I’m taking a break from the ‘The Truth Anyhow’ Series to remind us all of something we tend to forget…
Messengers of Hope
You just never know when and where something profound will hit you between the eyes.
It happened to me when I saw the newest release in the Angel Wars animated series. The video is a compilation of individual but related segments that follow the adventures of the newest members of the Angel Wars team, Kira and Eli. They are not yet full Guardian angels, so their inexperience makes for interesting viewing for kids and adults, too. One of the segments tells the story of two messenger angels who have been dispatched to deliver words from God (“Maker” in the series) to a young girl. The guardians-in-training have been assigned to help the messengers complete their mission, but Eli-an impatient but skilled young warrior-isn’t interested. After all, how important are mere messages compared to the work he does engaging the enemy in fierce battles to protect humanity from evil and darkness? None of the angels knows what the message says, but they have strict instructions to deliver it swiftly and at all costs.
Much to Eli’s surprise, demonic forces interrupt their journey and it seems like all of hell has broken loose on them to stop this message from getting to its intended recipient. In fact, the messenger angels are taken hostage which leaves it up to the apprentice guardians to finish the task. After a hot engagement against the enemy forces, Eli and Kira make it to the place where they find the one to whom the message is addressed. Turns out, it’s an eight-year old girl whose brother is sick in the hospital. As she kneels down by her brother’s bed to pray, Eli opens the message scroll, reads it, then whispers in her ear, “He’s going to be ok.” Shocked at the simplicity of the message, Eli is tempted to dismiss the whole episode as an unnecessary waste of spiritual power. All that work, sweat, and peril just to say five words to a young girl? But then he realizes that his battle was well worth the risk because those five words imparted something rare and desperately needed in the situation-hope.
When circumstances press in and shut out the light of possibility, nothing is more powerful than hope. And nowhere does that light shine dimmer than in our urban centers and inner cities. There are people doing wonderful things and making a difference in the lives of urban teens and families in places with unrelenting poverty, virulent disease, and barbaric violence and brutality. I submit that the greatest gains are being made where the underlying message is one of hope, and I think this is borne out when the lessons learned from the programs are sustained over time and reproduce through generations of people and groups. Indeed, what is the true gain if someone changes their behavior for three months, six months, or a year-the time periods usually measured by funders for post-program evaluations-if three years later relapse sets in and holds lives hostage again?
Hope sometimes becomes the forgotten stepchild of the Christian culture. We preach faith, encourage strength, and definitely stress obedience. But let’s not forget to impart hope, for it is hope that enables people to cast their eyes toward a maybe-distant horizon beyond the despair of where they are now. But the object of their hope is vitally important. We can’t guide people down a path of hope in ability, intellect, education, wealth, or political power. Our faith bids us “Hope thou in God” to remedy our discouragement and depression. We can’t offer anything less to those to whom we minister and touch. All our planning, praying, teaching, talking, and battling is well worth it to deliver to a sick heart sweet hope deferred.
Essence magazine has really run my numbers up. I was all set to kick back for a few moments and scan through my new issue that just arrived in the mail. Had my strawberry iced tea, my bedroom door closed, and my pillows fluffed. The June issue has a special feature on Black fathers who are stepping up to their responsibilities, so I thought I’d start with that since I plan to do some writing on fatherhood next month; I wanted to get some ideas to stimulate my thinking. I turned to the article…nice looking spread. Uh-oh…two men in a more-than-friendly pose photographed with some children. Which brings me to truth # 2:
Homosexuality is not right.
I know, sometimes Black folk tire of hearing people “judge” homosexuals and feel like it gets too much focus because after all, “sin is sin” in God’s eyes. “There are no little and big sins to God.” Maybe yes, and maybe not. But one thing is for sure-the Bible is very clear about homosexuality being contrary to the law of God. I didn’t write it, but I do understand it. Does that mean it’s right to not give homosexuals jobs or homes? No-that I don’t see in the Bible. Is it right to murder them because they are homosexuals? Definitely not. Murder violates God’s instructions as well. Is it ok to villify them with derogatory epithets and slurs? Uhhh…no.
But on the other hand, no amount of photographing them, calling them “spouses”, labeling their relationships “marriages”, or getting endorsements of their lifestyle from celebrities, preachers, politicians, or commentators makes what they do right. I’ve probably joined the ranks of those labeled homophobes. How does telling the Biblical truth about something automatically make me afraid of it?
I just can’t stand tiptoeing around the issue anymore. It seems so chic and fabu to be in favor of it. It’s the cause du jour. Well count me out. I don’t care what they say and who says it. Essence can run articles every issue about it; Grey’s Anatomy can put a full-on lesbian kissing scene on every episode; Obama can permit them to ask and tell; the American Academy of Pediatrics can say it’s normal and nothing to be alarmed about; the National Education Association can send letters to every public school superintendent in every state. It doesn’t matter. I can’t ever say it’s right when it’s not. And Black Christians need to not be so concerned about being politically correct. Say what’s true and see what can happen in our churches, homes, and neighborhoods.
It may not be popular, but it’s still the truth anyhow.
With so much happening right now in the Black community, and too much of it negative, we are due for a healthy dose of truth on some matters vital to our survival. For the next few posts, I’ll cover several of them. You may read and think I’m being harsh, raw, overly-dramatic, narrow-minded, etc. But just think of me like that grandmother who sometimes rubbed you the wrong way with her bluntness, but when you look back on it, she was telling you the truth to keep you out of trouble, or help you deal with the trouble you were already in. People, we’re in trouble, but we can do something about it.
The truth for today is:
We need to get right with God.
I’m astonished at how far we’ve veered from our heritage in this regard. Before all the Black Muslims, Black Jews, Black atheists and others start blowing up this blog with all kinds of push-back, hear me out. I’m not saying that the original Africans who were dragged here via the transatlantic slave trade came here as Christians toting Bibles and wearing gold crosses around their necks. What I’m referring to is our contemporary history with Christianity in this country. Our people’s reliance on the Christian faith to battle and prevail against oppression, violence, hatred and all manner of ill will, cannot be disregarded. I’m always amazed every January on MLK day, and every February during Black History month, there is so little mentioned about the pivotal role faith played in the civil rights movement.
It’s as if those miraculous happenings like the civil rights act, school integration, boycotts, and marches happened solely because of our own ingenuity and brilliance. Even if we were inclined to believe that, Dr. King himself was very vocal about his reliance on prayer, Biblical principles, and Jesus Himself, for strength, strategies, and courage. There are also numerous examples of African Americans’ involvement in founding denominations (AME for one), the religious affiliations of several HBCU founders, and the legendary civic involvement of the Black church in social issues.
To this day, we are known to be some of the most devoted adherents to the Christian faith (see Barna Research’s report http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/13-culture/286-how-the-faith-of-african-americans-has-changed?q=african+americans). So if we have such an undeniable history with faith, and we’re still the most “devoted”, why is our community in such turmoil? Maybe the answer lies in the fact that we stack up fine in our beliefs, but something’s getting lost in the translation between what we say we believe and what we’re actually doing. Alot of these teenage pregnancies are happening to Christian girls; a significant portion of abortions are occuring with women who claim a religious affiliation. Etc. Etc. and so forth.
Could it be time to evaluate where we really stand with God? Have we trained ourselves to be die-hard churchgoers without learning what it means to die to self? Are we tight with the pastor but estranged from Christ? Have we exchanged our pursuit of the Giver for pursuit of the gifts? We’ve got to seriously consider these things. Back in the day, our grandparents learned how to raise their children, mangage their relationships, stay sane on the job, and generally how to navigate life through their relationship with God. Can we get back to our spiritual roots? Will we admit that our lives, and our community, depends on it?
I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth anyhow.
Have you ever had someone come to you with a thorny situation, ask your advice, and then act less than enthusiastic with the advice you give? The conversation might go something like this:
You: Sure. What’s up?
Them: I’d like to be a doctor and I’m wondering what I need to do.
You: Well, you probably need to consider majoring in pre-med or some science-related subject. Then, you’ll need to take the aptitude test to get into medical school, go for 4 years, do a residency, take the medical board licensing exam and then find a permanent job.
Them: Hmmm…that sounds like a lot. Any other way I can become a doctor?
There’s also a version of this in the Bible. Christians know it as the story of the ‘rich young ruler’, and it relates an account of a young ruler who comes to Jesus asking what thing does he need to do to have eternal life. Jesus responded that he needed to keep the commandments. Feeling in pretty good shape, the ruler presses the issue and says, ‘Yeah, I already do all that. What else do I need to do?” Jesus says he needs to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. The erstwhile eager beaver goes away ‘sorrowful’ because he had alot of material possessions. Like so many of us, he wanted the end result, but was less than enthusiastic about what was required to obtain that result.
I know how Jesus felt, and at some point in your life, you probably have too. Last week, I attended a pro-life conference that was intended, among other things, to bridge cultural, denominational, and theological divides as it relates to the pro-life issue. There was a specific emphasis on educating people about the horrific way in which abortion is decimating the Black community. Many sincere, passionate people were there. The most common question posed by participants was “how can we (caucasians) help get the message out to the Black community about abortion?” I, and other panelists for the day repeatedly stressed the importance of building relationships within the African American community because culturally, we are relationship-driven people. We suggested things like becoming involved in issues in their local communities that particularly impact their Black neighbors. For example, violence and crime, racial discrimination in housing and employment, domestic violence, etc. After each such suggestion, there would be silence, another (caucasian) hand would go up, and the question would come again…this happened several times. There was clearly a disconnect. The looks on our caucasian brothers and sister’s faces belied their dissatisfaction with our answers. They were in essence, saying…hmmm…relationships…ok…is there anything else we can do?, the implication being…something that doesn’t involve that kind of time and investment…something that’s more of a quick fix….with a more immediate impact.
The inconvenient truth is that building and sustaining relationships across longstanding barriers is absolutely vital to making inroads on abortion and the related issues that surround it. There’s no shortcut.
So the news is out. Star Parker is running for Congress. There have been rumblings and rumors for weeks now, but she’s officially announced her candidacy for the 37th congressional district, which encompasses Long Beach, Compton, Carson, and Signal Hill in California. She has a festive looking website, StarParkerforCongress.com, and she’s already sending out email blasts to supporters. This is definitely good news for California, but does it mean anything for those of us in the other 49 states? I think so. Actually, I hope so.
Every election cycle, like clockwork, Christian websites, commentators, and bloggers start turning the wheels of our own brand of political machinery. Evangelicals start scrutinizing the Democrats, and Progressives start criticizing the Republicans. (For those of us who believe we’ve risen above labels, we prefer to refer to conservatives and liberals, regardless of party affiliation.) Once the machinery starts rolling, Christians everywhere begin to weigh the options. But we usually end up with the same Solomon-esque quandary. The Democrats seem ok on ‘social justice’ issues, but lousy on ‘moral issues’, like abortion and homosexuality. Conversely. the Republicans score points for morality, while abysmally failing the social justice litmus tests. What’s a concerned Christian to do?
(Maybe) That’s where Star Parker comes in. Her policy positions, for the most part, reflect both Biblical principles and practical solutions to stubborn social ills like poverty, ineffective education, and particularly as those problems affect the Black community. She stresses the roles of family and church in stabilizing, and re-stabilizing our community. I think she might be a registered Republican, but my hope is that her adherence to certain principles, more so than allegiance to a particular party, might usher in a new era of political independents who can not only offer an unapologetic critique of both major parties, but can more importantly provide a different way to approach the very real issues we face.
We have no idea what the future holds for any individual. Each and every day we surprise ourselves and others with what we can accomplish. The beauty of life’s journey is that so much of it is simply a mystery. Never underestimate the power of Purpose!
Check out this short, but powerful reminder–don’t take your power to bring life for granted..you never know WHAT purpose you may help fulfill, or WHO, you may usher into this world. Respect Life!
Everyone’s probably heard the phrase, “the children are our future” at some point in their lives. But my question is, what are we doing about our future? If you’ve talked to any African-American person under the age of 25 lately, you might have been surprised by what you heard. Or maybe like me, you were just sad. No matter what emotions surface, we have to keep talking, and more importantly, keep listening. Case in point: I had a very interesting conversation with my 12-year old son a week or so ago. We were discussing something we’d seen on tv, and he made the comment that African-Americans seem to usually be immoral. I’m not even going to try to explain the range of emotions I went through when he said that. Suffice it to say, it took me a moment to respond. I asked him, what makes you say that? Since we were talking about tv, I thought for sure he’d say that the people he sees on shows gave him this idea. His answer was far worse. He replied that when we go out, the Blacks he sees always seem to be ‘acting up’. For instance, when we go to the library, the Blacks are always cursing, giving the library staff a hard time; the Black students at his school are always loud, they talk about rap songs with lyrics about sex and that use profanity, and they openly talk about their visits to pornographic web sites. He gave these examples for starters.
Once I heard why he said what he said, I understood what he meant. In his mind, the instances of immoral or bad behavior are associated with his own people. What could I say? Based on the examples he gave, he was right. I did comment that actually, all kinds of people ‘act up’, not just us. I tried to remind him of Ms. Spears, Ms. Lohan, the younger Ms. Spears, the Disney girls gone wild, and others. But those are not people he actually sees or interacts with every day. In a sense, they are not as real to him as the people he mentioned in his examples. Therefore, he’s put more weight on what he sees personally, than what he hears about from a distance. This encounter with my son reminded me that our kids need to see people they know and interact with ‘acting right’ for real change to take place. We need to remember that while the media has influence on their thinking and actions, it’s still on us-their parents, aunts, grandfathers, teachers, etc.-to train them in the ways they should go. They’re looking at tv, but they’re truly learning from us. If we want them to be kind, responsible, respectful of authority, and live sexually moral lives, we have to speak in caring ways, take care of their needs even when it requires sacrifice, show them what the Bible says rather than just taking them to sunday school…you get the idea. You can’t get a champion from a lazy, undisciplined, uninformed trainer.