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.

New Faces in the Pantheon of Black Martyrs

With the recent shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, another face added to the pantheon of black martyrs. At one time this pantheon included icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, and even John and Robert Kennedy. The aforementioned individuals were assassinated for the cause racial inequality and injustice that was prevalent during the superficial age of American exceptionalism of the 20th century. While America was showing strength on the world stage, it was allowing its own citizens to be egregiously desecrated, beaten, and even lynch under the guise of national and ethnic pride.

For generations, the pantheon of black martyrs was on display in frames on the walls of many homes in the black community. Black civic and religious leaders would routinely speak the praises of those men and women we held in high esteem. We would see their likeness portrayed in dramatic expression throughout the year as we yearned for more like them to rise from the churches, ghettos, and streets and speak words of empowerment and liberation to us once more.
As the 21st century has entered its second decade, the faces of the pantheon of black martyrs have changed. We now see the faces of Tupac Shakur, Christopher “Notorious BIG” Simmons, Adamou Diallo, James “Jam Master Jay”Mizell, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant III, Trayvon Martin¸ Eric Garner, and now Michael Brown. These individuals were not on the front lines of civil rights protests or movements. They were not aligned with forces of evil intent on destroying white American privilege or power. These individuals were simple human beings who happen to have darker hued skin. Some of their deaths were the results of lifestyles that although on the edge, brought them notoriety and celebrity. Others were simply ordinary men, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nonetheless, their faces have been added to the pantheon of black martyrs.

What makes the latter’s addition so significant? Perhaps it is the fact that those men were all martyred for a cause other than equality, justice, and peace. Perhaps it is because their faces reflect the myriad of justice disparities faced by people of color in these great United States. It is more likely that these men represent a hope for change that has not come. They represent the continual saga for freedom that has yet to be fully ascertained. These new faces bring to light the darkness of the past when some felt justified in taking the life of black men and women. Their deaths though deemed justifiable by some in law enforcement, are not justifiable for the cause of advancing humanity.

Their violent deaths reflect a deeper oppression beyond that of a supposed post-racial America. It reflects a generation of identity and leadership voids begging to be acknowledged and attended. It reflects a generational gap that has been largely ignored by our elders who have found success after their marches and protests of the 50’s and 60’s. It is the fury of a generation feeling slighted civically, socially, economically, and educationally. It is the pantheon that reflects the withdrawal of courageous men and women standing against oppression of disenfranchised blacks in urban areas once populated by soul businesses happily catering to their patrons with the knowledge that they were not only in business for themselves, but also for their people. It is the pantheon reflecting the age of the “race hustlers” gains fame and fortune at the expense of another black person’s violent demise at the hands of white and black people, with little to no regard for the value of human life.

So what then should be done in lieu of this knowledge? How do we honor the new faces in the pantheon without discrediting the sacrificial foundation of the founding ones? My suggestion is to empower our people to see beyond the temporary bliss of media hype on the plight of Blacks in America. We must rise as a phoenix from the ashes of self-contempt and victimization and become the sacred masters of our present and future. We must empower this new generation to see this pantheon of black martyrs as icons of a royal priesthood, a chosen race, children, and heirs of the Most Benevolent and Merciful Creator. We must present to them the pantheon as faces of humanity blessed of God. It is only when they see the faces in this pantheon of martyrs from that perspective that they will be emboldened to change the cycle of death into one of life, liberation, and love.

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

Spiritual Abuse cloaked as Pastoral Love

Recently, Dr. Jim Standridge, Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church of Skiatook, OK preached a sermon that is going viral on the web. In the sermon, Dr. Standridge publically chastises two male members of his congregation: one for falling asleep while he was preaching, and the other for not being a faithful attendant. While chiding both young men, he attempts to cloak his belligerent rant by saying that he loves them. He even went so far as telling one young man that he wasn’t even worth 15 cents! It is apparent during the sermon, that few if any of his members condemned the pastor for such an outburst of contention.
Here is the clip of the abuse: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/videos-for-pastors/168559-pastor-s-angry-tirade-caught-on-tape.html
You can listen to the entire sermon here: http://www.ibcskiatook.com/index.php?option=com_preachit&id=585:may-19th-2013-morning-service&view=video&Itemid=232

Since I’ve been in ministry, I’ve been in services where the pastor/preacher has used the opportunity to share the gospel as a means of expressing their personal vendettas against members or others who may not be on board with the pastor’s personal agenda. Now scripture does appear to indicate that public rebuke is necessary at times. Jesus alludes to this in Luke 17:3-4. Paul addresses it in both his letters to the Corinthian churches. Paul further publically rebukes Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. There are several other places where this is eluded to however Pastor Standridge does not appear to consider this as he calls out members throughout his sermon even at one point telling a wife that she’s not as wise as her husband.
While some may applaud Pastor Standridge’s actions as that of a pastor addressing an issue as it was happening, I see it as an incident of spiritual abuse. Like so many other Christians, I’ve experienced pastoral spiritual abuse under the guise of pastoral love. The pastors would admonish their parishioners to tithe or be thrown out the church, to only dress a certain way, or to never attend another church lest they lose their salvation. I am sure that there are many other harsher examples (particular those individuals who are members of cults or cult-like churches the leadership dictates just about every action of their members.
As a pastor, I make it a point to address conflict in a manner that is firm and direct but does not create abuse on my part or hurt on my member’s part. Pastoring (particularly in the black church) can be a challenging occupation. A good pastor addresses issues from the pulpit in a way that is edifying and not divisive. The moment of preaching is not the place to air out the preacher’s personal anger towards an individual (even if it is righteous anger if there is such a thing). The preaching moment is to be an empowering one that even when addressing conflict in the ministry can be done so that it builds the ministry instead of tearing it down.
Personally, I would never do what Pastor Standridge does to the young men in the video. If I were the parents or relatives of those young men, I would certainly address the pastor for being rude (if it had been a black church, there would have been some walking out or much worse). The pastor should have the heart and speech of a shepherd as reflected in Jeremiah 3:15. Several New Testament scriptures admonish pastors to have a heart for the people and not be lords over them (Titus 1:7, I Tim 4:12, and I Peter 5:3 just to name a few). It is one thing for a pastor to rebuke the members in love in hopes of enabling them to be better stewards, more connected with God, and more empowered to share the gospel of Christ and another thing for the pastor to rebuke members in anger because they simply are not serving up to the pastor’s desires or expectations.
We’ve got to get it right. The church is driving the very people she was called to draw away because of the foolishness of some of her leaders and pastors. We are to love enough to not condemn but to correct and reprove with the heart of Christ at the center. If we do anything less as pastors, we are simply acting barbarically against the people who God loves unconditionally.

You Need Money for What?

Photo of a Collection Plate

I recently came across two interesting solicitation support letters from a couple of relatively prominent pastors.  Thanks to the folks over at Church Folk Revolution www. preacherpimp.com for sharing these stories. The first involves Dr. Mark Barclay, is a televangelist who is often affiliated with Kenneth Copeland. He is not a pastor of a church, but is the leader of a network of pastors and ministers throughout the country and the world. In his most recent support letter, he asks his partners to pledge funds to repaint his jet. No I’m not kidding. Here is the link to the leaked support letter:


Matthew 6:19-21

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In the letter Dr. Barclay states that if the jet is not completely repainted, it will lead to corrosion (thus the rust and moth corrupt reference in Matthew) and could further lead to the plane being grounded and at worse, the ministry and the people benefitting from the ministry in deeper need or possibly missing out on God’s blessing (that last part is completely inferred and not directly implied). This solicitation comes with the recognition that the plane Actually belongs to God and not Barclay therefore by assisting him in the maintenance; you are assisting God in up keeping God’s jet plane. While the cost is only $79,000 USD it would be going to a very worthy cause because ministries such as his needs a fully functioning and well painted jet to be effective in the kingdom of heaven. Well to some idiot, that may be true, but to people like me, I simply say save the money and fly first class. It’s the same luxury. Or sell the plane and occasionally charter a jet for less. That’s my simple suggestion but alas what do I know?

The other prominent pastor is Dr. I.V. Hilliard, pastor of New Light Church in Houston, TX and the spiritual mentor for hundreds of pastors around the country and the world. I personally have long admired Dr. Hilliard’s teaching style and delivery. I’ve even purchased a few of his teaching series and have heard him live on several occasions. While I don’t agree with his version of prosperity, thousands gather weekly on six campuses in three cities and online to hear him. He recently sent out a support letter for assistance in maintenance on his ministry helicopter.

Here is the link to the letter and news report video: http://www.pimppreacher.com/Bishop-IV-Hilliard–52-Tranportation-Seed-For-New-Helicopter-Blades.html

The troubling part isn’t the solicitation for assistance. The troubling part is the beginning of the letter itself. The letter begins by asking if the receiver needed better transportation, car repair or replacement, or desires to purchase a luxury vehicle. From the initial reading, it would imply that the individual reading this letter would be receiving some sort of assistance in those needs, but that comes at a cost. A $52 cost to be exact. By assisting the ministry’s aviation department in replacing the blades on the ministry’s helicopter, the readers would be eligible for supernatural favor for their transportation needs (and apparently wants).

While the bishop issued a letter of apology to the general public and members, it still raises the question of ministry waste and stewardship. Why should supporters and members bear such an expense? How necessary are some excesses by both large and small ministries. Coming from the perspective of a mainline denominational pastor, there has to be a line drawn on the leadership and the members regarding the stewardship of the pastor and staff. I have been at churches where it was almost sacrilegious to ask for funds to travel to annual conferences or other church related meetings! If the letter hadn’t gotten leaked, it would be safe to assume that he would’ve have gotten financial support for this nonsense. I could write more about this, but it wouldn’t amount to much. As pastors, clergy, and church folk, we’ve just got to do better.

How Sweet to Hold

How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy it gives. But greater still, the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days, because He lives. William Gaither

The lines above hail from one of my favorite songs/hymns of the Christian church. Bill Gaither wrote the lyrics to “Because He Lives” under some very trying circumstances. Bill was recovering from an illness, his sister was experiencing a divorce, and the country was experiencing the civil unrest of the 1960’s. After the birth of their third child, the Gaithers rediscovered the power of Christ’s resurrection and Bill penned the lyrics to what is now one of the most beloved gospel songs of all time.

It is the second stanza of the song that is the most moving to me. I hear it sang throughout the year at various churches and it was recently at a revival service that I was preaching that the lyrics of the second stanza came alive to me. Although I have yet to have any children of my own, I have had the privilege of holding newborns for the sacrament of baptism/christening. Each time I hold a child and place the oil or water on them, I am captivated by the fact that this child has a future. I pray and pronounce a blessing over the child and the family and I imagine the child’s future even before it begins. This sacred event is a foreshadowing of the glory that God has for His children. As scripture proclaims in I John 3:2, “Beloved now are we the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (New American Standard Bible, 1995).”

While countless believers sing this song and cherish the lyrics contained therein, few are willing to publicly stand for the life of the unborn. Because the issue of life has been politically tainted, the regard of the life of the unborn suffers. It is amazing how neglectful we are when it comes to the life of the unborn. If we believe that everyone has a purpose, and then we should give every fetus, baby, blob tissue, etc…, the right to fulfill it. We should give them the opportunity to experience the uncertainties of life.

There is a challenge we must be willing to undertake. We must have the courage to allow life for the unborn despite the circumstances that lead to unplanned pregnancies. When we as a church become more aware and compassionate for those involved in unplanned pregnancies, we will see a greater appreciation for the life of the unborn. We must acknowledge the reality of the sin of sexual immorality, embrace the shame and guilt that comes with it, and help all involved be free to live in the grace and mercy of God. Christ after all, was the individual who bore the shame and curse of dying on a cross for all to have life more abundantly. If we will continue to sing and believe that because He lives, we can face tomorrow, then we should with the same confidence allow the same for the unborn.

The Risk of Discovering Your Purpose

When a man thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3

Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt. Paul Tillich

Recently I had several restless and sleepless nights that I surmised to be simply nothing more than my body clock was off because of some excessive ministry related activities. A dear friend of mine challenged me to seek the Lord regarding this unusual restlessness. I of course did not because I didn’t believe it was anything more than just me needing to get back on my sleep schedule. I was wrong. I began to seek God rather awkwardly because I was so sure that I didn’t really need to. I mean after all, everyone has a few sleepless nights sometimes.

Well I eventually got some very good sleep the following night, but it was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame from sin. I was confronted by the Holy Spirit to remember that although I had believed I was ok and didn’t really need God at that moment, I was actually sinning against Him and grieving Him.

The two quotes above summarize my experience. First, I didn’t think I needed to pray. Scripture is clear that man should always pray and faint not (Luke 18:1). It doesn’t matter what you pray about, you should always be talking to Abba because in Him you live, move, and have your being (Acts 17:28). I believed I was just capable of handling my own affairs without truly trusting God for help.

The second quote by Tillich really is the driving force of this post. As a pastor, it is my job and purpose to empower believers to become stronger and better in their walk of faith. This takes courage. It takes the courage to actually let go of the fear of being unable to do so. When I reluctantly prayed, I realized that I had a great fear-Fear of Failing God by trying to be something or someone I wasn’t. That may be what many of you are experiencing at this moment. You may believe that if you pray too much, read and study scripture too much, that you may get puffed up and fall from grace. The reality is that you’ve already fallen as far as you can go, and God has still kept you. Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man will fall seven times but gets up again. God also promises to keep you from falling and excitedly present you before Himself as someone who has no faults (Jude 24).

That beloved is the risk of discovering your purpose. You step and walk by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). The walking is your’s but the direction and leadership is the Lord’s. Take the risk and make the mistakes, ask for forgiveness, but keep walking, praying, singing, and especially trusting and you will discover your courage to be your authentic self in Christ.

Discovering the Courage to Be: Your Authentic Self

Self discovery is centered in the courage to being authentic to one’s self. The greatest obstacle is the encountering of the emotional self. This includes the emotions of anger, pain, sorrow, grief, fear, and despair. There may be others that are not listed that one may encounter. These emotions are strong and rooted in the pathos of life experience. The process of self authentication should lead to those emotions. There is no way around that. However the key is expressing those emotions positively, allowing the emotions to help you become a communion within oneself, one must experience emptiness and chaos before experiencing
authentic self. To borrow from the world of aesthetics, it is what Friedrich Schiller calls the Sublime Pathos. It is embracing and acknowledging those emotions so that one becomes authentic. It is not simply acknowledging them and masking them as most do. It is engaging them and owning them leading to an empowerment like nothing else one can experience.

When a person begins the process of communion with the self for authentication, they
begin the process of what Paul Tillich writes as discovering their courage to be. It’s this courage that then is expressed in the selfless acts of love towards God and others. One is no longer bound by the cares and concerns of one’s own pathologies but is given away to the liberation of God’s Spirit and empowered to live abundantly. Faithful is the God who gives life, and so He will also be faithful to make your life a fruitful one. The courage to be
begins with the courage to live God’s life or purposeful death. It is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the bearing of one’s cross, the suffering of the saints leading to the redemption of the soul. To become one’s authentic self means learning to die while living.

Remember to live is Christ, but to die is Gain.