Tag: @jdgailliard

Properly Defining “Pro-Life”

life-lessons

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.

Why Time Matters

time-management

I have noticed with increasing regularity our innate disregard for time. It is evidenced by medical practitioners who make us wait way beyond an appointment time, people that show up late for appointments, children with consistent lateness to school, leaders who begin meetings late, churches who start programs beyond the time advertised, church goers showing up late for church or those who are always “running late.”

More than 300 years ago, François Fénelon, a 17th century cleric, understood the value of time. He wrote, “Time is precious, but we do not know yet how precious it really is. We will only know when we are no longer able to take advantage of it…. Liberal and generous in every way, God in the wise economy of his providence teaches us how we should be prudent about the proper use of time. He never gives us two moments at the same time. He never gives us a second moment without taking away the first. And he never grants us that second moment without holding the third one in his hand, leaving us completely uncertain as to whether we will have it.” A.W. Tozer wrote, “Time is a resource that is nonrenewable and nontransferable. You cannot store it, slow it up, hold it up, divide it up or give it up. You can’t hoard it up or save it for a rainy day–when it’s lost it’s unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.”

Time is precious and our most valuable commodity. Yet, as important as it is we seem to have a consistent disrespect for it. We use expressions like, “I’m just killing time” or “I’m just wasting time.” It is not until we are talking about time ending that we begin to quantify it, which is when we begin to say things like, “His days are numbered.” In all actuality our days have always been numbered. Literally every day, hour and minute of our lives should be numbered.

Ask a student who has failed a grade how important a year is; a mother giving birth to a premature baby how important a month is; a businessman whose flight was delayed how important an hour is; a man who had a heart attack requiring CPR how important a minute is; a person barely missing a head-on collision how important a second is or an Olympic athlete missing a gold medal how important a millisecond is.

Time matters because:

  1. It is a proof I live with principles. Time comes from God. It is a gift. It is so much of a gift that we call the very moment we are living in a “present.” A person who wastes time is wasting or not caring for a gift. If we can’t be trusted with time it can be easily argued that we can’t be trusted with money, gifts or opportunities. Being chronically late may be saying, “I can’t be trusted.” When we schedule an appointment we are establishing an opportunity to show that we are capable of doing what we say we will do. When I say, “I will meet you at 3:00 pm” and we show up at 3:15 pm it may be saying, “Don’t believe what I say.”
  1. It is proof I want to see progress. There can be no progress as long as we procrastinate. As we learn to live in the moment it becomes a catalyst to propel us into greater things in the future. The best predictor about tomorrow is my management, stewardship and decisions today.
  1. It is proof of how I see people. People are the prize and they should matter to us enough to give them our time, be on time and give us undivided time. When we give someone our time we are saying, “You matter to me because I am giving you what I can never be given back.” There will always be something else to do, somewhere else to be, an email or text message to check or a Facebook status to “like.”
  1. It is proof I have priorities. Saying, “Yes” to an activity, meeting or commitment is also saying “No” to another. Our calendar is a statement that we will not allow the moment to crowd out the important and that we are not victimized by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Priorities will always be scheduled and when they are we don’t miss those appointments because we have already determined it to be important to us. We don’t just miss dinner with the family, miss church, miss a meeting or miss a rehearsal but rather have chosen to not see it as a priority.
  1. It is proof I am clear on my purpose. When we are certain of what our God given assignment is we are less likely to accept meaningless and unproductive invitations. Our activities and commitments should strengthen and support our ultimate goals.
  1. It is proof that I am planning. Technically we don’t manage time we only manage ourselves. Stop saying, “I don’t have enough time” because we have as much as everyone else. Instead of starting with tasks, start with time allotments and plan what is needful and impactful for your life. Plan to be with God. Plan to be with family. Plan to be happy. Plan to finish school. Plan to retire. Plan to go to the doctor. Plan to take a vacation. Plan to sleep in. When we don’t plan for ourselves others are happy to do it for us and that can lead to a rather unfulfilling life.

God the provider of our time best communicates the urgency and importance of our time. Psalm 90:4 tells us, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” A “watch” was equivalent to three hours. If normal life expectancy is 70 years (Psalm 90:10) and a thousand years equals three hours, we find the following:

70 yrs. x 3 hrs. /1000 yrs. x 60 min/hr. = 12.6 min = 12 min 36 sec. So the next time you are late remember we only have 12 minutes and 36 seconds anyway.

Don’t let a life end waiting on you.

Why do you think time matters? I welcome your feedback

The “WELLS” we drink from

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Wells are not something we think about because we have ample clean water in this modern day culture of ours.

A well is basically a hole that has been drilled, bored or dug into the ground to access water. One of the first steps in establishing a healthy community is to ensure access to clean water. This clean water is necessary for drinking, sanitation and for irrigation. This requires someone dig a well, the people use the well and the well be protected from contamination and blockage. But my real interest in wells is not so much scientific or geological as it is metaphorical. I would have to credit former Morehouse College President Dr. Robert Franklin as the one who first got me thinking about wells when he established the expectations that all Morehouse Men must meet. Even in our daily conversations we subconsciously place a lot of emphasis on wells.

“All’s WELL that ends WELL”

“He’s alive and WELL”

“Leave WELL enough alone”

If we are going to do WELL, be WELL, represent WELL and finish WELL then someone is going to need to dig some WELLS, drink from those WELLS and maintain those WELLS. The Dominican priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez was correct when he said, “We Drink From Our Own Wells.” Could it be that our society is not healthy because one of the first steps to being healthy is clean water and in this modern culture of digital media, entertainment and influence we have begun ignoring our wells? I guess it is indeed true that “you never miss your water until your WELL runs dry.” What wells am I referring to?

Well ENGAGED – We must become more active and involved in our community and in the lives of our families. A lack of parenting coupled with complacency must be two of the more pressing issues of our day. When parents allow television programming to engage their child more than they do, there is a problem with the well. Television actually changes the way the brain develops, shortens attention span and even changes brain chemistry. Despite the digital craze around learning there is still no substitute for a caring adult in the life of a child.

Well EDUCATED – It is a “type of salvation.” No, education can’t get me to heaven but is sure makes the trip around earth a lot easier. The world is changing and we must keep pace. Education is vital to advance contributions to civic, political and community life. Education is necessary for its role in advancing social justice and to open the worlds of cultural and artistic excellence. Being well educated means being well read. It is too much we need to learn to ever have gaps of idle time. We should always have a book with us. Until we, as a society, value conjugating the verb “ to be” as valuable as running a touch down, dunking a basketball or gyrating on stage then the water of a respectful, balanced society will not flow.

Well EMPLOYED – Work will always be a tool for life fulfillment. I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents. It is this work ethic that breaks the spirit of entitlement and ensures that we contribute to our surroundings. Everyone should be required to do something in the place they dwell in. If everyone in the home benefits from the environment then each person should have a definite, measurable and active role to play while there. It is dangerous to raise children who will become adults with an unrealistic, unmerited expectation of a favorable outcome at the hands of someone else. Watch how easy it is for a person to eat your food and leave the plate on the table or to walk past something on the floor or to leave a bed unmade.

Well ENTRUSTED – Integrity is always going to be en vogue. Whatever we do we should do it well and to the best of our ability. We should finish what we start; return things where we got them; pay back the money we borrow; keep our promises; be punctual; not allow circumstance to dictate our behavior; and just learn to show up.

Well EXPOSED – There is more to life than the family, county, city or school I grew up a part of. Until we learn to value experiences more than things we will forever be stuck in a shallow world that only the least desirable fish swim in. Exposure, especially through travel is a means of personal development and aids us in both appreciating where we come from while simultaneously creating in us a desire for better.

Well EXPRESSED – Before people really know us all they can do is see us and hear us, so self-expression through our wardrobe and our words become paramount. We have always worn clothes so I guess this well has just become contaminated and is evidenced when pajamas are worn in public; underclothes are readily displayed; sunglasses are worn inside; women abandon dresses and men disdain a blazer and tie. Compare the attire and apparel of the college students sitting at the Woolworth counter in 1960 to protest segregation and the college student of today or the clothing worn while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge bridge-crossing compared to clothing today while just crossing the street sagging-pants

Our words are representing us no better. We must be well spoken and strive for meaningful and valuable conversation learning how to effectively communicate our complex emotions and ideas.

Well ESTABLISHED – This means we must become grounded enough and stable enough to be able to give back to our society. Whether we are a Jew embracing the Tikkun olam (Hebrew: תיקון עולם) meaning “repairing the world” or “perfecting the world; “ A Muslim paying Zakat (a proportion of surplus wealth which must be given on a yearly basis to poor and the needy) and voluntary charity; or A Christian loving our neighbor as ourselves and being our brothers keeper we all have a personal responsibility to be keepers of the wells that other people will drink from. When we are mindful of the wells we are digging and the wells we are drinking from I would imagine we could all say, “It is WELL with my soul.”

What WELLS would you add to my list to ensure our society remain healthy? I welcome your feedback.

The Economic Impact of The Church

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I have often said, “everyone in the community will not belong to our church but our church does belong to everyone in our community.” I believe many churches feel this same way. This “giving back to our community” philosophy gives us our meaning for existence and forges a wonderful collaboration with the Faith community, families, Firms and Foundations. This collaboration or intersection between church and city, the sacred and secular results in a real economic value that has been empirically measured for the past 25 years and was the impetus behind the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. For example, large churches increase property values –According to a large study (tracking over 5000 houses), houses within a half-mile of a large church generally experience a 6.27% increase in property value. A church with over 1500 attendees could easily draw 40 new families to relocate – especially so when a demographically young church moves into a city with below average home costs. (Carroll, Clauretie & Jensen), Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics – University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Churches are statistically proven to decrease crime rates – particularly decreasing levels of assault, burglary, larceny (Bainbridge 1989), as well as drug use (Fagan 2006).

How is this tangible economic value realized? Well, cities are filled with people. These people must navigate their way through a web of careers, relationships and life experiences. It is much easier to navigate when support services are available. As people navigate through life the needs will be vast and varied – marriages will need saving, children will need teaching, teenagers will need tutoring, suicides will need averting and fathers will need mentoring. When these needs are met an “economic halo effect” is the result. What’s it worth to keep a father active in a child’s life anyway? The economic thinking is rather quite linear. If a man stops supporting his children, the mother becomes the primary provider for the family. Statistically, the need to use subsidies or government services is greatly increased. Services like before school programs, day care and after school programs become more essential. Depending on the nature of the father’s absence (i.e. divorce, imprisonment, death), his children, particularly boys, will need counseling or the aid of government services to become productive and contributing members of society. Without these support services, the children may likely fall into a criminal lifestyle which produces an economic strain on the community. Additionally, the diminished income resulting from the father’s absence could mean that as the children graduate high school and pursue college or trade schools, they must incur greater debt to finance their education. This increased debt will result in less local purchasing power which add up to real tangible dollars taken away from the community. Of course, there is an option. The church could intervene by offering programs and services to avert that father’s absence. Dr. Ram Cnaan, Professor and Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research of The University of Pennsylvania has done extensive research on this topic and his research has concluded a rather startling outcome – “When measured in terms of dollars and cents, churches provide greater economic benefit and health to the community per capita than any other business or industry.”

Examples of how this economic benefit is generated:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Baptisms
  • Artistic performances
  • Charter Schools
  • Counseling programs
  • Operating budgets
  • Salaries of staff and wages for building repairs (roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • The monetary value of goods that the market does not price
  • Rehabilitation
  • Responsible parenting
  • Neighborhood pride
  • Social service delivery
  • Playgrounds
  • Recreation space
  • Volunteer hours
  • Preventing suicide
  • Helping people gain employment
  • Crime prevention and re-entry
  • Ending drug and alcohol dependence
  • Enhancing health
  • Preventive health
  • Teaching pro-social values to children
  • Teaching youth civic behavior
  • Naturalization assistance
  • Caring for the elderly
  • Preventing divorce
  • Ending abusive relationships
  • Job training programs
  • Community development corporations
  • Businesses incubation

As local churches work more in tandem with the community around it, it becomes clear that congregations are not insular clubs that are unconcerned about the rest of a community but rather assets that benefit the community significantly and are therefore worthy of support.

The contributions of local congregations benefit individuals, local business; the community at large and local governments and by taking a quantitative approach the economic impact of the local church is clearly seen. So, for every dollar given, donation received, offering provided, rezoning application approved, variance on a building permit granted, and foundation grant given thank you for helping us fund the needed programs and services that create a quality of life for all our residents.

What economic impact do you see local churches providing? I welcome your feedback.

Christmas and Racial Reconciliation

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Race has always been a part of all our lives. For that reason if no other it will remain both highly debated and widely misunderstood. It will always be an emotional issue. It’s near impossible to celebrate Christmas and not consider race. The Christmas saga is widely racial as it is the story of the birth of the mixed racial Savior of the world. A read through the genealogy of Jesus would reveal within his bloodline are Canaanites, Sodomites, Hittites and Jews. No wonder Paul writes to the church in Galatia that in Christ there is no distinction between race, class or sex. Yet, our nation and our communities are re-segregating around issues of race, class and sex… while the evangelical faith community is largely silent.

Silence is dangerous because it opens a window of opportunity for those with an agenda and in need of a platform to facilitate the conversation and further widen the distance between us. The church cannot be silent during this hour.

Recent stories spanning, Missouri, New York City and Cleveland have sparked a national conversation. What is alarming is these stories have proven we do not live in a post racist America. Most whites view the problem as circumstance while blacks view it as systemic. The difference in our views is simply a matter of experience. Whites and blacks have different experiences with law enforcement. Pragmatically speaking both whites and blacks must share in a healthy exchange of listening to one another. White people must stop defending the systems that protect and serve them while ignoring that many of those systems have a racial bias. To say, “I am not a racist” while ignoring systemic racial bias is a contradiction. Much of this bias comes from our white pulpits and community leaders that seem incapable of admitting selling unlicensed cigarettes while posing no threat hardly qualifies for the death sentence. Likewise, Black people have a role to play. Blacks must stop “cherry-picking” crimes against the black community. To boycott whites for KKK behavior and ignore blacks who shoot up their own communities, call each other “nigga” and perpetuate stereotypes hardly creates public trust and credibility. In similar fashion to white America, much of this perspective is facilitated amongst community and faith leaders. To show no interest in a city or a community until it creates a big enough platform to warrant involvement does not exude effective leadership.

  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who dies that the demands of justice might be met (for the wages of sin is death) yet ignore the scales of injustice is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who would live to shed his blood that we might be reconciled to a Holy and loving God as the ultimate act of grace and we not exhibit grace is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who survived a government policy of male genocide while ignoring the fact that black males are far more likely to be sentenced, convicted, executed and murdered than white males is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who would later proclaim, “I have come that you might have life” and we not desire all people of every background have a chance at life is not Christmas.
  • To celebrate the birth of Jesus who we are to be crucified with so that we no longer live but Christ in us and still allow the labels of Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Conservative or Liberal to be our primary identity is not Christmas.

America once again is reminded that at the heart of our skin problem is a sin problem. This is good news during this holiday season because we know the answer to the sin problem  is Jesus Christ. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus may we not misrepresent His birth in the eyes of a world that desperately need him.

Only under the Lordship of Jesus Christ can the cultural and contextual cloudy lenses of class, sex and race by which the tragedies of Ferguson and Long Island are viewed can be brought into its clearest focus.

What are your thoughts on the issue of racial reconciliation during this Christmas season and beyond?

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.

The Company I Keep

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I am dating myself but as a teenager I would ask my parents if I could “have company.” My parents would never give me a blanket yes but rather would ask the clarifying question, who? The insinuation was the “who” of my life was just as important as the “what” of my life. In other words my parents were not only concerned with what I was doing but whom I was doing it with. The issue of the company we keep is as significant today as ever. Over the years I have learned a few things that I wish to share with you.

  1. My associations are a determinant in what I become. People shape our lives. Our verbal expressions, facial expressions and perspectives on issues are greatly influenced by those we spend time with. This simple reality places a caveat on our lives to filter those we spend any time with. What do I see in this person that has fed my urge to be in their life? What habits am I learning from this person? Are they habits I want testifying of who I am? What people do they associate with that I will automatically be associated with either in a perceived way or a real way? Do I want my name identified with these people? As so the filter goes – deeper and deeper until only the people providing health and life remain. We must, however, be aware that someone is placing me in his or her filters as well.
  1. I must be willing to denounce certain behaviors. There have been times when I was guilty of causing my own greatest problems. The first place I must speak out against that which is marginal, slothful, and unproductive and wrong is within myself. As we strive to fix us it gives our voice credibility as we then challenge others to get their house in order. As you put this process in motion you will begin to see the glaring contradiction in our one-sided finger pointing. This is particularly noteworthy in government. For example, legislators may propose drug testing on welfare recipients (which I agree with by the way) but no testing requirements on Senators, government employees, those receiving farm subsidies, etc.). My point is if you are going to denounce the behavior of one group of people getting a government check then include everyone in that relative population. This modeling by example would resolve many personal and public debates.
  1. I must distance myself from certain people. This is one hard reality for me because I consider myself to be a very loyal person. It took me years to learn that my loyalty to people can never supersede my loyalty to my purpose in life. There are going to be those moments when we simply must choose. Not everyone who began will finish with us and not everyone who was instrumental in assisting us in getting us where we are plays a role in our getting to the next milepost. In simplest terms some can’t, some won’t and a few will. Regardless of whom you choose to let remain and those you choose to release I am learning to always keep close those that will cry at your funeral. 
  1. My decisions play a role in the fruitfulness of my future. Stated in a simple word – consequences. Too often we allow our sudden discoveries of “now I am going to do right” cause amnesia in regards to my past failures. Try as we may we cannot throw history out the window while we are reaching for our destiny. My future cannot be realized without consulting my past. This is the reason a prospective employer asks for past references; a mortgage company pulls a credit file; a school asks for transcripts and the way a man treats his momma will give you insight on how he will treat you. The best predictor of tomorrow is today. So then today is perhaps the most important day in my life. If I want a more fruitful tomorrow then I must begin making the adjustments today.

 My dad said it better and with fewer words, “never spend your most intimate moment with people that have less to lose than you do.”

 I invite you to share with us what decisions you have made regarding the company you keep and how it benefited you later?