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Messengers of Hope

July 24, 2010


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.

[This post is a part of the first edition of Here’s Life Inner City’s ( iHope Blog Carnival.  For more information and to read other entries that focus on homelessness and poverty, click here .]

The Truth Anyhow (#2)

May 15, 2010

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.

The Truth Anyhow

May 11, 2010

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 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.

Ok….Anything Else We Can Do?

April 27, 2010

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:

Them:  Can I talk to you about something?                                                                                              

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.

A New Beginning…Maybe

April 19, 2010

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,, 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.

The Power We Have

April 13, 2010

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 never know WHAT purpose you may help fulfill, or WHO, you may usher into this world. Respect Life!

 Our Future.

Training the Future

December 3, 2008

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.

This is How We Do It

November 11, 2008

I’m about to state the obvious: Black America has tons of problems right now. But what might not be so obvious is how to tackle them, not to bring temporary relief, but to affect lasting transformation.

When the business world has problems (and it has plenty at the moment), it often turns to ‘best practices’ principles for inspiration on how to boost profits, manage rising costs, change an organization’s internal culture, or increase diversity among its vendors. Best practices are those activities that have, over time, consistently proven to acheive a desired result. They are valuable because they work regardless of company size or budget, and because they work over time-they’re not just quick fixes. The Black community can learn from the idea of best practices, particularly when it comes to some of the more deeply-rooted and controversial issues like abortion, sexuality, and family disintegration.

I have a good friend who demonstrates well how to really see change in these areas. Her name is Angela Minter and she is the founder and director of Sisters for Life, a powerful ministry in Kentucky. These are just a couple ‘best practices’ I think those of us who work in any area of social justice in the Black community can use as we try to make a difference in our corner of the world:

1. Angela prays. Alot. Passionately. Confidently. She is committed to the belief that prayer works. When she prays, she knows she is dialoguing with God. She understands that prayer is the Christian’s opportunity to partner with God to bring His will to the earth. She prays the Word of God, meaning, her requests are things that the Bible says we should pray for. She prays for mothers to allow their unborn babies to live; she prays for fathers’ hearts to turn toward their children; she prays for the plan of God to be realized in the lives of children whose lives hang in the balance because their mom is trying to decide what to do about her pregnancy; and she prays for women who come out of the clinic who’ve decided to allow their child’s life to be taken. Angela also prays fully expecting God to answer. And I’d say her expectation has been rewarded-within the one year she’s been praying in front of the abortion clinic in Louisville, 85 women have turned away from abortion, and chosen to let their children live.

2. Angela responds. She gets involved. If a woman decides to keep her baby, Angela doesn’t just say ‘thanks’, and move on. She takes that woman to the pregnancy resource center down the street, sits with her while she gets her first look at her baby with an ultrasound, and then gets to work on needs the mom may have. For instance, if a young girl is being put out of her home by her parents because she wouldn’t have an abortion, Angela works with The LIfehouse in Louisville to find that mom a place to live. I love the fact that Angela is not just a pie-in-the-sky pray-er, but she is a true warrior with banged-up armor and heat-of-the-battle sweat dripping from her body. She is a great example of faith and works in action.

3. Angela recruits. She is not satisfied with her community involvement. She wants others to get busy, too. On her weekly radio broadcast, she routinely implores listeners to get involved with community issues. She informs them and then challenges them to move out of their comfort zones and be a world changer. Light and salt-I love it.

Want to see real, life-altering change? Pray. Respond. Recruit.

More Necessary Conversation

October 16, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, I recently attended the Care Net conference in Atlanta. Care Net’s Director of Urban Center Development invited me to participate in a special “summit” held specifically for Black pastors, their wives, and people active in the pro-life movement. We were there to talk about the need for the pastors to speak out regarding the affect of abortion on the Black community, and to see how we can come alongside them as they begin the conversation in their own churches. This seems logical. The flaws in the Black church notwithstanding, most people will still admit the huge influence clergy wield in our communities, so it makes sense to seek their help in reaching our people. But unfortunately, this is not an easy sell. That’s what has me scratching my head, and writing this post.

Since when should anyone have to persuade and convince pastors to speak out against a behavior clearly not condoned by scripture and so obviously wreaking havoc on our families?  Isn’t that part and parcel of what pastors do? They are supposed to be the reliable truth-tellers of our culture, drawing men and women not to a political party, ideology, or {gasp} themselves, but to the unchanging, life-transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have historically looked to them as procalimers of the Word of God, and as attentive, caring undershepherds who steer their flocks off the wide way onto the narrow. But things have changed.

Rather than the pastors leading the way in identifying and dealing with sin, they are at the back of the pack, dragging their feet while abortion, domestic violence, and all kinds of sexual sin spread through our community like undiagnosed cancer. Rather than ‘movements’ bringing issues to them, begging for support and involvement, pastors should be inciting a holy revolution against the encroachment of the world’s philosophies and empty rhetoric into our places of worship, and into our bodily temples where the Spirit of the Lord Himself resides. We desperately need our pastors to function again in their sacred calling. Tell us to stop sleeping with each other’s husbands, wives, and children. Tell the young people that they actually can live a holy life without being dominated by unbridled lust and desire for physical pleasure. Pull the men aside and tell them their responsiblility to be protectors, providers, and priests in their home. Absolutely insist that worship leaders and choir directors not be active, unapologetic homosexuals. Counsel the young women about the awesome privilege it is to bear children, and help them see that taking the life of their child is not the answer to what’s really ailing them. But don’t stop with the telling. We also need Black pastors to show with their lives the truth, beauty, and worth of living a life committed to the Person and teachings of Jesus.  

This conversation about sin isn’t just for the pew, it’s for the pulpit first becuase sin not uprooted in the pulpit will run wild in the pews. Sin deceives us and distorts our perspectives so that what should be summarily put down is unashamedly lifted up. The church is silent on abortion and other problems because our pastors are silent. If we can restore the voice of our spiritual gatekeepers, sin will silence us no more.

A Necessary Conversation

October 9, 2008

I just returned from Atlanta where I attended this year’s CareNet conference. Part of the conference this year was a special summit to address the abortion problem in the Black community. Seven pastors and a couple people active in the Black pro-life cause attended. The purpose of this summit was to begin to impress upon pastors the vital importance and urgency of their voice being heard within our community, to help bring visibility and credibility to the message of life. I’m pretty familiar with abortion statistics, issues, affects, causes, and proposed solutions. But I heard something very early in the conference which took my breath away.

During the first session of the summit, a pastor from Alabama made this comment, “It’s fine to talk to people about their abortions, and the impact it has had on them, and to encourage them to seek healing. But we really need to talk to people about their sin.” He ended his introduction of himself with this statement and sat down. No one else commented on what he said, and it was never mentioned during any of the other sessions. But this observation kept me awake that first night I spent in Atlanta.

Sin….seems like it would be obvious. It’s true that not every abortion stems from a sinful behavior. In fact, the number of married women having abortions seems to be on the rise. But in the Black community, 88.6% of abortions are had by unmarried women (CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, issued 11/07). So sin is definitely an issue. With all the talk about ‘unintended pregnancy’ and ‘crisis pregnancy’, it’s easy to forget that there are problematic, [see, I’m using a euphemism for sin right now] behaviors underlying the pregnancies and abortions. The language of our day has been tweaked and massaged just enough to obscure what’s really happening. How would it sound if we started saying, “we’d like to decrease and prevent sinful sexual behavior, which would lead to less out of wedlock pregnancies.” NOW, Banned Parenthood, and their chohorts would jump up and down screaming faster than we can say ‘contraception’.

It even looked funny to see ‘out of wedlock’ in print, didn’t it? No one says that anymore. Language has a huge impact on how we diagnose, and prescribe solutions for, problems of our day. Seems like when we said things like out of wedlock, people were more cognizant of the consequences of their behavior. It reminded us that there was a child being brought into the world without the benefit of a marriage. And we readily understood the legal and moral implications of that reality. As it is now, if someone has an ‘unintended’ pregnancy, it just means they didn’t plan well. The sex was intended, but not the pregnancy. So to fix the problem, you get help planning better, i.e. pills, condoms or something else. By the way, nowadays, if you don’t plan up front, no worries because you can deal with that ’emergency’ with special contraception that will make the uterine environment inhospitable to the already-formed embryo so that it doesn’t survive.

So where does sin come in? Bringing sin back into our conversation, especially among Christians and other faith communities, wakes us up to the fact that sexual sin violates God’s intent and design for sex, and that the pregnancy is really the least of our problems. We’ve gone crossways of a holy God, who cares deeply about our lives, and who cares enough to establish consequences for sin. It keeps us aware that our problems lie in our souls, not our inability to organize and plan. It re-injects the ideas of responsibility, accountability, morality, love, and consequence back into a dialogue that has gotten off course. Talking about sin will change how we feel about those who get caught in its trap (we’ve all sinned and come short, right?), and which remedies we promote to help the situation. It will motivate us to desire and work for inner healing, strength and faith for women and families, rather than the short-sighted quick fixes being advocated now. Sin is what’s gotten us here, and dealing with sin is what will get us out.