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I dig New York. And as crowded and filthy as they can be, I dig their subways too. I usually like flying by the seat of my pants when I catch the train, but I needed to get to midtown Manhattan in a hurry. My friend Scott was in town while I was visiting last summer, but he had to catch a flight out in about 2 hours.
My directions said to catch the C train going downtown. So I got into the subway at 125th Street in Harlem. Clamoring down into the station, sweat-glazed, and looking around with meager luggage in tow, I found I’d rushed for no particular reason. The A train came. And then the E. And then another A. I got anxious. I started to think my C train wasn’t coming. One more E came rushing through, picked up some passengers, and left behind an intimidating silence.
“Maybe I’m waiting on nothing. I heard there was some kind of modified service on the weekends. Maybe they were talking about this C train. I don’t think it’s coming. The A and E trains both head downtown though. Maybe you should board one of those and at least you’ll have gotten somewhere.”
It’s the same discouragement I felt after hearing too much “Jesus is on his way.” “The Word is true, you just have to keep at it.” All the while, no one has broken through the clouds. The promises have proved empty and nothing supernatural has transpired.
I thought, “I’m gonna miss Scott. Forget this. I’m just gonna board the next train that comes and figure something out when I get near 49th Street.”
Just then, another train emerged from the dark, green lights spelling out C. I laughed at myself. I felt foolish and elated, and I could hear Jesus saying with a wink, “See? I told you I was coming.”
[Part 1 — Word count: 372. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
[Part 2 — Word count: 333. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
1. Joe’s Café
“We were unbreakable. We were like rock and roll.”
Breakfast from Joe’s Café just does something for me. Its tight crew of bright-faced, happy people prepare food like they know how special it is. The place is hard not to like. Light fixtures made out of colanders and cheese graters. Whimsical chalk-drawn menus. There’s love in the details.
The staff seems focused and confident as they move about in a small kitchen space openly visible from the dining area. It’s crowded, but the 7 or 8 of them are comfortable as they graze (but never bump) each other. The chaos is almost choreographed. Continue reading
[Word count: 654. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
“When you’re little, you adopt survival mechanisms. But then they last too long. They last beyond their usable time and they become impediments to growth.” —Jane Fonda
I used to be horrible at taking compliments. Too often they’d be a bait-and-switch for devastating insults. So I became a ninja at self-deprecation. If I tore myself down sufficiently, no one else could take anything from me. It made me feel safer. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to stop… for decades.
At age 50, my friend Robin Hill was fighting brain cancer. I was fighting a kind of disease too. Mine was that I’d want people to like me. And then they would. I just wouldn’t believe them. Both maladies kill very slowly. Ultimately Robin didn’t survive hers, but she left something to make sure I survived mine. Continue reading
[Word count: 553. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
During one of my weekly crisis phone calls, one of my friends suggested I pray the Lord’s Prayer. She emphasized the “your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” part explaining that I would be inviting in God’s perfect will for my life. Wait. Whose perfect will? Not mine? Are you sure it’s perfect? (This has been a point of contention in the past.)
I used to be afraid to pray the blank check prayer. “Lord, I will do anything you want. Have your way with me.” I just knew God would send me to Africa to be a missionary to poor children. Black and proud as I am, I have never wanted to go to Africa. My motherland is California. And missions do not turn me on at all. I’m also not a fan of poverty. Or children.
[Word count: 604. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]
Skeptics, go on high alert. For 24 hours, tricksters will hunt the gullible. Stay in your house all day. Don’t do anything or go anywhere. Trust no text message, tweet, telephone call, e-mail, instant message, news report, police bullhorn, or crowd of hysterical people running toward the nearest mall exit. Don’t believe anything. It’s all a conspiracy to take you down.
That’s me. I am that anxious, ever-suspecting dude for whom every day feels like April Fools’ Day. I have seen my general level of distrust rise like the water level in a Poseidon adventure. It’s hard to take anything at face value now. This is not okay. Have you ever:
- Asked someone to tell their story and then called their credibility into question to dismiss the validity of their experience?
- Had someone plead their case although you had already pronounced them guilty in your mind?
- Gotten a compliment you wanted to hear, but decided the compliment giver wasn’t sincere enough?
- Been treated nicely by someone, but decided they had an ulterior motive based on their association with someone you perceive as a threat?
If you have, you are as much your own problem as I am. Your inability to trust can block you from receiving wisdom, truth, encouragement, kindness, affection, or all of the above. How broken is your faith if you decide you can never trust anything anyone says? What kind of two-faced unscrupulous people have you known that make you believe this is the way you have to be to survive?
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God prompted me to write out my testimony of why I believe in him recently. That was probably so I could have a more sure footing from which to talk about why I doubt him. I usually avoid disclaimers, but for this entry, it’s been as difficult to write out as it has been to live out. So please pray about what you don’t understand or agree with, and also be considerate in your judgments. If I deliver it correctly, you will do some judging.
For all we know
“And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know…”
—from “The Prayer”
For those outside Christendom who are unaware, apostasy, also known as “falling away,” is the act of abandoning the teachings of Christ to become an atheist or agnostic. It is essentially the opposite of conversion to belief in Jesus. This is one of the most feared things that can happen to a Christian. It can get you ostracized from your community of believers, and though some believe in “once saved, always saved,” most believe this loss or rejection of faith results in eternal damnation.
For those inside Christendom who are unaware, where Christians believe Jesus Christ is Lord, and atheists do not believe God exists at all, agnostics say “we don’t know.” Agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist. It does not reject that God exists, but it does not prove him either. It’s like the spiritual embodiment of “I can neither confirm nor deny.”
As un-Christian as this viewpoint is, I can honestly say, I have leaned toward this philosophy for years while professing belief in Christ. It’s not foreign to me. I’ve just never really allowed myself to examine it until now.
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I had a very close relationship with my grandfather. Raised primarily by my paternal grandparents so my mother could work full time and keep the family off of welfare, when my grandmother died in 1989, it was just Papa and I for years, thick as thieves. All he ever talked about me doing was going to college and getting an education. He came through the Great Depression, poverty, and decades of racism having raised a family of 4 on an 8th grade education. He wanted more than that for me.
My mother and I, similar as we were, were constantly at odds. When I turned 18, all I wanted to do was get away from her household and my small-minded hometown. College was my underground railroad to freedom. I thought I was running away from home, but really I was fleeing directly into a place God had set up for me. Continue reading
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I’m hearing a familiar voice calmly asking me to “drop my weapons.” I hear you. But I can’t do that yet. I’m sorry. I want to lay them down. They’re heavy and cumbersome. But there’s a conflict. I picked up this weapon after someone I trusted hurt me pretty badly. My guard was down. I didn’t even see it coming. I’m holding this weapon because I have to. Not because I want to. As long as I hold it, they can’t hurt me again. Not like before. And I still haven’t found a safe place to rest yet. Dropping my weapon would be certain death, tantamount to suicide.