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

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.