Tag: WordAlive

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.

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?

 

The Truth about Sex

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I Pastor a wonderful group of people in Rocky Mount, NC. One of the things I love about pastoring where I do is the appetite our members have for the truths contained in the Bible. If we look around it is very obvious by newspapers, television shows and music lyrics that truth is weaning in popularity. If truth were a person I can imagine her walking around homeless while trying door after door of people’s hearts, marriages and homes, finding no one to let her in. I can see Truth sitting in board meetings of major corporations being outvoted again by the board members of Greed and Personal Agenda. There Truth is again after having received her notice for jury duty being ignored while verdicts are rendered and guilty people go free and innocent people get convicted. Then there is the monthly trip to local, state and federal government agencies where Truth just doesn’t have a large enough lobbying check to even get a meeting with the right person. But there can be no greater frustration for Truth than her sitting in the pews of many of our churches on Sunday to never even be acknowledged as a visitor in church. I’m sure Truth has even tried to join but we just don’t accept members like her. We’d much rather have Mr. Politically Correct, Ms. Popular Opinion and Dr. I Know It All as members of our churches. Once again Truth is walking around our society in sincere desire of someone to give her some attention.

Every Sunday I preach in the pulpit at Word Tabernacle Church it is my desire that Truth gets a fair hearing. To that end I began this year preaching and teaching through the Ten Commandments. This past Sunday we were reminded that we should not commit adultery. Whether it is pre-marital sex, fornication, adultery, pornography, homosexuality or lust God says we should not do that. Let me share a few truths regarding sexual intimacy.

Sex comes with a purpose. Water and sun are probably two of the greatest natural gifts God has ever given us. But when exposed to either inappropriately or excessively they both can be damaging. Most of us know someone who has drowned or been sun burnt. When someone buys you a pair of socks as a gift, it is understood that they don’t go on your head. That doesn’t make it a bad gift but is does make it a gift with a very specific purpose. God’s intent for sex was two-fold: propagation and pleasure. As long as we use it appropriately we will be ensured of both, but if we abuse the gift we will expose ourselves to unnecessary consequences and sorrows. This makes sense to me. If God established sexual relations between a married man and a married woman so that they can have more children and enjoy each other then physical relations between same sex people would obviously be considered an inappropriate use of the gift. If the purpose of something doesn’t matter, I often wonder why those who are in support of same sex unions don’t show up at marches and boycotts with shoes on their heads and hats on their feet?

Sex comes with principles. Sex is a gift. It is a gift that wasn’t created by society but rather the Sovereign. As a result God still gets to establish the rules. Most of us drive on highways to travel to buy food, clothing, attend school, work or church. We are forbidden (by law) to travel East in a Westbound lane or to drive the car from the rear passenger seat. These principles are good and are meant for our safety and to ensure our enjoyment. I am personally very convicted regarding how physical intimacy is being portrayed in front of us. I went through an informal exercise regarding the television shows I watch most frequently and in most situations physical intimacy is being portrayed in direct opposition to how God designed it. Generally we see couples that are same sex, unmarried or just “kickin’ it” and rarely loving examples of a man and a woman who are married. Please don’t hear me say that we should not enjoy the entertainment that we do but we must be careful that we do not allow the media to form our morality. A great example of this is probably the most popular show on television, “Scandal.” Yes, I admit it is engaging television and yes she wears some bad clothes and some hot coats and the themes are riveting. But we must recognize that it is entirely possible to be well educated, well connected, powerful and a “fixer” without sleeping with another woman’s husband.

Sex must be protected. We should maintain and manage the relationships God has given us. As singles we must respect ourselves enough and other people’s relationships enough to have a high standard regarding our physical intimacy. Married people must be committed in the relationship they are in. One of the best ways to protect this wonderful gift God has given us is by establishing ourselves spiritually, intellectually and emotionally with someone before we are physical with them.

This is my truth regarding sex. What is yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds I will never forget

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The human hearing process is quite interesting. Hearing occurs as sound enters the outer ear canal and causes vibrations of the tympanic membrane. It requires the synchronized functions of the outer, middle and inner ear. I am not an Otolaryngologist nor do I play one on television so in no way is this blog a scientific or medical treatise on the anatomy and physiology of the human ear. Quite to the contrary it is an emotional and social response to a perfunctory process that occurs so many times in a day none of us can count it.

One of the things I love about being a preacher is the sound of the response to preaching. I love hearing the myriad of responses that inevitably echo through the room “Preach Pastor”, “I know that’s right”, “You’re preaching well, Sir”, “Go ahead, G”.  Those are sounds I will never forget.

Then there are times when conviction, introspection and self-evaluation produce no sound. Those moments when fear, doubt, confusion and shock grip us like a choke hold around the neck. I know this sound well it is called, silence. That is a sound I will never forget.

Then there is the sound of infectious, contagious laughter where the stomach begins to ache and the eyes begin to water. That sound when all the problems of this world are momentarily and certainly temporarily muted from our minds. The sound of joy, happiness, laughter. That’s a sound I will never forget.

“I love you.” That sound originating from the mouth of those we most care for, need and desire to share our lives. When life begins to smack us and circumstances refuse to release us this sound convinces us that we can bear it, believe for the best while going through it, and certainly endure it. That’s a sound I will never forget.

This past week I heard two more sounds that I will never forget. As I sat in my church office I heard the sound of multiple gunshots ringing out so close it was as if it were directly over my head. This was not a single shot of an innocent person protecting their home and their rights. Nor was this the shot from a police officer Glock or 9mm as they carried out their pivotal function in our society. This was the sound of hatred; the sound of criminality; the sound of disrespect for life; the sound of poor public policy; the sound of poverty; the sound of the power of wealthy lobbying; the sound of neglect; the sound of ignorance; the sound of miseducation; the sound of personal agenda; the sound of exploitation; the sound of materialism, the sound of violence; the sound of idolatry. Pop, pop pop, pop pop pop, pop. Just as I assumed the sound had ended, there was another. That’s a sound I will never forget.

Bullets don’t have names inscribed on them and although I never heard the sound of the bullet whistling through the air it would eventually have its trajectory slowed and its path altered as it found a detour in the bone, flesh and cranial matter of a 12 year old boy. This is a sound I will never forget. The sound of innocence meeting violence; the sound of exercise engaging evil; the sound of grace languishing to disgrace; the sound of the self fulfillment of rap music lyrics, “I came, I saw, I conquered, I shot you down. Your brain have no conscious, what you do now?” the sound of childhood colliding with corruption; the sound of forgetting how to talk; the sound of gasping for a breath; the sound of clinging to life; the sound of desperation; the sound of helplessness; the sound of confusion; the sound of chaos. These are sounds I will never forget.

What sound do you really hear when you hear gunshots? A new sound is needed. A sound that is greater; a sound that is longer lasting; a sound more prominent; a sound louder than the loudest and softer than the softest. The time has come for us to release a new sound in our communities. A sound that will ring glorious in the ears of our God and is proven to be for the common good. A sound of prayer, unity, forgiveness, justice and cooperation.

May we be reminded today that the sounds of our lives differ from moment to moment. May we be mindful of the sounds we can control – those we speak and those we chose to hear because some sounds will be those you never forget.

What sounds currently occupy and saturate your life and what sound are you forcing other people to live with? I welcome your feedback and responses.