospitality in our homes.
Starts with You and Me
But, even as I type this, I realize that there are many who wouldn’t know where to begin to teach their children or to discuss over dinner with friends because you haven’t taken the time to learn. That’s okay—we all begin somewhere. I don’t prefer to share a problem without trying to affect change, be a part of the solution, or change myself. So, over the next year I’ll be posting an article each month about Black history. It will either be about a book, article, or other resource. I will simply share what I’ll be reading about and how it affected me and I’d love for you to join me on this journey.
February: Let Justice Roll Down, By Dr. John Perkins
I had the joy of interviewing Dr. Perkins and thought this would be a wonderful start to our “More than a Month Long” journey in learning about Black history. While this series of posts will not be interactive, I welcome you to comment on what you are learning. I will simply post my reflections on the book at the end of February and share the next article, book, or other resource for March at that time.
If you’d like to read along, you can purchase the book here. Here is a clip of our interview:
Celebrate Black history in February. Learn and give thanks. But let’s not stop there. Ultimately, it’s not a celebration of a single people, but a recognition of the diversity among God’s image-bearing creatures — the diversity among every tribe, tongue, and nation for whom Jesus died.