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?”

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.

My Take on My Discipleship

 

My Take on My Discipleship

 

 

 

Why is it that preachers have a hard time being disciples? During the Central Louisiana Conference Sunday School Convention, the pastors of the conference engaged in a study session on discipleship. One of the first things that came to my mind was the fact that I haven’t been the best disciple that I could be. As a matter of fact, I have all but denied Christ just as Peter did under scrutiny of the world. The interesting thing was listening to a very seasoned pastor state that he realized that his church would not grow until they became true disciples. He stated that for the past eight or nine months, he had been plagued with questions concerning the non-growth of the church and the decline in church membership. He said that after much prayer and time alone, he realized that he was not in Gods will and was not a true disciple of Christ, but was rather a determined disciple of the church, more specifically, he had been trained to not make disciples but to make members who could pay budget. He was grieved and publicly expressed that with his congregation. I was glad that he took the charge in admitting that he had a  zeal for God’s church, but not for God after righteousness.

It is here that I find myself. I have a zeal for God. I love Him and will serve Him til the day I die, but honestly, I don’t have a zeal for God after knowledge. What I’m saying is that I have honestly gotten so distracted by my affairs, lusts and pride that I have lost my zeal. There is absolutely no way that I can possibly pastor a church effectively and authentically without a true zeal for the knowledge of God. I must want to be a disciple. I think about the passage where a follower of Jesus, Peter told him that they had left all that they had to follow him. That’s a very powerful statement when you really look at it. A true disciple leaves everything. There’s nothing between themselves and their savior. How awesome is that to know that men were willing to lay aside profitable occupations, wives and families to follow a teacher who amazed them on a regular basis. I can only imagine how they were all the more encouraged each and every time they saw someone get healed, a demon cast out, a miracle performed, or a parable revealed. It is this zeal for knowledge that I want. Even Jesus himself said “blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The easy thing to do is to say that I hunger for God. The hard thing to do is to say, I am daily a disciple of Christ. I am in obedience to my master. I serve Him. I wait on Him. I live to please him in the newness of life. My problem is that I find it easier to say I am a follower of Christ. Following Christ is easy because it really doesn’t take much sacrifice. Think about all the followers who left Jesus in John 6. This is the same chapter where Jesus said He is the bread of life that came from heaven, and that his flesh is the true food and his blood is the true drink. It doesn’t say how many withdrew, but there apparently were quite a few. These people who left were called disciples and Jesus even sensed that some of the twelve he had chosen were tempted to go with them. The choice was there and I would imply that if Peter hadn’t alerted Jesus to the fact that not only had they left everything to follow him, but that He was the only one who had the words that gave eternal life, a few of those disciples would have left also.

The key thing is what Peter said to Jesus. You are the one with words of eternal life. That’s what a true disciple says. A disciple stays with the master because that disciple has been sold on the fact that he/she can only get wisdom, knowledge, and growth from that particular master. It’s the norm in martial arts and ancient schools of philosophy. The reality is that there should be no other person we should seek out wisdom or salvation from other than Christ. That is the way of a true Christian disciple. The way of a true, authentic Christian disciple is that no matter how hard, how enticing, or how intense the onslaught of the world may be, we must remain constant in our devotion to the one true living God and His Only Begotten Son our Savior. That’s true discipleship and that’s what I’m praying that I can rediscover in my own life and ministry.

ARE BLACK PREACHERS IN REAL TROUBLE?

Following the high profile antics on Black Liberation Theology Pastor/Teacher Jeremiah Wright during the recent Presidential Campaign, and several other high profile black ministers falling into various problems financially, spiritually, and of course morally, I’ve been asking myself “Are black preachers in real trouble?” More and more black preachers are falling away from the root of the black church: social action, the preaching of the authentic gospel, and strong conservative family and political values.  I’m of the opinion that once we as black preachers got away from that, we got away from reality.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of people that would argue that what I said isnt the complete truth. I would probably agree that it isnt the complete truth because I certainly do not know the complete truth. I do however know what should be happening in the Black church. That is social, ecomonic, spiritual and moral liberation. Why isn’t that happening? THe answer is simple. Black preachers have always loved fame. We follow after fame more than we follow after God. That can be argued for Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, T.D. Jakes, and even myself.  Of course we would never state that publicly. That would all but destroy our public ministry. It is evident with the false gospel some of us preach, the preoccupation with personal wealth and prosperity, the less socially active we are (not in regards to marches, protests or things of that nature, but in matters concerning education, sexuality, and technology gaps). The black preacher has become a class of its own both materially and philosophically. As the spread of prosperity gospel overrides fundamental Christianity, many black preachers have set themselves up to fail.  That does not imply that all black preachers who proclaim that message from their pulpits are completely in error, it simply states that more younger black preachers are being seduced into this theology without fully comprehending the consequences of their actions. Myself included, have been duped into the popularity complex versus the authentic preacher complex. For the black church to remain authentic in its cause and mission and existence, the black preacher must return to that authenticity without fail and without flaw.

As the world encourages more diversity and cultural and moral tolerance, the black preacher cannot afford to fully do so without losing a great amount of his/her identity to the black church. That is to say that the more diverse we become as a church body, the more black preachers need to cling to the heritage, the message and the mission of the black church. The diverse world would not like for black preachers to continue preaching a theology of liberation but rather a message of tolerance and change and love of all humankind. That sounds good, but there is no real way for an authentic black preacher to preach that message without addressing the continual racial issues that still plague our world.

I return to the original question. Are black preachers in real trouble? Will the old regimen of black preachers with a prophetic voice in their world cease to exist once they are gone? Will young black preachers like myself who were trained by them, educated, and are attempting to be contemporary miss the mark and fall o step with the current trends and lose all that they left for us to continue in? I believe that we as black preachers, particular the younger ones are in very serious trouble. Its a trouble that’s not just a moral one, a theological one alone, but it is a trouble of the very existence of a culture and race centered around the black preacher and the black church experience.

A LIFE ALTERING EXPERIENCE

I write this post in a state of mourning and humility. I just lost one of my favorite students to a fatal heart attack. Only 18 years old, he was full of wit, and charm. He was the kind of student that teachers both loved and hated at the same time. I had the privilege of having in my marching and concert bands for two years, but also having in my home, on field trips, and even  church. The hardest thing that has been going through my head has been the question “Why?” He had a heart condition so I never tried to overwork him. He had a drive that had to be kick-started into gear mostly, and he was sincere and hardworking at all that he did. He was honestly a good kid and sometimes even a model student.

I couldn’t answer the question why him. As spiritual and as trained as I am, I couldn’t and cannot answer that question. Why do children die before their parents? Why do children have to suffer so much at such young ages? Why God why? I have searched scriptures and really haven’t found an answer. I read Job and got the answer: “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. ( Job 1:21). I can’t begin to fathom what my student’s parents are experiencing emotionally and mentally. I couldn’t answer the question why for them either.

In all of this I have had a life altering experience. I have chosen to live life fully and abundantly. I have chosen to renounce the hidden things of darkness and selfishness.  I have chosen to love and laugh. I have chosen to live with purpose. I know that sounds cheesy with all the Purpose Driven Life stuff, but its true that I have chosen to do so. Now please understand that this is not a New Year Resolution, but a mandatory change for the better. I say mandatory because it would be to easy to cop out during the process and blame someone else for my laziness, but the reality is that it both a necessity and a command from God that I do so.

So now what is my purpose? What should I do now? I know that I asked God in prayer a few years ago to allow me to write, teach and preach. I have been blessed to have done all but one since then. I’ve been lazy on the writing and somewhat lazy in the preaching and teaching part. My purpose is this then; since God has blessed me to have the opportunity to do all of these things, then I need to do them passionately and purposefully. Every message I preach, every lesson and student I teach, and everything I write will be more purposeful and passionate. I will live a better life, study my scriptures more effectively, and let everything that I do and say be a sermon that leads someone to a closer relationship with God. I have a long way to go towards perfection, but I know that as Paul the Apostle said ” Not as though I have already arrived or am already perfect, but I press forward to ascertain that for which I have been ascertained to. I press toward the mark for the prize of the higher calling in Christ.

Goodbye my student, my brother, my friend. Rest in Peace, Mr. Brandon Jackson, JSHS Band Student Extraordinaire.