Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The making of a better me

2014 has been an amazing year.   I’ve learned lessons that have considerably shifted the way I think about life, love and faith. My biggest regret is the time misused in focusing on the wrong things and failing to honor what it means for each of us to be created in the image of God.

I’ve discovered what it means to live in balance.  This lesson has been a process that began over 10 years ago after things began to fall apart.  All of us endure these types of seasons – a lost relationship, career changes, the death of a loved one or the inability to find meaning – but what matters is we learn from it all.

Sometimes we have to fail before the light bulb lights the room.  Like I said, learning these lessons will alter the way you function.  I like to call it enlightenment. 

This is some of what I learned

Learning to let go of things that don’t mater

My life had been an unending game of grabbing for one thing after another.  I gave things power in defining my worth.  Things were used to determine my happiness.  I limited meaning by playing the game of counting toys and depending on things outside my skin to make me smile.

Things began to change when I moved to Columbia, Missouri.  I gave away most of my possessions.  I took pride in the things collected over the years – furniture, art, clothes, cars – and depended on them to nurture my self-esteem.  Things told part of the story, but none of it came close to communicating what was happening within.  I was changing, but material things interfered with the massive growth begging to burst free.

Letting go was the first step in discovering the power things played in forming my understanding of life, love and faith.  The more I let go, the more I learned about myself.  It’s an important lesson that many never learn.

Now that I’ve been set free from the power of things, I’m able to recognize the power things play in limiting the lives of others.  I now pray for my friends who limit life, love and faith by asserting most of their energy toward grabbing more things.  They lack significant balance.  They find themselves trapped on a merry-go-round that keeps grabbing at things they do not need.  The more they gain, the more they need, because it is never enough when happiness is dependent on things that don’t matter.

Discovering the power of my name

There is another consequence related to grabbing one thing after another.  Our attachment to things leads to undeniable stress, but it also leads to our defining ourselves based on the world around us.  Our opinions and ideas are not our own, but are the result of our desire to fit-in with those who form who we are with their opinions. What we wear, what we think, how we think and most of what we do are a construction of their opinions.

As a result, we don’t know our own name.

We spend our days chasing happiness. We fear rejection.  We fear isolation and non-meaning.  We keep pressing toward the vision of others until our true identity is lost in our pursuit of happiness found in the things we grab for in search of happiness.  We fear pain.  We define pleasure based on the things and people we collect in hope of avoiding the things we fear.

The pursuit of freedom

We are taught to collect things and fame.  We keep pursing things in hope that they will make us happy, but when we acquire the things we seek, we don’t stay happy long and begin chasing something new in hope of finding happiness.

Our life is eaten up with deep anxiety related to chasing things we hope will make us happy.  We worry when something we grabbed is lost.  After chasing one thing after another, we discover the things we thought will make us happy leads to deep misery.

In chasing one thing after another, we lack the freedom to detach from the things we think we need for happiness. Our lives are defined by things and we forfeit our freedom in discovering who we really are detached from the things we convince ourselves we need.

Freedom comes when we give ourselves permission not to chase what we want.  Freedom is learning to live with the things you don’t need.

Living within my skin

It’s empowering to no longer give external things the power to make me miserable.  The misery comes because things lack the ability to make me happy.  But there is more.

I had to learn that I was being trapped by my own ideas about goals and rewards.  I was ensnared by the notion that happiness demands that I find a better place.

Living within my own skin accepts that this is the better place, and that the reward I seek is already mine.  Happiness is not where I live or where I work.  It’s not conditioned by the terms used by others to define meaning and worth. 

It comes from learning to live within your skin.  It means embracing and loving yourself in a way that celebrates the gifts you bring to the party.

Yes, it’s been a great year. I’m thankful for the lesson.

And I love me some me.

Join me by learning to love yourself

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The police can help by saying "I'm sorry"

Members of the New York  City Police Department turn their backs to Mayor Bill de Blasio during funeral (picture: Wall Street Journal)

There are a few things in life that are hard to overlook.  It’s demanding to hold a conversation with a person who refuses to admit their mistakes.  It’s challenging being attacked by a person who thinks they know it all. Its problematic being in the presence of a person who assumes power over their critics and it’s hard to forgive a person who refuses to apologize.

These are some of the reasons people don’t like the police.

When I say people, I mean primarily black people, but others are beginning to read between the lines of defend and serve to get to the fine line of do what we say, not what we do.

I’m saddened to make this claim. Why? Because some of my best friends are members of law enforcement. I know, insert upchuck beside “some of my best friends are black”. That’s the common line used to wiggle out of the assumption that you’re carrying judgment related to a group of people.

It’s true that I grew up calling police “pigs” and “popo”. I hated police because of what I witnessed – unfair treatment of people who look like me.  So, after working with and getting to know the men and women who wear those uniforms, I moved past the assumptions I made.

I learned to respect law enforcement.  September 11 helped.  Americans wanted to love and support police and firefighters after so many gave their lives to rescue people after the twin towers came tumbling down.

But things have changed.  Their arrogance is showing.  People are turning their backs on the police and it’s not the fault of those who protest.  It’s because of a lack of humility after the deaths of black men and women.

People are screaming “Black Lives Matter” for a reason.  Stop. Don’t get insensitive by screaming back “all lives matter.” Of course they do.  Everyone knows that.  The point of it all is a lack of sensitivity coming from those so bent on making a point that they refuse to say “I’m sorry.”

After a grand jury set Darren Wilson free, instead of saying I’m sorry, he said he would do it again.  No remorse.  He defended his judgment. He failed to apologize and show the pain related to killing an 18 year-old. He called Michael Brown demon-like.

Excuse me!

That spirit seems infused in the culture of the police. Not only are they demanding respect for defending and protecting us, they promote the right to not be criticized when a mistake is assumed. They attack people who attack them under the veil of legal jargon and police policy. 

Now, police unions are moving beyond defending and serving by demanding a different type of law enforcement.

On November 30, St. Louis Rams wide receivers Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens came out of the Edward Jones Dome with hands raised in the fog. The next day, the local police union demanded punishment. They wanted to team to take a position.  They wanted the league to stand up.

No takers.

Cleveland Brown wide receiver Andrew Hawkins decided to protest by wearing a shirt.  The shirt read, "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III." Both were shot and killed by police.

"They are there to play football, not to judge what we do out there. … They owe Cleveland Police officers an apology," said Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Jeff Follmer.

Cleveland police shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he reached for an air-soft gun that looked real.

Tension was rising.  The bullies were out of control.  Then the madness intensified.

On Dec 20, officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down in their patrol car by Ismaaiyl Brinsley after Brinsley had made online threats, including a vow to put "wings on pigs" and references to the Garner and Brown cases.

All of us grieved their deaths.  There was space for healing and understanding.


Within hours of the death of Liu and Ramos, the head of New York City’s police union blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio and those who protested the deaths of Michael Brown and the 48 others killed since Brown’s death.

They blamed protesters and the Mayor rather than mental illness.  They used the meaningless deaths of their colleagues to affirm a point that should have been off limits – we told you so.

"There's blood on many hands tonight," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told reporters outside the hospital the day officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Raphael Ramos, 40, died.

"Those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated," Lynch said. "That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor."

The mayor's office responded to Lynch’s attacks in a statement reported by CBS New York.

"It's unfortunate that in a time of great tragedy, some would resort to irresponsible, overheated rhetoric that angers and divides people," the statement said. "Mayor de Blasio understands this is the time when we must come together to support the families and friends of those brave officers New York City lost tonight -- and the entire NYPD community."

Others supported Lynch’s claim.

"Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio. #NYPD," tweeted former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Can you hear the unwarranted conjectures?

When people protest it leads to the death of police?  This is not a case of mental illness, but this is about protest.  We told you so.  We know it all. We’re not sorry for what we did, and, yes, we would do it over and over again.

I want to support the police. How can you when they refuse to adequately apologize for the death of a 13 year-old for carrying a toy gun?  How do you trust police when they demand silence?  How can you move forward when police establish a culture of us against them?

It’s a simple lesson.

Confess your mistakes and give us a chance to forgive.

We all make mistakes, but, when lives are lost because of those mistakes, gives us time to share our pain and don’t assume it’s easy to forgive.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The challenge of Christmas memories

Crystal lay in a coma as the choir sang Christmas carols.  It’s was her last Christmas before she died the next month after a two year bout with brain cancer. 

I attempted to sing with the others, but listening to her breaths sounded like a clock ticking – tick, tock, tick, tock – to remind me time was coming to an end.  I took a few steps back from the choir and quickly made my way to my bedroom to cry alone.

It’s one of the memories that have led to my battle with depression every Christmas since.  It begins on December 4, Crystal’s birthday, and ends on January 10, the day she died.  It’s a Christmas memory that brings balance to my preaching, teaching and service to others.  It’s a reminder of the gift of love that shows up when a 13 year-old sister looks at her brother, with eyes bigger than her face should hold, and says I love you for the last time.

I welcome the depression. 

After years of confronting the despair of missing her, I’ve discovered that she has been with me every day since she died in 1976.  I hold my depression close. I cherish each tear that comes in between the date of her birth and death.  I feel her presence deeply when my body shakes so fiercely that it feels like a part of me will break.

Christmas is about memories. 

We reminiscence about childhoods were evergreen trees adorned with bright bulbs and flashing lights stirred laughter after the opening of each gift. We beam from ear to ear when thoughts of mama and daddy bellowing with deep joy after witnessing the joy of children.  Christmas reminds us of days when family bonds overshadowed the weariness before the coming of the promise of peace, joy and hope.

Christmas cultivates thoughts of grandma’s honey baked ham and collards greens placed in the middle of the table were uncles, aunts and cousins held hands in prayer.  Memories of snowmen built during a white Christmas and recollections of journeys down the hill in the back yard on a sleigh with room for two. 

The good comes bundled with all the bad that challenges the peace and questions the hope of Christmas.  Memories of the first Christmas without grandma cooking and grandpa telling stories that sound like lies told after a fishing trip.  The urge to stay away from the emotions that creep up in the middle of the first verse of silent night keep coming, and coming until you can’t fight the tears from coming. 

The temptation to hide from people, conditioned to have a good time, makes it hard to appear.  How do you sing happy songs when you only know the blues?  How can you pretend to have happy feelings when death, loss and misery keep coming back to disrupt the indulgence of eggnog and decorated cookies?

Christmas is about the good and bad of life and death.  The promise of life inspires the best of us, while the pain of loss challenges us to embrace the hope lurking with each song we sing.  Christmas is a reminder that more is left after everyone leaves. We’re left with the promise of more because Christmas comes again.  For those who trust, it comes every day, and can be found within each breath we take.

I stepped back in the room at the end of verse one.  The tears remained pasted on my face as I joined the choir.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
I prayed for Crystal to open her eyes. 

“Give me a miracle God. Please,” I prayed.

Her eyes remained closed as the sound of inhales and exhales matched the movement of her chest.

Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

I stopped singing. The tears came back.
There are many memories of Christmas.  Some evoke pleasant thoughts. Some renew thoughts of death and pain.

I’m looking for that star that twinkles bright – the one called the “North Star”.

I’m listening for the songs that awaken hope.

Christ the Savior is born.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Black sororities forbid members from wearing Greek-letter paraphernalia during protest

You can’t wear your Greek-letter paraphernalia when you protest the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

That’s the official word coming from the heads of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.  Both sororities have stood on the frontline in promoting community service and social justice in the black community. Why would the women wearing green and salmon (AKA) and cream and crimson (DST) forbid their sorors from promoting their participation in the protest against police brutality?

What damage can come from sporting a t-shirt with those celebrated Greek letters?  Is the official word from the big shots a statement against the protest, or is this a way for the more seasoned membership to keep youth in their proper place?

Translation, don’t mess with the corporate brand.

Recent actions of black institutions expose a deep generation divide that could impact the future of black activism. As older black leaders seek ways to manage protest, youth are outraged over the criticism they receive after putting everything on the line for the cause? A variety of assumptions are made regarding youth that feeds the expansion of the schism between older leaders and youth.

In Columbia, Missouri, members of the local chapter of the NAACP challenged college students not to march after the grand jury decision related to the death of Michael Brown was read.  Mary Ratliff, state president of the NAACP, informed students their planned march wasn’t sanctioned by the national body, and there was no way to assure their safety.

She asked them not to protest.

“This is not a youth movement,” Ratliff informed those gathered at the Second Missionary Baptist Church to hear the ruling. “It’s up to us who have done this before.”

The protest couldn’t wait for corporate approval.

Youth showed up after members of the NAACP marched 130-miles from Ferguson, Missouri to the Missouri State Capitol.  Seventy-five dedicated people endued all kinds of weather and racist confrontations along the way to the capitol.

“We march because all, all, all, all lives matter!” Cornel William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, shouted to the cheers of 150 people.

Tension began to swell when Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors, made an assumption about the youth in the crowd.

“I want you to think about the consequences of your actions, because too many folks died for the right for us to be here,” Brock said. “The time is now, because courage cannot skip this generation.

What did Brock mean by confronting youth regarding the consequences of their actions? Was she blaming those in the room for looting and rioting? Her words reflected a deep disconnect with youth. Her words were perceived as disrespectful of the hard work of youth in organizing and showing up in Ferguson soon after the death of Michael Brown. 

Michael Hassle challenged the NAACP marchers not to take pride “in marching 100-and-something miles, when we’ve been out there protesting for over 100-and-something days!”

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Jefferson City’s Quinn Chapel AME Church, told the crowd she understands the “passion” of the younger protesters. 

In Ferguson, youth managed violent protest the best they could.  Youth organized on college campuses and communities across the nation.  They have done so devoid of the support of adults.  This is why youth dismiss the opinion of many civil rights icons.  It’s why they asked Jesse Jackson to leave and question the motives of Al Sharpton.  It’s why many turn a deaf ear to the voice of black clergy.

Many showed up too late, and many who showed up failed to consistently show up.  Youth are demanding accountability, while older leaders are demanding respect for what happened long ago.

Brock told youth not forget those who led the civil rights efforts of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s “to move this nation forward, not backwards.”

Youth want to know why many failed to show up before the cameras took over. 

“The time is now, because courage cannot skip this generation,” Brock said.

To that youth are asking a deeper question.  Where have you been? Youth are not waiting for the baton to be passed on to their generation of leaders.  They have created their own way, and aren’t looking for or asking for permission from those still stuck in an old strategy.

Instead of telling youth what to do, take notes.

The AKA’s and Delta’s are attempting to define the terms of protest.  They want youth to keep their name out of the movement for justice.  They don’t trust youth with their corporate brand.  They’re afraid a picture will be taken with a looter wearing a t-shirt with their Greek letters.

They don’t get it!

This is not an AKA or Delta movement. 

It’s a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe” movement.

Word of wisdom to old leaders - stand back and watch.

You showed up too late, and your baton is too short to pass on to these youth. 

They carry a big stick.

And, in case you missed it, the stick isn’t used to beat people.  Like Moses, youth use that big stick to point the way to justice.

They show up every night.  They keep fighting, and they don’t need your permission.

That’s called a new day.

Friday, December 5, 2014

This feels like strange fruit dangling from a tree

I feel numb.

That is the only way to describe what I’ve been carrying for the past week. It’s been hard to move.  It’s even harder to speak with clarity related to what just happened – two grand juries ruling not to indict white police officers in the death of unarmed black men.

My numbness is not caused by shock.  It’s the outcome of hauling painful luggage for as long as I can remember.  I’m saddened even more by the knowledge that I’m not alone.  Most black men share the burden of stuff so deep and old that we can’t frame words to define the angst in our souls.  Black women bring feelings compounded by anxiety related to witnessing their sisters beaten and killed, potential husbands broken, and their children and other kinfolks opposed by a system rooted in enduring hate.

I simply don’t know how to feel.  What I do know is how the madness impacts the assumptions I bring to the work I do. My work as a journalist forces me to discard many of the ethical expectations we embrace when we say yes to this work.  I’ve abandoned the desire to be impartial in my reporting and writing on the stories involving the death of black men and women.  I’ve rejected the need to get the other sides of the story.  I’m critically aware of how all of this influences my credibility as a journalist.  I get all of that, but I’m too numb to make the transition back to the land of impartiality.

I’m not sure if it is possible to keep yourself out of the story.  Journalists are taught not to make the story about you. I’m long past violating the sacred trust of locating the real story and allowing readers to come to their own conclusion.

I get it. I embrace all of it. I teach it, and I want my students to enter the field with eyes pointing beyond their assumptions.  All of that is true, but how can I commit to that vision?

This story has impacted me personally.  I carry the commentary regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with me each day.  The images of their dead bodies follow me to work, to school, and the places I spend money.  My faith is measured by their deaths.  My willingness to trust is impacted by the disappointment of no indictments.

It is about trust.

I’ve been seeking clarity regarding this numbness. Where did it come from? What can be done to overcome this pain that has my heart beating faster than it should?

It came to me after listening to Charles Barkley dispute Kenny Smiths contention that we shouldn’t bring up slavery whenever problems like this show up. Smith penned an open letter for USA Today to address some of the comments made by Barkley during a recent broadcast of NBA on TNT. Barkley called those who looted stores in Ferguson, MO “scumbags”

Barkley apologized for going too far by calling looters “scumbags”. What followed was an enlightening conversation that displayed the complexity and diversity of responses in the black community.  Smith questioned why the media quotes Barkley as an expert on black life and thought.

The conversation shifted when Barkley stated his opinion on slavery.

“The only problem I had with Kenny’s, umm, open letter was, umm, I don’t think anytime something bad happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery,”  Barkley said during Thursday’s broadcast of the NBA on TNT. “Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me,”

That’s when it hit me.  The tension in America is about slavery.  Barkley suggest we shouldn’t bring it up whenever there is a problem in the black community, but is it possible that all of the tension is the result of the lack of trust related to treatment during slavery?

Is that the foundation of my personal numbness? I can’t trust that America won’t treat me like my ancestors during slavery.  So much of the evidence authenticates the legitimacy of my fear.

It’s like a person in an abusive relationship.  We tell them to leave before it’s too late.  If he beats you once, he will do it over and over again. Despite the warning, she comes back.  Isn’t that what we feel? Has trust been shattered due to the constant attacks after we come back home to try again?

I had to pause to contemplate my thesis.  Is it the same? What do I feel when I witness the body of a dead black man burning on hot pavement?  What are my thoughts connected to watching a police officer chokes a black man after he cries “I can’t breathe”? What do I carry, deep down, when I watch until he stops moving? How can I move on when I see it over and over again, and each conclusion ends the same?

No indictment.

That’s when it hit me.  This is our strange fruit.

That’s why I can’t stop crying. It could be me dangling from the tree.

Its bullets instead of nooses made from rope. 

Slavery officially ended in 1865, but it feels like we’re beaten whenever we attempt to run from the grip of the white man on the plantation.

That may be an unfair assumption, but those are the emotions behind this numb feeling.

How can I move toward the future when the past stands in the way?

Friday, November 28, 2014

The demand of silence: Shut up if you want to stay in the room

I’m reconsidering my relationship with white America.

Some of it is based on what I have heard and read.  A big part of it is because of what I have not heard and read.

I’m confused by what people say.  I’m also confounded by what people haven’t said.  The space between the loud cries and silence forces me to reevaluate the assumptions made regarding my place in rooms where I am the only person of color. 

What is being said when nothing is being said?

What does it mean when those who say they love you fail to acknowledge your rage? What does it say when they haven’t stood in solidarity after you give voice to promote unity and peace?  What does the silence communicate beyond the desire to stay in the middle?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the privilege of silence. Standing in the middle established the context for compromise.  It’s empowering to not take a position.  It get it. I support it, but silence defines the terms involving your place in the room.

Silence is a negation of your voice within the context of that space.  It devalues the substance behind the pain that challenges you to speak.  What are the terms of silence, and how is ones space in the room compromised by speaking when silence is demanded?

 Could it be that silence is America’s problem? 

Could it be that black and brown people have coexisted with white America because of a willingness to remain silent?  Could it be that white Americans have shared space with black and brown people while remaining silent regarding their true feelings involving sharing that space.

If space is the place where power is influenced, who owes and measures that space?  What are the terms for remaining in space that demands silence, and how does the silence of those who manage space impact the voice of those limited by the conditions of space?

This is the overwhelming challenge of black and brown people functioning within space managed within the context of silence.  Silence assumes a lack of affirmation, and, as such, is ultimately applied as a condition of judgment. 

Black people call this being a good Negro.  The term Uncle Tom has also been used to state the condition of doing everything it takes to fit within the culture of white privilege.  The good Negro makes no waves.  The good Negro remains silent to prevent conflict with those who manage space. Remaining in space managed by white privilege and power demands silence.  The silence of those within that space is a statement related to the demand of your silence.

Is silence a necessary condition of unity, and, if so, what happens to the voice of those screaming to be heard?

Like I said, I’m rethinking my relationship with white America.  Not because I don’t care, but because of the tension created by speaking.  If silence is demanded as a condition of inclusion, what is lost when speaking is required as a part of your liberation?

Americans demand silence as an act of inclusion.  Those with power control the terms of silence.  So, what happens to the person who remains silent?

Their voice is lost in the quest to fit into a culture that demands silence.

Is the desire for silence America’s problem? Is our ability to get along conditioned by our ability to remain silent?

I may need to remain silent to fit in certain rooms.  How can I?

I’m not made that way.

Still speaking.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why are black women supporting Bill Cosby?

Can we talk? I mean, can we really, really talk?

I’m upset with the comments of some black women popping up in my Facebook news feed.  I’m not sure how to take it all.  I mean, I’m a man.  I don’t know what it feels like to carry all that comes with being mistreated as a woman.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do my best to understand.

So, help me understand why so many black women are defending Bill Cosby?  Why are they attacking the 13 women who accuse Cosby of drugging and raping them over the years?  Why are they challenging the credibility of those accusations because it happened so long ago?

Help a brother understand.

I recognize why the image of Dr. Huxtable remains fixated in the imagination of those who grew up with Claire, Cliff and those adorable children.  Could it be that Cosby’s television persona kindles memories that help us feel warm and fuzzy when we watch those reruns? Are black women afraid of losing their model of marriage, parenting and career success?

I get all of that, but help me understand why women are throwing other women under the bus.  This troubles me for numerous reasons.  Top on my list of confusion regards the number of women I have dated who have experienced sexual assault. 

Get this.  I can’t think of one woman who hasn’t. Not one.  I’ll confess I’ve dated more than enough to draw an adequate conclusion. Many of those women have experienced multiple rapes.  Some have been drugged, beaten and raped. One escaped in the middle of the day while running with no clothes to cover her body.  Many were raped by family members.  It’s a long, pathetic list that exposes the ghastly ways of men.

All of them are black.  They represent the vast experiences of black women.  Some are highly educated. Others are high school graduates with amazing careers. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much money they earn or where they received training.  Black women, from all walks of life, catch Hell from men. And, it’s not just black men who use the bodies of black women for play.

Given the common experiences of black women, help me understand how a woman can’t understand why a woman refuses to speak up after being raped.  The women I know didn’t speak up.  They kept it to themselves for a variety of reasons.  Some feared retaliation.  Others felt no one would believe them.  A bunch of them merely wanted the nightmare to go away.

They didn’t want their names dragged in public space.  They didn’t want their friends to know.  They dreaded being labeled.  You know, it’s because of the way you dress.  You carried yourself like you wanted it.  You’re not innocent – you’re a whore who asked for it.

Why wouldn’t they believe all of that?  Isn’t that the common encounter of those who yell their truth?  Help me women! Isn’t that what happens? Isn’t that what happened to you? Isn’t that the reason you kept it to yourself?

I’ll say it again, I’m not an expert on how it feels to be a woman, but I am when it comes to doing my best to carry the burden of a woman I love.  Loving a woman means listening and embracing everything she has experienced.

What does that look like?

It means standing for any woman who screams rape.  It means fighting on behalf of all victims of sexual assault.  It means not calling her a liar when she says he drugged and raped her, and she was afraid to speak.

Yes, I’m aware of all the liars who make it hard to stand.  Yes, I’m still pissed at Wanetta Gibson for fabricating a story that landed Brian Banks in prison (see Rev-elution: Brian Banks not only victim of Wanetta Gibson lie, June 2013). I accept the hostility people feel towards Crystal Magum for accusing members of the Duke Lacrosse team of sexual assault.  That stuff is real, but none of that has any bearing regarding a case involving the claims of 13 women.

Help me understand black women.  Is it because most of the women are white?  Is it because you refuse to believe your television dad would do such a thing?  Is your refusal to accept the possibility of guilt rooted in a need to claim racial solidarity?

I’m not refuting your right to cling to support, but help me, please help me understand.

If anyone understands being screwed, it should be you.  So help a brother out.

Listening still.





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Big money and an un informed electorate equals mid-term change

"A properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate," is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  It’s a shame we can’t find the statement in the writings of Jefferson.

There are other quotes I wish I could tag on Jefferson.
"The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations," is a good one, but there’s no proof it comes from Jefferson.

Both quotations would go a long way in describing what happened during the most recent election.  If those words actually came from Jefferson, we could dub them prophetic utterance and blame the Republican takeover on an ill-informed electorate and the deep pockets of corporations.
My colleagues in the press point to this mid-term election as part of a longstanding cycle.  For more than 30 years now, the party of second term presidents gets brutalized during those elections.  No matter how strong the economy or the state of the union, the opposition party reaps the benefit of the low approval of the president.

It happened with Regan, papa and son Bush, Clinton and now it’s happened with Obama. It would be helpful to insert Jefferson quote regarding the intelligence of the electorate to explain the tradition of mid-term disdain.  Could it be that voters lack the intelligence to interpret economic success when it dropping in their pockets?
How do voters account for unpopularity in the face of a decreasing deficit, lower gas prices, a stock market that has reached all-time highs, dropping health care cost and soldiers coming home after fighting a war many failed to understand?

We could blame an uneducated electorate on the massive disconnect between the state of the economy and the lack of confidence people have in President Obama. Or, maybe there are reasons for the push to impeach Obama.  Serious issues like: he wore the wrong color suit, he held a cup of coffee instead of properly saluting members of the military or he’s not from America. You know, credible stuff that we, as a nation, simply can’t overlook.
Oh, he is black, but that couldn’t be it. Could it?

It would be much easier to credit Obama’s pathetic popularity on an electorate with the IQ of a banana muffin, but we can’t do that.  It has to be something profounder than a large mass of people ill-equipped to read between the lines of bullstank peddled by both sides of the media wagon train.
Then there’s the money.

That second quote could, if it were actually an authentic Jefferson statement, give credence to the claim that this mid-election shift was purchased by the Koch Brothers. Both sides of the track are guilty of depending more on cash than principles to influence voters.  How else can we explain the $100 million spent to elect a senator in North Carolina?
Read the prophecy one more time. "The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations," says the quote that may or may not be Jefferson.

That’s it!
Democracy comes to an end when the money changers take over the Church. Sorry, wrong convention, but it applies there too. Things change when folks with big pockets use their money to influence how people think.  At that point, and darn it we may be there, those who are either too lazy to find the truth, or easily persuaded by the conspiracy theory linked to the President of the United States, get in line to throw eggs in the direction of the White House.

You know we can’t trust big government.  You certainly can’t trust a man who isn’t a Christian, is actually a Muslim born in Africa who is in partnership with socialist from around the world. We can’t trust him, and I know it’s true because I heard it on FOX News.
You know the press doesn’t lie unless it’s the commy liberal press over on MSNBC.  They’re trying to destroy America. This is the point where you wave the American flag with a Bible on your lap and an assault weapon in the other hand.

Yup, that’s America!
If those quotes were truly the words and thoughts of Jefferson, we could argue it’s a combination of the two – an uneducated electorate and corporate money.  It’s like an old joke – what happens when you take an uneducated electorate and put them under the control of people with loads of money?

The answer is, beat the drum.
Shucks dang it, it’s the President’s fault. Kick out everybody on his side. Punish all of them for siding with that rascal.  Impeach all of ‘em.

But, it wasn’t Jefferson.
Oh well.  It sure feels real.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bethel Church to show and discuss the movie "Freedom Summer"

Freedom Summer
Bethel Church
201 E. Old Plank Road
Columbia, Missouri 65201
November 1, 2014
5:30 pm

It’s difficult to walk standing tall when each step lands in fear.  Sometimes I wonder how the Freedom Riders travelled on those buses while hate chased from behind.

On Saturday, November 1, Bethel Church will watch the Movie Freedom Summer. Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized Freedom Rides in 1961 to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that segregation of interstate transportation was unconstitutional. The rides were modeled after the 1948 Journey of Reconciliation which tested the 1946 Supreme Court decision Morgan v. Virginia that ruled segregated bus seating unconstitutional.

It started on May 4, 1961 when 13 Freedom Riders – seven black and six white – boarded a Greyhound bus in Washington, D.C. headed to New Orleans, Louisiana.  They hoped to arrive in the Big Easy in time to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17th.

The first confrontation occurred in Rock Hill, South Carolina on May 12. John Lewis, now a U.S. Congressman, and five others were attacked as they attempted to enter a white-only waiting area. Two days later, a bomb was thrown into the bus after a mob of about 200 surrounded the bus in Anniston, Alabama.  Pictures of the burning bus and bloodied riders appeared in newspapers around the world.

Violence continued in Montgomery where a white mob beat riders with baseball bats and clubs. That night, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a service at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery. As more than one thousand gathered inside the church to support the riders, a riot arose outside forcing the Governor to dispatch the National Guard.

Some riders were arrested for trespassing. As the violence and arrest received international attention, hundreds of new Freedom Riders joined the cause. The mobs and violence did not deflate interest, it intensified the movement.

Some would say that’s old news.  Why show a movie about events that took place over 50 years-ago?

What lessons can be garnered from ruminating the mean ways of those from recent history?  Shouldn’t we lock all of that away and pretend we have drifted from the thoughts of those holding bats and clubs not so long ago?

Even more critical in this conversation is the church showing the movie.  It’s not being shown by a congregation with a majority black membership.  It’s not part of a discussion for Black History Month.  Bethel Church, the congregation where I serve as an Associate Pastor, is showing the movie.

The membership at Bethel is overwhelmingly white.  Besides me, there are only two blacks who attend.  We are a minority within a congregation that works hard to overcome and understand the hate from our recent past.  It’s significant that Bethel Church is willing to address this issue.  Some of them own the hatred and racism within their family.  They have been willing to share their stories with me - a black man wounded by racism.

They are willing to talk about the past. In doing so, they are aware that some of what hurts still attacks the soul of the faith we share.  It’s painful to face, but we have to stare it down and demand that the grip of the past be cast to the gates of Hell.

On this past Sunday, I preached a message about love within the context of hate.  I shared the madness of that dreadful day in Durham, North Carolina when a person called the office of the NAACP and left a voice message threatening to bomb a local church.

Fear settled among the congregation I served.  Members called me demanding that we cancel worship that Sunday.  Some talked about memories of witnessing black men dangling from trees like strange fruit. Some talked about memories of black girls dying in Alabama while people prepared to worship God. Some talked about the glares of white people when they walked in their direction.

Pain and fear settled in like dry bones withered by heat.  I had to decide what to do.  Tears overcame me as I faced my decision – would we cancel service or stand in faith like those Freedom Riders?

My phone rang.

“We want to gather in a circle around the church and pray,” John Friedman, senior rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, NC, told me on the night before I faced the fire.  “While you and the congregation worship, we will stand and pray.”

Sunday, I preached about love. I preached about loving the way you desire to be loved.  Love doesn’t judge. Love doesn’t remind people of their mistakes. Love seeks a way to move beyond all form osf division as we seek the emergence of a new way.

Love is standing with those too afraid to stand on their own.  It’s taking risk with those who face hostility because of the prejudices some create.

That’s why Bethel Church is showing and discussing Freedom Summer.  It’s the congregation’s way to own past mistakes while seeking ways to move past the wounds caused by racist ways. 

But maybe, just maybe, there’s another message behind showing Freedom Summer.

Could it be Pastor Bonnie Cassida and the members at Bethel Church are making a statement to me?  Maybe they are saying to me “help us understand your pain.” Could it be their way of affirming my presence in the room and a willingness to fight through everything, no matter how much it hurts, to get to the other side of what it means to be an authentic community?

To that I say yes.

I love you too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pennsylvania Governor signs bill aimed at silencing Mumia Abu-Jamal

When you have a voice that travels around the world people will do all they can to stop you from speaking.  Some people don’t take it kindly when a convicted murder delivers a commencement speech.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has signed a new law to silence Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1981 shooting of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police officer. Once known as the voice from death row, Abu-Jamal’s sentence was commuted to life without parole in 2013.

The new law, signed on Tuesday, allows victims of violent crimes to sue the offender for “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.”

The law was fast-tracked after Abu-Jamal delivered a commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont. Abu-Jamal obtained a bachelor degree from Goddard while behind bars in 1996.  The law allows victims and prosecutors to sue felons in prison or after they have completed their sentence for conduct that the law says “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim”.

Corbett said the law is intended to mute the “obscene celebrity” status of convicts like Abu-Jamal, the Associated Press reported. Corbett signed the bill within footsteps of where Daniel Faulkner was killed. Faulkner is the officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering.

“The law was inspired by the excesses and pious hypocrisy of one particular killer,” Corbett said.

Corbett may find it difficult to curb Abu-Jamal’s celebrity status.  The administration and student body at Goddard College embraced his speech for reasons some can’t understand.  They believe in his innocence.  They are moved by his message behind prison walls.  They are inspired by his humility.

None of that will go away.

“Freedom was taken away when he murdered a police officer in the line of duty,” Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, told Fox News. “It seems like our justice system allows murderers to continue to have a voice over the public airwaves and at college commencement. It’s despicable,”

Is that true? Can one forfeit their Constitutional right to freedom of speech by virtue of being incarcerated?  Is that stated in the Constitution, or do we allow for a provision that grants people the right to punish people for garnering support and popularity?

“Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause ‘mental anguish’ could be banned by a judge,” Reggie Shuford, Pennsylvania ALCU director, said in a statement to the Associated Press.  “That can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”

Administrators at Goddard College aren’t happy that a law was passed due to their acceptance of Abu-Jamal.

“In essence this law is suggesting that people are not capable of making choices about what speech they will listen to and how they will react to that speech,” Samantha Kolber, a spokesperson for Goddard College, told the Patriot-News of Central PA .”That we wonder how libertarians and free-speech conservatives feel about this action, and we also speculate about how far this diminishment of free-speech rights will go.”

Prison Radio has vowed to continue to broadcast Abu-Jamal’s words. 

“Broadcasting Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice is the best antidote to the Right Wing Attack on the First Amendment,”said Noelle Hanrahan, producer of Prison Radio. (Link to interview with Hanrahan:

Hanrahan said Prison Radio has dozens of notable people ready to stand in for and read Abu-Jamal’s work if the District Attorney or Attorney General sues Abu-Jamal

Abu-Jamal has recorded over 3,000 essays, published seven books with two more to be released in 2015. He has three major broadcast and theatrical movies in which he is the subject. His work has been translated in nine languages.  Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary is currently airing on the STARZ Network.

I doubt if the threat of a lawsuit will stop Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Listen to what he has to say.