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

Everybody Plays the Fool: What the election results say about our nation

There’s an old folktale about an elephant, a rabbit, and a whale. The whale and the elephant met together and both proclaimed their rule as the strongest animals on land and in the sea. While they were talking, a rabbit was nearby and decided to listen in. Once he heard their plan to rule all the animals in their particular domains, he declared that he would not be ruled by them, he devised a simple but brilliant plan to prove them both wrong.

The rabbit approaches the elephant and tells him that his cow is stuck in the sea. He asks the elephant to help him retrieve him by tying a rope around his trunk to pull him out. The rabbit goes to the whale and says his cow is stuck in the mud and needs his assistance to get him out. The whale agrees and the rabbit ties a rope around the whale’s tail. At the signal of rabbit’s drum beating, both massive animals begin to pull on an object in an attempt to free it. They later discover that they have not been pulling on a cow, but they have been pulling on each other to no avail. They realize that while they may be the strongest, they have been outsmarted by the rabbit. The rabbit proves he may not be the strongest physically, but he is the strongest intellectually.

This fable sums up the recent presidential election. The two major party candidates did not expect the outcome. Americans across demographic and political lines spoke loudly by electing to overthrow a political system. While the US Congress will remain red for at least the next two years, the system that supported both Democrats and Republicans has been radically changed. The idea of a post-racial, post-gender, and post-religious America has been tossed asunder. What was clear is that the back and forth tugging for political strength has given way to the smaller but smarter rabbit. The moral of the story is that those who believe themselves to be the strongest will eventually fall because of their own pride.

What does this mean for Christians in America? What does it mean for the 100 or more Black pastors who supported Donald Trump and faced so much criticism for doing so? What does it mean for those who expressed racial supremacist overtones during the campaign season?

It is very clear that many evangelical Christians cast their vote for a POTUS who has expressed little to no consistent religious belief system. They may have bought into the fear of a far-left progressive agenda that neglects the lives of those in the womb in favor of exalting the gender-bending lives of celebrities. They may have felt marginalized in a ever changing multi-cultural country where more of their rights seemed infringed upon for the sake of civil liberties. This of course is speculation that will likely go on for decades to follow, but what is certain is that they made their choice for change known even if it was at the expense of their private faith.

For those Black preachers, well it can definitely mean profit. They are now on the willing team. They will gain more credibility among the gullible hoping for trickle down blessings from Trump’s anointed heralds. They will reap the benefits and profits of being on the Trump bandwagon. The question becomes will they be engaged any further towards issues of social action and justice that will be on the forefront of the black church agenda for the next two to four years? This is highly doubtful since they have no history of doing anything other than exploiting the gospel for their benefit.

For those who expressed racial supremacist overtones, this is certainly a time of jubilation for them. They have a President who articulated their rhetoric to the rest of America and the rest of America seemed to agree with them. They are becoming emboldened to act out the rhetoric without consideration of consequence. Yes they understand there are laws that protect speech, religion, and assembly, and they now have that opportunity to do what they have been unable to do in nearly a half a century, they can talk their talk of supremacy because it will “Make America Great Again.”

The reality is that America has been down this road many times before. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says in 3:1-8:

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep and a time to throw away;

a time to tear and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, amd a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.”

This is just another time for America to do what America does best-Be the shining light on a hill, a city that cannot be hidden.

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?”

THREE WAYS TO SELF PROMOTION

I’ve been watching a lot of young preachers on television and on the internet via youtube, myspace, etc. and have become a bit discouraged and upset. I will be the first to admit that I am somewhat of an ambitious preacher. I would love to have a large media ministry that is doing well. I would love to have my photo done professionally and placed on flyers as a featured speaker at a large conference. I would love to promote my church as one of the fastest growing in my denomination or city or state or country. I would love to flaunt my expensive appearance with matching outfits, nice SUVS or luxury vehicles. However after seeing all that alot of these young men an women do to get ahead, I realized that they all had three things in common:

Name Dropping, Extraordinary Reflections, and Uninhibited selling of their souls.

First, in order to make it big, you have to know somebody big. I think of my acquaintance with Smokie Norful. I’ve known Smokie since college and his father is my mentor. Im sure that if I were really ambitious, I could build on the fact that I know he and his father alone to selfishly promote my ministry. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several highly recognized ministry personalities personally on more than one occasion.  That’s how people who are looking to make it in Hollywood or the secular music industry get stuff done for them. They drop names of who they’ve worked with (no matter how good or bad) to advance their careers. Even while in graduate school, I learned that its to one’s advantage professionally to name the major professor you studied under. Name dropping really can help your case for promotion. It doesn’t matter if you are good, most people won’t really do background checks on their preachers. They go by the preacher’s word and that preacher’s word may be based on simply a name they dropped to get them where they wanted.

Next there is the all to well known reflecting. I use the word reflecting in the same sense that I use the word storytelling. Everyone has a story to tell and it isnt the story itself but how you tell the story that will make you or break you. For example, I share the story of my mother being killed when I was five years old. The story I share is consistent with the facts that have been shared with me from family and documents. I have no need to exaggerate because there really isn’t anything to exaggerate about. However, I could use that same story of how I survived as a victim of domestic violence and overcame the difficulties of post traumatic stress disorder to discover God in the midst of tragedy. That put a very different twist on my story. THere are many preachers with great stories of triumph, but there are even more with borrowed stories of triumph. One news reporter stated that when there is no new, simply make it up. You wouldn’t believe how many preachers borrow stories or simply make them up. The same borrow reflections or simply make them up. This is found heavily in the charismatic, word of faith, pentecostal type churches. When people are seeking for extra-biblical experiences to justify their religious experience, they will be sure to be duped by preachers claiming to have had them. There are just too many preachers who have duped people through false revelations and experiences and have profited from them. I pray I never get to that point, but I can tell you that I have sure been tempted to blow the trumpet of heaven, talk with angels and Jesus, raise dead to life. and a whole lot of stuff. I’ve also been tempted, no let me be honest, have borrowed the stories of others to make my life and my ministry seem more appealing. It wasn’t hard to do. All I simply had to do was tell a story. I didn’t have say whether it was personal or even true. I had the upper hand and knew that about 99% of the people listening to me were not going to take the time out to investigate anything that came out of my mouth! That in itself is a very scary thing to know.

Lastly, there are so many preachers who unashamedly and unabashedly promote themselves while selling their souls. They sell their souls to the very world that they have been called to preach against. Think about how many preachers are becoming mainstream and calling themselves life coaches. Let’s be honest, no one needs a life coach! We just need to repent of sin and then get into a productive and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Self-promotion gets a person nowhere fast (at least with God). I watch television and get virtually sick to my stomach sometimes as I watch preachers shamelessly promote their latest book (which is nothing wrong if it is enabling Christians to become liberated, independent thinkers) or product.  I would think that as preachers, we would learn that Jesus nor any biblical apostle or messenger profited from their message (except the ones who did it for profit such as Balaam and other false prophets). I understand producing quality messages for the sick and shut, a shifting church membership and other things, but to do it just to be seen, Christ says that the people who do that already have their reward (see Matthew 6:1). It is a matter of praxis that God is concerned about. It’s not how you show it, but how God sees it.

I’m amazed that alot preachers forget that there were new testament sorcerors who attempted to duplicate the authentic working of the Holy Spirit. The people  were duped and in one instance practically controlled by these magnificent men who worked wonders (See Acts 8:9-11, 14-17). The thing was that this man Simon was a  believer and had been baptized, but was still trying to be a con man. He wanted the power to give the Holy Spirit like Peter and John, but was rebuked and told that his silver was perishing with him because he thought he could buy God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  That same ambition is very much alive in today’s western church. I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasnt trying to do the same thing myself at one time. I discovered how easy it was to start a ministry, get a few supporters, do a few revivals, then start a church, then see all that fall apart because it wasn’t God ordained. It was a very hard pill to swallow. It’s one thing to manipulate people, but to sell your soul in hopes of manipulating God is a dangerous thing.  I used to think it funny when I would hear stories of people selling their souls to the devil for fame or fortune, but I have come to realize that far too many preachers are doing it at this very moment. They may not be signing their names on a contract, but they are truly parlaying in the fame and recognition given them by the very world they are supposed to reject.

So I believe I have laid it out there. If you want self promotion, just drop a few names, add a story or reflection (be sure to make it a good and believable one), and then shamelessly sell your soul to the cause of fame and fortune even if its in the name of GOD Himself and you will get exactly what’s coming to you.