Opening Reflections on “The New Jim Crow” by: Michelle Alexander

You’re probably thinking…wait…Sean still blogs? Yes. I still blog. Life has been insanely fast the last year and blogging fell off the list of items I could fit in to my schedule. As it slows to normal (whatever slow and normal are these days), I needed some space to reflect on The New Jim Crow, which I started reading last week. I have only read the introduction and the first chapter. This blog deals is a reflection of my thoughts based on the aforementioned parts of the book.

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This book has been out four about 4 years now, and while I have owned it, I didn’t start to read it until a few days ago. I am of the opinion that whenever there are books, movies, and other biopics on the African-American experience are released, while it is information for other cultures, it is often painful for African-Americans. It is a reminder of the past (and in some cases present) plight of our communities. I often tell people who are surprised that I didn’t run to go see 12 Years as a Slave or Lincoln, “I have to be in the mood.” Many of those biopics tell a story I know too well. They remind me of the gaps in my culture that I see at home, in my community, my church, my job, etc. The New Jim Crow is not that at all. 

I am completely blown away by Alexander’s explanation of history from the end of slavery to the present. Her chilling description of racism being the primary factor for higher incarceration rates among Blacks and Latinos is down right appalling and frightening. She tells a remarkable story of how the US simply renamed its prejudice, rather than dealing with it.

We all see in some respects. If you don’t, I encourage you to drive to a neighborhood different than your own. I feel it when I try on roads that are cracked in the ghetto, and newly paved in the suburbs. I see it when I visit my old high school, look at the sink in the science lab, and can see the floor. Then I drive to a nicer neighborhood where the schools have iPads for every student to use.

Segregation legally ended in 1954, but few people actually re-integrated. Our jobs, churches, neighborhoods, and schools still remain separate…and still unequal. What I didn’t expect, was to read the reasons why. I knew systemic issues existed in the country, but not that systemic issues were chosen to ensure racial inequality. Even more, she provides historical evidence from police, college professors, and Presidents of the United States.

While it is painful–but not shocking–to read that illegal drug activity is significant in the Black community, it is shocking to see the statistics of arrests of Blacks addicted to/selling crack-cocaine with those of Whites addicted to/selling powdered cocaine. What is shocking is prisons are filled with Blacks and Latinos, quite a few we are discovering–after years of incarceration–were unfairly arrested and not allowed due process. That the “War on Drugs” really was an attempt to arrest as many Black people as possible. 

I must confess, I almost ran past her defense of Blacks, drugs, and high arrests. I kept thinking, “Why are drugs so rampant? Even if the arrests go down, we still have a drug problem.” But, then she said it, or quoted someone who did: “Drugs aren’t the problem. Unequal education, housing, jobs, inequality in the country is. It isn’t drugs. It is class.” As long as we afford groups of people opportunities for economic empowerment and opulent lives at the expense of another, nothing will change in the country. 

I wish we could switch sides for a week. I don’t want to live like a millionaire (although I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity). I want the wealthy, the elite, the upper-middle class, the people who never drive through “the hood,” who lock their doors at red lights, to live for a week in the lack that exists in the inner city.

I am convinced the compassion of Christ would flood hearts and complete the change our forefathers set out to do 150 years when slavery ended, and again 60 years later. I wish we could see how the other half lives. 

I think everyone would stop critiquing, complaining, comparing, apologizing, delaying, well-wishing…and would work to end racism and poverty at the level of urgency it has deserved since those first African indentured servants came to the coast of Virginia in 1619.

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Why “Man of Steel” Is Not the Jesus We Wish Jesus Would Be; He’s Not Even Superman

If you have been living on planet earth, you have been paying attention to what’s been happening in Hollywood: It is the Age of Superheroes. Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Dark Knight Trilogy, the list goes on. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to tackle the first superhero—my favorite and arguably the greatest of them all—Superman. (Shout out to Ram Sriharan for helping unlock my dissatisfaction with the movie and preaching Jesus at the same time!)

Man of Steel is that attempt. I call it an attempt because while it is a good movie, it does not feature the Superman we all know and love, and therefore does not show how much Superman parallels Jesus. In the attempt of Zach Synder to modernize the hero, he ceased to let Man of Steel be Superman. Much like pastors who attempt to make the Gospel “culturally relevant,” you simply can’t. The Gospel of Jesus is counter-cultural. It goes against the current of the culture. Likewise, so does Superman. He goes against the grain. That’s the only way true hope and faith can be birthed. They stand alone, stand out and stand strong as beacons of what the world could be.

False Hope
The movie gives us that initial false hope. Krypton is about to be destroyed. Jor-El sends Kal-El away from the destruction. (El in Hebrew is God so we maintain the “coincidence” of God the Father sending God the Son to earth.) We see snapshots of our hidden hero saving lives: the oil rig staff, his elementary school classmates, that intrepid reporter Lois Lane when she follows him onto his spaceship and a soldier. We hear that the Man of Steel at 33. “You were sent here to change the world,” Jonathan Kent tells his son.

Then it ceases to be Superman and simply becomes a good movie.

There’s that strange scene where Kal-El goes to church(?) to get advice from a minister—for a nice sermonette—when Zod appears, but it doesn’t make sense! (Go see Jor-El when someone evil from your planet shows up!)

Like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, the rest of the movie pins Jesus themes into that are a nice nod, but are easily dismissed by the plot of the movie.

We hope that he becomes Superman, but he never does. We subconsciously look for parallels to Jesus, but they are forced and give only false hope.

True Superman, True Jesus
In order to get a clear picture of Jesus and Superman, we must look at Scripture and the classic Superman movies.

1. Superman does not confuse action and inaction. Neither does Jesus.
In Superman (1978), there’s a pivotal scene in the beginning of the movie. Jonathan Kent is racing his son back up to the barn, when he suddenly has a heart attack and dies. (They did something similar in season 5 of Smallville.) Not in Man of Steel. In Man of Steel, we see our “hero” stand still and watch his father die.

No.

Jor-El dies to save Kal-El. Jonathan doesn’t do it, too. He doesn’t have to. What makes Superman, Superman is his response in the first movie, “All these powers, and I couldn’t save him.” He learned the significance and limits of his great powers. It’s a defining moment for him that forces him to confront his destiny and the finiteness of people. I don’t want a Superman that would rather let someone die—even at their own request—just to protect their secret identity.

Besides, it’s not a secret in Smallville. (NO ONE IN SMALLVILLE CAN KEEP A SECRET! Lois goes to see Pete Ross and he sends her directly to the Kent farm!?!) It’s clear the entire town knows who he is. There’s no point in Jonathan dying.

In John 2, we read about The Wedding at Cana in Galilee. They run out of wine and Martha…uh Mary, knowing who Jesus is, tells them of this problem. His reply: “My time has not yet come.” Essentially, it wasn’t time for Jesus to reveal himself to the crowds. It’s simple for him (like Clark speeding to get dear old dad), but the cost would be high. Jesus performs turns water into wine, the servants put their trust in Him and amazingly the word about Jesus doesn’t spread until later.

Mythically accurate Superman that resembles true Jesus doesn’t confuse action and inaction. He acts when he is supposed to, and he holds back when he’s supposed to, which leads to my second point.

2. Superman cares about people. So does Jesus.
In Superman II, while Zod and the gang are attacking downtown Metropolis, they have an epiphany: “I have found his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for them.” They pick up an overflowing bus and Superman gives that amazing line, “No! The people!!” He then puts himself in harm’s way to save them, to stop the bus when it is thrown like a toothpick. After accessing the scope of the battle, he retreats not to run from the fight but to get the fight away from the city. In cartoons, comic books and movies, Superman is always looking to get the fight away from people. He wants to save people. Everyone.

We do not see this in Man of Steel. He gets into a fight in downtown Smallville, knocking robots and super-villains into filled IHOP’s and businesses. The terraforming machines are wreaking havoc and for suspense, they are allowed to blow up the city. Superman punches Zod through offices, buildings, streets, even while people are running in the background. Metropolis at the end of the movie is practically destroyed. (Level 5 nerds put the damage at much higher than real-life 9/11 Attacks.) Not once do we see the Man of Steel trying to move the fight away from the city. What about the town? What about the people Man of Steel?

If one person dies, Superman is grieved. Just one. Doesn’t matter if it’s dad, a villain or a civilian. Superman doesn’t want anyone to be hurt. He cares about presidents and pedestrians, because it’s dangerous being a president. It’s dangerous being a pedestrian. Ask Trayvon Martin. (Preach Ram!) Hawkeye and Black Widow saved more people from a bus in Avengers than Man of Steel in his epic return to the big screen.

I won’t parallel Jesus here. I don’t have to. Read any of the New Testament and we see on the surface—without the need for any interpretation or translation into Greek or Hebrew—that Jesus cares for people. He healed people. He touched people. He taught people. He fed people. He died for people. If nothing else, whether Christian or not, all can agree that Jesus cares for people.

That’s Jesus in life. That’s Superman in the comics. He would give his life rather than take it, which leads me to my final point.

3. Superman. Does. Not. Kill. Ever. Neither does Jesus.
At the conclusion of the movie, we see the fate of the world being decided by a fist fight. We land in a library and Zod, who has learned to master his powers, is reduced to using his eyes to kill when Superman has him in a chokehold. The Man of Steel is left with no other choice but to break Zod’s neck. Superman kills Zod.

No.

Superman doesn’t kill. Heroes don’t kill. Specifically, Superman never kills. If the comic has a bad writer or low sales and he does kill someone, he either gives up his powers completely (see Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?) or is curled up in the fetal position for months until another hero comes along and convinces the truth (you know…villain isn’t really dead, villain has been resurrected, it was a set-up by Lex Luthor, etc.). Not Man of Steel. One hug from Lois and he’s back to knocking satellites out of the sky and smiling like everything is normal.

Something changed with Batman Begins. Heroes were suddenly allowed to kill the villain, or at least like Batman said, “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” Iron Man did it. Two-Face falls to his death. Bane is killed by Catwoman(?). Talia al’Gaul falls to her death after Batman blasts her with missiles for 7 minutes.

Question, if you will kill, if you won’t save, why are you wearing the cape and symbol? Why are you out there fighting? Heroes believe the best of people. They want to change actions, but hearts. They believe everyone can change, and therefore everyone is worth saving. Not Man of Steel. (Preach Ram, pt.2).

In Superman II, Superman has Zod and the crew back at the Fortress of Solitude. What happens? He doesn’t kill Zod. He outsmarts him! He makes Zod defeat himself. That’s what Superman does. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t kill Satan. He outsmarted him. He made Satan defeat himself.

Superman is subtly Jesus. This forceful parallel of Jesus to Man of Steel takes away from the mythos of Superman and even more, the reality of Jesus.

I will end my soapbox with a couple of final thoughts. First, this is the Superman that our children are being introduced to. A Superman, a generation of heroes that kill the bad guys. That concerns me immensely. Heroes are supposed to be counter-cultural. They allow us to escape to a world of mythical people with amazing moral strength that can do the impossible but never the line of that villains cross regularly. We don’t have those heroes anymore. Second, as Christians we must preach the true Jesus when “modernized” versions of Him appear on television, film, etc. I read one atheist use this movie to say this Man of Steel is more like the Jesus we want.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jesus that acts when he is not supposed to is not a Jesus I want to follow. That Jesus gets down off the cross. He doesn’t choose to say up there. He would choose to save Himself.

A Jesus that doesn’t care for people doesn’t heal when He’s tired. That Jesus gets angry when the sick touch Him. That Jesus wouldn’t go to Jerusalem. He’d just keep preaching and teaching.

A Jesus that kills wouldn’t be selective in His killing. We think Jesus would kill “the bad people, the villains.” Well, if Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, and He wants to kill bad, He would kill us all. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He wouldn’t save anyone. He wouldn’t believe that even the worst of us can change.

I would rather a Jesus that rather than kill me He takes my place so that I may live. That’s the Jesus I believe in. That’s the Jesus I look for. That’s my Savior.

That’s Jesus. That’s the hint we see of Him in my favorite hero, the greatest of all, Superman.

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Reflections on Being a Black Man in America

ImageI have been sitting at my computer screen trying to figure out how to put into words what is swimming in my head and churning in my heart. I have started, stopped, deleted and begun again several times. I don’t think there are words, but here they are nonetheless.

As a Black man, who grew up around Black people most of my life, who majored in African-American Studies in college, who works with a Christian non-profit to help reach Black college students, I must confess, I am torn:

- As a Christian. My heart goes out to the Martin family. Their son is gone. Nothing will change that. Travyon’s life has been cut short. His departure for an Arizona Tea and skittles from the store would be the last time his parents would see him alive. No parent is meant to bury a child, regardless of ethnicity. Their faith remains but so does the pain. My heart goes out to George Zimmerman as well. I do not believe he is as guilty or as innocent as he is made out to be (more on this later). His life, too, will never be same. He will have to move, change his appearance, virtually disappear from public for the rest of his life. The venom that spews on social media pages when the names of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman are mentioned is appalling. It is a chilling reminder that both “we war not against flesh and blood” and that “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” All sins, even the ones we don’t like must be laid at the foot of the cross of Jesus. It is my faith that I must hold on to as I am a Christian first, and then whatever society has chosen to label me.

- As a Campus Minister. I believe college is a pivotal moment in a person’s life. People are wet cement in college. Learning, discovering who they are and who they want to become. Ages 18-22, people are soaking in everything, but soon thereafter, that wet cement will harden and most will become who they will be for the rest of their lives. I work to advance ministry to Black college students in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. My hope and belief is God has sent me here to accomplish this task. Trayvon was 17. He didn’t make it to college. We don’t know if he would have. Mainstream media has portrayed him as a marijuana-using, quick-tempered “troubled youth,” and probably not a college candidate. (I know and had classmates that did “worse” than Trayvon in character and accomplished more during and out of college than I have.)
How do I reconcile that? As I pray for the class of 2017, I pray knowing there is an empty chair in a classroom, a bible study he will never fill. How do I mentor students I serve that are his age? How do I help the staff I serve have these conversations with Black students?

- As a Black Man. My heart is heavy. It was five years ago I wept when the nation elected a bi-racial president whose skin complexion resembled mine. It was an achievement of a dream I didn’t believe possible. It was a time when Black grandparents and parents wept with joy because the road of integration, civil rights and equality culminated with a bi-racial man married to the descendant of a slave being sworn into the highest office in the land, on steps that were laid by slaves. Five years later, I see and hear those same parents and grandparents being reminded of what life was like for them when they were Trayvon’s age (17) and my age (30).

I am not here to argue the trial or the court’s decision, but to extrovert the consequences.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his timeless classic, The Scarlett Letter, says in the first chapter, “In our nature, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of the pain to which he endures by its present torture, but by the pang that rankles after it.”

Life will return to normal for many people in a few days. Conversations will be had this week on if people agreed or disagreed with the court’s decision and why. We may discuss the strangeness of Florida (i.e. 2000 Presidential Election, Casey Anthony, now George Zimmerman—no disrespect Floridians as Texas has some strange cases, too).

But life as a Black person, particularly me as a Black man, will never be the same. This court case has reaffirmed that I cannot go alone into environments where I am the only Black person, especially at night. I must dress my best at all times, even when I go to buy candy from the store. If someone questions my presence at any location, they are now justified to be the police. They can follow me (even when the police say not to), question me, and I cannot do anything. If I become angry for being followed, if a fight for whatever reason begins, my life can be taken away without consequence.

Black people didn’t rally behind the Martin family simply because they were Black. We…I rallied behind them because I have been Trayvon. I am followed in the grocery store, department stores, the mall, neighborhoods. I am regularly pulled over, followed by the police more times than I care to comment (in different cities, too…and no tickets or accidents in over 5 years). My first day in Austin, Texas a UTPD police officer walked toward me with his hand on his gun to confirm I was an enrolled student at the University of Texas at Austin as he thought I was robbing my white roommate of his bicycle. He confirmed my identity and never asked for my roommates.

I am not oblivious to the plight of young Black men today. Many of them are without fathers, angry and have a host other issues that I have dealt with and deal with daily. I do not believe George Zimmerman was a prejudiced man looking for trouble. I do believe there was an innocent, unarmed teenager who was followed by someone carrying a gun and felt it was his civic duty to protect the neighborhood where the police had failed. He bought into what the media sells, which is a kid in the hoodie has to be up to no good. Escalation, a fight, and now there’s dead teenager at the hands of a man who claimed self-defense. As one pastor said, “How cool would it be to live in a world where Zimmerman offers Trayvon a ride home to get him out of the rain that night?”

After the court’s decision, I was up until 1:30am talking with four other friends—Black friends—about our experiences on cross-cultural interactions—the good, the bad and the downright painful.

Reading books, having conversations, these things are helpful, but much like they limit how much I can learn about one culture, so too do they limit what it means to be Black in this country.

Being Black in America means there is a consistent, negative portrayal of our culture in the media. We are dehumanized, portrayed as out of control, uneducated, dangerous menaces to society—only. Rarely positive, never accurate portrayals of the totality of Black culture. We are violent and prone to riot, but can be killed if someone…anyone feels we are in the wrong place and their lives are in danger. It means a proclivity towards higher arrests (not that Blacks commit more crimes as they make up only 11% of the US population), but because we are arrested more frequently and sentenced for lengthier terms than our white counterparts (read The New Jim Crow by: Michelle Alexander). It means changing my clothes, my walk, my very speech pattern when in cross-cultural environments to honor those around me at the sacrifice of my own culture, regardless whether that sacrifice is higher in some places and lower in others.

It is an invitation to be misunderstood at every level, in every conversation.

And it is the cross we as Black people are called to bear.

My fear is that we will have to bear this cross in its entirety, until the return of Jesus himself.

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Stephen/Lazarus. New Life or Stay Dead? Let God Decide!

What Situation Are You Facing: Lazarus or Stephen?

I am reading CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” his incredibly vulnerable journal entries in dealing with the passing of his wife. In chapter 3, he wrestles with his longing for his wife to return to life but invites the question I want us to wrestle with: which is better, Lazarus or Stephen?

Death is a part of life. It is unavoidable. Death can be physical death, but also the end of a dream, job, a relationship. Because this world is finite, ALL things must and will eventually end in death. Our faith gives us the assurance Jesus has conquered death, the grave and with that, has resurrection power. Let’s be honest: do we really want/need some situations to be resurrected? Take the two men whose experiences with death are incredibly profound.

- Lazarus (John 11). He is sick and dies. We see Jesus delay, cause tremendous grief for Lazarus’ family–Mary and Martha–who now struggle with believing in Jesus because “He was late.” Jesus comes, resurrects Lazarus from the dead. People who panicked and doubted realized their house of faith was really a house of cards and classic Jesus always shakes the ground we stand on to show us if our faith is built with bricks or cards. It’s a great story, but we often forget Lazarus died again. He is not walking the earth right now. His resurrection helped people, gave Jesus more followers, deepened the faith of others, and sent Lazarus down a road he had already travelled and probably didn’t want to again.

- Stephen (Acts 7). One of the first deacons. Peaches powerfully, is arrested, stoned and is the first martyr of the Christian church. His death revealed another classic: the paradox of the kingdom. Persecution of Christians didn’t destroy the church, it was the catalyst for conversion and growth of Christianity. His death, albeit terrible, began a chain of events that led to you reading this blog-post!

What am I trying to say? Be mindful of your thoughts and prayers.

We long for peace, harmony in this world. At times The Lord is gracious and gives them to us, but is never permanent. This is not heaven. We [Christians] have been promised trouble, deliverance from trouble (meaning we will experience….trouble) and a place is heaven at our death or his return.

Truth be told though, when pain comes, we tend to lean more towards Lazarus. We want the job, relationship, time, we want it all restored, back the way it was. Sometimes God is gracious and does that. Sometimes, God lets some things die in our lives because it is the only way we will grow.

He’s the gardener. He does the pruning. But I am the grass, not the gardener. We are the clay. He is the sculptor. We are the story and He is the story-teller.

Let Him lead, end, resurrect situations as He sees fit.

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Great Leadership: It Requires Three Pillars

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“Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools because we settle for good schools. We don’t have great business because we settle for good business. We don’t have great churches because we settle for good churches.” That is a paraphrase of the opening to Jim Collin’s Good to Great. In the world we live in, as Christians, greatness must be assessed on two tiers: what is greatness and what does it take?

Biblical greatness is never achieved by our own methods. We see this perfectly explained in Genesis 11 and 12. In Genesis 11, people attempted “to make a name for themselves” and God confused their language. Dr. Maurice Watson calls Gen. 11, “The Irony of Greatness,” for the very dream they were pursuing was destined for destruction before the first brick was ever laid. In the very next chapter, God tells Abram, “I will make your name great.” Biblical greatness is never the result of the work of our hands, the fulfillment of our plans but is the result of obedience to the Lord’s call.

 

great leadershipWhen it comes to great leadership, one of the best resources I have seen is Antony Bell’s book: Great Leadership: What Is It and What It Takes in a Complex World. In it, Bell states three things are needed for Great Leadership:

1. Organizational Leadership (Vision).

What is the vision of your organization, your team, your fellowship, your ministry? You need a leader to carry the vision. Someone who charts the course, steps up front and clearly communicates the direction you are headed. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr….Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden. Whether for triumph or tragedy, good or evil, there has always been a leader up front always casting vision and direction for what’s ahead.

Do you have this person on your team? Are you this person? Where can them?

2. Operational Leadership (Tasks).

“What are the day to day tasks that need to be accomplished? Are you a workaholic with no boundaries and working yourself into burnout regularly–and those around you? (Remember, if you do 12 hours of work every day, it means your team will have to do 12 hours or work to keep up the demands.) Are you a procrastinator, waiting until the last minute to accomplish tasks? How do you know which tasks to prioritize? Which are urgent, important and which need to be delegated to someone else to get done?” That’s the role of this leader in your life, to help you make sense of the responsibilities that come across your desk.

3. People Leadership (Personal).

Big Vision is huge! Tasks are important. SO WHAT!!?! Are you growing from either of those? Probably indirectly, but you and I need direct leadership. Direct influence. Someone pouring into us, meeting us where we are, asking us the difficult questions, and making sure we are doing the soul care we need so ministry remains a place of joy and never (err…rarely) a burden.

I like how Eugene Peterson says it in his great book: Working the Angles, The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. He states that ministry is like a triangle. There are three lines: preaching, teaching and administration. However, there are three angles: prayer, scripture and spiritual direction. If we don’t work the angles, we can end up anywhere as ministers of the gospel.

What keeps good leadership from becoming great? Focusing only on one or two pillars only. Organizational leadership alone is good but it is not enough. How will you accomplish the vision? Are you developing the people around you as you work towards the vision?
Operational leadership alone is perhaps the worst of all by itself. It has no vision. It does not develop people and reduces them to their usefulness and not their value.
Personal leadership is not enough. Develop the people around you, but for what purpose? What strategy and projects will you use to cultivate the learner in them?
There you have it: Organizational, operational and personal leadership. We need all three in order to be great leaders. They do not guarantee your name written on billboards or thousands of folks joining your ministry. They do, however, guarantee a greater level of excellence efficiency…and beyond that, with a healthy dose of accountability, prayer and confession, it also guarantees what we all long to here from the Greatest Leader and Boss of All: “Well done good and faithful servant.”

 

Go be great leaders!

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Sean’s Ministry Update

Friends,

 

Click on the link below for my latest ministry update!

March 2013 Prayer Update

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Reflections from BCM Staff Conference

I am always amazed at what takes place whenever BCM Staff get together. Staff of varying ethnic backgrounds that love Jesus, the college campus and college students–with a special place in their heart for Black students–gathered to rest, regroup and strategize on how to grow the work of Black Campus Ministries.

Here are a few thoughts on the pearls of wisdom I bringing back from BCM Staff Conference 2013:

1. Next Level Leadership.
The world needs leaders. The Kingdom of God needs leaders. The college campus needs leaders. Not just any kind of leaders, Next Level Leaders. Next Level Leaders are leaders who work through a new framework to accomplish the tasks given to them comparable to the level of their leadership. Leaders tend to operate with the skills that were most useful two levels below their current level.
In the areas of funding, vision casting, leadership, teaching, I am returning challenged to think with new paradigms, new new strategies, greater discipline and more intense training. Hard work will cause you to win a championship. Discipline, however, will allow you to repeat.

2. Necessary Community.
The call to cross-cultural ministry is the call to be misunderstood. Every conversation is with a person of a different background, experience (most times but not all), values and evaluative lenses different from your own. I forget how much of the difficulties I face in ministry are because I engage in God-ordained cross-cultural ministry.
God also call us to community. BCM Staff Conference provided a place for BCM Staff to exhale: a place of acceptance, affirmation, recognition of similar problems and a platform to create strategic solutions.
I am returning with a commitment to have regular dialogue with BCM Leaders at Area, Regional and National levels for brainstorming, networking, problem-solving and strategic leadership initiatives to serve those whom I lead.

3. Prophetic Preaching and Teaching.
Charisma and anointing are not the same thing. Sadly, we live in a world where they are easily mistaken for one another. There are tons of great speakers. Few people listen to The Lord on what to speak about, how to speak, when to speak.
Rev. Dr. Jackie Thompson, Rev. Phil Bowling-Dyer, Tony “The Bishop” Warner, Antoinette “The Coach” Dawson and others led us through anointed, prophetic teaching and preaching. Each of their messages brought clarity, conviction, authority and power that could only have come from spending time with The Lord. Prophetic preaching and teaching brings instruction and inspiration, what needs to change and what needs to have happen next–personally and professionally.
I am returning with the renewed conviction to pray more than I prepare, listen more than I speak, spend more time learning than leading, contribute without/before I attempt to complain.

4. My Need For the Gospel.
The food was amazing. The beds in the Hilton were phenomenal. I cried from laughing, confessing/receiving forgiveness, reflecting on my journey.
This week I believe BCM Staff afresh, counted the costs, and recommitted to following Jesus within the multi-ethnic movement of InterVarsity.
I need the gospel as much as the students and staff I serve, as much as the campus we want to renew and this dying world I/we have been sent to help redeem.

Four days. Phenomenal. Can’t wait until next year.

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God’s Providence through Worldly Leaders

This is the season for major events to transpire through many of our leaders on Capital Hill. The President and the House have to come to a long-term agreement on taxes, the deficit and trying to figure which group of Americans is going to pay for it all.
Supreme Court Justices are ruling on cases that will shape the world in which our children will grow up in: The Definition of Marriage, Race Considered in Collegiate Admissions, etc.

Yet, this morning as I look at Luke 2, I see the Providence of God through unlikely sources.

Luke 2:1 says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” Nothing major. Rome is in charge. They want to count and tax people. Census time!
We don’t know why Caesar called for the census. Maybe it was his pride. He wanted to see how big the Roman world was. Maybe it was Roman policy. With Rome’s size always increasing, perhaps the census was needed to ensure the amount of tax money coming in was comparable to the amount of people in Rome’s influence. Whether it was pride or policy, we know it was God’s Providence. If not for the census being called for at that time, Joseph and Mary would have stayed in Nazareth and the prophecy of Micah 2 wouldn’t have been fulfilled (which spoke of the Savior being born in the city of David in Bethlehem).

Why were Joseph and Mary in Nazareth? Didn’t they know the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem? Maybe they didn’t know the OT prophecy. Maybe they had doubts. Maybe they just forgot (we do forget what God tells us sometimes). Maybe they were afraid to move Mary at this stage in the pregnancy.

For whatever the reasons, the was the Providence of God that led to the fulfillment of God’s decree long before Caesar’s. It was Caesar’s decree that led Joseph and Mary to travel to Nazareth to Bethlehem right around the time Jesus was to be born. The decree didn’t come to early, as to fall during Elizabeth’s birth of John the Baptist. It didn’t come late after Jesus had already been born. It came during the third trimester of Mary’s pregnancy…A confluence of events making the time right for God’s word to be fulfilled.

May it be an encouragement to us, no matter what our political, cultural, spiritual, parental, academic or any type of leader we have that brings us worry or concern–godly or not–God is truly and ultimately the one calling the shots.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but it is The Lord that determines his steps.”

Step in peace today. God and His Providence has us all.

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I Should Be Crazy

I should be crazy.

I don’t understand why I am not. I just finished having a conversation with my sister Candice. She and I have the same father but different moms. As a result much brokenness in the world and our dad, we were raise separately.

She has two beautiful children and a good marriage to a good man. She’s the picture of overcoming father pains–I am on my way (check-in when I reach parent status).

She and I are both grown, living great–but separate–lives and are very much trying to figure out how to include and keep each other in our lives. It’s a determination to be more than dad.

Candice found dad and took pictures with him and her two sons/my two nephews, Sean and Seth. I was in shock and gave her a call. We had a great conversation about dad and our mutual father issues, but it left me wondering why I am not crazy.

I focus much on my mom, her addiction and the problems there in. We’ve been homeless twice, robbed, held at gun point, I’ve been in more drug houses than I can remember looking for her, everything has been pawned, the list goes on. My peers were playing Sega Genesis and I was learning the 12 Steps to Recovery.

But I forget my dad wasn’t around when I was growing up. When he was present, like Adam, he was silent.

I, by no means, am perfect. I do not profess to be. But I should be crazy. I mean really crazy. Like 20 tattoos, 12 kids, criminal record, no education–again–the list goes on.

The Lord really has protecting power. I don’t know why I am like this, why God has rescued me, why He’s put in me a desire to break those generational curses.

I am simply in shock by His providential protection.

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2012 Was the Year of Crossroads

As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 begins, I am convinced last year was the year of crossroads for me and a number good friends. A crossroad is that defining moment in your life that will forever alter the days that follow. Some crossroads are easy to recognize. They have flashing neon lights, sirens and immediate consequences–good or bad. It’s visiting someone we know we should be staying away from. It is leaving a community or joining a community that will have emotional, relational and spiritual impact. Then there are the subtle crossroads. They seem small and insignificant, but when we look back over our lives we can clearly see it was that subtle moment that changed the course of our lives. 2012, without hesitation, was the year of crossroads.

Crossroads personally.

I am not one–since college anyway–to hide the fact that my mom has had a drug problem since I was five and that dad is an alcoholic and not a Christian. That isn’t baggage I carry around “all of the time,” but it is present with me. As I have learned to say, “It isn’t my fault, but it is my problem.”

My mother’s arrest for drug possession in January of 2012 coincided with something quite tragic happening to some good friends of mine–all in the same week. Her arrest-turned-mandatory-rehab and walking with my friends through what is easily the most difficult  chapter of their lives (and in case you’re curious, I can’t share it) produced something in me that I wasn’t expecting–a deeper faith. For the time first time in my adult life, I truly came to the conclusion that I had to trust God with my mother, my friends, our future, our very lives, because I/we were not in control. The mirage of control I thought I had in 2012 slipped through my fingers like water. Not a bad lesson to learn right before my 30th birthday.

The three items that produced, watered and matured that faith were: Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, practicing the disciplines he actually talked about and The Gospel Luke. I felt like I was working on my core–like when you’re in the gym. When your core is solid, the rest is easy. This was about rebuilding my core, and it has been a blessed journey.

Crossroads professionally.

It is exceedingly difficult to lead in two ministries. Since my journey into full-time ministry began, I had been leading both at InterVarsity and my church. The end of 2011 saw a painful departing from a church that I loved after a painful period of brief employment. I spent much of the beginning of 2012 questioning my calling to ministry and healing from that difficult departure.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” What was painful for me was providence for the Lord. There isn’t enough time to write down all of what God has done in me and through me since rejoining InterVarsity–everything from confirmations of calling and effectiveness, godly supervisors and pastors that have been instrumental in my healing and uprooting deep planted mis-truths, to working to plant new ministries on new campuses throughout the region, giving me my dream job that I love that I thought was only a dream, etc.

But it was a crossroad. I would not and could not have become a Regional Coordinator for Black Campus Ministries for my region if I would have remained where I was. God needed to provide conflict, departure, soul-searching, renewed vision and His breath on these dry bones to breath new life into me and into what I believe will be new life in the lives of Black college students in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Crossroads pastorally.

Have you ever had a moment when you said, “I get it.” Stepping back into InterVarsity’s world to work with staff and students again, with new/old wisdom, I realized something. I have said for years as a student, a volunteer and as a staff, I poured my life into people based on principle. I did what I saw, what I was taught. I majored on what to do. My effectiveness. What needed to be produced or accomplished.

And then, 2011 and 2012 happened. God took me up to 30,000 feet. I saw followers of Jesus, pastors, teachers, doctors, students, IV staff, parents, friends, mentors, CEOs of companies, generals, athletes and others major in what they did, not in how they did it. God let me peak behind the veil of it all. People from every walk of life producing so much and losing it all. Generals discredited. Pastors with huge churches and huge tempers. CEOs that run a business but home is a hot mess. Dennis Rainey, Eugene Peterson, Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Richard Foster…one by one, God raised up one prophet after another to give warning to hidden agenda of the culture: kill yourself at the office and don’t worry about home. Pour your life out in your job, not in your children. Preach new life to people all the while your own is crumbling. 

It reminds me of a picture I saw not too long ago of an 18-Wheeler that delivers gas parked on the side of the road. The driver was sitting by the tire with his head in his hands. He ran out of gas delivering the gas.

It’s a generation where we preach to others and are being disqualified from the very prize we preach for (1 Corinthians 9:27).

I saw a fresh as a pastor not simply to preach and teach, but to be and live. I must compel people to practice patience, and when I leave the pulpit, drive the speed limit when I am in my car.

My sermons must be crafted to where people will remember Jesus more than they remember me. I must preach from the saucer (the overflow) not the cup of my own soul where God is at work.

I must take the medicine I prescribe to so many others.

I hate being late. It makes me anxious all day and then I am angry and “off” all day. To teach my students not to be anxious, I must cease being anxious. For me, I need to leave and arrive early to every place and appointment.

Among other things, it also means, I must swim in the ocean of grace this great gospel I believe in declares.

2012 was without question the year childish ways got put behind.

Robert Frost said it best:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Posted in Personal, Spiritual | 2 Comments