LeBron James, Welfare King

LeBron James, Welfare King

LeBron James waits as recorders are set before a news conference after the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, Monday, July 30, 2018. The I Promise School is supported by the The LeBron James Family Foundation and is run by the Akron Public Schools. (AP Photo/Phil Long)


During the 2018 NBA playoffs, variations on the same argument raged all across barbershops, playgrounds, and social media. Between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, who’s the GOAT – that is, Greatest of All Time? Many Gen-X-ers are more loyal to Jordan because we remember watching his dominance throughout the ‘90s. Similarly, Millennial NBA fans tend to give their allegiance to LeBron, citing not only advanced statistical metrics, but his incredible eight consecutive Finals appearances.

If the argument is confined to what happens on the court, it will rage on for years. But if you factor in off-the-court impact, then there’s no comparison. Because LeBron James just did something that not even “His Airness” can claim – he launched a public school.

Almost a decade in the making, the I Promise School is a collaboration between the LeBron James Family Foundation, Akron Public Schools, and a variety of community partners. It opened with just 240 third-and-fourth graders, but it’s projecting to have around 1,000 students from grades 1-8 by 2022, all of whom will have access to free uniforms, free bikes and helmets, free breakfast and lunch, and free transportation for any students more than 2 miles away.

The title has a double meaning – it’s consistent with James’ stated commitment to his hometown of Akron, which he has promised will continue, regardless of where his playing career takes him. (It doesn’t seem coincidental that this school opened during the same off-season when he left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers.) But it also speaks to the promise that students make to themselves, to make the most of the opportunity to excel in a place where, as the school website says, “nothing is given, everything is earned.”

For such a staggering display of educational investment, LeBron James is rightly being lauded as a model citizen. But his example is more than just civic responsibility. Whether intentionally or not, James is upholding an important Biblical principle.


Video Courtesy of Global News


When the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote to the people of Israel, he was writing to a people in exile, people who were in a foreign land, a place where they didn’t want to be. And he wanted to give them hope, but he also needed to be honest with them.

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile,” Jeremiah wrote to the people. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV). Instead of the word “prosperity,” many other translations use the word “welfare,” but the idea is the same. Essentially Jeremiah is telling the people, get used to this place, and make it your home.

This was not an easy message for the people to hear. Many of the Israelites probably wanted to be told their exile would be short, and they would soon return to their home. You have to understand, these were a people whose cultural identity was tied up in the idea of keeping themselves separate from foreigners, foreign lands, and foreign customs… and now they were being told the opposite. Love these people and invest in this place, because as they are blessed, you’ll be blessed, too.

It was a challenge for the ancient Israelites, just as it’s a challenge for many Christians today.

 

*                                   *                                   *

 

LeBron James is not in exile. His wealth and privilege allow him to move around at will (as the good people of Los Angeles can now gratefully confirm). And Akron, OH, is not exactly a foreign place.

Nevertheless, with the I Promise School, LeBron James embodies the principle of engaging the welfare of a people. In his words and actions, James has consistently recognized the responsibility he has as a global icon, someone who was able to transcend the boundaries of his native Akron, to help make that place better for the next generation. He, like Dr. King, recognized that his destiny is intertwined with others around him.

Which is why it’s so sadly ironic that conservative commentators like Laura Ingraham have attacked James for speaking out against racism and injustice. Because the ideals that James tends to demonstrate are remarkably conservative. In the 16 years he’s been in the NBA, he’s never been involved in any off-the-court scandals. Only those in his inner circle can truly confirm this, but from all appearances, James has been a model teammate, husband, father, and community philanthropist.

This is consistent with the best practices of positive impact. Showy displays of wealth aren’t as effective if they’re not backed up by consistent integrity in one’s immediate context. LeBron’s commitment to children in his hometown of Akron parallels his commitments to his own sons, LeBron Jr. (aka “Bronny”), 13, and Bryce, 11, both of whom are taking after their dad on the basketball court.

And we don’t know much about LeBron James’ inner spiritual life, because he doesn’t say much about his faith other than that he feels blessed by God to be able to play in the NBA. Nevertheless, families like the James’ are emblematic of the ways impact can be multiplied through relationships. Healthy, righteous people can raise healthy families, that righteousness can radiate further and further out, into schools, workplaces, communities, states, and even nations.

In so doing, James is providing an example for other people to emulate. We may not all grow up to be built like a linebacker with the speed and dexterity of a center fielder and the court vision of a point guard, but anyone can make a positive impact by starting local.

In the ‘90s, Gatorade had a series of commercials featuring their pitchman Michael Jordan, celebrating his greatness and encouraging the next generation to “Be Like Mike.”

In 2018, the bar has been raised. Being like LeBron requires way more than just drinking a soft drink or wearing a pair of shoes. It means, among other things, finding your blessing in the welfare of others.

Women athletes honor God with their bodies

Women athletes honor God with their bodies

I can’t remember not being an athlete. From the time that I could walk, I participated in sports and extracurricular activities. During my earliest years of life, I danced. I did gymnastics for several more years, though I wasn’t good at it. (I was too tall and flimsy to control my body.) By the time I was 11, I started racing competitively, and that’s where I found my niche. I was fast and strong with nearly a perfect hurdle technique. I worked hard. I won often. I grew confident.

As I reflect on those small wins in life, I think about the women Olympians I looked up to over the years … gymnasts like Dominique Dawes and Mary Lou Retton. (As a young girl, I actually met Mary Lou at a “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Winning Without Drugs” event.) I looked up to track stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner (“Flo Jo”), and of course the star hurdler, Gail Devers.


Video Courtesy of Uninterrupted


These women athletes are God’s image bearers who display his confidence and character. They remind us with their physical ability and strength that our bodies are good. With their performances, they sacrifice not only for personal honor, the team, or our country, but by disciplining their bodies, they honor their creator who is the Lord.

As they perform with neatly placed hair and perfect makeup (I never did that), they celebrate God’s beauty in the masterful creation that is the human body. They acknowledge that God does care about our bodies and participating in sports is one way we can celebrate its beauty.

Our bodies are created to worship. With so many negative images bombarding our young women today (see the video clip below), it is important that we raise our voices to share a different message. Young girls need to know that they are not simply a consequence of what they wear, their body size, what they eat, or how men (or other women) view them. The airbrushed images in magazines and commercials should not define them.

I am calling now for a release … freedom … a proclamation that young girls everywhere have a choice to take on positive images. I am not implying that we encourage more self-help or self-esteem building techniques. I am rather stating that we should encourage girls to value the mind, body, and soul, realizing that they are not separate entities from each other.

By the time I entered college, I was meditating on passages like the Apostle Paul calling all Christians to approach life as a runner who desires to win a prize. In order to win, Paul says we must all go into strict training (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Strict physical training requires countless hours of focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires personal sacrifice and a reordering of priorities if you want to win. With that understanding, this passage provides a simple truth: focusing to develop physical discipline (particularly early in one’s life) can correlate to the development of spiritual discipline. Disciplining ourselves in mind, body, and spirit is as an act of holistic worship toward God since we are called to do everything as unto the Lord.

God’s image bearers should reflect his character and the reality that his creation is indeed good. God’s image bearers should reflect his desire for creativity and honor and excellence. Encourage girls to honor God with their bodies for “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13b, NIV).

We can honor God through physical conditioning; therefore, in the words of that great motivator Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “Go! Fight! Win!” Let the girls run, jump, spike, throw, leap. Let them sweat, burn, and sacrifice. Let them honor God with their bodies. Let them play sports.


Courtesy of Adobe Creative Cloud

From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

LITTLE FOUNTAINS: The author, John Fountain, at age 3 with his younger sister, Gloria, circa 1964.

I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life at age 4—the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.

The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.

The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by hopelessness; who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be OK,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.

I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence—whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me (even when I was told I was “nothing”) that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance.

I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba-Daddy.

I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers. I thirsted for the conversations fathers and sons have about the birds and the bees, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.

I had been told about my father’s drinking problem and felt more than anyone the void created by his absence: from school assemblies where I received awards, at graduations and church plays and at all of those irredeemable moments that occur in a little boy’s life.

STILL DAD: “It didn’t matter that Daddy was ‘no good.’ What mattered was that he was my dad.”

Still, it mattered not that Daddy was “no good,” as I was told, nor that the physical portrait of him that had once existed in my mind by my teenage years had long faded. What mattered was that he was my dad. And I was his son.

That fact alone drew me to him. It also made paternal rejection my cross to bear.

As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch of our apartment, watching the cars roll by, imagining that eventually one day, one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened.

When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979, as I stood in a small church finally face to face with my father, lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled.

Killed in a car accident, John Fountain Sr. died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness.

By then it had been years since Mama had summoned the police to our apartment, fearing that Daddy might hurt her—hit her—again. Finally, his alcoholism consumed what good there was of him until it swallowed him whole.

I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, standing over my father’s unmarked grave for a long overdue conversation, my tears flowed. They flowed freely as I began to have that talk that I had always dreamed of having someday with my father.

Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. But it was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying:

“I love you, Dad,” I said, wiping away tears, “and I forgive you.”

With that said, I climbed into my car and drove out of Long Corner Cemetery, away from Evergreen, Alabama, away from death and back toward life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God, the Father, God, my Father—had found me.

This post is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. For more information, visit WestSide Press Books.

I’d Rather Have You

By John W. Fountain

I’d rather have your breath
That’s real.
Have your touch
Just one day.
To feel
Rather see your face
Again and again with my eyes
Than imagine in my mind.
Rather have you here
Than have to seek to find.
Rather know your foibles
And love you in spite.
Never have to imagine with all my might.
I’d rather know your imperfections
Than be left with my own reflections of the man
I can’t see
Can’t remember
Can’t hear
And each September forget which day
Was the day you were born.
Instead I mourn
The man I never knew.
How much I’d give
How much I’d do
Just once to hear you
Just once to see you
Just once to be with you
To walk again hand in hand
To know and touch the man
Who is my father.

 This poem is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood by John W. Fountain.

The surprisingly beautiful Africa the media never shows you

The surprisingly beautiful Africa the media never shows you

When Motebang Moeketsi looks at his country, he sees the majesty of its mountains, the stillness of its rivers and the joy of its people. Moeketsi lives in Lesotho, a country that sits between the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges and is surrounded by South Africa. This land of 2 million residents and numerous awe-inspiring sites is a hidden gem, too long overlooked for Moeketsi’s taste. So Moeketsi, like many of his generation, is capturing and sharing his country’s beauty for the world to see. And what is being seen is changing the world’s view of this continent.



Courtesty of 2nacheki

The beauty and diversity that is Africa is coming to light in photos and video from young Africans who tweet using #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou.

Since #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou appeared on Twitter, the world has been taking a new look at the continent that can fit North America, China and India within its borders and still have plenty of land to spare. The diversity of cultures, clothing, modern cities, and natural landscapes reveals a side of the continent that most Westerners don’t see on their evening news or in their social studies textbooks.

“In general, the media, especially non-African media, have shown poverty and diseases … little good,” says Moeketsi, a photographer and computer engineering graduate from the University of Cape Town. “Our role as Africans is to turn this mindset around using various channels. This hashtag provides us with that platform. Africa has come a long way from the ruin created by those who now fault us for it. Images and perspective are important because how people perceive you often feeds how they treat you.”

How it got started
That was the sentiment that caused Rachel Markham of Ghana and her friend, Diana Saleh, a Somali-American, to create the hashtag back in June. The two were tired of seeing stereotypical images of the continent that only captured extreme poverty, corrupt governments and people living in jungles. According to a Fader interview, Saleh asked her followers to join her in showcasing the beauty of Africa. The hashtag hit a much-needed-to-be-addressed nerve and hundreds of images were tweeted of contemporary African fashions, amazing ancient and modern architecture and stunning people. The hashtag was mentioned more than 70,000 times in its first few weeks and beautiful images appeared on Instagram as well.

The tweets come from countries all across the African continent, showing photos of countries with growing economies, industry, new construction, energy businesses, IT and banking. As some tweeters have pointed out, all homes are not huts, every country is not at war, and not all African children have flies on their faces.

“We are attempting to change the fixated face of Africa from the dying, malnourished child, to healthy children playing,” says Moeketsi, the father of a 3-year-old son. “Hopefully, we can shed new light on our continent to those who have never been here and those who have been told by the negative images not to come.”

Maseru in the evening.

Images as narrative
Some in the Western world, as well as some on the African continent, see the media bombardment of African images of poverty and disease as a holdover from colonialism. Back then, it was the so-called African savages who needed to be civilized. Today’s images continue to depict African countries as powerless and in need of outsiders to take care of them rather than seeing African countries as equals in the community of nations. “By providing other images of Africa, we’re putting our continent on equal footing on the world map,” says Moeketsi. “We’re giving people an alternative, allowing them to learn about Africa’s strengths and beauty, and think about African countries as places to invest in or where they can take an extended vacation … like they would countries in Europe.”

Moeketsi joined the social media revolution a few years ago, tweeting several images he had taken with his Canon EOS. One of the favorite places in Lesotho for this sky-diving and bungee-jumping enthusiast is the scenery around Katse Dam. A photo he tweeted of its calm waters is now being used by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (@VisitLesotho). “This hashtag is doing wonders for Africa,” says Moeketsi. “It’s allowing us to depict Africa exactly how we see it on a daily basis and how we would like others to see it who haven’t been here. We have our share of misfortunes, but what country doesn’t? Homeless people litter the streets of even the wealthiest nations, and yet that has not been reason enough to never zoom in on their beauty. It will always be important to show the troubles so that they are addressed, but it’s equally as important to show the good so that it can be appreciated.”

See more of Moeketsi’s photography on Twitter: @Mocats_ .

Maisie Sparks is a writer and author. Her latest book is 151 Things God Can’t Do.

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about the latest neighborhood or school shooting is unnerving. Some people find that they’ve become numb to most of it, except the most shocking of stories. As people of faith, many of us find ways to peacefully address issues of violence that plague our communities. Dr. Melvin E. Banks, the founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of topics.