An Open Letter to My People: We Can Take Care of Our House

I woke up this morning to the written “sounds” of a tired stream of thought. In light of the recent violence that has taken place in Columbus, more people have begun to raise the question about the presence of leaders within the city. Why are people not making enough noise about the violence? Do Black lives matter only when police shoot us? The questions continue to mount. Yet, people have not taken the time to consider why we have arrived in this space. I am of the mind that the Black community has strayed so far from who we are historically that we do not want to take responsibility for the fragments. Hear me out.

I grew up in a village that made it known self-awareness, self-love, and self-respect were not the exception. I was never told by anyone that I should limit myself in my pursuits or dreams. At the same time, I was taught that life, people, and circumstances would attempt to tell me that I was less than and not worthy of advancement. My mother sacrificed to place me in private school, because she believed I would have a better opportunity for education. My ability to fully embrace the totality of who I am was not found in that space. I was never taught complete history. My blackness was weaponized and misrepresented. Thank God that Dr. Charles Edward Booth used the platform of the church to not only reinforce my faith, but used Sunday morning as a launch pad to understand the beauty and power of my Blackness. I never had to wait for someone else to embrace and empower my uniqueness. It was constantly pushed.

I look up now and watch many people (and rightfully so) lament about the death of young people. Many of these beautiful lives have been taken away without rhyme or reason. The truth is that many of these circumstances are rooted in the continued separation of our people. Historically, we have demonstrated the ability and resilience to join together and address our issues together. Yet, we have become a people constantly waiting on the next Black Messiah to get us out of our condition.

The day existed that we would find a way to work through personal preference and difference to focus on the goal and agenda. I believe that many people refuse to do this now because there is not enough notoriety to go around. It is possible that some people will not show up because the lights will not be bright enough. Or, it could be possible that there are people working to make change, but those individuals are not names in circles. It might be possible that the questions are getting answers, but the people offering answers are not popular and don’t care about that at all.

Imagine a world where people are actually working to make a difference in their community. Why? They see the need and go to work. Imagine a people committed to working hard but resources are scarce. Imagine people who have been talking and bringing light to these issues well before they became the cause of the day, but their names are not big enough to be embraced. The work is happening. Plenty of people are trying with what they have. But, it is time for us to have a real discussion about a major road block.

I don’t trust bringing everyone into a family discussion. What do I mean? If we (Black people) are saying that we are tired of the violence, murders, economic disparity, and everything else, then we must bring about the solution. Have we not recognized enough that our community has been the most appropriated, copied, and fleeced in this nation. 98% (arbitrary figure) of what this country is would not exist without our contributions being copied, stolen, and abused. Why would I embrace anything from any entity that will find another way to abuse my community.

Government and other established entities choose causes based on the effects to its profitability. Think about it. Major sports leagues did not bring the importance of Black lives to the forefront until Black athletes said it was time to stop playing the game. The NFL believes that playing Lift Every Voice will cause us to feel better about our environments not changing. Politicians will acknowledge the problems long enough to attempt to prove their moral fiber. True change is not profitable. True change will not come from any place that is not committed or invested in the growth and development of our people.

So why do we keep looking to others to solve our problems? Why do we allow people to attempt to dictate to us how our community should operate? Why should I take seriously the words and actions of those not invested in my overall well-being?

Many Black people have become so disconnected from one another that we can not find ourselves on common ground. Being Black is not about just one thing. Being Black is not just about birthing Hip Hop, creating fashion sense, and natural hair. Being Black is not profit driven images and materialism. Being Black is not being labeled ghetto for not fitting Euro-centric norms. Being Black is knowing that my history did not being with slavery. Being Black is taking pride that my roots are African, my heritage is royal, and my nature thrives in every condition. Being Black is knowing that God created us after the Creator’s image and likeness. Being Black is knowing Jesus looked like me. Being Black is beautiful.

Our responsibility is to remind everyone under this tent that these listed facts and many others are true. I know that there are human beings that do not look like me that understand the sentiment of pride that I listed. I recognize that good people exist in the world. Yet, I understand that moments come when we must be more like David in moments of challenge and difficulty. We must be able to encourage and strengthen ourselves. Doing so will cause others to recognize the importance of our dignity and self-respect.

So what do we do? How do we get moving?

  1. Begin Honoring Our Humanity Again: We are not connected, because we have created a culture that is not in touch with God or self. We must begin to teach our youth and adults their complete history. We must demonstrate that the work, sacrifice, and innovation of our people is not a footnote. We must instill in the minds of our people our worth and value beyond the dollar. We must teach that the value of life is not a value judgment that can be determined by the will of another human being. God has already determined our worth. We must reinforce that truth through our speech and actions.
  2. Pick Up Our Corner: The Bible teaches of a lame man who was carried by four men to Jesus. The Lord was teaching in a person’s house. The whole community was at the location. The friends tried to get the man to Jesus through the door, but it was blocked by the mass of humanity. They decided to take their friend to the roof and lower him down to get access to Jesus. Can you imagine how challenging it might have been to get a grown man to the roof, secured, and lowered from the roof to Jesus. It would have been more difficult if it was only one person doing the work. The key is recognizing that everyone has a role and responsibility. Do not diminish the work of others if it is not on the front page. Do not doubt the efforts of people because you haven’t heard about it. Take up your corner and lift. In doing so, we will be able to position ourselves for greater.
  3. Discover and Address the Real Need: We have many problems in our community. We have many great things about our community. One major thing that I notice though is that we have a tendency to tell our environment what it needs rather than listen and discern what it needs. Every situation is not the same. We may deal with many root issues. Yet, all of us are not in the same place in life. We cannot treat people or circumstances in a one size fits all manner. We must engage in a manner that provides insight beyond our assumptions. We cannot lift the community assuming our perspective is the only one that counts.

It is time for us to do work. The rhetoric is over. Reconnect with one another. Our future depends

Y’all Just Love to Debate the Wrong Thing….

You know what? I have found myself attempting to understand my space in this world. I am approaching my 40th birthday in August. This journey has been difficult in many ways. I have had to unlearn some practices and discover some realities about my personality. I have learned that I have always been a sensitive individual. I recognize that I am an introvert, but I am also an empath. I feel so much around me at any given time that it requires me to back away from people and situations quickly. Honestly, I don’t want to be in certain settings many times because of the energy in a room.

I realize that I am a pastor. I understand that the assumption is that I must love the people. Don’t get me wrong. I love the people. I love how people can demonstrate growth and development. Many times I am in hope of celebration of the accomplishments of all, and I mourn with those who face the difficulties of transition. That level of emotional and spiritual weight is enough for anyone in the course of a day. However, I have found that I live in a world that is determined to constantly offer thoughts on every type of thing in existence. I have further realized that many people find being contrary the only path to being seen and heard.

Listen. I am not trying to tell people how to govern their lives. Yet, I want to offer this one idea. Y’all are doing too much.

People are debating about women wearing bonnets in public, skinny jeans, and a myriad of other things that do not matter in the grand scheme. Has it ever occurred to anyone that people are living in a world that desires to destroy uniqueness, co-opt and colonize flavor, and gentrify creativity and talent. Have you ever considered that the most of the debates that occur happen as the result of finding new ways to keep people separate? Have you ever considered that most people actually agree on many things of importance, but will part ways due to personal preferences?

Years ago, I was a part of the crowd that felt superior in context. I know how to dress the part. I was able to move easily through different rooms of influence without care. Nothing difficult. It was one moment that changed the game for me. While applying to a church (Baptist context, told this story a million times), I was told the reason that I was not given a interview. I did not look like a pastor. Wait for it….. I had preached at this particular place many times…. in three piece suits….clergy robes and cassocks. Look like!!! I was the epitome of a Baptist preacher in looks.

Many of you may have thought this t-shirt thing was old. No. This fashion phase is pretty new. That event in my life began my unlearning of faux environmental policies of superficial people. I live my life now understanding that principle stated by the Apostle Paul to this general idea: I have become all things to all people realizing that I might only save some (ref I Corinthians 9:22). It is my call, obligation, and assignment to find ways to be flexible enough to draw those who may not normally embrace who I am in God or in this community.

I believe that humanity has spiraled so for in a hole that we forget that we are not may to create people and environments in our image. Some people take the idea of past experiences to heart so much they create greater space and limited opportunity to be a positive influence on future generations.

I was surrounded by so many men who made a great impact on my life. The invested so much into my mind and heart as a person. The last thing they ever addressed was my appearance. One, I was taught at home (hint, hint). Stay clean and neat. That statement is not about preference. That is not a casual over dress up debate. Clean and neat is just that. The men that influenced me taught me about character, intelligence, spirituality, and more. Being around them gave me the chance to choose how to be influenced in many ways. These internal and external lessons have never left. Why? They showed me that they cared about me.

I ask you today. Are you demonstrating that you actually care about the people? Do you take vested interest in their development? Are you concerned about how great your environment can be? Then, I ask you to take these things into consideration.

  1. No matter how hard you try, everyone will not be like you. It is okay to live in world where people don’t move the same in certain areas of life. It is okay that people will not have the same superficial preferences as you. Yet, we are not absolved from making certain that we all win in this life together. Diverse perspective can teach all of us how to navigate every space we enter. Diverse perspective can also teach us how not take ourselves so seriously, relieve pressure, and become the best version of ourselves.
  2. We are not God. Don’t apply for the job. Every human being has a journey. At best, we are individual who are bless to share how we have made it through the pitfalls of life. I am in this world to live and be a resource. I am not here to create after my image and likeness. The world does not need two of me. The world does not need two or more of you. The world needs a humanity willing and ready help individuals succeed. Here it is. We must make certain to remember that success is not a unilateral model. Success means many things to nearly 7 billion people on the planet. If we care for one another, we will not mold anyone after our image. We will point people to the Creator that has already set each our blueprints.
  3. Take that debating energy and put it into something constructive. I want to see people take this energy and do anything and everything else that is productive. Some people would be wealthy if they were not so full of information. (Let it simmer a bit…) Some people would be exactly where they wanted to be in life if they could only stay out of other people’s business. Some people would actually be happy if they stopped trying to give other people the blues. Some people might find out what joy is if they quit interfering with the joy of others. We do not need to continue using platforms to perpetuate unnecessary discourse. We need to use it to get this world together.

I realize I am not saying anything new. But for the love of God, stop it. We got work to do. We got self-care to embrace. We got relationships to strengthen. We have bastions of systemic racism to destroy. We have injustice to correct. We have too much to do to reduce ourselves to superficial foolishness. Let’s Go….

Normalizing “How Are You?”

One of the great challenges of this period of pandemic is the full examination of our general lack of empathy and care toward one another. People have demonstrated on every level their desire to only focus on need to return to their vision of peace, comfort, and ease. The problem is that we have not learn our lesson from dwelling in that preoccupation. We have not made certain that those who we declare to care about most are well in every aspect of living. We have lost the art of raising a basic question. How are you?

What a profound question. It is one that is as open ended as possible. It one that can cause people to be confounded in every way. Imagine what level of mental and emotional energy that one question commands. A person can find his/herself overcome by the idea that anyone cares about the thoughts, attitudes, and experiences that rest within his or her journey. How are you? The question evokes an inquiry into the potential ups and downs that have taken place. One question has the power to illicit safe space or gossiping opportunity.

I want to lend myself toward the optimistic perspective of this question. I would hope that when I encounter people that sharing this three word interrogative does not provide fear or apprehension. I can understand that all individual do not feel comfortable sharing their feelings in a vacuum. Ladies and gentlemen, that sentiment is ok. Nobody owes you an audience. Nobody owes you a spilling out of feelings because you raise a question.

The idea of asking how are you is a gateway to creating greater community and relationship with people. It is the idea of showing that you care. It is the moment that disarms people from believing that all you want from them is something.

We have been dealing with quarantine, separation, death without closure, uprising in social justice, constant PTSD from continued acts of violence, crime everywhere, systems continuing to suppress, and so much more. I believe that is more imperative than ever to begin from a place of care than assumption. Life is hard. Yes, we have many things to do and accomplish. The fact remains that life is hard.

Life will have you staring at walls in your office questioning why you do what you do. Life will challenge your mettle of your existence while facing constant adversity. Life will put you to tears because you don’t feel safe to talk to anyone about your issues, problems, or anything else deep. Life will also make you long for the days of a Jackie Brown and a George Mimms.

I have told the stories before in different contexts, but I feel they apply here. When I was in Illinois pastoring, I reached a certain point when everything was going haywire. I reached the point where functioning in this call was not worth the stress, time, or harm that was affecting my family. At that time, I didn’t have anyone I could just unload these feelings. I was walking by myself. The feeling was lonely. All I wanted to do was what God purposed in my heart. I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to help people the best I could.

I began to 100% loathe and despise the profession of pastoring. The call was never the issue. The profession was horrible. I felt myself becoming more and more cynical about people caring about me. It was evident that people wanted my talent. It was evident that people loved my gift. However, I realized that people who loved me were a minority. At least, my feeling were telling me that a minority of people cared.

If I remember correctly, Jackie Brown and George Mimms came to my office on back to back days. Deacon Mimms came and told me that he wanted “to bring me a golfer’s drink”. He brought me a gallon of lemonade and a gallon of iced tea. He sat in the office with me for a little bit and just offered wisdom and encouragement that to this day was so invaluable. He could tell that I wasn’t myself at all. He gave me the room to express myself and try to understand what I was feeling. I was so frustrated and angry at that time. George Mimms looked at me square in the eye and said, “I know the Lord is with you and will take care of you. I also know that as long as I’m around, I will never let anyone drag another Black man down for anything.” I hope every time call his name he is in Heaven smiling knowing that I listened.

The next day, Jackie Brown came to my office. She started the conversation by saying, “Pastor, I have been watching. You have seemed like yourself recently. It has bothered me so much. That’s why I decided to come by and check on you to see if you were ok.” I wept for what felt like two whole minutes. I guess I needed that space. I felt like garbage at that time. I felt empty. I felt lifeless. That gesture let me know that I was safe to get it out of my system. At the moment, the space to human saved me from the prison of bombarding my soul with lies about who I was and what I was. One question unloaded a significant level of burden.

That period of my life challenged me not only to find a circle of help and trust in all times, but it challenged me to always assess a situation before me with grace filled eyes also. Raising the question present a couple of things for our consideration.

  1. We become more sensitive to the circumstances of the moment. Some people do demonstrate consistency in their behavior. Significant truth exists behind the idea: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Most individuals are attempting to do his or her best in navigate the spaces and attitudes of life. It is not always simple. It is not always rosy. It is not easy. People will be caught on an off day. Approach the moment from a place of grace. Galatians 6:1-5 tells us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” At our best, we are not attempting to judge and reduce the experience of our neighbor. We must address each moment with grace, because we may never know when we will be in need. Even though the writer addresses transgressions, we must understand that the principle extends beyond that. We must know that somebody might be in need of a grace moment that could lift him or her from that moment. Otherwise, we are not actively fulfilling the law or command of Christ.
  2. Create the safe space for others. When we see most people, we are witnessing them on the other side of judgment, opinions, struggles, and other issues. Who wants to encounter a representative of Christ who has decided to help God by placing judgment on what they see. People need the room to be themselves. They don’t need another voice telling them who and what they are. They don’t need someone else attempting to quantify the struggle. People need to feel ok to not be ok. People want to move on from their challenges, but not at the cost more assumption. A person who struggling or facing abnormal challenges are not obligate to package his or her life to fit our idea of normal. We who claim to love God must fix our gaze and hands to create the space to work though the moment.

Before the snap judgment rises from your soul, stop and consider your surroundings. Consider the people that you hold dear. Do not bring your assessment to the party. Be the hands and feet of God that offer places for healing and deliverance. Be the person that honors the idea of people being their best selves. Be the person that stops and discerns the wellness of a person. Be the person that desires to see and witness collective wholeness rise as byproduct of believing in life more abundantly.

How are you, today?