Whitney Houston: A Eulogy

In the gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says, “you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).[1]

This saying places emphasis on identity and uniqueness. A disciple is unique because of who he is. The identity of a disciple makes him unique. In this case, Jesus identifies a disciple as a light-bearer. What makes a light-bearer unique is what he is contrasted against, darkness. By saying “you are the light,” Jesus should be understood to be implying that there is darkness all around and that the disciple is not like that darkness. Without darkness, it wouldn’t matter if the lamp is placed “under a bowl.”

The light-bearer, who now knows who he is, is told to “let your light shine before men” (5:16). Knowledge of identity precedes that of mission (in this case). Having to be who he is in an environment that is not conducive to who he is, is what the light-bearer is told to do. If he is indeed who he claims to be, then he will be who he is, for he can’t be anything else.

A light-bearer does “good deeds” that are not intended towards glorifying himself, but his “Father in heaven.” This final part of the saying is truly the ultimate purpose of a light-bearer’s existence: glorifying God. Indeed, humanity finds true self-fulfillment in a life that brings praise to the “Father in heaven.” Thus, a light-bearer, when his entire life is viewed as a whole, will ultimately reflect the God whose light he bears.

Whitney Houston was a star, a light that stood out against others that surrounded her, a city on a hill. And she still is all that. Although she now sleeps the sleep of the dead her contribution to this world, especially in music, is colossal. No one can ignore the elephant in the room. The world is full of singers, but none of them sounds like Whitney.

Whitney is missed by her family and close friends. They are the ones who are primarily affected by her death. They are the ones who have watched her grow up to be the star that she is today. Before the lights were fixated on her, they were the ones that first saw someone of worth. At this time, they are in pain. They are not now concerned with what legacy she leaves behind (although they will do their best to make sure that she is remembered as positively as possible). They are grieving over the loss of Whitney, the person.

They are not the only ones that are grieving. Fans of Whitney are grieving also. Fans are grieving over the loss of someone they admire; sing songs recorded by; and watched performances by. They are in disbelief. They weren’t ready for this type of news. For them, it came like a “bat out of hell.” They are forced to say goodbye to a shining light they believe is gone too soon. They are left only with CDs, pictures, and videos of the starlet in all her glory, not enough for hearts that are broken.

Undoubtedly, in Whitney’s official eulogy there will be great praise for what she has accomplished in over 40 years of life. It is a feat that many of will never attain to, let alone aspire to do so. She will be lifted up in grand sermonic discourses describing her towering and iconic status. So great will the praises be that, if it was possible, they would usher Whitney into the gates of heaven—a place she certainly be said to be in. Truly, her family will be proud. But what kind of light was Whitney? Did she leave behind a legacy that praises the “Father in heaven”?

To claim to have an answer to that question would be pompous on my part. Some may be offended that one would even ask such a thing. Only God truly knows whether or not she brought glory to His name. All that can be done now by we who are still living is evaluation of our own lives in an attempt to sort out whether we are living a life that praises God. It is much better to make assessments of ourselves than others. Although we would never admit to this, we tend to make great mistakes when it comes to the latter.

The death of such a young star reminds us that we cannot continue to exist forever. At some point, this life will come to an end, one way or another. Before it does, however, we can take a deeper look at (1) who we are, (2) what we have done and are doing, and (3) who that did and is glorifying: God or the other. The death of Whitney forces us to reflect collectively, as those who are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

As we look over Whitney’s life, let us look at ours and sort out what type of lights are we. The heights that can be obtain means nothing if our “Father in heaven” is not praised. That is truly what we were born to do. Although Whitney is resting in peace, we will not be able to have any peace now unless we are living to what we are destined to be.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.


The Journal: Why I Left Theology

2009 was a traumatizing year. I had just finished my second year of theological training at a university in the south when I received news that I was not going to be able to go back because of the finances. Initially I took it calmly because I knew that God was able to do something over the summer, if He wanted. I was also confident that theology was the direction that God wanted me to go into because I had extensive discussions about it prior to my going. I knew that things may not go my way, but I couldn’t let it be because of my lack of faith. So I had the audacity to hope.

As you can tell, there was no miracle. In light of this new reality, I began to question if my understanding of what God wanted me to do was correct. I thought I was doing it, but now it didn’t seem so apparent. Added to this was the fact that I had to come home and explain to family and church members what happened. It’s one thing if you make one general declaration that everybody hears at the same time, it’s another to have to retell a frustrating matter over and over again.

As you can imagine, this was not a fun experience. I anticipate that some would say that I should not have said anything. There are two problems with that sort of thinking. The first one is that in the Haitian community if one chooses to go into theological studies it is considered the greatest thing in the world–next to doctors and lawyers. Therefore not saying anything before I left would have been seen as disrespectful. Besides, they would have found out anyway. How can I go study something that deals with spiritual life and keep it from the church?

The second point that one has to consider is my personality. Had I been a person who was disconnected with the members of the church, then one can argue that I didn’t have to say anything. However, I’m a person who interacts with most of the members. The warmth, I suppose, that generates from me makes it easier for them to gravitate towards my direction. Therefore, to say that not saying anything initially and afterwards was the best thing to do is not only unrealistic, but disrespectful.

The words of encouragement that were given went in one ear and out the other. In fact, though they were considered to be words of encouragement by those who spoke them, they didn’t come across as such. I was in deep depression and didn’t care to hear what people assume that God was doing or is going to do. The idea of talking me into being happy and thinking optimistically didn’t sit too well with me. I was down and really wanted to be left alone.

I kept my composure and just dragged along, but deep inside I was very angry at God. I still went to church and I still prayed. That was evident of what I knew to be true: God is real. In my mind that fact was inescapable. I decided that even if I was given the opportunity to go back I would not go back. Eventually, to the dismay of many, I decided that preaching wasn’t something that I wanted to do anymore. The decision to give up preaching wasn’t really a difficult one because I didn’t consider myself to be a good preacher and I had no intentions of being a pastor, I wanted to be a theology professor.

In spite of my decision, this year I ended up preaching on two Sabbaths and speaking at countless youth devotions. Some view this as a resurgence, but its really not. Base on my understanding of spiritual gifts–given to be used, I do plan to continue to do youth devotions on Friday nights, but to avoid the pulpit on Sabbath mornings–to the best of my ability. I’m leaving the preaching to the ministers in training and the aspiring preachers, of which I’m none. It is the only way that I can deal with what happened.

When viewed in light of what I could have done and where I could have been, I view the two years spent in theology as wasted time. I may be wrong, but who really knows but God? The experience has affected my view of what one can do in life. I use to believe that there is something set aside for everyone to do, and maybe I still do in theory, but I have reasoned that since this is not a perfect state of existence, one has to do what will bring financial stability. This is the fundamental reasoning under my decision to major in Accounting.

This is not really an encouraging piece is it? The reality is that sometimes we need to hear about the journey before it ends. The typical way of dealing with experiences is to not only tell the ones that have good endings, but to tell them after a glorified end point has been identified. We rarely hear from those who are currently going through things. This is one objective of this piece, and as you can tell it is not for the faint of heart.

Why did I leave theology? I didn’t leave, rather, I couldn’t go back. But now, I have left and do not plan to go back. I’m not fully content with the way things are; I’m better suited for studying history or something of that sort. However, since money is what is talking right now, I have lend an ear. My experience is not over. Despite what some may say to encourage me, my experience is still my experience. God, whom I am convince exists and is active in human affairs, is doing something. When I know what it is, I will let you know. Perhaps the lesson so far is that I still believe.

The Great Commission

Part of being a Christian is to engage oneself in the carrying out of the great commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Typically, in a Sabbath morning Adventist worship service, there is a segment set aside for reporting on and motivating the members to evangelize. The passage concerning the great commission is often read, however, perhaps due to  the scheduling of the segment, or the seriousness with which it is taken and/or presented, profoundly tangible results are rarely seen.

In response to this apparent crisis, some have form evangelistic groups consisting of a coalition of the willing to flood the surrounding neighborhoods with pamphlets and books. Others have sought to fulfill the mandate through one on one conversations with those they meet while engaging in daily affairs. I prefer the latter. How one chooses to respond to the innate call of presenting the good news they have received to others must be grounded in fundamental concepts as observable in Matthew 28:16-20. This is not to suggest that one will be unable to tell the good news without a breakdown of this passage, however, it is to bring attention to what we usually miss in our haste to do what we think we ought to.

Analysis of this passage reveals that Jesus sandwiches the command (vs. 19 and 20a) between two statements concerning Himself. The first statement is one in which He assures the disciples– οἱ ἕνδεκα, “the eleven,” since Judas was no longer a part–of the authority that He has on heaven and earth (28:18). This authority is not one that He takes, but one that is “given” (28:19 NIV). We ought to deduce that God is functioning as the giver. The second statement is one in which He assures them of His continuous presence (28:20b). As if this was the last thing that needed saying, the gospel abruptly ends.

The word that is translated as “authority” in the NIV and “power” in the KJV is the Greek word ἐξουσία (exousia). The fact that He has “all” of it in “heaven and on earth” emphasizes the totality of this authority. It is unlimited and unmatched. The different spheres of reality–things visible and invisible–are all subject to this authority. Furthermore, the One with such an authority also promises His continuous presence. These were the assurances given from a tangible being that had resurrected from the dead.

Before any explanation is given on the command, there is something to note concerning whom Jesus was speaking to and the condition in which some of them were in. Jesus was speaking to disciples consisting of some who doubted if He was really there in the flesh. In spite of the doubt, “they [all] worshiped” and were commanded. Jesus did not make any distinction between those who doubted and those who didn’t, He called all of them to the task of disciple making.

There is a need to escape the habit of categorizing individuals in terms of evangelistic qualifications. In fact, we don’t know what God can do with the ones whom we believe to be inadequate. In the case of the disciples, some doubted. Today, there might be many reasons why some may think that certain individuals are not capable. Let’s not forget that it takes disciples to make disciples and none of them were perfect. The ones who continued on with Jesus were striving forward in spite of their deficiencies.

What is the great commission? It is God’s mission for His people, first through the first century disciples, then followed by preceding believers. In a way, the great commission was always God’s plan for His people. We are sent out to participate in the act of making disciples. Disciple making does not only involve baptizing, but it involves teaching. Usually, there is much excitement concerning baptism but no one is around when the water dries. The new believer is left to fend for his/herself while we watch and criticize their sincerity.

Perhaps it’s time we start really reflecting on what is our mission as the people of God. Some time ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church.” I hope to continue that series in two blogs in the future by first writing on the nature of the church, and then it’s mission–which is introduced here. I look forward to your comments.

Prayer of The Justified: An Exposition of Luke 18:9-14

On Friday, August 27, I had the responsibility of delivering a meditation in the youth devotional service at my church. It took me a while before I finally decided to speak on the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.

The parable begins by telling us who Jesus was speaking to. Though the parable has two characters, the Pharisee and the tax collector, Luke tells us that Jesus addressed “this parable to some people” (Luk. 18:9 NASB). Some people may mean a group of Pharisees, or tax collectors, or a group that consisted of many different types of people. I believe that it was addressed to a mixed audience. I based this reasoning upon the fact that usually in the Gospels if Jesus is addressing a specific group–or if the writer of the Gospel wants to indicate who Jesus is speaking about–he names the group. Since this is not the case, I suggest that Jesus was addressing a mixed audience that may or may not have included Pharisees and tax collectors.

That being said, the way is open for a point that I felt was necessary to make. I wanted to dismantle a posture that we take whenever we listen to sermons. Usually when we listen to a sermon we place ourselves in the position of the one who is being hurt, abused, and victimized, but never as the villain. For this parable I asked my audience to don the regalia of the Pharisee and not the tax collector. If we never see ourselves in the place of the one that is doing wrong we will never be challenged to ask the Holy Spirit for the necessary change.

A lot of amens are thrown out during a sermon, some because they are affirming what the preacher is saying as true, but others are saying amen because they want to throw a subliminal punch at somebody that they believe is the villain in the narrative. Whenever we hear a sermon we should try to determine what is it that God is trying to communicate to us about our condition and what are the promises that He has stated concerning His ability to bring the necessary changes.

Jesus motivation for speaking this parable to some people is because of a two-fold problem that they possess. The first is self righteousness and the second is the criminalization of others–by this I mean, placing others in the category of law breakers (in this case, God’s laws). If Jesus thought that this was a serious problem to address then I think it is important that as Christians we do not find ourselves in this condition.

Generally speaking, self righteousness has to do with one believing that they live such a perfect life that they don’t need anything else in order to be viewed as righteous in the eyes of God. Since the individual believes that he/she have made this great achievement, it then becomes easier to look at others as either being on the same level or below. In this parable, they viewed others who are not on the same level, at least according to them, with disgust. In the parable, Jesus addresses these two points and indicate what it really requires to be justified.

Vs. 10 establishes the setting of the parable, the individuals involved, and their reasons for being there. This parable would have been extremely profound to a first century audience because they would have been shocked by the outcome. Today the word Pharisee is viewed as a negative word, in fact this name is given by some to people in the church that they feel place too much emphasis on laws and regulations.

However, in the first century, the Pharisee was highly respected as a spiritual leader and would have been chosen as the good one in the story as soon as Jesus mentioned him. In the context of the Haitian community, the Pharisee would have received the same respect as a lawyer or doctor. The tax collector, who was viewed as a traitor to his people for collecting taxes for the despised Romans, would have been viewed as the wicked one. To go further, many would have been disturbed by the very fact that the tax collector went to the temple to pray. The tax collector is comparable to a Haitian who works in immigration and is involved in the deportation of some Haitians. All these thoughts would have been going on in their heads as soon as those titles were mentioned.

Verses 11 and 12 zooms into the Pharisee’s prayer. It is one that is done in secret, meaning that it wasn’t meant to be heard by others. In the prayer the Pharisee thanks God that he is good. The goodness that he is referring to is one that he understands in comparison with others. So confident is this Pharisee about his state of goodness that he begins to talk bad about others, claiming that he is not an extortioner, unjust, adulterer, or even as this tax collector.

Notice, he places the tax collector in a list of law breakers. He regards that occupation as evil, showing you the amount of hatred that they had for the tax collectors at that time. I doubt that anybody prays and say people’s names or occupation, but I do believe that sometimes we pray with hatred or dislike of people in our hearts and think that God is none the wiser. As if He doesn’t realize that the particular words that we use are really bullets aimed at someone we wish would disappear.

After the Pharisee finishing saying what he is not, the second half of his prayer, in vs. 12, is a presentation of what he is. Let me be quite clear, the prayer is about bragging to God about what he doesn’t do and what he does do. Concerning what he does do, he brags about fasting and tithe.

Vs. 13 begins with Jesus saying, “but.” To the close reader, the appearance of the word “but” after such a declaration by the Pharisee indicate that something negative is about to be said or that a comparison is about to be made. In this case, it is a comparison, one that puts the Pharisee in a negative light. Vs. 13 contains the prayer of the tax collector. The tax collector was a good distance away–perhaps this distance is in reference to the tax collectors position from the front, or to his distance from the Pharisee.

So conscious was the tax collector of his sinfulness that he wasn’t even willing to lift up his eyes to heaven. This is not to say that if you are truly sorrowful about your sins that you will be unwilling to lift your eyes to heaven. If you say that, then you missed the whole point of the parable. When it comes to prayer, some people will bow down very low to the ground, some will have their entire upper torso facing heaven pleading for God’s forgiveness. These are expressions, not laws, if one chooses to do these things, great. If one chooses not, great. The emphasis is a comparison between the tax collector’s humble and lowly manner of addressing God and the Pharisee’s arrogance.

The tax collector, so burdened by his condition, goes on to beat his chest. This second expression adds more emphasis to his humble state. But what ties it all together is what he says. Instead of speaking about how he is not as evil as other people, he beg God for mercy. Perhaps, he was not as bad as all the other people that the Pharisee mentioned, or maybe he was better than the pharisee, in that case he could of bragged and said that he wasn’t like so and so. But that wasn’t what he was interested in, he looked at himself and saw a sinner, one who is not as he ought to be and who knows that he deserves punishment.

Generally speaking, mercy is a word that is used to encourage one who punishes to deter from his punishing act, to let the one who merits punishment go. It is the guilty who usually ask for mercy, the innocent would plead, well, innocent. (Of course, unless you’re in the hands of criminals who are seeking to cause injury whether you did something to them or not.) Fundamental to those who are of the Christian faith is God’s giving of mercy instead of the extermination that we deserve.

Jesus concludes the parable in vs. 14 by stating the answer that the tax collector received from God and a proverb on humility and self exaltation. If the man who prayed the second prayer went home justified, then the first man who prayed didn’t. Remember that the parable was geared towards those who thought they were righteous but in fact weren’t because they trust in themselves. Jesus addresses them directly when he says that the tax collector was justified. He didn’t do nothing to receive justification except for presenting a sincere prayer of repentance to God.

The proverb illustrates that when it comes to exaltation, we shouldn’t do it. Rather we humble ourselves in order for another to take us up. The verse doesn’t show the uplifting being done by our hands, but it’s being done by another. Those who uplift themselves will be brought down by another.

Since we are all Pharisees here, I guess we have a lot of changes to make, not only in how we pray but in how we view others. No one is innocent, everyone is guilty, but today we can all ask for what the tax collector asked for, the mercy of God for sinners like us. Mercy is available for the self righteous but they can’t bring themselves to sincerely ask for it. Today I ask you to cast off your cloak of holiness and ask God for mercy. If you do so, you too can walk away from the prayer Justified.