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.

Jonah and the realization of reluctant ministry

The book of Jonah is an interesting one. We find the story of a reluctant prophet who would rather see an entire nation of people destroyed than receive the mercy of the Lord. We see an individual with a divine mandate intentionally attempt to not carry out that mandate. The prophet Jonah boards a ship heading in another direction gets entangled in a storm that forces him to admit his flawed attempt to evade ministry, and eventually gets him the in belly of a large fish that forces him to rethink his relationship and purpose with God. Jonah is indeed one good read. I have found myself in Jonah’s shoes on a number of occasions. I had rather see some persons retained in their messy affairs of life than deal with the mandate of God to minister to them.

What is disturbing about Jonah isn’t that he was swallowed by a large fish or that he reluctantly repents and carries out his mission. What is disturbing to me is the way the book ends. It ends so abruptly. Jonah speaks as if he were the biggest disappointment to his call as a prophet of Jehovah. He had been sitting outside of the city of Nineveh angry at God and himself for feeling as if he had been manipulated by God into carrying out God’s mission. He had understood God’s mercy and benevolence towards mankind. He had experienced firsthand when he was on the boat headed to Tarshish and after he had been thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. In spite of all of this, even though he was repentant and grateful, he was still reluctant.

For many, reluctance is a big burden of ministry. Those who have been in ministry long enough have encountered individuals they were reluctant to minister to. While there are plenty who rejoice in being called to prison ministry, pastoral care ministry, and especially the pastoral ministry, there are more who are very reluctant to serve “the least of these.” Service requires both the desire to go and the need to follow. What Jonah experienced was nothing short of simply being human. Reluctance is more present in ministry than many pastors and church members would care to admit. It can be challenging when confronting our own biases and prejudices about those we are commanded to serve and minister to.

What makes Jonah’s narrative interesting is the way he confronts God about regarding His immediate compassion upon seeing the Ninevites turn from their evil way. I would argue that there are plenty of clergy just like Jonah. We would rather see God’s judgment and condemnation on people we have deemed undeserving of His grace. Perhaps this is more succinctly seen in contemporary political and religious freedom movements. There are those standing by their right to religious freedom condemning others choosing to express the same. It is destructive and does not demonstrate the character of God to non-believers.

Another interesting thing about this narrative is that while Nineveh likely had early connections to the ancient Jews, that connection had long been lost by the time of Jonah’s mission there.  The question then becomes why did Jehovah even desire for them to hear from Him and repent? It was clear that the great city of Nineveh was enjoying prosperity without God and He apparently tolerated it for generations. This could have contributed to Jonah’s reluctance. Think about the number of times pastors have preached in communities infested with crime of all kinds and not one person responds to the invitation to abundant life (not even after funerals lol). Yet immediately after hearing the cry from the reluctant prophet about an imminent overthrow of their great city in 40 days, they all believed God from the youngest to the oldest.  Even the king made it a public law that everyone cries out mightily to God so that His anger would be turned away from them. If only people would heed that message now and produce similar reaction, what a marvelous change this country and world would see!

In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, the people still received. It begs the question of how much our reluctance matters when it comes to God’s mission. We may feel like pawns in God’s game of repentance, but ultimately what He desires for individuals gets accomplished. We may go into and come away from a divine ministry assignment throwing a big tantrum, but the reality is we are still being used to the glory of God the Father. Reluctance in ministry does not take away the need for ministry. There will be moments in service to the Father that we will utterly despise, but when the seed has been planted, watered, and grows, it will be one that will bring forth fruit for generations to come.

Indiana as the crossroads of faith, tolerance, and community

freedom indiana

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.

 

Beyond Religion: Alternative Paths to the Sacred

Beyond Religion: Alternative Paths to the Sacred

During a course in my doctoral program, I had to develop a personal program for spiritual development that incorporated non-traditional means. Drawing from the book by renowned psychologist and professor Dr. David N Elkins, I discovered how wonderful it was to establish a connection with the sacred through non-traditional means such as writing my own mythology narrative, further exploring the arts, nature, and relationships, and perhaps the greatest one was connecting with the sacred through reflecting on my dark nights of the soul. This broadcast attempts to discuss how I incorporated these elements into a spiritual program that took my life and ministry to a more empowering place.

O to Grace How Great A Debtor Daily I’m Constrained to Be

A year ago, I was heading to AME General Conference in Nashville, TN when this happened. I blacked out from low blood sugar, swerved into the outer lane and barely missed hitting another vehicle before going off the road into the brush and crashing head on into a tree. I walked away from this only bruised and scratched. So grateful my life was spared and I was granted more time to serve on this side of life. O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Hotep

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:

www.pimppreacher.com/Dr-Mark-T-Barclay-ask-members-for–79k-for-new-paint-job-on-Jet.html

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.

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