What If God Were Black?

Which way do you put forks in the dishwasher?

Obviously, the correct way is with the tines pointing up. That way when it drips dry the germs all run down the fork and away from where you put it in your mouth. There’s the added benefit that the tines don’t get stuck in the holes of that little silverware basket, too. Of course, you could make the argument that from a safety perspective you should put the forks all pointing down so you don’t hurt yourself when trying to pull them out. This was a “discussion” Cassie and I had soon after we were married. I was a tines up kind of guy and she was tines down kind of girl. When I presented my argument in favor of tines up, she couldn’t debate the logic of my choice. However, we did compromise. We put the knives blade side down. No one wants to get poked or cut just from using the dishwasher. The funny thing is that with today’s modern appliances, it goes into a heating mode where it pretty much sanitizes all the stuff inside it anyway so my argument probably doesn’t have as much merit. Although I do appreciate not having the tines stuck in those little holes. For those of you who are married, did you have to enter into negotiations about certain household rituals? Things you didn’t even realize were important to you until you started living with someone who did it differently? Toilet paper rolls come to mind. That’s one that Cassie and I agreed on right from the start. It rolls TOWARD you, not away. But believe it or not there are people out there who do it just the opposite. I’m glad I don’t live with any of them. I think after years and years it would annoy me to no end.

Tines up or tines down?
Tines up or tines down?

The truth is, there isn’t a right way to do any of those things.

They are just habits we develop over time. We get used to doing something a certain way over and over and pretty soon our brains develop pathways that make it easier for us each time we do it. Sort of like grooves on a race track. Have you ever watched a motorcycle race? The track starts out all smooth and even, but about halfway through the race, deep grooves are already formed in the dirt and it becomes difficult for cyclists to break out of those patterns. The same is true for our brains and after a while those pathways harden so it becomes tough for us to change them. The more routine something is, the more it becomes hardened in our heads. That’s true for more than silverware and toilet paper. It happens to us about everything. Our ideas about school, our thoughts about politics, our ideas on parenting, even our perceptions about race and gender. All of it becomes programmed into our neural pathways. Dr. Tara Swart, a neuroscientist out of MIT says that our brains are “inherently lazy” by nature and will always “choose the most energy efficient path” – which means those we’ve already formed.[1] So by the age of 25, we have developed so many of these pathways that it becomes hard for us to make any more.

That can be both good and bad.

The good part is that those pathways help us to make decisions quicker and with less energy. The bad part is that the brain resists making new pathways when the old ones feel quite nice. You’ve heard of a body’s “set point,” the weight at which your body grows accustomed and naturally adjusts to staying at? The brain acts in a similar way. It gravitates toward certain ways of thinking and so new ideas, new ways of approaching a problem, a new way of evaluating our environment is something the brain resists. This fine-tuning toward efficiency is what scientists call “neuroplasticity.”[2] At one time, it was thought that a brain could only create pathways up to a certain age, but we know now that the human brain is more “plastic” than that and can continue to create new pathways and thus new ways of thinking about things even as we get older.[3] This is really important because our understanding of the world God created, the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings, is something we continually changes as our knowledge and comprehension grows. What we need to do is to keep our minds like fertile soil – always receptive to whatever seeds God is throwing our way.

One of my favorite examples of a new way God can make things grow - Luke ripped up Cassie's vegetable garden and we were sure it wasn't going to bear any veggies. We stopped tending it. But day by day, things started to come back and grow. Despite the soil having been completely "ruined" it still flourished and yielded this awesome lettuce
One of my favorite examples of a new way God can make things grow – Luke ripped up Cassie’s vegetable garden and we were sure it wasn’t going to bear any veggies. We stopped tending it. But day by day, things started to come back and grow. Despite the soil having been completely “ruined” it still flourished and yielded this awesome lettuce

We’re going to look at a well-known passage in the Bible in a fresh way today.

One I had never thought of. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you go to Luke 8 beginning with verse 4. We’re going to read the Parable of the Sower. This story is often used to encourage us to share our faith and not worry if it convinces anyone to believe in Christ, and leave that up to God. It’s often told from the viewpoint of our faithfulness to Christ instead of the results we get from our actions. But as I was reading a devotion by Rick Warren the other day, he approached it from a totally different direction.[4] What if the soil represented OUR willingness, OUR ability, to receive God’s seeds? What if instead of putting ourselves in the position of the sower, we were the soil and it was our job to choose the kind of soil we would be? From this point of view, it’s our responsibility to prepare our minds to be receptive to what God is trying to plant within us.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

What kind of soil are you?

All of us, from time to time struggle with being the kind of soil that yields a bumper crop. We each struggle with preconceptions and beliefs that have been ingrained in us since we were children. We each grew up in a certain time and a certain environment that shapes how we see the world, but as scientists have found, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to till that soil. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to make sure the soil we have isn’t ready for whatever it is God is going to plant there. I feel like the racism, the sexism, the religious extremism, the bitterness and unwillingness for people to compromise and reconcile that seems to be a hallmark of humanity at this point in our world’s history is at least in part because the soil of our minds have become so hard and so choked with weeds that we are not able to see another way.

Image from the VOANews.com article on Message of Hope
Image from the VOANews.com article on Message of Hope

Robert Kennedy wrote a beautiful article for LOOK Magazine back in 1966.

In that article he described his visit to South Africa. The South African government at that time was still in the practice of Apartheid, the separation of the South African nation by race where the white minority subjugated the native majority to unfair and often cruel conditions and they based their right to do so on the Bible. When Robert Kennedy went to visit, the government didn’t want to approve his visa, but most people thought he could be the next President of the United States and the South African government didn’t want to have bad relations with the next leader of America so they reluctantly let him in.[5] This is a part of what he wrote about his experience: “During five days this summer, my wife Ethel and I visited South Africa, talking to all kinds of people representing all viewpoints. Wherever we went-Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg – apartheid was at the heart of the discussion and debate. Our aim was not simply to criticize but to engage in a dialogue to see if, together, we could elevate reason above prejudice and myth. At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black,’ I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.”[6]

What if God was black? Or a woman?

The Bible says in the first book of Genesis that God made humanity in his image. Verse 27: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. What if God was female?[7] It actually says so in the Bible doesn’t it? While the description of God as a man is definitely prevalent in the Bible, does that mean God might not also be female? I thought it was brilliant when Nancy said in our Bible Study, “What if God could appear as anyone in whatever way that person needed to see God?” Why not indeed? I had a professor, Dr. Jackson, who would alternately refer to God as “she” and I have to admit that at first it bothered me. One time someone asked why he did that and he answered quite honestly, “For some people the idea of a ‘father’ figure who loves them is one they can’t wrap their minds around. Some have had abusive fathers in their lives. Some have been abused by men who were priests and pastors. And for them, to see God as female is the only way they can relate so I try to describe God in more than one way to show them that God isn’t limited by us.” I don’t know if those were his exact words, but they were the sentiment of what he said and that always stuck with me. It made me realize that my own perception of God was limited by my background and experience and that I NEEDED to challenge myself to be more open-minded about God – and by extension about everything. That doesn’t mean that every interpretation of God is correct or valid or worthwhile, but it does mean that before I make those kinds of choices, I need to see if the soil I have is ready to receive God’s seeds.

I want to challenge you this week to test your soil.

I want you to hold back judgment as best as you can and take a moment to consider alternative perspectives. As we move forward in our understanding of God, it’s important for us to cultivate the soil of our minds and hearts to be sure they are in alignment with God’s will. Because how can we show a world that so desperately needs it, the large helping of God’s love it deserves if we don’t know what that love looks like? One of the best ways to cultivate the soil of your mind is to exercise your brain as you would your body. Work those muscles that don’t see much use – and for our brain that’s engaging in new ways of looking at things on a regular basis. You can’t break out of the tracks and pathways our mind has already set up if you’re not willing to shake things up a bit. So everyday, challenge yourself about topics that you find yourself comfortable with. Pray about ideas you’ve heard that you don’t agree with. Research other people’s points of view. That doesn’t mean ultimately you’ll agree with them, but it will make the soil of your mind receptive to where God is leading his people. Forks up. Forks down. Or maybe something totally different. What new thing is God trying to teach you today. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Information about neuropathways and brain development comes from this Fast Company article: http://www.fastcompany.com/3045424/work-smart/what-it-takes-to-change-your-brains-patterns-after-age-25

[2] This was the easiest understanding of neuroplasticity I could find: http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-neuroplasticity-definition-depression-quiz.html and http://www.dictionary.com/browse/neuroplasticity

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

[4] http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/to-hear-god-you-must-cultivate-an-open-mind

[5] http://www.npr.org/2011/08/12/139449268/remembering-rfks-visit-to-the-land-of-apartheid

[6] http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/media/magazines/look.php

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11642609/Of-course-God-is-a-woman.html

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