Tag: Down the Middle

Properly Defining “Pro-Life”

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The Declaration of Independence makes a bold and complicated value statement – “… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 Life then becomes a matter of quality of living and not only the presence of a beating heart. Take a moment and Google the phrase “Pro-Life.” As you scroll through the images you will discover the images are almost entirely a “womb” issue and never a “world” issue. In other words, an entire segment of our society has been convinced that life only matters if I am a fetus in a womb and not a person in the world. Both define us as “Pro-Life.”

 I am a 10-point Pro-Life Progressive. I wish there were more of us. Most Pro-Life people are actually only 1-point Pro-Life Conservatives. I don’t think that warrants you enough points to pass the Pro-Life test. I have yet to come across a classroom in America where students with a 1 in 10 score (10%) ever received a passing grade.

 Unfortunately the vocabulary of morality and ethics can be taken hostage by a denomination, race, political party, or ideology and only released when the terms of a single issue are satisfied. In our day, “Pro-Life” is that single issue.  The problem is that single issue comprises far more than the hostage takers have been honest about.  At a minimum, life should be inclusive and not exclusive.  I find it hard to believe any of us would think that God is more or less concerned about one life over another.  Yet, there seems to be a sentiment in our nation that some lives matter while others do not.  Pro-Life is at a minimum a ten-point issue. Before you put the label on, let’s assess whether the label is indeed true.  Here is the list:

  1.  Pro-Life people support a livable wage.  Wages received should enable the employee to meet their needs and the employer to make respectful profit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10 million people classified as the working poor.  These are men and women unable to meet basic human needs while working a minimum of 27 hours per week. This has resulted in a shrinking middle class as 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth. No wonder over 15 million children live in poverty in our nation. In recent years in North Carolina, all income growth accrued to the top 1% of wage earners.
  2. Pro-Life people support policies that are not oppressive to any people group. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs on average $31,000 per year to house an inmate within our Justice System. Many programs have been proven to lower recidivism, yet our State Legislatures consistently fail to fund programs aimed at expungement and fresh start opportunities for those who have criminal records. These programs cost on average $12-$13,000 annually.  In North Carolina, there are 37,000 people in prison and 87,000 on probation.  By funding programs to prevent prison re-entry, taxpayers would save nearly $2 million annually for every 100 participants.  It hardly seems “fiscally conservative” to spend an extra $18,000 per year to incarcerate someone when funding programs aimed at re-entry prevention would prevent them from returning to prison.
  3.  Pro-Life people support gender equality.  Women still earned considerably less than men for performance of the same job with the same education, background, and training.  Most estimates suggest that it will take at minimum until 2059 for this to change.  Really?  Another forty years? Considering that 40% of all homes with children under 18 years of age are headed by women as the primary breadwinner, it is not hard to see why this is a “Life issue.”  If you take issue with this, then consider how well you would be able to provide for your family with only 56-70% of your current income.
  4.  Pro-Life people support immigration reform.  Almost every major economic study suggests that the U.S. economy grows faster as a result of immigration and whether we want to admit it or not, even undocumented immigrants improve our economy.  But beyond the numbers, is it not against good sense to prohibit a pathway to citizenship?  Allow me to remind my fellow Christians that we worship a Jesus that was an undocumented immigrant whose family fled to Egypt seeking asylum from the mass genocide of male children.  When people of the world are fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression or just seeking a better life, it is anti-American and anti-Bible to deny them opportunity.  Fortunately for us, we serve a God who was pro immigration and allowed Jesus to escape King Herod so that one day he might die on a cross and be raised with all power to justify us.
  5. Pro-Life people support universal access to healthcare.  This is a complicated issue.  But it is simply un-American to have life expectancy dictated by zip code and not genetic code.  At the very least, there must be access and affordability for all people. 
  6. Pro-Life people can say, “Black Lives Matter.”  Why?  Well, because they do.  I find myself perplexed that anyone has made this statement into meaning that other lives don’t matter.  Not even the lack of organization of the movement and the delayed timing of its inception warrants ignoring the message. When Evangelical churches sponsor “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Senior Citizens.  It simply means there are those that are hurting, victimized, and voiceless that deserve protecting. If any other group of people had the skewed statistics regarding police brutality and violence, I would be advocating for that group of people also. May we never forget the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller – “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
  7. Pro-Life people support increased funding to public and higher education. Studies have consistently shown a direct link between poverty and education. There is no more effective method of social and economic mobility and advancement than education.  In my opinion, there may be no greater long term investment in the lives of our children than a comprehensive Pre-School system to ensure every child be given a fair start.
  8. Pro-Life people are Anti-Abortion.  I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who claimed to be “Pro-Abortion.”  I am unapologetically, Anti-Abortion. Every year in America, nearly 1 million babies are reported aborted.  The issue becomes how we do a better job at prevention.  I do not think the answer lies in overturning Roe vs. Wade.  The precedent standard in Constitutional Law makes this unlikely.  The “Pro-Choice” side of the argument is equally disingenuous.  Life begins at conception.  A fetus is a life.  You make your position weaker when you aren’t honest about this.  If the law saved, there would be no murder.  Theologically and doctrinally, we know the law cannot save us. God has always been and will always be a God of choice. He doesn’t make us do anything.  He has a preferred will and a permitted will. Yes, the preference is for life but he permits us to make our own choices. Deuteronomy 30:19 places “life” and “choice” in the same verse – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life”.  The answer lies in the promotion of marriage, adoption services, the reduction in teenage pregnancy and greater education regarding abstinence, and the link between poverty and single parenting. While we may disagree on the legality of abortion, it is likely we agree that abortion is not something any of us would like to see.  Perhaps we should all work together to reduce it.
  9. Pro-Life people aren’t scared of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The presence of military grade weapons and assault rifles in our communities is criminal. This was never the intent of the 2nd Amendment. Our unwillingness as a nation to challenge the lobbyists and activists on this issue shows a fundamental cowardice, lack of integrity, and no regard for life.  It is a fear tactic to suggest there is a movement to take gun ownership from the hands of law-abiding people.  There is not.  However, owning them with no oversight and accountability is equally irresponsible.  Any weapon, in any home, should be licensed, registered, and titled.  This simple step would help track the movement of weapons in our country.
  10. Pro-Life people have problems with capital punishment.  Admittedly, I struggle with knowing that violent, heinous, and ruthless predators get to live while family and friends mourn their victims for a lifetime.  But any district attorney, defense attorney, or prosecuting attorney would be forced to confess that our capital punishment system lacks any consistency regarding how this highest penalty is metered out.  Statistics prove the death penalty is clearly biased against poor people and people of color.  The last time I checked, being poor or of color was not a crime in our nation.  May we never forget that not everyone who dies by execution was guilty – Jesus is proof.

Are you Pro-Life or do you just wear the label?

 

My Editorial on the Threat to our Local Schools in Rocky Mount, NC

 

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This blog is an independent, informational, and intellectual view of the current threat to the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system. As a politically unaffiliated, bi-racial pastor to over 3,000 people (including 1,100 K-12 children active in Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools), I am quite vested in this issue. As is the case with most political decisions, it is easy for the emotion of any subject to veer us away from sound decisions that are in the best interest of all involved.

 Taxes and The Common Good

Everyday as Americans and North Carolinians, our property, sales and utility taxes are used to fund programs, services, institutions, and infrastructure that we either benefit from directly or indirectly. Nash County residents may not directly benefit from the funding formula that supplements the education of children living in Edgecombe County, but do benefit indirectly as there is a link between education and job creation for a region.

  • I have yet to make a call to 911 or to use ambulance services since I have lived here, as I am certain many of you reading this also have not, yet millions of tax dollars are earmarked for these vital emergency services.
  • Most of my books are electronic, so I never go to the public library, yet taxes are used for this critical public institution.
  • There are many residents of Nash County who have never used the highways or buildings their taxes help build.
  • There are retirees who have never had a child in the school system, yet a portion of their taxes and utilities are used to supplement the funding of our school system.

I doubt the Nash County Commissioners who are aggressively asking for a “fairness of funding” want to establish a precedent of an “al-a-carte” taxation system where we all get to direct our taxes only to the services from which we directly benefit and away from those which we indirectly benefit.

It seems that a reminder of our origin as a nation is appropriate. The manifesto on American Capitalism is Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, where he explained that human involvement in economics is to “advance the interests of the society.” To follow this new ideology being espoused by the Nash County Commissioners would mean the GI Bill that enabled 10 million Americans to receive housing and education benefits would have never been funded. Anything that is good and necessary for a civilized society to thrive, like public education, is good for us all.

Collateral Damage

The removal of 1,800 children from the Nash Rocky Mount Public School system has a potential consequence for which none of us, particularly the Nash County Commissioners, are prepared. Eighteen hundred children equates to over 10% of the current NRMPS system. Any businessperson will tell you that reducing any institutional capacity by 10+ % results in a ripple effect and like throwing a pebble in the water you never know how many ripples will be created. Here are some potential ripples:

  • Reduction of Title I, II, and III Federal Funding. It has been wrongly communicated by the Nash County Commissioners, “the funding will follow the students.” This is only partially true. The funding is both volume and percent weighted. Funding will follow, but it will be much smaller funding. There will also be a delay in this smaller funding as it is awarded in blocks of 24 – 30 months, so services will need to be offered to children without any funding being immediately available. This funding effects direct services of children as well as professional development of teachers. The anticipated loss to the remaining NRMPS system could be as high as $10 million annually. This is a classic example of voting against one’s own interests as all the remaining children will live in Nash County and this will create a net loss to the very system they claim to represent.
  • Loss of Existing Jobs. Reducing the capacity of NRMPS will require re-organization and the inevitable loss of jobs to teachers and support staff. In laymen’s terms, every 10 students create a job. The simple math of the impending legislation by Representative Jeff Collins (at the request of the Nash County Commissioners) could easily result in the loss of 180 jobs. It seems our elected officials could better use their time creating jobs and not removing jobs. The argument that those teachers would simply move to the Edgecombe County School System is implausible as there are still over 50 licensed teacher vacancies within that system and for many teachers living in Spring Hope, Middlesex, and Bailey, it would be just as close to drive to a school in Wake County as it would some schools within Edgecombe County.
  • Loss of Support to Teachers and Staff. Aside from being a pastor I do not know of a more difficult profession than teaching. We as a community should be actively advocating for our teachers in the classroom and the principals and staff that support this vital public institution. Instead, our Commissioners are deliberately creating an environment that is filled with contention and division rather than support and encouragement. Everyone cares about job security and high morale and our teachers deserve no less.
  • Loss of New Jobs. Education along with Transportation, Health, Leisure, Quality of Life, Taxes, and Housing remain major recruitment tools for new companies and emerging economies. Dismantling our school system will greatly harm our efforts in attracting new companies and in establishing the “twin counties” as a “bedroom” community for those working in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. This inability to bring new companies and firms to our community will hinder our ability to expand our tax base and to produce an even greater economic impact to our region.
  • Re-classification of Athletic Programs. Rocky Mount Senior High alone will likely lose 400-450 students. This loss to the ADM (Average Daily Membership) will result in less competitive athletics and a loss of college scholarships for countless young people for whom sports remain a viable opportunity for a secure future due to a potential change in division status.
  • School Closing. There has been no study conducted by the Nash County Commissioners ensuring there would be no school closings as elected officials are not generally trained in the logistics and technicalities in the actual running of a school system. Conventional wisdom at least forces us to consider that by reducing the NRMPS by 1,800 students, it may not be financially feasible to continue operations at the same level. This is particularly the case since the NRMPS system is experiencing a five-year decline in enrollment with a proven history that reduced capacity results in school closings. An educated guess based upon school size and location would deduce that Northern Nash High School could possibly close due to this legislation.
  • The Children. It is said that often we leave the best for last. Who is advocating for our children? Yes, as North Carolinians, ALL the children are OUR children. We are a community. We are a region. When I moved here from Philadelphia 11 years ago, I was introduced to the “twin counties.” What a way to treat your twin! 1,800 children moving out of NRMPS is more children than Alleghany, Camden, Gates, Graham, Clay, and Washington County Schools have enrollment. This is equivalent to an entirely new and different school system being created with no plan, no structure, and no infrastructure. It is setting ALL of OUR kids up to fail as the remaining NRMPS kids will be faced with the sobering reality that it was their parents who stripped down the ability of the NRMPS system to meet the categorical needs of the children in programs like IB, AP, AIG and ESL. The education of our children should be a collective concern. We must endeavor to provide every child in our region and our state with every opportunity to advance and to actively contribute back to society.

I invite all of us to use our heart and our brain as we make decisions. My heart is for ALL of our children and my brain tells me the loss of 180 jobs, the net loss of millions of dollars to our school system, the potential closing of a school, and the loss of college athletic scholarships is hardly worth the savings we as Nash County residents will realize. It is my hope an agreement will be reached but despite the outcome, we should all agree that no group of people should be allowed to play politics with our children.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

God’s Not Dead

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Tonight our church featured for family night, the movie, God’s Not Dead. I was grateful for those that attended. I highly recommend it to everyone whether you are a believer or not. I also think this is an excellent movie for middle and high school students but the entire family will benefit from the themes that are woven throughout. I’d like to share a few of those that were most evident to me.

God can fix anything. Everyone in the movie had some issue or challenge and the one deal changer in all of them was a legitimate, abiding relationship with God. The moment we allow God in He begins the process of setting in order anything that is out of order. It’s almost as if He is waiting to be let in. We wrongly assume the relationship is wrong or the situation is wrong when in actuality it is simply devoid of God’s presence and power. Doing things God’s way results in great joy, peace and blessings.

God must be first. Several characters in the movie had to choose between family or friends and God. Admittedly, it is painful when those we care most for have differing opinions than we do regarding faith. What is evident is when we aim to please God he will ensure that the voids that are created are filled with something or someone far healthier for us. He also uses our faith as a tool to attract those we care so deeply for. We must worship with those closest to us but we must not worship those closest to us.

Don’t make decisions out of fear. Fear is paralyzing. When the motivation of our decision-making is fear of being alone, fear of people not being pleased, fear of failure or fear of being ashamed then we have already greatly hindered God’s work in us. God’s love for us provides us with a faith not a fear in that love. We then have faith that we will not be alone, faith we will not be ashamed and faith we will not fail.

Forgiveness is powerful. It releases both the offended and the offender. Often we are unaware of the deep-seated oppression and bondage the offender is sitting with. In other words everyone is hurting. We cannot heal a negative action with another negative action nor can we deny the depth of hurt attached to what others do to us. The very act of forgiveness attaches a sense of worth which alone can motivate us to change in ways punishing people will never accomplish.

We must share our faith more. There are so many individuals and people groups that do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must be willing to witness regarding Jesus not in a condemning or judgmental way but out of our own biblically based experience. There is power in personal experience and conviction, when we recognize our faith is more than feelings.

God’s favor is real. What we often see as messy and hurtful are really disguises for the blessings of God. If we believe in God’s goodness (God is good all the time and all the time God is good) then we know he will never give us less than what is good. There are moments when our prayer for healing is answered in sickness or even death. Moments when prayers of comfort result in moments of heartache only for us to discover that was actually the place of his favor and blessings.

Have you seen the movie? What did you learn? I welcome your feedback.

A Pastor’s perspective on Ferguson, Missouri

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Heartbroken and hopeless characterizes the emotions I have sat with these past few weeks as once again I am called to witness along with the entire world yet another example of apparent injustice and systemic racism. The real issue before us is really not Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager nor is it Darren Wilson, a white police officer who did the shooting. Just as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were not the real issue. You see, in both situations we were forced to confront symptoms and not disease.

The issues that are most critical to us as a nation are not individual situations but rather institutional systems.

In our nation we have systematically determined some lives to be less valuable than others. This week we were faced with the image of James Foley, an American photojournalist being beheaded by the militant Al Qaeda splinter group, ISIS yet media outlets and commentators seem more compassionate and sensitive in their reporting over the death of James Foley then that of Michael Brown. As a bi-racial man leading a predominantly African-American congregation I find myself talking to myself incessantly over the issues of race, poverty and injustice. These themes are emotional for each of us but for different reasons. But, as a pastor where my calling is to carefully yet courageously lead the sheep I am mindful that perhaps my two most powerful tools are love and truth. Both love and truth are potentially problematic commitments.

Love becomes powerful and transformational when we choose to love all and to love unconditionally. As Christians are we not called to love each other equally? We simply cannot love a white life more than a black life. For some reason we seem to love the life of an unborn child more than the life of a born teenager. Life must be equally valuable. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Testament of Hope said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Truth in my opinion is even more elusive which is why we have a tendency to argue it away rather than to embrace it. Do you remember the days when t-shirt manufacturers had actual labels in the backs of their product? Today those labels have been replaced with what are called “tag less” labels. I for one am grateful because before I could comfortably where my t-shirts I would have to rip the labels out. This is exactly how truth works. In order to wear it you must take the labels off. As a pastor I am called to proclaim the truth of the Holy Bible. In order for our members to embrace the truths I share they must remove their labels first. Truth does not originate from our political parties, our educational systems, our not for profits, races or balance sheets. Truth originates from God. Not enough of us are willing to take off our labels of Black, White, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Educated, Uneducated, Poor, Wealthy, Suburban, Urban, Public, Private, Male and Female. Perhaps my favorite children’s author, Shel Silverstein in his book, Falling Up said, “Tell me I’m clever, 
Tell me I’m kind, 
Tell me I’m talented, 
Tell me I’m cute, 
Tell me I’m sensitive, 
Graceful and Wise, Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” We simply cannot approach our systemic issues from our labels. We must approach them truthfully and allow that truth to then govern our perspective. This one change would begin an instant reversal of much of what is plaguing our nation and our communities.

There are over 2 million people incarcerated. One of three black men between the ages of 18-30 are in jail, parole, in prison, or probation. In larger cities and urban communities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago that number increases to over one half. Our “system” has been distorted around race and around poverty. In our country we treat people that are guilty but wealthy better than those that are innocent and poor.

For those of you who are love and truth resistant perhaps common sense would be a more effective strategy to reach you. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. We have life imprisonment for children in our country because our “system” provides judges the ability to place them on trial as an adult. But they aren’t adults. In other words our “system” allow us to make the child into an adult. What wealthy person who could afford the best legal counsel would want to be tried as a poor person with a public defender? What if the Judge just made them into a poor person for the sake of trial or what if we just made a white person into a black person for the sake of trial? Currently one in nine people on death row are found to be innocent and eventually exonerated of their crimes. In other words we know that for every nine times we do something one time it is wrong. That’s a pretty high error rate. Would you get on a plane if you knew for certain one out of nine was going to crash? Would you send your child to a school where every day one out of nine kids were gunned down? Would you buy a car if you were certain one in nine would catch fire and kill the driver? Of course not! You would change the system first. We have a systemic problem and we, as Christians must model a behavior of love and truth. We cannot insulate ourselves from the problems of people that don’t look like us. In my estimation the life of a white photojournalist is just as valuable as a black teenager. The life of the death row inmate is as valuable as the unborn fetus in a womb. The pastor in me just won’t allow me to love bi-racial people more than I love anyone else. Actually that’s not even the pastor in me I think that’s the Jesus in me. In the final analysis we will be judged not based on innovation or technology but loving our neighbor as ourselves. Only by love and truth can we model reconciliation as the body of Christ. This is perhaps our greatest mandate in this hour of turmoil and division. Paul writes in Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What are your thoughts?

 

Depression from a Pastor’s perspective

images-23The recent apparent suicide of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams was my motivation to address the greatly misunderstood and under recognized issue of depression. This blog is way overdue, as this same tragedy has hit the church community several times this past year. Many have heard the story of the most famous and popular clown in harlequinade and pantomime. His name was Joseph Grimaldi. He was known for making audiences laugh as he entertained them in ways people had never seen. At an early age he was forced into retirement due to medical and mental ailments. The doctors not knowing what to do for him thought that what he needed most was a good healthy dose of laughter so they recommend he go see the performance of the clown named, “Grimaldi.” He then looked at the doctor and responded, “I am he.” Grimaldi died penniless at the age of forty-five.

It is wrongly assumed that fame, money, success and influence disqualify a person from exhaustion and depression. It does not. Too many of us have what the 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross calls, the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Some of the most gifted, anointed and intelligent people can suffer from depression. Musical genius Ludwig van Beethoven, The Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton, Ashbel Green, Super Bowl Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, thirtieth United States President Calvin Coolidge, Princess Diana, writer Charles Dickens, novelist Ernest Hemingway, singers Billy Joel and Janet Jackson and even in the Bible we find King David, Elijah, Nehemiah and I would even argue Jesus Christ himself for a brief moment while in the Garden of Gethsemane all battle bouts or moments of depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of inadequacy, dejection and despondency. Depression is that “thing” that eats away at your insides causing you to feel less than. Depression is that feeling of aloneness in a room full of people. Depression is that feeling of maybe everyone would be better if I weren’t here. Depression is the feeling of it’s never enough, I just can’t do this, no one understands me, and no one is for me. Depression can be painful and disabling. Just as we must fight to keep the weight off in a physical sense, we must fight to keep the weight off in an emotional sense. Maintaining emotional health must become a priority for people that are in the public eye and have high demands and expectations placed on them. I can write first hand about this because very few occupations and callings carry the high percentage of alcoholism, drug use, suicide and depression as Pastoral ministry. According to the New York Times, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade their life expectancy has fallen.” Whatever your occupation allow me to share some of my thoughts on how to battle this demon of depression.

  • Have a healthy outlet. Too often our outlets become activities that are equally damaging to us as the depression. Eating and drinking are NOT good outlets. I recommend some type of physical, recreational and preferably outside activity. One of my favorite outlets is my motorcycle.
  • Get missing. Only God is omnipresent. Too often we function as if we need to be at everything. We do not. Choose wisely and as far in advance as possible what you will attend and don’t let people guilt trip you for not being available all the time. The Bible says of God that He doesn’t slumber or sleep. We need to do both.
  • Get off the roller coaster. If you like rides then go to an amusement park but don’t allow people or positions to take you for a ride. Being up one hour and down the next can slam wear you out. Learn to manage your expectations, not stretch the reality of things, be honest with yourself and know your triggers and buttons.
  • Live between the “C’s.” We all have two sets of extremes in our lives. We have the critics on one end who regardless of what we do find fault and something negative to offer as if we have been placed on this earth to please them and them alone. Or we have the compliments on the other extreme where no matter what they keep stroking your ego and patting you on the back even when it isn’t warranted. Ignore both and live between the two. The reality is we allow people to pull us in their direction and this pull can be taxing and overwhelming. None of us are as good as everyone says nor as bad so maintain a healthy and balanced self-perception that isn’t dictated by others.
  • Seek professional help. Especially us “Christians.” If someone gives their life to Christ and hobbles down the isles of some church with a cane because they have a broken leg you are going to encourage them to go to the doctor and get a splint or cast placed on it. In the same regard mental illness requires medical attention and not just spiritual anecdotes. There is nothing wrong with going to a counselor, support group or seeking medical attention.
  • Get a life. Despite what we have been told we are not what we do. We are human beings and not human doings. We function best when we learn to “be” before we learn to “do.” Too many of us have an identity crisis and we see ourselves in light of our occupations or relationships. This is an unhealthy view of your true self.
  • Turn off. Too often we are expected to be “on” all the time. We all need people and environments that love us and accept us when we aren’t on our best behavior and having our best thoughts. We all need a safe place to be vulnerable and unprotected. A place where our hair isn’t in place, clothes aren’t ironed, face isn’t shaved, words aren’t being measured and struggles aren’t being judged.

My heart goes out to the people who have lost family members and friends due to depression. May we all learn to manage our mental health and be mindful of the pressure we place on others and ourselves.

What do you recommend as a possible solution to help battle depression? I welcome your feedback.

Life and Daytona Beach Bike Week

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Every year I make my annual pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, Florida for Bike Week. No year seems to be a good year to go with the demands of my schedule but I find a way to get there on Wednesday and to return home on Saturday so I can be back in the pulpit Sunday morning to preach. This year was no exception. After driving all night I checked in at the hotel in Palm Coast and early Thursday afternoon started riding. As usual, the ride was an amazing outlet. I thought I’d share some of the discoveries I had this year.

Scenery. Deciding to skip the fast route on Interstate 95, we made our way down to Route AIA, which is Ocean Shore Blvd. The view is breathtaking as you travel south for 20 miles or so through Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach and into Daytona. You are literally yards from the beach and ocean and during most of the ride you are looking toward the water in awe of the ocean and the beauty of nature. The only thing missing is the sound of the waves beating against the beach but the pipes on my bike won that war. It made me realize the importance of changing our scenery and our environments. Too often we become complacent and an occasional change in our lens is helpful for gaining an appreciation for all that life has to offer. Maybe it isn’t a ride in Florida but could just as easily be a stroll in the park, a day at the state park, a walk around a museum or an hour drive in any direction. We can be so busy moving fast that we neglect to enjoy the scenery and lose awareness of where we are going and why.

Stories. You have to go to Bike Week to appreciate it fully. But, every imaginable motorcycle is there and every type of rider. Everyone from laborers and lawyers, divas and doctors, executives and engineers, bankers and bakers, preachers and politicians, teachers and techies. We come from every state and many foreign countries. I could not help but to think, “man, we all have a story.” Some of us were there to run away and others were there to just get away. Some were divorced, some happily married and some widowers. Some had Ph.D.’s and others less than a GED. Yes, we all had stories. Isn’t that just like life? Everyone we encounter has some background, some past, some history with them. We should be careful in judging anyone. The important thing isn’t what you are riding or what you come from but rather the fact that you are still around to enjoy the ride and to finish telling your story.

Starts. I for one was there to start over in some areas of my life. As I rode and contemplated my life, the people in my life and the decisions of my life all I could think was this could be a defining moment for me. What if I could go back new, clearer, more resolute and more determined? What if I could begin again? Clearly, I couldn’t be the only one of over half a million bikers making some decisions as he rode. Life is that way. At some point what matters is our willingness to begin again. We all have the power of choice. We can choose to be different and we can choose to be better. And we can make that choice today.

Soul. Probably my favorite thing to do at Daytona is to go over to Mary McLeod Bethune Drive and hang out in the “hood.” This is unofficially called the “dark side.” The music, the food and the people watching can keep you busy for hours. It was my reminder not to neglect the soul. The soul houses our intellect, will and emotion. Spend some time catering to that part of you that feeds your personality. It’s ok to do your dance, hang with the folks and enjoy culture. Caesar Chavez, a civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farm Worker’s Association said, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

Support. Twice while in Daytona I witnessed riders who dropped their bikes. You have to understand the bike I ride is almost 900 lbs. Many bikes are much heavier than that. Often when you drop your bike you need help to get it back up. I am always in awe of the bike culture and how we quickly run to each other’s rescue. No one cares why the bike was dropped. What we care about is getting that rider back up and on their bike. People will stop riding and begin to run to the succor of that other rider who almost invariably is a total stranger. Yes, some riders drop their bike because of their own neglect and other times because of poor judgment or uncontrollable road conditions. None of that matters to us. What matters is getting that bike up and making sure our fellow rider is able to go again. In life we all drop our bikes. Those bikes might be in the form of relationships, finances, health, reputation, careers, decisions or family. If we could adapt this same perspective of helping each other up rather than talking about why a person has fallen or ignoring their fall or even speculating how many other times they have fallen that we didn’t know about. Help somebody up. Get somebody riding again because after all one day you may drop your bike and when you do, wouldn’t it be great if someone just helped you up and left you with your dignity and hope for the future as you kept on riding.

What outlet do you have and what life lesson is it teaching you? I welcome your feedback. 

Why I am a Political Independent

ImageI am a Christian. I am also a Political Independent. Technically, “unaffiliated.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of my friends, my family, and those I Pastor, I do not see my politics as a donkey or an elephant but rather as a lion. Partisan politics is damaging the American quilt. Slowly but surely threads are being taken out and individual parts are being discarded. What was once a melting pot, kaleidoscope and cornucopia of diversity is quickly becoming a nation of two quilts – “ours” and “theirs.”

From my laymen’s mind, all American politics is about one thing and one thing only – pie. Yes, pie. How often have we heard the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Politics is about making, baking, protecting, slicing and distributing pie. It’s amazing and disheartening how much we fight over getting our piece of the American pie. On the Republican Right you have a fight over not sharing the pie and on the Democratic Left great advocacy around making sure groups of people never participate in helping bake the pie. Jim Wallis was correct when he said, “the right gets it wrong and the left just doesn’t get it.” The Right is using the language of faith to hide their real political agenda and the Left is ignoring faith to hide their real political agenda. The Right is wrong for forgetting history. The United States has a long history of people of faith supporting and driving social change and driving progressive causes and movements. This is seen in the abolition of slavery, women’s right, public education, child labor law and civil rights. In other words faith is connected with social change. There is no record of people of faith being disconnected from social movements. Therefore, if your politics is devoid of conversations around poverty and social justice it is a perversion of your professed faith. There is nothing moral or Godly about not wanting to share the pie.

But the Left is no better. They are just wrong for a different reason. The separation of church and state does not mean abandoning morality from public life. To debate the issues around how the pie is sliced without respecting the pluralism of our democracy is ineffective and disingenuous.  Yes, wage laborers, unions, educators, social servants and the unemployed should have a piece of the pie but the pie will never get distributed by mixing in “non-pie” issues. Probably the biggest “non- pie” interests are moral issues. So, while the Left works so hard on the issue of whether you should be able to eat your pie with a person of the same sex or whether you need a drug test before you can eat the pie or for how long you get to eat the pie for free, those they work so hard to advocate for still don’t have any pie. Rather than protecting the pie eating rights of those without drive and determination, legislate that everyone have the ingredients and access to an oven and wish them well on their pie making future. So, while the Right is legislating you don’t get a choice about the pie, the Left is legislating pies with no fillings and that never get put in the oven. Hello, everyone. This is America. We do pies here. We fill them, we bake them and everyone should have a slice.

This says nothing of all the other issues that both parties are inherently dishonest about – race, the poor, the penal system and how life is viewed just to name a few.

When the dust settles, until both the Left and the Right ratchet their way toward each other our nation will remain gridlocked. Since the solution is somewhere in the middle, wouldn’t make sense to just start there if you could? People in the middle can reach in both directions and grab those on the Left and the Right, forming coalitions and linkages that are far more reaching and rational. Our political system is institutionally stagnant. I find it interesting that the same nation that values advances and entrepreneurism has institutionally entrenched itself in a two-party political system. I thought we believed in and supported innovation? Evidently, in regard to everything but our politics. I for one still believe in the American dream, in innovation, and in the pie making opportunities for all people. As an Independent I have benefited by:

Critically thinking through political issues. The issues that face us are very complicated and we must be informed voters and not simply “big lever” voters. Not everyone of our color, race or political party is worthy of our vote.

Allowing my faith to help form my politics. As an Independent my vote is based on principles and beliefs and not party affiliation. Those that want absolute separation of church and state are in the minority. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has done extensive research on this issue and has determined, “people of faith and the institutions they build, play a critical role in our nation, and those contributions are not a purely private matter…”

Not allowing my vote to be paternalized. In other words no one owns or is entitled to my vote. It must be earned. One ray of hope for our nation is that there is an ever-increasing block of independent voters who sometimes vote one way and other times vote another and cannot be taken for granted by either party.

It keeps me more “centered.” We all have a tendency to disregard and discount those who disagree with us. This is how both parties wound up with factions that are now considered “extreme” sects of their own parties (this is also how we got the Tea Party).We now hear terms like “far right” and “far left.” I am learning that by listening to both groups of people it helps keep my personal political philosophy a lot more grounded and neutral. It is a form of self-correction that we all need to remain mindful and aware of the interests of others.

Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, it is my prayer that we can identify those issues which we can agree on and exhibit common sense solutions to benefit the common good for our nation. I for one am reaching in both directions.

What is your political preference and why?

 

Welcome to my Blog

ImageGet ready for a riot to be started in your heart and head. This blog will produce on its promise to give insight on a range of topics, namely politics, personal & business development, race & religion, leadership, family & marriage and church growth.  These insights will encourage, excite and instigate a fire in you to do something, think something and feel something.

 Although there are thousands of blogs on the internet I write from what I call “down the middle.” Most bloggers write from a predetermined angle – black, white, conservative, liberal, republican, democratic, evangelical, charismatic. And eventually they are going to give you the “company line” and you will immediately know this is not their conviction but the safe way to keep endorsements, please advertisers, keep people ignorant and keep from doing their own research. I allow each issue to stand on it’s own merit and to speak for itself. I do this in four ways:

  1. Inspirational. This blog will provoke the best in you to come forward.
  2. Independent. This blog is from a pure direction because left and right are too far from the truth on any issue.
  3. Informational. I will write on issues that matter and not to impress with pointless data and statistics.
  4. Intellectual. I will assume you have a brain and you like using it for yourself and don’t need anyone else to do your thinking for you.

You will find that I like symbols so the “I4” symbol is the best way of giving a graphic to this process. So get ready for insight that incites so that we might start a riot. In the months ahead paraphernalia will be available with our brand and mottos.

Every week I will write one blog to summarize what I preached that week at the church I pastor in Rocky Mount, NC. I am grateful to share truth with the members of Word Tabernacle Church every week and now with you.

Additionally I will write each week at least one additional blog on some subject of interest to you and the people in your inner circle. I will provide you with book and movie reviews, commentary on historical and current events, interviews with national personalities and a listing of resources to meet a variety of interests.

I will write from the perspective of a bi-racial Christian father with strong convictions and a vested interest in seeing lives improved. I understand something about God’s grace and believe in second chances. I am a veracious reader and host a call in radio program that deals specifically with the issues facing us today.

I welcome your feedback on anything I write and thank you in advance for sharing my thoughts with others and perhaps these thoughts might become yours. Enjoy the blog.