My Covid 19 Reflection

My Moment to share my reflection from the last several months

It has been a minute since I have written anything on this page and although I have had many thoughts that have been put to paper, they have not made the cut to publish. Each day of this pandemic and sheltering in place has been challenging for the entire world. Although we have history on our side regarding humans surviving major viral epidemics, there is for us today a more intense sense of uncertainty, unrest, and impatience for this to come to an end soon. Countries around the world are seeing people protest their government’s decision to actualize shelter in place orders. In the US, leaders in some faith communities have been openly defying orders against large gatherings for religious and non-religious purposes and even bringing lawsuits against their state leaders citing the First Amendment right to assemble and freedom of religion. It has also sparked intense political actions with the hopes of one side beating the other with propaganda for or against more government spending and fully opening the country before an economic collapse happens.

On a more personal note, it has made me more grateful for each breath I take and each day I am afforded to live. Hearing of the deaths of acquaintances, friends, loved ones from the COVID-19 virus and the thousands of others who have contracted the virus and are fighting for their lives or have recovered has certainly made life more sobering. The biggest challenge for me has been making the adjustment of being a virtual pastor. While doing video and teleconferencing  is nothing new to me, virtual preaching has certainly been different. I was fortunate to have begun the process of live streaming services some time ago, I am one of those pastors who understood the future of those services but was unprepared to have to begin it under such conditions. The congregation I have been blessed and privileged to under shepherd is thriving and even growing despite not meeting in person. They certainly inspire me to continue studying to show myself approved as an unashamed workman of Christ.

I am certain that historians will look back upon this moment in time and mention the tenacity of the people in the world amid a global pandemic. Even after we are back to some sense of normalcy, it is still my goal and obligation to be an empowering and liberating voice of justice for those who are in need of hearing it. It is my goal and obligation to continue serving this present age my calling to fulfill.

A Poem for the New Year

Another year is dawning and we’re so grateful to be here

Though many loved ones have left us God has caused us to persevere

Through dangers seen and unseen, we’ve traveled through the days

We’ve fought hard life’s battles empowered by God’s grace

We’ll see another year of mercies, of service, God’s faithfulness and praise

We’ll rise in mind and soul and strength to help each other be present

And believe that change is possible as another year dawns for us

We’ll quench the fiery darts of Satan’s bow and quell the roar of our loudest foe

We’ll strive for excellence and achieve the heights no one thought to believe

Another decade is dawning, as swift as time transitions

We dare to accept the challenges knowing not what lies ahead

We’ll walk by faith and not by sight assured that God will keep us right

With liberating freedom filling our soul and

the light of God’s knowledge in our sight

We’ll press unselfishly ahead above the noise of human’s selfish strife

A new decade is upon us. New opportunities to do greater things

Serving our present age with haste our mission to fulfil

With grateful hearts in this new year and decade, we’ll do our master’s will

Anointed, Gifted, and Toxic

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After nearly 30 years in ministry I’ve come to discover that I have spent a great deal of my ministry life being simultaneously anointed, gifted and toxic. Like many preachers, I spent years developing my craft, shaping my preaching style and personality, and developing a philosophy of ministry that I hoped would be beneficial to those I ministered to. I also discovered that with that development came a lot of personal moral challenges that all my ministry grooming could never quite prepare me for. Because I began preaching as a teenager, I was instructed to take Proverbs 5-8 to heart and “ preserve discretion and keep knowledge on my lips”. I had plenty of ministry mentors who had gone down the path of immorality in one form or another and they did their best to admonish me not to make their mistakes.

While I have never been removed from a pulpit, publicly corrected or rebuked, or ever had any inappropriate behavior publicly exposed and scrutinized, I have had my share of moral failings that have caused me to turn inwardly for reflection and repentance. I went through a divorce that had me emotionally unbalanced for over a decade. I had a relationship at one time that although was innocent, was in hindsight inappropriate. I had been in romantic relationships where I did not maintain sexual purity and continued to preach weekly to wondrous reception. I continue to struggle with general anxiety and feelings of inadequacy despite my training, education, and accolades. I have been the toxic person in relationships that led to others involved being more hurt than helped by me.

There are thousands of other preachers just like me. They don’t make the national church headlines with their routine toxicity. They sit in pulpits or pews with the task of ministering to someone else despite their own misgivings. They are aware of their giftedness and toxicity but are only allowed and encouraged to express the former over the latter. It is quite emotionally ravaging for them. They, like me, are not spiritually or emotionally healthy. They are called upon to be God’s vessels of healing and wonder, leading to the salvific knowledge of Christ the Redeemer, and a life of abundance on this side and eternity on the other. It is a duplicitous life at best and certainly an intoxicating one when the ministry gifts are on full display for people to be in awe and wonder of the individual in praxis but not the toxicity attached.

This is why we find it hard to minister to those ministers who have fallen hard to the duality of their anointing and their toxicity. It’s no different than that of Noah getting drunk and being inappropriately exposed to his grandson after having followed God’s plan of successfully building, servicing, and replenishing the earth. It’s also David having to witness the death of a child birthed out of his coveting another man’s wife and successfully conspiring to have that man murdered. It’ Solomon, who after soliciting the Lord for wisdom, receiving it and the wealth that accompanied it, giving himself over to all the vanities of life and causing his successor to be just as foolish in turn leading to the eventual destruction of the House of David. It’s Peter, the great Apostle, denying Christ before those who sought him executed, or the Peter who chose to be hypocritical in his praxis of faith in front Gentiles or Jews.

The point I hope to get across is that as ministers, preachers, prophets, apostles, pastors, evangelists, teachers, or any other title one wishes to utilize, we are well acquainted with our anointing and our toxicity. There are those of us who are more disciplined in our concealment of it than others, but it is still very present. Scripture assures us that we have an Advocate in our toxicity. We have a Christ who wholly identifies with us yet can shield the wrath that our toxicity incurs. The author of Hebrews in 4:12-16, reminds us that our Advocate is one who is fully aware of us in our entirety. He through our engagement of the scriptures, can discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He beholds the nakedness of our humanity, encouraging us to hold fast the profession of our faith and calling, and empowering us to boldly come to Him to obtain the mercy and grace to help in our time of need. It is ok for us to be anointed and toxic, but we must always know that God is our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast of our anointed and toxic lives and ministry, but most of all, He is our Eternal Home.

2016 End of Year Reflection

I can honestly say that 2016 has been one of the most productive years of my adult life. It was the first full year in my 40’s and it was full of rewarding and humbling moments. I began the year with high expectations and I end the year with confidence knowing that I accomplished much of what I desired. One of the biggest things from 2016 that I have experienced was a great sense of loss. This came from the untimely death of my beloved nephew Kevin Neal, Jr. and the deaths of so many people who had a grand part in fashioning my youth and young adult development.

Like many persons at the end of the year, I take a moment and reflect on the totality of the year. There is a wonderful exercise that I have been using to accomplish this. I’ll share this year’s with you. How wonderful it is to know I’ve come this far by faith and God’s grace and have yet a ways to go. I’m grateful for all the people, places, and experiences I been graced to have in 2016. As John Newton writes in the third stanza of Amazing Grace ” Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. T’was grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me on.”

10 Highlights (Accomplishments, Best Memories)

  1. Passing Doctoral Qualifying Exam and becoming an official doctoral candidate
  2. Serving as a presenter at the Black Non-Believers 5th Anniversary Celebration
  3. Serving as a Delegate to the 50th Quadrennial General Conference and 200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  4. Being appointed the new Dean of Ministerial Instruction for the South Mississippi Conference Board of Examiners
  5. Becoming a Spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Survivors Engagement Lead for Everytown for Gun Safety
  6. Lobbying with Clergy for Prison Reform
  7. Lobbying at US Capital with National Council of Churches
  8. Attending Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE)National Pastor’s Policy Summit
  9. Celebrating five years as pastor of New Bethel AME Church of Jackson
  10. Joining a local community choir

 Disappointments (Failures, Missed Opportunities)

  1. Not spending enough time with my nephew Kevin before he passed
  2. Not maintaining regular spiritual discipline
  3. Not going to the gym consistently
  4. Not promoting book, ministry and radio show
  5. Indecisive about romantic relationships
  6. Not making time for self
  7. Not traveling for pleasure
  8. Not managing finances well
  9. Not reading more
  10. Not aggressively ministering to youth and young adults at the church

3 Game Changers (Unexpected Events that shifted my priorities)

  1. Being featured in the upcoming Exodus documentary
  2. Getting back in school and passing my DQE, attending Residency II in Atlanta, and beginning the journey of writing my dissertation
  3. Church Promotion and exposure in local and regional media outlets

3 Things I focused on (What I put the most of my time into

  1. Gun Safety and Advocacy
  2. Criminal Justice reform
  3. Returning to doctoral program and completing my dissertation

3 Things I forgot (What I didn’t get around to)

  1. Self Care-poor diabetes management and little rest and didn’t journal consistently
  2. Complete writings I started
  3. Didn’t engage my creative side-didn’t compose music or write enough poem

The Blood Cries Out

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. Genesis 4:9-10

On October 19, 2016, my 18-year-old nephew was shot and killed in another senseless act of gun violence. My nephew was a charming, intelligent, and talented young man who had a lot going for him. Like many teens his age in urban areas, he felt the need to belong. He got with his click, they did typical things people in the hood do. What no one expected was that the hood would be the one to take him out. In only moments, his life was taken and he became another statistic. He became another young brother taken away from us violently. He became another young brother taken by one of his own.

I preached my nephew’s funeral and I wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I knew there would be plenty of young people there. I knew they needed to hear a message of hope and comfort. I knew they needed to hear stories about my nephew’s outgoing personality, big smile, and musical talent. I knew they needed to hear all the good things about my nephew. I also knew something else they needed to hear: I knew they needed to hear the truth.

I wrestled with preaching what they needed to hear. I knew the message would not be one of heaven and angels, and the glorious life of the hereafter. It would be the truth of our silence and passivity leading to so many of our sons and daughters dying needless deaths. It would be the truth of our negligence, passiveness, and silence leading to so many of our sons and daughters are losing their lives to a penal system that treats them as subhuman caged animals.

The truth hurts but it heals. I understand the angst so many young blacks feel. I understand this sense of inalienable rights to claim turf and clicks and amass a rep within the hood. No person wants to seem unappreciated, unnecessary, and unsung. The church and other community and spiritual leaders must address angst. It is the fear of being lost forever that we must combat. It is the distrust of a system that is supposed to protect and serve them that we must address. It is the soul that needs to be actualized and mobilized to see better and greater things not just in the future but in the present.

WE ARE OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER!

We are accountable for the life and death of those we care. We can contribute to their empowerment and liberation from a deep anxiety of over-hood exposure. The story says that Cain spoke with Abel before killing him. It does not say what they discussed or what emotions Cain felt, but whatever it was led to him committing a crime that has affected humanity every since. When God confronts Cain, his response is chilling. It reeks of insensitivity to the divine community. It speaks loudly of how easy it is to brush off another black man’s life and meaningless. In spite of this, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God. It spoke of his tragedy as no language could. It lamented his relationship and his death, but it also gave hope. It gave hope because it cried to the Creator. It cried to the Eternal. It spoke with enough authority to cause God to hear and act.

We should learn from Abel’s blood. We should learn to cry out to God against all violence. We should learn that death does not silence the voice of the slain. We should demand accountability in our communities from one another. We should allow the blood voices of the slain to resonate within our communities until we stand and cry No More! Their blood is crying out to us and to God. Are we listening or are like Cain, continuing the passivity of life only asking, “Are we our brother’s keeper?”

Will You Remember the Last Days of September?

 September 2015 has is considered as a month to go down in history. There are those who are making deep connections to end time events such as the Rapture of Christians, an asteroid/comet collision with Earth, the rolling out of a global currency, empire, and New World Order, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and at the very least, the destruction of the United States of America as we know it. I have literally watched dozens of hours of videos all seeming to collaborate that between September 21-30, 2015 and early October 2015 that the world as we know it will no longer exist. I must admit some provided some very good arguments, and others were just plain old good fashioned entertainment. I have been amazed at the depth of creativity and research that has gone into many of those YouTube videos. The creators ranged from Evangelical Christian to agnostic anarchistic conspiracy theorists. What they all shared was a common thread of both fear and vigilance.

I will be the first to admit that I am a skeptic. I grew up watching the left behind movies of the 70’s and early 80’s that showed how the world would be in a post-Christian church society. I read the books of Hal Lindsey and others that predicted the great fate of the planet earth.  I later followed a pre-millennialist view of end time prophecy that was always dating and naming said events getting every Christian who subscribed to their view rapture ready. I reveled in watching shows like John Van Impe, Perry Stone, and just about any Church of God Prophecy broadcast on television. These persons were clear experts and authorities on all things end times. They marked every new invention, world leader, world event, and anything else as being another sign of the times (with the exception of Prince’s album of the same name). Some had set dates like the infamous October 1988 rapture date. Others simply warned against the use of credit cards with the readable stripes on the back or purchasing groceries from stores that used bar codes. It literally drove many people crazy.

One would think that with all the failed predictions and inaccurate interpretations of scriptures that people would give up trying to predict the end of the world, the rapture, or the return of Christ, but they haven’t. The 2000’s brought the bestselling Left Behind series of books and movies and made some people very wealthy while promoting a misguided sense of urgency for rapture preparation. I witnessed churches showing the movies to youth at lock-ins and conferences. While it brought many people into the church, it also created a warped sense of Christian faith and end time events. It may have also created more problems regarding sinful behaviors among youth and young adults believing that they could sin and still be rapture ready perhaps even without suffering the consequences of that behavior (I’ll sin today and be raptured tomorrow! LOL). The reality has been that The Lord has yet delayed His coming and we must still live with the consequences of our sin and must be in a consistent state of repentance regarding them.

What if September 2015 is the game changing event that leads to a dramatic change in the world, as we know it? Scripture is clear that as believers, we should be prepared as a bride prepared for her bridegroom. We’ve read the story of the 10 virgins, five wise and five foolish, but are we prepared as we need to be? Is there enough controlled chaos in the world that God is ready to end it all just as He did during the days of Noah? Is He ready to create such massive destruction that only He can restore? That has yet to be known, but what is clear is that there is no better time to align oneself with God than at present. There is no better time than now to, as we African Methodists solicit at the call of our sacrament of Holy Communion, “truly and earnestly repent of your sins, walk in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in His holy ways.”

The dates and scenarios may be different, but the message is an unchanging one. There will be an end. It may come with a raptured church. It may come with a one-world government. It may come with a massive extinction level event. It may come with no global disaster at all. It remains that if it does come, will you be ready. It doesn’t matter to me where you are a Christian following end-time prophecy or an agnostic/atheist simply hoping to escape mass extinction, are you prepared for the end?

Do Black Intellectuals Matter to the Master?

Recently, the New Republic magazine published an essay that created frenzy within the black public intellectual community. The Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson published a 10,000-word essay lambasting his former friend and mentor, Dr. Cornel West. Dr. Dyson lamented Dr. West’s descent into irrational outburst of public disdain against President Barack Obama. The essay establishes the formidable voices these two black intellectuals have forged over the last two decades of American history. Dyson writes that West’s influence has not only waned, but has run its course in the annals of black prophetic voices in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Both men rose to prominence as notable voices of the hip-hop generation, speaking against the powers that be. They became the new voices of a different timbre of black liberation theology. Both men are deeply rooted in the black religious experience. Dyson is an ordained Baptist minister who has pastored and now lectures and teaches across the country. West is the son of a preacher, and while not in ordained ministry of any capacity, has been recognized as a prophetic voice on race, gender, social, and religious matters. Both are prolific authors (I own several of their books) and are highly esteemed by the hip-hop community culture as gurus and prophets. Indeed both have contributed to the storied fables and rhetorical synopses of the hip hop culture by either the spoken word genre (West has released several spoken word albums) or the dissection of hip-hop icons (Dyson has written several articles and books icons such as Tupac Shakur). However, their biggest connection is that both esteem Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a modern day prophet and seek to fill the void of his prophetic voice that was lost after his assassination.

While both Dyson and West have created for themselves a large public sphere for their intellectual prowess and prognostication, much of what they say and write remains largely unknown to many Black Americans. West rocketed to fame with his book “Race Matters” the seminal piece of writing that has continued to generate the main thinking points for contemporary racial thought. Dyson’s articulate, incredibly rapid speech filled with the highest of eloquent words, and swift cadence captures the ears of black and white listeners alike. Both still fail to connect to the general body of black believers, the faithful churchgoers who have yet to be liberated from an over-idealized existence in the faith of the black church and its religious experience. In that sense, both seem not to matter to the Master of their souls.

It is from this perspective that the “beef” between Dyson and West as exposed in the article is an elegy to the authentic prophetic voice that the Black church and community needs. What made the voices of James and Cecil Cone, King, Gardner C. Taylor, Howard Thurman, E.V. Hill, C.A.W. Clark, Leon Sullivan, and others is that they spoke to the masses and the master under the prophetic unction of an oppressed people. They have been revered as pillars of black faith and social empowerment. Both Dyson and West’s voice have been sullied by the esteem given them by the very media that once denied those aforementioned giants seats at the table (though to be fair, the American has become a different beast since the time of some of the aforementioned preachers). Dyson and West have both been the go-to scholars for the media to help bring that tense intellectual edge to matters that affect Black America. For some, Dyson and West represent the best and brightest of minds and voices in the Black community. For others, Dyson and West represent sell-outs who no longer authentically connect to the world or the people they speak for. For this writer, Dyson and West present only a pericope of the black intellectual prophetic voices that are yearning to engage on the same platform. Dyson and West only matter to the masters of the airwaves and not the Master of the “souls of Black folks.” When the prophetic voice becomes mainstream, it can no longer be prophetic. It becomes nothing more than a minstrel show. When the prophetic voice creates dissension among those to whom it has given. It loses its authenticity and power. When one prophetic voice uses the element that helped to shape it as an attack against another, it becomes nothing more than sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

We are in need of authentic prophetic voices in the black community. We are in dire need of black intellectuals who are unafraid to once again proclaim what “thus says the Lord” to the masters of this American universe. We are in need of scholars who can help reshape the black mind into the great one it once was. While both Dyson and West will still share space in the amphitheater of public intellectuals, their fates have been sealed as nothing more than media puppets whose voice is no longer prophetic but leaning more towards pathetic.

Indiana as the crossroads of faith, tolerance, and community

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The recent religious freedom restoration bill passed by the Indiana State legislature has created the latest uproar in a growing news cycle reporting on the infringement of rights for the LGBTQ community. Indiana’s SB 101 was created to protect the religious freedom for business owners, churches, and other religious related communities and organizations against those who threaten said freedoms. The LGBTQ community believes that it and others like it passed in several states (mostly southern states such as Arizona, Mississippi, and Arkansas) believe the bill was created to enhance discrimination against their community and causes. The reality is that it all boils down to one word: tolerance.

If you were to ask the average American if they considered themselves intolerant, bigoted, racist, or homophobic, the answer would probably be an overwhelming No. It is true that most individuals, especially those who ascribe to a religious belief system, believe that they are good and kind-hearted Americans, however when pressed with certain social issues, they discover they may not be as tolerant as they believe. In their 2005 book “The Truth about Tolerance,” Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti point out how tolerance has gotten lost in the American culture war.  This war is even more distinct in American Christianity as seen in the battles between the liberal and conservative branches of Protestant Christianity. While both branches claim the same goal of evangelizing and making disciples (as presented in Matthew 28:18-20, the conflict resides in who is more right in discipling-a fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative Christian, or an affirming, liberal, progressive Christian. This schism is affecting mainline Protestant American Christianity as Episcopal, Methodists, and more recently Presbyterian denominations wrestle with progressive ideologies and concepts such as abortion and same sex unions.  Both of these branches of Christianity grapple with the understanding and application of truth in the context of American pluralism (Stetson and Conti, 2005, pg.61).

What makes the Indiana law and others like it disturbing is that it commits the fraud of seemingly speaking for oppressed (or seemingly oppressed) people, businesses, and organizations. The very title suggests that religious freedom has been taken away from them. That is far from the truth. The greatness of living in the United States of America is wealth of religious diversity and freedom one is allowed to experience. Even within evangelical Christianity, there is no consensus on worship rituals, liturgy, music, clergy vestments, or theological training. There are evangelical pastors, business owners, and even state lawmakers who do not agree with the bill. The connecting factor for those lawmakers who designed the bill and supported the bill was perhaps the sense of fear in regards to the religious diversity that is becoming more evident in the state and America. This religious pluralism threatens their perception of truth as relayed to them through their faith. In fact, their defense of their brand of faith is associated more with intolerance and narrow-mindedness than intellectual good faith and genuine concern for the well-being of those they propose to protect with the bill (Ibid, pg.63.)

While tolerance needs truth to be coherent, truth cannot be misrepresented and legislated as absolute. When state lawmakers begin to dispel myths about their perspectives of truth, they are more likely to govern from the perspective of humanity and not faux religious authority. It is under the guise of the latter that laws like Jim Crow was institutionalized and maintained for decades. It is under the guise of the latter that the Jewish leadership during the time of Christ sought to have him killed. It is under the strain of the latter that the Civil Rights leaders marched until they ascertained the liberation desired. It is from such laws that the American public wants to distance itself and cry for the boycott of an entire state.

In the end, the governors and legislators of states who pass religious freedom laws do more harm than help to their cause. Their zeal to “save America” or “restore America” falls far short of the command of their faith to make disciples. It fails to be fully aware of the rich religious and social diversity that the United States has enjoyed over the last two centuries. While Indiana Governor Pence and his staff are doing their best to defend the law and lawmakers, there will continue to be big fallout for that state. The call is not for renunciation of beliefs or values; the call is to the recognition of the diminutive voices of the same.

 

Nostalgic Tensions

I find it interesting that 50 years after most of the pinnacle moments of the civil rights movement in American history are on the brink of destruction because of events such as the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO.  Black men have been killed either by accident or by force by white police officers for a very long time. Cities are poised for riots and black people are crying racism all across the land.

This made me wonder if Americans are suffering from some kind of racial nostalgia. Nostalgia is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “the pleasure or sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.” It is as if we want to go back in history and experience the marches protests and tensions of the civil rights movement. Young black people want to see justice but they have no idea what justice really looks like. Older black adult want to have a sense of justification for what they condemn as white racism against young black men. It is as if those who were not in the movement are getting a second chance at the movement.

Of course, this is not beneficial to the country at all. It only creates a greater sense of angst and disgust among black and white races. It is as if we want the tension to continue instead of creating an environment where it does not exist. The longer we continue to bring up the issue of race the longer we will live in an age where race matters more than being compassionate humans.

The reality is that there is more racial tension now than it was 50 years ago. We are creating an atmosphere where race is as dangerous as any nuclear device could ever be toward the destruction of this country. There is no solution as how to bring about an end to this nostalgia, but we must be vigilant to stop creating the environment for that destruction. We must target the media outlets that continue to maintain the undercurrent of racial tension. We must demand greater accountability from leader to not incur more racial tension. We must demand that both races realize that we have achieved more together than we have ever done apart.

We must remember the past and acknowledge the very bad things that happened. We must move forward and not live in the nostalgia that keeps us in bondage. The Ferguson fiasco only brings to light a false reality that media and others are creating with the hope of maintaining a strong delusion of progress through protests. We err on the side of nostalgia when we continue to attempt to recreate actions and passions of our ancestors and mother’s when we should be putting our hands to the plow and not looking back.

I grew up hearing the rhetoric of the coming race war and from what I am seeing now, I believe we are not far from one. I love my country and I love my race, but the nostalgia must go. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to change the past. If we learned anything from the Reconstruction Period in American history, it is this: Blacks and whites in the country learned that to be a great country, we had to be a great people. We had to be Americans first. This state of nostalgic tension could possibly leave this country in a very desolate place that it may not recover from.