The  Faith Costume

The Faith Costume

As a Communications professor, I love teaching the persuasive speaking unit during an election year. The media is rich with examples of persuasive appeals to voters’ emotions (pathos), reasoning (logos), and character (ethos).  Emotional appeals tend to yield quicker results than appeals to logic: it is easier to make someone laugh or cry than it is to make them think. Character is developed through experience over time and takes a long time to change. It is a function of how we have solved problems in the past, the vehicle we use to solve problems in the present, and a strong indicator of how we will solve problems in the future. Modern political campaigns focus on evoking an emotional response from the voter by fostering negative perceptions of the opposing candidate’s character.

One of the most commonly used emotional appeals is the appeal to fear. The basic premise of the fear appeal is that the choices we make can prevent something bad from happening. It gives the listener a sense of power and control over their destiny. The success of the insurance industry, the National Rifle Association (NRA), home security companies and many other industries and entities depends on their customers and constituents responding emotionally and acting out of their fears. Having been a church-going, Bible believing Christian for all of my life, I have also seen the fear appeal given from the pulpit by (mostly) well-meaning religious leaders. There is plenty of overt discussion about the fear of God, but there are also covert conversations about fear disguised as faith, wisdom or discernment.

christianpumpkinsIn many Christian churches, Fear puts on a Faith costume for Halloween. The origin of Halloween is a pagan festival celebrating the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter. Superstition held that the dead walked among the living from October 31-November 2 and would play cruel tricks on those who did not give them proper treats. Other traditions, such as wearing a costume or carving a face in a gourd, were developed to ward off or trick the evil spirits.

Halloween is considered by many Christians to be a holiday that makes the young (physically or spiritually immature) more susceptible to possession by demonic spirits. With this reasoning, some devout believers argue vehemently against any recognition of the day—no costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkins, skeletons, etc. Others host alternative celebrations, like a Holy-ween Party or Harvest Festival, which typically occur on or around Halloween. The logic here is that choosing not to celebrate Halloween in the traditional way is a demonstration of faith and Christian character, as well as a means of protection from demonic influences.

Fear in a Faith costume creates a false sense of security and an illusion of control. While we should be concerned about spiritual matters, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that avoiding Halloween is relevant to protecting our children’s souls. Wearing a costume and going trick-or-treating is at the bottom of the list of potential soul snatchers when there are daily accounts of children being abused and mistreated by family, friends, teachers, coaches, and clergymen (not to mention random strangers).  Does the same prayer we pray over our children the other 364 days not work on Halloween?

God looks at our intentions: it is the underlying intention that defines the true meaning behind any word or deed. Millions of non-Christians celebrate Christmas each year, and don’t acknowledge the birth of Jesus in any way (some Christians celebrate the same way). If you don’t recognize the birth of Jesus, then you are not commemorating the birth of Jesus when you celebrate Christmas. By the same token, if you don’t recognize the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, and you aren’t trying to appease or avoid the walking dead on October 31, then that is not the reason you’re celebrating Halloween. The intention is to spend time together making memories with family and friends.

As Christians, we tend to put our God in a box and our faith in our fears. Yes, there are Fear-Notdark, spiritual forces that influence this world, but the Bible clearly tells us over and over again “Fear not” and “Do not be afraid.” It also tells us that there will be trials and tribulations in this world—no matter what you do or don’t do, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. This doesn’t give us permission to live recklessly, but it does give us permission to live fearlessly. What do we really believe about God, if we think our soul’s future depends on whether or not, how or if, we celebrate Halloween? Moreover, what is our relationship with God if it is primarily dictated by adherence to religious rules and rituals?

As for my house, we will serve the Lord…and go trick-or-treating. Have a safe and blessed Halloween!

What about you and your family? Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, how? If not, why not? Please share your story in the comments, and be sure to Like, Share, and Subscribe to see future posts.

Lean (Back) In

Lean (Back) In

 

“Now that I’ve done the work to put the boundaries in place to guard my heart, my task is to make sure that I allow love to flow from my heart to my husband.”

Now a Republican Presidential nominee hopeful, Ben Carson made medical history in 1987 as the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins. According to Wikipedia, the twins were conjoined at the back of the head, and Dr. Carson led a 70-member team through 22 hours of surgery to successfully separate them. While I may disagree with his political views, I am in awe of the skill, training, and experience Dr. Carson must have had to be able to accomplish this feat. To even take on such a project is an act of courage, and not all doctors are cut out for the task.

(NOTE to my students: As you know, I do not allow the use of Wikipedia as a primary source, but this is a blog post, not a research paper or persuasive speech so it’s okay this time. You STILL cannot use Wikipedia as a source in my class. :-))

The awe I feel when considering Dr. Carson’s accomplishment is the same awe I feel when I see a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage. I wonder what they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned and what kind of tenacity, resilience, and just plain stubbornness it must have taken for them to get to this point. To take on such a project is an act of courage, and not all couples are cut out for the task. The decision to marry is not one to be taken lightly, as the consequences of mistakes can be fatal—not just for the marriage, but also for the spirits of the individuals involved.
two-become-oneSimilar to separating conjoined twins, the joining of two spiritual beings in a marriage is a complicated process, requiring arduous, perpetual, mandatory, and often involuntary, training. The curriculum is the same for everyone, though the lesson plans are different for each individual. The courses are offered on a rotating basis: Live, Love, and Learn; Trial and Error; Fall and Get Up; and the ever popular, Eff It Up and Figure It Out. Most of them are taken simultaneously, and there are daily tests.

I have been in a relationship with my husband for over 20 years. He is not just my high school sweetheart and my first love: he’s also my best friend and the one who knows me better than anyone else in the world, not including myself. I believe he would say the same is true in the reverse. Truthfully, until fairly recently, I probably knew him better than I knew myself, and he probably knew me better than I knew myself, too. After going through several years of turmoil and intermittent separations—the classic “break up to make up” story—we have made a decision to give it another try.

During the time when we were separated, I decided to take the Fat Joe Approach and “lean back.” I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and tired of working on us: it was time to work on me. I began to focus on figuring me out, and left the “figuring out” of my husband to God. In many ways and for many reasons, I leaned back. Having now decided to recommit to the marriage, my challenge in this season is to lean back in. (This sounds like a teaser for the season premiere of a TV show: In this season, Kiana learns how to lean in to her marriage, while balancing her passion and purpose. Will she be able to do it? Stay tuned and find out in the premiere of “Wise Woman Building.” LOL)

In addition to re-establishing trust, I also have to allow myself to be vulnerable and open. It will take time to heal old wounds and mend what has been broken, just as it took time to do the damage. It will also require my effort to empower my husband and encourage his efforts by working out the kinks in my end of the chain. I have made mistakes, I have shortcomings and there are opportunities for improvement to step up my “wife game”.

cake coupleRecommitting to my marriage means taking ownership of the baggage I bring to it. It also means making the transition from only being willing to receive to also being willing to reciprocate. Being more secure in who I am, what my purpose is, and what I want to experience in life is helping me to set healthy boundaries for myself and those around me.  Proverbs 4:23 reminds me to “Above all else, guard (my) heart, for everything (I) do flows from it.” Now that I’ve done the work to put the boundaries in place to guard my heart, my task is to make sure that I allow love to flow from my heart to my husband.

It’s not hard to find examples of women who have gotten divorced and been able to create wonderful new lives for themselves. Any number of articles and books provide advice for women to take back their lives after a divorce or heartbreak. Ironically, while most will agree that it’s harder to stay in a marriage and try to make it work than it is to walk away from one that isn’t working, there are fewer articles related to the concept of the woman rebuilding herself as she is also working to rebuild her marriage. Society seems to be much more supportive of the independent, strong Black woman than the independent yet interdependent, strong yet vulnerable Black wife. (I am grateful for social media communities such as the Anointed Wives Ministry, Marriage Works!, Just 4 Wives and Wife Kouture, that are offering support and encouragement to those of us who want to stay married.)

I do not know what the future holds for my marriage, but as the old school gospel song declares, I know I’ve been changed. I know that I have the confidence to move forward, lean in and love again. Most importantly, I know that no matter what happens, as I continue to learn, grow, and do my part, I will have the love I deserve and be able to give love back in return. Now excuse me while I go figure out something nice to do for my husband! 🙂

I’d love to hear you thoughts in the Comments below. If this post has resonated with you in any way, please be sure to Like, Share, and Subscribe to receive notification of new posts as they are published. Thank you for reading; please come back again!

Playing Too Much

Playing Too Much

One day this summer, a little boy came to see if my seven-year-old son, Caleb, wanted to come out and play. (“Sure. Let me go get him.”)  I just knew he was going to jump at the invitation to experience the freedom of running out in the fresh air with the other neighborhood children. When I went to the basement to relay the message to Caleb, he surprised me by declining the offer. When I asked him why, he said he didn’t want to play with this little boy, because “he play(s) too much.” The little boy was prone to starting arguments, being bossy, and wanting to “play fight” all the time; he didn’t always get along well with other children. Perfectly content to keep doing what he was doing, Caleb turned back to playing with his Legos.  I went upstairs smiling at his wisdom and trying to figure out how to let the little boy down easy. (“He said he’ll come out later…or maybe tomorrow, baby.”)

legosI’ve learned many lessons from watching the way my children navigate and interact with the world. This encounter with Caleb is just one example of how children teach invaluable lessons that we adults would be wise to pay attention to. Here are a few things I learned that day.

  • Stay focused on your goals. Caleb was building ….something…with his Legos. I couldn’t see or understand what it was supposed to be, but he did. He had a vision in his mind of what he was building, and he didn’t want to be bothered. In fact, he was so unbothered that he couldn’t be bothered to turn down the little boy’s invitation in person: he sent me to do it for him! He was determined to bring his vision to pass—to create in his life what he saw in his mind—and also determined not to let external distractions interrupt his creative process.
  • Be okay with being alone. Being the only boy, Caleb spends a lot of time with girls. Many of his school friends are girls, as are his cousins closest in age. We’re always looking for opportunities for him to spend time with other boys and let off some of that “boy energy”. However, not only did Caleb not go outside, he also didn’t ask if the little boy could come in and play with him. (Hell, he didn’t even get up!) He already knew what to expect from this little boy—he was likely to do something that would destroy what Caleb was trying to create, either purposefully or accidentally from “playing too much.” He recognized that to accomplish his goal, he had to be okay with being alone and comfortable with his own company. He chose not to go out to participate in the drama and he didn’t invite the drama into his space.
  • Don’t justify or explain your decisions. Generally speaking, Caleb is a very sensitive and intuitive child. He has a heart for other people and goes out of his way not to hurt anyone’s feelings. (Mommy, this casserole is a little bit gross. But you still did a good job.) In this case, though, his answer was short and sure: “Uh uh; he play(s) too much.” No further explanation. Out of an instinctual desire to protect the little boy’s feelings, I made up the lie about coming outside later; Caleb never said that. He didn’t have time for distractions or disclaimers. Although he did go play with the little boy the next day, on that day, it didn’t fit with his priorities and that was explanation enough.

My prayer is that like Caleb, we would be so focused on what we are trying to build that we have no time for distractions and childish games. I pray for us to be content and comfortable with ourselves, and that we would seek wisdom to make the best use of our time and bring to fruition the dreams that live within us.

We also have to make sure we aren’t the one who “play too much.” All work and no play may make Jill a dull girl, but all play and no work may also keep Jill stagnant with unrealized potential and unachieved goals.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What are you building?lego house
    Consider the goals you have for your life—educational or professional, spiritual or personal growth, etc.
  • How do you “play too much”?
    Consider internal distractions with the potential to destroy what you are trying to build, such as fears, habits, unhealthy/negative thoughts, guilt, shame, etc
  • What changes can you make to quit “playing too much”?
    Consider practices and habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to bring you one step closer to your goal (no matter how small) or helps you minimize internal distractions
  • Who/what is “playing too much” in your life? 
    Consider external distractions with the potential to destroy (either intentionally or unintentionally) what you are trying to build
  • How can you minimize the damage caused by whatever is “playing too much” in your life?
    Consider boundaries that limit your interactions with distractors and seek wisdom on how to protect yourself from naysayers; be mindful of who/what you allow into your space

I’d love to hear you thoughts in the Comments below. If this post has resonated with you in any way, please be sure to Like, Share, and Subscribe to receive notification of new posts as they are published. Thank you for reading; please come back again!

Ki

Hard Questions, Hard Truths

Hard Questions, Hard Truths

Recently, I came across a bookmark that I’d purchased for someone, but never gave it to them. Reading the bookmark some time later, I wondered if subconsciously, the reason I didn’t gift it was because the sentiments of the bookmark were not appropriate for the relationship we actually had in “real life,” but  for the relationship I wanted us to have, or more appropriately, the relationship we had in my mind.  That’s not to say that it wasn’t real; it just wasn’t what I’d convinced myself it was. A simultaneous breakdown in several of my closest relationships caused me to take a step back and get a new perspective on my relationships and the roles I play in them.

I realized that I’d been living under the illusion that the life I was living was the life I wanted. I’d become comfortable and complacent because things seemed to be flowing well. Externally, I had the trappings of a good (though far from perfect) life: married to my high school sweetheart, with a close circle of friends and family; a nice job with good benefits and a nice salary; a newly renovated townhouse (renovated as a result of a fire, but renovated, nonetheless); a decent car; healthy, intelligent, beautiful, loving children; blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

hard truthUpon closer inspection, I noticed my marriage was on the rocks and my connections with my family and friends weren’t as strong as they once were. My job was boring and challenging for all the wrong reasons, and my townhouse was no longer suitable for my and my family’s needs (and it was in “the hood”). My car was totaled, and my kids hated me. (Okay, the part about my kids hating me isn’t true: my relationship with my kids was one of the few areas where I was getting it right!)

It was like I was startled awake from a good dream. I asked myself some hard questions, including:

  • Who am I?
  • How am I demonstrating and communicating my priorities in my life?
  • Am I being the fullest expression of who God created me to be?
  • Where are my boundaries?
  • Who is “there” for me? Am I “there” for me?
  • Am I being the type of person I’d want to be in a relationship with?
  • Am I honoring myself in the relationships I am in?

In asking the hard questions, I came to some hard truths. Hard truths are ugly and painful because they usually speak to a current state of mind or being that is unpleasant to acknowledge. Hard truths represent problems that are easy to identify but have complex solutions.

Facing the hard truths opened up a soft, safe space for me to make changes, little by little. In reconciling what I wanted with what I had, I became clearer on exactly what fits into each category. I also freed myself from the need to “fit in.” Instead of trying to fit my square peg into round holes, I determined to drill my own holes and create my owSquare peg in a round hole. n opportunities. More importantly, I decided to allow God to guide me to the people, places, and opportunities that He is always putting in place for me.

Once I got clear about myself with myself, I was also able to
be more clear about my relationships with others. I recognized the power I have to create the relationships I want to be in, with the people I choose to be with. I learned that the only thing lacking in my relationships is what I am not giving, and  I can’t give what I don’t have. If I want to have more for myself, I have to give more to myself so I can have more of myself to give to others. This is true for love, compassion, and grace; ideas, time and money (and a few others I know I’m forgetting).

I wish I could say that I’ve repaired all of my relationships and everything is perfect now, but that’s not true. I’m in a better place in my relationships, old and new, but there is still work to be done, and I am the one responsible for doing it. Life is about continual self-reflection and self-education. I have to constantly re-evaluate my answers to those hard questions and stay aware of the hard truths. Only through awareness of the hard truths can we get clear and make decisions and choices that bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be. A wise person once said “It is what it is.” To revise it a little: “It is your life. You have to accept what it is before you can create what you want it to be.”

What are some other “hard questions” we should ask to reveal the necessary, but difficult truths in our lives? I’m sure I’ve missed some, and I’d love to hear about the questions you ask to give yourself a reality check. Leave your comments and “hard questions” below. Be sure to Like, Share, and Subscribe/Follow to receive notifications of new posts.

Thanks,

Ki

Do Right Woman

Do Right Woman

I love some old school Aretha Franklin! Do Right Woman—Do Right Man is an anthem, a statement about reciprocity and mutual respect in a relationship: if a man wants a good woman, he’s got to be a good man. Obviously these are important and necessary aspects of a healthy relationship between two people. The issue here is those last two words: two people. One of the principles of communication is that abstract concepts (such as love, respect, and faith) are defined by each individual. We all have different life experiences and perspectives that shape the meaning of the words we use. Miscommunication occurs when there is difference in the way each person defines the words they are using. (We’ll talk more about this in a minute.)

you deserveWhile I certainly agree with Ms. Aretha’s sentiments in this song, I’ve also developed my own definition of what it means to be a Do Right Woman. This definition was actually influenced by another legendary artist, the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. (Note: I have no idea whether the following story is factually true or not. However, being able to reference both the Queen of Soul and the Godfather of Soul in this piece is an absolute gift from God, and I’m just gonna go with it…’kay? Good. Now, keep calm and read on.)

My new definition came from a scene at the beginning of Get on Up (2014), a film about the life and career of James Brown. Mr. Brown enters a business he owns and has a little tantrum because someone has used his private bathroom. All of the employees seem to know there will be dire consequences for breaking his rule against using his bathroom. When James Brown figures out which employee used his bathroom, his reaction takes them all by surprise. Instead of punishing or reprimanding the employee, he takes it easy on her. Because she was willing to suffer the consequences for honoring herself and respecting her own needs, James Brown respected her. “You always got to do right by yourself…ain’t no other way to live.” You better preach, Rev. James Brown!
The contrast between Aretha’s “Do Right Woman” and James Brown’s “Do Right Woman” is that Aretha’s is based self care 12 steps
on the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” James’s version says “Do right unto yourself regardless of what others are doing (unto you, for you, around you, with or without you).” Aretha’s “Do Right Woman” pre-supposes that our partner defines “doing right” the same way we do. Many of us find out the hard way, that isn’t always true. James Brown’s “Do Right Woman” allows us the freedom to set our own boundaries and define respect for ourselves.

A Do Right Woman understands that she must nurture herself first and foremost and honors herself in her thoughts, words, and actions. As women, we don’t have the luxury of “checking out” of life—we must be present in mind, body, and spirit. Our families are depending on us, even when we do have the support of a village, a spouse or other partner. We wear many hats and play various positions as we strive to nurture and elevate ourselves and our families. We also wear ourselves thin and wear ourselves out by trying to keep the hats on and play our positions well. A Do Right Woman understands that “No.” is a complete sentence, and does not have to be followed by justification or explanation. She makes peace with the fact that others may be uncomfortable or unhappy with the decisions she makes for herself and is willing to deal with the consequences.

four agreementsA Do Right Woman recognizes that the thoughts, words, and actions she uses for or against others is a reflection of her relationship with herself. What I criticize about another may be self-reflecting in many ways, including: what I don’t want for myself; freedoms that I don’t have; how the choices of others may impact me, or my fear of what I don’t know or understand. What I compliment about another may also be self-reflecting in many ways, including: how/if I celebrate the same in myself; an appreciation for my own freedom; an understanding that what I celebrate for others I call into my own life, and an assumption that others are doing their best, just like me.

A Do Right Woman respects importance of her internal life over her external life. It’s easy to “do right by yourself” when you focus on the external components of self—it’s much easier to get your body, hair, and nails tight than it is to get your Spirit right. We are all fallible, mortal, and imperfect beings with limited capabilities; we also are all capable of learning more, developing character, and just being better people, in general. A woman who seeks wisdom and understanding of the spiritual principles at play in the world around her encourages her own growth, as well as those around her.

I’m sure other components of this definition will be added over time, but this is a good start. What about you? How would you define what it means to be a “Do Right Woman”? I look forward to your comments. Don’t forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe!

The Cost of Freedom

The Cost of Freedom

caged-bird-flies

One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is John 8:32: “The truth will set you free.” Depending on which version of the Bible you are reading, the verse may read “The truth will make you free.” Ever the wordsmith, I wondered if changing the verb from set to make actually changed the meaning of verse.

Using the example of a caged bird, to be made free is to open the door to the cage, allowing the bird to have access to freedom. To be set free is to be physically removed from bondage or to have the external elements of bondage removed. Once made or set free, the bird may continue to just walk around the outside of the cage, staying close to what is familiar. Perhaps the bird may even try to go back into the cage, out of fear of the unknown that exists outside the cage. Having never flown before, the bird may need coaching from another bird to learn how to fly. Either way, the bird must realize its own freedom and pay the effort that freedom costs.

Freedom isn’t free. The cost of freedom is a change in attitude and behavior. The change in attitude is simply acknowledging the captivity and wanting to be free. The change in behavior is developing and implementing an action plan for freedom. Every step counts: each step will either bring freedom closer, or push it farther away.

birds quoteWhether the bird is set free or made free is irrelevant if the bird doesn’t take the steps necessary to experience freedom. To that end, truth in and of itself doesn’t bring freedom, unless it is put into action and used as motivation to seek freedom. Truth may free us from the bondage and bliss of ignorance, but it doesn’t free us from the responsibility to act. The bird must desire life outside of the cage so much that she does everything in her power to fly away.

Whether bound by self-defeating thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors; fear of the unknown; guilt over the past or anxiety about the future, like the caged bird, many of us are in captivity. Facing the truth, acknowledging our captivity and putting forth real effort to make the necessary changes is what puts us on the path to discovering the freedom that exists beyond the cage.