Breaking the Curse of Transactional Love

February 13th, 1998–I stood in the pulpit of the Mount Olivet Baptist Church to give my initial sermon. I was 16 years old with a unique outlook on life. I was standing in a place where giants have stood to proclaim the Gospel message to the world. I was a teenager attempting to make sense of a Bible to offer a word to all who would listen. That Friday night was definitely one I will never forget. The people that made their way to support me and the launching of my ministry was amazing. The way that I imitated what I saw from the pulpit makes me laugh today.

However, I sit at this desk typing and reflecting on one major flaw from that evening. I was not (in my opinion) qualified to speak with authority on the subject of that evening–True Love. I recognize that many people who are spiritually deep will suggest that God uses whomever God chooses. While I was able to speak to the mechanics and philosophy of First Corinthians 13, I had a difficult time receiving the fulness of what God was attempting to deposit in my life.

For 41 years, my life has possessed a serious thorn regarding my ability to give and receive love. As a young man, I did everything I could to be noticed. I was not always embraced right away. I did not always get the hugs and acknowledgement that I needed or desired to validate my space within this world. My mother was not always the lovey dovey mother to me. Her main objective was to make sure that I survived and succeeded by any means necessary. It was not always translated into “I love you” or “just do your best”. It became incumbent upon me to strive or achieve near perfection to access the love I sought. It was a life of transactions.

Please understand that I have done a lot of personal work and had many conversation with my mother. I understand with grace why things were the way they were. It was not easy to be my mother. She was attempting to give me every single opportunity to achieve and press on. She sacrificed working a job that was beneath her intelligence to put me in private school, expose me to many different summer programs, opportunities around the country, and beyond. I can honestly say that emptying yourself to provide has the capacity to deplete your emotional resources. Though my relationship is so much different than during my youth, I can openly acknowledge that my perspective of being loved and the desire for genuine interaction was framed by a transactional construct.

What does it mean to experience transactional love? The concept is one rooted in giving the best of yourself with the hope that it will be seen and embraced. It is rooted in the desire that one who sees you will reciprocate what you give. The issue becomes that both sides now are attempting to keep pace with one another hoping neither will tap out. Eventually, someone realizes that nobody will be able to do enough to be satisfied. Generally speaking, human satisfaction is something that will never be truly fulfilled. Humanity is fickle.

I can trace moments in my life where I realized that all my existence was to people was an ATM machine. It wasn’t about cash. It was not about wealth. It was to capitalize on gifts, talents, and skills I felt like I rooted in love and care. I learned the hard way. People said they would never leave my side. They said that they would be loyal. The moment circumstances changed and my offerings did not apply to their new trajectory, I was out.

But man you know sooooo many people……..

Of course I do. That doesn’t mean everyone knows me. Everyone is not privied to the deep places of my heart. Everyone is not welcome (any more) to the inner sanctum of my thoughts and emotions. Everyone does not get to examine me and see how they can benefit. The problem with transactions is that no emotion is behind it. It is all business. It is never personal.

After so many years, my soul could no longer take the settlement for artificial love substitute. My being was always in search of authenticity. My mind needed to be fed by genuine souls. My mental health was in need of an injection of connection.

Myrissa and C.J. saved my life. They have always made sure to remind me that I am more than enough. I have never had to question my worth with them. I have never needed to renegotiate my worth with them. I am who I am with them. It is not always a simple task. Yet, I am better for them being in my life.

I have told people that it is not easy being my friend. They look at me strange thinking that I am crazy for saying that. The reality is that my life, work, calling, and personality takes a great deal to understand and deal with. I am not a perfect person nor a completed work. However, I realize that many people are not willing to sit with someone and address or listen to the their feelings when they have challenges of their own. “Who attends to the wounds of the wounded healer?”

One of my objectives in life is to be as genuine as I can. Genuine does not mean pristine. It means recognizing that there is always room for growth. That understanding of self aids me in living into the gift of grace with all. We are all people who are in need of grace. We are not supposed to live under unyielding emotional debt for life. We all need the opportunity to not to have our relationships be strictly based on a transaction of superficial needs. We must become a better humanity that returns to the premise of love for one another. We must live into the sacredness of our humanity, bodies, and beings.

In order to break the curse and obstructions of transactional love, a few things must happen.

  1. Acknowledge how our love ethic was framed: If we are not honest with our journey of understanding love, we can not ever correct the process. We will constantly live in the cycle of repeating what we have always known to the next generation.
  2. Forgive: Forgive yourself for what you settled for. Forgive ignorance of what love is supposed to be. Give yourself the grace to grow from the revelation
  3. Create: The revelation is not to cause us to live in pity or resentment. The revelation give us insight into creating a new construct for the future.

To those who were ever connected to me via transaction, I apologize for not being strong enough at the time to demonstrate my understanding of my own self-worth. If my self esteem was better, our interactions may have produced better results or the lack of wasting each other’s time. To those who never understood my inner turmoil, I apologize because I did not understand it fully. It feels like the revelation took too long. However, I have learned that time for revelation is not the issue. Understanding the revelation when received is the most important matter.

I pray that with the rest of my life I can aid in fostering an environment where people will no longer be afraid to be themselves. I pray that every person understand the value that they bring to this world. It would not be a better world without your gift, life, and presence. Shine as God has created you to shine. Know that you are loved first by your Creator and all who see you truly as well. Our worth is not a tradable good. Our love is not an investment stock. Our valued existence is an enhancement to the world.

Plenty of Answers in the Room

I made up in my mind to be in a room with several clergy from around my current connection. It was a time apart designed to encourage clergy who have been serving in the best way possible throughout the two year long pandemic. I listened to colleagues express their pain and challenges experienced during this season.

Many times, I have entered into these spaces very aware of who I am and possibly perceived in these spaces. The reality is that I understand that my voice or similar voices like mind are not always welcomed or embraced in times of trial and difficulty. Why? The idea of trials and tribulations do not rest as a certain level of normalcy to people who live into position, provision, and prosperity.

As a black man, pastor, and leader, I find it condescending to sit in spaces where people attempt to coddle individuals experiencing a different reality for the first time. Fact is you have people who know unapologetically Jehovah Jireh. People exist with practical application and a 400+ year litany of dealing with oppression, unrest, maligning, and injustice. YOU HAVE ANSWERS IN THE ROOM!!!!!

Here is the problem. Most people do not desire to receive what is necessary. Mostly, people are afraid to approach answers because it will reveal one’s dependence on the benefits of systems and constructs. I get it. The idea of feeling the pain of lacking success (whatever that looks like) or seeing decline maybe foreign to some of my counterparts.

The funny thing is that being Black in this country and the church gives the exact credentials necessary to navigate lean seasons. Those who facing a taste of difficulty may not realize that they are talking about an average Wednesday for many of us.

The most disheartening thing is hearing the statement that there are no answers for getting through this season. NO ANSWERS! REALLY FAM!!! Yes, a once in 100 year pandemic was not apart of the syllabus of life. I get that people where forced to learn and adjust with new methods. But no answers?

The answers we need are not regarding finding a way to preserve the remaining remnants of a past life of comfort. Ministry has a default setting. The setting calls for us to be instant (wait for it…) in season and out of season. When we forget that foundational premise of our call, we must come back and assess what we have been called to do.

If it sounds like I’m being a little edgy or lacking sympathy, you might be right. However, you have to understand how my daily existence is constructed. When I get up in the morning, I get out of the house with the words of my wife on my mind. Make sure you get home. I got to make sure that nothing happens to me so I can get home to my wife and son. That same sentiment resonates with me regarding my wife and son. That does not include my other responsibilities with extended family, two congregations, and other civic work.

I have been in ministry for 24 years. I have openly shared about the various battles and trials of my life. I recognize that everyone will not have the same experiences. Yet, we have too many resources on survival that are not in books. People must be willing to no longer discount or overlook those who can speak with authority to navigating adversity.

Maybe this season is not about commiserating about what no longer exists. Maybe it is time to renew our resolve to serve God, preach the unfiltered gospel, and find healing from the transformative hand of God. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate our faith journey learn about God all over again.

I Don’t Like What I See…

Many people may consider that my position allows me to view life through a very biased lens. It could be assumed that the condition of our world would automatically be condemned by God being the standard of perfection. I realize that I live in a tension that constantly taps into the sovereign nature of my Creator while navigating the spaces of humanity. I have come to the bitter conclusion that this world is absolutely terrible. No, no, no, no! I mean many days it appears that redemption is beyond anyone. The way that people address life, no one is allowed to function and figure out there feelings, emotions, personal trauma, or any other issues without the social commentary of people that live with conjecture and opinion.

Unfortunately, the Oscars provided another opportunity for people to examine in a vacuum the feelings and emotions of one man in response to the normal ebb and flow of comedy. I have witnessed in a short amount of time the opinions of people run wild after West Philly decided to slap Bed-Stuy for comments made about Balitmore on a stage in L.A. Everyone is up in arms and talking about everything from defending honor to toxic masculinity and the like.

I want everyone to stop for a moment. Back off the lack of nuance and examine what has become the norm of our society. People no longer want to offer any human being the space to address the human experience anymore. I mean come on. At some point, a human being needs to feel some emotion. We have tried to place popular human beings in a box to the point of being robotic. We say to ourselves that the response was wrong. We say that we understand the reaction. We say it was comedy and by nature it is offensive. However, we have not said or considered that every person has a moment that takes them beyond their threshold.

I am of the mind that people do not listen enough to one another. Matter of fact, I am convinced that most of the people speaking negatively about the whole situation have never truly listened to Chris Rock or Will Smith. I am further convinced that if we had active listening, we would understand the crossroads that took place on Sunday night. Both of these men have given the world insight into their private lives (that the world does not have a right to have access). They both have dealt with extremely trying issues that have been brought before the world. Everyone has lived with offering opinions. Both of these men have talked openly about their issues (Will on Red Table Talk; Chris in his stand up special, Tambourine).

On Sunday night, Chris decided to do what he normally does, comedy. Whether people like his brand or not, Chris Rock is a comedian that deals social commentary through that lens. Will decided that Chris to it a bridge too far. That bridge may have come at the cost of constantly dealing with the jokes and issues of his marriage. It may have reached that last straw when you are attempting to sell yourself as a person at peace with the decisions and choices you have made about your personal life. It may have been that this was the first time Will finally felt it. I don’t know.

What I do know is that incident reminds me that we live in a world that is not actively trying to create space for people to work out their stuff. I realize that every person has their own personal agency and is responsible for it. Yet, I am also convinced that we continue to do a piss poor job of enhancing and changing the environment. I recognize that I am not responsible for massaging the feelings of others. Yet, I am responsible for how I navigate spaces and observe the room. I am not responsible for what people say to me. Yet, I am responsible for how I react and address my feelings in that space.

In a perfect world, Will would have shook it off and Chris would have keep it moving. However, we now have two black men responding to one another in a setting that is still so white. (Side note: Why do y’all still watch the Oscars again?) People will continue to highlight this moment for awhile. However, my hope would be that reasonable human beings will begin to ask themselves–How can we help the human condition to respond differently? Maybe it is one person’s opinion, but I got a feeling that we have more work to do. Maybe we need to get back to this list…

  1. Listen
  2. Observe
  3. Build Up
  4. Grow

How ’bout it….