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
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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?

Ray Rice and the Prestige of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is a very serious offense. We hear stories of tragedy and triumph and the will to survive from both men and women who have been victims of domestic violence. The recent news of a professional athlete abusing his spouse is nothing new. What makes this different is the fact that the leadership in professional sports are finally starting to speak up against their players. The release of a horrific video depicting a black professional athlete knocking his fiancé out cold only adds to the concern of black athletes and the prestige of domestic violence.

Twenty years ago, America witnessed O. J. Simpson, one of its athletic heroes become the primary person of interest in a double homicide. Simpson went from being a beloved athlete and actor to the spark that ignited debates about black athlete’s prestige. This prestige was not only one of wealth accumulated but of a disconnect from the common vestiges of the regular black man. This prestige is one of alienation from the consequences the average black man endures resulting from decisions made out of anger or frustration. This prestige drew a big line of distinction between those who were the investments of billionaires and those black men who were the discarded and dejected of society. The prestige allowed professional football athletes to all but get away with murder. We saw it with, Adam “Pac Man” Jones, Ray Carruth, and even the legendary Jim Brown. These men succeeded in the game on the field, but failed in the game of life.

We have made professional athletes into role models for our young black children. Parents put their hopes in dreams of a talented player making it to the big leagues. Some parents only lightly address some of the aggressions their boys manifest while playing sports. While it is true that this aggression is good on the football field, the basketball court, the baseball field, or the wrestling mat, it is not good for interaction with others outside of those arenas. Young black men develop this aggression early and when not properly assessed and treated, it carries over into the relationships with females. This often ends in acts of domestic violence that destroys the lives of all involved.

Not even a century ago, it was the intent of professional sports promoters and team owners did all they could to keep black men off their teams. We had leagues of our own where we were able to manage and control our players with dignity. Players carried the pride of all Blacks on their shoulders. They were afraid to do anything that would bring shame to not only them but also the entire black race. They mastered the art of concealment and discretion better than some politicians did. Black team leaders and owners understood the value of the player’s integrity, skill, and talent. There is a great disconnect today. Today’s black players are nothing more than expensive investments beginning as young as Pops Warner and AAU leagues.

As long as this exploitation continues, we will likely see black athletes excel on the playing field while exploiting the privilege they have as celebrities and investments. To counter this, we must be vigilant in helping young black find means to address their aggression. Just as we educate them about the perils of street and thug life, we must do so with them regarding the value of the female life. We must educate them of how the smallest incident of aggression against a female can do enough damage and follow them throughout their lives. While we do not want parents to dissuade their children from pursuing professional sports careers, but in the process, help them understand the pitfalls of achieving that goal. Our black male children are seeing what they have been told are role models fall into the pit of diminished life because of their acts of violence and aggression. We must be vigilant if we want to see the patterns of privileged domestic violence stop so that we can create a new pattern of privileged love and honor from our black men.

A Note of Thanks

For many, Thanksgiving is the one time of the year for reflections of gratitude, service to humanity, and of course time for family. While these things are noble, these things fail to convert to a life of gratitude. I have made it my intent to live a daily life of gratitude and praise. I’ve witnessed many things that have caused others to lose all but their lives or sanity. As a pastor and chaplain, I minister to families and individuals who have had sickness or death change bring about sorrow that is so strong that it seems unbearable yet they find the strength through family and faith to make it. This produces a sense of gratitude for life and the material things that come with that. This Thanksgiving day find a way to convert the experiences with family, friends, or service into daily acts of gratitude towards the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Blessings and Love

Dr. Felicia Clark on Zera Today

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My show guest today is Dr. Felicia Clark, author, life coach, and plus size model. She’ll be discussing how women can attract the right man as well as how they can fight body terrorism and be happy with their whole self. Click the above link to participate in her live teleseminar and receive a great discounted rate. http://www.rightones.eventbrite.com /Click http://tobtr.com/s/4844461 or call 347-237-5230 to listen live!

The Saga of Jason Collins

Jason-Collins-is-gay_-Image-via-@SInowThis week Jason Collins is being celebrated as heroic, courageous, brave, and all the like simply because he has come out of the closet as a gay man. While this may be worth celebrating for some, it has raised concerns for many others. Personally, I am not the least bit bothered by his coming out, but I question motive and timing. I am no conspiracy minded person, but let’s be realistic about this guy’s average career and the fact that career is almost over. What makes this unique is that no one, not one single person including Collins’ own twin brother or ex-fiancé was aware of his sexual orientation. That begs to question his motive also but again, that is inference only and not definite proof of his motive. Collins is certainly reaping the benefits of his announcement.
He has made the news cycle; he’s gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, and has received a personal call of thanks and adulations from President Obama and a tweet of support from First Lady Michelle Obama. I’m not sure why the need for either of them to do so when they are neglecting the other real brave, courageous, and heroic individuals that do simple things other than proclaiming their sexual orientation to the world. Maybe it’s because he’s a professional basketball player in a sport dominated by black males who often promote misogynistic ideals.
Perhaps it is because the Black community is one of the last great horizons for the breaking of same sex barriers and phobias. Whatever the case may be, I cannot say that his coming out is a reason to celebrate. I do however believe that if he encourages others in the league or any other professional sport to follow suit, it would all but turn the idea of the US being a normal country upside down. Jason Collins’ announcement is not likely to change the world as we know it.
There will be a multitude of young men and women who will come out of the closet or struggle in the closet regarding their sexual orientation. It is our responsibility as Christian believers to encourage them, love them, not judge or condemn them, and empower them with the faith of Christ.

An Affirmation

Rise to the Light of the Sun
Flow with gentleness of the wind
Make each step meaningful for you and others
Be at peace at the days end with the knowledge that all that could be done has been done
All that will be done shall be done
You are light climaxing til twilight’s end
You are all you need to be right now

Namaste

An Affirmation

Rise to the Light of the Sun
Flow with gentleness of the wind
Make each step meaningful for you and others
Be at peace at the days end with the knowledge that all that could be done has been done
All that will be done shall be done
You are light climaxing til twilight’s end
You are all you need to be right now

Namaste