Culture

Heaven [actually] Helps Those who Can’t Help Themselves

In keeping with the theme of things Christians say that have no scriptural basis, one of them is “heaven helps those who help themselves.” This is actually an attitude you see displayed in some political arguments today. The helpless are deemed “lazy” for not rising out of poverty on their own. 

I’ve been guilty of this sentiment at times especially following my assimilation to an individualist vs. collectivist culture. I have to check myself when this happens to see how “helpful” I’ve been. Especially when other sentiments like “if you don’t work you don’t eat” also arise. Then I consider realities like “grace”, “opportunity”, and “”systematic discrimination” and realize “but for the grace of God go I.” 


I’ve been blessed beyond measure. But for God’s providence, I too would be helpless and have been more times than I care to mention. I remember the movie “Trading Places” starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. A simple dollar bet changed the lives of both men forever. Rendering one helpless and the other with unimaginable means. So where does this phrase come from? Not the Bible. It was originally woven into an Aesop fable.


Aesop weaved it into the tale of the Waggoner stuck on a muddy road. The Waggoner prays to Hercules for help to which Hercules essentially responds that:  “The gods help them that help themselves.” In the west it was popularized by Benjamin Franklin:


I won’t go into a deep exegesis but let’s just conclude that everything in the Bible points to the opposite. 

Too many examples in the old and New Testament. Abraham’s wife Sarah, the Israelites escaping Pharaoh’s wrath; the woman with a small jar of oil but near death and saved by the prophet Elisha; the woman caught in adultery; the wedding family who ran out of wine in Cana; Naaman the leper; the woman at the well; the thief on the cross desperately in need of salvation; or all of us entangled in a vice. 

If we could help ourselves, we wouldn’t need the One who created us in the first place and His sacrifice would have been in vain.  Whether you’re a person of means or not, you’ll agree there are times you haven’t been in control nor able to help yourself. That feeling when you’ve done everything you can and the answer is still NO! That inability to land the job, the loan, or get over an addiction. Helplessness is real and we need help to overcome.  It took divine intervention every time. 

I heard a testimony from a 92-year old this weekend who’d been struck with an unexplainable ailment 20 years ago. Expert doctors did all they could. She’d been declared brain dead, been in an induced coma for weeks, but then recovered and endured months of rehab. Her description of heaven rocked me to my core. I wanted to be there. It reminded me clearly that heaven does help the helpless. And when God moves, we’re never able to take the credit. At the end of the struggle we’re handed a proverbial megaphone to share our testimonies.

So, what does this mean for us? 

1. We will all experience helplessness on this side of heaven.

2. When we do, know that we are not alone.

3. The purpose of our existence is to be God’s hands and feet on earth.

4. Every testimony of helplessness was met with an earthen vessel that provided help and/or hope.

5. Our purpose is to be available for use by the creator.

Bottom line: Be Available to Help the Helpless…your turn will come!

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It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

When I was 10 years young I announced to my parents that I wanted to attend a military boarding school in Nigeria. If you’re reading this and are American you’re probably wondering why I made such a choice. No, I wasn’t trying to “run away” from home. I was actually thrilled at the opportunity (I’ll probably detail the experience in a future blog post). 

My parents supported the decision and were probably comforted knowing they had close friends in the area that would watch out for me and give me a home away from home during approved outings when we were allowed to leave the base. That family did look out for me and I love them for it!

Fast forward 7 years and the same thing happened when I arrived in the US as a teenager. My “uncle” and “aunty” in NC looked out for me throughout my college years…and I love them for it!

Today I had lunch with the sons of close friends attending college in the area. They appreciated it and I know my friends do too. 

My son will be attending college this fall and there are friends in the area who will do the same. Grandparents will be 4 hours away too. Score! 

I believe this long standing tradition is vital when our offspring are far away from the nest. A village we’ve cultivated over the years to continue what parents have started to help guide and cultivate the next generation. 

Universities are a testing ground for whatever you’ve instilled in your kids. They will make mistakes. If you can’t be there to love on them immediately after they fall…it helps to have a village that will.

God I thank you for teaching us to connect horizontally with others. Those connections are lifelong relationships that will impact generations, secure our legacies, and further Your Kingdom. 


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God Don’t Like Ugly! Or Does He?

Today I’ve been thinking about things Christians say that have no scriptural basis. Phrases like ”heaven helps those who help themselves” or “cleanliness is next to Godliness”. The one that really got my attention was “God don’t like ugly” because I was thinking it.
 
Wait! What?! Off course he does! He loves me even when I’m cloaked in the ugliness of sin.
 
We use the phrase when we think Karma has prevailed or when we believe someone should let go of anger and resentment.  I get it, we want justice to be blind and resentment & anger can be toxic to our spirit. However, I’m always leery about telling God what to do. I exist for His purpose and not Him for mine.
 
The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Corinth and describes how God plans to express His excellence through earthen vessels:
 
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not out of us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
 
That God would choose a weak and limited human for Christ to shine through floors me every day. That our own ugliness does not impede God’s purpose, nor His love for us, baffles me. That He saw my attempts at righteousness and knew they’d be like filthy rags and opted to come down Himself to clean me up is why I believe God likes ugly.
 
When believers start thinking He doesn’t, is when they start pointing out the ugliness in others rather than love them the way God loves us.
 
 
 
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“Malaika”

I am really grateful for my parents. The culture(s) they exposed me to even as I grew up in the densely populated metropolis called Lagos. I remember the diversity of music that would flood through our home. Everything from Dolly Parton to Perry Como and from Motown to Fela. Today I’m nostalgic about one of the first love songs I ever memorized. “Malaika” was a beautiful Tanzanian love song by South Africa’s own Miriam Makeba (a.k.a. Mamma Africa). We had the version with the duet with Harry Belafonte (a.k.a. The King of Calypso–I remember running through the house screaming “Day-O” at the top of my lungs! 😂😂

The richness of the song and its singers wasn’t lost on me as a kid. You have a South African and an American singing a Tanzanian song (in Swahili) and it sounded absolutely breath taking. Even as I listen today, it’s like that relaxed feeling after an amazing yoga session…you just want to float over to hug a loved one.

Think I’m kidding? Take a listen: https://youtu.be/q8jxALtWGVQ

So what are they saying: the song is sung by a young man in love with his girlfriend but unfortunately can not afford the dowry or bride price to marry her. This depresses him and he repeatedly laments.

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Ningekuoa mali we, ningekuoa dada

Nashindwa na mali sina we, ningekuoa Malaika

Pesa, zasumbua roho yangu

Pesa, zasumbua roho yangu

Nami nifanyeje, kijana mwenzio

Nashindwa na mali sina we

Ningekuoa Malaika

Kidege, hukuwaza kidege

Kidege, hukuwaza kidege

Ningekuoa mali we, ningekuoa dada

Nashindwa na mali sina, we

Ningekuoa Malaika

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Malaika, nakupenda Malaika

Ningekuoa mali we, ngekuoa dada

Nashindwa na mali sina we, Ningekuoa Malaika

Translation:

Angel, I love you angel
angel, I love you angel
If I could get the property for you, I would marry you
If I did have the money , I could get married angel

Make money, frustrate my soul
Make money, frustrate my soul
And what can I do, boyfriend
I do not have the money I do not have
I could get an Angel

The cage, cuts the cage
The cage, cuts the cage
If I could get the property for you, I would marry you
I do not have the money I do not have
I could get an Angel

angel, I love you angel
angel, I love you angel
If I could get the property of you, I would marry you
When I lost the wealth I did not have, I could find Angels

This month three of my cousins will have their traditional weddings back home. It isn’t lost on me even in my own family the richness these ceremonies will infuse into our culture. You see, one cousin’s husband is Polish, the other’s is Swedish, and the third’s Nigerian. All three sisters are having their traditional ceremonies at the same time. All three couples have found love across cultural barriers and if you research “Mailaka” you’ll see that is also at the root of the song. Historians differ on who wrote it first, or who recorded it first. But all agree Mamma Africa made it famous and it found a way into my psyche years and years ago.

Thank you mum and dad for exposing me to GOOD music. It has helped me connect to so many people all over the world. Thank you Harry Belafonte for lending your voice to this love song. Thank you Mamma Africa for the first Swahili I ever learned as a kid, even though it took years to understand what I was actually saying.

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Telling Your Story

Today I’m thinking about the things I’ve been through…the tough times especially. The wilderness experiences I’ve had. The times I’ve wondered where God was then realizing He was there all along. The times He brought me through a storm. The times I couldn’t explain how I came through it. I wonder out loud “why me?”

Then He reminds me, someone needs to hear your story of how I brought you through. “I comforted you so you can comfort someone else with that same comfort.”

I need to continue this intimacy with The Creator. Allowing Him to comfort me in all things. I need to stop treating Him like a side relationship…He needs to be at the center of my mess, my funk, my failures, my insecurities, and my ego. Thank You God for who You are…my Comforter. Yes, I will tell my story (I believe church folk call this “sharing testimonies”).

I recall how it took over a decade of convincing and prodding before my dad wrote and published his autobiography. I’m so glad he did…his story is told and his descendants will be blessed by it.

When Israel forgot to tell their story it cost them dearly. They were still carrying the stones but had failed to tell their story to generations that hadn’t experienced the flood or manna falling from heaven.

Blessed Assurance by Elevation Worship

I’m glad to have known the story behind one of my favorite hymnals. See link below.

“This is my story…this is my song. Praising my Savior…all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long!” — Blessed Assurance by Fanny Crosby (https://www.godtube.com/popular-hymns/blessed-assurance/)

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Funerals

I’ve been to four funerals so far in my life. My maternal grandmother’s, a good friend from college, a young Airman in my unit, and yesterday, the husband of a co-worker. Each were very different but all had one thing in common: the air of sadness from a departed loved one.
Yesterday’s was even more different.  It was the first one held in a language I didn’t fully understand. It was the first one where the dress code was surprisingly quite casual; shorts, t-shirts, jeans, slacks, blouses. Besides the clergy, only the military members were dressed up. It was the first one where the body was cremated and the urn was being laid in the ground. I recognized a solemn hymn sung in Deutsch (Bleib bei mir, Herr!) or “Abide with Me”, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the end.
Back home, I was very young when grandma died. I remember a huge celebration and then a lot of wailing. I remember watching my mum and her sisters cry out loud. I didn’t cry. I mimicked dad’s calm demeanor and stuck to his side the whole time. I was too young to have the kind of relationship with my grandma that my sons have with their grandma-Lagos today. I didn’t know enough to cry.
In college when my boy BH died, it rocked me. He’d joined the Navy after graduation and become a pilot.  He died in a plane crash. It didn’t hit me until I saw his casket lowered into the ground…that’s when I lost it. I had an outer body experience as I watched my self cry my eyes out. The crowd slowly walked away from the gravesite and I just froze and cried. Somehow I didn’t want to stop crying…I felt I owed BH all my tear ducts could muster.
When Zac died in 2011 (https://u2times.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/remembering-zac/) the funeral was a classic military funeral. Honor guard, gun salutes, thousands of American flags lining the streets along with citizens rendering salutes to a fallen warrior. My heart was so heavy. I knew him…he was my Airmen. I remember getting on bended knee to present his dog tags to his younger brother. The long hug with his mum and his dad’s stoic look throughout.
This is not one of those topics anyone should jump for excitement about. I write this because, inevitably, we will get to say goodbye to someone at some point or another and regardless of the culture or the circumstances, the feelings evoked at a funeral are universal: we miss them terribly; there’s a hole where there wasn’t one before; the things we were so concerned about before are no longer as important as saying goodbye.
Rest in Peace Manfred!
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A night of culture…musically speaking

So I’ve been living in my apartment since July.  Other than my family’s visit over Labor Day, I haven’t entertained at the loft…well, until this past Wednesday. “The Loft”…that’s what I call my place. I live on the top floor of a shopping complex; next to a fitness club and with the view below. To say this chapter has been therapeutic is an understatement. I enjoy waking up before dawn to the smell of freshly baked bread and a view that heralds God’s magnificence.

IMG_1732

And so for the past five weeks I’ve been facilitating discussions among a group of 12 individuals from 12 different countries. Discussions cover a range of topics from migration to terrorism, transnational organized crime and gender equality. These amazing professionals from various fields have taught me so much since we started this journey together. They are part of a larger group of 105 participants attending a course on applied security.

Last Saturday we held a Culture Night where all 105 participants got a chance to showcase their individual cultures with food, drinks, pictures, and art. It was an amazing event…so much food from as far as Honduras all the way to Afghanistan and South Africa. But then on Wednesday, I experienced a different kind of culture night when 10 of the 12 in my discussion group dropped by my apartment. I knew some of them were fans of music from the 80s and so I had a video playlist projecting on the wall. The balcony seemed to become a nice gathering spot despite the cold but clear night.  We talked about family, travels, and joked about the teams loss during volleyball.  I learned more about them as individuals, their aspirations, likes, and dislikes.  I also marveled at how this group that five weeks ago had never met, came to become a well-oiled intellectual and social machine.

Back inside I switched roles from party host to “Karaoke DJ”. Hearing people from so many different countries sing along to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, Fugees “Killing Me Softly”, or Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was a hoot.  Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” was the fan favorite.  But, the highlight came when I asked each of them to pick a favorite music video from their country. I then played the video on the big screen and we all got to enjoy a healthy sampling of world music.  It was so much fun to see each of them temporarily forget the challenges each of their countries faced while excitingly digging through YouTube for a favorite music video.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the universality of music and how people with so many differences can also have so much in common while coming together to sing popular tunes.

What a night…definitely up there among the memorable ones!

There’s just something about fellowship, even through music, that connects humanity and opens us up to be better listeners especially in the company of those who don’t look, sound, or even live like us. I am blessed to have had a rich multicultural journey thus far and one that has less to do with the places I’ve been but more to do with the people I’ve encountered.

 

“Show hospitality to one another without complaining.  Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” — 1 Peter 4:9-11 (NET) 

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