April 11, 2023 -

EPISODE 31

How To Hold On to a Living Hope

Rasool Berry

In dealing with disruption, doubts, friend’s deconversions and despair over the last few years, Rasool Berry shares the spiritual practices, biblical stories and personal life-lessons that helped him hold on to hope, so that we can too. Rasool Berry serves as teaching pastor at The Bridge Church in Brooklyn, New York. He also is the Director of Partnerships & Content Development with Our Daily Bread Ministries. Rasool graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies and Sociology. Rasool is a sought-after writer on the intersection of faith and culture. He’s the host of the Christianity Today sponsored Where Ya From? podcast and the writer, producer, and host of the Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom feature-length documentary. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Tamica, and their daughter.

Episode Reflection

Invitation to Explore

Rasool Berry provides us helpful steps for fostering a living hope in the midst of despair. Did you know that it is dangerously possible to have faith without hope? There are ways in which we may not doubt the existence or goodness of God, but we aren’t expectant that God will show up and meet us in our places of grieving, lament, and despair. 

Take some time to think about the places of pain and despair in your soul where you are lacking an expectant hope for God. What would it look like for Jesus to help you face your despair and give you a fresh sense of hope?

Scripture to Study

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

(1 Peter 1:1-9)

Wise Words to Consider

“All I know is you have words of life that I have never heard come from any other human being on the face of this earth. And I can’t go anywhere else because I’ve seen too much and I’ve experienced too much of your goodness and your grace to turn away because I don’t understand what’s happening around me. And even though my friend and my cousin left, I can’t go anywhere. Where am I going? Where else am I gonna go?”  – Rasool Berry

A Prayer to Lead You

Jesus, You are our living hope. And yet, we struggle to anchor our souls in that hope. 

There is so much chaos outside of us and so much noise within us. Often we try to numb ourselves to the disappointment, regrets, loss, and grief in our lives. We are afraid to face these things head on. We pretend to be better than we really are. We may not deny that You exist or that You are good or that You might be working in other people’s lives – but we have a hard time having a hope that you will work in our lives to bring redemption out of the broken pieces.

We come to you bearing a heavy burden of despair because we know Your shoulders are strong enough to bear it. You are the One who showed the power of God in the humiliation of the cross. You were the One that the grave could not hold. You were raised to life so that we would be raised to a newness of life.

Jesus, You are our living hope. Come and renew that hope within us we pray. Amen.  

A Practice to Begin

Rasool gave us three steps for fostering hope in the midst of despair:

  1. Grieve what was lost
  2. Take every thought captive to Christ
  3. Remember the blessings you’ve experienced in the past from God

Over the next week, take some time to pinpoint something that weighs heavy on your heart. Walk through each of these three steps as slowly as you need to. Begin by naming and grieving what was lost – the relationship, the job, the security, the health, etc. Next, begin the process of taking every thought captive to Christ. Remind yourself that you are not a prisoner to your thoughts. Make changes to be able to put your thoughts into things that are good, pure, noble, etc. Lastly, reflect and recall the ways in which God has met you and blessed you in the past. Remind yourself that it’s okay to be in a place where you may not feel the worship you are saying.   

Questions to Answer

Rasool talked about how it is actually okay to not feel the worship that you are saying. In fact, the Psalms tell us that it’s normal in our walk with God to need to command our souls to worship when we aren’t feeling it (Psalm 103)!

What is your reaction to the idea that God welcomes our worship even if we aren’t feeling it 100%? How does this shape the way you can come to Jesus even when you are at a low point in your life? How does this form you after you’ve come through a difficult period of time?  

Resources to Help

Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom
Barna Group, Beyond Diversity

Transcript

Rasool Berry: [00:01]  Like, all I know is you have words of life that I have never heard come from any other human being on the face of this earth. And I can’t go anywhere else, because I’ve seen too much. And I’ve experienced too much of Your goodness and Your grace to turn away because I don’t understand what’s happening around me. 

And even though my friend and my cousin left, I can’t go anywhere, where am I going? Where else am I gonna go? I can’t get this, what I’ve experienced, like forgiveness, redemption, the benefits of my soul. So nah I’m sticking around. And, and I just love that because  so many times over the last few years, I’ve related to that, you have the words of life form I’m gonna go.

Chealsia Smedley: [00:44]   Welcome to the Created For podcast, a space where everyday lives intersect with God’s redemptive story,

Michele Davis: where together we learn from diverse voices, explore our unique callings and pursue communal flourishing.

Chealsia Smedley: We’re your hosts Chealsia Smedley

Michele Davis: and Michele Davis.

Chealsia Smedley:[1:00] Do you actually believe that there is a living hope that’s robust enough to hold all of our pain, all of our sorrows, all of our doubts, and all of our despair. For real, we’re not talking about closing our  eyes and hoping for the best, whatever that means. Today, we’re talking about a kind of hope that causes someone to sell themselves back into slavery after tasting freedom for the first time in their lives.We’re talking about a hope that isn’t threatened by pain and grief, which is important. But that faces it head on, even lingers in it, let’s it sink in, knowing that through is the best way forward.

The voice you heard before mine is Rasool Berry. And he’ll introduce himself a little bit later. But what you need to know before we get into this conversation is that this is his second time at Created For and we keep bringing him back. I think we’ll bring him back again, because it is so clear that God is at work in his life. It’s clear in the way that he gets real about the pain and struggles that he’s faced. And it’s also clear in the way that he so naturally takes his own experiences, applies biblical truth to them, and then generously offers that wisdom to us, so that we can know how to hold on to hope with him. 

You might want to get a pen and paper this episode. Because we get really practical. And I think it’s important when we’re talking about hope to get practical, right,  because he wants to sit around and have a conversation about hope but not actually know how to hold on to it. 

Chealsia Smedley: [03:13] Hi, Rasool. It is so great to have you back on the Created For podcast. I feel like there’s so much that we can talk about. But first, I’d love to hear what are you up to these days? Kind of want to catch up.

 

Rasool Berry: [ 03:26]  Yeah, thanks. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I feel like in a lot of ways, this is kind of a reunion since I was part of the initial Created For conference. So shout out to Wendy for inviting me and for all the Created For team for thinking it not robbery to bring me back. So I appreciate it. 

Um, yes, so I am now on staff with Our Daily Bread Ministries, I serve as the content developer and partnership liaison. So basically, that means that I get to kind of create content with my friends, people who I think are really sharp and impactful and try to, you know, just nurture creativity and incubation toward Kingdom movement. 

So one of the biggest ways that that manifested itself in 2022 was with the Juneteenth film, which I got to collaborate with Lisa Fields, who’s the co-founder of The Jude 3 Project, a ministry that helps Christians, especially in African American spaces, defend and understand their faith, right. We collaborated on this film and in an incredibly short amount of time, for June 2022. 

And it’s just been incredible to see the response to the film. I just came back from Anderson University where we screened it on that campus and the students were just amazed by it. We’ve been at several film festivals, so it’s just been really exciting to see the reaction and a response to this film, which very much was this idea of how do we look at the faith story that was involved with those who were enslaved and then became emancipated. That’s been a big project, as well as my own podcast, where you’re from our fourth season, and I got some exciting, incredible guests coming up with that. And so yeah, we got a couple of things going on now.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [05:26]  That’s exciting. I watched the Juneteenth film, and really enjoyed it. I feel like you guys did such a good job of creating this hopeful story of like not shying away from digging into the pain of the things that happened, but also showing a thread of God’s faithfulness throughout. And even as we think about where we’re at now, and how to continue moving forward. Yeah, that was really encouraging to me.

 

Rasool Berry: [05:51]  Thank you. I’m glad to hear that. That’s what we wanted. That’s what we’re exactly going for. I mean, the real, and also the real hope.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [05:59]  And then you were recently a part of our Created For Wholeness event, you talked about how we can not see exile not as this place of despair, but as a place that God has brought us in for purpose. I would love it if you could just share a little bit more about ,yeah, what you shared in your talk about this, like struggle with hopelessness, how you see that playing itself out in our culture in the church. And kind of the hope that you found.

 

Rasool Berry: [06:26]  Yes. It came out of 1st Peter, really just right from the very beginning. Peter identifies who he’s talking to, as the elect exiles, in the first verse, of the dispersion. Exile in general, has a connotation of difficulty, of stress, of struggle. People who are exiled are usually either political exiles, or in the case of Peter, and others, they are faith-based or religious exiles experiencing persecution. And so whatever that is, it is a difficult space to be in exile because essentially, it means that you, at some point, had to pick up your life and moved someplace else. And there’s stress there. And there’s a sense of loss and a sense of grieving having to leave the place that you grew up in, that you had your memories and that you maybe went to school at or got engaged at and and just all of that. And the reality of the fact that many of us feel like exiles, as people of faith in our world, as people who are maybe feeling marginalized because of their ethnicity, their gender.And oftentimes, these things compile on top of each other. It’s not just one, right, it’s any combination of those things. 

And it can be very disorienting to be in exile, and especially in the context of oftentimes that American Christian culture that has tended to so emphasize the blessing of following with Jesus and the blessing of, you know, prosperity, living in the wealthiest nation in the world, we can become even more disoriented because we felt like:  Wait, I was told that everything was going to get better if I just gave my life to Christ, and everything was gonna be around me. So how does that relate to being an exile? I feel like in some ways, life has gotten more difficult. 

And so I think it’s very pertinent the fact that Peter refers to this group as elect exiles, because one he is experiencing, and he’s addressing the sense of despair that many of them feel from all the hardships that come with being in some ways marginalized or pushed out. And yet he uses this descriptor in front of exiles, elect. God sees you, God chose you for this, even though this took you by surprise, it didn’t take God by surprise that you would find yourself in these stressed and strained environments. So as a result of that we have a living hope. God anticipated and even, maybe even put us in these places with one of the elements of it being our own strengthening of our own faith, in order to deepen our sense of hope, in Christ, a living hope. 

And the reason why he says living hope is he says, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We usually say like ‘I hope such and such is going to happen, I hope it doesn’t rain.’ But in the gospels, in the New Testament, it often refers to The Hope that we have, singular, noun, definitive. A hope that’s really rooted and grounded in the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, everything including his own suffering, that somehow this suffering, was always going to be redemptive, was always going to be purposeful, and was always going to have a sense of hope. And so we have the living hope, because we can look at the resurrection and see that God redeemed even the darkest moment in human history, and used it for a good thing. So if he can do it in that moment, then he can do it in our moments where we feel exiled, where we feel marginalized, where we  feel distant from him.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [10:14]  I have to ask. So you film Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom, well, it came out in June. I’m just curious if that project influenced your thinking in this way, like how God has even used that to kind of reiterate some of these things to you.

 

Rasool Berry: [10:32]  Definitely, the initial story of Juneteenth was seen as almost like, tragically comic, in some sense. People  were like: ‘Wait, like the Emancipation Proclamation, which I was told,  mistaught in school, was the end of slavery when Abraham Lincoln as president issued this, you know, Emancipation Proclamation. I didn’t know all the nuances that well, that was only for the states that had seceded from the Union. So that meant that there were slaveholding states that did not secede like Delaware and Kentucky, that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t even apply to. Right? So it wasn’t the end of slavery in the United States. But even beyond that, to understand that, the role that Texas played as a essentially bastion of, you know, of a slaveholding almost utopia in that sense. 

And so you had this migration, of slaveholders fleeing from the east to avoid the Union army’s enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to come to Texas. Could you imagine the sense of despair that someone could feel, one of the people we highlighted was Jack Yates. And Jack Yates was someone who was born into slavery, was married to a woman who was enslaved by somebody else on a different plantation in Virginia. Well, the Emancipation Proclamation is decreed in 1863. January 1 is supposed to be effective. So he’s free like, in that his enslaver just decides, well, you know, I guess that’s it, I need to do something else. Well, his wife’s enslaver is one of the folks that decides to flee that decree and come to Texas. 

So imagine being Jack Yates, and you’re faced with this situation of like, I finally can taste freedom for the first time. But my wife and 10 kids are still in bondage and essentially are being trafficked across the country. What do you do? Well, Jack Yates decides to put himself back into slavery under the service of this enslaver that had his wife and kids so that he could stay with them and go to this slave utopia of Texas. I mean, that’s just mind boggling right?  But out of that, when Juneteenth arrives, he experienced his freedom again for the second time, and then establishes Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, literally, they opened up their doors, January 1 1866, less than six months from Juneteenth. The first thing he does and becomes Reverend Jack Yates, and plants churches throughout Houston, but also civic institutions like schools to educate his people, to bring them together in terms of economic prosperity. 

And there’s a type of hope, that even in the midst of a type of despair that I couldn’t imagine, just an extraordinary indication of the type of tangible, practical, spiritual depth that he had. And again, the see the way his legacy…there’s still a Jack Yates High School in Houston, Texas now, Phylicia Rashad, you know, went there, George Floyd went there and graduated. And you start to think about the complexity of that, that legacy that we still in so many ways struggle with a sense of hope. But the stories of the past can give us insight into the future. So that’s why we spent a lot of time talking to those who kept the Juneteenth story alive. And I was surprised at how much you ask them: Well, how did they persevere, make it through? And it was like their faith in God. That’s what kept them.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [14:16]  Yeah, I..Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I love how you’re able to help us see this, like, biblical hope that is living. It’s like rooted in the Bible, but it’s also something that has been alive in the lives of our ancestors, the people who have come before us. And yeah, like you said, like, it is really important to remember these stories, because, like, the past helps us walk into the future. And so being able to draw from that energy,  that like faith, even in our own struggles, right,

 

Rasool Berry: [14:51]  Yeah. It just reminded me of how I need to continue to hold on to that faith even when I’m experiencing a despair that’s not even close to what they experienced, but that is still real in my own world, in my own life, as we all have experienced. And I wouldn’t even compare, you know, sufferings because the reality is we’ve only lived in our own experience. In the last three years, we are in the midst of all of us feeling in various different ways pressed upon in challenge and struggle. And you know, it’s possible to have faith but not hope?  And that’s one of the things that I think we can be guilty of. So I think the hope aspect is really important to name. 

 

Chealsia Smedley: [15:31]  Can you share more about that, having faith and not hope?

 

Michele Davis: [15:32]  Yeah, faith and not hope, keep going.

 

Rasool Berry: [15:36]  So faith has to do with trust, in God, belief, right? That God is present. And yet, I think the reason why, in First Corinthians 13, it says, you know, faith, hope and love, right, and the greatest of these is love is that hope is an eager expectation of God showing up. And so in a weird way, and I think if we sit with ourselves, there have been moments where it’s like, I’m not questioning God’s existence. I’m not questioning his goodness, in general, or in theory. I’m not questioning his power. But I am still in despair, because I don’t think that those things are going to result in my good in this moment. I still feel a sense of hopelessness, in the context of what’s going on in my life.

So we as humans, can hold all that together, where it’s like, I trust God, I believe God, I just feel like, for whatever reason, I am destined by God to have a life of despair, of a lack of hope. So that’s just kind of where we are. And so I think there’s a reason why the scriptures call us to talk about hope, in addition to faith, because that’s not the gospel. Right?

It’s kind of like, on the road to Emmaus, the two disciples are walking and they’re like: yeah, you know, we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, because we believed in Jesus, and we had hoped, right, we had hope that he was the hope of Israel. But they’re still walking discouraged, which is why Jesus when He appears to them, and kind of says, oh you slow to believe, like you slow to have hope. And we can find ourselves in positions, where even though I might check off all the theological boxes of doctrine in terms of believing the right things, I still don’t have an eager expectation that God is going to do it for me. And that’s where living hope comes into play, that God is actively involved in my life, that Jesus is forming me through whatever experiences I have, in the sense of persecution, or alienation or exile that I’m feeling that is not the end of the story, right.

 And one last example I’ll give because this word exile, of course, is very pregnant in the Old Testament. To me, the saddest moment in the Old Testament, is in Jeremiah, at the end, when the city of Jerusalem is besieged, the temple is destroyed, and the people are taken into exile, because you see, the complete reversal of the Promised Land experience, right. And this is why Jeremiah is even called the weeping prophet and his Lamentations that he writes, there’s this sense of just incredible tragedy of all that it means holistically, spiritually, financially, healthwise,  life and death yet, Jeremiah, Isaiah also hold on to the hope that God’s not done with us. Even if we’re there for seventy years, he’s not done. 

So even in the context of the word exile, we see the return, and Haggai and Nehemiah, and there’s this moment in Ezra, when they dedicate the temple. And the temple is smaller than it used to be. There’s less people there, there’s a remnant, and some people weep who remember the old temple in its grandeur and other people rejoice, and they celebrate. And it was like, the noise was happening loud across the board. And this is such a word. Think about that:  the numbers are less than what they used to be, you know, and we think about that after a pandemic, right? Like we you know, so those of us that can remember the weekly meetings or the retreats, and we can remember the former glory that there was, and it just feels like such a loss. 

And yet for those who were still rejoicing, there’s this aspect where it was said that the greater glory of this place will extend and actually exceed the former glory. Well, how’s that possible, if when I look at the building of Solomon’s temple and all the things that happened that this smaller temple never could compete with that?  Well, the greater glory happens when this little baby comes into the temple and is blessed by the prophetess Anna and the prophet Simeon and it says this is the one who’s going to restore the fortunes of Israel, because Jesus is the one that, His presence is the greater glory, His presence is the greater blessing, not the physical trappings of how many people were there, or what’s the size and splendor of our ministry or our platform. And I think that’s such an important thing for us to walk into today, that we can still walk into a greater glory of hope that even in the midst of things not being the same. And that’s the thing, hope doesn’t mean, everything’s gonna turn out exactly how it used to be right? But it means that even in the midst of it being different it’s a greater, deeper, more meaningful connection with the God of the universe through the incarnation of Christ. And that is a greater glory that we can celebrate even if it’s surprising, and it’s not expected.

 

Michele Davis: [20:47]  I feel a little like blown away. But also encouraged at the heart level of hearing what you’re describing here Rasool, there are definitely times where I have faith and no hope. And I’m also glad that you brought up Jeremiah and Lamentations because I think that that’s what I’m wondering like, when we are faced with things that are truly lamentable, when we’re experiencing grief, when our body feels wracked with sorrow, I want to get to the place of hope. But,I think a lot of people out there too struggle with just like the physical weight of the world, and the stress and  the things that we grieve. I see this vision of what you’re describing, and I just need to know what the first step is to get there.

 

Rasool Berry: [21:34]  That’s great. That’s real. And it’s also complicated, you know, to kinda sit in. Because in the same way that those who had seen the former temple grieved when they saw the dedication of the smaller one, there is an important place of grief and, and seeing what was lost. And that’s why Jeremiah writes Lamentations, right. So what I don’t want people to hear is that somehow by me talking about us having a living hope, that that means that we should not take stock in and reflect upon and lament that which is lost, because there are some real sadness that’s there. In fact, I would say, that’s the first step of having hope, is to allow yourself to, you know, grieve what was lost, because some of us will try to have a sense of denial, to try to pretend like nothing was lost, because it’s too painful to sit with that which was lost. 

 

Michele Davis: [22:39] Yeah. 

 

Rasool Berry: [22:40] And as a result of that, you just stay stuck, because you aren’t dealing with it. And because you’re not dealing with it, you can’t move forward. The Bible is so robust when you look at Psalm 13. How long Oh, Lord, will you forget me forever? Will you turn your face, not like, have you forgotten me? It’s like, will you continue forever, like, that’s where David is in so many of the psalms. How long? And yet, there is that corner that turns, in most of the psalms, not all of them. But in most of them, where it’s a  declaration, I will see your face again, I will rejoice in the land of the living. And notice that I will does not mean I am currently. 

 

Michele Davis: [23:20] Oh yeah

 

Rasool Berry: [23:21] It just means, I will, it’s just holding on to the truths of the fact that this is not the end of the story. This grief is not the end of the story. This pain is not the end of the story. And I think some of what helps us to hold on to the living hope is the declaration over ourselves that this aint the end, that I will yet again and rejoice. And so I will say step one, acknowledge the pain and acknowledge the loss, acknowledge the fact that people moved away that you were very close with, or that roles got shifted and as a result of organizational changes, there was some loss of things that you had, or people who had helped mentor you and shepherd you in the faith left and walked away from the faith. And what does that mean? Or even the own doubts that you are now accompanying your life in a way that they never did before.  I’m speaking of all stuff that’s happened to me, by the way, you know, I’m not just.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [24:19] Yeah

 

Rasool Berry: [24:21] Like all of these things, create opportunities to struggle. And so you have to acknowledge that and grieve it,  that God, this sucks. I’m so sad about this. I’m so hurt by the state of the world. I grieve these things. And yet God, this is not the end of the story. And I don’t know when I’mma feel like the other side of it. And I don’t know when but I know that you’ve promised and told me, I have a living hope. And so I’ll hold on to that.

And I think the second part, and this is, this might be a challenge to some folks. But there’s this passage where Paul talks about taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. And it is very dynamic to think about what it means to take every thought captive, because what it means is that I am not a prisoner to whatever thoughts emerge in my mind. Sometimes that’s kind of how we can feel, right? Like it could just feel like I’m just struggling with doubt, because that’s just kind of what’s filtering in my brain on a regular basis, and yet at the same time, what the Scriptures tell us right, Philippians chapter four, whatever is good, whatever is noble, whatever is praiseworthy, think on these things and the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding shall guard your heart and mind. So when I take Second Corinthians, when I take Second Corinthians chapter 10, and I look at the fact that Paul tells me, that we destroy every arguments, and every lofty opinion, raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ. That that means that I have the spirit in me, where I can demolish the arguments, not just in an apologetic sense that’s coming from outside, demolish the arguments that are coming from within, and every lofty opinion, including my own, and take every thought to be obedient to Christ. And there’s this very, like, almost violent language that Paul was talking about. And I think that’s because it’s an aspect of spiritual warfare, sometimes the thoughts that enter our mind. And so I think it is important to recognize that whatever is good, whatever is lovely, to think about these things, and sometimes that means changing the habits of what I’m consuming, through my eyes, through my ears, to turn up the volume of hope in my life.

 

Michele Davis: [26:47]  That makes sense. And I can see how those are interconnected. Right? Like, if I’m not acknowledging what I’ve lost, acknowledging what I’m grieving, then it’s going to be hard to take captive the thoughts that are causing the doubt.

 

Rasool Berry: [27:01]  Yeah, in this weird way  we can almost try to avoid it out of trying to honor Christ. You know, I had a friend who, when he first started having doubts about his faith, decided, well, I’m just going to put the Bible down, because every time I’m reading it, I’m seeing stuff that is making me question and doubt. And so then he goes years without reading, because he’s thinking, well, I’ll just engage in fellowship and worship, you know, and I’m like all the while, because you’re not confronting the thing that is the source of your doubt. You’re only getting further and further away. You know what I mean? Which is exactly what happened in this case.

God  can take our questions, right, he says, come, let us reason together. And I think that there is a point at a foundational moment, where I have to understand if I’m going to put more trust in myself, that’s the spirit of the age that says, if I can understand it, if it can make sense to me, that is the foundation of knowledge and wisdom. Whereas the Proverbs tell us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, you know, what I mean? And all knowledge and understanding comes from that. And so when I have doubts or questions or unresolved conflicts, I, there’s almost like when it’s like, the tie goes to the runner, you know what I mean,I just kind of default to like, God, I’m just gonna leave this to you. And what ultimately happens is you realize an angle, or an approach that you didn’t see before. 

And the last part about that, and this is so important with hope, is in those moments of despair, we tend to be forgetful. You realize that the main scripture, main commandment in Scripture is, remember, and do not be afraid, right? And it’s so interesting, because when David was not afraid of Goliath, and he explains it’s because he remembered that when I had to face a bear or face a lion, God delivered me from these things. So now I am not afraid of this Philistine who I know is opposing the living God. 

Contrast the many scenarios in Scripture, where people have forgotten God, right. We think about the Israelites in the wilderness where they forgot, they just forgot, like  God just delivered you from the most powerful empire in the world. And now because you don’t see water in a desert, you’re fearful. And that fear is causing you to reject the possibilities that God has for you. That same thing happens for us. And so there’s another step, not just remember the pain, not just take thoughts captive, but remember the blessings that you’ve already experienced. You know, I love Psalm 103 because sometimes this is where a lot of us are. It says, “Bless the Lord. Oh my soul.” Right. So David is talking to his soul. He’s commanding his soul to bless the Lord.” Bless the Lord, oh, my soul, and  all that is within me, bless His name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul and forget not his benefits.” Then he lists the benefits, “who forgives all your sins, who has healed all your diseases, who’s redeemed your life from the pit and filled it with good things. Bless the Lord. Oh my soul.”

So now when it gets with the third time, it’s like, okay, now I’m remembering all the stuff that I did that fell short of God’s glory, the ways in which I was broken, that I was despondent that I was going through. And now I remember what God did in the midst of that, all the ways in which my life has been redeemed, and even the things that I was formerly ashamed of, he’s now using those things to, you know, help me help other people get pulled out of the pit. Okay, now I’m in a better position to bless the Lord oh, my soul. But sometimes we got to tell ourselves that and what that means is, last point. It is okay not to feel the worship that you are saying. That used to be a thing. Oh, is it fake? Or am I just going through the motions? Sometimes, yes, you have to go through the motions in order for the reality of how you feel to catch up with what is true, right. You know, we know this very well in Cru,  faith is not a feeling.  Like that’s th, you know, old jam that still plays. But it’s not just like, you know, just pulling it out of thin air. It’s also remembering what’s already been true. 

 

Chealsia Smedley: [31:07] Rasool are you a pastor? Because you just gave us a whole sermon. That was a whole sermon. 

 

Rasool Berry:[31:12]  I am. Yes. It’s funny. Teaching pastor at The Bridge Church here in Brooklyn. Shout out. 

 

Michele Davis: [31:18] I feel pastored and ministered to in that way. It’s so good. I especially appreciate that you landed on you might not feel the worship you’re saying but it’s that idea of you’re sowing what you know to be true and trusting God to grow it. You know?

 

Chealsia Smedley: [ 31:39]  You’ve given us a lot of  things that you learned in your own life, um, and kind of like how other people can apply them. You kind of mentioned that you were in a place of despair,  so I’d love to hear more about how God met you personally,

 

Rasool Berry: [31:54]  Absolutely. Yeah, I think there’s a sense in which my personal story really overlaps with a lot of people in a sense that I was kind of, uh,had this incredible unfazed optimism about showing up in, as a black person in predominantly white spaces, especially within the church and just being kind of, like present and being a change agent and being a person that could kind of contribute and help where there were blind spots,  help us see and move toward the faith.

And that kind of to really get strained, um, over the last few years. When you start to hear,  brothers and sisters kind of disparage things that you’re saying or doing and kind of lump it in with these ideas. Things like, oh, that’s Marxist or your communist, or this is coming from this kind of anti-biblical worldview.

And so in some way, shape or form in those terms, not so much like those terms being weaponized, to silence, any kind of critique. So that was like a start of a process of like, really feeling out of place. So even before like Covid there already was starting to feel that. But then, you know, Covid kind of accelerated it because you had this sense of detachment combined with, the, the, you know, continued instances, of course, George Floyd being murdered, right,in May, 2020 was just this, um, crisis.

And just to kind of give you a sense, so like Barna in their study Beyond Diversity revealed that in 2019 they did a study that says 76% of African-American Christian, practicing Christians, would say racism is a problem in our country. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, that number went from 76% to 82%.It increased 7%.  

Amongst practicing Christians who were white. that number went from like 37%, which was already very low compared to African Americans, um, to  31%. It went down by the same, it went actually down after George Floyd people saying it was… And so all I’m saying is like that reality  is very disorienting to kind of live in these spaces. 

Because what it meant was that my experience and my insights and my perspective and my life  there were other things that were used to kind of, basically reject and say that these things aren’t really what’s happening right, in the name of something else. And I think that was very disorienting then as a pastor in New York City.

Right? So New York was like the ground zero of Covid. I mean, it was apocalyptic out here you know, so in some parts of the world where they’re kind of debating if this is even real or not, like literally I’m seeing people dying around me. We have a funeral director at our church, and he was like, they had to turn people, like funerals away. They could not bury that many people. And I’m seeing people lose their jobs and I’m seeing all of the things that were happening. And so there was a sense of despair that was just there, just with my congregation.

And then on top of that, you have  the cultural shift that whatever was happening before in terms of secularization in the states just accelerated. And I think one of the reasons why that acceleration happened during Covid is because our faith is dynamically communal.

I say Christianity is a team sport. And so when you have this place where all of a sudden you’re isolated, it becomes very easy to be disconnected from the faith and from the practices of spirituality with each other. And so all of those things were things that affected me personally.

The cumulative effect of those things in terms of my own sense of despair or lack of hope were all present. Yeah, that was, that was tough stuff to kind of work through and then meanwhile you’re looked upon to lead. And so like you going through your own stuff, but then you also gotta help other people work through it.

And to a degree in which I struggle with overwork and I struggle with boundaries, um, I kind of burnt myself out in a lot of places. But in the midst of all those things, I started to have  lower back pain during the pandemic because I was sitting 12 14 hours in front of a computer not taking care of myself. But the cool thing is I’m in such a better place now. But  I remember  in the past when I had a flare up of back pain, it would take like six months and then I’d be back to running, working out things like this.

This joint took like two years, and so I remember after year one and feeling like, is this ever gonna change?  Like, I’m never gonna be able to do what I used to do, like physically and how that felt.  But then kind of continuing to see minor progress, and yesterday  running four miles and not going the same pace as I did before.

But the fact that I can do it, It was just a reminder  that it takes time to rebuild that which was lost.  But it starts with the hope, because when I was just in despair , the one thing that the physical therapist and the chiropractor told me was that it was actually inactivity was the worst thing.

So when my pain started happening, I thought that I shouldn’t do anything.  When in actuality, it’s in the midst of the, whoa, this is a word. It’s in the midst of the pain that you need to continue to move because if you stay stagnant, then you just make the problem worse. And so that was the lesson that I learned in my physical body.

But I think it’s still true in the spirit too, that in the midst of pain keep moving. And in the doing that you actually continue to see a sense more of inspiration and dynamism approach. And you don’t get stuck in just despair. And so that’s the process that I’ve gone through both physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, all those things over the last few years.

 

Michele:[37:50]  Yeah. I think what encourages me most about this is hearing you share like hard things that you’ve gone through really recently. You’ve lived then the advice you gave us at the beginning, so I just appreciate your willingness to like, to share those things and  to live holding onto hope when there’s a lot of good reasons to despair.

 

Rasool Berry: [38:16] Yeah. Thanks. I appreciate it.  And I’m grateful you know, I love that line in, uh, that verse in Revelation where it says they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.  You ever wonder why it is that God chose in his sovereignty to use us to proclaim his goodness? Like it’s probably the most ineffective method,if  I’m thinking from my standpoint. To trust people going through whatever they’re going through in their day, to adequately articulate and represent God and all of his goodness and his plan of redemption. Well, I think at least one of the reasons, and I’m sure there are many, is that it gives us an opportunity to think on these things.

Whatever’s good, whatever’s noble, whatever’s true, it gives us the opportunity to tell the story, and there’s something about telling the story that gives you a bit of a boost of a charge of being like, yo, that is true. Like, yo, I was in this place. And so I’m just as grateful for the opportunity to share and to have people ask me, 

So thank you for bringing that out of me because it’s part of the overcoming process, um, is to  recall and reflect because , you know, it’s tough when, you know, whether it’s your kids and they’re struggling with their faith or some other thing in life, or a close friend or, just yourself.

But the thing that I’ve found comforting is that Jesus doesn’t rebuke doubting Thomas. Right? You know, he doesn’t say, you can’t be my disciple no more, cuz you, you question me, he doesn’t rebuke Peter when Peter, in his fear denies him, but he takes the initiative to make ’em breakfast.

 

Mm-hmm.

 

To make ’em food and say, ‘hey man,  let’s hang out’  to, to spend time to, to show Thomas that’s like, Hey, you can, you can put your finger through my wrist.  But also say blessed are those who believe and have not seen. And you know what? That’s us. You know, there’s a blessing there too.

And so, but I love the fact that God holds that in tension. So if he can hold into tension, the desperate father who says, I believe, but help my unbelief, then I need to make space for. and for others to live in that dynamic as well  and that honestly has challenged some of my training or some of the way that I had initially thought to engage in kind of these black and white aspects, you know, of where people are in their journey and been more patient with them as even as with myself. But at the same time, see that the living hope of the resurrection is that while I’m still walking through this journey, God is still with me and is  giving me more and more insight and depth and perspective to trust him in the lean times and the difficult times . It’s not the end of the story . So no matter how dark things are, I have a living hope because my redeemer yet lives.

 

Mm-hmm.

 

Chealsia Smedley: [41:39]  Yeah. Yeah. I feel like every time you’ve spoken, I’ve just been like, wow, this is so beautiful. Yeah. Because you are telling the story of God. You’re telling the story of his redemption, the way that he intersects with all of our broken parts and yeah, I can see Jesus in you.And even as you’re speaking these words,  it’s ministering to me.

 

Rasool Berry: [42:04]  Well, amen. I appreciate that.  I would also say that this is what we have to offer to those who are not in the faith or who are questioning. I used to think that I had to have a much more  polished presentation of where I was and where I was at, right?

And in reality,I think  that’s  a beautiful thing to offer someone is the challenging parts of your story and the parts that are still in process, Like, it don’t have to be completely resolved. There can still just be the sense of like, I’m choosing to walk in this faith. 

John 6:66 has been such a I hang my hat verse, right? That’s when you know the crowds were following Jesus because he had just done the five fish and loaves and giving it to everyone, and they were following him, and then he started, you know, saying stuff like, eat my flesh and drink my blood.

And they were like, whoa, what are you on? That sounds crazy. And it says they departed from him. Many disciples, many left him. And he turns to Peter and the 12 and says, are you gonna leave too? And Peter says, ‘Lord, you have the words of life. Where am I gonna go?’ And I was like, oh my gosh.

He basically is like, he didn’t say ‘no, because I believe that, I understand that they are misunderstanding your words and that they are well, you don’t mean it literally. You just mean it spiritually.’ And he doesn’t give some theologically robust explanation for why he gets it and they don’t get it. 

He just says, look, I’ve seen too much. I’ve experienced too much. I know too much. I don’t quite understand what you’re saying, with this eat my flesh, drink my blood thing. That in some ways is completely counter to the law that I understand. We’re not supposed to be cannibals, but I do know that what I saw from you is, and what I heard from you, not just the miracles, but the way you taught.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ What’s the greatest commandment? ‘To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love  your neighbors as yourself. Turn the other cheek,’  like all I know is you have words of life that I have never heard come from any other human being on the face of this earth and I can’t go anywhere else cuz I’ve seen too much and I’ve experienced too much of your goodness and your grace to turn away because I don’t understand what’s happening around me. 

 

And even though my friend and my cousin left , I can’t go anywhere. Where am I going? Where else am I gonna go? I can’t get this, what I’ve experienced, like forgiveness, redemption, the benefits of my soul. So nah I’m sticking around. And I just love that because I..so many times over the last few years I’ve related to that, you have the words of life, where am I gonna go? 

 

Chealsia Smedley: [44:59] Mm-hmm. Okay. I have one more question for you. So in light of all that we talked about today, , how would you encourage someone to participate in God’s redemption of their community? What’s a takeaway that you would want them to remember 

 

Rasool Berry:[45:14]  Oh yeah. Let’s end on something simple and quick. Right? God’s redemption in your community. 

 

[Laughter] 

 

Michele Davis:[45:21] A step forward, you know, not like a full plan.

 

Rasool Berry: [45:24] Yeah I think, working through and processing how God is redeeming your own story. When I think of Psalm 103, ‘he’s redeemed my life from the pit.’What’s the particular pit that you’ve been in that God has redeemed your life from or is redeeming your life from?

Ground yourself in your story and then invite people into that in some practical ways.  In a way than never before, hospitality, which is a command from the scripture, is so essential to our life and witness today. Like think about how infrequently you go to somebody’s house now versus how much you used to. The muscle memory has atrophied of us being able to get time with each other. And what that has created is a sense of loneliness and isolation.

And so one of the ways to be a redemptive presence in your community is simply to invite people into your space and to think about them as someone that you want  to get to know and to be with, and find opportunities in the midst of that  to share your life with them, share your meal, share your dreams with them, and share your struggles with them as well.

And what I think you’ll find is that wherever that sense of hospitality is an incredible open door to us experiencing each other’s humanity and then to experience more than humanity, but the divine, presence of God.

 

Chealsia Smedley:[46:56] Oh, I needed this reminder that my hope is living as the bills pile up, as the body breaks and slowly heals ,as cycles of dysfunction continue on around me. This Jesus hope has been alive since the beginning, alive in the lives of those who walked before, in our own pits that God has redeemed and continues to redeem us from and will be alive far into eternity.

So what’s our next step? Maybe you can share this episode with a friend and take that opportunity to invite someone over, to remember and retell the stories of hope in your life and declare the reality of resurrection, even if you don’t see it. This isn’t the end of the story. Our redeemer lives and so does our hope.

 

Michele Davis:[ 47:57] For more ways to continue journeying with us, hit subscribe in your favorite podcast app. Check out the show notes for any links we referenced, and then go to crude.org/created four for a guided reflection based on this episode.

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