Many Sources of Inspiration

Today’s post comes from our regular contributor David Etim, who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria. He shares with us the many ways he finds inspiration on his spiritual journey. His wisdom comes from a deeply Christian perspective, and also holds value for us all. It is also a beautiful transition from our theme of inspiration to next month’s theme of blessings.

Wisdom, Interfaith, Candles

Progress gives inspiration. And inspiration? That is what allows me to make my way towards greatness.

I have found inspiration in looking at what Gloria Copeland says,

Even if it seems costly at the time, always do what God puts in your heart to  do. Your whole future may depend on it.

I found inspiration too in what is written in the Bible. Hebrews 10:35 says,

Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it a great reward.

And in my own life’s progress I have found inspiration. On my birthday last month, I was given a number of gifts including  an additional job and  a self-contain apartment in a parsonage. These were great progress in my life and gifts from God.
God has used this providential turn of events to teach me to know God better, to become more obedient to God and to give me inspiration combined with steadfast persistence.

Finally, I find inspiration in the people God has sent to my life. God will always bring the right people, at the right time into my life, and their steady love for God and humanity are a constant inspiration to me.But there is more. Contact without inspiration is a waste and inspiration without improvement is a great waste as well. Take for instance, ever since I came in contact with Searching Sophia’s Pockets, there have been a tremendous improvement on my writing skills. This work inspires me too.

Inspiration is the key to aspiration. Inspiration averts expiration. Inspiration comes little by little developing my capacity and moving me to the next level.  I enjoy this supernatural ride of divine inspiration, which enables me support my projects with the spirit.

Please celebrate the many sources of inspiration with me, and celebrate their source.
God is awesome! God is wonderful! God is All-Inspiring!

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Desire for a Radical Chrisitanty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

It is important to note that for the purposes of this article, the word “radical” is used in the sense of desire for drastic social, political, economic and cultural reform. It is also important to note the privilege that I, as a white christian writer, have in using that word. I encourage everyone to consider their own personal reaction to this article and its title if we had substituted Islam for Christianity. 

So let’s get this out of the way… I am a radical, anti-racist, sex-positive queer feminist. Oh and one more thing, I am a Christian.

As such I believe in the unconditional love of God, and in living a life dedicated to  the service of others. I believe in the power of prayer, and the power of the Bible.

I also believe we live in a racist society that privileges white skin over lack and brown skin. I believe that, as  Dossie Easton put it, “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you”.I am pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-gender neutral bathrooms.  I know that many people, indeed even some people reading this very article may think, may believe that my beliefs are incompatible with Christianity. Some may even think that my desires, my beliefs, cause me to be separated, or distanced, from the love of God.

I however, believe the opposite. There is a passage from the Bible that is often cited by my friends over at Faith Aloud, at times when people see their work, or a woman’s reproductive choices, as keeping them from God.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love –Romans 9:38-39 The Message Bible

I can turn to God’s love and know that I cannot be parted from the love of God, no matter what anyone else says. My beliefs, my desires, my thoughts, and even the opinions of other Christians, cannot separate me from my God.

Yet, for me I want more than to be able to claim that my beliefs aren’t separating me from God. I need, I yearn for, and I call for a view of Christianity that embraces these beliefs. In fact, I demand a Christianity that reflects the radical politics of that totally radical guy, Jesus, whose message was one of radical love, radical action, and radical welcome.

Riffing on Flavia Dzodan’s awesome article on intersectional feminism, I  would say that my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. Let me say that again, my Christianity will be radical or it will be bullshit. I don’t think this means everyone’s Christianity needs to be as radical as mine, but I do desire to have a place in the world of Christianity. I need a powerful Christianity that challanges me to be a better adovocate for justice in this world, but I also know that my desires aren’t everyone’s desires. 

I desire worship services that reflect my beliefs, I desire churches that seek out and support marginalized people, I desire sermons that discuss how difficult and revolutionary love can be. But mostly, I desire a racial Christianity that worships this Jesus:o-JESUS-570

Yet, I am well aware that many people have no desire for the view of Christianity I am talking about here, and I think that is okay.  I am also called by the Bible to honor the fact that no one’s belief’s can keep them from being loved by God, and that I am called to love people whose views are different than mine. Indeed, love for each other, and everyone else is what defies us as Christians, or as the writer of John puts it:

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.–John 13:35

We are all human, our desires are infinite, but we all deserve a place at the table, a chance to voice our desires without judgment, and above all, we all receive, whether we deserve it or not, the unconditional love of God.

The Back and Forth of Starting Over

By: Autumn Elizabeth

By some ways of looking at my life, I have spent the majority of the last few years starting over. Starting to reclaim a new spiritual path after my church refused to marry me and my partner, starting over with a new life in Europe after that unsanctioned marriage ended. But the truth is, I am not sure starting over is even possible.

Starting over spiritually has not meant giving up my lifetime of faith and starting fresh. On the contrary, starting over has led me both forward and backwards. I have rediscovered some of the beauty and radical justice buried in my Catholic heritage, and I have found deep wells of solace and a place to pray in my yoga practice. I have also kept a deep admiration for my church as they struggle to more radically embody the love of Jesus and move to embrace all types of love.

I think starting over is always about moving both backwards and forwards simultaneously. No matter how much someone hurts us, no matter how broken our hearts, none of us really forget, we keep tiny pieces of all the people we love in our hearts forever. For me, in times of heartache, starting over often looks a lot like going back to the people who knew me before my heartache, and it also often involves finding new relationships of love and support. So it seems, for me at least, that starting over is more a process of growing in wisdom and love than a process of erasing our past.

For me starting over has been a process of going back and moving forward. I am blessed to have found solace in both places. 2015 stands to be a big year for me in both directions. Looking to the future I will graduate from my master’s program, and I will celebrate entering a new decade of wisdom. Looking back, this site will turn two and my oldest friendship with turn 21. To me, this is what starting over looks like—it is the growing of new branches while my roots grow deeper too. This January, may your new year be rooted in all the blessing of your past, and all the possibilities of the future. Here’s to staring over, and to keeping all the wisdom we’ve already gained.

Introducing The Interns

Yesterday, we announced the addition of two amazing interns to the Searching Sophia’s Pockets team. Now it’s your chance to meet them for yourself. Their names will be popping up on posts through out their time as our interns and they will also be helping out with all the behind the scenes stuff that keeps this site so full of wisdom and love. They each have their own distinct styles, and interests, they come from different backgrounds and speak different mother tongues and yet their journeys share interesting points of overlap that we can’t wait to explore this year. So without further fuss, it is our pleasure to introduce…

Our Writing Intern

Our Writing Intern

Nermine Mohamed

Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”. Nermine currently studies in the southern part of Germany and here is what she has to say about herself:

I am a person who believes in possibilities, in alternative realities, in the so many different sides of the coin. I believe in contradictions and that logic is a myth. I love literature and I believe in the power of words, which can give hope to the hopeless, and power to the powerless. I like to think of myself as a spiritual and a religious person, although I have my moments of doubt and I do not always live up to my beliefs. But faith is always what keeps me going; it is what I hold on to amid all the injustice, all the hate, anger and violence in this world. It is this faith that keeps me going every day; the faith in a just, loving, caring, all giving, and all forgiving God. So, I still believe that there is order in all this chaos, and that there is still love and kindness. I totally believe that there is a bit of God’s light inside everyone and that one should always try to find it, in others and in one’s self.

Will O’Brien

Our Social Media Intern

Our Social Media Intern

Will is Christian, and member of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) denomination, although he says his favorite place to worship is Castlewood State Park near his hometown of  Manchester, MO. He will be spending the next several months studying in Morocco and here is what he has to say about himself:

When people ask me about my long-term plans or what I want to do for a living, I lie. I often deflect the question with a quick witted comment about humanities majors being baristas – a position I have held in multiple coffee shops – and tell them I plan to go to graduate school. These things are not inherently false; they do not however paint the full picture. I want to write the great American novel, own a craft brewery, refinish classic roadsters, set foot on every continent, teach, ride a unicycle, cook incredible food, taste better food, and make people smile. These are certainly not categories that I have found as college majors, don’t even get me started on graduate school. These goals cannot be summarized in an elevator speech, on a resume, or in a 500-word statement of purpose – but they encompass a passion for experiencing and influencing the world that is present in all aspects of my life.

Rituals and Racism

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As an expat, I am constantly creating new rituals. New ways to celebrate, to morn, to live in new places.  have become pretty good at re-creating rituals, yet confronted with the recent epidemic of violence, I am struggling to find rituals that sufficiently encompass my beliefs. I try to live my life in the model of the anti-racist, anti-sexist, radical lover I know as Jesus. In these weeks that have led up to the celebration of this radical leader’s birth, and in light of recent events across the USA, I have been forced to look at the rituals I use to acknowledge this birth and question whether these rituals resonate with the Jesus I know, and the world I live in.

For me, this year, I have felt the call to prepare for the birth of Jesus with new rituals. Ones where I chant with hands raised, ones where I lay on the cold ground and contemplate the lives taken unfairly, and the unfair privilege my skin color endows upon me. My church this year hasn’t been filled with pink and purple candles and biblical scriptures, but with red and black painted signs, ad the words of other radical spiritual leaders working for peace and love like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet tonight I will go to a traditional church service, with rituals that will not reflect the anti-racist message of my advent. I will do this because for all my thinking, and for all my experience with re-creating rituals, I have not adequately been able to re-create a Christmas Eve mass or the christian church that encompasses my anti-racist beliefs. This failure of mine and of the christian community in which I currently live, saddens me. I have seen some of my Jewish friends celebrate Chanukkah in beautiful ways that honor radical anti-racist movements. I am honored to see the ways they have honored the voices of people of color in the rituals of their faith.  I hope to learn from them. I hope to find a way to encompass my grief at the world’s current state into religious rituals of joy and hope. I hope to find a way to listen to the voices of the oppressed as we together celebrate the birth of Jesus.

How does an anti-racist church make new rituals in times like these? How would my radical savior want me to honor his birth today? I am not sure, but I know the answer requires more of us all than simply lighting a candle. If we are to honor the birth of Jesus who died with love on his lips, we have to live in that radical love always. We have to face the bruised, murdered, tear-gassed world, and bear the pain we have brought, we must listen to those we have silenced for so long.

Changing Together

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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I am the change. You are the change too. This point was proven yesterday the the People’s Climate March, which took place all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people came together, ignored their differences, and marched to make change.

In Paris, where I was marching, the vegans weren’t throwing things at the people wearing leather shoes. Greenpeace wasn’t jostling with the World Wildlife Foundation for the best space. Christian groups weren’t bashing the Atheists.  Everyone coexisted to create change.

This coexistence for change is at the core of my faith and my life. I believe that to create a better world, to create the kin-dom of God here on this earth, in this time, we have to work together. I am not suggesting that my belief is to ignore difference, but rather that I believe we must embrace it and work together anyway.

Being the change also means supporting justice for everyone. Reproductive justice organizations like Planned Parenthood attended the People’s Climate March yesterday, because environmental justice affects reproductive justice. In the same way, men must work to end patriarchy, and white people must work to end racism. If we want change, we have to support each other.

I don’t think I would be a very good representative of Jesus, if I only wanted to help Christians nor would I be a very just feminist if I wanted to oppress men. To make change, we all have to be open. We have to be willing to embrace differences, to help one another, and to unite for global justice.

I am the change, you are the change, and together we can make change happen!

 

Movers and Shakers

By: Jenni Taylor

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
-Arthur O’Shaughnessy

I move. I shake. I dream. I forsake. I take trains and take chances, I make mistakes. I’ve lived in small rooms and big rooms, rooms with toads and stray cats, rooms with candles and comfort. I’ve been skinny Buddha and fat Buddha, the equivalent of Paul being content in all things, all places, at all times.

I only agree with Paul to a point. Contentment is oil for squeaky wheels, and I like being squeaky. Discontent- discontent is gas for the engine. It’s energy. Fire. Passion. Movement. Be content being uncomfortable. Be content wandering lone sea breakers and sitting by desolate streams.

But don’t be content with the way the world is. Move it, shake it, dream it into a new reality. How can we lose the world, forsake the world, be in the world but not of it? I suggest the very difficult task of uncurling your fingers around whatever you want the most. Let go, be free. Choose loneliness, because only in the quiet can your heart begin to grow, expand, move within your chest and burn with new fire.

Choose silence first, then as your heart begins to mold to a new form, go. Move. Dance. Put yourself in the world and smile like it’s the last day of your life. Give. Look into the eyes of everyone on the street and see their needs, bright and open and wounded. Sometimes, by choosing loneliness for yourself, you can eradicate it for others.

Everyone is a bit lonely, but that does not make them world changers. Set yourself apart, embrace your discontent, dance to your own beautiful music. Then see the world move, shake and crumble into loveliness.

It’s Your Church Too

10304700_10100837314741541_5443715570065754002_nToday’s post is from Patrick Cousins, who works as a campus minister at Saint Louis University. Patrick grew up outside of New Orleans and spent fifteen years in a Catholic religious order, teaching in high schools in Zimbabwe, Louisiana, and Arizona before moving to St. Louis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His post is a beautiful reflection on what LGBTQ people of faith can face and really relates to Autumn’s post about her own experiences with the church as an LGBTQ person. His post is filled with insight, wisdom and hope for LGBTQ people, and really all people of faith.

I have worked as a campus minister at Saint Louis University (a Jesuit university in St. Louis, MO) for a long time, and over the years I have worked with a number of students who have been in the midst of the coming out process. For many of them, religion has been a source of pain, shame, and confusion: churches claim to speak on behalf of God, and therefore too easily claim absolute and unchanging certitude for themselves. But religious communities and traditions can still be places of affirmation and growth. There is still plenty of misunderstanding out there, but more and more, members of religious communities are coming to understand that using appeals to tradition or church history or doctrine to deny other people the ability to form communities and relationships does not further people’s well-being.

For too long, members of  LGBTQ communities have been faced with terrible options when it came to dealing with their religious lives. These terrible options include:

  1.  Hide in plain sight. Religious communities that impose a culture of silence, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation, tell LGBTQ people that they can only be loved and welcomed if they wear a mask or simply don’t share their personal lives in community. That is no way to form healthy relationships or build trust.
  2. Deny your own experiences and self-understandings. As the Jesuit priest Tony DeMello says, “When reality comes in contact with a rigidly held belief, reality is usually the loser.” That is, when someone else gets to tell you what is true about you, your experience can easily be dismissed or chopped up to fit their beliefs.
  3. Leave. For too many people coming out means losing their spiritual homes, the rituals and traditions that have been so formative in their lives, and even feeling that God has told them they have no place in the community.

So, what would I like you to know about religious life as a member of  LGBTQ communities?

 

  1. There are a lot of straight allies out there, even in faith traditions that do not support LGBTQ equality. A lot of people are struggling with how to stand with their LGBTQ friends. For some of them, that means leaving their religious communities, but for more of them, that means offering a voice of encouragement and welcome. We don’t always do that like we should – we put a foot in our mouths, we don’t understand your experience, our cowardice overcomes our love and we don’t stand with you like we want to – but we want to make our religious communities and our society a place that makes real the love we talk about on Sundays.
  2. The God I believe in does not want you to lie. Having to pretend to be something you are not is no way to wholeness or well-being. If God knows you in your deepest self, then trying to deny who you are is like hoping God won’t know who you really are, and that seems a little silly to me. Trying to lie to yourself about who you are does not seem like an expression of loving kindess for yourself, either. Knowing and acknowledging yourself in your greatness and smallness and beauty and silliness is part and parcel of allowing yourself to know that God knows and loves you that way too.
  3. It’s your church too. Often enough I hear people say something about how if you are a Catholic and you support same-sex relationships, then you aren’t really Catholic (or whatever other denomination). It can feel like “the church” is really the leadership – the Pope, the pastors, the officials, but your voice and your experience matter too. I don’t fault anyone who no longer feels at home in the tradition they grew up in, and for those who stay, it can still be a challenge, but I know a lot of people who have simply refused to allow someone else to dictate to them whether they are “good enough” or not.
  4. The risk is worth it. I can’t tell you that your religious community won’t let you down. Mine lets me down all the time. But the alternative is worse: presuming that religion can only let you down, that religious people can’t change or will only act on their worst impulses, is a lonely way to go.

I could run through all the Bible verses that get used on either side of the aisle, but you probably know them better than I do. I can tell you about church teachings that have changed, advances that this or that denomination has made in its affirmation of the dignity of LGBTQ people and their relationships, but you already know what is going on; progress is happening, sometimes slowly, but there is still a long way to go for a lot of religions.

Instead, I encourage you to do something that is at the heart of the Jesuit tradition, the driving force behind SLU’s mission: reflect on how you see God active in your life. If God is active in our world, then surely God is active in your daily life, not just in headline-worthy news stories and political decisions, but in how you care for your friends, how you go about your job or your studies, and how you share your gifts with people. Think for a few minutes about how you have seen healing, reconciliation, mindfulness, and encouragement in your daily life. Think about the communities that have fostered that kind of well-being. If you can find a community that energizes you, keeps you engaged in being thoughtful and generous, and helps you to see the activity of God in your daily life, that’s a community worth hanging on to.

All are Welcome

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This is a story that is quite personal.  It involves my home church, and our struggle together to witness the equality God has shown us. This is not a story with a happy ending, or a story that is meant to chastised. This is the story about how I asked my church to marry me, and how this request was denied.  This is a story about what it means to ask for radical welcome.

When I joined the Disciples of Christ Christian church, I left behind a church where, as a woman, I was seen as unequal, and where I couldn’t embrace me whole self. Living now, far away from the home church that denied me the nothing except the one thing I asked for aloud I have come to face the heart breaking reality that although I still firmly believe in a Jesus who would have fought the police at Stonewall and a God that suffered along side Matthew Shepard, my faith in humanity finds itself on softer ground.

I several years ago, I asked this welcoming church to bless the marriage of my same-sex partner and I. There was hesitation. There was discussion, there was love, there was support, and then there was an answer. That answer was “no”.  The church continued to journey towards a place where that answer might someday be “yes” for someone else. But the truth remains, before I came along, no one stood for me. Before I asked these questions no one asked. Before I argued, no one made a peep. I do not mean to imply that I was alone among my fellow chruch-goers in my sexuality, far from it in fact. But the de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of many christian churches, where LGBTQ people are not shamed, but not welcomed, meant that I had to be the one to ask, and I had to be denied.

My favorite Disciples of Christ quote is etched on the side of my home church. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Indeed this is the quote most often shown to me as a claim that I must not force any church to be open and affirming of LGBTQ people. Yet, when one looks closely at this argument, it becomes clear that despite the importance of “all are welcome”, welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identity is actually not essential. Thus, I use this quote to disagree, to advocate that welcoming everyone means equality is essential in the eyes of God.

As long as the single most important essential of disciples doctrine remains “all are welcome”, then in fact, there can be no questioning, no doubt. In all things we must offer charity, we must always have our hearts, our hearths and our doors open. What I offer you, I cannot deny to the person who asks me next. Acceptance of all people, blessing of all unions, welcoming of even our enmities is an essential tenant of Christianity, or at least it is an essential tenant of any Christianity I want to believe in. As people who beleive in the radical love of God, the impossible expanse of God’s welcomeness, we must let everyone participate equally. This radical equality means we must love and accept all who enter our churches’ doors, and it means LGBTQ people must be allows to participate in every ritual of the church. It also means that as LGBTQ people, we cannot deny ourselves access to being full members of our faith groups, nor can we deny ourselves the freedom to be open and honest with our fellow church members about who we are.  Finally, the radical love of God insists on all of us, that we not wait for someone else to ask for justice, whether we are part of LGBTQ communities or not, we all must demand that our faith communities act with justice, act with love, act with radical welcome.

My faith in human nature now rest, as it often does, on the next generation, and in the fact that, despite the outcome of my personal request I have done my part. I have ensure that when the next generation stands, they will not do so alone.  They will be able to look back on this moment, when I asked, you denied me..will you deny them too? They will know that someone, hopefully many someones, have stood up for the radical love that Jesus preached, and asked again and again until their voices were heard, “When will you truly welcome me to the table?”

Defining Strong Faith

Today’s guest post comes from David Etim who is writing from Lagos, Nigeria.   David, who wrote in February about Love and Childcare, retired as a career banker in 1998 to strengthen his commitments to God. Today, he shares his journey of finding strength of faith through the Bible and God. Even when we come at spirituality or faith from different paths, there is still wisdom to be gained from  the love David has for his faith and the strength he and others find there. 

“What is faith? It is the confidence assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

Faith is something I cannot do without. My faith determines what happens to me, and without faith, life seems pointless. My faith may sometimes seem small but it is strong.

” …Abraham never doubted. He believed God, for his faith and trust grew ever stronger, and he praised God for his blessing even before it happens” (Romans 4:20 TLB).

I think that true faith results in actions. Faith without action is mere theory. Strong faith trusts in God for the results. When I walk daily by faith, I  hope to please God.

In a branch of my bank where I was working in 1995, we were unable to meet the profit target set for the branch. The bank management’s decision was to demote the branch at the end of the financial year, if we could not meet the management’s expectations.

In the light of scriptures I had faith that God would help me. ” If you will only let me help you, if you will only obey, then I will make you rich.” ( Isaiah 1: 19 TLB).

I sought the Lord in prayer, asking: “Lord you promised me that Your Presence shall go before me, and that I shall see prosperity”.  The Lord told me, “Preach My Word on Prosperity”.
During fellowship hour in the morning, because I was the branch’s Christian fellowship assistant coordinator, I told them what the Lord said. To God be the glory, the branch was not demoted, rather, there were mass promotions.

I have also witnessed strong faith in others.  Recently, a young lady offered her January pay to local children’s home. I asked her what the reason behind her decision was.  She told me that she loves children, and that, children are the heritage of the Lord, citing, Psalm 127.  Secondly, she told me she is expecting something from the Lord. I quoted Matthew 9:29 and told her: “…Because of your faith it will happen”.

I believe strong faith is simply obedience in love. Strong faith has to do with sensing the direction you are moving in and knowing that something good is in the making.