When Sunday Comes:  A Manifesto for Bridge-Building Black American Evangelicals

Morma FrancisIt’s Sunday morning and once again, I lay here flat on my back in my bed for no less than 30 minutes staring at the ceiling and grappling with questions about where I belong, whether I am failing God, what Jesus really would do and why the light fixture on my ceiling strongly resembles an alabaster and silver boob.

We’ve been made for community.  For tribe.  If this is the case, why is it so hard for me to find mine?

We began this naïve and involuntary sociologic experiment on race, culture, religion, and class nearly four years ago, so this moment—this process—is not unfamiliar to me.  I’ve been in this same place many Sundays prior, but I am usually able to will myself into action by connecting my choice of church attendance with God’s grand design, as though each time I make the right choice is an act of penance for all the ways I’d failed God before by my inconsistencies.  Each time, I consider myself more mature if I am able to internalize the very real racial considerations in my short-sighted spiritual pursuit of oneness in the body of Christ.  These thoughts are not new.

But today . . .

Today is different.  Today is the Sunday after I watch a white student cavalierly lob a racially-incendiary, yet affectionate nickname to her black friend:  Chicken Felicia Watermelonisha. After this, I watch the young black girl –blissfully missing the cultural awareness required to reject such a nickname—catch that offensive hot potato of a label and wear it proudly, proclaiming that her love for fried chicken and watermelon has earned her that name.

This is the Sunday after somebody’s white son tells my black son that his skin color doesn’t belong here in our neighborhood that is 95.1% white and 4.9% everybody else.  As my six-year-old retells this painful recollection, unable to contain his giant, hot tears, I try to convince him that he does, in fact, belong while fighting back stinging tears of my own and reflecting on my own struggle with belongingness in our nondiverse existence.

This is the Sunday after America watches yet another white boy (read: domestic terrorist) kill 17 people with cold-hearted defiance and a military-grade machine gun, be arrested alive, and receive an all-too-familiar beneficent narrative about how mental illness is to blame for this young man’s racial hatred and murderous nature while young men who look like me and my sons are gunned down in state-sanctioned violence at an alarming rate by officers who never face consequences for murdering black bodies.  On top of this, I watch weak-moraled politicians, privileged whites and abject racists defend these same actions and deflect the motives of our nation’s president as he cosigns policies in acidic attempts to silence the voice and legislation of the leader who brought us our single brightest moments in black pride since the civil rights era.

This is also the Sunday after Black Panther is released.  This cultural phenomenon . . . this “moviement” is imbuing hope and joy to a massively underrepresented demographic of moviegoers and Marvel fans.  We finally see us!  In other words, “we in the movies, y’all!” And it is magnificent in all of its magical melanated glory.

And so, with fury, frustration, and an unfamiliar sort of fearlessness, I am just “unable to can” today.  Going to my church today in Trump’s America is simply unbearable.

In an attempt to be among people who “get” me and understand the unbridled joy that coincides with the release of a single movie, I search out and decide to visit a black church.  Upon arrival in the parking lot and seeing other brown faces making their trek, I feel like a lost villager who has finally arrived home.  The sweet relief I feel is indescribable…momentarily.  My excitement is dampened a bit when I have trouble understanding which door to enter, or where to go to put my children into kids’ church.  There are no signs, no greeters, no welcome station, no bulletins, no kind people, no childcare.  Instead, there are unkind deacons, super-important ushers, and the ubiquitous white gloves. (What IS IT with black churches and the white gloves?) To top it off, the first familiar faces I see are those belonging to people I had a business disagreement with a few years back and have since become my model for the kind of haughty black elite I have no ambition to ever be.  Roughly 20 minutes after arriving, I realize that though we share the same skin color, I do not belong here in this church any more than a slice of cheese belongs on a subway window.  If I were not already a Christian, I would not want to be after visiting here. I gather my two boys and promptly exit through the same doors we entered.  The good news is, I finally find my church fan—the same kind that I’ve been searching for over the last several weeks and I am again convinced that God has a sense of humor.

With a punctuation mark befitting the irony of today, we close our bizarre Sunday morning with a visit to the Lewis & Clark monument—a penultimate ode to the black erasure, genocide, colonization, cruelty, and racist heritage of this area we call our home.

This journey–living and raising our sons in the proudly white next-door neighbor of the nadir of the neo-civil rights movement (Ferguson), walking in love, bridging gaps, honoring Christ, celebrating diversity, and calling fouls on racism and racist-adjacent behaviors—it’s the Lord’s work; of this I am sure.  With response to the question “what would Jesus do”, I answer E. all of the above.  He would go out and live amongst and love those who seek to harm Him.  Our courageous Savior would also refill His strength by spending time in community near those with whom he most identified.  Finally, perhaps with the absence of belonging and profound aloneness that I feel today, He would also go off by himself and take the time to recharge and refuel by receiving a direct download from Abba Father Himself.

After the failed church visit, I take my boys and make my way to something familiar and comforting.  We find our holy place on the inside of a greasy breakfast restaurant where we commune over waffles along with all the other unbelievers and unbelongers who are also searching, perhaps—or not—for sanctuary on this Sunday morning.

And for today, that is enough.  Next Sunday, I’ll try again. Maybe.



Grace to Receive Our Daily Bread

20170720_150005Today we celebrated my youngest son’s 6th birthday.  Our little family had a grand old time with a big pizza and salad lunch, matching camouflage plates, napkins and blowers and birthday cake and candles.  It was perfect.

Only, it’s not his birthday.  His birthday was two weeks ago.  We didn’t plan it this way. With our lean budget this summer, there wasn’t enough to have a birthday party for him.  And as shameful as it is for me to admit, everything we enjoyed today came from this morning’s trip to the local food pantry.  You see, after losing both jobs in late 2016, we have struggled financially.  We closed our tiny restaurant and both got new lower-paying jobs in 2017.  Our household income is a lot lower than what it used to be.  Tack on two young school-aged boys, one high school graduate who is headed to college in a month and mounting pile of frightening debts, and we have a recipe for unparalleled stress.

With the boys out of school and me off work this summer, I have cobbled together no small amount of side gigs to try to keep income flowing, and none of them have proven successful enough to meet our monthly shortfalls.  I have asked God repeatedly what we are doing wrong and inquired about guidance for where He wants me to be.  Each time, His answer is the same:    “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Oh if I could just receive his word and rest in His promises.  But I don’t.  I hear Him.  Then I question.  Fret.  Worry.  Pray.   Rinse.  Wash.  Repeat.

I’m willing to bet this cycle is the very same that kept the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  But instead of punishing them for their unfaithfulness, God, in His infinite grace, faithfully provided them with daily (read: enough) bread in the morning and meat at night for their entire families.  His provision wasn’t conditional, but God wanted to test the Israelites’ faithfulness in three ways:

1.  Gather enough (an omer) for your family.  Not too much.  Not too little.

2.  Don’t try to keep it until the next day.

3.  Gather enough for the Sabbath on the day before.  Don’t gather on the Sabbath.

How do you think they did?  If you guessed not so well, you are correct.  While the Israelites did a good job of gathering only enough for their families, some disobedient souls tried to keep their manna and meat overnight and found themselves contending with rot and maggots.  Some other greedy souls tried to go gathering on the Sabbath.  There was nothing there to gather.   A commentary I recently read said, “they were so consumed with meeting their daily needs that when Yahweh provided both the needs and a time for rest, they could not rest. Their effort was counterproductive, fruitless, and restless. Do you trust Yahweh enough to rest?”  http://www.crivoice.org/biblestudy/exodus/bbex22.html

Oh how this reminds me of me and my useless efforts to gather and build when God has commanded me to rest and receive daily manna with these simple words:

“There will never not be enough.”

I may be obtuse at times, but I think God is trying to get an object lesson to me.  Does God use double negatives?  I don’t know, but these are the words I know I heard.  Through countless examples of God’s extravagant provision both great and small, the Lord continues to remind me that “there will never not be enough.”  And I’m certain that I remind Him of His stiff-necked Israelite children with my worrying and complaining and griping and fretting.

“There will never not be enough.” 

What is so hard about understanding and accepting that the God of the universe is making daily provision for me and my little family even when I’m unfaithful?

“There will never not be enough.” 

What is so hard about trusting an amazing God with my and my family’s future?  I agree, it goes contrary to everything we know and learn about life planning, savings and responsibility.  But when faced with job loss, uncertainty and failure of everything I try to attempt on my own, could it be my loving Father asking me to give it to Him first?

“There will never not be enough.” 

In these rocky months, there is always enough to meet our daily needs.  There’s not enough to save for tomorrow, but there is wonderful — and almost frivolous — provision for today, which is as hard for me to accept and trust as it was for the Israelites.

So back to our humble birthday party and its two-week old cake with the icing sliding off the side, birthday hats from a year ago, party favors from the gift bag the pantry gives to families whose kids have had birthdays and the slightly wilted salad because produce doesn’t hold well at the pantry . . . with the lens of an ungrateful heart, it was a mess.  With the gratitude that comes with accepting our daily bread, it was enough.  In fact, it was more than enough.  It was joyful.  It was delicious.  It was fun.  We smiled and laughed and celebrated our youngest son in a way that I am certain he will remember for years to come.

I have been deeply humbled by this season in our life.  It is building grace, peace and wisdom in me in a way that I never thought was capable.  I may not be satisfied with our current station in life, but I am content.  This is only a season and I’m confident that God will bring us out.  I don’t know how He will do it, but I know that He will.

Reading:  Exodus 16; Philippians 4:11

Prayer: Dear Lord, I trust you with every single detail of our lives.  Lord, where there is lack, cause us to increase.  Where there is dissatisfaction, cause us to be content. Where there is greed, cause us to be grateful.  Where there is fear, increase our faith.  Father, if it is your will, I ask you to bring us out of this lean season and into a place of harvest and abundance.  If not, continue to grace us with your provision to meet every need, along with the wisdom and peace we need to get through this season.  In Your name we pray, Amen. 

Great Grace!


After a terrific conversation about grace with some very wise people yesterday, this song started playing in my brain’s jukebox and I couldn’t turn it off.  It’s been awhile since I’ve written, so I have lots bubbling inside that I need to turn into coherent paragraphs.  I’m excited to share all that’s been brewing in my head, but in the meantime, please enjoy this musical treat about GREAT GRACE!

This link will take you to a YouTube window to hear Great Grace by Mary Alessi and Friends.

Grace to Get Up!

Broom Tree 2.jpg11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus.”

1 King 19:11-15

WELL:  That’ll preach.

Let me go back a bit.  Elijah is on the run from Jezebel, the wicked witch of the west after she killed the other prophets and threatened him with death.  He was so disheartened and so exhausted that he collapsed under a broom tree and prayed to die.  As he slept, an angel came by to bring him bread and water and encourage him to continue on his journey to Horeb.  When he got there, he went into a cave to sleep.  God meets him there and again asks, “Elijah, WYD?”

Elijah replies with how on fire he’d been for God and how terrible those Israelites were and how they rejected God’s covenant and how he was the only one left.

God is like, “Oh.”

Then he instructs Elijah to go stand on the mountain and wait for Him.  Then, (here’s the part that gets me), a tornado, an earthquake and a fire ALL tear through the mountain.  Elijah withstood THREE natural disasters on the mountainside before God’s voice arrives in a whisper, but asks the EXACT SAME QUESTION:  “Elijah, WYD?”

Elijah AGAIN launches into his sob story about how on fire he’d been for God and how terrible those Israelites were and how they rejected God’s covenant and how he was the only one left.  At this point, it almost sounds like a pity party.

Again, God is like, “Oh.  Get up.” (Translation:  toughen up buttercup.)  Then, God proceeds to give marching orders to Elijah on who to slay and who to anoint along with the fact that there were 7,000 Israelites who had not yet worshiped a foreign idol.

Are you following me? God is not interested in our pity party.  He is interested in our destiny as well as the destinies of those whose lives we affect.  It’s not that God didn’t care.  Elijah had work to do.  Elijah needed to be in operation to get to the next part of the God-story.  Elijah could take a break and wallow in self-pity for a bit, but then, God needed him to GET UP and GET BACK TO WORK. Because he was built for it. (Remember the natural disasters on the mountainside?) Because he was anointed.  Because his role in the God-story MATTERS.

Lesson:  When you are anointed and your mantle is reform, you have to be tough.  People will NOT like you.   You will NOT fit.  You WILL be rejected.  Your message IS hard.  And you have work to do.  You don’t get to stay in a pity party, because your calling is GREAT and people’s lives and their destinies are depending on your obedience.  Nobody ever said it would be easy.  God, Himself, sent Elijah to go through THREE natural disasters in a row to remind Him to STAND.

That doesn’t really fit well with the mamby-pamby version of American Christianity that we learn today, does it? I recently read an article that said the following:

” . . . The prosperity Gospel fails especially when people start suffering. We need a faith that can speak to the dark times in our life.

But prosperity Gospel teaches is that if we pray hard enough, if we just sow a seed big enough, everything in our lives will work out in our favor.

However, sometimes that approach isn’t appropriate because it can lead to a crisis of faith when what is said is not seen.” (Full article found at https://medium.com/@reginaldwaynesharpejr)

This is SO DEAD ON!  If you are in a crisis of faith as a result of struggle, don’t beat yourself up.  I’m not.  (Well, maybe I am.  I definitely am.) Elijah had a crisis of faith, and he never sat in a church pew to hear our version of the gospel. Sometimes, life is just hard and it presents storm after storm after storm. Sometimes you collapse and say, “NO MAS!”  And sometimes, God is the bringer of those storms (while being right there with you IN THE STORM) to remind you that you. are. built. for. this.  So take a breather, then GET UP and keep going.  There’s grace on the journey, there’s grace in the storm and there’s grace at your next destination.

You have God-work to do.

Grace for the Transition

Years ago, my husband and I used to compile a “look what God did list.”  On it, we would record micro-testimonies from the challenges that come with life, being married, blending a family, running a household, managing a business and having babies.  When we had a need, spiritual, tangible or otherwise, we would record it on that list.  When God answered the prayer or or when we received a blessing or when we simply solved the problem, we would check it off the list and record the date that “God did it.” OH…the minutiae that little list held!  New tires, formula, kids’ clothes, repairing the sink . . . YOU NAME IT!  We celebrated God for every little thing coming to pass!

Fast forward to now:  our needs are greater, our jobs are harder, our challenges are bigger and our mountains are more impossible than ever.  But instead of the almost-childlike reliance with which we approached our lives together with God at the helm, we fight the trials, we fight the lessons God is trying to get to us, we fight the blessings, we fight the joy.  Perhaps the saddest of all, we fight each other.

Oh sure, we still find God-moments of happiness, but more often than not, they are simply a reprieve from the hardness that has been life lately. We’ve become jaded. Our relationship, wizened. Our souls, leathery.  Our trust, withered. Somewhere along the way, we stopped relying on each other.  Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing God for everything, no matter how great or how small.

Life has been hard y’all.  Instead of that delightful little faith-filled list, I find myself ticking off a “Look at all the CRAP we’ve been through list.”  And it. is. rigorous.  Seems pessimistic, yes.  It was my way of reminding myself that I’m still alive and I’m still smiling despite these things. There’s not very much rejoicing there.  I keep searching for understanding . . . revelation . . . any tidbit of manifestation from the scriptures that say “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” OR  “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” OR “Consider the lilies; they neither toil nor spin” OR “Test me and see will not open up the windows of heaven . . .”  I keep waiting for the overflowrestabundancepeacewindowsofheavenrain . . .  Quite simply, I am looking for the promise of the return on the investment of faith.  And tithe.  And service.  Something seems wrong with the equation here.

I’m a church kid, so I’ve got no shortage of Christian platitudes for hard times.  I KNOW that it isn’t God who has moved away from us, but it is US who have moved away from Him.  And I KNOW that I’m supposed to give hilariously.  And I KNOW that there is a purpose for our pain . . . but GAAAAHHHH!  Make it stop!!


I give!

When will the trials end?

When will the hits stop?

I. Am. Tired.

What is out of place here?  What is it that we need to do to get back to Him?  To joy?  To gratitude?  To faith?  To blessings?  To overflow?  Is it as simple as building that childlike list again?  I have offered no small amount of prayers to God asking Him to show me clarity on where I went wrong and tell me what I need to do to get back.  So far, the only voice I hear is that nagging inner critic who keeps convincing me that I’m a screw up and offering implausible solutions for fixing my world.

Right now, I’m lost.  I don’t know what I need.  I don’t know where I am.  I don’t know where I want to go.  I don’t know how to get back to where I was supposed to be.  All I know is that I’m off course, I am extremely intolerant of ambiguity and I lost my road map.  Like most of us, I long for the happy ending – that nice, neat, glittery bow on the package that lets me know that everything is alright.  Or at least it will be.

I don’t have a glittery bow. Nor do I have any inclination that everything will be alright.

I do know that there’s grace for these times, too.  There is grace available when the last thing I want to  hear about read about are some scriptures about how all things are working together for my favor.  There is grace when the last thing I want to do is bow my head, close my eyes and pray to a God who I feel, quite honestly, is not listening to me right now.  There is still grace when I scan the day’s devotional reading, close it in disgust and turn on Hulu because I just can’t handle any the pain of any more unfulfilled promises right now, but I can numb it by binge watching “The Good Wife.”

I am in the messy middle.  It’s dark, my heart is broken and my hope is gone.  I can’t turn back, but I don’t know where I’m going.  Even still, I know there’s grace for me and grace for where I am right now.

Prayer:  Dear God of all heaven and earth, I know you’re busy, but I need You.  I need Your comfort.  I need Your guidance.  I need Your direction.  I need Your clarity.  Most of all, Lord, please make it clear because I confess that I can’t hear very clearly right now.  Draw near to Your broken-hearted daughter and comfort me as only You can.  And then Lord, please turn on the lights, send hope, send help and send healing.  Please show me what’s next and how to get there.  And Lord, please meet our needs along the way.                                      

In Jesus’ Name,




Silent Grace

As the Christmas season rolls in, strains of familiar holiday tunes can be heard almost everywhere.  Last night, I heard a stirring rendition of Silent Night sung beautifully by two ladies at my church as we prepared for our church’s annual Journey to Bethlehem program. (If you want to learn more about it, click here.)

As I think about the lyrics to that song, I imagine what a hellish night that must have been for a young newly married dad and his impossibly pregnant wife.

The gospel makes no mention of parents, family or friends offering guidance for this young couple as they take their sojourn across the middle eastern countryside. They had to have been confused. Lonely. Rejected. And they were facing the toughest battle of their lives in utter silence.

I cannot imagine how alone those two felt.  We -2000 years later – get to benefit from the back story and the context of all of the miraculous happenings on that wondrous night.  The Christmas Story and all of our familiar favorite carols that have come from it weave the magic of the high points of Jesus’ birth.  But seldom do we honor the lows, without which this miracle of the ages would never have occurred.

For Mary and Joseph, it was a silent night.  A lonely night.  Their outlook might have been bleak.  And nothing was going right.

But here’s the hope:  Mary’s silent night was a gateway to the greatest miracle ever.  And just like you and I when we face the greatest trials of our lives, she had to go through it. Through the dark places.  The lonely places.  The empty place where the only thing propelling you forward is the courage netted from the hard facts of rock-bottom and the resigned notion that it couldn’t get any worse.

Understand that our tough experiences pale in comparison to birthing the Savior of the world.  I know that this doesn’t make them less hard or less painful.  So the next time you encounter dark times and silent nights or find yourself asking, “God, where ARE you?”, understand that a) there’s a story working in the background for you even if you can’t see it right now and b) your silent night is the gateway to your greatest miracle.  Also, there is amazing, abundant  grace available to you to get you through it, every step of the way.

So lean in.  Make peace.  Find comfort in discomfort.  And know-oh, please know-that the God of all grace is with you on your journey and He is working miracles on your behalf.




7 Seconds from Grace

This is a space for those who feel like they consistently miss the mark. It’s a space for those who don’t get it right and they know it.  It’s for those who went left when they should have gone right.  It’s for those who mess up, flub up and keep getting up.  It’s for those devoted Christ-followers who ditched the mask a long time ago.  It’s for those who need God because without Him they fall apart.  It’s for those whom the good brother Paul writes about in Romans Chapter 7 when he rants about those things that I “would not do, I do anyway.”  It’s a space to get topless and rumble with our own human-ness in a world that demands perfection.  And it’s about the amazing, incomparable grace that carries us through it all.