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Morning Meditations-July 1st, 2017 346 am

-This new Jay-Z Album is fresh!  I love how great music is dropping unexpectedly again like it did back when I was a child.  I also love how the collective consciousness of our community is elevating & that elevation is reflective in so much of the artistic expression out right now.

-Don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there is a black owned professional basketball league that shows games on TV. …yeah… Black Owned. Professional Basketball League. We need to support this.  I wonder if they sell jerseys?

-Have we gotten to the point where we can claim “Christian” as a belief without the accountability to look & live like Christ?  Maybe, we always have and I’m just angrier about it now.

-I mean, Jay out here giving financial advice on wax.  I LOVE the idea of Black wealth/Black empowerment being something that is stylish and cool.

-Who knew that the path to the Divine would be through discriminating who I distribute desserts to?  Here I am concerned about righteousness and equity when all I really needed was pastries!   SMH!

-I’m not the boss of your ignorance.  I would just prefer that you keep it to yourself and not put Jesus’ name on it

-Not for nothing, but I am not doing ANYTHING celebratory for the 4th of July. The present state of the union has me feeling very unpatriotic lately. I am deeply disappointed by what is going on in D.C.  In terms of politics, the past six months, have been like watching “The Sopranos Take Washington” or something.

-A few days back, I watched a prominent pastor publicly step down from the pastorate in order to get his personal life in order.  I liken this level of transparency to what Jay-Z is deploying by not so indirectly discussing his marriage faux pas publicly on the title track.  I think there is a healthy balance between privacy and accountability.  Respect them both for this.  Still not calling another man JeHOVah

-People should really stop acting like getting angry about the injustices in our communities is somehow wrong.  To use my indignation to inherently indict my belief in Jesus is insane!  I ascribe to a religion that is bigger than an inclination towards repressive respectability.  Just because I’m angry at what I see does not mean that I don’t have a serious relationship with God.  It is the seriousness of my relationship with God that causes me to be angry at what I see…because I think God is angry too

-I mean…I genuinely thought there wouldn’t be another album of Jay-Z’s better than “The Black Album” and this is killing that!!  Im not as high on Jay-Z as most are (at all), but I really like this album…is that allowed?…..am I a hater, now?….who came up with all of these rules anyway?…darn kids!!  Man listen, lemme go back to sleep before I start sounding like a Jay-Z fan or something….zzzzzz

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4 Ways My Church Shows Me That They Love Me

By the time you read this, It will be my 3rd anniversary as the privileged pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Circleville, Ohio.  It has truly been a blessed union of pastor and people; not without its share of struggle, but one where God’s goodness, grace, and mercy have proven faithful to His people.

Often, I hear and read about the difficulties that come with leading a congregation.  In particular, I often hear of how many parishes mistreat their shepherd. I even heard a pastor once refer to Pastoral ministry as “the ministry of misery”.  Seems as if every other day, I see an article about a church taking their leader for granted, not understanding the sacrifices that a pastor makes for them, or outright disrespecting their person and position.  And while I want to regard (and pray for) those have that story, I want to testify that I do not.  Now, in fairness and transparency, there have been moments in my ministry where I have felt taken advantage of; moments where “what I do” has seemed more important “who I am”. I actually think that these moments are (if for no other reason, than the position of pastor in relation to the body of believers ), part of what comes with the call to the pastorate, but I digress. The truth of the matter is that these moments are infinitesimal to the moments where I feel valued and important to those whom I serve.  My deepest of prayer is that I make those whom I serve feel as loved as they make me feel regularly.

With that principle in play, I wanted to share a few of the ways that the church I serve shows me that they love me.  I pray that this encourages clergy and churches to continue to love on each other as they continue to be conjoined in service to our God.

  1. They Allow Me To Be Myself

This may seem like an obvious thing, but so often clergy are bound by expectations and standards that have nothing to do with their call. This becomes dangerous in a very real way as many brothers and sisters in the ministry faithfully serve others while simultaneously losing the specific things that make them unique. How can God use you if there is no “you” for God to use?  Our church loves me enough to let me be all that I am in Jesus Christ without making apologies for it.  For example: I have a heart for social justice, in particular, the present plight of the African American. In fact, I do not know how to interpret the life of Jesus (or the will of God for that matter) without connecting it to justice and righteousness. Our congregation is a historically African American, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-generational church.  While I attempt to responsibly navigate that reality in my preaching and teaching, it helps me to know that my church loves me enough to not mute me when it comes to issues of racism, sexism, sexuality, injustice, etc.  They pray for me when I march or protest or speak out on certain issues (in fact, they encourage me to keep on doing it).  It is easy to preach about a God of liberation when I, myself< am liberated by my church daily.

2.  They Pay Attention To How I Am Doing

One Sunday, I arrived at church for Sunday School (yes, I go to Sunday School…and I love it! Can’t expect anyone else to go if I don’t go), and I was feeling a little heavy.  It had been a particularly busy week at our church; full of meetings and programming, I hadn’t gotten the best sleep the night before, and by the time I pulled up at the church, I was in a funk of EPIC proportion. I walked in and greeted everyone in crude cordiality.  As I made my way to my office to get my spirit right, one of our ushers stopped me and said “Good morning, Pastor.  Are you alright?” Lying to her face, I replied, “Sure, I’m cool” while forcing the most disingenuous smile known to man in front of her.  She smiled and replied “Ok, just checking up on you.  It’s just we’ve never seen you this way before.  We know that you are so busy taking care of us. You have so much on your plate and we just want you to know that we are praying for you.  We love you, Pastor”.  She gave me a hug (I almost cried in her arms) and I felt instantly better.  Their regard for me was (and is) more than just an appreciation for a hired hand. Their love for me in that moment preached to me well before (and much better) than anything that I could have preached to them.

3.   They Tell Me When They Don’t Agree With Me 

We have an unofficial motto for any endeavor that takes place at our church: “We Don’t Drag Anyone”.  It means that whatever it is we decide to do as a congregation we commit doing it together.  It also means that if someone has questions, if someone disagrees, or if someone just feels some type of way about it, someone can ask questions in order to gain understanding.  The only way this works is if our membership are honest with me and rather than have separate meetings in the church parking lot or sabotage the stratagem silently, they share their concerns, openly, honestly, and respectfully. As much as I would like to tell you that every single decision I make is perfect and absolute in its correctness, the truth is sometimes my decisions aren’t the best ones. I have even had members tell me “I don’t agree with you, but I trust that God is leading you”. The level of regard & trust in that kind of statement lets me know that they not only respect but love me enough to be real with me.

4)     They Understand My Needs (Even When They Don’t Understand Them)

I am very much an introvert.  It might seem hard to believe given the visible realities of a call to the pastorate, but it is true indeed.  If I had my way, I would just email my sermon to our membership and have them reply with questions or thoughts.  Not only am I an introvert, but I emotionally recharge silently and not socially.  This means that after the benediction, and greeting parishioners, I normally need about 20-25 minutes to myself to re-center myself. Sometimes, the feeling of lowliness gets so deep that I cannot engage socially after our worship experience.  I explained this to our church in my first year of ministry, afraid that I was destroying my ministry before it had even started.  But, to my surprise, they not only understood it but (to this very day), they defend the time that I need from others.  They will instruct people who come to my office to wait until I am ready to come out or schedule an appointment.  They politely knock on the door looking to see if I need more time; they are even thoughtful enough to remind me to take time when I am overstepping my own preset boundaries in the name of ministry. They explain my needs to others who may not know or understand.

I hope that these help both the men & woman of God who pastor but also those who may follow them. I pray you are all able to see that there are real examples of a healthy relationship between a pastor & the people they serve.  This can work! And all I can think about on my annIversary is how well it works in my own life.  I am grateful to God for a church that shows me its love regularly.  I know my church loves me and I know it because they show me every day!

 

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When Demons Aren’t Discussed

In the 5th Chapter of the Luke’s Gospel, we find a particular passage of scripture.  One in which Jesus is having a very curious conversation with an unlikely collaborator.  The context in which the text occurs suggests that Jesus has traveled across the sea of Galilee with His disciples for the purpose of releasing a man who is possessed by demons.  Jesus arrives in the Gadarenes and is met by this beleaguered brother. The demonic influence upon the man has driven him to the point of insanity. The text tells us that he cannot be restrained, so much so that he has not only become a danger to those around him but has also begun to damage himself.  It is a destructive dilemma, to say the least.

But in this moment, Jesus does something both peculiar and powerful. As he is confronted with the reckless reality of the demons, with all of the power to exorcise these demons at His disposal, Jesus goes into frank and honest dialogue with the demons.  Before Jesus heals the man, Jesus has deep discussion with his demons. Before my Savior offers deliverance, Jesus engages in discourse with the devils living deep within this brother.

I think about this practice as it relates to efforts of equality and practices in progress in the United States today.  The disorders of this democracy are known all too well. To hear that racism, discrimination, sexism, institutional oppression and a host of other issues plague this province is no surprise to anyone. But for all of the professed commitment to change, there is little, if any, conversation about the realities of these issues.  The collective cry, across all fronts, is that people want this nation to be better, but in order for there to be meaningful improvement, there must first be frank interlocution.  If the demons we see around us cannot be confronted in conversation, how we possibly expect there to ever be a conversion?

If Jesus Christ is the model by which we measure our life standards, then we must be willing to confidently address the demons of this day, just as He did back in His day on the shores of the Galilee. Prophetic communication has been so watered down by political correctness that to be uncompromising in the face of these social demons is often seen as unpatriotic. The purging of this province must start with Christians speaking to the spirits that surround us; even if that speech stretches us to the point of discomfort.

Our love for our Lord, our desire to live like Him, must be at the center of these confabulations.  We need to be able to say that black lives are not treated and valued in the same way that other lives are in this country  We need to be able to say that women are passively regarded as a lower class of being in almost every way possible in America.  We need to be able to say that poverty, war, and fear are all good for business in America. We need to be able to say that “Muslim” & “Terrorist” are not synonyms.  We need to be able to say that LGBTQ children of God are still children of God. These (and others) are all present day demons of our nation. Demons that have gone unaddressed for too long and now are completely unrestrained. Demons that ultimately prompt America to damage herself and others.

Not only must we who love God and His righteousness be able to say things like this, but Christians who may not be directly affected by these demons (even Christians who may consciously or unconsciously benefit from the work of these demons) must be willing to listen; to hear these statements as necessary and not paranoid ranting.

When demons aren’t discussed, comedians can be insensitive to the African experience in America and justify it with creative license.  When demons aren’t discussed, video proof of a murder isn’t enough to garner a conviction. When demons aren’t discussed more time is spent questioning the character of the victim than that of the victimizer. When demons aren’t discussed, ethnicity is devalued in the name of a warped sense of equality.  When demons aren’t discussed, audacity is confused with integrity and democracy devolves into dictatorship.  When demons aren’t discussed, the nation, and all of those who reside in it, are left to become the worst versions of themselves; versions that will, ultimately, consume each other.

We, as believers, need to begin to have conversations about things that matter. Talks that create the space for transformation the Lord desires for us all.  If we choose not to, we vacate the word “change” of all its meaning.  How much longer can we go on living in a world where demons aren’t discussed?

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Where Are The Pastors?: Clergy And The New Civil Rights Movement

A few days ago, I was at a City Council event where citizens, elected officials and community leaders alike all gathered in the same place to discuss issues going on in the city. In Columbus, Ohio, tensions between police officers and the public are high because of the deaths of Jaron Thomas, Ty’re King and Henry Green; all young African American men who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.

While at this event, as it was beginning and opening remarks were being made, a group of brothers & sisters began to walk down the left aisle of the gymnasium where the gathering was held. Carrying signs that read “The Whole D*** System Is Rigged” & “Racist Cops Should Go To Jail”, these demonstrators marched in & stood in front of the gathered crowd. Calling for the firing of the officers implicated in these tragedies, a social justice organization coordinated a protest where they purposefully disrupted this council meeting in order to raise awareness to the aforementioned injustices. The mothers of both Henry Green & Ty’re King bravely & boldly stood before the crowd that night and read a letter chronicling the details of her son’s demise. The protest lasted about 10 minutes but left people in their seats to ponder well after it ended. It was a blessed moment; a moment in which truth loudly lifted its voice in the face of power.

As I left the event, I was standing outside waiting to talk to a colleague when a sister came up to me and thanked me for my involvement and support. Humbled by the expression of gratitude, I told her it was my pleasure & privilege to serve in whatever way I could, but, as we spoke, the hurt in her eyes began to speak louder than her voice. I attempted to address her agony by asking her what was wrong. She replied with a question: “Where are the pastors”? Holding back tears, she explained to me that she is so disappointed that there aren’t more pastors supporting the efforts of their group. She went on to say that the absence of clergy in this time of crisis, in this time where spiritual guidance is needed, has her seriously questioning her faith in God. I attempted to comfort & encourage her to hold on to her faith knowing that God was with us despite whoever may not be. But, as I shared with her, I felt a sense of inadequacy & insufficiency; I felt like I was attempting to explain the inexplicable.

We hugged & I walked to my car to go home. As I drove off, I began to think through my feelings on what had just transpired. I was honest. My motives were genuine. I felt as if my compassion was clear. Why would I feel so poorly, almost embarrassed, by what I said if what I said was right? Did I do something wrong? It was in this moment where it hit me…smacked me in the face like a reality show “housewife”. I felt some type of way because what I said was wrong. My response, while meant to encourage and enliven, offered passive justification for something that I understand to be indefensible. How could I even attempt to offer a reason for absentee apostles when I know that Isaiah 1:17 teaches us to “seek out justice”? How could I offer an excuse to delinquent disciples when Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 that we are to not only seek out God’s Kingdom first but also God’s righteousness?

I could have told her that this vacancy shouldn’t be a shocker as I believe it to be at the epicenter of churches that tell you what to do with your life when you’re inside of them but don’t care about what life may be doing to you when you’re outside of them. I could have pointed to multitudinous examples of clergy who either support suffering with their silence or condone the continued crisis of their congregants by preaching with no prophetic particularity. I could have shared my own frustration with compassion in the name of our Christ that does not translate into cooperation and damages more than it delivers.

Nonetheless, this sister desired and deserved an account for the absence of those who were called to not only “walk humbly with God” & “love mercy”, but also to “do justice”, and all I offered was easement instead of explanation. The answer, my answer, should have been that I don’t know where they are or why they aren’t here…and I’m sorry.

When it comes to social movements in this country, it is only a small number of clergy that are involved, even less that are supportive. And while, in a historic context, men and women of God have not represented the majority of participants in any American Civil Rights movement, there is certainly a need for our presence and for the anointing of the Almighty that we (presumably) bring with us. We certainly may not be able to do everything, but the call is for us is to do something and certainly more than what we have been doing. With each passing moment, with each passing movement, we are allowing the oppressive, violent voices that move against us to go unaddressed and unspoken to. In this day of the New Jim Crow, broken window policing, and discrimination in every way imaginable, there is a high need for not only a word from the Lord but also the attendance and activity of those who deliver it.

Whether we are favored enough to lead an action or stand in silent solidarity with fellow children of God, we who are privileged to pastor must make our presence felt in the modern day fight for freedom. If the only service we involve ourselves in is from a pulpit on a Sunday morning, then we are more ‘mistake’ than ‘minister’. Accompanying a call to the pastorate ought be a divine call to be involved in this modern day Civil Rights movement. Our reply to the question, “Where are the Pastors?” must be “Right here…with you”.

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Give Joseph A Job

The reality of the prison industrial complex is one that negatively affects persons (the majority of which are people of color) all over this country.  Presently, the United States houses over a quarter of the world’s prison population despite representing only 1% of the world population. Upwards of 2 million Black and Brown bodies presently find themselves locked behind bars. Statistics show that most of the African Americans who end up incarcerated have been sentenced for non-violent offenses or possession of infinitesimal amounts of illegal narcotic.

Mistreated while inside of these facilities and marginalized when released from them, the lives of these people are not seen as viable, valuable, or meaningful to our society.  The iniquitous struggle that so many of our brothers and sisters have to endure in order to find adequate housing, wages, and employment are reflective of the way the society (a society that they have, in theory, paid a debt to) perceives their worthiness.

But what if the populace viewed those victimized by the reality of mass incarceration with a different perspective?  An outlook that regards those who have been imprisoned as contributors instead of convicts. Perhaps the best thing for our democracy is to have more faith in those who may have a felony and to find merit in those who may have a misdemeanor.

As avant garde as this advanced attitude may seem, it actually has its foundations in Biblical writ.  I propose and suppose that the Old Testament ought guide our thinking on the matter. In the 1st book of the Bible, we find a familiar story; the story of a young man with the gift of interpreting dreams by the name of Joseph.  Chapter 39 in the Book Of Genesis finds Joseph on the job, wrongfully convicted of sexual misconduct charge and thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  While locked up, Joseph has the opportunity to help those incarcerated with him by using his talent to interpret their dreams. In the 41st chapter of Genesis, the Bible tells us that when his cellmates are released they (eventually) share with Pharaoh the beauty and benefit of Joseph’s ability. Pharaoh is in need of his own dreams being interpreted and not only has Joseph released but also gives Joseph the opportunity to use his God-given gifts to the benefit of the king and the kingdom. Pharaoh looks past Joseph’s past and elevates him to a position in the palace where he can best contribute to the betterment of the country.

In this instance, we ought parallel Pharaoh’s practice and not allow someone’s time spent in a prison cell to keep us from seeing the potential for greatness inside of them. Our prisons are in need of reform. Not only do our prisons need revising, but the way we think of those who occupy them (or have previously occupied them) needs revising as well. In order for this nation to prosper, correctional facilities have to be restructured to focus on rehabilitation and reformation instead of correction and captivity.  And those who may have a criminal past must be given a fair and equal opportunity to contribute to our future.  Otherwise, we prompt and push them into lives they were previously penalized for.

Joseph (or Josephine) doesn’t need our compunction or condemnation. Instead of judging Joseph, instead of labeling or limiting Joseph, we need to give Joseph the opportunity to live out what God intends for him to as best he can. Joseph needs an opportunity; a chance to mobilize what may have been lying dormant inside of him.

If you want to help Joseph, don’t give Joseph a disrespectful dissertation advising them on how to live his life. Don’t give Joseph a handout and deny Joseph the dignity of earning what he needs to take of himself. Don’t disqualify Joseph from being a substantial grantor of goodness in this world. If you want to help Joseph, give Joseph the same chances and opportunities that were afforded you on your way from strain to stability. If you want to help Joseph, suppress the systems that discriminate against him and sentence him to substandard living even after his sentence has been carried out. If you really want to help Joseph, in the name of our Lord, give Joseph a job.

*Dedicated to Pop, Paul, Mohammed, Jay, Darnell, and all of those who are or have been incarcerated…keep your head up.

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History Lessens: When Black History Is Remembered & Not Repeated

 

The 15 Chapter of Paul’s letter to the body of believers in Rome finds him offering perspective to way in which the church ought view Old Testament writ.  The Apostle Paul writes in the 4th verse, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.  Paul suggests that the sacred text ought not be exclusively considered as written wisdom of the past but should also be seen as a tool to provide direction for how we ought to live and engage our present.

The Apostle’s epistle provides a framing for the way that we, as African Americans, ought to engage our own past.  As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another Black History Month, celebrating the contributions made by our ancestors to this nation and the world, perhaps the perspective we should take of our rich and remarkable history is not one of annual acknowledgment but also one of persistent provocation.

With all that God has empowered our people to overcome in the past, perhaps viewing that past with a different lens would allow us to discover the tools needed to catalyze as we attempt to overcome in this present season of struggle we are in. Our progression must not only be propelled by our passion but also from the precepts, principles, and practices we pull from our past in order to lay ground for our future.  Not all repeated history signifies doom. Repeated history that results in righteous redemption is of the greatest value.  Those who seek to oppress us repeat history for their benefit.  It is high time that we repeat our history for ours.

What if we looked to our history for meaningful models of liberation instead of solely for memorable milestones?  Perhaps deeper, what does it mean to hold up a history that we do not value enough to emulate?

The examples given by the pillars of our yesterday, the principled ways in which we protested, the dignified determination and discipline of our leaders, the pellucidity to press past a mistake and place priority on the purpose must all be seen and treated as jewels of the highest worth. Essential equipage as we attempt to navigate through a wilderness of wickedness towards a Promised Land that we are presently unable to see.

The proper perspective of the times behind us get us through, and over, the times before us.  We must resolve to lift our history from the tombs of traditional tendency. For when our history is lifted, it, in turn, lifts us. When we choose to keep a singular perspective of the days of old, we depreciate the distinction of those days.  When we do not take the lessons from our history, our history actually lessens.  We transform it into something trite and less notable with each passing moment.

In a time where government attempts to pacify us, police attempt to persecute us, corporations attempt to capitalize upon us…in a time where many of don’t “do” because we do not know what to do, we must not only learn from our history but also be willing to listen to our history. We may be surprised by what we hear.

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Morning Meditations Jan 20th, 2017 3:09 AM

– Man, I was sleeping so good just now.  Must have nodded off while reading. Why am I up?  Lord, why did you wake me?  I’m listening…

-In a few hours, Donald Trump will be elected as somebody’s new President.  He won’t be mine and I won’t be watching.  I think he is ok with that.

-Eddie Long passed away unexpectedly this past Sunday morning.  I was saddened by the news.  I pray for the people who are unable to understand the difference between mourning the loss of someone’s life and condoning what they may have done wrong in their life.  Lord, tear down all of the limits we have placed on love.

-All of the people of color Trump has paraded in front of the cameras in an attempt to appear interested in issues concerning them are nothing more than insulting indicators of how he views us.  For those people not to be able to see this (especially when those people presume to speak on our behalf) is a problem.

-The Church must not only be a place where declarations of the Divine can be heard but also a place where interrogations of the Divine can occur.  Jesus didn’t dismiss Thomas when he had questions & I think God is more open to questions than a lot of His churches are.

-Hating is not at an all time high, but hypersensitivity definitely is.  This is a cultural phenomena; the result of living in an anti-intellectual age…..seems like you can’t bear any principled critique about anything without being labeled a ‘hater’.  I feel like Im allowed to think about what you do, even if you didn’t.

-I understand that some people feel as if their participation in the inauguration is in an effort to bring our nation together. When it comes to working together, if your purpose doesn’t match their perspective, then your participation is actually pointless.

-Russell Westbrook not being named a starter in the NBA All-Star is absolutely ridiculous!!!  Absolutely. Ridiculous.

-I’m bothered that African Americans are forced to be resilient again…I’m tired of Black people having to deal with distress handed to us in the name of democracy….but on the verge of a very miserable moment in history, I am encouraged by the ability of our people to get through, and the consistency of a God who keeps on bringing us through.  Lord, help us not to hand over our hope to our hardships.  Our mission is clear, our objective has not changed: “…Liberty and justice for all”.  May our trust rest in You, O God, Amen.

Wait….what??….Clarence Thomas?….on Reagan’s what???  Aight, man!  Im going to bed and try to sleep till Saturday.

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I Had A Dream Too

I had a dream that I was meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for lunch at a small, family owned, soul food restaurant on the poorer side of town.  I sat at the table reading a book when I noticed him walk through the door and address the greeter stationed at the entrance.  She directed him to our table and he began to walk towards me, formally dressed in his customary black suit & tie.

There were two things that I couldn’t help but observe as he walked through the eatery. The first was that no one stopped the pioneering civil rights leader as he walked in.  A few people looked his way but the vast majority of the customers there were oblivious to his presence.  Though he is one of the most renowned leaders in the history of the world, though his name has been both regarded and repeated for decades, though nations around the world lift up his name and his legacy, his presence was unfamiliar to the customers.  It was as if no one recognized him for who he was.

The second thing I noticed, as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, was the look of hurt on his face. His face creased with pain and the lines on it saturated with fresh tears, he looked to carry weariness with him as he took his seat.  As he sat, a server took drink orders for the table next to ours; offering them their choice of wine or champagne to start out.

Saddened to see one so strong and vigilant in such a weakened and worn state, I sought to simultaneously inquire and encourage.  “Dr. King, what could possibly be wrong?” I asked.  “You, in many ways, have become the most iconic, most distinguishable person in the world.  The Civil Rights movement that you played such an integral role in has influenced other cultures and countries to pursue their own liberation.  Your “I Have A Dream” speech is one of the most heard speeches in the history of modern oration.  Your life’s work has not only left impressions that can be felt around the globe but has also contributed to a higher quality of life for our people in this present day. Your efforts in the arena of civil rights are directly responsible for the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, as well as our current president, Barack Obama.  Your name is celebrated by millions, and you just had a birthday that was celebrated by billions more.   You, sir, are easily one of the most popular people on the planet. Why do you look so upset”?  Dr. King, slowly raised his head to look me in my eyes, showing the seriousness in what was about to be his response.  “My young brother, my heart bleeds and breaks today because despite the efforts of myself and others , despite all of the sacrifices that were made….despite the countless lives that were given for the sake of freedom, we have become a people who have confused our cause and put more priority on popularity than progress.  As he spoke, new tears began to take the place of the older ones on his face.   “My brother”, he continued, “the state of our people is a sad one.  We are a culture content with complaining about a world that we have the power to change”.  “Too many who lift up our struggle have forgotten what it is that we were fighting for…”.

As he spoke, we were politely interrupted by our server.  “Pardon me for interrupting; I just wanted to know if I could bring you both something to drink.  Perhaps a Bud or a Bud Light?  Maybe a Heineken to start things off”?  We decline her offer opting for water instead.  As our waitress walked away, Dr. King quietly smiled to himself, as if he were reacting to the punch line of a joke only he could hear.

“This was never about getting a seat at the table” he continued. “But more about how we should be treated once we got there”. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exhaled a sarcastic chuckle as he slowly stood to his feet.  I stood as well and, as I rose, he extended his hand for me to shake.  “The tragic truth is that no one says anything about it anymore..” he concluded, as he nodded his head in disbelief, “because they don’t see anything wrong with it”.  His final words of the moment spoken, Dr. King slowly walked out of the café, and as the door closed, the sounds of the restaurant patrons laughing and enjoying themselves, the sounds of champagne glasses toasting and mood music playing, rose to a deafening level.  The relaxed easiness of the establishment became white noise to me and, as suddenly as my dream had begun, it ended.

I woke up and wanted to tell everyone about the dream I had.  But, as I looked around, I realized that I couldn’t.  I saw that everyone else around me was asleep comfortably.

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A Righteous Rebuke

It’s so quiet.  I would love to start this piece with a more provocative opening, but the truth of the matter is that those three words encapsulate what I observe happening (not happening, as it were) in the moment we, as a nation, find ourselves in.  By the time this article is published, not only will Donald Trump be a month away from being sworn into office as President of the United States, but the Electoral College will have cast their votes confirming Trump’s candidacy &  renouncing the voice of the popular vote.  The last scenario in which this election ends without a fascist winning the White House has come and gone. A cabinet replete with those whose interests exclude more than they include has been developed. Hate groups that have been encouraged and empowered by the elocution of our country’s new leader operate with newfound confidence.  Doubt and disappointment rule the day & while fear keeps many up at night.  And while all of this is going on…it’s so quiet.

The silence of which I speak is not related to those who find pleasure in the state our society but to those who do not.  The most deafening dead air is coming from those who claim to feel some type way about all of this yet do not say anything about it.  It is almost as if the ridiculousness of the reality we find ourselves in, the saddened, sickening state of our society, has stolen our voices and our motivation to lift them.

While the effects of investing in a system whose function is to fail those at the bottom of it are pointed and perceivable, while the blatancy of what we are as a nation has bludgeoned and bruised the belief of “better” for so many of us, this is not the time for us to be disconsolate or defeated.

In this season of life, the 24th Proverb illustrates the Master’s mandate clearly to us. Solomon pens that  “Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them”.

We block our blessing when we condone the work of the wicked with our silence.  The blessing we desire to manifest in the lives of this nation and her people will not come through inaudible indictments. Our breakthrough will not come from charisma, worthiness or benevolence. But the change we want to see will only begin to happen when the righteous become willing to raise their voices in unrighteous times.

Now is not the time to concede victory to the vicious. Now is not the time to struggle in silence.  Now is the time to strategize, organize, & mobilize our efforts of the name of a progress that will not be attained without struggle, but it starts with us being able to offer an honest critique of the context we find ourselves in. Our language must not be personal but prophetic. What we submit for consumption must be needed nourishment for the scarred souls of those who are having dehumanization forced down our throats. We must push back against the stigmas and stereotypes designed to cheapen our culture and distract us from our depreciation. What we repost and retweet must be what we need to say and not only what we want to say.  We must speak in the name of a God that demands that His people be allowed to walk in the freedom He offers us all.

Patriotism ought not only be comprised of compassion & conviction, but also correction.  And, as God loving pursuants of righteousness, we must be willing to refuse and rebuke change that condemns more than it considers.  The time is now for us to assume a position of humble morality in the name of God and begin the process of change through challenge.  The time for a rejection of elections that only favor sections is now. The time is now to pressure government into being the best version of itself. The time is now to push back against (and even discredit) those who claim Jesus but don’t sound like Him.  The time has come to stop waiting on a “move from God”.  The movement of God is waiting on us.

We must be valorous enough to meet these conditions with an unblenching proclamation loud enough for the world to hear.  Even with tears in our eyes, heaviness in our hearts & fears for the future, the time for reformation, the time to stop being so quiet, is now.  In times such as these, God is prompting and pushing His people to offer a righteous rebuke.

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The Election Of Donald Trump & The Damage Done To The Name “Christian”

donald-trumpIn 2007, Universal Studios produced a movie entitled “American Gangster”.  Set in the late 1960’s & starring famed actor Denzel Washington, the film provides the viewer with a lens into the life, rise & fall of Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas.  There is a scene in the movie where Frank Lucas (Washington) is in a nightclub having a conversation with fellow drug lord Nicky Barnes (played by actor Cuba Gooding Jr.) concerning the purchase and redistribution of the drug Frank sells: Blue Magic.  Nicky has been purchasing Blue Magic from Frank, diluting it with other chemicals to decrease its potency, and selling it under the same name.  Frank meets with Nicky to attempt to explain that when you sell a watered down product using the same brand name, you, inevitably, diminish the value of the name.

I think about Lucas’ principle with our recent Presidential election now behind us and the impending presidency of Donald Trump in front of us.  As voting has now ceased, demographic statistics are now being released relating to the votes that were cast.  Traditionally, this data is released to offer perspective into the science behind our electoral process.  But, in this particular election, where the prevailing sentiment is one of discontent, many (at least, in the public square) are looking for some understanding as to how this actually happened.  Figures from the election show that 80 percent (4 out of 5) White Evangelicals/Christians cast their vote for Donald Trump, a candidate whose record of racial discrimination, misogyny, cruelty and demagoguery have not only been on display on the campaign trail, but have also followed him for more than twenty years.

The part of that statistic that is the most concerning to me is not “white” part (though I do think that some healthy conversation ought be had regarding the racial implications that we saw play out so heavily in this election and what that, in turn, affirms about the social landscape of this nation) but the “Christian”part.

The endorsement of a candidate who willfully, defiantly even, decides to embody such vitriol is bad enough.  But, for those who choose the coinage “Christian” as their self-identifier to show up in drones to lift that candidate to the highest office in the land is deeply disturbing. Christians who used their relationship with Jesus as a justifier to cast a vote for Trump (or engage in other acts contrary to the life model Jesus lived for us while on Earth) misrepresent our Lord and simultaneously complicate an already difficult mission of spreading the Gospel all over the world. This particular perversion of our Savior says to the world that Jesus is only good enough to be at the center of a contested chronicle and not strong enough to stand and have something to say on social issues.  Our support of that which our God stands firmly against offers the world a watered down brand of Christianity and, inevitably diminishes the value of the Name.

Our relationship to God through Jesus Christ, ought to be more than a moniker that gives us access and acceptablity in the marketplace.  Being a Christian ought to prompt us to constantly evolve and evaluate who we are; it ought challenge us and, ultimately prompt us to correct ourselves. As followers of Jesus engaged in the American voting process, as Christians, perhaps the thought shouldn’t have been “I’m voting for ______ in the name of Jesus” as much as it should have been “Who would Jesus have cast a vote for”?

If those who espouse theology connected to Jesus Christ are able to drop the conviction of that commitment in the face of our earthly biases, we stain the sacredness of our Savior and transform our faith into nothing more than a cult of convenience.  When we preach and propagandize submission to God’s Will yet work towards the fulfillment our own will, we give the impression that Jesus is only as good as the worst in us as opposed to the catalyst for the best in us.

In the nightclub, Nicky tells Frank that when he owns something, he can do whatever he wants to with it.  Frank doesn’t dispute Nicky’s ownership of what he has claimed as his own. Frank desperately tries to get Nicky to appreciate the value in what he has by telling him that this is so good that you don’t have to do anything to it; Frank tells him the product “is good enough the way it is”.  The pure, true image of the Son of God (not only loving and compassionate but also inclusive, radical, controversial, unconventional, bold, and unafraid to challenge the establishment), is cogent enough to “draw all men unto Him”.  Jesus is good enough the way He is.

We need to be more careful and protective of the name we’ve decided to adopt; more discerning of the decisions we make in Jesus’ name. We must be careful not to commit acts of infringement against the name of Jesus.

Damage was done to the reputation of our Redeemer on Election night.  May we, as daughters & sons of God be both prayerful and careful what we do.  For when we act, we do so on Your behalf.  Lord, forgive us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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