True Life: I’m a Father In A Blended Family

True Life: I’m a Father In A Blended Family

In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.

We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.

In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.

Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.

I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.

Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.

Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”

When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.

Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

From Freedom to Freedom: Memory & The Space Between

“Liminal” is defined as the space between. It is the no-longer before, and the not-yet other. It is the space where we find ourselves caught between the light of Juneteenth and the shadow of July 4th. We are caught in the space between. No longer enslaved on plantations, but not yet with a freedom fully realized. It’s an imaginative space; an emergent space; and a space for reflection.

It is in this space that I am reminded of the Statue of Liberty, and the broken chains at her feet. I first learned about the chains in 2017, at a training in Chicago led by Dr. Joy DeGruy. She told the story of how the chains were part of the original vision of the statue, how American financiers insisted that the chains be removed, and how the sculptor still managed to sneak the chains in under Lady Liberty’s garments, lying broken at her feet. She told the story how the National Park Services didn’t talk about the chains unless someone happened to ask. The chains were not part of the Park Services’ narrative about the Statue. In the Statue’s 135-year history, information about the chains have only officially been included in the park service’s literature and website for about the past six years.

Yasmin Sabina Khan goes even deeper in her work, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty.” Conceived in 1865 by Édouard de Laboulaye, sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi over the course of approximately 20 years, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled at New York’s Ellis Island as “Liberty Enlightening the World” in October of 1886. At the base of the Statue, out of view from anyone looking from ground level, lie the broken chains of slavery. Visible only from helicopter or drone, the chains weren’t spoken of. Laboulaye was an ardent abolitionist. With the end of the US Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye imagined a gift that would embody the significance of the liberation of those who were enslaved. Bartholdi’s original model placed the torch of liberty in one hand, and broken chains in the other. The Statue of Liberty’s entire visual and artistic vocabulary was meant to both celebrate and honor the freedom of those enslaved in America. But financiers balked at the idea of chains placed anywhere on the Statue, and after profuse opposition by Bartholdi, the chains were removed, replaced by a tablet emblazoned with the Roman numerals for July 4, 1776. Since they aren’t easily visible, and since there was no concerted public effort to connect the statue with the narrative of the abolition of chattel slavery, the memory of it’s connections faded. And for the past 135 years, barely anyone remembered the chains.

For Black people within this liminal march of history, the Statue has long sat as a symbol of hypocrisy—celebrating a freedom that became connected to a honoring of ideals that have yet to be realized. There’s much to unpack about our historical reactions to the unveiling of the Statue, but there’s also much to be said about the loss of memory. The obscuring and loss of communal memory around the presence, history, and meaning of the chains at the feet of the Statue of Liberty is important because it reminds us that  memory is important.  And not only is memory important, memory is crucial in this liminal space between freedom and freedom. Memory is what helps us imagine. Memory is what helps us create. It’s something we can use to construct and define a new world, a new freedom, a new way of being.  We must tap into it. 

In his book, “Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance” Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes, “creative imagination is one of the greatest of re-membering practices…” and that “memory is the link between the past and the present, between space and time, and it is the base of our dreams.” Harnessing memory is our work.  These broken chains at our feet, the light of Juneteenth, the long shadow of July 4th—this liminal space—all of it is here to remind us that we have worlds to build. We have a freedom to define—to make clear and meaningful. It is within this creative tension where we have the possibility to gain a clear-eyed view of what a full realization of freedom could look like, both collectively as a community and a country, and particularly in the living out of our individual lives and individual situations. But understand, there can be no clear expression  of freedom without integrating communal memory into the foundation of work. 

If memory is the base of our dreams, what are our dreams of freedom? What if we could transform freedom in the same ways that we’ve always transformed culture? In this liminal space of history, we’ve seen Black creativity, Black genius, Black art, and Black joy shift and drive culture (and economies) around the world. Have we fired that same ingenuity in our definitions of freedom? What would the world look like, if we defined and constructed freedom based on our criteria, our imaginations, our memory? It might look something like a society built on the idea of thriving rather than destruction.  It might look something like a society built around dignity—of humans, animals, and the earth. It might look something like systems built to nourish and sustain life rather than profit. Freedom could look like so many different visions of more and better. The dreaming is up to us. 

We have work to do. We have worlds to build. We have a freedom to create. And as we go about protesting and advocating for our lives, here in this liminal space between freedom that was and freedom that might yet be, may we remember that the work we have to do, the worlds we are building, and the freedom we are creating, cannot reach their fullest expression without our communal memory. 

Let us remember the chains broken at our feet, so that we may creatively continue in our generation’s leg of the journey toward the light of freedom fully realized.

How Can Policy Help Us Create a Society that Reflects God’s Heart?

How Can Policy Help Us Create a Society that Reflects God’s Heart?

How can policy help us create a society that reflects God’s heart? This is a critical question that Christians from all backgrounds and denominations should be asking ourselves today. To begin answering this question, I’d like to first take a look at a passage from the book of Matthew 25: 34-40. Here Jesus, as usual, says something profound and which applies to our society today. He says this, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” In this passage, Jesus sets the framework for the justice work that needs to be done within our society. In meeting the needs of “the least of these” we are serving God and people by committing true acts of justice.

To state a hard and unfortunate truth, we live in a society that has done much to marginalize and disadvantage many of God’s children. Over the course of American history, we have seen the U.S. government deliberately take legislative and administrative action to oppress entire groups of people in a response to certain cultural attitudes and misguided beliefs. Policies throughout our history have been used to remove Indigenous people from their homes. Jim Crow policies have caused much damage, distress and trauma to the black community and communities of color. I pose the following question to you. If policy can be used to harm, then why can’t it be used to heal? As Christians, we should be pushing our government to enact policies that help “the least of these”.

When Jesus says in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you fed me” it should make us think about nutrition policy and how we can eradicate food deserts within our communities. Through policies and programs that will encourage agricultural growth and ensure that disadvantaged communities receive fresh foods, we could feed entire neighborhoods of children and families. We should seek funding and partners in building grocery stores that stock fresh produce in the heart of urban areas. When Jesus says “I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.” It should jolt our minds towards equitable housing policy and how we can provide stable housing for those who are battling homelessness. When Jesus says “I was sick, and you cared for me.” It makes me think of how we can expand access to affordable healthcare to more individuals and families. When He says “I was in prison, and you visited me” it brings to mind potential second-chance policies and programs which can be utilized to rehabilitate and integrate prisoners back into society in a productive way.

Let’s take a further look at our Justice System. Over the past few decades policies enacted at multiple levels of government have created systemic injustices such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Mass Incarceration, just to name two. The War on Drugs in the 1980’s followed by the “tough on crime” policies and rhetoric from politicians on both sides of the political aisle resulted in a disproportionate amount of black and brown people populating our prison systems. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of July 2021, 38.2% of inmates today are Black. Why is that number disproportionate? Because the latest Census data place the total number of African Americans in the United States at just over 13%. These statistics should alarm anyone who wishes to see the fair and equal treatment of people in our society. The Crack Epidemic devastated Urban America. Instead of providing rehabilitation, mental health and addiction services the government decided to lock people up and give them a mandatory minimum sentence. In most cases if not all, individuals of color would receive harsher penalties than their white counterparts for the same offense. This was a clear sign of institutionalized racism and implicit bias running rampant within our justice system.

There are myriad of systemic issues we could expound upon in much detail. However, the previous brief example of our justice system should reveal that institutionalized and systemic injustice exists within our society. The good news is that since institutionalized injustice was something that was constructed, it can now be deconstructed. That does not mean we throw away every law and system we have. That would not be prudent nor realistic. Rather, we should combat the policies that went into effect to cause the injustices we see within our systems. We need to work towards making our systems work for everyone and not only work for certain groups based upon race, gender or socio-economic status. We must combat homelessness and the opioid crisis we are facing today but do so in a way that’s rehabilitative instead of punishment focused, which, was the mistake made in the 1980s and 90s. We must strive to give our children more opportunity to attend the school that would best meet their needs and propel them into their future. We should put first the needs of those who are less fortunate instead of catering to the extremely wealthy. We must keep pushing for everyone to have access to quality and affordable healthcare, as healthcare is a human right and not a privilege to be earned. We need to push for laws that will protect the right to vote instead of effectively disenfranchising people and pushing them out of the electoral process.

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In American society, each of us have a role to play in creating a more perfect union. Our churches play a significant a role. In my opinion, the church should be leading the charge in advocating for policies that reflect God’s heart on every critical issue of our day; not only a select one or two. Our government and institutions react to what “We the People” demand. Clergy and Civil Rights leaders of the mid-20th century such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others demanded change and were able to accomplish it. As Reverend Dr. King once stated “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Through enacting policies that address the critical needs of everyday people and “the least of these” we can create a more equitable and just society. We can create a society which I strongly believe reflects God’s Heart.

 

Sources:

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219

 

https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_race.jsp

 

 

He Saw That It Was Good: An Interview with Sho Baraka

He Saw That It Was Good: An Interview with Sho Baraka

As our world becomes more divided and we seek to reconcile with ourselves and our neighbors we know we need God more than ever. But how can we hear and follow God in the midst of our fractured reality in ways that are faithful and life-giving? UrbanFaith sat down with the artist, activist, and creative Sho Baraka to talk about his new book He Saw That It Was Good, which helps us think through some of the most pressing questions of our world to see the beauty and purpose of God’s creation expressed in our lives. The full interview is above and the excerpts below have been edited for clarity and length.

 

 

 

Allen

Hello UrbanFaith. We have with us one of our very own gems of our generation, as I like to say, an artist and activist. He’s a historian. He’s an author now, and that is Mr. Sho Baraka. With his book, He Saw That It Was Good. And we’re going to be able to talk with him about this book, what it was that he’s thinking, and how he’s thinking through these things, because I just feel like he’s got wisdom to drop for us today. So Sho, good to have you. 

My first question for you is one of the ones that people ask all the time, I know you as an artist. A lot of people have encountered you in that space. What made you decide to write down your thoughts in this book and continue to integrate your art in this form?

 

Sho

I think ever since I recognized that I was a creative, I think I’ve always wanted to write. As a young child, I wanted to write novels, short stories. But like my own experience, as I got older, I got introduced to hip hop and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. And my desire for art kind of moved towards poems and music. And so I pursued more hip hop than I did writing and poetry. But I got to a place where I felt like there were there were some things that music couldn’t really quite communicate. And when we got around 2016, the political landscape started to get real divisive. People were shouting at each other, friends became disintegrated. And I said, you know, music is great, music has this place of disarming people and communicating things in ways that are really helpful to society, getting us to reimagine our world. But I feel like, I need to communicate a very straightforward, more poignant message, and also exercise these muscles that I’ve always wanted to exercise. And so in 2016, is when I really [started] to process through. All right, I think I want to write a book. The question was, what type of book?

And a lot of people wanted me to write a book about race. Because I talked about race a lot. A lot of people wanted me to write a book about politics, because I wrote about politics sometimes. But the reality of it is I’m no expert in either one of those arenas. And so what I wanted to do was say: well, what is my personal, ethical, and theological approach to work? Creativity in telling stories, which is informed by race, which is informed by politics, which is informed by our personal experiences, and therefore I can talk about race, I can talk about politics, I can talk about creativity. But ultimately, I want to show how all of those things affect how we work, and how we and how we create and tell stories in this book.

 

Allen

I love it. You mentioned  how you’re bringing in so many different things. You talk about race here, you speak, you do poetry, you do short stories in here. You’re bringing in history, you’re talking about creativity and theology. And I would say that that makes this a true theological work because us understanding God and ourselves is multiplicity, right?  And so I wonder why do you think that’s important that you’re able to bring together all those different pieces of yourself? In order to share a message why is it important that we do that kind of work? 

Sho

Yeah, I think you hit on it. I think oftentimes in theological posture in America, we’ve separated. Really, we’ve created a bifurcation of the body and spirit. You know, like there’s there’s ways to fake it and there’s ways to be. And I think Jesus very much so, the Bible very much so teaches us how to be comprehensive in our beings.

[It’s okay] to weep. Jesus is very emotional with people, he has these wonderful physical relationships with people, but he also is very didactic and theoretical and philosophical. And oftentimes, we feel that we can only exist in one or two spaces. The gist, I believe, and I think this book is arguing as well, is historically, the black Christian posture has done a great job of doing both. Because you can’t separate the spiritual element, like the theory or the up in the air aspect of like, we know that Jesus is real, we know God is real. We know we believe [even when] we can’t quite feel him in that sense. But there’s also this physical aspect of: we need liberation. There’s a physical, there’s a physical desire we have, we’re on this plantation, you know, I mean, we’re asking the Lord to be rescued. But at the same time, we know that…there’s a here and now need, and then there’s a future glory that we’re going to see as well. 

And Christian faith in the black tradition has always been tethered to justice. So it’s always been tethered to this physical aspect of redeeming the world that has been broken, as well as this intellectual, inner introspective. Kind of how do I how do I wrestle with my own existential experiences, if you will. And to jump to the end of the book and kind of steal some of its glory, I talked about one of my favorite people, George Washington Carver. And that I think he had this wonderful mysticism, and I don’t want to say mysticism to scare people away from…the true and the actual, but there is a bit of mysticism about our faith. And we see that throughout the scriptures. But George Washington Carver had this physical felt God, let me relationship with God, that I think we often look at is weird to have, well, he knew nature. He knew the plants he knew. He knew that because he knew God years and his relationship with God and formed his work and his relationship. So much so that he spoke to plants. Yeah. And people who said, “It’s crazy.” And so for me, what I say is there’s this aspect of us, coming into this full, comprehensive understanding of what the gospel is. It’s not just this intellectual understanding, it’s the physical body, it’s how do we get connected with our bodies, and in the sense of that, how that impacts our communities and the things we make and create. 

 

Allen

So last question for you. And this is one of those easy takeaways, what is it that people can do?  What is it that we should do now in order to live into our vocation to make a difference? How can we approach finding our next is a better way to say it?

 

Sho

Yeah, that’s a good one of the things I this is, you know, this is not gospel, but this is just my own personal observation. I think when we think about the word calling, I think, oftentimes, we just think about what am I good at? What what’s my skills, and let me go pursue that. And I, you know, that can be very romantic and poetic, but often think that also has its problems. I think the way we should view calling is, where’s their need? And where has God led me to fulfill this particular need? Because we see that throughout Scripture, we see Moses being called to a problem. And Moses is like, well, I don’t know if you got the right guy. And God is like, No, I’ve got the right person, I just need you to go do it. And but the reality is, is Moses does have the skill sets he was born into, I mean, he was raised in the palace, you know, he knows the laws, he knows the culture. And so to send Moses back is the most wise actions you can do. And so Moses can say he’s like, but this is not what I want to do. Oftentimes, we got to get past what we want to do in order to really see great change in our society.

I hope that we start seeing vocation apart from something we just do, but it’s a part of actually creating and cultivating society. So oftentimes, you will think of artists and creatives of people who actually create culture. But the reality is, is every vocation participates in the building up of a culture of a society. And the more we wake up every day, seeing that we have this canvas, and we can paint this beautiful image of God without work, then the more intentional we’ll be about the work, we, we choose how we work every day, and how we, you know, view other people’s work. And so don’t just work at a place just to get a check.

But if that is you, if you are in a place in your life, where you only when you have to work just to provide Yeah, a lot of us are in that situation, then figure out how do you do that for the glory of God, you know, me? Because I know some people don’t have the luxury of picking a path and picking a career. Some people just have to pay bills. Yeah. But understand even in that, that’s, that’s important. That’s just that’s God glorifying, like your work doesn’t have to be tied to some sort of social good in order to be transformative. And if you’re working at the drive thru, well, the way that you come to work and the environment, you try to create the way you interact with the customers creates culture. It creates an environment. And so I look at chick fil a, the one thing you will know about chick fil a is when you go into chick fil a people don’t be foul. They don’t be smiling, they will say My pleasure, you’re going to get a wonderful experience. I don’t know if that person can have a moment. They can have the worst day ever. They can be mad, but they don’t least fake it. Yeah.

They’ve created a culture and an environment. And I think a lot of chick fil A’s business is because of that. Yeah. what you can expect from the environment. Imagine if we all had that posture where I work, I’m going to work even if I don’t like the job to create an environment of my pleasure. And that’s that’s kind of like the way we should view our vocation. So those are a few things I think that we can do.  

Why is Revelation Scary?  (It shouldn’t be for believers!)

Why is Revelation Scary? (It shouldn’t be for believers!)

Why is Revelation Scary?
(It shouldn’t be for believers!)

There are a ton of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and misreadings of Revelation that are extremely popular, which makes it even more difficult for believers to understand what the book means and why it is important. It is the final book of the Bible, the last book written, and in some senses one of the most important books in shaping Christian theology and history, so why are we so afraid to read it?

Revelation is the only true and full apocalypse in scripture. Apocalypse comes from a Greek word meaning “unveiling” or “revealing” which is where we get our English word “Revelation.” Despite the popular rendering there is no “s” at the end of Revelation, because it is meant to be read as a single uncovering or vision of the truth of Jesus Christ and the ultimate judgment and redemption of humanity on earth.  

Why is it so different than other New Testament books?

Part of the fear comes from Revelation’s unique content in the New Testament. For a modern reader who has navigated through the straightforward stories in the Gospels, the careful theological explanations of Paul, and the memorable words of encouragement from the other letters of the New Testament, arriving at revelation is confusing. Where did all this stuff about beasts, judgments, and visions come from? We were just reading about being good teaching and being encouraged! 

Is it symbolic?

Another reason Revelation scares people is because its contents are largely symbolic visions. The visions are explained in the scriptures themselves in many cases, but in many cases they are mysterious. We like clarity, not mystery! But the ancient Jewish and Gentile audiences hearing or reading this Revelation didn’t have the same issue with mystery. We do not have to read far into the prophetic books of the Old Testament to see Revelation is part of a tradition of visions and mystery that is very much in line with the rest of the Biblical prophets. In fact, Revelation directly draws much of its imagery from Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and others. The interpretation of some parts of Revelation in its context is still debated just as the interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies were debated in the New Testament, Jewish tradition, and even today. 

Is it about the end of the world?

But the last reason Revelation is so scary to most people is probably the most widespread: its subject. But even that is misunderstood. Most people think about Revelation as the book about the end of the world. The ultimate judgment of God. The pictures of heaven and hell. Some of those things can be found in Revelation. But the pictures we have seen made popular of heaven with winged angels, clouds, and an old white man with a long beard are not Biblical. The images of hell with fire, pitchforks, and red demons dancing around are not Biblical. Much of that imagery comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy (more commonly known because of Dante’s Inferno), which wasn’t written until hundreds of years after the Bible and was a work of fiction. There are intense images of “heaven” in Revelation, including the throne room of God, the lamb slain from the foundation of the earth, and even New Jerusalem. But the end of the book contradicts much of what people think about heaven. In the end, heaven is not focused on us getting mansions, but all the universe worshipping the Lord. And the Kingdom of God is not us living eternally away from earth, but heaven uniting with earth and God with humans in an eternal city.  The images of “hell” are also not what we expect. Hell is pictured as the underworld where the dead rise from to judgment, a never-ending pit where the devil can fall for a thousand years, a figure that is judged itself along with “death and the grave”, and the most popular image of the Lake of Fire where Satan and his followers are eternally tormented. The scriptures don’t explain many details about what this lake is like; simply that it is burning with fiery sulfur. Satan is definitely not in charge there, there are not demons playing, and no horns or pitchforks mentioned at all. 

Why should we not be afraid as believers?

But in order to know why Revelation should not be scary for believers at all we need to simply read the first and last chapters. Revelation tells us how we should react in Revelation 22:10-11 says:

 10 And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. 

11 He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

This was written almost 2000 years ago. The warning then was to not even seal up the Revelation so that people could read it quickly. And when they heard it, it may not change their behavior. It was meant to encourage those who were following Jesus. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is like the Gospel of John, it is meant to give believers hope by revealing God’s eternal purposes, not to scare us. Revelation is not simply a book of future prophecies. It describes through metaphors the birth of Jesus, the rebellion of Satan, and the deception of humanity right alongside battles, judgments, and the eternal city to come.

For us it can also serve as an important encouragement and part of our faith. The first century readers who were hearing it felt persecuted. They had waited for Jesus to return for decades at that point and didn’t know what to do next. They were beginning to lose hope and question their faith as we hear made clear in the first two chapters with the letters to the seven churches. And the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to them to remind them that God had everything under control. Jesus will return. Justice will prevail. Wickedness will be punished. Satan will be defeated. People will be united. The dead will rise. The Lord will dwell with humanity. The will of God is being done behind the scenes even when we can’t see it. Our God is in control of everything, and all we have to do is be faithful to Him. It is now revealed that Jesus Christ will overcome our temporary situations ultimately, but for now we can hold onto this encouragement that He is faithful to do everything He promised. 

Stay This Way Forever-An Interview with Linsey Davis

Stay This Way Forever-An Interview with Linsey Davis

As parents or adults with young children in our lives it can often feel like our children’s childhoods are flying by and we want to capture moments and memories as we are experiencing them. We must find intentional balance in how to instill wisdom in the next generation while nurturing creativity and innocence that life can often be challenged as we grow older. UrbanFaith interviewed Linsey Davis, Emmy award winning journalist and children’s book author about her newest book Stay This Way Forever which captures moments of the joys and challenges of kids growing up. The full interview is linked above with excerpts below which have been edited for clarity.

Allen

Welcome to UrbanFaith. We are so glad to have Linsey Davis with us today. She is an amazing Emmy Award-winning news anchor, a mother, and a children’s book author. We are so glad to talk about her book Stay this Way Forever. We will talk about this book and how it’s impacting children, [as well as Linsey’s writing] process. We’re so glad to have you with us today, Linsey. So, my first question for you is, what inspired you to write a children’s book after all of the work that you’ve done in journalism and being successful there? What got you interested in writing a book like this?

 

Linsey

Well, Allen, like you, I have a seven-year-old. And after he was born, I was reading children’s books to him. And I started thinking, you know, I could do this. And ultimately, that could turned into a should because I started thinking about how intentional and deliberate I had to be to find books with characters who look like my son. A lot of times people think that writing children’s books is such a departure from the news industry. At my core, I really consider myself to be a storyteller. And so it’s really kind of more of the same, except that I get to really tell the good news and focus on positivity, letting my creative juices flow in this way, where[as], my day job is often doom and gloom. So, this is kind of a nice release. Additionally, I felt my son wanted to watch me on TV. [But] quite often with the news, I feel like the themes and the storylines are just too heavy for his young mind. [I want] to try to preserve his innocence as much as I can. And so the book was something that I could 100% share with him. He could really be a part of the process, and ultimately we could read the books together. I could kind of guide the inspiration and what was going into his mind–the things that I wanted to instill in him.

Allen

That makes so much sense. You know, as a father–I’ve got three daughters: seven, five months, and  an 11-year-old–and I really relate to the importance of trying to find ways to shape them in positive ways. One of the things you mentioned really sticks out. There’s a lot about creativity there. And then in the beginning of the book, you talked about imagination and trying to encourage that. What are some of the ways that imagination and creativity play a role in the work that you do, or even in writing this?

Linsey

I think being an effective storyteller is all about creative writing and using the language in the most expressive way. My son loves Legos. He likes to kind of create, so we’ll get him a [Lego] set that’s intended to be one thing, and he takes the head from that and the wings from this other thing and comes up with his own creation. And I love that–the idea of thinking outside of the box. Quite often as we become adults, we get kind of pigeon-holed into a certain way of thinking, where for kids, they just are starting from the ground up as far as whatever they can dream they can create and build. I have started being more intentional with my son, and he just got a journal. He had asked me what a diary is. And so I said, “Would you like to kind of write your thoughts down?” He said yes. I think that writing is such a key way for us to express ourselves–whether we’re young or old, or just hoping to remember and hold on to certain moments that we’re going to forget decades from now. We can go back and relive some of those moments and think about how we processed them at the time.

Allen

So that actually gives me a really great segue to another question. I felt like when I was reading this book, I was capturing feelings from raising my girls and from being a child myself, and you did such a good job capturing feelings and memories. Thank you. Were there any particular moments that came to mind for you, or can you talk about some of those memories or feelings that stuck out as you were writing this?

Linsey

So I have a journal, but I do a terrible job at actually keeping up with it and regularly doing entries. So I treated this book as every mom and dad’s thoughts with regard to childhood, and really kind of trying to press the pause button or freeze these moments before they all slip away.

And so yes, in particular, the pitter patter of my son’s feet in the morning before he jumps into bed with us, especially on the weekends. I thought so many times, I’m going to miss this one day when he no longer wants to jump in bed with mom and dad. And with so many of the aspects of childhood, you never know when it’s going to be the last time. When they’re going to cuddle up in your lap and fall asleep or reach for your hand. When you’re walking along, think sometimes they become, you know, too cool.  They’re ready to go off with their friends. But for right now, I’m really cherishing this time. And I think that so many parents will really be able to relate, and it’ll kind of resonate with them about this intimacy and this shared time.

Additionally, when my son was falling asleep, he’d want somebody to be in the room. I would keep my phone with me while the lights were out, and I would try and write down different ideas from the day that I just really wanted to keep with me. And one of those nights, he said, “You know what I’m going to do tomorrow?” And he was telling me about how he was gonna have certain ice cream, and he was gonna have this play date, and he said, “It’s gonna be the best day ever!” And I love that idea.

I really hope that no matter if he’s 30, or 50, or 70, the idea of tomorrow is still so pregnant with possibility and excitement for him. I think that when we stop being excited about the future, it’s a detriment for us. And so I’m hoping that so many of these things–his curiosity, his creativity, his excitement–these are the aspects of childhood that I think that he can take with him into adulthood. He doesn’t have to, you know, kind of put away [those with the] childish things. At some point, when he becomes a man, I hope that he’ll take those with him.

Allen

Absolutely. And one of the other things that you mentioned is everything that’s going on in the world. Now we’ve got kids who have just lived through a pandemic and all of this unrest, and there’s uncertainty. I hear my daughter asking, “Why is this happening? What are we supposed to do?” What are some ways that you can encourage your son or help other parents to encourage their kids as they’re seeing and hearing some of this stuff, whether it’s in class or elsewhere? How can we keep encouraging our kids?

Linsey

Well, if you look at studies, kids are so resilient, right? I think that in some ways, while this has been hard for every age range, I think that the kids are going to be the ones who really snap back, the fastest. And that gives me hope. And so in our household, we really try to be hopeful about the different phases of what we’re going through.

It was my son’s birthday at the end of March, right as everything started shutting down in New York. We were supposed to go to Disney for the first time. And then we’re thinking, well, things are going to be better in September. So we replan the trip, but things were not better at all.

It’s been about really focusing on the positives through it. So we’ve talked about how we’ve gotten to have breakfast and lunch together as a family for almost a year, and we were able to really have this quality time that otherwise, we wouldn’t have. Otherwise, my son would be at school, and then I go to work at a later shift. So we really would only see each other on weekends. This has given us this renewed family time. And I think that there are ways in the midst of the toughest of times to find something that kind of sparkles a little bit in the midst of it. We’ve really tried to hold on to that and be intentional about counting our blessings. Because we know that there are people who do have those empty chairs at their tables. We’ve talked to our son about that–both the good and the bad–and what we have to still be so thankful for. The journal that we just got my son is a gratitude journal. Again, a very intentional way to try to focus on the positives.

Allen

Yeah, those daily devotions can be huge. That’s something I’m leaning into. And we’re trying to be more aware of something that else you talked about in the beginning–the lack of images and that need for your son to see characters that look like him. Why is it important for us to have books that speak to children in their context, especially as African Americans? Why, are books like yours important?

Linsey

Sure. You know, there was an essay that I read years ago called Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors. And the point was that for every children’s book to really be effective, it needs to have a mirror so the child can see themselves reflected in the pages. It needs to have a window also so a child can peer into a world that’s perhaps unfamiliar to their own. And if that window is really transformative, it can serve as a way to transport them into that world that may be unfamiliar.

So initially, I was writing this thinking I needed to have black and brown characters for my son so he sees himself. I was really only thinking about the mirror of it. But then as I started kind of having this shift where I was seeing justice as just as important. The book needs to have the windows because of this climate that we continue to be in, even in the midst of the so-called racial reckoning. And there’s been so much talk about how we’re different.

And people often say that kids don’t see color, but I totally disagree with that. Kids do see color–they just don’t assign a value to it. It’s adults who do. It’s learned behavior that the children get from their parents and their environment, people they’re around. And so I think that it’s just as important that I provide those windows.

In many scenarios, parents really need to examine their own bookshelves and see how diverse their book collection is. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of diversity, or if your school or place of worship is not diverse, I always recommend to parents that they start with their toys and their books. That’s an easy way that you can expose your children to a child who doesn’t necessarily look like them.

Quite often we fear what we don’t know. The more that you have a sense of, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen people who are that color before,” or “I’ve seen people who have that belief before that religion,” or whatever it is.  My son goes to school or camp or something, when he comes home and has met a new friend, he tells me immediately what they have in common. “They like Legos, just like I do. They like Star Wars, just like I do. We ate popsicles together.” Adults will often think of how we’re different from each other, but kids just are looking at how we’re alike.

That’s why I wrote my second book, celebrating how we are more alike than different. I felt like, let’s just confront it. Yes, our hair is different, our skin is different, our features are different, our beliefs are different. But in the end, God gave us one big heart, that’s the most important part, because that’s where love starts. I think that’s kind of a continuation through all three of my books. It’s very deliberate that on at least one or two of the spreads in each of my books, there’s a group setting. So they’re going to be at a school, in a classroom, or an airport or a block party–we have a lot of different people. So anybody who’s looking at the pages of these books or reading them will see somebody who they can identify with who looks like them, or a family member or relative.

When people talk about diversity and inclusion, I think that they’re not necessarily looking at the big picture, unless you’re including everybody, right? It’s not just about bringing only black and brown people to the table. It’s about bringing Native Americans and Asians. But when I was looking [at this data] seven years ago, more than 90% of the children protagonists in children’s books were white. And meanwhile, if you look at the U.S. Census Bureau, half of the kids in this country are kids of color. Additionally,  a 2018 from the University of Wisconsin found that 27% of children’s books have animals as the central character. And so that means that children are more likely to see an animal than children of color in their books. So that’s really a problem. And so rather than complain about it, I figured I’d just be part of the solution and start creating some books that have black and brown characters.

Allen

It’s great. So let’s pivot to the message that you wanted to communicate to children reading this book. My daughter has just started reading in the past couple of years. She’s trying to grasp some of these words, but she looked at your book and she knew what it said. She said, “Stay this way forever.” she could read that out loud, and that stuck out to her right away. What are some of the messages that you want to pass on to kids who are reading this? Maybe new readers or even those who are hearing their parents read?

Linsey

You know, I think that that’s where it’ll be really profound. Hearing your parents or grandparents reading these words, knowing that you’re loved and cherished. I think that there’s something really special and meaningful when somebody tells you, “I love that the way you smile,” or the way you throw your head back when you laugh–not [just that] you love them, but the examples of the ways in which you love and the qualities that you love in a very unconditional way. We go through the book with the very specific aspects of children that again, I think that everybody is going to relate to. Like the belly laughs or the tickle fights or whatever it is that you do in your home, chances are a lot of families are doing the same thing–just going through these different stages of childhood. Mainly, I hope that the children who are reading this or being read to just feel cherished and adored by their loved ones.

Allen

You have a line in there that really touched me. You said [may] your heart would stay open wide, so that love can rush in. Can you talk a little bit about what that may mean? And how we can stay open?

Linsey

Sure. Well, I think that it’s anyone I don’t even think it’s just having a black son. But I do worry about how when he gets older, he could become guarded based on the world’s perceptions of him just because of his skin color. I really don’t want that for him. I really don’t want to have the albatross around his neck and that waiting  list that can come along with that. And, and so I’m really hoping that he’ll still love so freely and that he won’t feel that he’s been boxed in.

But I think that any parent can relate to that, whether it’s bullies or whatever we could be ostracized about in our community in a way that we feel that, you know, we don’t measure up or people kind of keep us distant or that we’re not going to be they’re not going to be friends with us for whatever reason, it could be kids have unfortunately so many reasons that they end up kind of guarded and boxing themselves off from the hurt or the pain. And, and so I really am just hoping for as long as he can, that he can really preserve and children in general can can hold on to that idea of just loving it’s kind of like, you know, when people talk about, you know, dancing, like no one’s watching and that kind of thing. Just you know that that freedom that unbridled, just, you know, excitement and wide eye, you know, love of life and joy. That is what I’m really you know, talking about in that in that line, that sense of just loving and being loved and giving it in exchange. He very easily very, in a very fluid way.

Allen

So, my last question. I really appreciated being able to read this. I honestly started to tear up when I got to the end. It’s a beautiful book, and I’m so glad that you wrote it and that I’m able to share it with my daughters. What’s something that you want to leave parents with as we think about how to help our children maintain these qualities of openness to life and love?

Linsey

First of all, just spend quality time with our children. And even in the midst of this turbulent past year, I have tried to be really intentional about going out on dates with my son. Just taking him to lunch and really trying to put the phone down during that time–talking to him about what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling. And I think that whatever it is that we can do, if it’s that reading time, right before bedtime, prayer time, or the mealtime–whatever it is, the time that we’re able to kind of set aside. I think in the same way that kids are resilient, they’re going to remember even though you’re busy, you’re going off to work or you’ve got a hectic schedule on Zoom calls all day, I think that they will be very forgiving if they know that. But at the end of the night, you were there to tuck them in at the end of the day, you were there, at dinner time, and you kind of talked through their day or whatever it is. I would like to think that, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. When I think about my own childhood, I think you’re willing to let a lot of things ride if you felt fulfilled at the end of the day. I think many parents would be surprised about how a little bit can go a long way in the heart and eyes of a child.

Allen

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for this again. I’m just touched to have Stay This Way Forever and share it with my daughters. My five-month-old loved the pictures. She tried to eat it, but couldn’t. But it’s just a joy. And I thank you so much, Linsey, for sharing with us today and just look forward to continuing these conversations with our children and our audience.