Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Years of Marriage and Five Surprises

This month Bo and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. Every year we relive the ceremony again, reading the same psalms, prayers, and our friend Christina’s beautiful sermon. We look through our wedding album and remember the fresh joy of that day. This year, I asked Bo, “What about marriage has surprised you?” Together we came up with this list.

1)      Marriage can be amiable and companionable. When we were engaged, we were repeatedly warned how challenging marriage can be and how much work was required. We have been surprised, that despite the challenges, marriage is a quite comfy, relaxed institution. Drinking coffee, taking strolls, rolling around the floor with our children, or catching up on each other’s days, are all a part of the easy joy of being married.

2)      Just how deep the marriage union is. In the first wedding ceremony in Scripture, Adam describes Eve as, “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone”-- two distinct bodies joined as one. We have found, even when we are physically apart, we are always together. In marriage, you deeply imprint each other’s souls and bodies. When one of you is hurt, the other hurts. When one of you feels joy, the other is joyful. It is hard to imagine that you can so strongly identify with another person, but we suppose this is the redemptive mystery of one flesh.

3)      Marriage has limits, but it is also limitless. It’s true when you marry, you say goodbye to all sorts of possibilities. I thought I would be a single woman, doing missionary work all over Latin America, writing books, traveling, drinking coffee in cool cafes, and staying up late -- but God had other plans. The door shut. We were restricted to one wonderful person, with one shared future. But, with that shut door, a thousand more opened with all the ideas, moments, and experiences we could have together. Not only do we have this life together, but we also experience the limitlessness of each other’s souls -- complex, deep, and meant for eternity. It would require more than a lifetime for Bo and me to truly know each other, and we are always surprising one another. 
4)      Your marriage matters to your community. It is typically thought that marriage is about the desires of two people, but the Christian conception is that your marriage is not only a blessing to each other, but also to your family, your friends, and your entire community. Your life together, the redeeming grace God gives you to love each other sacrificially, is and was always intended to bless others. 

5)      Marriage is a good, but not the only thing. C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed describes how, even after he was married, he still needed and wanted more. Marriage could not fill that part of his soul intended for God alone. We have said a lot of wonderful things about marriage, but let’s now put it in its proper place. It may be a noble, godly institution, but it does not come close to God himself. Our relationship with him is first and our marriage should only serve that relationship. It is as Saint Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.” We find true love with Jesus first.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Christ in King

Marlene Banks
This week I am honored to have professional novelist, Marlene Banks, as my guest blogger. Marlene's creative interests range from misrepresented or ignored history,  love for God’s word, human psychology, and historical romance. She refers to herself as a "Kingdom Writer," which perfectly captures the goal and passion of Christian writers everywhere. 
In this article, "The Christ in King," she explores the work, legacy, and life of Dr. King, a theologian and pastor, whose words and deeds are as relevant now as they were then. Enjoy! Lilly.

The Christ in King

The Christ in King
Article by Marlene Banks

January 15, 1929 is the birth date of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was renowned for being a prominent pastor and articulate civil rights leader….and he was. He was also a man used mightily by God and that to me was the most important aspect of his life and the engine of his peace-loving persona. Not only was he a pastor and social activist but he was a husband, a father and an American citizen. Dr. King was a man, plain and simple, but a man so close to God that he was fashioned to be an instrument of change in a very public way.

There are many notable things about the life of Dr. King. For instance, it is not widely known he and his father were born Michael Luther King and changed their names to Martin Luther in honor of the illustrious German Protestant minister. Dr. King’s education took an impressive track earning him several degrees starting with a BA in Sociology from his grandfather and father’s alma mater, Morehouse College. Achievement and leadership abilities surfaced early in King’s life. He skipped grades more than once and entered Morehouse at fifteen years old. He was voted president of his predominantly white senior class at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania where he earned his degree in Divinity. He then went on to get his Doctorate in Philosophy in Boston, Massachusetts where he met and married Coretta Scott.

One might say that King’s education prepared him for the difficult task of being a leader for African Americans–in raising their voice for social equality. Although I’m sure it helped hone his oratory skills and certainly gave him an intellectual edge, I do not attribute much of his formal education to his outstanding achievements. Without doubt his personal experiences as a Negro shaped his outlook on the state of American racism but I do not see that as the main impetus for his fervor to bring about social justice. I believe those accomplishments and the characteristics of Dr. King were preparation and tools useable for his divine destiny…a divine set-up, so to speak. I see him not only as a church shepherd or generational icon but an instrument of God to right social wrongs on a scale so impacting it globally uplifts the name of Christ. The spotlight for me is Dr. King’s service to God and his faith in Christ Jesus in living out his godly call.

I would never negate the dedicated work done by Dr. King and every civil right activist who risked so much to make changes in our society. Being an African American, I am extremely grateful for what came out of those struggles and I laude the exhibited courage of many, both black and white. Martin Luther King was a groundbreaking figure in peaceful resistance during the movement, but he did not do it alone. Yet he stood alone on many occasions during his unyielding stance. Today he is mostly celebrated, but during his life I remember how he was reviled as much as he was praised. When leading the equality charge, he suffered physical abuse from local law enforcement. He was spit on, water hosed and jailed… he was stabbed by a crazed woman. He endured ugly political accusations from government officials and criticism from some of the general population …again both the white and black population. He weathered the storms of unpopularity and showed nothing but love in the face of blatant hatred with a steadfast tenacity that I know he would not have without Christ in him.
The legacy of Dr. King is for all people and includes a string of inspiring speeches that rival anything ever heard in this United States of America. His ability to deeply touch people through his verbal expression was more than just preacher ease or public speaking acumen. When he spoke to the masses it was an inspired act of God. By that I mean that his words touched the hearts of men with divine penetration. Jesus spoke to the people and His words touched men in their souls and hearts unto repentance and salvation. I’m not equating Dr. King with the Jesus, of course, but the example the Lord gave us of how the Gospel seeps into a person’s soul beyond intellectual understanding or emotional stirring obviously took place in his landmark speeches. He stirred individuals enough to make them risk their lives for equality. He moved government to change its laws and he encouraged something in me, from childhood to the teen years, to hope for a better world where love abounds and we become a color-blind society. He inspired me to work for change, to do something if I wanted things to get better. Dr. King taught me, too, that it is usually through someone’s great sacrifice that great change occurs. Jesus is my primary example of that but people like Medgar Evers and MLK bring it home for me in my lifetime. His desire to bring about unity among the races and justice not just for African Americans but all oppressed people was from his spirit, not his intellect or social awareness. His love for mankind extended past the United States borders and he taught us to see beyond our individual, community or national circumstances to a broader good. That’s pure Christ-likeness.

Dr King’s legacy also consists of marching in Alabama and Washington spearheading actions that motivated all kinds of people to stand for an all-inclusive equality. He stood for fighting poverty, and spoke out against the Viet Nam war which made him scores of enemies across the board. He was a man of peace and a man of faith and love; all biblical principles taught by Christ. The secular world always emphasized King’s study of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and gives that as his training manifesto for peaceful protests. While King undoubtedly states Gandhi was instrumental in coloring his strategic approach to civil rights, I must challenge using that as the only or most compelling factor. His visit to India was a significant experience after the Montgomery Bus victory but before all that there was another guiding illustration in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus Christ was every bit the peaceful protestor of His day. He was after all The Prince of Peace! He protested against the religious system and was totally radical in His message and delivery for that time. I am convinced the learned theologian of the fifties and sixties first took his cues from a Jewish carpenter who was the Son of God and crucified at Calvary.

MLK Alabama jail

We see Dr. King as great social rebel—and again he was that but he was more pointedly a focused Christian—and I sometimes think the world overlooks that. The Christian community, as well. King was not perfect, just a man, flawed as we all are but with awesome gifts and a calling that would come with a big price tag. Everything he did was ordered by God and that is why his legacy is so widespread and enduring all these years later. He changed how we operate in this country and the world was watching. He made people think about brotherhood, justice, love and a quality of life for everyone on the planet not just African Americans. His faith was evident in all his speeches but especially in his last speech in Memphis; the references to the mountain top and Moses, another man chosen to lead by God. He stated he wanted only to so God’s will and I think he did. Sadly it was his farewell oration and with those moving words King demonstrated his clinging-to-God-mentality like a beacon to the world.

When I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, I definitely remember the social impact he had but I mostly see him as a follower of Christ Jesus and a chosen leader; not by the people but by God. He was a man of destiny, like Moses and he knew it. I believe Dr. King was a man who walked close with God, talked with God, was a vessel used of God and lost his life looking up into God’s face. Rest in holy peace, Dr. King.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I Dreaded Blogging: I Once Was Lost, but Now I’m Found (and even more so, conveniently found on the internet)

There is something in me that hated blogging and all the trappings of social media. I considered starting a blog for years, but always concluded, that the last thing the world needs is another opinion posted on the internet. Or worse, I would create a blog in which I revel in self-glory, posting glossy selfies, a little online portal dedicated to my own coolness (a mirage I could only sustain for about two posts). 
Recent Selfie

But in all my scoffing, there was something much deeper at stake for me. Blogging scared me. I hated the idea of putting my thoughts and feelings out there for all to reject or accept. What if my writing, thoughts, and feelings were all too stupid to share? What if no one read me? What if they wrote me nasty letters and comments?

A few months ago, I was blessed to snag a literary agent to represent my novel, God’s Refugee: the Story of a Lost Boy Pastor, based on the amazing life of my friend, the Rev. John Chol Daau. It is a step toward publishing and it feels great. My agent and a few other literary savvy types encouraged me to blog and so I did. 

Over these few months there have been things about blogging that have surprised me. It’s not as bad as I thought. You might even say I am a blog convert and here’s why: 

1)      You have to put yourself out there. Whatever your passion is in life, it is best done in the community of others. God gave us good gifts to share and sharing those gifts, even when we feel awkward and vulnerable, is a deeply Christian thing. 

2)      Blogging is not just about you, it’s about community. Now that I am blogging, I am reading blogs, theology, novels, and more. It’s a way to participate in a greater literary dialogue. This is why I have a monthly guest blogger, just to increase the conversation.

3)      Blogging connects us with others and creates relationships. I often run into people and they say, “Hey, I saw from your blog you were interested in this…let’s talk more about that, or let me send you this article, or I had an experience just like yours.” Blogging doesn’t have to be one-sided, but rather it can start conversations.  Even international conversations. I am always amazed and delighted to have readers from such places as the Ukraine, Belize, and Cambodia. 

4)      Blogging can actually bless others. I know I am as shocked as you are. When we share something of ourselves, our faith, our knowledge or love of God, others are built up. Recently, I wrote about how I struggle going to church. It was hard to publically admit that, and I was so nervous when I hit the publish button. A day later, I got a note from another clergy spouse who said that she had always felt that way, and it was good for her to know another clergy spouse did as well. It is that type of small reward that is so fulfilling.

5)      Public failure is not such a bad thing. There is no way to write a post every week and not say something stupid. You are human, it is literally bound to happen and once it does, you discover you can learn from it and move on.

6)      Blogging can be a witness to the goodness of God. I find the Christian blogs that are most meaningful are the ones that are deeply rooted in Jesus, those geared toward sharing his love with others. This last point is the most essential. With prayer and direction, a blog can be a place to testify to just how wonderful Jesus is.

I’d like to thank everyone who has visited my blog. It is really a work in progress, so it is an honor when you stop by. I love it when you reach out to me, so please send your comments my way, or hit the “follow me” button to be in more communication, and by all means, send me links to your blogs, websites, or pages.
Your Devoted Blogger,
Lilly “Bloggster” Sanders Ubbens