Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Love Stays

Love Stays
(a paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13:1-7)

If the words I write
broke the hearts of men,
and staggered angels
and I did not love
I am mere noise, needing
grace to silence me.

And if my prophecies, opened
the fragrant bud of mystery
and my faith, made mountains bow
and leap, and I did not love
what is the use of me?

If I emptied myself of myself,
and gave all I had to the poor,
and if I yielded flesh to fire
willingly, and on my knees
and I did not love
I should be pitied for my poverty.

Love stays.

Love cares for others more.
Love doesn’t ask for
what is not for love.
Love bows,
and love gives way.

Love doesn’t think too highly
of itself, nor does love
violate. Love doesn’t insist
that it has it’s way.

It doesn’t remember sins.
Love doesn’t make you beg.

It just lets it go.

Love loves when truth blossoms
like lilacs and gardenias
swollen with scents
sweet as a mercy

Love allows.

Trusts Abba always.

Love opens wide eyes
to see the best
and shuts them tight
to what is behind us;
It doesn’t comprehend
the past.

Love never,
ever
fails.

Like God,
love stays.

Giving up to love,
Raga

Friday, January 21, 2005

Sometimes I Surrender

I awakened at 3:55 this morning. A headache demands my attention, and robs me of what I crave almost as much as God these days—sleep. I wish my head were not like this. I wish I did not fall into depression with every God given autumn, and fail to break through to a sunlight of the soul until the spring, with the kind of certainly upon which the seasons themselves change. I make a thousand wishes about my brain chemistry, upon a Star that I am incapable of seeing.

In these wee hours of the morning, I play on the internet, watch late night television, read, think, and even pray. When these things fail me, I go back to thinking. This dark morning, I am remembering my days, six years ago, as a seminarian.

The only thing worse for a Christian madwoman to do than desperately pursue a graduate degree in psychology while she is completely insane and her husband is a drug addict, is for her to do this at a theological seminary. I left classes after each school night, devastated by the startlingly clear revelations I’d received about my own pathology. Add to this a ruthless, ripping of way of all my erroneous theological positions—which was most of them, and you have an adventure of faith every day.

At some point in a psychology program, you are forced against your will to take a battery of test that will prove to you, in black and white, what you already knew in secret. You are crazy. According to the MMPI, I scored high as a sociopath. My concern that I’d be killing prostitutes in a few years drove me to my instructor. He assured me that for some odd reason, black people score high on this test in that area. So do graduate students-black, white or other. I was again restored to some semblance of peace, being both black, and a graduate student, but most important, Ann Arbor’s two hookers were safe.

Then there was the test whose name I’ve blocked out. Thank God for defense mechanisms, for surely, I’d have taken it again by now to confirm the results. This one was an instrument measuring depression, and predicted that I’d kill myself within 10 years. Way to boost student morale! I still have four years to go, and tonight, I have to wonder if I’m going to make it after all.

I had this friend who I will say was the man my sister Carlean loved. He was a gentle man of God, always smiling. He was a chocolate kiss, as kind as he was attractive. He took ill, suddenly, and then, he was dying. We prayed ferverently for his healing, and visited him in his last days at the hospital. I remember one of the last things he said to us about healing:

“I know God is Able, but even if He doesn’t heal me, He’s still Able.”

How moving is that? He died not longer after, still trusting God.

Though He slay me, I will trust Him. I know my redeemer lives.

Knowing you will die soon has to be hard when you are a young man. It is also hard when the process is slow, and you wonder if it will not be yourself that kills you. I write about embracing God in the dark, but it’s damned difficult to do, even on my best days when I quote wonderful, lilting, poems by Rainer Maria Rilke--who clearly suffered from depression. But Rilke also wrote poems that say he feels like he is slipping away, like sand between his fingers. He writes:

“I want to die. Leave me alone.
I feel like I’m almost there.”

And sadly, I know just how he feels.

Last night, when it was all I could do to not pierce my jugular vein, like Rilke I wrote my own depression love poem to God.

Sometimes I Surrender

envelop me
in indigo

swathe me
in a shroud

deny my senses
until…

seeing
feeling
hearing
tasting
touching

surrender

to the Darkness
that is You.


I can write that. I can even do that on occasion, but it isn’t easy. Ever.

Four years ago, I stumbled in the darkness and found myself, and I loved her fiercely. And that self was born again. I named her Indigo Blue.

This year, I stumbled in the darkness and I found God, and I was born again. I christened my newborn self ragamuffin diva.
And I love God fiercely.

Even though He slay me.

Even though like Rilke,
I ache, and swell
in a hundred places.

I love Him, anyway.

In the dark morning,
God’s raga

Monday, January 17, 2005


Computer drawing by Nia Grace. Posted by Hello
“I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places would be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.
August 28, 1963

This speech was made 41 years ago, before I took my first breath in this world. Not long after, Dr. King would take his last. “I have A Dream” was born out of hope and expectation, from a man who knew his dream threatened his very life.

But he dreamed anyway.

Every year when we take the time to celebrate Dr. King’s life, I wonder what he would think of our progress. Sunday morning church time is still a mostly segregated hour (or three hours if you are a black Pentecostal). Even the most progressive, seeker sensitive churches admit the difficulties in creating a truly multicultural church. We hang out in the ghettos of our own making, clutching fears and misconceptions of one another that belonged to our parents, parents, parents.

My kids go to a multicultural school. There are black children, white children, Hispanic, Asian, and Arab. I went to school with all black children. I wasn’t a part of King’s dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.” Even though it wasn’t too long after that speech was made that I was in pigtails and kindergarten.

But I dream anyway.

I’m hopeful, because I’ve made choices so that my children really can live in a better world than the one I inherited, but I’m not blind, or so na├»ve that I don’t see the problems in this seat of liberalism called Ann Arbor. And the problems aren’t just here. We all know what they are. No need to list them.

There is still so much hate between us. Stevie Wonder said even love’s in need of love today. We are called to love, repent, and love again, until the Jesus within us shines so brightly that the ridiculous artificialities of racism, are burned away by the Light of the world.

After all, if all of us ain’t free, none of us is free.

Lets love until we’re all free.

“Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that, let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Geogia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi! From every mountainside let freedom ring.”

Can you hear it? Can you dream it?

Here’s to another chance for love and freedom. Reach out beyond your comfort zone and give yourself away. Hasten the day, “When all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last.’

“We are not afraid.
We are not afraid.
We are not afraid.
Oh, no, no, no.
‘Cause deep in my heart,
I do believe that
We shall overcome
Someday.”

Ringing my freedom bell,
Claudia

Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I Have A Dream”, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, “Love’s in need of Love Today,” and the Negro Spiritual, “We shall Overcome.” Used without permission, but who cares, because only about eight people read this anyway.

But I love all eight of you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

For The Journey (Mark 6:8,9 NKJV)

You are ready.

You approach Jesus with a heady mixture of humility and pride. You are chosen. Your longing has urged you to this place. He is sending you out to do His work. You pinch yourself. It is all you’ve ever wanted. It’s what you’re made for. You’re gonna make your mama proud.

He briefs you and the others for the work, and His instructions sound simple enough. “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in the money belt. Wear sandals, but not two tunics.”

You look around at the others. All of you have bags. Some of you have nice ones--calfskin, hand tooled, and one of a kind. Hey, isn’t that one over there Versace?

You look at your own bag. It’s fairly humble, but reflective of your quirky personality. You’ve carried it a long time. It’s your bag of tricks really, safely housing all the manipulations in your arsenal. It has been your security and defense. It holds your masks, and everything that makes you feel beautiful, fun, charming, desirable, talented, ambitious, and intelligent. It’s got your writing in it.

But you can’t take it with you.

You start to hyperventilate at the thought.

You reach into the pocket of your outer tunic, and pull out the package of Hostess hohos you’re packing. This kind of surrender calls for chocolate and cream filling, and you stuff one into your mouth, feeling miserable. Jesus just said you couldn’t take any bread, and you’re thinking He ain’t talking about a low carb diet. Doesn’t He know that everybody needs a little stash for those hungry, hungry days, and those nights, when bread alone seems like all you live by.

You look around, and notice your fellow travelers are stripping. The tunic thing. Of course you are wearing two. You’ve lost 40 lbs, and though you can stand to lose another 20 or 30, you worked your butt off, literally, and that outer tunic was hot! Hot in a good way. Surely it’s okay to look good. Joyce Meyers looks good when she preaches. You pray, c’mon Jesus, I’m having a midlife crisis here. This is probably as good as it gets for the rest of my life. But you can’t wear two tunics, so you take off the decorative outer one, grieving its loss.

They’re emptying their pockets.

This ought to be easy for you. You’ve been broke all your life, and it’s not like you’re holding a wad. You look at the bills your sisters and brothers drop falling to the ground and scattering in the breeze. You hear the chink of coins as they dash against the concrete. The reality of what He is asking dawns on you. You are to trust Him for everything, and this journey will cost you everything. You realize that under such austere conditions, you are afraid to go, but you empty your pockets anyway, even of the few coins you wanted to hold on to for the vending machines.

You stand there with nothing but staff, and the tunic and sandals you’re wearing. You don’t feel ready. You don’t feel hopeful, and you sure don’t feel like you’ll make your mama proud. You want to grab your bag of tricks. You’ve seldom prayed without it. You’re afraid that in your simple garb you don’t look good to Jesus. You feel small and insignificant. You feel ugly, and you can’t even hide behind the pretty words your write.

But He can’t take His eyes off of you, and because you left your lovely prose in the bag, He can actually hear what your heart is really saying.

“Give me your hand,” Jesus says to you.

Because your hand is empty, you fill it with His.

You follow Him. You don’t know where you will end up, or what you will eat, or if you will be a success, or anything else. The only thing you know is He is with you.

That will have to do.

You steady yourself on the staff, knowing He will teach you how to use it. You feel the wind sweep against your feet, and you are grounded in beautiful peace. You whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.”

You go.
You don’t look back.

You don’t miss a thing.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Give Me Your Feet

He’d leave soon. We tried not to think of it as we followed Him, but you could tell He was between Heaven and Earth. He’d said as much. I saw in Him a kind of love-broken weariness, and it reminded me of how the poet prophet Isaiah described Him: a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

He’d set the table, and we sat in the upper room, preparing for the feast. We were tired, and hungry, but glad to be with Jesus. The pungent scent of roasted lamb and bitter herbs rose like incense in the room. Our cups were lined like guards before us, full with wine. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounded the house. The flames on the candles He lit bowed and rose in the breezy room, as if they too, worshiped Him.

He said to each of us, “Give me your feet.”

We grew silent, each of us removing our sandals.

I watch Him move across the room, dressed in the garment of a slave. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our feet. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washing us as if the pitcher contained, then released His own tears, slipping between our toes, the filth of the world falling to the ground, now hallowed by His presence.

He sure knows how to make a mess of things.

I whispered to Him, “Thank you, Jesus.” Hot salty tears rolled from my cheeks, and mingled with Jesus’ hand when he reached up to wipe my face.

What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” He said to me.

He cleansed us all, every one of us, even the one who would betray Him.

“Do you understand what I have done to you?”

His brown eyes shone in the candlelight.

You address me as ‘Teacher’, ‘Master’, and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each others feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

Act like it, and live a blessed life.
He makes things so simple.

It wasn’t long after that that He had gone from us, only to return, and go again, leaving us with His Spirit. And even now, as I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as he leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’

I think of this every time I come across a world weary traveler, sand-scorched, hurting, and vulnerable, looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting his sole to me, as I wash it, cradling it in the circle of my hands.

Give me your feet.
Rags

Isaiah. 53:3, NKJV.
John 13:12-17, The Message.







Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Blessed Are The Promiscuous?



I was reading a story in Kathleen Norris' book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (1998, Riverhead Books, NY, NY.) and one story in particular caught my attention. It was story of a woman.

She lived in a small town, but was a big time drunk, and had earned the unsavory label of "cocaine whore". Her self-esteem was so fragile, that not only did she sleep with anyone who'd give her drink or drug, she'd sleep with anyone who gave her attention.

Like many ragamuffins, she came to the end of herself. The end of yourself is always a blessed place. This is where we meet God. We've decreased by choice, even if the choice is that our bad choices have stripped us of all save God. We come empty.

She sobered up, joined AA and even went to church. Of course, she was not well-received, but the pastor and his wife were loving. And so was Jesus. Like a good 12 stepper, she kept coming back.

Soon she was a church member, volunteering and signing up for, well, for everything. She went to every Bible study. She worked at every project. She tasted the love of Jesus, and in it, found everything she needed.

Norris writes, "Salvation took such hold in her that, as the pastor put it, he began to wonder if Christians don't underrate promiscuity. Because she was still a promiscuous person, still loving without discrimination."

Isn't that grand? Can you imagine? Loving without discrimination? Big, juicy loving that drives you to the end of the road to find those others-- crack ho's, drunks, manic depressives, freaks--all promiscous people, giving themselves away, looking for love, looking for Jesus, but not knowing it.

Blessed are the promiscuous, for once redeemed, they shall love extravagantly, shamelessly, and indiscriminately. They shall love, just like Jesus did. (Claudia 1:1)

"Therefore, I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:47,48).

Thank you, Jesus.

In big, juicy love,
Rags


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

More On Darkness

I'm sitting here, thinking of the post "on the bus"below, and pondering darkness. Me, a woman who has experienced her own personal great depression(s), for most of her adult life. Darkness. I know darkness. I also know God. He meets me there.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." (Gen. 1:1 NKJV).

God told us about the darkness first.

Why are we so afraid? The message says, "God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss." (Gen. 1:1). I love that. I can imagine his great God-wings, covering the darkness--the brooding God.

I love a God who broods.

I love a God who will, or will not remove darkness, as He sees fit. A God who demands your attention in the inky night, and yet craves your love. Who cradles you like a womb, even if you don't know it, and think you're alone.

Darkness first.

Darkness encircling us in the warm walls of our mother's womb. We come to this strange place, shrouded in darkness, just like Jesus came. He refused to emerge from the heavens in a dazzling blaze of light. He came like we did, only without sin.

Jesus is not afraid of darkness.

Rilke says so beautifully of our Abba:

You, darkness, of whom I am born,

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations--just as they are.

It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.

I believe in the night.

(from Rilke's Book of Hours, Love Poems to God. Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. 1996, Riverhead Books, NY. Once again, used without permission.)

Embrace the nocturnal creatures in Jesus, my friends. That's how we become the light of the world.

In darkness, and in light.
Rags

On the Bus

I was on the bus yesterday, going home from work. It was one of those miserable rainy Michigan winter days. Depressing, and by 5:30, dark as midnight. I hadn't seen the driver for months. I hadn't been to work for months, and I was glad to see him. He bears a striking resemblence to my brother, Steve. I loved him for that alone, in the way that you instantly love some people because they are comforting and familiar. But I'd never talked to him.

I said, Hi, and Happy New Year, and he smiled that wide, Steve smile, and said something like, "I'm still here." And then exploded in a big, booming laugh that bounced like a child's ball around the bus. I laughed with him, amazed at his sudden openness to me.

I sat near the back of the bus, no matter that Rosa Parks made it acceptable for me to sit closer. I was in my usual, dreamy state, thinking about Jesus, and about how he took the posture of a slave to wash his disciples feet. How amazing is that? Jesus, washing feet.

At some point, I realized that I am blind. I have new bifocals that I'm still adjusting to. I went to the front of the bus so I could make sure I'd actually see my stop, and that's when I heard my brother's look-a-like, preaching the Word.

Now this was a pleasant surprise. I started listening, to see how he'd represent Jesus. And what I heard made me feel so sad. The man he spoke to looked like a brother who had taken a few too many beat downs. Having endured smack down after smack down myself, he had my sympathy. At some point, they talked about celebrities who are Christians, and how they are still rump shakin' and money makin' and we ain't seeing too much Jesus. That's true. Think, Beyonce, and Britney Spears, but I remember being a young woman, getting my first whiff of my womanhood, and I'll be honest, if I looked (and could dance) like Beyonce, I might be shakin' my booty to get the admiration of the world, too. Not to mention MONEY.

I wish I'd said something full of salt and light to that brother who wanted to be a new creature in Christ, but didn't think he looked like one. Steve clone had said something about the rapper Mase, and I said something about that, instead of, hey brother, God is Big, Infinite, and Love. You don't really have to clean yourself up to get to God. He washes feet, and believe me, those feet back in the day were not the pampered feet of modern times.

Forgive me, Lord. I had grace, and kept it to myself.

Don't we all fall in the dark? Movie stars, rappers, mailmen, and afterschool program workers. I wish someone had told me before Brennan Manning that God is HERE, and I can't outsin His big, big grace. I wish I'd told my brother that Jesus is hard to get rid of. He loves HARD, and is tenacious as Mike Tyson in the ring, biting off ears because He's worried about feeding his children. He's more tenacious than that.

God in the darkness? It's called Unconditional Love, or simply GRACE. Don't forget that. It'll get you through many a bad day. And here's another thing, Jesus knows how to bring His beloved to her knees, I don't care how "crazy in love" she is, or how stank her videos are becoming. (lyrics quoted without Beyonce's permission).

God is really so much bigger than our capacity to sin. He really is. I don't say that as a license for you to act a fool. I'm just saying, He didn't send Jesus to beat us down, but to bring us to His kingdom. He's awfully good at it, too.

Give him your feet.

In love and grace,
Rags

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A Blessing

Jimmy Abegg, that wonderguy of Ragamuffin fame gave the world a wonderful gift when he compiled a book a prayers by various artists, and his amazing photographs. The Book is called "Ragamuffin Prayers" (2000, Harvest House, Eugene OR). It's fantastic.

Completely without permission, (Sorry Jimmy A. and Harvest House) I am going to share with you a blessing from the book that was given to Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor. It's my personal New Years prayer. For the faint of heart, this ain't no Jabez thing:

MAY ALL YOUR EXPECTATIONS
BE FRUSTRATED.
MAY ALL YOUR PLANS BE THWARTED.
MAY ALL YOUR DESIRES
BE WITHERED INTO NOTHINGNESS,
THAT YOU MAY EXPERIENCE THE POWERLESSNESS AND
POVERTY OF A CHILD AND SING AND DANCE
IN THE LOVE OF GOD THE FATHER,
THE SON, AND THE SPIRIT.
Let's have just one resolution, to BE God's, and let Him do with us as He will.
Happy New Year, friends! I sure do love you.
Claudia, God's child, singing and dancing.