That God Doesn’t Exist

by Elise Lockamy

God “is somewhere around,” she says.  “We just can’t find him.”

I knew He was coming.  In this New York Times series featuring the life and times of a homeless child in the City, I knew God was going to show up.

In the piece, readers learn that Dasani is the oldest of eight, with an acute awareness of her social status and family role.  She is intelligent – and not just streetwise; she’s academically gifted too.  She wears responsibility as a chosen chip on her shoulder, bearing through it by fighting those around her when the weight becomes too heavy.  Her mother and stepfather are (recovering) addicts. They have some income but are unable to manage it.  Their lives, it seems, depict ebbs and flows of favor – as when Dasani’s mom inherited $49,000 after her own mother’s death – and despair – as when Dasani’s stepfather’s tax refund is garnished to pay back child support.  The family has been living in deplorable conditions in the Auburn shelter in Brooklyn for close to three years.

As the polished writer details the individual and socio-political dimensions of Dasani’s life and homelessness in New York City, I see something.  I see that there is no mention of the family’s faith life, or religion. Why should there be?  In a life described as this one, how could faith or God possibly exist?

I read on, past the “we just can’t find Him” quote, and find myself enamored by the descriptions of Brooklyn life. The mention of Brownsville takes me back to my childhood.  I remember corner stores and train rides.  Gypsy cabs and dollar vans.  Kings Plaza and 99 cent stores.  Mr. Frosty and open fire hydrants.  After school pit stops at the nearby Chinese restaurant for chicken wings and French fries, and maybe some apple sticks.  I remember walks in Prospect Park, and bike rides up and down Bergen Street.  I remember all our neighbors, the village that raised both me and my dad.  I remember the building down the street my cousin and I were told to stay out of.  The empty lots we were told not to walk by.  I even remember the stray bullet that killed Mr. Mike, the neighborhood handy man.

And I remember the moment, years later, when it finally hit me that God had given my parents a dream, a vision, and had lifted me out of something.  I had already matriculated from Milton Academy and Georgetown University and was riding the bus to my (seemingly) dilapidated graduate school apartment.  There were “Teach for America” posters lining the advertising space. I read something to the effect of – “Only 1 in 10 students from low-income neighborhoods graduate from college”.  That’s me, Lord!  That’s me!  And then – why me, Lord?  Why me?

Elise (left) with peers, Milton Academy graduation, June 2005
Elise (left) with peers, Milton Academy graduation, June 2005
Elise (center) with sisters, Georgetown University graduation, May 2009.
Elise (center) with sisters, Georgetown University graduation, May 2009.

“I don’t dream at all,” she says. “Even when I try.”

Dasani does not dream.  She only knows lack.  She only sees lack.  And there’s no one, not even a God, to correct her vision, to show her dreams, to show her faith, hope, and love.

Dasani is not so far removed from me.  Growing up, I am sure there were a few Dasani’s in my classrooms.  And that’s when the tangle begins.  Father, what you did for me, surely you can do for Dasani.  Surely.  Surely.  I can hardly imagine a God who neglects his little ones.  Hardly.  Hardly.  Because I sometimes do.  I think back to emotionally trying times in my life, and remember feeling all alone. God you are not here.  You’ve left us!  You’ve left me.  And there – in those moments – I am an orphan. Orphaned and foundation-less. Homeless.

I scour the Word for relief.  Not unlike the scouring Dasani’s parents resort to in the form of begging, stealing, and using.  I am led to Matthew 25, The Parable of the Talents.  Servant one is given 5 talents, servant two is given two, and servant three is given one – each servant receiving according to his abilities.  When the Master departs, servant one gleans five more talents, and servant two gleans two more.  Upon the Master’s return, they both present 10 and 4 talents back to him accordingly.  As a reward, he allows them to “enter into joy” and equips them to be in charge of even more.  But as for servant three, well he has nothing but the one talent to present back to his Master.  The Master inquires, “why didn’t you increase what I provided to you?”  The servant responds – “well, I knew you to be a harsh and hard man…”

Harsh and hard.  This harsh and hard God has abandoned Dasani and her family.  The harsh and hard God I know has turned his face from me many times and the past.  Why? Because a harsh and hard God does not exist.  He is not present because He is not real.

God is love.  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 remind me that love is patient and kind.  My God, the one I have come to call Lover, Savior, Redeemer, and Provider, is not harsh and hard.  He is the embodiment of all that is good.  With this in mind, I turn back to Dasani and her family. God is somewhere around.  The reality of their circumstances presses them to rely on a harsh and hard God image, because the loving God, the one their spirit knows and cries out to, wouldn’t leave them in this state.

The Master takes away the one talent from the third servant, relegates him to the “outer darkness”, and asks, “Did you really know me?”

If God is real, and is love, then Dasani would not face the life obstacles that she does.

No, see, when God is real, and is love [in our thinking, in our dreams, in our inner-being] then we face obstacles and triumph as overcomers in and through him.

At the end of the piece we learn that Dasani’s family has been relocated to an apartment in Harlem – one with bedrooms and a kitchen.  Dasani is now close to the park where she trains with an athletic team.  Dasani’s Brooklyn school – the one in which she grows close to an inspiring teacher, Ms. Hester – is making arrangements for Dasani, and two of her siblings, to remain enrolled there. They are working on bus pickup as to not exacerbate the children with an hour long commute each way.

At the end of the piece I see God, in all his loving kindness – in the teacher, the principal, the investigative reporter, and the supermarket patron who allows Dasani’s stepfather to fill up a cart with groceries that this Samaritan will pay for.  I see it.  I see Him. Maybe now, His omnipresence will begin to fill Dasani’s heart.  Maybe now, she will find Him.

#OneWord365: TRUST

by Obehi Janice

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Elise shared #OneWord365 with me just over a year ago in December 2012.

#OneWord365 asks you to choose one word in lieu of a tedious checklist of New Year’s Resolutions. They ask you to

1. pick a word

2. blog about it

3. and then join their community through Twitter, Facebook, and email and share life with others

For 2013, I chose the word MOVE because I wanted to travel independently and push through some hard-to-reach artistic goals. Here’s a general recap on how MOVE made an impact on my life.

I—

-moved to an awesome new (and affordable) apartment in Boston. My bedroom tripled in size and I lived with three new roommates who challenged my personality, brought me joy and laughter, and taught me how to thrive in the midst of adversity (can we say mice?)

-was invited to perform my solo play FUFU & OREOS in Chicago in February by MPAACT, a Black theater company. The trip was awesome (my first time in Chi-town) and I got to stay with my roommate’s parents for free (huge blessing!)

-took two road trips and attended some faith-based conferences

  • one to Philadelphia for the Justice Conference. I also made five new close friends from that trip. I also started developing my theology of justice with other believers (especially a lot of hippie Christians from Portland.)

  • one to Kansas City, Missouri with Elise. We attended the STAND CONFERENCE, a conference that focuses on what the Holy Spirit is saying about the prophetic destiny of the Black community. I experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence, God’s protection, and Christ’s guidance over my prayer life. I also got to hang out with my sister-in-Christ and blast Boyz II Men from Kansas City to Nashville to Atlanta.

-saved up money for a solo trip to Lagos, Nigeria in July where I hung out with my friend/filmmaker O.M. Ajayi and saw some of my family on my Mother’s side (all my family is in Nigeria)

-created and produced my first comedic rap video, BLACK GIRL YOGA

-started writing and submitting plays. They ended up in two festivals.

-founded COOLIKAN with Acasia and Elise!

-did something terrifying and started taking improv classes. I also perform long-form improv comedy in Cambridge

-traveled to the Berkshire Fringe Festival in August to perform FUFU & OREOS

-was accepted into a writers’ residency for female playwrights to develop FUFU & OREOS with a director and development team

-moved farther from home and lessened my visits to my mother. This has been the toughest transition but it’s made me and her stronger

-joined the prayer and intercession team at my church

-moved into new friendships and relationships

-moved out of friendships and relationships

-gained new understanding about my strained relationship with my Father (who I haven’t spoken to or seen in seven years)

-gained three new roommates who are like sisters to me

-moved into a new awareness about my lack of trust in God as my Father

moving forward…

My #OneWord365 for 2014 is TRUST. I’ve known it for awhile and when memory of my year of MOVE hit my heart I could hear God say, “You moved all right. Now I need you to trust me. Trust the transformative power of my Son’s death. Trust that the Holy Spirit is with you always. And trust that you are powerful to do all the things you think of. I am here for you even in the tiniest idea or thought. Trust me.”

I am also going to sign up for a gym membership. Just for the heck of it.

 

EmbRace Healing – All Aboard the Millennial Trains Project

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By Acasia Olson

A woman gets on a train to travel the country and spread the message of racial healing and reconciliation.  That woman is me and I would love your support to make my idea and project, EmbRace Healing, a reality! 

 I’m hoping to secure a seat on the March 2014 Millennial Trains Project so join me as I step up to keep from falling back ! #letushealandhelponeanother #HelpingUsGrowSpiritually – H.U.G.S.

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Addiction

by Elise Lockamy
 
Pornography has never been a stronghold in my life. Sugar, yes. Porn, no. I have been exposed to it, but I guess my fear of being caught overpowered the addictive prowess of the words and images.
 
I am finding that women, my sisters in Christ, have been and continue to be snared by porn and its derivatives.  (I expected it from men but my sisters too? Yes.)
I purchased a book recently.  It’s the predecessor and companion work of “Captivating”. It’s called “Wild at Heart” and features the keys to what lies underneath the sometimes distant and withdrawn features of every man. The author brings the reader back to the true and intimate core of a man, as God designed.  It’s not a self-help book. It’s a self reveal.
 
In it the author writes, “The less a guy feels like a real man in the presence of a real woman, the more vulnerable he is to porn.”
 
Whoop, there it is!
 
But Lord what about women? Why are we also ensnared?
 
I believe, the less a woman feels like a beauty, worthy of pursuit, in the presence of godliness,  the more susceptible she is to hiding in the shadows of counterfeit intimacy.
 
Counterfeit intimacy?  Pornography, an abusive relationship, an undefined relationship status.  Yes, counterfeit.
 
But there is one who calls us beautiful – no matter how much we weigh, what clothes we wear, how accomplished we are, our relationship statuses, or the amount of funds in our bank accounts. And he pursues, continuously.  He is relentless.
 
The recovery process begins with a prayer. Lord, I come humbly before you with a heart crying out for more.  I long to bear purity and righteousness as fixtures of my soul.  I have used pornography as a substitute for true intimacy. Forgive me.  I ask now that you begin a process of restoration in me.  Renew my mind. Show me beauty.  Show me beauty in me. Remind me of your tireless pursuit of me.  Reveal it through nature. Reveal it through your Word. I am ready to be revealed.  Thank you for being my rock,  my sword, and my shield.  Thank you for being the lover of my soul.  May we be joined together,  forever.  In Jesus’ mighty name,  Amen.
 
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My sisters, He is with you.  I stand with you in this fight for a reclaiming of your hearts and minds.  Let’s rejoice now,  knowing that the battle’s already been fought and won,  and that we have overcome.
_________________________
Originally posted on December 4, 2013 to Warrior Lessons.  Travel there for more inspiration on living whole and free.

CHURCH SCARS: Bronze Jesus and the Racist Old White Lady

by Obehi Janice

Do you have “church scars”?

COOLIKANS believe that church scars are soul-deep incisions caused by man that separate us from the love of Christ and the grace of His gospel.

What is the church?

Who is the church?

Has the church ever hurt you?

Jacinta needed to be baptized by Father John but everyone was late.  As usual, our costumed party of Nigerian immigrants, kids, and community stumbled into the 9:15am mass with fanfare ten minutes too late. I knew that Father John was upset because of how slowly he delivered the rites.  He had started on time.  He spoke slowly the first half of service to accommodate the latecomers but his Gregorian pipes were tired. He was ready to dip a little Black girl’s head in Holy water.

I fidgeted in the seventh row, wearing a shin length flowery dress [with puffy shoulders the shape of mushroom clouds and a lining of taffeta that made my ass itch.] My long, relaxed hair laid down my back and I tried to hide under it. I, the eldest daughter at a mere eleven years old understood SHAME. Shame ate at my Nigerian insides, knowing that African time was not an excuse for being late to the baptismal of your youngest child. But I could feel Father John’s exasperated sighs grow.

Sigh. These people are always late.

Sigh. These people are really late.

St. Jeanne D’arc Church had a beautiful Bronze Jesus on the Cross that towered over Father John’s white and red robes. I don’t know if it was made out of bronze. I don’t know what the Catholic church can afford. But it shone like bronze. Bronze Jesus cried for our lateness and I could see His frustration and hear His sighs from the cross.

Where was my Father?

[That was me asking, not Jesus.]

My earthly Father that is.

He was the latest of us all.

It was embarrassing. I knew it was him the minute he walked in. He was rushing, but bumbling, and angry. Angry at whom? Himself? You wouldn’t have known it was a self-loathing from the way he was searching the congregation out for a face to challenge him.

SHAME.

My Father didn’t like going to this church. I don’t think he was ever baptized or anything. Then again, I never asked. We never talked about his faith.

My Father sat down in the sixth pew in front of me. He didn’t have time to acknowledge me or my mother. SHAME plumped him down feet away from his youngest daughter and her religious saving.

“This BLACK man is sitting too close to me,” an old white woman tried to whisper to her friend but her pipes were clearly strong. The entire congregation witnessed the failure of a loving God embodied in this racist old white lady.

My Father immediately knew that he was the Black man she was referring to.

In an instant, he was transformed from a Nigerian immigrant into a BLACK MAN. A FEARED THING. And we, his three older children, and his wife became his reflection. Our native costumes with its colors and shapes faded into the wash of Catholic mosaic. We were singled out for being foreign, even though we belong here just like anyone else belonged here, you know? We lived in a townhouse that my Father bought a couple of feet from the church. We were community folk technically with our red townhouse and five minute walk to church but in this moment this waning old white woman with her trembling hands didn’t want us here.

“This BLACK man is sitting too close to me.”

Bronze Jesus just wanted to observe Baby Jacinta’s baptism but the devil simply wasn’t having it. My Father didn’t take the remark lightly. He matched her fear with his fear and retaliated with his verbal strength: “I am here for my daughter. You can’t tell me where to sit or not sit. Do you know why I’m here? I will sit wherever I want!”

Silence was a friend for a good five seconds. Until Father John broke the space with the reality of why we were all here:

“Victor, can you join Rosemary and the Godparents for the baptism ceremony?”

My Father left his pew, neither defeated or victorious. Just bare. Bare naked walking to the altar. And Bronze Jesus wept for our shame.

And so began my utter dislike of the Catholic Church.

Weight Weight…Don’t tell me

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At the summit of a hike in the great PNW.

by Acasia Olson

“If you see 20 pounds on the floor, you should pick it up,” he says in jest.

We all laugh a little, though I cringe inside.

“That’s all you’re eating?  You should eat more?” she tells me, after looking at my food.

“You sound like my mom,” I reply.

“You need some more junk in your trunk as they say,” he comments.

“You need to back away from that fine line of violation since you have no right or reason to comment on my body, my weight, or as some folks attempt to argue, lack thereof,” I want to say.

I have been tall and slim all my life.

I didn’t have an issue with my body image until adolescence, when I noticed a lot of my friends and peers filling out and all I could show for it were two plums for breasts and a rump no fuller than a stack of 3 pancakes.  I would wonder when my time would come and why my clothes always seemed to fit me the way a plastic bag fits an ear of corn.  The insecurity fluctuated.  I wanted to be a fashion model at a young age, and thanked the Creator for a body that the fashion industry appreciated.  Yet, while my body type was praised on the catwalk and in the magazines, I couldn’t help but wonder if my figure made me unattractive to the guys I liked growing up.

Weight weight…don’t tell me.

“If I had larger breast, thicker thighs, hips and a derriere maybe he would look at me,” I thought.  But then I would think about the stress and frustration of having boys touch my butt or boobs and think, “I don’t want all of that,  I just want to fill a bra cup at some point in my young life.”

I received reassurance from family members who told me that my body was natural and that I wasn’t the only one in my family that served as president of the ‘itty bitty titty committee’.  My maternal grandmother remained slim and trim after delivering three children and two of my aunts on both sides of my family were thin. But (weight weight…don’t tell me) then I would look at my shorter younger sister, who has an ‘envious’ figure and would wonder how I ended up being a “stick house” and not a “brick house” like her or my mom.  My body type was celebrated by the majority of society, where women went on diets and sadly starved themselves to get to my size. I observed this to be true among white women and girls who were typically featured in ads, 20/20 reports and Lifetime movies about anorexia.  I later learned that women of color also struggled with anorexia, bulimia, diet pill addictions and ODing at the gym.  At 5’9 most women admitted to me that they would “kill” for my tall athletic build and ability to eat anything I want while maintaining my weight (which I choose not to disclose), but (weight weight…don’t tell me) in some settings I wasn’t thick enough to make the ‘cut.’ Among my black and brown peers, I was a phenotypic misfit and lacked the assets that the community seemed to praise.  Even though I loved India.Arie’s song “Video” and I connected with most of the lyrics…the line about not being “Plain built like a supermodel” made me cringe once again, for I was built like that supermodel she talked about and not like a coke bottle.  I eventually went to college, where I met other black women who came in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of whom could feel my pain.  And once again, I regained another ounce of self-confidence and reaffirmed that my black (body) is beautiful.

If I were overweight or obese, I believe that most of my colleagues and family would refrain from making weight jokes or comments on my weight directly to me ( I said most, not all).  They wouldn’t look at me and say, “Oh Acasia! Girl you look like you gained weight.  Are you obese?!”  That’s not acceptable.  So why do people think it’s fine to tell a thin person that they need to “eat” or that we don’t have enough “junk in the trunk” or that we’re “skin and bones”? I often question the motives behind said silly comments.  I’m pretty sure most people are well aware of their weight, body type and size, whether large or small.  People forget that the thin and heavier populations wake up and go to sleep in the same body and we see ourselves every day before the rest of the world does.  The reminders and announcements are unnecessary.  People also assume that we’re looking for social commentary and opinions on our bodies.  While everyone is entitled to their opinions and shouldn’t have their observations censored, I would like to think that those of us who fall outside the ‘average’ BMI range don’t need to be reminded that we are ‘outliers’ in the weight department.  I’ve tried to gain weight, in a healthy fashion, and though I can eat a lot of food without gaining so much as a pound I will not allow myself to become guilty about my weight. This is the way I am.   In no way am I trying to overshadow or belittle the reality of heavier men and women who struggle with the discomfort and widespread social stigmas associated with weight discrimination.

I just need people to think before they speak.

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Recovering from my first 1/2 marathon. Enjoying life in the wonderful PNW!

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