When Jesus wanted to teach a lawyer the universal truth about what it means to be a neighbor, He told a story about a man from one ethnic group who helped a man from another ethnic group who had been beaten and left for dead along the Jericho Road. This anonymous brother’s keeper has been venerated as the Good Samaritan, and schools, hospitals, and streets are named after him. But today, if Jesus were telling this story, I wonder if He would only focus on one person helping another person. Today’s Jericho Road is not a one-person problem. If we’re to understand what it means to be a neighbor and straighten out our Jericho Road, we’ll need a national body of determined individuals who come together to fix a dangerous curve in our historical road that has caused damage to many for far too long.
What do I mean by straighten out our Jericho Road? First, a little context. In biblical times, the Jericho Road was the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a flourishing city. The rich and famous built their vacation homes in Jericho. Religious leaders spent their days off there, perhaps resting under a palm tree. But the road to Jericho had many twists and turns where evil people lurked and attacked unsuspecting travelers. Far too many people taking the four-hour trek down the Jericho Road found themselves victims of evildoers.
Some would question why anyone would knowingly travel such a dangerous roadway, but a better question would be: Why should anyone be unable to travel to Jericho in safety? Are we to surrender our freedom because some would want to deny our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why are we told to go back to Africa when our forefathers and foremothers helped build this great society—for free? When we gather for Bible study in our own churches, do we have to fear that evil people are going to jump out of nowhere and attack us?
Today’s Jericho Road is a twisted state of mind
Our Jericho Road is not offenders lurking on some mountain path over in Israel. It’s individuals with twisted states of mind who believe they can wait in their own dark shadows and then, without warning, jump out and attack people because they don’t like how they look or falsely believe that individuals searching for peace and rest are a threat to them. How do we straighten out such a mindset? Do we need metal detectors at every church door? Should we take off our shoes off before we enter our places of worship, not because we’re standing on holy ground, but because we want to ensure no one is hiding a bomb in their shoes?
When our nation has experienced natural disasters and terrorist tragedies in the past, we’ve come together, stepped up with celebrity telethons, public service announcements, days of silence, and other forms of active support to tell ourselves and the world that we’re better than this… that we shall overcome all terrorist threats to a humane society.
Go public against racial hatred
When a group of African Americans tried to cross a bridge in Selma and were denied, the country rallied. People of all ethnic stripes came against forces that wanted to infringe upon the God-given dignity of others. In one collective voice, they said, “No more. Not on my watch. Never again.”
Do we have enough Good Samaritans today who are willing to go public with their determination to end racism? Can we get enough people to just say no to racism so that our national consciousness reaches a tipping point that ends racial injustice? Will we call out and straighten out our own family members, friends, co-workers, and associates when they espouse ideas and actions that would undermine the safety and sanctity of others?
There’s been a lot of talk about having conversations about race, but as we all know, talk is cheap—unless it’s meant to broaden our understanding and respect for people who are “other” to us. Should we have such honest and transparent conversations, we’d quickly find out that underneath the skin, we’re all pretty much the same, with the same dreams and aspirations for ourselves and future generations. But until people, famous and anonymous, lock arm in arm and publicly declare that life matters and that racial hatred is wrong and will not be tolerated here, we can expect more of the same.
It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If that is true, then good people must take just actions until evildoers realize that we the people are intolerant of racial injustice. What Jesus taught must still be shared: We are all neighbors. We all are made in the image of God. Christ died so we could all experience our universal oneness in Him. When a Black child is murdered in the streets, we all suffer. When a White child is murdered in her elementary schoolroom, we all suffer. We are all human. No one else needs to be senselessly gunned down to make this heart-wrenching point.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell (pictured above) is on trial for the deaths of four infants and a woman who came to his clinic shortly after her arrival in the United States. This week, the jury began its deliberations on the case. (Photo credit: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News).
Each society and culture has its own barometer for measuring its psychological health, sense of priority, and collective wellbeing. The Maasai tribe of Kenya, for instance, use the traditional greeting, “How are the children?” when acknowledging one another. The expected response between tribesmen is, “All the children are well.” This exchange signifies that because the children are being protected, taken care of, and provided for, all else in their world is as it should be: peace prevails, and society is fulfilling its obligation by ensuring posterity and future survival. What of our country? Are all of our children well?
Something is happening in our midst right now that is almost certain to become a watershed moment in our history. Kermit Gosnell, a man who took a professional oath to keep his patients from harm, who is part of what we call “the healing arts”, and in whose hands women placed their medical wellbeing, is on trial in Philadelphia for murdering four live babies after failed late-term abortions and killing one female patient. Remarkably, many people still are unaware of this trial or the history of the Women’s Medical Society abortion clinic run by Gosnell for almost 40 years. This stunning lack of awareness is due primarily to the deliberate and intentional absence of national mainstream, and initially, even Christian, media coverage of the Gosnell proceedings. If CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and their colleagues don’t want people to know what’s going on, and if even Christian media is reluctant to address the trial, we have to ask ourselves, “Why?”. Could it be that they all perceive the effect that honest, unbiased exposure of Gosnell’s reprehensible and illegal acts would have on the abortion debate? In the end, their reasons don’t change the fact that we cannot let media disregard of this story force us to miss what’s really at stake—the sensitivity and responsiveness of our individual consciences and the preservation of our country as a civil society.
Sometimes it takes a jolt to the senses to snap us out of complacency and moral largesse. In 1963, during a critical juncture for the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and local leaders in Birmingham, Alabama decided to include children in a major planned protest, later dubbed the “Children’s Crusade” by Newsweek magazine. Ed Gilbreath, founding editor of UrbanFaith and author of the forthcoming book, Birmingham Revolution, describes how published media images of children being sprayed with fire hoses, and attacked by trained police dogs, brought added pressure both nationally and locally: “The campaign was faltering. As the nation began to see the images…the true spotlight was shone on Birmingham when the kids got out there. [President] Kennedy had been trying to placate Dixiecrats but he did have concern for civil rights. The images of the kids forced his hand [and] also put economic pressure on Birmingham merchants. Kennedy began to recognize the hypocrisy of us presenting ourselves as being against communism, but right here in our own nation we had this cruel apartheid, [contrary to and] against the virtues we preached.” A teacher resource covering the Birmingham civil rights campaign adds, “Shocking photographs that accompanied the nightly television footage helped stir the nation’s conscience and provoked critical comment around the world.” Will we allow our consciences to be similarly stirred on behalf of the children whose lives were snuffed out by Gosnell? Can we use this moment as a turning point of common allegiance and opposition against such brutality and indifference to human life?
Christians can’t allow media silence to silence us. Will we cooperate with the media’s attempt to harden our hearts and chill our souls as evil is ignored, justified, or blacked out? These were defenseless children, whom Scripture summons us to protect.
And what about Karnamaya Mongar, the refugee woman who was left to die after post-abortion neglect?
What does it say about us that there isn’t widespread alarm, shock, grief, and outrage over this trial and case? Have we finally been persuaded that protection of human life is secondary to a government-created “right”, and that killing innocent babies is ok?
Decency, regard for human life, dignity, and respect for the rule of law should be public values – even for those who do not claim Christianity. All of us together, believer and non-believer alike, must take stock of our tolerances because they foreshadow our societal trajectory: either upward toward grace, kindness, respect, restraint, and national honor; or downward toward violence, cruelty, rampant evil, and national reproach. Accepting the murder of live babies is just one point on a spectrum of debased behavior evident in other parts of our society—escalating violence against and among young people, sexual violation and humiliation of children and women, abuse, disregard, and neglect of the elderly, infirm, and disabled. We are becoming increasingly unmoved by even the most heinous and vile encroachments on human existence. We should be careful. Just because we might pretend not to see what’s going on doesn’t mean that God doesn’t see. And now we can’t say we didn’t know.
For a single Christian, what to do about sexual intimacy can be tough and confusing. You harbor physical urges that God gave to you, but to have sex outside of marriage is a sin. The church’s response has generally been pithy and poor – “Just say no”. Meanwhile, the enemy has seized the void by providing a counterfeit of the sexual love God intended. Through R-rated movies, raunchy music and advertising, we are inundated with it. What in the world is a single person supposed to do?
Minister Pamela Bell, founder of Serenity Pastoral Counseling and Consulting
Minister Bell recently hosted a Valentines Day engagement ceremony for her single clients in the Baltimore area. They celebrated their love affair with the Lord. The ceremony offered the participants an opportunity to renew their vows to God and to increase passion in their relationship with him throughout the year. “Being physically alone does not necessarily equal loneliness”, Bell said. The church needs to reclaim the truth that we are never alone when we are in relationship with God. Being single is actually an opportunity to turn your full attention to your relationship with God. Being married, in fact, can bring complications and opportunities to worship your mate instead of the Lord.
Bell, who has been married 26 years to the same man, says “God allows us to have mates to be able to show our love for him onto a living breathing human being. That mate presents a physical way for us to express our love for God. Whether you’re single or married, what we all have in common is an inseparable relationship with God.”
Humans are spirit first. We are made in the image of a triune God, who is spirit. Our physical bodies are vessels for us to journey on earth until it’s time to return to God. Certainly, we want to express ourselves physically with another human being, but the object of that expression is still God, Bell said. If you understand this, your single status is not a negative, it just means less distractions to God. “It might sound like a cop out to a single person, but a mate is not your source to fulfillment. God is our source,” Bell said.
Ok, that sounds good, but let’s keep this real. What do we tell the single person who is struggling with their sexuality? Bell said she counsels her clients based on what they reveal they are struggling with and yes, many people are struggling with issues such as pornography and fornication. “God gave us the ability to imagine and create,” Bell continued. “What we entertain in our minds is important because we are creators. Fantasizing about sexual acts that are against God’s will, creates sin in our lives and sin, whether it is physical or mental, causes us to turn away from God.”
Bell teaches her clients that they can master their bodies through physical exercise, eating healthy and getting proper rest. She also suggests, professional massage, meditation and relaxation techniques to release pent up tension in the body and of course there is prayer. “I often suggest that my clients start a private prayer journal in which they’re writing letters to God about their intimate thoughts and feelings,” Bell said. “David demonstrated the power of prayer journaling. He wrote about his struggles, desires and his victories in what has become the Psalms. He gives us a good example about being in a relationship with the Lord and God referred to David as a man after God’s own heart. We tend to keep our sexual frustrations separate from our relationship with the Lord but He made us and is not uncomfortable talking about sex. By keeping a journal, people can learn from their own experiences and in the future they can go back to that prayer journal and remind themselves that ‘this too shall pass.’”
According to Covenant Eyes’ 2013 pornography statistics report, fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women admit that they are addicted to porn.
It’s an age old debate. Bigger is better. Size matters. But contrary to all the urban myths, the black man’s biggest sexual organ lies between his ears. And none of this is more evident in the African American male community than when it comes to pornography. I address men here because, honestly, they are 543% more likely to look at porn than women. As of this writing, over 451, 597,025 searches have been conducted since the start of 2013. Yes, that’s only three months! 1 out of every 4 online searches is for pornography. Unfortunately, because the church doesn’t address this issue adequately, many Black Christian men feel like they are alone in their battle to remain porn-free. But statistics have shown that 1 out of every 2 Christian men are addicted to porn (while 1 in 5 Christian women admit porn addiction). 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. Sadly, 2 out of every 3 young men feel that porn is an acceptable way to express their sexuality. And the pulpit isn’t exempt. 51% of pastors in a recent poll admitted that porn was a potential personal temptation. My goal here isn’t to bombard you with statistics. Instead, I want to highlight a major, potentially unaddressed problem in the African American faith community.
The reason porn is so prevalent in the faith community is because of its addictive nature. For years, the Black church has treated this as merely a sin issue, something to be expunged from a person’s life. Maybe it’s time we went a little further. Although it is important to realize that sex addiction is a sin, it is even more important to realize that sex addiction is a disease that needs proper treatment. In his work, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, Dr. Mark Laaser describes the cycle involved with sex addiction. He asserts that frequently sexual addiction progresses from fantasy, to porn, and ultimately leads to masturbation. The former naturally leads to the latter. Sound familiar? It should. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). The task of attempting to treat sexual addiction is to attempt to break this cycle. And, for many, that’s no easy task.
Laaser also asserts that the chemical changes present in sexual addiction mirror drug and alcohol addiction in many ways. In his opinion, it becomes important to treat sexual addiction with the same level of severity. He writes, “Just like alcoholics, sex addicts tell themselves they can quit tomorrow if they want to. They like to think they are in control, but they are not.” Here’s a video that explains the chemical changes in the brain as a result of pornography:
This is a very real issue—even for saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost Christians. So where does that leave Black men? Hopelessly left to our own vices? On the current trajectory, yes. But there’s hope. Psychologist Al Cooper stated that the allure of porn is driven by three engines: affordability, availability, and anonymity. Internet accountability group Covenant Eyes uses the imagery of a three legged stool to paint a word picture of each. Remove one leg and you make the stool much harder to sit on comfortably for someone dealing with a porn addiction. So here are some ways to remove those legs brothers:
1. Remove the Availability
There are tons of internet programs that block certain sites (here’s one). This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how something as simple as putting a great porn filter on your computer can help overcome your addiction. For example, if I were a former alcoholic it might not be a good idea to visit liquor stores or sit in bars on my lunch break. Removing the temptation goes a long way in helping overcome the temptation. That’s why Paul was so adamant when he told the Corinthians church, “Flee!!!!” There’s a desperation associated with that word. The good thing about steadfast resistance is that eventually it will cause the tempter himself, exasperated from his futile attempts, to flee.
2. Increase YourAvailability Let me tell you, there is no way to overcome any addiction apart from God’s Spirit. Human nature drives us toward sin. Everything natural tells us that it feels right. Only the work of God’s Spirit can help us to overcome this temptation.
Jesus tells a story in the Gospels about an unclean spirit leaving a man, returning, and finding him more accessible. The man is “empty and swept out”. So ultimately the spirit brings seven other spirits with it. And Scripture says the last state of that man was worse than he was before. The problem was that this man didn’t replace what left with something (or should I say Someone) else. It’s not enough to remove the temptation. Overcoming any temptation is a three-step process: recognition, removal, and replacement.
Replacement necessitates increasing your availability to the Spirit of God. Finding ourselves empty and swept out in the porn context means those idle moments where we have nothing else to do. Sitting in front of the computer screen. www…(nothing comes to mind). Empty. Swept out. It’s those moments where decisions have to be made. Will I fill that void with my old habit (which gets worse over time)? Or will I become more available to the life-giving Spirit of Christ? The more we yield to the prompting of God’s Spirit, the less we make ourselves susceptible to our flesh. We are encouraged to walk in the Spirit, but that also necessitates making ourselves available to Him.
3. Create Some Accountability
I’m not talking about the false, “How you doings?” we toss around every Sunday before Church. Because honestly, if folks told you how they were really doing, there’d be no need for a service or a sermon. Prayer would become the focus. Hurting people walk in our churches every week, yet church culture teaches them to be “blessed”, “highly favored”, and problem-free. This can’t be any further from the truth of a lived-out Gospel within the community of faith.
When I say accountability, I mean two steps. First, is personal responsibility. Seems like Job was serious about this. This brother made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman. It might not be a covenant with your eyes, but find a way to make yourself personally accountable. The second step is being accountable to others: creating a space with people you trust where you can be real, transparent, and free to share. For men, this is very difficult. Most men hate talking (unless its about sports or other activities of common interest). That is, until they find someone they can trust. Throughout history, men have learned that collective effort is much more productive than compartmentalized, individual effort. Strength in numbers isn’t just a cliche, it’s a reality. When it comes to porn addiction, although it’s hard to stand alone, standing with others who have your back helps immensely. Illustratively, Scripture tells us that a threefold cord is not easily broken. Find some real, honest, brothers who can help in the accountability process.
In closing, I’m not writing this as a theory. In my college days, I had a “stash”. I know the addictive nature of pornography. But I also have experienced the power of God to overcome something that could have eventually led to my spiritual death. I’m not dismissive when it comes to the amount of temptation and stimulation men deal with regularly. But I am certain that the process described above can help overcome any temptation—including porn. If you are dealing with this issue, start with these three steps: Remove its availability, increase your availability (to God’s Spirit), and create yourself some accountability.
There are certain songs that not only embody a particular idea, but also capture for the listener the spirit of its time. So when most of us think of classic 70s disco-funk, our minds often drift to Curtis Mayfield, Sly & The Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, or similar artists. But my mind immediately goes first to this song, the blistering opener from his classic recording, This Is Another Day.
It’s a bit of stretch for me to call this a song from my era, since I was born the year this song was released and didn’t come to appreciate it until I was seven or eight. But given that my parents had the good sense to play edifying music around the house instead of songs like “Lady Marmalade” and “It’s Raining Men,” I learned how to groove and shimmy to this one instead.
And man, I’m glad they did.
Andrae Crouch, eight-time Grammy award-winning artist and gospel music pioneer
One of the things that I love about this song is the use of sonorous contrast. When the intro comes in, sounding all smooth and dangerous and Shaft-like (come on, you know I wasn’t sheltered my whole life), the whole groove is rooted in C# minor, and as all of the wah-wah guitars and percolating percussion and cascading horns come to a crescendo, the melody kicks in – not in its relative major of E, but up a whole step to F# major.
What results (for those of you turned off by the music theory geek speak) is a sense of unexpected discovery that underscores the title. In the middle of a furious musical maelstrom, the melody lands softly onto a pleasant musical bed, like a baby sleeping soundly in the eye of a hurricane. And as the melody winds its way through the chord progression, the musical cues lend a sense of depth and pathos by reinforcing its meaning.
When Andrae and his singers echoed the words of Isaiah 26:3 – You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You – it wasn’t just a pleasant sentiment to be displayed on someone’s desk or refrigerator door. They were fiercely proclaiming Jesus’ promise to supernaturally uphold his children in the midst of life-threatening storms.
So for me as an adult, “Perfect Peace” is no longer just an exercise in nostalgia or an instructive in how to craft a funky tune, though it surely works as both. For me, it’s a reminder to trust God and don an essential piece of His full armor, one that allows me to walk freely in His plans, despite my fear of the unknown. I can put on my headphones and, for at least a few minutes, relax, knowing that God’s got this whole future thing on lock.
So break out your afro wigs and your platform shoes, and then crank up your speakers this classic gospel throwback. You can get it on Amazon MP3 here, and don’t forget to check out this incredible Norwegian cover here.
Fans of political drama certainly have gotten their plates full over the last few years. In addition to award-winning, critically acclaimed series like The Wire and The West Wing, viewers have been treated to healthy doses of political intrigue on the short-lived Political Animals, The Chicago Code, and most recently, Boss, the Kelsey Grammer vehicle.
Into the fray comes Kevin Spacey in the Netflix original series, House of Cards, which debuted last Friday in an experimental format. The early buzz is due to its novelty as the first original series produced for Netflix, but most of the critical acclaim is aimed squarely at Spacey himself for his bracing, arresting performance.
Spacey’s protagonist, Francis Underwood, is the kind of charismatic, calculating, conniving antihero that audiences can’t avert their gaze from, even when he’s doing something as viscerally disturbing as [minor spoiler alert] euthanizing an injured dog. As Underwood, Spacey fills the screen with an endless string of meetings and phone conversations with theWashingtonelite, solving problems, currying favor, and dispensing axioms left and right.
Which is to say, he’s a classic Kevin Spacey character. But there’s another figure that Spacey’s Underwood resembles – that of a pastor. The resemblance grows even clearer during the third of episode of House of Cards, when [again, MINOR SPOILER] Francis Underwood is forced to travel to his home district in South Carolina to address a local tragedy and ends up speaking at a church in the area.
Part of Underwood’s appeal is his habit of breaking the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera and telling the audience his thoughts, which often differ dramatically to whatever he’s just said to another character. So the scene where he does this from the church lectern, where he totally contradicts himself in the middle of an emotionally-charged quasi-sermon, is supposed to highlight Underwood’s depravity by juxtaposing his hypocrisy against the moral uprightness of the church.
Unfortunately, that scene – minus a few Hollywood theatrical touches – plays out in churches all acrossAmericaevery Sunday. Except that in real life, the churches are just as complicit in the charade.
In his blog, Dr. Paul Metzger of Multnomah Biblical Seminary recently contrasted the fervor with which evangelicals tend to oppose evolution with the tacit acceptance they tend to give free-market economics, despite their being two different sides of the same ideological coin (according to Metzger, they’re both about survival of the fittest). This kind of bias creates a cultural blind spot, which invites certain pastors to speak out in favor of intelligent design in the classroom while remaining woefully silent on loopholes in the American tax code that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.
(Then again, maybe we should be grateful for the silence, since some pastors clearly don’t understand the real-world ramifications of certain economic policies. Yes, I’m talking to you, Applebee’s pastor lady.)
The truth is, sometimes pastors make decisions for less-than-Godly reasons, and the faithful in the pews sometimes have trouble discerning when and why. In this scene, Spacey’s Underwood ends up quoting Proverbs 3:5, but it’s clear that his oratory is motivated more by political reasons than by any desire to honor God or share His truth with people.
And this wasn’teven during an election year.
House of Cards gets its name not only from its original British source material, but from the idea that our political process is effective only insomuch as people allow themselves to be shielded from the details of how it works. Otherwise, the facade is pierced and the whole thing comes falling down.
The same can be said about the church. For decades, many of our churches have been places where the primary motivation for showing up is neither worship nor Word, but to ascend the various echelons of social respectability. As such, it became easier and more popular to apply social pressure to overcome secularists who resist the church’s public agenda, rather than genuinely caring about them and allowing the Holy Spirit to use us to break down their defenses through other, non-activist means.
As long as it works, everyone’s fine – but anytime there’s a shift in the prevailing sense of morality, the whole thing falls apart.
The irony is, we revert to these top-down techniques because in many ways, they work. It’s a lot easier to demonize your opponents via press release than it is to invite your political opponent over for dinner and actually listen to what they have to say. Fortunately, people like Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and gay activist Shane Windmeyer have proven that it’s not impossible. But still, it’s the exception to the rule.
After all, Underwood’s Machiavellian machinations don’t just make for good television – they’re compelling because they’re effective. For men and women like Francis Underwood, that’s how things get done in Washington. But it doesn’t have to be this way in the church. It really doesn’t. And even if, as the more cynical among us might argue, it is this way in the church and nothing will change anytime soon, then let’s at least let’s have someone come up with a decent scripted drama about it. And no, the pastor’s-wives-reality-show The Sisterhood doesn’t count.