Month: November 2017

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

Don’t Throw Out The Baby With The Bath Water…But The Bath Water Must Go!

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baby picWhen you become aware of and aligned with the essence of your sacred purpose, heaven and earth will move to bring it into focus, formation, and fulfillment.  Becoming aware and aligned empowers you to embrace more of your intuition and helps bring balance to your instincts–better equipping you to make the transition from surviving to thriving.

Our instincts alert us to imminent danger and are shaped largely by how we perceived our experiences and protected ourselves as children.  Our intuition, however, is that deep sense of knowing that is derived from the connection of our divine essence–our spirit–to the Divine, which is beyond what we can know by our five senses.  Of course, I am oversimplifying this, but you get the gist of what I am trying to convey.

As we are socialized growing up, we learn to rely less on our intuition and more on our instincts.  This over-reliance on our survival instincts developed during childhood can so color our perceptions and perspectives that we may live out of paradigms that are destructive to ourselves and others.  Moreover, depending on where we fall in the pecking order, those instincts may be just as necessary to keep us safe now as they were in childhood.  In both instances, though, we may miss an opportunity to shift from surviving to thriving.

Ultimately, we need our instincts to survive difficult situations, but living at a higher level of consciousness requires that we engage our intuition.  For “if we can’t see the difference between the cruelty or hardship we experience and the wisdom waiting in our reflex to survive, we can find ourselves needing crisis and pain in order to learn.” (Mark Nepo)

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares Paula Poundstone’s story in which she states, “My mom said she learned how to swim.  Someone took her out in the lake and threw her off the boat.  That’s how she learned how to swim.  I said, ‘Mom, they weren’t trying to teach you how to swim.'” 

Poundstone’s mom instinctively adopted this mindset to survive a very dangerous situation and learned to swim from it.  This story got me to thinking about the black experience and how black folks have had to instinctively adopt an array of mindsets from black exceptionalism to Black Power and Black Lives Matter just to survive.

To survive being thrown into the dehumanizing and deadly system of white supremacy whose initial iteration was slavery–America’s original sin according to Jim Wallis–black folks had to learn how to survive that which was intended to kill us physically, mentally, economically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And somehow, in the middle of the murky and treacherous waters of institutionalized racism, black folks have learned to swim even though that was never the lesson the system intended to teach.

Now, swimming in the toxicity of this system affects not only black people but ALL people.  It just does not affect ALL people EQUALLY.  For while these toxic waters buoy some up, they weigh others of us down based on false narratives of superiority grounded in the lie and social construct of whiteness.  Even the most sincere of those buoyed up by privilege may never realize, may fail to revoke, and may fall short of reconciling this reality, while those bogged down by prejudice do not have the luxury of being untouched by this incessant and pervasive trauma.

For Poundstone’s mom, processing the violent trauma of being thrown off a boat as learning how to swim helped her to survive it as a child.  But it had also colored her present perceptions and perspectives in such a way that she may equate the presence of danger with learning.

How is the trauma you lived through in the past or the instincts that were reinforced in your childhood coloring your present?  

For, while we do have an opportunity to learn from painful experiences, pain should not be a prerequisite for learning, growing, or being.  For black folks, however, painful experiences are part and parcel of what it means to be black in the waters that have been intentionally contaminated by the lie of white supremacy.

And what does this have to do with sacred purpose?

Well, when I began to intensely focus on my sacred purpose and the breadcrumbs I had encountered along my path, I had to re-process what I had learned instinctively from an intuitive standpoint.  From a lifetime of navigating the waters of white supremacy, I had instinctively internalized that my sacred purpose was wrapped up in overcoming hard tasks, being surrounded by difficult people, and braving harsh environments where my perspective would not be welcomed–at least not as equal and certainly not as relevant.

Now, of course, some of these realities may be part of the experience, but they should never be the whole experience.  My sacred purpose is not merely about personal or tribal survival, but about communal and global thriving, which is in direct opposition to the toxic waters into which I have been thrown.  Given that reality, my instincts are serving a very real and necessary purpose of keeping me safe–or surviving, but that must be tempered with my intuitive self for the formation and fulfillment of sacred purpose–or thriving.

Intuition is this deep sense of knowing that brings sacred purpose into focus, formation, and fulfillment, because it is not connected to the false self–the ego–but instead, it is connected to true essence, spirit self, the Divine.  During this process that takes us from focus to fulfillment, we must pass through the valley of things-that-no-longer-serve-us–things that may have unconsciously defined us in the past.  It is here that we are responsible for making conscious choices about whether we value the comfort and convenience of what has become normative or choose to embrace the intuitive aspects of our being that challenge social and societal norms.

This may look different for each of us, but as I have travailed the murky waters of white supremacy, my instincts have been and continue to be crucial to surviving, and at the same time, my intuition–what I know to be true at the soul level–is propelling me to thrive.  As I see it, the challenge is validating both my lived experiences and the instinctual lessons I’ve learned while embracing that deep universal knowing that intuitively connects me to the Divine and all creation.

Living in this tension in pursuit of wholeness is what Blissful Authenticity was created to promote, because there is no “blissful” that connects us universally without unadulterated truth and “authenticity.”  Yet, in these murky waters of white supremacy, black folks are expected to forgive on demand and white folks want to rush to reconciliation–instincts for survival on one hand and instincts of supremacy on the other.

Wholeness, however, is intertwined in embracing both the universality of our connection to the Divine and to each other as well as the whole truth of our lived, embodied experience without condition, compromise or expectations of comfort and convenience.  This is the sacred purpose that I have been called to and the reason for which I was created, because it is not either/or, but both/and–both instincts and intuition, both universal connection and the whole truth, both spiritual essence and embodied experience, both blissful and authenticity.

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  We don’t need to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” but we do need to throw out the toxic bath water and replace it with the waters of racial, social, and economic justice. 

Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

What Do Cars Need That We Also Need?

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photoLast Monday, at the invitation of a dear friend, I attended the screening of a local film.  She had been invited by another friend, and although neither of us had any idea of what we were being invited to, we attended because of the person extending the invitation.

After the screening of the documentary, as we mingled and chatted with the producer, actors and guests, my friend had several encounters with people whose paths had crossed hers at different stages of her career.  She was surprised and humbled that each of them expressed virtually the same gratitude to her for how she had helped them.

My response was, “that’s because that’s who you are.” But I think she was mostly stunned, because her past encounters with each of them was not concentrated in a particular setting or time span, but each was scattered across time and space.

You see, when we find that sweet spot that aligns what we do with who we be, we may never fully know the ripple effects, but we will receive some affirmation along the way.  Those affirmations may not come in rapid succession like they did for my friend this past Monday, but if we pay attention, they do come to encourage us to fully embody who we be. 

One of my most tangible experiences of affirmation happened as I prepared to go to, served in, and returned from Guatemala.  As I prepared to go, people whose paths I had crossed from various places and from as recently as months before I left for Guatemala to as long ago as several decades before, offered their affirmation through their financial support, words of encouragement, and prayers.

While I served with and among the people of Guatemala, not from a point of privilege or power, but of solidarity and equality, the relationships and the experience itself affirmed the alignment of my doing and being.  Undoubtedly, the work I did could have been done by someone else, but the way in which I did it from my sense of being, which is grounded in spirituality, creativity, and justice, is what made the difference.

My sense of being, however, is also grounded in a call to itinerate as the Spirit leads and directs.  So, there came a point when it was time to leave Guatemala, and the photo above captures my last day at the project.  In the picture, I am surrounded by all my Guatemalan nieces and nephews from the project’s preschool–my constant sources of affirmation.  On that day as well as every other day that I was there, they affirmed that the alignment of my doing work at the project and my being present to them mattered.

Along the path to blissful authenticity, aligning the doing and being in a capitalistic, scarcity-driven, dog-eat-dog world is usually not easy, but it is incumbent upon all of us to try.  This does not mean, however, that you have to change what you are doing to fully embody who you be, but it is essential to find out how to fully be in whatever you do.

In the same way that the tires on a car must be checked for alignment to ensure safe and efficient travel, we must also check to ensure that we are aligned so that we may safely and efficiently travel along the path to sacred purpose.  One way to do this is to start a regular practice.  For instance, you may want to set aside time in a quiet place to ask yourself a series of questions, sit with the answers, discern what feelings or emotions are emerging, and listen for clarity.

Some questions to consider are: How do I feel about what I do? Does it align with who I be?  Who and what have affirmed the alignment of my doing and being?  Does what I’m doing help me fulfill my sacred purpose?   Is the environment supportive of or hostile towards me? Where is the disconnect…is it with the work, the hours, the commute, the culture, the stress, the leadership, the pay, etc.? 

Finally, take a few moments to remember when someone or something affirmed that your doing and being were aligned.  Also, remember that it may not have been what you were doing but instead how you did it that made the difference.  Either way, your awareness of this alignment comes with the sacred responsibility to live intentionally and consciously in that alignment.


Lenten Safari: 40 Days/WEEKS 2 Blissful Authenticity

What I Do In Public


pexels-photo-419235.jpegAbout a week ago, I was getting to know a new friend over coffee/tea when the infamous question surfaced.  Now, this is a question that everybody has been asked countless times, so you would think that I would have had an airtight, roll-off-the-tongue, automatic response by now.  But I didn’t.

Of course, there are those of you who are less eccentric, random and/or flighty than I tend to be, and for you this question would be a breeze.  You would have your handy response loaded and ready for delivery to whomever may ask.  But me, on the other hand, I seem to struggle every time someone asks me that dreaded question, “What do you do?”

Well, I think that I struggle with this question on two levels.  On the one hand, I resist the question for esoteric reasons, because although on the surface it seems innocent, it is often accompanied by an underlying assumption that assigns value to a person based on what they do professionally, or even personally.  So, part of me resists the question, because I don’t want anyone assigning worth to me based on what I do.  My worth is derived from who I be.

On the other hand, I struggled because honestly, in this new chapter of life I am being really intentional about aligning what I do with who I be.  Yes, I write, I speak, I coach, I consult, etc., but if I had to sum it all up in a word or phrase that tied it all together, what exactly do I do?

So, in response to my friend’s inquiry, I initially said “that’s a very good question,” because in all honesty, it really was a good question.  And by stating the obvious I also bought myself a little time until an answer came to me.  Then after a brief moment of silence, the perfect response arose, and I verbalized it for the first time with my new friend.

Now, as I think back on that interaction, my answer was such a fitting one.  After all, I was speaking to a public historian, and as it turns out, what the both of us do is in the public realm.  In that moment, it became clear that I do public theology, and I do it at the intersection of spirituality, justice, and creativity.

The struggle to name it, however, is rooted in my pursuit of pathways to express this “doing” of unconventional sacred purpose through very conventional means.  Now two seminary degrees and three annual conferences later, it is refreshing to both embrace and name the unorthodox thing that I do.

I don’t have to try to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all box constructed to control, nor conform to dogma neglectful of present realities, nor acquiesce to religion oblivious to historical context.  I do public theology to liberate.  I do public theology that is practical and relevant for the present age.  I do public theology in context, because in the words of the inimitable Rev. Dr. Freddy D. Haynes, “a text without a context is a pretext for a con!”

In a nutshell, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  You see, how I do what I do can be identified as writing, speaking, dancing, serving, consulting, etc.  But the essence of what I do is public theology.

So, what’s your story . . . what do you do?