Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maya Angelou: A Trophy of God’s Grace

I dared to do anything that was a good thing.
I dared to do things as distant from what seemed to be in my future.

If God loves me,
if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees,
then what is it I can't do?

These are the words of celebrated civil rights leader, writer, playwright, poet, and teacher Dr. Maya Angelou in a 2013 interview with The Times-Picayune.  Many of us have respected Dr. Angelou for her grace, beauty, reverence, and wise, articulate manner.  My favorite encounter with this lovely woman was in the Tyler Perry movie, Madea’s Family Reunion.  Perhaps you remember Ms. Angelou from her role in the 1977 TV Mini-Series, Roots.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014 according to her only child, Guy B. Johnson who released a statement confirming her death and honoring her life:

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Dr. Angelou's illustrious career testifies that it is possible to endure seemingly tragic experiences as a child and yet rise above them by the grace and power of the One True God.  According to Brownie Marie, writing in Christianity Today,  Ms. Angelou was born Marguerite Anne Johnson on April 4, 1928.   She and her brother were shipped between Missouri and Arkansas throughout their youth, and she was raped at the age of eight. The assault was life-changing, and it was in the dark years that followed that Dr. Angelou discovered her love of literature.

Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson in the Mini-Series, Roots
Today, when it seems that Americans are becoming increasingly divided over race, gender, socioeconomic status, and a host of other factors, we must remember that many Americans distain the politics of division and patronization being spewed by those seeking votes, power, and position. Although their disadvantaged beginnings are undeniable, many members of ethnic minorities like Maya Angelou have become overcomers.  Instead of surrendering to adversity and its frequent companions, fear, hate, cynicism, and blame, Maya found peace, restoration, and courage through the love and redemption of God. 

Again, according to Brownie Marie, Dr. Angelou authored several autobiographies including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  She rose to positions of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, and had close friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Nelson Mandela.” 

How is it possible for a little black girl without the benefit of a stable home and family, neglected and abused, to rise above great adversity?  Today, there all too many children facing similar circumstances and many will not be overcomers.  But, for Maya Angelou, victory over adversity came as she surrendered to a loving God Who rescued her and restored her dignity.  In the 2013 interview cited above, Dr. Angelou says it was God Who “allowed her to achieve such incredible feats.”

"I found that I knew not only that there was God
but that I was a child of God,
when I understood that,
when I comprehended that,
more than that,
when I internalized that,
ingested that,
I became courageous."

Maya Angelou has encouraged many a downcast soul to look up in faith to a God Who has overcome this world of division and despair.  And God does lead those who surrender to Him in a “victory parade” in triumph in Christ, and manifests through [them] the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2: 14).   May God help us to be mindful of the downcast and needy all around us each day. 

Perhaps as a reader, you are struggling with adversity and are discouraged or in despair.  Don’t bear it alone, but reach out to God through a local Bible-teaching church in your area.  Or go to one of many online resources that explain how to become a child of God by faith such as this link provided by the Billy Graham Association.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life (John 3: 16; Romans 5:8).

If you are a child of God through faith (John 1: 12), the teaching of the Apostle Paul can be a challenge to you and to me to be Christ’s ambassadors to a needy world.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  May God help the tribe of Maya Angelou to increase; and, may God help members of the body of Christ to be “ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 18).

Related Oikonomia article on overcoming adversity:  Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Stewards of Love and Compassion

Perhaps like you, I was surprised to learn of the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner as a trans-woman from the person we had known as Bruce Jenner, the decathlon winner in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.  The bold display of Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair has challenged millions to think about men and women who experience a confused or transgender identity.  How should Christians respond to trans-women and trans-men?  How will we respond to transgendered persons who profess Christianity?

Bruce Jenner          Caitlyn Jenner
As a Christian, I have more questions than answers.  I am trying to refrain from forming an opinion of Caitlyn until I have read and studied more.  Therefore, I will not write much more on the subject at this time.  Instead, I will refer you to an article that has been very helpful to me—one I selfishly wish I could have written.

In his blog, Kingdom in the Midst, Marty Duren expresses godly wisdom that suggests he has been spending time with Jesus in the Word of God.  In “For God So Loved Caitlyn Jenner” Duren doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.  But, he points me in the right direction.  Looking in that direction, I can see Jesus looking with His holy, all-seeing eyes upon the multitudes, seeing every possible physical and spiritual condition—all of the “weights and besetting sin” (Hebrews 12: 1) that plague us, in 2015.  According to the Gospel of Mark, When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things (Mark 6: 34).

What did Jesus teach them?   I would like to have listened. Yet, I am thankful for the Gospel accounts that reveal His great heart of compassion toward sinners that He came to rescue.  Indeed, it was Jesus’ compassion from the outset (indeed, from Eternity past) that enabled Him to see the people as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Consistent with a biblical view of Christ, Marty Duren challenges me to exercise compassion toward my neighbor who struggles with gender identity or identity in so many other ways in a society in which boundaries have fallen and truth is relative.  But seeing my neighbors as sheep needing a shepherd is only the beginning.  What if they understand my compassionate approach as judgmental and condescending?  My only hope is to see myself in the mirror of God's Word which reveals my shortcomings.  There, I can realize the infinite gulf across which God reached to rescue me.  Then, in humility, perhaps I can embrace others who are no less in need of God’s salvation and grace than I?

If you choose not to read “For God So Loved Caitlyn Jenner,” consider at least reading Duren’s conclusion:

We have no option but to love those so affected, so afflicted and so decided. There are among the gender confused and the gender reassigned future children of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever it is Caitlyn Jenner seeks, no amount of surgery, hormones or editing of a Wikipedia page will bring it.  Joy comes from the One who made us to find joy in Himself.  For God so loved Caitlyn Jenner. And you.  And me.