Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.

Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]

 

 

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

For a while the most popular literature and television programming about black people captured no sense of African consciousness. We’ve been far removed from The Cosby Show which introduced many of my generation to Miriam Makeba or A Different World which introduced us to divesting from businesses that supported apartheid in South Africa. Those shows and others of the late 80s to early 90s taught my generation that we don’t only have a history in Africa but our actions affect our present and future connection with the continent. But since then we have slipped out of the realm of cultivating such an understanding of our connection to the continent. For the last decade or so, television programming about black people has been driven by self-interestedness over communal values. There has been nothing to remind us of our descendants and ancestors. On the literary front, we were also hard-pressed to get beyond the Zanes and the Steve Harveys of the world. But recently there has been an uprising of African narratives from African-born writers and creators that is breathing a breath of fresh air on literature and on-air/online programming.

We see its presence in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of the novel “Americanah” which tells the story Ifemelu, a young woman who journeys from Nigeria to America and back again. It is primarily a love story but it also acknowledges the cultural differences between American black people and non-American black people. Ifemelu captures and critiques these differences on her blog and Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog posts to break up the narrative arc of the book. Though these blog posts are the work of a fictional character they resonate as fact among African and African American alike. Adichie also has Ifemelu return to Nigeria where she comes to grips with the ways that America has changed her and also the ways in which Nigeria in particular and Africa in general will always be a home to her despite the ways in which she has fallen out of love with it. African-American readers of “Americanah” are forced to take a look at the ways in which American culture influences their perceptions of African people and question the relational disconnect between American and non-American blacks. “Americanah” is at the top of many books lists and is rumored to be optioned for a screenplay starring Luptia Nyong’o as Ifemelu. Adichie’s earlier novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which tells the story of the effects of the Nigerian-Biafran War through the eyes of five different characters, is now a full-length feature film and is currently being screened in major cities. The film features an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.

Teju Cole is also a part of Africa’s uprising in American literature. Nigerian-American Cole was born in the US, raised in Nigeria until the age of 17 and came back to the states. A Distinguised Writer in Residence at Bard College and a regular writer for publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, he recently released his novel “Every Day is for the Thief” in the US–it was published in Nigeria in 2007. The novel tells the story of a young man revisiting Nigeria and facing some of the less beautiful aspects of life in Africa, such as watching the audacious Nigerian scammers in action—you know, the ones who e-mail many of us claiming we will inherit millions if we respond to their message. Cole’s is a less glamorous account of revisiting the continent, but he also holds that in tension with the fact the he believes Nigeria is “excessively exciting” to the point of being overwhelming. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish Cole said, “But for me, personally, I have not actually really considered seriously living in Nigeria full time. This is my home here [New York and the United States], and this is the place that allows me to do the work that I do…I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places, and to go to Nigeria often. And so I feel close enough to the things happening there without needing to live there.” This quote captures the beauty of Cole’s work which banks on both his lived experience in Nigeria and life as an Nigerian-American writer trying to maintain some semblance of a connection. His next book will be a non-fiction narrative on Lagos.

Finally the most recent example of Africa’s uprising in American literature and entertainment is the new web series “An African City.” Created by Ghanaian-American Nicole Amarteifio, the series follows five young African women who move to Ghana after educational and professional stints in America and Europe. The show is billed as Ghana’s answer to “Sex and the City” but it is actually smarter than SATC. The characters don’t just navigate the sexual politics that SATC was famous for, they launch into the deep of socio-economic politics on the continent. The show touches on the plight of the underdeveloped countries, the people who hold the power in such countries—mostly men, and the premium placed on the authentic African woman over the African woman who has been corrupted by Western ways. It branches out from self-interest to communal concern. The series also provides viewers with a look at the landscape of Accra, a region that is reaching toward urban metropolis status in the midst of strong rural roots. Shots of dirt roads lined with shacks where vendors sells their wares and old Toyotas putter down the streets offset the young women’s appetite for cosmopolitan fare and fashion. The show balances inherited American sensibilities with ingrained African pride with style and grace within each 11-15 minute webisode.

And lest I be remiss there is Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o. Born in Mexico City and raised primarily in Kenya, she stole our hearts in her first major acting role as Patsy in “12 Years a Slave.” She also steals our hearts every time she appears on a red carpet, gave an awards acceptance speech, or appeared on the cover of or in the pages of a magazine. Her beauty is being celebrated by many–and it isn’t limited to the fashion and beauty industries. Nyong’o is blazing the trails that supermodel Alek Wek set for African women and expanding dominant views of what is beautiful. But it is not just Nyong’o’s beauty that is captivating, it is her    humble spirit and intelligence that is reminding the world that Africa is a force to be reckoned with.

Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Amarteifio, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more African-born actresses and actors, producers, writers and other creative types are broadening American understanding about Africa and its people. They are also expanding the African-American consciousness on Africa. We can only hope that this is truly the  start of a beautiful relationship that goes from this generation beyond.

 

 

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

By Sederia Gray  [email protected]

AUSTIN, Texas–South by Southwest, known for its music festival and hailed as one of the most well-attended gatherings in the world, has introduced the topic of faith into its social impact series.

Through 10 faith-based sessions held on March 12-13, topics at the mass meetup in Austin, Texas, included faith in film, faith in the workplace, pride in interfaith communities, sacred activists: spirituality and resistance, and finding faith in digital games.

Also new this year — #OHUBHouse, part of the three-year-old Opportunity Hub initiative to bring black and Latino HBCU students to SXSW through a program called [email protected] The inclusion-focused #OHUBHouse system organized four days of programming for students of color from more than 60 colleges and universities to network with top leaders in the tech industry.

The conference, which took place March 9-17, typically draws more than 300,000 attendees and creates opportunity for participants to exchange diverse thoughts. Advocates and adversaries express their opinions on issues such as inclusivity, diversity and innovation. The faith-related sessions were no different.

The focus of the new sessions was the “intersection and impact of faith in culture, technology, and entertainment,” according to SXSW materials.

Hip-hop artist Jasiri X, who spoke on a panel about spirituality and resistance, focused on advocacy that is driven by faith. He and other panelists shared how their faith influences their community activism.

NASA scientist Dr. Jennifer Wiseman and the Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, a theologian and biologist, explored biblical interpretations of life in an ancient, evolving universe in a session about life emerging in an ancient universe. They also discussed how faith and science can be incorporated into understandings about the origins of life.

Mia Parton, a panelist at a session on pride and interfaith communities, said SXSW is good at integrating society and communities.

Mia Parton Community Activist, President & CEO, Aeparmia Engineering

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

They added they were excited to experience faith at SXSW as they learned through a diverse group of experts and advocates. Conference organizers touted the new track as a way to remind people that faith and spirituality can be part of all aspects of people’s lives.

“I love that SXSW gave me the opportunity to speak and to a lot of other people as well,” Parton said. “I don’t know how SXSW does it, but I do know that they did an amazing job.”

 

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs  [email protected]

Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ did it. Virginia’s Alfred Street Baptist Church did it too. And even in Memphis at New Direction Christian Church and in Los Angeles at Hill City Church, the pastors approved of it. 

What is “it”? Buying out theaters for screenings of Black Panther, the first superhero movie in recent memory that features an all-Black cast, a Black director, Black stylists and makeup artists, a Black soundtrack, and a big budget, pro-Black piece of the Marvel universe. No, it does not carry the overt religious message of The Passion of the Christ, but church leaders say a culturally positive superhero story can be a boon for the faithful.

 “This is mind-altering,” says Pastor Otis Moss III, the senior pastor of Trinity, a church that embraces spiritual discussions after major movie events. Moss’ church purchased 1,200 tickets to the movie – the equivalent of about seven theaters. “It’s important for the ‘family’ to see it together,” he says. He even is working on a study guide for Black Panther.

“People are truly excited to witness Africa viewed not as a struggling, destructive, painful continent, but to see Africa through the lens of African-centered eyes,” Moss says.

The moment is historic, and to hear the actors tell it, spiritual too.

By all measures, Black Panther is on track to exceed most advance ticket sales for big-budget films opening on President’s Day weekend as city after city sells out multiple theaters well in advance. Early estimates from Imax and Fandango placed opening ticket sales around $165 million before a single theater even showed the Ryan Coogler-directed film.

Churches play a big part in this economic engine. With congregations large and small buying out one to 10 theaters and watching the film with the “family,” sales are skyrocketing. The trend is clear. By encouraging members to watch the film in their finest African dress, and by also creating study guides and film talks to engage members, the body of Christ is embracing and anchoring the largest cultural moment of 2018.

This is the stuff a progressive Black church can get behind.

Moss, who has collected comic books since he was 10, can spout out the history of Black Panther and is fascinated with how the spirit of the king in this tale can transfer from person to person, but can only live within a person who has lived a life worthy of the spiritual possession. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. From a purely artistic standpoint, Moss shares this admiration of comic book storytelling and illustration with his children and encourages his congregation to use movies such as this one to help envision a just future and a world where Black power is embraced.

“I had decided (about the screening) when I saw the trailer months ago,” says Moss, who is uniquely positioned to discuss movies and spirituality because he studied cinematography in college and very nearly went to grad school for it. He points out that Superman was originally a superhero for Jews, and the X-Men were originally created to embrace the differing ideas of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Black Panther gives historians and spiritualists a lot to decipher.

 “Our study guide will talk about the real Wakanda: ancient Egypt and ancient Ethiopia, Timbuktu, great Zimbabwe,” Moss explains. “All these incredible African nations we were not taught about in school and the African origins of Christianity and Judaism and its connection to Islam. The Black Panther gives us a springboard to lift off the lid about racism and colonization.”

Trinity bought out eight theaters in a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. When members arrive, they will be greeted by drummers, photographers, and a festive, celebratory atmosphere.

Leaders at Alfred Street Baptist bought out 885 seats–or around six screenings–at a theater near the church with three staggered start times.

Like Trinity, this is not Alfred Street’s first movie rodeo. But unlike Trinity, Black Panther is intensely personal to the congregation, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley says. That’s because member Jesse Holland was the writer commissioned to pen the Marvel accompanying book, “Who Is The Black Panther?”

“If there is anything worth, as a family of faith, us to go and watchwe purchase the theater,” Wesley explains. “Jesse Holland is a member of our church … That made it even easier for us to support it. He will be there to give commentary. He’ll be leading our Faith and Film series. We thought this was a great way [to support] given the magnitude of the film.”

 Alfred Street plans to gather in small groups for discussion afterward. And the pastor, who has a 10-year-old who will attend the screening, also is using it as a way to further connect with the kids. “It keeps church relevant,” he adds and laughs when describing his outfit for the event. He will definitely be “daishiki’d up,” he says.

“If the church only deals with stuff that was in the Bible, we would have no relevance in the world,” Wesley says. “Our mission is not to sit around and have prayer meetings and read the Bible. Members are going to see it and why don’t we see it as a family together.”

Many other churches would seem to agree judging from the large number of Black Panther screening Facebook invites swarming social media. Everyone is going to see it.

At New Direction Church, church leader Dr. Stacy L. Spencer hopes the men get some uplift from it, as a way to counter the effect of Black men being killed by police.

“Young men are inundated day in and day out with negative images and it’s emotionally castrating to them,” says Spencer, whose four-campus ministry has helped more than 25,000 people. “There has been a desert as it relates to a cultural icon, a superhero that young Black kids can rally around… To take young people to a movie and to imagine us as strong, to imagine us as heroic is a spiritual B-12 shot, a cultural B-12 shot… They can be heroes as well.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Forbes and Essence. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two young sons who, sadly, are a wee bit too young for Wakanda part one. But for part two, they’ll be ready.

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr is a force to be reckoned with.

Known for her chart-topping single Greater Is Coming, Carr is also a Grammy-nominated and Stellar Award-winning gospel artist, minister, and songwriter who unapologetically proclaims her love for Christ. She walks boldly and proudly in her calling and encourages others to do the same.

Carr began singing at the tender age of 5 and was called to preach at 13. In a short amount of time, Carr has garnered both national and international reach: a Billboard No. 1 Top Gospel Album (The Life Project) and No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart and No. 1 on the Gospel Digital Song chart for You’re Bigger. The song also peaked at No. 33 on the Adult R&B Radio Airplay chart. Her audience rapidly grew, landing her collaborations with gospel legends Shirley Caesar and Dorothy Norwood and performances on BET’s Joyful Noise and TV One’s Triumph Awards. Recognized by Jet magazine as “One of the Top Ten Faces You Need to Know” and included in Ebony’s Power 100 of the most influential people, she is well beyond her years and a true inspiration for today’s youth.

Her new single, You Will Win, is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Her words of wisdom remind us that with God and positive people in our life all things are truly possible.

Urban Faith: How is your upcoming album different from your other projects?

Jekalyn Carr: With each assignment God gives us we should go from faith to faith and glory to glory, and this album is full of inspiration. I’m excited for the people of God to be changed and inspired.

Urban Faith: How have your parents inspired your career?

Jekalyn Carr: My ministry is built on my relationship with Jesus and my parents made sure that they protected my gift. They made sure to surround me with people who instill me with values that push me into my destiny.

Urban Faith: Adding author and actress to your already amazing accomplishments, at 20 years old are you excited to share your forthcoming book You Will Win and new album One Nation Under God? When will your book and album be released?

Jekalyn Carr: In January 2018, my book and album will be released. I share tips on how to win. At the end of the day, we are declaring it and speaking it but we must also be thinking like a winner, talking like a winner, and connected to winners. You can’t say you want to win and you are connected to people who look defeated or are defeated. You have to make sure you connect to people who have overcome. Whatever giant you face in your life, this book will help you. It is time for the people of God to take our victory title back. It’s time for us to declare our true identity and that’s a champion.

Urban Faith: Can you talk about your involvement in the OWN TV show Greenleaf?

Jekalyn Carr: Yes, I had a lot of fun and was blessed for the opportunity. My episode premiered on September 6. My Dad also produced a song entitled Hold Me Close and it is now available on the Greenleaf soundtrack.

Urban Faith: When you think of the word “success,” what comes to mind?

Jekalyn Carr: When I think of the word “success,” I do not simply minister because I have the skillset to, but I want to see people prosper and see the fruit behind my labor by hearing how blessed people are through testimonies. That is my definition of success.

Urban Faith: How do you prepare for your day with having a busy schedule?

Jeklayn Carr: With a busy schedule, I start my morning by prayer and declaring positivity over my day.

Urban Faith: In the pursuit of our calling, sometimes we find ourselves drained because we lack balance. How do you find time to find time to take care of yourself and what do you like to do for fun?

Jekalyn Carr: I take time to have fun and relax. I enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with family, getting my hair and nails done.

Urban Faith: What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t discovered their purpose or is afraid to step out on faith?

Jekalyn Carr: There is a reason God has equipped you with your gift. There are people who are in need of your gift. That’s why it important to step out and do what God has designed you to do. You will find that as long as you are operating outside of your purpose, you are just functioning. When you operate in purpose, you will prosper and want people to be transformed because of your gift. Whether your gift is a preacher, a doctor, a teacher or athlete, you can’t afford to sit down on what God has placed on the inside of you. Ask God for the strength to allow your gift to be activated but also ask for boldness so you can walk into it and be successful in it.

To learn more about Jekalyn Carr, visit her website www.myjekalyncarr.net or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

15 Questions for Success: Mike Smoke

15 Questions for Success: Mike Smoke

Recently, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series provides us with their road map to success and answers questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

Our latest installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Mike Smoke, Second Vice President at Northern Trust Bank . Check out what Mike has to say about faith and work below:

 

1. When people ask you what you do, how do you answer that?

I work in the Wealth Management department at a bank downtown, I ensure my ultra-high net worth clients have all the information and resources they need to manage their wealth.

2. When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

My grandmom, simply because she completed successfully the job that was before her, raising her children, having a successful career herself, and being a pillar in the family.

 

3. What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

My faith in God gives me the confidence to approach my job and give it all I’ve got. My faith helps me overcome challenging times, reminding me that there are bigger problems in this world, and helps me refocus to come to solutions faster.

4. What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

Emails, emails and more emails.

 

5. What are you world-class at that people might not realize?

I am in the people business, so understanding people, reading people to some degree, being high in emotional intelligence is something I consider essential for this role.

 

6. How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?

I think greater than my personality type, understanding who I am and what I bring to the table has helped me in many areas of my life. Understanding who I am at the core, has helped me refocus when something temporarily throws me off my center. I can always go back to center, since I have a strong sense of who I am and who I aspire to be.

 

7. What do you most love about what you do?

I enjoy helping people, I enjoy solving problems, and thinking big picture about solutions.

 

8. What should someone ask to determine their passion?

What activity do you do that makes you feel alive? What, when you do it, makes you feel like you have superpowers?

 

9. How do you define success?

To me, success is feeling good about what you do, from the core of one’s being.

 

10. What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

Authenticity. Being true to who you are and not feeling moved off that block.

 

11. If you instantly lost everything, what steps would you take to become successful again?

I would rebuild from the place of what’s important to me. Then take baby steps until what I lost is recovered.

 

12. How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Since college, almost every day I write down my daily “TDL”—to do list. I only list 2-5 things, but these things are the big gains that I wish to accomplish by the end of the day. It helps me focus on what really matters.

 

13. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Listen to your gut and stay consistent at the gym .

 

14. What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

How to Win Friends and Influence People – my favorite.

 

15. What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?

Research, research, research. Find peace within, then LEAP.

 

#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

I have been working in the city of Houston since 2012 and in my five years of living in the state of Texas I never experienced a “real” hurricane making landfall—until Harvey. What our city experienced was something much more than any of us could have imagined, as so many homes, vehicles, businesses, churches, and lives were lost.

For a bustling city of over 7 million people, Harvey seemed to freeze time as access to every major highway and feeder road was restricted by flood waters. Many families spent days in their homes unable to venture beyond their subdivisions for groceries, medication, or even to help other friends and loved ones in need.

Growing up on the East Coast, I was accustomed to the challenges of snowstorms and blizzards, but I had never experienced a natural disaster that seemed to devastate so many people so quickly. Hurricane Harvey, however, did more than simply usher in a season of destruction and devastation for the city.

Disaster seemingly brings the best and worse out of people, and while I saw a few reports of people taking advantage of the misfortune of others, the sense of love and camaraderie that I witnessed among our people in the aftermath of Harvey was overwhelming. In a season of boiling racial tension, highlighted by the acts of terrorism in Charlottesville, it was refreshing to be in Southeast Texas and watch people of all races, ages and economic backgrounds work together for the benefit of the community.

For a workaholic like myself, Harvey literally slowed me down long enough to reflect on life, God, and the needs of my community.

As our city weathered the storm, I was reminded of the story of Job, a man of God who survived a storm both in his personal life and physically (Job 38:1). As I revisited the text, I was amazed at some of the parallels I saw between Job’s storm experience and our own modern-day experience here in Houston. And, as the storm continued I gleaned lessons that I would like to share with the readers of Urban Faith.

Lesson 1: Skepticism Surfaces In The Storm

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ 10 He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:9-10)

Storms never just affect us.

In Job’s case, everything he lost as a result of this “test”—his livestock, servants, and children—Job’s wife lost as well. In this text, she is grieving and her statements to Job suggest that she has a knowledge and maybe even a relationship with God. However, in the face of the loss and hurt, she is feeling her words communicate a distrust or a frustration for this God that Job seemed to cling so closely to.

As I followed social media during Hurricane Harvey, one of my major frustrations surrounded the ways in which people, especially those who were not in Houston during the storm, began to call out churches and pastors in the city for not responding to the crisis in a way that they deemed appropriate. The constant refrain seemed to be, “How could these churches and pastors who live off the offerings and donations of the people of the city be doing NOTHING to help them?”

As a staff clergy member of a larger primarily African American congregation in Houston, it was disheartening reading these posts and hearing the chatter of the skeptics in the crowd. This was especially difficult while being aware of knowing the planning, research, partnerships, and projects our own staff was working on behind the scenes to implement when it was safe to travel back to our building and re-open it.

Storms, disaster, and loss have a way of bringing out the skeptics- those looking for a reason to affirm their distrust for God and the institutions that serve in God’s name. The key is knowing the heart of God (and those who serve God) and remembering that temporary silence is not always an indication of apathy. Instead, it may be conduit to strategizing how to be most effective in the face of the storm.

Check back soon for Part 2 and more lessons on what #HarveyTaughtMe from Dr. Mitchell.

 

 

Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

It’s no secret that Sunday morning is often referred to as the most segregated day of the week, when Christians of all races come together to worship among their ethnic peers. However, do most Christians prefer to fellowship this way, even in the most segregated areas in America?

A few weeks ago, 24/7 Wall Street released a list of the most segregated cities in America. Detroit topped the list, which included locales such as Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, DC, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Birmingham.

For many churchgoers, segregated congregations in these areas aren’t ideal, but are simply a matter of comfort.

Anisha Howlett, a sales professional who lives in Farmington HiIls (a predominantly white suburb of Detroit), attends The River-New Wine Glory Ministries, a Pentecostal church in Southfield, Michigan. “As of right now, my church is predominantly black; however, our vision is growing and we encourage and welcome people from all walks of life to join our church,” Howlett says.

“We desire having diversity in the church because it reflects the kingdom and culture of heaven. We’ve had speakers from all over the world visit us [from countries] such as India and Italy. We also have a group of Hispanics who began attending our church last year, and we have integrated a sound system for them to listen during services as their interpreter translates to them in Spanish.”

Howlett says that it’s human nature to feel more comfortable around your own race, but notes that it’s not Biblical to confine our religious activity to ethnic groups. She also explains that the Christian church must make an effort to reflect the true body of Christ. She enjoys connecting with people from other races and encourages the greater community to do the same.

“We should want to worship with other Christians who are a different race, Howlett says. “We are spirit beings with a natural body but not bound to our own skin color. To bring heaven on earth, we must begin to integrate races in the church. Worship besides your white friend. Worship besides your black friend. The church won’t be as effective to the world (salt & light) until churches become multi-cultural which resembles the kingdom of God.”

Linda Madison, a media relations strategist in the DMV area prefers multicultural churches that focus on Christian fellowship and true reflection of Christ’s outgoing and boundless love. Her love experiences living on the west and east coasts have allowed her to experience very different communities.

“I live in a predominately African-American community in Prince George’s County, Maryland, yet I work, in a very diverse office,” Madison says. “When I lived in Los Angeles some 20 years ago, I attended Church on the Way, pastored by Jack Hayford who is white and the church was multi-racial.”

Madison is not a fan of racially segregated churches, calling them “not okay.”

“The racial makeup of a church is important to me as long as we are all there for a common goal, which is to serve the Lord,” she says.

Madison believes race shouldn’t matter for Believers who are coming to serve God. “In Jesus’ eyes there were only two factions: Jews and Gentiles. Even so, His charge to us, His people, was to love each other as we love ourselves.”

Ultimately, many Christians follow the example of their leadership when welcoming believers of all races and ethnicities to worship together. However, with today’s influx of digital platforms, it’s easy to find Christians of various races listening to the same sermon on their phone or computers, but sharing a pew makes a more powerful statement of coming together as a Church.

“I think it begins with the Pastors to make sure they’re encouraging diversity in their church,” Howlett suggests. “They must be loving on all walks of life. They must preach against sin such as racism. Preach the unadulterated Word of God — the words of Jesus — and it’ll draw all men to your church.”

Here are a few verses to reflect on concerning unity within the Church:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17: 20-21

 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1: 10

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:25-28

 “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Psalms 86:9 KJV

Black clergy call for churches to foster healing in the aftermath of Charlottesville

Black clergy call for churches to foster healing in the aftermath of Charlottesville

(RNS) A coalition of African-American clergy is calling on churches to serve as sacred spaces for healing in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Va., and as the nation grapples with racism and other bigotry.

“We urge churches across the country to create safe and sacred spaces for prayer, healing, dialogue and honest conversations about the history and reality of racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and white supremacy in this nation,” the black clergy said in a Friday (Aug. 18) statement.

“Our youth and young adults especially need a place to process this assault on their being and the very soul of this nation.”

The group, which spearheaded the first-ever “African American Clergy Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill a month ago, also denounced the hatred displayed recently in Charlottesville and the “subsequent inflammatory and detestable words of President Donald Trump supporting the hateful actions of the KKK, Nazis and white supremacist groups.”

The 10 initial signatories include leaders of the National African American Clergy Network, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative and the National Council of Churches, as well as officials of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ.

The black clergy called on Congress, denominational leaders, and particularly white evangelical church leaders to speak out against the “evil” of white supremacy.

They also took issue with President Trump’s assertion that “many sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.

Declaring, “No, Mr. President. There are not many sides,” the group questioned his contention that “fine people” were among both sides in the protests that turned violent and left three people dead.

“These ‘fine’ people intimidated churchgoers, attacked clergy and threw bottles from the tops of steps into the crowd of counter protesters — those who were standing against their hatred, bigotry and white supremacist values,”  the online statement said.

On July 18, members of the clergy group protested the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts affecting programs including food stamps and Meals on Wheels; 16 people were arrested. A week later they joined others in a protest of the Senate’s unsuccessful efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; 31 people were arrested.

The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune who drafted the statement, said the group plans to return to Capitol Hill in September to urge members of Congress to be more outspoken against white supremacy. The clergy also plan to visit five states represented by Congress members who hold key roles in considering the proposed budget.

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.

Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.

Then you work all day, come home, eat something, unwind, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.

The Drum Major Instinct

As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”

It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.

When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This is our purpose.

Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?

Lyle’s Story

Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.

When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.

Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.

One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”

Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.

She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”

It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.

Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.

It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.

We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.

Rev. Al Sharpton’s thousand-minister march gains steam after Charlottesville

Rev. Al Sharpton’s thousand-minister march gains steam after Charlottesville

(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton says his thousand-minister march is all the more urgent now than when he began planning it months ago.

The Pentecostal-turned-Baptist minister says the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., has sparked more interest and a greater need for clergy of many faiths to speak up at the march set for Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The march will begin at the Washington memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and end at Justice Department offices to protest increased hate crimes, discrimination and mass incarceration.

The 62-year-old president of the National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, talked with RNS about his plans. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you sum up your reaction to the events of Charlottesville over the weekend?

Charlottesville was a very startling and repulsive reminder to us of the issue of hate and the issue of racism and anti-Semitism that is still alive and practiced in the country. It seems now to have been revived and, in many ways, given moral equivalency with those that protested by the president of the United States. We need a president that’s clear that anti-Semitism and hatred and the kind of public display of bigotry that we saw is unacceptable.

How do faith leaders need to respond to President Trump’s series of comments about the violence in Charlottesville?

We had already called for 1,000 ministers of all faiths — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim — to meet at King’s memorial and march to the Justice Department, saying we do not want to see the moral authority of Dr. King’s dream undermined no matter who the president. And we’ve had several hundred ministers already sign. After Charlottesville happened — and then the president’s reaction — it has intensified and we’re getting calls from all kinds of ministers from all faiths saying we must make a statement.

Our hope is that when you looked at those Nazis carrying torches talking about “You will not replace us,” we can contrast that with rabbis linking arms with Baptist ministers and Muslims marching in the spirit of Dr. King. They went to Robert E. Lee’s monument. We’re going to King’s monument and marching to the Justice Department. I heard growing up that the best way to expose a dirty glass is put a clean glass next to it. Faith leaders must stand up and show a dignified, nonviolent way.

Have your plans for the Ministers March for Justice changed in light of Charlottesville, whether in numbers or logistics or security?

Our security concerns have grown ’cause we always now have to be concerned about whether some people will try and do a counter thing — I’m talking about from the right. I get up every day facing death threats. That’s normal when you’re high-profile. So our security concerns increase although we’ve had no direct threats.

As I’ve talked to a lot of the ministers that have called and joined in now, a lot of them said that, yes, we always agreed with the idea of a march but I think we didn’t understand the urgency until we saw that footage on Saturday night. I think what that has done is brought back, into everyone’s living room, why we need to keep marching. This is much worse than we thought in terms of a spirit of hate and immorality.

How does this march compare to some of the previous ones you were involved in – including the march just before the Trump inauguration and the one on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?

This one is for faith leaders. We’ve only asked for ministers. Now, others might come but it will be led by — and the program will be — rabbis, clergy members of the various parts of Christendom, Muslims and Hindus. Because we want to make a statement that hundreds of faith leaders came to Washington on the day of Dr. King’s dream. That is a big difference from us bringing tens of thousands of people —  we want to make a clear statement from the moral and the faith leaders of this country.

Don’t forget Dr. King’s organization was named the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was very specific that it was religious-based and National Action Network is that as well. We’ve not heard from the faith community in a very public, united way and that’s the difference this march is.

What does it say to you about where we are as a country, or about its people of faith, that ministers are going to gather this way?

It gives hope that there are people that are willing to stand up. We’ve gone through rough periods in our history before and faith leaders lead us through. What do we remember about the ’60s? We remember when Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel joined Dr. King in Selma. We remember how it was a rabbi that was the speaker right before Dr. King at the March on Washington. When we all started coming together and raised the high moral questions, it set the climate for change. And you will always have other things going on, but when people know that those whom they go to on their Sabbath to get guidance are standing up, it brings it to another dimension. And I think it is extremely important that we do this, particularly at this time.

What do you think clergy and other people of faith should be doing at this time beyond sermons and marches?

I think that they’ve got to get into the community. They’ve got to get into the schools. They’ve got to get into the local gatherings, the town halls, the planning board meetings. And we’ve got to beat back this spirit of hate. We’ve got to go and do the work. Faith without works is a dead thing, the Bible says. And I want to lay that challenge out at the march: We’ve got to come off our pulpits and out of our cathedrals and save the soul of this nation.

Copyright 2017 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

The Nielsen company is most widely known as the company that measures television ratings, but it also wields its considerable research apparatus in the realm of popular music. Recently, its annual mid-year report made headlines around the blogosphere after it revealed that for the first time, more people listened to the combined genres of R&B and hip-hop than any other musical form, dethroning rock’s position at the top.

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone who’s been paying much attention, because hip-hop music and culture has been steadily moving closer and closer toward the center of American culture for decades now. Nineties rap icons Dr. Dre and Jay-Z have become multimedia moguls with their own product lines and exclusive platforms, and the house band for NBC’s flagship late-night TV show is legendary Philly hip-hop band The Roots, whose leading men Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter helped produce the biggest smash hit Broadway recording in decades.

Reluctant to Adapt

Hip-hop has long been a mainstream form of musical expression.

And since evangelical churches are known for adopting trends and idolizing the notion of relevance, it seems telling that, outside of a few counter examples, very few churches are intentionally embracing hip-hop as a form of worship music.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Chief among them is a centering of whiteness and white cultural norms. Even for people who do not hold any active racial animus in their conscious thoughts (and who would therefore resist the term racist as a self-descriptor), there are still both conscious and subconscious ways that the tastes, priorities and experiences of people of color are marginalized or overlooked in favor of a “mainstream” aesthetic that is often white and middle class. Therefore, most white megachurches have worship bands that sound more like U2 than they do Lecrae, even though in 2017 people tend to listen more to the latter than the former.

But white privilege doesn’t explain the reluctance that many Black churches and church leaders demonstrate in their interactions with hip-hop culture. While gospel music has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by hip-hop music and culture (through trailblazing artists like Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett), there are still plenty of Black congregations where the attitude communicated by both leaders and laity is that it’s not holy if it doesn’t have a choir or a Hammond B-3 organ. Though the cultural signifiers are different, there’s still a sense of cultural superiority and a reluctance to get outside of it.

Missing the Point

In my conversations with White pastors and worship leaders, there’s also an expressed sense of apprehension about engaging with hip-hop for fear of doing it wrong; those who do it poorly are rightly accused of disrespecting the artform, and those who do it too well open themselves to accusations of cultural appropriation. Often I hear from pastors who feel like it’s fine for a church to embrace hip-hop, but only if hip-hop is an authentic cultural value of their congregation. When I hear that, I feel like what they’re telling me is, “Sure, you should do hip-hop, because you’re Black and you grew up with it. But my church doesn’t have many Black people.”

This also misses the point somewhat, because what that Nielsen report tells us is that hip-hop music (and the culture surrounding it) is no longer just the domain of a minority subculture. It is a huge part of mainstream popular culture, and as it relates to contemporary music, it is the dominant culture. When Beyonce drops an album, it’s news. After 2016’s Lemonade, even middle-aged white comedians were conversant enough to make jokes about “Becky with the good hair.”

At this point, it seems like most churches end up in one of four quadrants. When it comes to hip-hop, they either:

  • Ignore it
  • Denounce it
  • Tentatively embrace it
  • Go all out in support of it

It’s been my experience that most churches take option No. 1, while some more reactionary churches end up in option No. 2 (mostly out of fear and ignorance). And the few churches I know of that take option No. 4 do so because they’re in multicultural urban contexts (like colleges, military bases or athlete fellowships) where hip-hop is lingua franca.

I think the best move is No. 3—a tentative embrace.

Alternatives and Solutions

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that every church needs to start incorporating trap beats, turntables and air horns into their worship services. It’s still important to maintain a sense of reverence and holiness.

However, what I think is true is that any pastor or church leader who is concerned about reaching people under 40 needs to have at least a basic grasp of certain aspects of hip-hop culture, and—more importantly—recognize that these artifacts are a major part of just how things are today. It could involve allowing the worship leader to experiment with using hip-hop beats as part of the instrumentation.

It might involve inviting local or regional (or, if you have the budget, national) hip-hop artists. It might be learning to incorporate certain hip-hop terms, slogans or mannerisms. (In one overwhelmingly white church, as a guest worship leader I led a call-and-response portion of a song where, instead of saying “amen,” the crowd was encouraged to chant “yes, yes, y’all.”)

Is this risky? Sure. Will there be times when it looks like God’s people are trying too hard to be cool? Probably. Will you make mistakes and offend people along the way? Almost certainly.

But the alternatives are also risky.

A lot of time what I hear from people in their protests of hip-hop is criticism of the rampant misogyny and consumerism, so they feel like their only option is to denounce it. But we also have a ton of consumerism and misogyny in the White House; that doesn’t mean we have to oppose the concept of the Executive Branch. The truth is, pastors should be able to help their people understand and reject the sinful elements in any culture, but you can only really do that well if you can also highlight the honorable elements. If pastors and other church leaders consistently fail in that process, they inadvertently deliver the message that they are out of touch and their judgment is not to be trusted.

And whether they fail consistently, or they just never even try in the first place, the net effect is the same—young people are driven away from the church. Spoiler alert: Jesus had something to say about people who cause others to stumble, and it’s not good.

So this opportunity represents a clear way forward in engaging generations to come with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s hope that God raises up a generation of leaders who are up to the challenge.

 

‘Greenleaf’ Returns Tuesday with All-New Episodes

‘Greenleaf’ Returns Tuesday with All-New Episodes

Finally! The wait is almost over.

Many of us were disappointed last spring when we discovered “Greenleaf” was not returning for three months. However, the OWN series’ two-night, mid-season premiere finally begins August 15 at 10 p.m. ET. “Greenleaf” was also renewed for season three, according to Variety and Deadline.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’d like to give you a brief recap on what you’ve been missing. (Caution: Spoilers ahead, for those of you who’d like to watch the previous episodes ahead of next week’s premiere.)

“Greenleaf” tells the story of an affluent Black family led by the bishop of the fictional Memphis mega church Calvary, but viewers soon learn that this Christian family is anything but perfect. Members of the Greenleaf family include Bishop Greenleaf, Lady Mae Greenleaf, their four children Grace, Charity, Faith (deceased), Jacob, and grandchildren.

So far, Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 have provided viewers with a front-row seat to the lies told by the Greenleaf clan and allies to cover up sexual and emotional abuse, infidelity, and corruption.

During Season 1, Grace finds her way back to her home and church in Memphis after avoiding both her family and the spiritual call to be a leader in the church for years. Viewers have witnessed Grace’s journey in serving as a catalyst for seeking justice on behalf of her sister Faith who was molested by their Uncle Mac and commits suicide as a result of the trauma. And, as the first season continues to unfold, viewers learn that there are, in fact, other girls who experience the same trauma at the hands of Uncle Mac.

The Greenleafs’ son Jacob and his wife Kerissa are working on their strained marriage after Jacob’s affair in Season 1. He also fights to be heard and becomes frustrated with being overlooked by his family.

To add fuel to the fire, Jacob makes the decision to leave Calvary to become an associate pastor at his family’s competition church Triumph, but he soon discovers the lead pastor, Basie Skanks, has a gambling problem and uses Triumph’s money to fund his habit.

Jacob hides the “church meetings” (aka poker games) from his wife but she is not completely clueless. Nonetheless, Jacob is not pleased with the way Basie handles his church affairs and does not want to be associated with the pastor. So, Jacob offers to pay off the debt of Triumph’s second location, in exchange for him becoming the senior pastor of the church, with no connection with Basie and the original Triumph location.

On the other hand, Charity, the Greenleaf’s third daughter, is working on her music career, gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, and her husband Kevin opened up about being attracted to men. Even after Kevin decides to go to counseling and work through his issues in order for their marriage to move forward, Charity files for divorce.

After Charity receives a call from her music producer to travel out of town and record music with a group, she asks her ex-husband to watch their son. However, once Kevin finds himself alone with the family’s attorney, Aaron, whom he finds attractive. By the way, Charity is also attracted to her music producer.

The Greenleaf family often tries to sweep issues under the rug but the fire continues to grow and we all want answers. Will Charity date her music producer? Will Kevin date Aaron? Will Grace find justice and finally have Uncle Mac put in jail? Will Jacob get Triumph 2?

“Greenleaf” does an excellent job at highlighting the challenges that face a pastor and his family, and sheds lights on issues in the black church such as homosexuality and mental illness.

And, although many of these issues are embellished a bit for the sake of television, it is important for Christians to realize that even ministry leaders are not exempt from trials and tribulations any more than their members. I suppose we’ll all have to stay tuned to see what’s in store for Calvary and the Greenleaf clan.

 

 

Author Shares Journey on Beating the Odds in ‘Moments of Surrender’

Author Shares Journey on Beating the Odds in ‘Moments of Surrender’

Moments of Surrender: Revealing the Missing Pieces is a realistic walk through the growing pains of surrendering your life to God. The book is written by Author, Life Empowerment Coach, and Speaker Charlene Bolden who uses her journey from being a child in the foster care system to being whole in Christ as an example for readers seeking peace.

With chapters such as “Fear Paralyzes Your Faith but Faith Paralyzes Your Fear” and  “Cross Your Red Sea,” readers will witness various aspects of the faith journey that are not usually discussed when giving your life to Christ. Historically, African Americans are forced to overcome statistics and stereotypes, especially as a foster child, and Charlene’s story is no different. Instead, the author chooses to look the foster care stigma in the face and deny its power over her.

“I wanted my book to serve as a resource and guide for people to unpack their own journey of surrender,” said Bolden.

Moments of Surrender tells the author’s story of her powerful act of defiance that led her to living a healthy life and answering a call to lead others to God by example. Charlene reveals parts of her journey in the featured segment below:

15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

For the past few weeks, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are actually successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional that will be featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series will give us their road map to success and answer questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

The second installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Avril Speaks, producer and director for BET. Check out what Avril has to say about faith and work below:

When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?

I usually say I am an independent filmmaker, or an independent film producer.

When you think of the word ‘successful’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

Ava Duvernay. She is someone who has defined success on her own terms. The movie “Selma” is not what made her successful. She owns and defines her own truth in which she was already successful. She had a unique voice within the film industry before that film and she continues to have one today.

 

What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

Faith plays a huge role because my relationship with God and my interest in film developed around the same time in life, so for me those two always go hand-in-hand. My faith inevitably shows up in my work somehow, even though it is often not in the way that many people would expect.

What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

It depends on the day. Some days I go to the gym early in the morning. Some days (when I think about it) I’ll read a passage of Scripture. Some days I jump right up and get in the shower. Sadly, other days I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook for an hour (I’m trying to break this habit).

How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?

I’m an introvert so I’m not much of a schmoozer. But what that trait has taught me is how to seek out authentic relationships with people. So I’m not really one to “work a room,” but I’m pretty good at finding the one or two people in a crowd that I connect to and those people often end up being valuable parts of my life in some way. I’ve come to realize that my quietness allows me to be an observer, one who thinks thing through before acting out. When making decisions, I weight all the options, rather than jumping into anything too quickly.

What do you most love about what you do?

 Getting to collaborate with other creative people and seeing good stories come to life. I think that human stories and testimonies are powerful and any way I can be part of getting those stories told, it makes me happy.

What should someone ask themselves to determine their passion?

What is that something that makes you lose track of time? What is something that you love doing, even if you didn’t get paid for it?

How do you define success?

Success is having the freedom to do what you love. For some people, freedom comes financially (being able to make a living from doing something you love), for others it comes with time (making time in the schedule to do something you love).

What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

 Persistence in making space for those things that bring joy/success.

How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Making lists!!!

What advice would you give your 20 year old self?

Trust yourself and the knowledge that you have. I spent so many years doubting that I know anything and that I have something valuable to say (I still struggle with this, actually).

What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment by Carole M. Kirschner and

Imagination and the Journey of Faith by Sandra M. Levy

What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?

Capitalize your strengths. Just because you are changing careers doesn’t mean you have to throw away all of the skills you have acquired in your previous occupation. My hairstylist was an accountant before opening her own salon. She may have switched careers, but that business sense went a long way for her when starting her own business, which is how she has been able to sustain herself for so many years. Think of none of your years as wasted time. Every job you have done in the past was to prepare you for where you are right now or where you’re trying to go.

 

 

Do not apologize for excellence

Do not apologize for excellence

Why are God’s people so surprised when they excel? This question particularly applies when it comes to excelling in jobs and careers. But, the truth is what God has for you is for you, and your career and occupation are no exception.

In fact, stories of excellence among God’s people, regardless of their past, dates all the way back to biblical times.

For example, Moses was a chief strategist of his generation. God equipped him with the strategy to deliver the children of Israel out to Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3).

Noah utilized his talents as a great architect by taking the measurements of the ark that God gave to him in prayer. He then went on to draw it, plan it out, and build it. It was a success because the ark was not destroyed in the flood and the lives of his family members were saved. (Genesis 6:13-22)

Joseph was an economist. He used his God-given gift of interpreting dreams and visions to predict what God was saying and created a financial plan for a nation that catapulted it to becoming a world power. (Genesis 41)

Deborah was a judge in the Supreme Court of her time and respected by many. Also, let it be known that the woman could sing and prophesy too! She was talented and did not apologize for it but used her gifts in excellence. (Judges 4-5)

Lydia was a fabric business mogul who sold “purple” which would have been very expensive at the time. She used her earnings to support the ministry of Paul, and her crib was big enough to invite guests to stay comfortably and she was able to host them after being baptized. Let it also be known that she was a radical worshipper! (Acts 16: 11-15)

Luke, the disciple of Jesus was a beloved physician/doctor! Yet, even with his status, he still served Jesus and obeyed His word. (Colossians 4:14)

Regardless of your field or industry, you have been called to excel in what God has given you. When visiting the dean’s office in school, you should not be surprised seeing your name on the High Honors list because you are called to be first and not last. If you are an attorney, you should not be surprised that you win the toughest cases and have a reputation of excellence.

As a child of God, He expects excellence. In fact, there is no greater compliment to God than when you are at the top of your game.

Do not apologize for excellence. It is a key tailor-made to open the door of greatness that will change your life. Decide today to be great, not just good but great, at whatever you do. Leave a positive mark wherever you go and watch God use you to bring a positive influence that will impact so many others.

 

 

 

Check Out These 5 Podcasts For Black Christian Millennials

Check Out These 5 Podcasts For Black Christian Millennials

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, podcasts have become all the rage in recent years.

If you are a Christian there are a lot of dope podcasts out there. And, if you are a Christian millennial then you are really in luck, because there are podcasts out there just for you.

We’ve sifted through tons of podcasts and found the ones that are best suited for a Christian millennial audience. The Urban Faith team has included some of our favorite podcasts for your listening pleasure below:

Truth’s Table

Truth’s Table delivers exactly what it says: #truth. Not just any old truth, but the truth of Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan. These three sisters tackle issues of culture, race, politics, and gender all through the lens of Christian faith. If you are a millennial of color and you want to have a faith perspective on the things that matter to our world, then this is the podcast to check out!

Catalyst Podcast

If you’re a millennial and you are a leader right now, or have aspirations of leadership, then the Catalyst Podcast is for you. This podcast interviews Christian and non-Christian leaders from diverse backgrounds about different aspects of their leadership and faith journey. Even if you are not an official leader, this podcast gives tons of insight into the way we all are called to lead in our everyday lives.

Branding for Believers

This weekly podcast is all about equipping entrepreneurs and thought leaders for success. Sometimes being a Christian and getting your hustle on is a hard road to navigate. Dr. Shante Bishop is basically the mentor you need to crack the code for believing bigger things in regards to your success. Put those earphones on and listen to her teach you how to get to the next level.

Jude 3 Project

If you are a Christian millennial and you don’t know how to answer your friends’ questions about the faith, then you need to tune in to the Jude 3 Project podcast. Lisa Fields’ podcast is named after the 3rd verse in the book of Jude, which encourages believers to contend for the faith. In each episode she interviews an expert on topics ranging from “Does the Bible condone slavery?” to “The Church and Sex”. You will definitely get your faith upgraded after listening to this podcast.

Pass the Mic

Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns dish up some great conversation from a black Reformed theology perspective. They talk about everything from white supremacy to the use of the word “woke”. The great thing about this is that they do it from the unique perspective of two brothers who are in a theological movement that’s not typical for African Americans to be involved in. Listening to Pass the Mic will definitely get you soaked in theological and biblical truth and how to apply it to culture.

What about you? Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend? Share them below.

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”

Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem as nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.

While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.

As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.

Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!

Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.

Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013  and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.

Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.

Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.

Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.

Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.

Myth #4: You can pray it away.

Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.

Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”

As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.

 

Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.

After two drown in Tanzania, Christians re-examine safety of river baptisms

After two drown in Tanzania, Christians re-examine safety of river baptisms

(RNS) — It’s a rite that dates to the time of Jesus, who was dunked in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. But Christians in East Africa are now taking stock of their faith’s central rite after one such ritual turned tragic in northern Tanzania.

Two Christian farmers, aged 30 and 47, died as their pastors attempted to baptize them in the fast-moving current of the Ungwasi River in Rombo District in the Kilimanjaro region.

The ritual was organized by Shalom Church, a charismatic group in the country.

“Following the incident, we have agreed on some measures that will ensure the safety of our followers during baptism in the rivers,” Samuel Kamigwa, a pastor at the Victory Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Tanzania, said in telephone interview.

Kamigwa said churches were considering increasing the number of ministers at one baptism event. They would also baptize one person at a time, while others are kept at a safe distance, and will choose a time when the water is calm enough for the ritual.

“As churches, we have to be careful. Baptism is one of the core rites in our faith and it has to continue,” he said.

Drowning during baptism is not uncommon in Africa, and Tanzanian police detained a pastor in connection with the deaths of the two. Local news reports say Kilimanjaro Regional Police Commander Hamis Selemani has warned against using the rivers for such activities unless the safety is confirmed.

In Africa, river baptism is popular, particularly among Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Immersion is viewed as a way of cleansing one’s sins and being reborn into a new life. Affusion, where water is poured over the head, and aspersion, where water is sprinkled on the head, are more common in mainline churches.

The Rev. Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Mombasa Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Kenya, said pastors need to be prudent: “If they choose the river, they must take a careful review to avoid endangering lives.”

Last year, six children died in Zimbabwe’s eastern province of Mashonaland during an early morning baptism in a stream by a self-styled prophetess.

And in January 2015, two elderly Pentecostal church pastors drowned in Mutshedzi River in Limpopo Province of South Africa, where they had gone to baptize four junior church members.

(Fredrick Nzwili is a Nairobi-based correspondent)

Will your gift really make room for you?

Will your gift really make room for you?

I am firm believer that we serve a just God. His love for us extends far beyond what we could ever imagine, and as a result of His grace, we are blessed with gifts and the opportunity to reach our full potential regardless of who we are and where we come from.

Proverbs 18:16 tells us, “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”

I am intrigued by words. According to the Webster dictionary, the word “room” means “an extent of space occupied by or sufficient or available for something.” If a gift is capable of making room for you, that means it has the capacity to provide or provoke exactly what is needed in order to reach our full potential in a variety of areas, including career, family, and finances.

I am very blessed to have people with radical faith in my life. They have stepped out on faith and utilized the gifts that God has given them and are now living very successful lives.

I know single parents that were blessed with gifts in the hair, makeup and fashion industries. They invested in that gift and are now able to support their lives and live out their dreams, because that gift has created financial success.

I know others with a gift of music. They have never gone to music school or received formal training but they will give graduates of The Juilliard School a run for their money when they sing a note or play an instrument because their musical gift is a gift from God.

I, too, have a testimony of what God will do if you utilize the gifts He has given you. Sixteen years ago, God told me that He gave me a gift to write, and He wanted me to write because that was His desire for my life. I took that revelation and never looked back. Then, one day God surprised me with an opportunity to write for Urban Faith and share my gift with the world. It is a great honor to do so and I am grateful and honor Him for this opportunity.

But, how do you know if what you possess is a gift that God has given you? And, furthermore, how do you activate your gift to make room for you? Very simple. It is not limited to the listed points below, but they are a great start:

Believe God

God will always show you ideas and gifts inside of you that are way bigger than you. They are often bigger than what you could have ever dreamed of or expected, and that is great because it means you will need Him to bring them to pass. All you have to do is trust and believe God and what He has for you.

Plan and execute

Planning involves writing the vision and execution involves the how-to. You cannot wake up and expect your gift to magically make room for you. You need a plan. Do your research and find out who has been successful in utilizing the same gifts you have. Then, exercise patience and pray when planning and executing, because your timing is not God’s timing. Seek Him first and He will lead you.

Be willing to learn and be taught

Having a great idea and executing it is great, but to manage success and stability when your gift makes provision for you, you have to have a mindset of learning. Be open to seeking counsel, asking those who are skilled and successful in the area your gifts lie, and listening to their advice. People have sabotaged success and major breakthroughs because they were not willing to listen. Successful people listen.

Be your greatest cheerleader

If you wait for others to believe in you more than you believe in yourself, you will be waiting for a long time. Insecurity is a road block to success. If you do not believe you have a gift, then you will go on with life and never take a real chance on yourself. If you struggle with fear, I challenge you to ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if I really gave myself a chance?”

It’s time to look within, step out in faith, and let your gift make room for you. You only live once. What is there to lose?

 

50 Years Later: Remembering the Detroit Riots of 1967

50 Years Later: Remembering the Detroit Riots of 1967

On July 23, 1967, Detroit, Michigan, became the scene of a five-day riot that remains one of the deadliest civil disturbances in the United States. The intensity and relentlessness of the riot forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to call on the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to restore peace in the city. By the end of the week, over 2,000 buildings were destroyed, over 1,000 injuries and nearly 50 civilians, military and police officers were killed.

What happened in the Motor City was one of 159 “race riots” that occurred during the long, hot summer of ’67, but it’s the most memorable and influential; for many living in Detroit, the city has never fully recovered.

Despite the national media attention the riots garnered, the story of the Detroit Riot is often skipped over in schools (as most race riots are), so when the trailer for Detroit, an upcoming film that chronicles part of the 1967 riots, was released, many viewers took to social media to vent their frustration about never learning this important piece of American history in school.

 

Historians dispute whether the 12th Street Riot, as it’s called, was actually a race riot because of the multicultural demographic of the rioters. However, race was certainly the catalyst. In the early morning hours of July 23, Detroit police officers raided a local unlicensed drinking club with the expectation of catching a few random occupants. They were instead met by 82 African Americans welcoming two GIs home from Vietnam, and decided to arrest the entire party. While officers waited for transportation, a crowd of onlookers gathered and Walter Scott III threw a bottle at the police, initiating the riot.

As looters tore through the streets of Detroit, city police stood by waiting for the melee to diffuse, which it never did. The arrival of the Michigan National Guard the following day did little to stop the riot as crowds continued to vandalize white- and black-owned business, sparing no one in the process. The riot grew almost effortlessly, fueled by a suppressed rage that seemed to have no end. An overwhelmed police force was found guilty of abusing civilians in their custody, including the tragic shooting deaths of three black men during the Algiers Motel Incident.

Sid. E. Taylor, the founder of Detroit-based SET Enterprises, U.S. Marine, and Vietnam combat veteran, was just 18 years old in 1967 and vividly remembers riding a convertible straight into the middle of the riots with his older brother and a friend.

“A friend of ours was driving the car, I had a video camera and I sat on the back of the car and we were driving around acting silly like we were news reporters filming what was going on,” Taylor recalls. “The National Guard was out there and we drove by an apartment building and somebody pointed a gun at the car and said, ‘You n——- better get out of here before we blow your head off.’ And you know what we did? We lifted the roof and got ourselves outta there.”

Taylor admits that in hindsight it was a bad decision to drive into the riots considering the scale of violence, but he says they were “curiously nervous” because Detroit “had made the news. Every time you turned on the television they were showing the streets and we knew all these places.”

Much of the city was destroyed during the riots, leaving thousands without a place to work or live, and businesses that were unharmed shut down for safety purposes. Taylor and his brother worked for General Motors at the time and were told not to go into work because of the hostile atmosphere throughout the city, which included curfew violations, fights, and multiple fires.

Looters continued to steal millions of dollars of merchandise, including a few of Taylor’s friends who stole TV sets from a local business. “It got so bad that they canceled our work because it was too dangerous to move. Black people were mad and white people were scared and everyone was kinda scared to go anywhere.”

The presence of mainly white military worsened the violence initially, but within 48 hours the riot had been contained and dissipated. In the span of a week, Detroit went from being a leader in race relations for its time to a city reeling from the pain of a tragic and violent race riot. Many of the themes and concerns that arose from the 1967 riot, such as police brutality, racial unrest, and discrimination have emerged in urban centers across the country since: in Los Angeles in 1992, and cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

Famed baseball outfielder Willie Horton drew a comparison between Detroit and Baltimore following the 2015 riots in response to Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. Horton, who now lives in Baltimore, called the recent events “flashbacks” to the moment he left his Tigers game July 23, 1967, and drove into the riots, standing on the hood of his car pleading with the city he loved to restore peace.

Police brutality and the ethics of rioting are far from resolved, but in preparation for the 50th anniversary, Kathryn Bigelow (the only female Oscar winner for best director) hopes her story of the Detroit riots will honor those lost during the incident and incite discussion about these issues. While the film focuses on the harrowing Algiers motel incident, it comes at a prime time in our country and joins many commemorative events like the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67: Perspectives exhibit, which runs through 2019.

The camera Taylor was carrying that day didn’t have any film in it, but the images from his personal memories are just as strong. When asked if he’s excited to see Detroit, he said, “Absolutely. I’m probably going to see it more than once.”

Detroit will open in theaters nationwide Friday, August 4.

Check out the Detroit trailer below:

 

Faith communities offer a pathway to ending AIDS in Africa

Faith communities offer a pathway to ending AIDS in Africa

(RNS) — Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, many communities of faith have supported millions of people living with HIV and kept future generations free from HIV through their prevention efforts.

Their engagement on the front lines of health, especially in the Global South, predates that of many health organizations. Churches have built countless hospitals and clinics; faith leaders, including women, were among the first responders to HIV.

Today, communities from all faith traditions are engaged in the HIV response. Their continued leadership in ensuring respect for human dignity, justice and rights is critical.

As the world accelerates its efforts to end AIDS, faith communities remain central to our success.

Communities of faith offer a path to many who are hard to reach. Their mission to deliver compassion and care to all in need, including the world’s poorest and those shunned by society, has deepened and broadened the impact of the global response to AIDS.

That special openness has never been more important than today, when ending AIDS requires reaching all who are living with, or who are at risk for contracting, HIV.

I appreciated anew the critical role of the faith community in ending AIDS earlier this month when I was in Addis Ababa for the 29th African Union Summit.

During the meeting, African heads of state recommitted to reaching more people in need, more quickly. Faith leaders and their congregations will play a critical role in these efforts. Across Africa we are “fast-tracking” our efforts.

This includes efforts to revitalize HIV prevention, especially among adolescent girls and young women; consolidate progress on elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; accelerate implementation of HIV testing and treatment for men; and address financial sustainability for the AIDS response. The church has an important role to play in each of these goals.

This plan is based on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Fast-Track” approach, which demonstrates that if we front-load resources and apply our efforts to the people and places where the need is greatest, by 2020 we can expand prevention and treatment and put the world on course to end AIDS by 2030.

“Fast-Track” modeling shows that using tools and knowledge we have, we could avert an additional 17.6 million new HIV infections and 10.8 million AIDS-related deaths.

Enormous progress has been made in the global response to HIV. Of the 37 million people living with the virus, more than 18 million are receiving treatment.

But another 18 million men, women and children living with HIV aren’t getting it. Millions more need tailored, age-specific HIV prevention services that embrace the UNAIDS life-cycle approach of ensuring that children are born HIV-free, that they stay HIV-free through their adolescent and adult lives and that lifesaving HIV treatment is available to all living with HIV.

To reach this goal, we must call for global solidarity to quicken the pace of our outreach, in which the faith community must play a leading role.

Whether speaking about AIDS, maternal and child health, vaccines, sanitation, nutrition, family planning or other critical lifesaving issues, church elders are powerful educators. The respect and trust they engender allow them to address sensitive issues in ways that make their congregations comfortable and better able to protect themselves.

Faith leaders can be especially effective talking to young people by encouraging messages of inclusion for all, even the most marginalized. Such talk should be underpinned by scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Reaching this next generation is paramount, given that the largest cohort of young people ever is about to come of age in Africa.

Today in sub-Saharan Africa, young women and girls are eight times more likely to contract HIV than their male peers. Young people rarely visit health centers; educating and protecting them before they are exposed to HIV is essential for ending AIDS.

Faith leaders also have a unique role in reaching men and boys, two groups that rarely intersect traditional health systems unless they have a health emergency. Too many men and boys don’t know their HIV status and aren’t accessing prevention or treatment services. We won’t reach them in the clinics, but we will reach them in their houses of worship.

In addition, faith-based organizations can be particularly effective at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. In so doing, they make it easier for all people to come forward for services, stay on treatment — and stay healthy. The church’s holistic approach delivers both healing and hope to individuals affected and infected with HIV.

Faith-led, family-centered care clinics teach not just the person living with HIV but also the person’s extended family. By helping those closest to a person living with HIV understand the disease, including the reality that treatment leads to viral suppression, which prevents transmission, faith leaders increase the odds that people with HIV will have the emotional support they need to stay healthy. Caring for and supporting the whole family also means spouses and children remain HIV-free.

Healthy adults can raise healthy children. With families intact, fewer children are orphaned. When communities are protected, nations become stronger, more peaceful and more secure.

The opportunity to end AIDS is within our reach. But getting to the finish line will only be possible with communities of faith working together and continuing their long-standing commitment to compassionate care and service.

(Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAIDS)

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

Matthew 8:23-27 KJV

23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.

24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.

25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.

26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

27 But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

This scripture really ministers to me. Before you judge the disciples for running to Jesus in a panic and waking Him up from His sweet nap, may I say that if we truly were honest with ourselves, many of us have been in similar situations.

Have you ever felt as though God was on a yacht drinking His favorite smoothie and enjoying Himself when you are clutching onto the boat with all of your strength because of the storm that is rocking the boat? Have you ever questioned God when you wondered why each time you set sail in faith on what He showed you, all of a sudden the waters of your life turn to angry waves?

If your life has been a smooth sail and you wake up every day with everything laid out and nothing to worry about then we praise God for you! But this inspiration today is for that person who cannot make sense of what is going on.

You gave your life to God and now everything seems chaotic. You have been praying like never before, reading your word, going to church, sending tweets and memes on how good God is, but the more you do, the more you feel as though you are shaking and everything around you is rocking.

Take courage and let your faith be empowered today by the following:

1. You cannot sink in a ship that Jesus is sailing

The disciples followed Jesus onto the ship. He is the Shepherd and He knows everything. The situations you are dealing with have not come to drown you but to teach you how to swim and navigate through life. Don’t worry, you will not sink.

2. While you are pacing around and worrying, Jesus is chilling

The disciples were looking at the storm and wondering why would Jesus be asleep? You have been asking yourself “where is God?” but the reality is Jesus is there. He is resting and waiting to see what your reaction will be. If God is not stressed out, why are you stressed out? This is a perspective issue. How are you viewing your situation? Shift and think like your God. If He is not worried, neither should you.

3. If you cry out to God He will answer.

The disciples saw the waves and water getting in the boat and went to wake up Jesus. A lot of times we think that the disciples were weak for waking up Jesus and acting scared, but the reality is we scream and call on Jesus all the time, because we do not know what to do with the storms we are facing. Guess what, it is okay!

Sometimes crying out to Jesus for help shows us His authority. Jesus woke up and calmed the storm. Even though He rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, the reality is the boat stopped rocking. People may wonder why you cry out to God so much or why you seek God so much and yes God may give you a rebuke here and there but He will answer you and calm your storms. Don’t stop calling on Him, Jesus will pay attention to your situation.

Be encouraged this month, and strive to wake up Jesus in every situation if you have to. Better to call on Jesus even if the boat is rocking, than to wonder if Jesus is even in the boat of your life during a storm!

 

Dear God,

Thank you for encouraging me that each time I follow You, You will walk me into a ship that will begin sailing to my destiny. In that journey, there will be storms, and I may be afraid, but remind me that You are on my boat, and I can call on You. I can come to You to wake You up, and You will ease my fears, and calm the storm. I am honored to serve a God who hears and answers my cry of help…

Blessed be Your name…

Amen.

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

The other day I got an email from a friend on how he was getting frustrated and tired of reading books and hearing lectures on Eurocentric theology and church history. He wanted to have some color injected into his Bible college and seminary education.

It’s a story I’m all too familiar with. By the end of seminary, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs, “Let me out!” But they press on anyway because they know they have a calling and they know this is the path God has them on in order to equip them. This is even more true for those students who are of non-white ethnicity. The seminary is a far cry from their home culture and the things taught there are taught from a predominantly white historical and theological perspective. Consequently, you can feel like you are being brainwashed or indoctrinated into whiteness or at the very least just made to feel like an oddball or invisible based on the fact of your experience being different from a lot of the other students. I’ve been there. And I would have lost my mind if it weren’t for these principles working themselves out in my life intentionally or unintentionally.

1. Remember why you are there

You are there because you are called. You are there because you want to soak up the knowledge to make you effective in ministry. You are there to connect with like-minded folk who may one day partner with you in ministry. Do not let the overwhelming whiteness take you off course. Learn. Soak it in. Grow.

2. Make two sets of notes

There are two sets of notes to take. Notes for the paper you will write and notes for yourself (Shout out to MK Asante). Some things will be helpful for your academic career but other things will help as you take your seminary training back home.

3. Find the alternative books

When I first started attending Fuller Theological Seminary I had the privilege of working in the library. As I put the books back on the shelves I learned about James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and so many others. I began reading those books even before I started classes because they spoke from a perspective I understood and was familiar with. Just the exposure alone helped me to tackle some of the lack of diversity I was experiencing.

4. Find like-minded students

There is always, at least, a handful of students of color on any campus. If you can’t find students of color then there are many white students who understand where you are coming from. Reach out and connect. It may be the best thing you have ever done.

5. Find like-minded professors

In an attempt to make their faculties more diverse, most seminaries and Christian universities have hired at least two or three non-white professors who teach from a different perspective. Go and take their classes if you have the opportunity. If you can’t take their classes then find some way to connect with them. They understand your experience and are rooting for your success. Personally, I found Dr. Ralph Watkins and Dr. Jehu Hanciles. Just their teaching and course content helped me to not lose my mind!

6. Ask thought-provoking questions

Don’t just sit in class like a lump on a log. Ask questions—thought-provoking questions. Not solely to cause trouble. Ask questions from your unique ethnic and socio-economic perspective. It will not only bless you but also those in class around you who may be going into these contexts or just those who need to have their world expanded

7. Keep a vital and dynamic relationship with God

Last but not least, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading your Bible. Remember this isn’t about ethnicity. This is about God’s calling on your life.

What about you do you have any other tips to include? What was your experience in seminary like? How did you keep from losing your mind?

 

Marriage and Relationships 101: Pray it, Don’t say it

Marriage and Relationships 101: Pray it, Don’t say it

You never do anything nice for me!

 When is the last time you bought me a gift?!

You never spend time with me anymore!

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? Perhaps they bring back a memory of an argument you and your significant other recently had?

The argument begins with something small, escalates into a blame game, and before you know it, you don’t remember what you were originally arguing about. I will be the first to say that I have been down this road many times. And, as a seasoned traveler of this road, I am here to tell you that no one feels good after these arguments.

Everyone sometimes feels hurt, confused, and worthless, like they are not good enough for their partner, like they deserve better, or whatever other unhappy feeling you want to “insert here.” Nobody wins.

As humans, we are selfish by nature. We are born selfish. In fact, selflessness is a trait that we have to learn over time. Naturally, we think “me, me, me.”

“What do I need? What do I want?”

This way of thinking transfers over into our relationships if we aren’t careful. We begin to think about whether or not our spouse has met our needs, instead of thinking about how we can meet their needs. And, if we think our needs haven’t been met, we feel it is our duty to tell our spouse about how they aren’t meeting our needs and that they should “do better.”

This may result in myriad reactions: your spouse becomes defensive, your spouse spits back what needs of theirs you aren’t meeting as well, your spouse feels worthless, your spouse shuts down, or your spouse apologizes and actually “does better.”

Unfortunately, the latter is less likely to happen. What is likely to happen is an argument that escalates quickly – leading to both parties feeling hurt, angry, or even resentful.

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words ( Proverbs 15:28).

I imagine that if you and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and I were sharing this with you, you would respond with, “But, you don’t understand my wife/husband! They don’t do (insert complaint here)! I need to tell them how they aren’t treating me the way I deserve to be treated!”

I would respond by asking the following: “Is telling your partner about themselves helping anything? No? Well, have you prayed about it, instead?”

Pause.

Pray about it? Yes, pray about it. God calls us to be bringers of peace to our relationships and to avoid conflict. Remember that the power of life and death are in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

Every time we are complaining about our partners, we are speaking death to our relationships. We have the power to bring life to our relationships with our tongues instead. We can do this through prayer and by speaking direct words of affirmation over our significant others.

Next time you are tempted to tell your spouse what they “need to do” for you, try affirming them in that very area you feel as though they are lacking.

For example, instead of saying, “You never take it upon yourself to do the laundry. Why can’t you do more to help out around here?” Say, “Thank you so much for all that you do to keep our house in order. I appreciate you!”

Those powerful words just spoke the actions into your spouse that you wish to see more often. Then, in your private prayer time, ask The Lord to show your partner how important it is to you that he or she pitch in around the house.

God cares about the small details. And, He will honor you for coming to Him instead of igniting a quarrel in the relationship.

After praying, serve. Serve your spouse. Remember, that is what God calls us to do in our marriage. Marriage is just two people who are servants in love.

If you are wondering how you are supposed to serve your spouse, it is written right here in Colossians 3:18-19:

 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting with the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

When you serve your spouse, you fill them up with the love of the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, and when we are filled with the fruits of the Spirit, our relationships will result in less conflict.

Friends, marriage and relationships are hard work. It takes hard work to decide to be selfless every day. It takes hard work to serve your spouse when it is very possible that your own needs haven’t been met.

It takes work to pray for your spouse when you’re in the heat of an argument. It takes work to choose NOT to say something the next time you feel frustrated or conflicted. But, that work is so worth it. Take it from someone who’s been there.

I used to choose the selfish route. Now, I choose the selfless route. And, as a result, I am more in love with my husband today than I was when I married him.

 

How to Avoid the Box of Limitation

How to Avoid the Box of Limitation

We have been privileged to live in a generation that has mastered the art of multitasking, being able to do multiple things at the same time and excelling. You really have to, otherwise, life will pass you by.

Sometimes the news changes so fast that if you wait too long, you are outdated. Have you ever been in a situation where you did not check your phone all day, and by the time you turned it on, it seemed as though you were on a different planet because so much had happened? That is the gift of living in a world of possibilities. Everything is possible and anything can happen. The sky is the limit.

Limitation presents itself in a very cunning way in our lives. For some, it begins at a young age through criticism from a parent or guardian, a teacher or peers that begin to conform your mind to think a certain way.

Or, it could be the environment that you are first exposed to. Unfortunately, depending on the zip code that you reside in, it can determine the kind of privileges that are afforded to you.

Limitation can enter your life through rejection, a lack of acceptance, where you never fit in and regardless of how kind you try to be, or all the things you try to do, you just never measure up. Therefore, you feel limited, constrained, suffocated and blocked.

Limitation could be geographical. The opportunities that could bring a breakthrough in your life may not be at the proximity of where you are currently located. Moving out of that geographical region would be coming out of that box of limitation and pursuing something that could change your life.

The mistakes that we make is stepping into these boxes of limitation that are presented to us daily in our lives and getting comfortable. We take our pity party pillow, and our “poor old me” throws, find a nice corner to hibernate, and hope that Jesus will come down and rescue us from our misery.

I love the Bible because it is a wonderful and precious book filled with verbs. God is all about movement, action, and purpose.

In the book of Genesis, our first encounter with God, is His interaction with an earth that was void and filled with darkness. That did not intimidate Him or make Him cower back. Instead, His Spirit “moved” upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 KJV

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Your life may be filled with void and darkness, but guess what God wants you to do? MOVE!

I created an acronym for the word MOVE to push me during those times that I sense limitation is looming over me, trying to push me down a dungeon of hopelessness.

M– Mastering

O– Of

V– Victory

E– Everyday

Sometimes you have to look at life as a classroom that you show up to master and excel in every lesson presented. By the time we get to verse 31 in Genesis 1, God had taken the earth that was void and made it to be very good. You have to take your void situation, be motivated by purpose and create the environment that makes it very good.

Genesis 1:31 KJV

31 And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Instead of throwing a glamorous pity party and sending out beautiful invitations to host limitation in your life, I suggest:

1. Returning the limitation box back to the sender

Just the way you return mail that is not yours, you do not have to receive projections of limitations that are said to you, thrown at you, or even perceived by you from others. You have the power to control what you receive. Learn how to reject that which will limit your progress. Let it “talk to the hand!”

2. Follow God’s role model

The first thing that God did was move. He was not concerned about how things looked, He got busy creating. He got busy with purpose. Instead of complaining about what is wrong and how unfair life may be (which may be true), get busy moving into purpose and finding out why you are here. Passivity is a hobby that many take up, waiting for a change that may never come. You are the agent that triggers the change you are praying for.

3. Believe in yourself

There comes a point of decision and reckoning that you are unique. You have to begin investing in self-affirmation ministry to yourself and build up the confidence muscles that may be feeble in you. You may have to cry sometimes and that is okay, but after crying let there be purpose in your tears. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is to refuse to be limited and live a life that is open to receive all that God has for you.

Dear God,

Help me with the daily struggle of limitation that overwhelms me. If I have limited myself and allowed sabotage in my life, or refuse to step on the platforms that You bring to me, forgive me. I give myself permission to succeed. I look to You for confidence, and I receive the boldness to walk into purpose and the liberty of being myself. That is a gift, a precious gift that I ask You to help me guard. The gift of being me. Thank You God for making me, me.

 Amen.

 

 

I was a Christian woman addicted to porn

I was a Christian woman addicted to porn

The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.

I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.

Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”

It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.

My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.

As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.

When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.

A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.

Shame. Fear. Control.

There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.

One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.

The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.

Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.

There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.

I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
  2. Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
  3. Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.

For more statistics and help with combating porn addiction, visit fightthenewdrug.org.

 

15 Questions for Success: Shawn Dove

15 Questions for Success: Shawn Dove

Have you been following our Faith and Work Series? The Urban Faith team understands the importance of connecting faith to your everyday life, particularly for young adults.

So, for the past few weeks, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work, and now we are going to turn our focus on some folks who are actually making that happen in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional that will be featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series will give us their road map to success and answer questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

Our first installment of 15 Questions for Success features Shawn Dove, CEO for the Campaign For Black Male Achievement. Shawn is a man of faith who is invested in creating a future where black males and their families can thrive. Check out what Shawn has to say below:

 

1. When people ask you what you do, how do you answer that?

I have all these things inside of me. A preacher. An ad exec. Writer. A motivational speaker. A salesperson. A coach and a mentor.

 

2. When you think of the word ‘successful’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

My mother. She was a single mom and she had to make sacrifices on her dreams and vision to raise me in environments and make me the man I am today. She embodies generosity, vision, and sacrifice. So that’s what comes to my mind.

 

3. What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

Faith is everything. I would not be…speaking to you. I would not be doing the work I’m doing if it wasn’t for God who carried me up to this point. Faith is essential because it can get discouraging. God gave you two hands. One to build with and one to fight with.

 

4. What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

If I’m lucky I wake up. I go downstairs and get coffee. I light some incense and pray. I read devotionals and stretch. I also have this men’s [phone call] I’m on. The Manhood Legacy call. Journaling is also part of my mission. I’ve been journaling since I was 14-15 years old and it helps me get my thoughts together. So that’s my morning from about 5:00-7:30 a.m.

I also have to put out my daily tweet. If I don’t do that then it’s like my world is not right.

“Arise and Shine! Glow & Go be a blessing to someone today. And when in doubt just ask God to let you be a light and to use you as He sees fit”

 

5. What are you really good at that people might not realize?

I would say helping people deliver “breech” dreams. Stuff that they’ve been trying to push out on their own but can’t push out on their own. I have twin boys and my son Cameron came out first but Caleb was born breech. He was coming out feet-first. 9 minutes later his vital signs were dropping. Doctors had to help pull him out. That’s what I do for people’s dreams

 

6. How has knowing who you are affected your life, and how has it played a role in major life decisions?

Well, by knowing what makes you tick helps you know what ticks you off. After I got into my 40’s and 50’s I became more comfortable with who I am and what my calling is. So there’s a certain level of peace and it’s all in divine order.

 

7. What do you most love about what you do?

I love my job. I love investing in other people’s dreams and helping to inspire leaders. I’m the CEO the Chief executive officer of CBMA but I love my role as the Chief Evangelical Officer. I love seeing people on the edge of the pool and I’m the kid who’s going to give you that nudge to push you into the deep end.

 

8. What should someone ask to determine their passion?

First, ask, “Why am I here?” The second is “What do I want my eulogy to say?” That will determine what direction they should go in.

 

9. How do you define success?

My eulogy will serve to be someone else’s life epilogue. And what I mean by that is the epilogue shows there’s more to the story than the last chapter. I want people to say they were ready to quit. Then they hear about how I lived and died and they are renewed. They don’t want to give up.

 

10. What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

Forgiveness. I have to forgive myself in the areas where I’ve failed. Having to resign from my first executive director’s position almost 30 and go into rehab I had to forgive myself for that because it was the most important thing I could have done in my life.

You also have to have empathy. That’s one thing I’ve learned being married and having children and leading an organization such as ours. Empathy is necessary.

Then I would say vision and a sense of completion, being open and teachable, and working with people and collaborating. [And finally, you must have] resiliency. You have to be able to bounce back from adversity.

 

11. If you instantly lost everything, what steps would you take to become successful again?

Well if it’s just my job or career, I would focus on everything else I have and not on what I lost. I still have my wife and my children. I still have my relationship with God. Then I would just start doing what got me here in the first place: writing, speaking, leading. I’m a servant leader so I would ask where can I serve.

 

12. How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Well, some days are more productive than others. I escape the office to have lunch to get reenergized. I also drink a green shake for energy in the mornings. And, a to-do list is must. I have a tendency to procrastinate so I make sure I knock things off my to-do list. Also, I make sure that it’s not about my productivity but the productivity of the team. Which means I have to delegate [tasks] and trust my team.

 

13. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Stop stalling on my calling and just jump in! Also, develop a sound financial plan and be maniacally disciplined with that plan.

14.What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

I would say “Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice” by Dennis Kimbro, “As A Man Thinketh” by James Allen, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and John Ortberg’s book “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got To Get Out of the Boat.”

 

15.What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out or interested in making a career change?

Stop stalling on your calling and just jump. You have more resources and influence than you think. Get a piece of paper or journal and answer these questions:

What season am I in? What’s holding me back? What is God preparing me for? Who do I know that can help me? How did I navigate a season similar to this one?

 

I’M A DAD, NOT A DEAD-BEAT

I’M A DAD, NOT A DEAD-BEAT

It’s time to raise our fists and build our momentum to fight against the stereotypical, dead-beat dad. Not the selfish, under-loving, narcissistic, self-proclaimed kings that are fathers at tax season and ghost during the year. The fathers who actually want to be ever-present in their children’s lives, but many women keep them at bay and force them to identify as dead-beats.

Oftentimes we hear about the vindictive SSM (Salty Single Mom) who feeds into an unfortunate, cultural stigma with the law at her advantage to satisfy the vengeance of her heart. And as a result of this, there are men who want to be dedicated fathers but are labeled as dead-beats by the SSM. And the worst part is the children suffer the most.

Now let’s be clear, this is not bashing the PSM (Powerful Single Mother) who is often forced to be both parents due to the absentee father. However, in this era of heavy women empowerment many members of our community often forget our men and seemingly render them unnecessary, which teaches our sons to fall back and not be the men we want them to be.

As women, we cannot continuously shame the willing fathers of our children, and then punish them for becoming what they were forced to become, worthless. Despite any conflict between these men and the SSM, we have to take a closer look at the dedicated fathers that have become who they can be in their child’s life.

What Has Daddy Become?

The Redeemed Father: After a bitter end to a relationship, this father will leave to seemingly never return, thus birthing a PSM. However, upon clarity, he returns to reestablish a healthy relationship with his child/children and cooperative relationship with the mother. This is usually met with apprehension because the PSM believes he does not want to pay child support, which is highly likely. Nevertheless, the father will make multiple attempts to repair the relationship so that he can be in his child’s life.

The Fight or Flight Father: When the relationship between the parents is toxic, this father leaves and is baited back into the relationship for access to the child/children. The household is usually shared and the SSM uses the needs of the children to draw the father back into the home. Unfortunately, with any argument, the father leaves and the mother begins a tirade of whining and threatening legal action such as child support or sole custody. Fortunately, when the father is home he is 100% dedicated to his children’s needs, but when he is gone his devotion is sporadic due to the nature of the relationship with the SSM.

The Gatsby Father: This theory is based off the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the main character Jay Gatsby throws elaborate parties to hopefully catch the attention of the love of his life. A Gatsby father is painted as allusive and inattentive by the SSM so that the children do not miss him. However, the father creates big situations such as social gatherings, theme park trips, gift giving and more that are tangible ‘peacock’ methods to show their devotion and love. Although this father is aware that gifts and spoiling are not the only way to show affection, these situations allow them a chance to have brief intimate moments with their child/children.

The Solo Soldier: According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 31.4 % of fathers have custody of their children, especially if they cannot prove the mother is unfit to be a full-time parent. In this circumstance, the SSM creates dramatic and spiteful situations that keep the child/children away from the father. Yet, through relentless communication, court battles, and meet-ups, this father will fight to have his child/children in order to protect them from any backlash from the SSM. The best example of this type of father is the character Monty James, played by Idris Elba, in Daddy’s Little Girls.

Elle is a Gatsby Father who has five children and is settling his divorce. The mother has requested assistance, to which he adhered to willingly. However he is, unfortunately, met with public raging fits when the mother does not get what she wants. This forces Elle to schedule outings and activities to provide a reason to see his children and prove that he is a provider and loves them.

“It seems like when Dad isn’t doing what mom wants him to do for her, then the children in turn are shifted to think Dad isn’t doing right by them either,” Elle explains somberly.

“I’ve even been told by my daughter, who lives in an apartment that I pay 75% of the rent for, You can’t tell me what to do because you don’t pay any bills around here!These various interactions have helped me to understand that my children suffer at the hands of their mother who cannot put aside her gripes to build a peaceful and amicable pact on behalf of our children who depend on our guidance. My prayer is that most of [our] conflicts can be discussed openly with them in a way that doesn’t criminalize either Mom or Dad.”

The Law of Paternity

One of the many gripes that fathers who are no longer with their child’s mother have is the misuse of child support, in addition to limited access to children. Adrienne Holland, founder and CEO of the non-profit family law firm Holland Family Services, gave some insight on how child support works and what fathers may be unaware of when it comes to their paternal rights.

“Child support is meant for the benefit of the child,” Adrienne explains. “But, part of that are intangibles such as car insurance, electricity, cell phones etc., that the mother needs to function fully as a parent and person. It is the duty of the father to pay child support whether or not the father sees his child. That’s not to say that I don’t see mothers that withhold time-sharing out of spite. Usually, when this happens it is less about revenge and more of an unrealistic fear that a father cannot care for the child.”

What Matters Most

Despite the legal and emotional battle that comes with custody, parents seem to forget that what matters most is the child. In today’s culture, a broken home does not always mean Mom and Dad aren’t together, it means Mom and Dad lack a healthy, co-parenting relationship and the child(ren) pays for it.

Ending the cycle of fatherless children or toxic childhoods starts with the decision to be different. Mekesha Young, PSM of 15-year-old daughter, left a toxic relationship for the safety of her child and had this to say about the unrelenting SSM:

“You cannot control the situation, but you can change your perspective and attitude,” Mekesha says passionately. “It’s all about perspective. Once you realize that your child(ren) are the seeds of the future and you (the [custodial] parent) are the example, it should empower you to plant seeds of life and not destruction.”

It should be a cultural standard to teach our children how to deal with disappointment and heartbreak, but not get stuck in a bitter mentality that fuels the dead-beat cycle.

THE CHARGE TO WOMEN

Among all that a woman carries, should they have to shoulder the angst of an absent father’s irresponsibility? The answer is NO! However, it is the charge of the woman to eliminate the dead-beat mentality from their child’s psyche so that they do not repeat the same mistakes.

That starts with women forgiving the men that broke their hearts, enough to show their child that life does go on and a broken home is only one that is unloving and uncooperative.

While there are men who are careless as fathers, their error cannot be used as a blanket statement for all fathers who no longer desire a romantic relationship with the mother. Sometimes relationships don’t work out, but it never justifies removing the necessary love of a father from a child’s life.

By allowing a father to be in his child’s life, that does not take the ‘power’ away from the PSM; in fact, it shows the most important lesson a child could learn, respect.

Here are some ways (unmarried/uncoupled) fathers can protect their parental rights:

  • Establish paternity by signing an affidavit of paternity from their state’s office of vital statistics.
  • Make an agreement with the mother for time-sharing and monetary support and get it in writing before the child is born; if they don’t have a written support and time arrangement, they should keep a written log with receipts and dates that details the time and money spent.
  • Go to the collection entity or the court and put yourself on child support at any time.
  • Go to mediation or a parenting coordinator without a lawyer to help resolve disputes about parenting without involving the court.
  • Ask attorneys to use collaborative methods to settle the case even if the couple was never married.
  • Get an official DNA test (Note: Over-the-counter DNA tests are not admissible in court).
  • If the father is unhappy with the mother’s performance as a parent, they can file a Petition to Modify/Establish Time Sharing Plan and Other Related Relief, which results in him having most of the time with his children. This can only be done after legally establishing paternity.

 

Are you unsure about your life’s purpose?

Are you unsure about your life’s purpose?

Purpose is a word that is on the minds of many millennials, however, for many it seems to be that piece of the puzzle that is hidden; That needle in the haystack that you are searching for.

The frustration of figuring out what one is supposed to do is what seems to open a door to the spirit of heaviness that plagues so many of us. We may wonder, Why did I go to college? What now? You may be working a job and wondering where the end will be.

Could it be that you are looking at purpose from a different perspective? If we are to model Jesus Christ, He was first a carpenter before He revealed Himself as a Savior. Carpentry involves accuracy, commitment and focus. Think about it, you cannot build half a chair or half a table. The everyday, ordinary commitments that Jesus had to do, prepared Him for His greatest purpose on earth, the Cross.

Instead of complaining about your job, master the skills that your job allows you to learn. Be the expert at everything you do. Instead of wondering about tomorrow, maximize the 24 hours given today and commit yourself to excellence.

I view excellence like a garment worn each day to let purpose know you showed up ready to live and maximize your potential that day. The worst mistake you can make is to be a replica of someone already existing. Wasting time copying what is already there is robbing yourself of the opportunity of discovering what God the Creator had in mind when He formed you in your mother’s womb. Be inspired by what is around you, but allow yourself room to be an inspiration to others.

One of my favorite scriptures is Ecclesiastes 11:4 (Living Bible Version) “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

Instead of wondering what your purpose is, you can:

  1. Become a student of your own life
  2. Study what motivates you and inspires you to want to make a difference
  3. Pray and believe God. However, as you pray, research your passions, and educate yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised that what you have been searching for, has always lied within you.

 

Prayer for the journey to purpose:

Dear God, as I begin this month of March, teach me to be present, to be aware of what is going on around me, to pause, and be grateful for all the wonderful things You have done for me. I release the fear of missing my purpose and destiny. I put You first and ask You to help me. I want to live a life of purpose, to glorify You. I will honor You and share with others how You have blessed me. So Lord, I exhale and release myself to you. I am ready for this journey. I am ready to take a risk of trusting You…Thank You Lord for hearing this prayer. Amen.

A Father’s Day Reflection: Nobody Throws a Parade for the Bad Guy

A Father’s Day Reflection: Nobody Throws a Parade for the Bad Guy

When I first found out that my wife was pregnant in early 2008, I immediately went into preparation mode.

The worst thing that I thought could happen to me at that point would be for me to get caught being unprepared as a dad. I was amazingly active in reading the pregnancy books with my wife, and knowing which milestones were coming up. I knew what the baby was doing in her tummy at all times.

As the months went on I even talked to people and listened to their stories about birth and parenthood. I heard more than a few stories about dads that were so overwhelmed by the miracle of birth that they passed out in the delivery room. As I watched the group laugh as the dad told that story, I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to be that dad. I had to do the research. I needed to be prepared and have no surprises in the delivery room, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I googled YouTube videos of child birth! I sat and watched dozens of them until I could stomach the sight of this miracle without being the dad that passed out. Nobody wants to be that guy. I made it through the delivery on my own two feet and witnessed the birth of my first-born child.

I held her in my arms and shed a very manly, single tear. Just one. I didn’t wipe it at first I let it drop to about mid-cheek level to allow myself just a touch of vulnerability in the company of others. My first thought while holding her was a strange one. It was a bit morbid, but very real.

I looked her in her squinty little eyes and I said to myself, “If I don’t take care of her, she will die.” The responsibility was mine in that moment. Since she couldn’t feed herself, I couldn’t forget to feed her, or she would die. Since she couldn’t roll over on her own, I couldn’t forget which side to lay her on, or she would die. When she started to roll over I had to be lightening fast to catch her from hitting the ground after she rolled too far off the bed. I had to take care of all of her needs, even beyond the physical. If I didn’t tell my daughter she was loved, lovable, and beautiful, and that her worth was high beyond anything that anyone else could afford, then she would die a spiritual and emotional death. I had to supply her needs. I could NOT afford to come up short.

On my quest for information and experiences from more seasoned parents, I heard from most, if not all of them, that no matter how prepared I was and how hard I tried, there was going to be something that I would get wrong. Something was going to slip through the cracks. I refused to accept my own mortality in this manner. I needed to find out what some of these fathers were not doing and do just that. One day it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s Dad’s job to be the “bad guy.”

Moms have an amazing amount of fanfare surrounding them and their day. The fanfare is much deserved for all that they do. You have heard the story of how she carried you for nine months and went through “x” amount of hours in labor. You’ve heard about how you destroyed her waistline and worried her half to death. You have been made well aware of the trials of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. You’ve heard it all. The moms know how to lay it on thick.

Moms hold you when it hurts, make sure you get that thing you want, move mountains and make things better. Moms get to be the “good guy.” That’s why Mother’s Day is always AWESOME! Flowers, candy, cards, commercials, months of anticipation, great and thoughtful gifts…Moms get the works. Father’s Day is just a month later, and I never know it’s coming until maybe two days before. Nobody reminds you. Nobody asks what you want more than a week out. Nobody buys big expensive gifts for Dad.

You want to know why dads famously get neckties for Father’s Day? It’s because they just want to make sure you have something to wear to work so there’s enough money to get Mom a really good present next year. Father’s Day could come and go and nobody would notice. Why? Well, nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.

Moms tell you that you can be anything you want to be, while dads get to tell you, “You can’t be an astronaut with straight D’s on your report card.” He wants to teach you how to work hard for your dreams because they won’t just come to you. Moms run out on the field with the Band-Aids and Neosporin when you scrape your knee in your soccer game. Dads get to tell you that you can’t quit the team just because you’re tired of it. He’s trying to teach you commitment.

Moms pick you up when you fall off of your bike, but dads make you get back on it even while you’re still in pain. He’s trying to teach you perseverance. Dad delivers the punishment, the butt whoopings, the taking of car keys, and the groundings. He tells you there’s no way you’re going outside looking like that. Dad is the “hater,” the skeptic, the lesson teacher, the long lecture giver, the layer of the smack-down, and Mr. I Told You So. Dad is the “tell me your plan” guy. Dad has to be the “You can’t date that guy” guy.

Dad has to diagnose dumb ideas and come up with better ones. Dad says, “Do it better,” and he has to tell you hard truths about yourself. And whenever you get to be a little too much for Mom to handle, how does she get you back in shape? She says, “I’m going to call your dad,” and you straighten up. You’ll thank Mom first at your graduation and while Mom is the reason you made it there, Dad is the reason you made it through. Dad is the enforcer. Dad is the bad guy, and nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.

So if you’re a dad and you’re sitting there a month after a spectacular Mother’s Day with an ugly tie fresh out of the package or getting ready to open a brand new Chia Pet, remember this… Being the bad guy isn’t just a job you take because nobody else wants it. It’s a calling. God fathers us the same way. God takes the blame for every bad thing we do to ourselves. This is what the great dads are made of. This is also why there just aren’t that many great dads. Nobody signs up to be the bad guy at a thankless job, but we’ve seen the statistics. Everybody needs a dad.

Nobody will admit it, but everybody needs someone to tell him or her the truth to their faces without blinking. No matter how hard or harsh that truth may be it must be told. So be Dad. In the midst of those that would kill the messenger, be Dad. This is not to say be hard on them for the sake of being hard on them. But in love, in fairness, and in honesty fulfill your calling. Don’t grieve your children but sharpen them and equip them for the things you see coming.

The Bible says, “For the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and He punishes each one he accepts as His child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT) Just as our Heavenly Father does we should discipline the ones we love. We should also remember the example of God when punishing the ones you love, and not forget to love the ones you punish. Be unwavering without being unforgiving. Listen before you say no, even when you know it’s going to be a “no”. Be strong and consistent in your love. Get on the cross for your children. Embrace being the bad guy. Be Dad.

What are your plans for Father’s Day? Share them below.

Hey Mama, you don’t have to be Supermom

Hey Mama, you don’t have to be Supermom

Back in the day, I used to watch this show called, Scrubs. Do you remember it? You know, Donald Faison and some other people? To be honest, I just watched the show for Donald Faison because he was from Clueless, and I loved the movie Clueless when I was younger. There was one thing I loved most about the show — the theme song. I love theme songs in general. Perhaps that makes me weird, but, whatever. Anyway, the theme song for Scrubs went like this:

I can’t do this all on my own. No, I’m no, I’m no superman.

I’m no superman.

I loved the song so much that I looked it up and put the full version on my iPod Nano. Remember those? I’m taking you back down memory lane, aren’t I? The song is by a band called Laslo Bane. I think I played that song at least 25 times a day when I was in high school. It really resonated with me because I was that girl who always felt like she needed to be superwoman. I thought that I needed to do it all, be it all, and do everything perfectly.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way.

I think part of the reason we tend to have this mentality is because our society tells us that we have to be perfect. Our society tells us that the key to success is to be “busy” and to run ourselves into the ground and to live off of coffee and little sleep. Our society makes us feel like we should be able to do everything perfectly and without help.

This is especially true in the Black community and even more true for us Black moms. This is especially, especially true for Black, Christian mamas. We strive to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, so we hold ourselves up to the highest standards and then pride ourselves into achieving those standards with absolutely no help. We are the keepers of the household, we are the makers of the meals, we are the cleaners of the spills, and we do it all without showing an ounce of our exhaustion. If we ask for help, we are viewed as weak and, of course, that is a no-no.

I became a mom 3 months ago, and now that I’m a mom, I have had many moments being trapped inside the “supermom mentality.” I was convinced I didn’t need help when my daughter was first born. I felt like I needed to do it all and I needed to be perfect while doing so.

It took me crying out to God in a state of exhaustion to realize that we put this mentality on ourselves. Who is telling us that we have to be supermom? Besides society and pressure from social media, there is no written document that states that we have to conform to this “supermom mentality.”

I’m here to tell you today that you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be supermom. That’s what the Holy Spirit is for! Our God is the One who wants to do it all and be it all for us.

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT)

Do you see that? We GET to be weak. Holy Spirit wants us to! No more of this strong front, dear friend. Lean into Christ. Be weak. And let His grace be sufficient for you.

You may be thinking, I hear what you’re saying, but how? I just can’t let myself be weak, or I don’t know where to start!

Girl, I hear you. Let’s talk about it.

Ask the Lord for help

It sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. Hear me out. It can be hard to ask someone else for help. Personally, I don’t want to impose or inconvenience someone, so I just try to do everything by myself. When I had my daughter, I didn’t ask anyone for help except my husband. But, The Lord knew that I needed so much help as a sleep deprived, postpartum mama. He sent me help that I could not refuse. I would receive text messages from faithful friends telling me that they were on the way over to drop off some food. I didn’t have to ask them for the very thing I needed. Holy Spirit guided them to help me when I needed it the most. All I had to do was receive it with open arms and be thankful. When you ask God for help, He will meet you where you are and send you help just as you need it.

Lean on your spouse and loved ones

Mamas, your spouse and loved ones are there for you. They WANT to help and your partner NEEDS bonding time with his child, too. And, of course, your family and friends enjoy spending time with the little ones as well. I know it can be hard to not be the overbearing, overprotective mama bear. Trust me. I’m guilty of this, myself. I have a tendency to hover over my husband instead of just letting him have his time with our little one. Hello? I should be napping as soon as he gets home and takes her! Why do I feel the need to keep hovering? Better yet, why do I feel the need to ask myself, “What needs to be done now?” instead of taking the opportunity to rest. Now, I’m not discouraging productivity, but there is nothing wrong with saying, “no” to those dishes and taking time to recharge when you can.

Also, just talk to your spouse about how you’re feeling. Don’t keep it in. He doesn’t expect you to be supermom, I promise.

Say yes to what matters

Everything is not created equal. As women, and especially as moms, we often say yes to everything. We try to do everything and do it all well. Then, when we get burned out and realize that our efforts created mediocre results. We need to learn to only tackle things that truly matter on a daily basis. For me, that sometimes means putting aside working on the budget to help my stepson with homework. Or, that might mean saying yes to quality time with my spouse and saving that phone call for tomorrow. When we choose just a few things to focus on and do well instead of loading our plates with all of the things, we won’t feel so stretched thin and the “supermom mentality” will fade.

Mamas, we need to realize that our spouse and kids are who’s important. Not what society expects of us, not what we see other moms posting on social media, not what our friends are doing with their kids, etc. Our kids don’t care if our hair is messy or if the house is clean. Our spouse doesn’t care if our kids are perfectly dressed or if we were able to finish that load of laundry today. Our spouses love us and our kids just need us. They beautifully accept us as we are. In their eyes, we are their supermoms. And I know that I don’t have to finish all of the chores for my husband to see me as a “superwife.”

Jesus loves us the same way. He meets us right where we are and gives us grace. We have nothing to prove. Nothing.

Now, go take a deep breath and hug your kiddos. They love you.

 

Do you have additional tips for today’s busy moms? Share them below.

What the Movies Don’t Show You About the Psychiatric Unit

What the Movies Don’t Show You About the Psychiatric Unit

I remember repeatedly telling my friends I did not want to go to the psychiatric hospital for months.

I was terrified and I did not want to be labeled as “crazy.” Every time someone asked if they should call the police, I said “no.” Who would?

After attempting suicide, I found myself in the emergency room being evaluated by a psychiatrist, and he told me I had two choices: voluntarily or involuntarily check in, where I would then be forced to check in to inpatient. I decided to go so I could have more control over the process.

I was dehydrated and, to say the least I was mentally on another planet. Everything seemed like a blur.

I was asked to remove my clothing and valuables and change into scrubs, and to place everything into a plastic bag. It was around 1 p.m., and after almost nine hours (seemed like forever), I got into a wheelchair and a nurse pushed me into the elevator and brought me to the top level of the hospital (4th floor).As I went through the double doors that were locked from both the inside and outside, I saw patients in a common area watching TV.

I was then brought to a room with one of the medical assistants and he took my vitals. And, as I began to process what was happening to me, I cried like a baby. I thought to myself, “What did I sign up for?”

I was escorted to my room, asked the nurse to leave the light on and the door open, and then I cried myself to sleep. The next morning when I got up, I noticed the blue walls, a door that led to a toilet, a sink, a locked window with no view and my roommate sleeping. I did not eat or leave my room because I was scared.

I’ve never been so scared in my life. All I could think about was the psychiatric units in the movies. I thought someone was going to attack me. There were check-ins every 15 minutes by the staff, and you are assigned a social worker, nurse and psychiatrist. You get three meals each day and a snack. You have to ask to take a shower and wash your clothes. I said to myself, “I must be dreaming or I am in jail.”

My social worker suggested I go into the day room and participate in therapy. At this point, I was willing to try anything because I wanted to go home. And to my surprise, it was nothing like the movies.

I walked into a therapy session of emotional bingo. As I listened to the patients talk, I shared their hurt and pain. They shared stories of abuse, grief and untreated childhood traumas.

I decided to go to another session later in the day — music therapy. We listened to music and did arts and crafts, and even though I felt out of place in the unit, it was so relaxing.I met entrepreneurs, overworked-mothers, people with college degrees and a former police officer; people like me and you.

The movies do not show you the psychiatric unit can be a calm and peaceful place. Where I was, it allowed people with mental illness to become stable and begin to work on his or her issues through medication, therapy, writing, reading and resting. The staff was kind, and really wanted to see me succeed.

During my stay, I made amazing connections and started new friendships. It is a great feeling when you meet someone who identifies with you, and does not judge you. My old medication stopped working so I was given new medication, and within a few hours my suicidal thoughts stopped. I took an active roll in creating my treatment plan in order to have an effective recovery process.

After I was discharged, I was placed in a partial hospitalization; I stayed at the hospital for six hours, five days a week, but I was able to go home. I thought I did not belong. I have a master’s degree, I started my own company and two organizations, I have people who look up to me and love me, I have my own apartment, and I drive my own car. Mental illness has nothing to do with your educational, professional or socio-economic background; sometimes it is genetic or simply life, or maybe a combination of the two.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FAMILIES OF MASS INCARCERATION: PART 2

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FAMILIES OF MASS INCARCERATION: PART 2

In the second installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Be sure to check out Part 1 of this compelling story, in case you missed it. 

Mental Health in the Prison System

One of the biggest concerns for family members is for the mental health of their loved ones inside. “I feel that the reason my son’s life spiraled like it did was that my nephew was killed right in front of him,” Kim explains. “That was never dealt with. I feel like he had PTSD and then he made a bunch of bad choices. He was a different person.”

PJ remains deeply concerned for her nephew’s mental health. “He’s a cutter, I mean a severe cutter,” PJ says. “It’s nothing for him to get 30-40 stitches for a one of his cuts.”

She worries about him.

“I don’t know if they’re addressing his mental health issues. The first thing is to be prisoner, above everything else,” PJ explains. “And whatever mental health problems you have are compounded by the trauma of being in prison.”

In many ways, Kim’s son has grown up in the system. “Mental health is a piece that really needs to be considered,” she insists. “Until they address that inside, or as part of re-entry, I don’t think we’ll be effective in preventing them from going back.”

A Broken System

Navigating the multifaceted labyrinth that is the prison system can be exhausting.

Cheryl’s experience is that it is “very tedious and time-consuming and hard on your emotions, your heart,” Cheryl explains. “It just seems like the system just drags.”

She’s been trying to get answers for months now, and has been given no indication of how long the pre-trial phase is going to last.

Inmates do serve time during their pre-trial period, so if they are convicted, they may be able to reduce the total time that they’re on the inside. But, if they’re found not guilty, they’ve lost potentially months of their lives.

“I just wish it didn’t take so long,” Cheryl says. “It just takes a lot out of you, both the person being incarcerated, but also for family and friends. It becomes very hard because you don’t want to see your loved ones there.”

PJ feels like the whole system is set up for failure. “You take people who are poor, and when they work you pay them minimum wage,” she says. “There’s a way to make a whole lot more, but with the risk of being locked up. But a lot of times the desperation of being poor is greater than the fear of being locked up.”

PJ says she was afraid to do anything that would land her behind bars. “I’d hear about the interacting with other people inside and how scary that was,” she says. When asked if that meant prison served as a successful deterrent, she replied “It might be, but only if 1 out of 6 siblings is what we consider success.”

Life After Release

Having a criminal record means losing access to many of the support structures that are necessary to getting back on one’s feet after incarceration. After release, ex-offenders face severe discrimination in finding jobs or applying to schools.

They often cannot qualify for food stamps or public housing. And family members risk losing their benefits if they are found to be housing felons.

PJ notes that “if you make it so hard for them when they come home, maybe they don’t have the fight in them to make it through without going back to what they know.” She receives messages every day from people asking which companies are willing to hire felons.

“Maybe if they were given an opportunity to know what it feels like to have paid their debt and then be free of the judgment, there wouldn’t be such a high recidivism rate,” PJ says.

Kim’s son has been in for 12 years and he’s about to get out. “Were excited about him coming home,” she says. “But, I’m still concerned about his mental health. It’s taken its toll.”

And, she knows it could get harder.

“Now there are all the barriers around being a felon.” Friends have recommended programs and pathways, but there is no central place to even see what is available, or to compare programs’ success rates. “We’re excited about him coming home,” she reiterates, “but is has been a heart breaking experience for our family.”

Church as a Resource

Scripture tells us that we are to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3). Sometimes the church struggles with even this much, but what about the families on the outside as well?

When Molly spent some time in jail a couple years back, her church was there for her. “They gave support, cards, love, books. It affected people at church because no one wants to see their friend in jail,” Molly explains.

As she’s gotten more involved in the life of her church community, she’s become more diligent about completing her required reporting to the authorities. She doesn’t want to get locked up again.

“Besides myself, it affects other people,” Molly says. “If all of the sudden you’re gone for 30 days, there’s a gap to fill in your role at the church. I’m not here by myself.”

As was the case for Molly, churches have tremendous potential to walk alongside both the incarcerated and their families. When churches form meaningful and authentic relationships with their communities, many of these caring partnerships happen naturally, offering spiritual and emotional support during difficult times of forced separation.

More formal ministries, like support groups and resource centers, can also be put into place. For example, there are organizations like Healing Communities, a nationwide, faith-based organization that is “building relationships of healing, redemption and reconciliation in families and communities impacted by crime and mass incarceration.” Then, there are other organizations, like Casa De Paz, that support families specifically affected by immigration detention.

Kim says discovering ministry resources for she and her family has been a learning experience. “I feel like some blanks have been filled in about how incarceration affects the whole family,” she explains.

Encourage your church to learn more and to discover what local agencies are assisting with family visitation or providing support services for children with incarcerated parents in your own community.

Read the first part of this two-part series here.

 

 

Are you embracing the 4 C’s of financial literacy?

Are you embracing the 4 C’s of financial literacy?

A lot of people have heard of the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. I was thinking the other day, the reason why people have a sense of belonging for a community or a city or an estate is because of the people who live there. The experiences and support they bring to that environment promotes a positive culture that draws everyone who lives there to feel as though they belong. They become protective and nurturing of their “village”.

That is the same way we should think about our finances. You do not get to financial stability and freedom by guesswork, feelings or emotions. It is an act of intentional commitment, discipline, education and accountability and it will involve you, and those you are willing to listen to.

I am a firm believer that money is a magnifying tool that reveals the intent and the character of your soul. Who you really are will always be revealed in the abundance of money or lack of it in your life. I have been around people who seemed humble and kind when they did not have money, until they reached a place of financial prosperity. All of a sudden, a sense of being rude and dismissive becomes appealing as though it is supposed to be fashionable. Pride becomes a regular smoothie partaken to make sure that you prove to everyone you made it.

On the other hand, having a lack of money can bring out the insecurities, fear, withdrawal and lack of confidence of embracing true purpose. I have also seen people sabotage great relationships, their integrity and character, because the struggle of not having enough turned them to desperation. They ended up doing things they wished they had not, or going back into situations they should not have, to get back to that place of financial comfort.

The reality is, having financial stability is a great feeling. Waking up each day with the amazing peace that you can pay every bill or anything you owe and have so much left over is a wonderful blessing to experience. However, the biggest mistake we make including myself is, camping in that place of wishing that could happen if we are not yet walking in that reality.

To embark on a journey to success regarding your finances, it has to begin with your outlook. What do you think of yourself regarding money? Proverbs 23:7 KJV states “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he”. Your outward behavior and reaction including your relationship with money is a direct reflection of how you think about yourself.

To create an outlook that will push you and motivate you to a healthy relationship with your finances, including being vulnerable and honest with yourself, as to why you push yourself each day to financial success, practice the “4 C’s to a positive outlook on money” as given to me by Holy Spirit”:

1. Courage

Be willing to face yourself and examine the true motives of your heart. How do you view money? Is it dreadful? Are you stressed out every time its payday or do you have a heart of gratitude for Gods provision? Are you courageous to admit that a lack of money has created a void that you need God to fill? Are you willing to admit that you have used money to attain a status that will make people like you? You have to be courageous to face yourself on your outlook of money.

2. Commitment

You have to commit to change. Denial is not a choice. It is an invisible wall that you create in the circumference of your mind to convince you to cope with the assumption that everything is okay when it is not. Commit to have a positive outlook regarding money. This will give you a fresh perspective of the root cause of your behavior and relationship to money. If money is a tool that motivates you to live a purposeful life, it will be revealed and you will be encouraged to continue working hard. If it is not, you can pause and find out why and adjust your outlook to route you in the right path.

3. Confidence

Confidence is very connected with faith. God always tells you to believe the opposite of what you feel or see. Sometimes at your worst, when you are experiencing lack, God encourages you that “He is your Shepherd and you shall not want” Psalms 23: 1.

As a child of faith, you have to remember that God orchestrates each of our steps and as we live yielded to Him, He will guide us to wisdom, knowledge, education that will equip us to great stewardship. However, we have to first be confident in Him. I am learning that daily, God never gets tired of empowering us with confidence. Seek Him, ask Him, He is right there, and He is willing to release to you the measure of confidence you need to handle the financial obligations at hand.

4. Consistency

Consistency is what icing is to a cake, what syrup is to a pancake, what salt is to soup. Have you ever had soup with no salt? There is no taste to it. But you add a bit of salt and the flavors seem to be awakened as you drink it. It is the secret ingredient that so many of us miss. We start, but don’t finish. We set the budget, but don’t follow it. We open the savings account, but never deposit any money in it. I look at consistency as pacing yourself to savor the sweetness of life.

I love drinking tea. I specifically enjoy a nice cup of Kenyan brewed tea. It takes a special skill to brew a really good cup of Kenyan tea. To add up the flavors and make sure the taste of it is not bitter. The key is time. I consider myself a “master” at making tea especially for a large group of people but, it took me years and years of making tea everyday to learn. I could make tea in my sleep. Was it exciting? No! In fact, sometimes I dreaded it. But, when I see people close their eyes and smell the tea as they drink it with a smile and savor the taste, it brings me great joy!

It is the same way with consistency. You are not going to have butterflies and feel a sense of excitement truth be told you may get bored, not want to do it, dread it, but that is when you should do it. Be consistent in your commitment to be courageously confident about your outlook on money and watch how open you will be to learning how to be a wise steward of what God has blessed you with.

 

Faith and Work Series: Big Decision to Make? Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Faith and Work Series: Big Decision to Make? Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Many of us tend to do two things with our time: work and sleep. While finding a bunch of articles on sleep is just as exciting, the Urban Faith team will be shedding light on Faith and Work. So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.

 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. —James 1:5

“How do I know _______________ (fill in the blank),” is a question I often get when I speak around the country.

How do I know what God wants me to do?
How do I know what my calling is?
How do I get this job?
How do I get out of this job?

I also get a lot of questions that begin with “What”:

What should I do to get the job I want?
What should I study at school?
What does God want me to do in this circumstance?

You get the picture…

While these are all very important questions, I want to suggest that there is an even more important question we should all be asking first and it starts with “Why.”

Asking “Why” Makes All the Difference

Comedian Michael Jr. clearly illustrates the importance of getting to “Why” in this three-minute video clip.

 

The second version of “Amazing Grace” is radically different from the first one because it comes from a different place. It come from the heart, whereas the first version comes from the head. Although beautiful, the first version could have been sung by anyone.

The incredible second version could only have been sung by someone with the experience of the man in the audience because it tapped into something he knew deeply. What Michael Jr. is suggesting in his humorous segment is that the answer to the “Why” question comes from a very different place from the answers to “How” and “What” questions.

God Is the Ultimate “Why”

C.S. Lewis attaches godly purpose to our question of “Why”  in his Reflections on the Psalms:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

Lewis’s answer to this short catechism question defines not only the reason for our very existence, but for the existence of the whole creation. In the opening pages of the Bible, we find the first hint of God’s original intent—the Why—for his creation.

God’s purpose in creation was that he would be glorified by everything he created. This is why God describes the finished creation on the sixth day of the creation story as “very good.” Just as a great painting reflects the glory of the master artist, the new-born creation perfectly reflects the glory of God. He created everything for His glory, including man, the crown jewel of creation.

When we reflect God’s glory, we are doing what we were created to do.

This idea is seen throughout scripture and is reconfirmed in the book of Revelation, where John writes the words of the twenty-four elders,

You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created (Rev. 4:11).

To glorify him in our lives is to align our Why with our What in such a way that we reflect him in everything we do. We live our lives based on his design and his desire, as faithful stewards in all things, mindful of his presence and guidance in each step of our journey.

This is why Paul can conclude in his letter to the Corinthians,

…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor.10:31).

Tim Keller brings all these ideas together in this passage from his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering,

It fits to glorify God—it not only fits reality, because God is infinitely and supremely praiseworthy, but it fits us as nothing else does. All the beauty we have looked for in art or faces or places—and all the love we have looked for in the arms of other people—is only fully present in God himself. And so in every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.

How do I know what God wants me to do? Start by asking “Why.”

 

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

Beyond the Lights: Celebrities and Mental Illness

Beyond the Lights: Celebrities and Mental Illness

As the conversation of mental health and illness gradually comes to the forefront of national attention, the month of May is the perfect time to raise awareness. For some reason, we tend to stigmatize mental illness and do not see it as a “real” or life-threatening illness like cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, social anxiety, and schizophrenia are not made up or less important than any other disease.

In fact, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million (about 18%)—experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and unfortunately, we perceive people with a mental illness as just “crazy.”

However, what we fail to realize is that people with mental illness are more than the individuals walking down the street talking to themselves; mental illness affects everyday, functional people, and even celebrities.

In fact, the thought of a celebrity battling a mental illness might seem far-fetched for some. We tend to believe celebrities are unstoppable and perfect because they have money, power, and fame. We judge celebrities from the outside looking in and do not see them when the cameras are off and they too have to manage their emotions, thoughts, and illnesses like the average person.

Jenifer Lewis encourages others who suffer from mental illness to love themselves. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

We love to see the hilarious, sassy, and powerful characters that Jenifer Lewis portrays in movies and shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Think Like A Man, and Black-ish. But after hiding her 17-year battle with bipolar disorder and 10 years of being on medication, Lewis spoke about her mental illness on Exhale TV.

“What it is, is that you want to do it without the meds,” Lewis says. “You want to get off and say, ‘I’m healthy. I got wheat-grass and I am eating good. I can do this on my own,’ and then you throw the meds away. Don’t do that.”

Lewis also stated that her illness was triggered by the death of her father, but she encouraged people to love themselves.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain structure and chemistry can play a role. Bipolar disorder is an episode of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

Manic episodes might include symptoms such as high energy, reduced need for sleep, and loss of connection to reality. Symptoms of depressive episodes might include low energy, low motivation, and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood episodes last days to months at a time and might also be associated with suicidal thoughts.

Disney Channel superstar, actress, and singer Selena Gomez struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression disorders in addition to dealing with lupus.

Panic disorder is an urge of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. You might even feel like you’re dying or going crazy. If left untreated, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder and other problems, according to helpguide.org.

Depression and anxiety disorders are different, but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral symptoms.

During her speech at the American Music Awards, Gomez talks about her personal struggle with anxiety and depression.

Disney Star Selena Gomez is one of many celebrities who suffer from depression and anxiety. Photo courtesy of Pinterest

“I had to stop. Cause I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside,” Gomez confesses. “And I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together, to where I let myself down. I don’t want to see your bodies on Instagram, I want to see what’s in here [puts a hand on heart]. I’m not trying to get validation, nor do I need it anymore.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many people who develop depression have a history of an anxiety disorder earlier in life. There is no evidence that one disorder causes the other, but clear evidence suggests that many people suffer from both disorders.

The lesson that we learn as children—don’t judge a book by its cover—is necessary when we look at people, celebrities included, with mental illness. It is important to think before you speak, learn about mental illness, and offer compassion for those who deal with these illnesses.

No amount of money, power, or fame can make you happy or protect you from a mental illness. But what we can also learn from this is that people with mental illness are not alone, and most do not allow their illness to stop them from living and achieving their dreams.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are depressed, struggling mentally, or know someone who is, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America to find a therapist in your community as well as other resources.

What is this Stewardship Thing Really All About?

What is this Stewardship Thing Really All About?

In church, we often hear people make reference to “being a good steward over what God has given us.” But do we really know what that means?

Many would argue that the Bible talks more about money and stewardship than almost anything else. That suggests to us that what God has to say about money is pretty important.

Yes, there are more ways of practicing stewardship than ways that involve money, but money is what people struggle with most. Let’s address God’s posture toward our finances this particular article—we’ll save parts II and III on personal finance tips and church finances for another time.

First, many Christians have an incorrect biblical understanding about money. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve simply mentioned money and a Christian said, “Don’t talk to me about money. You know the Bible says that money is the root of all evil!” Well… no, it doesn’t. First Timothy 6:10 says that “the LOVE of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil.” And that makes a big difference. Money itself isn’t evil. Money is necessary. It’s the love of money that makes people do evil things to acquire more money. Essentially, the Bible is warning us not to make money our idol or god. If Christians spend their time avoiding money conversations, how can we expect to acquire any money or manage the money we have well?

So how does the Bible say we should manage money? Luckily, Jesus gives us a parable (a short story that makes a point) about managing money! But it might not be quite what you realized when you heard it in Sunday School or heard it preached…

Matthew 25:14–30 and Luke 19:12–28 are parables about financial investment that Jesus tells to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. Yes, you read that right. Jesus tells a story about stewardship and managing currency (fittingly called “talents,” making it translatable to non-monetary gifts as well) to illustrate what God’s rule is like. The stories have some minor differences, so I’ll stick with the more popular version in Matthew 25.

Briefly, the story goes like this: a man has three people that work for him. (We can call them servants or employees.) He leaves them five talents, two talents, and one talent, respectively, while he travels to another country. (A talent could be interpreted as a way of making money or money itself. For this, let’s just say a talent is worth $10,000.) When he comes back after a long time, the first employee now has ten talents ($100,000), the second has four talents ($40,000), and the last one gives his talent ($10,000) back to his employer. The employer rewards the two servants that made him money, but calls the other one wicked and “cast[s] the unprofitable servant into outer darkness” where it says there’ll be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30, KJV). Yeah… he sends the unprofitable “wicked” servant to (symbolic) hell.
Whoa! That’s what the kingdom of God is like? According to Jesus—yep. But let’s unpack what this story is trying to tell us. It’s not saying that if we don’t make money (for God or ourselves), we’re going to hell. It’s something much more subtle and fundamental. So here are the three reasons the employer (who presumably represents God in this parable) is upset and what God is trying to tell us.

1. “Talents” lose value over time unless you grow them.

One of the first things that any good finance class will teach you is the time value of money, which simply means that money today is worth more than the same amount in the future. For some, this concept can be hard to understand, but trust me, it’s true. Money today can be invested sooner and gain more interest, so it is always worth more if used. And that’s before we consider inflation. In telling the story, Jesus is pointing out that the talents/money/earning potential that the master gave the servants was a gift that the master expected to be used for his benefit. (Sound familiar?) Jesus is clearly indicating that humans are God’s servants and that He expects us to use our talents (monetary and non-monetary) to His benefit. (The text doesn’t say “after a long time” he “settled accounts with them” for no reason; it’s symbolic of our lifetimes (Matthew 25:19, NIV).)

2. The servant wastes the talent that the master gave him.

I did say it’s only worth more if used. That’s why the Lord was so upset—the servant didn’t use the talent he was given. That means he not only wasted the talent itself (because it is worth less now than it was when he gave it to him), but also wasted all of that time that he had the talent. Imagine how much that single talent could have grown and been enhanced, but by hiding it instead of using it, he robbed it of its value. Unfortunately, some of us are guilty of doing the same thing with God because, like the servant in the stories, we’re afraid of messing up with the talent we have. This story warns us that the way to really mess up is to hide our talents and money out of fear and not utilize them for God’s glory

3. The servant/employee doesn’t put in any effort.

The biggest tragedy of this parable is that it didn’t have to end up that way for the third servant. The master points out that even if he feared him, hiding his talent (i.e., putting his money under a mattress) was the worst thing he could’ve done with it. He says, “You could have at least put my money in the bank so that it could have gained interest!” (Credit unions are also a great option these days.) This suggestion serves to tell us that even a little growth is better than no growth. Yet for some reason, many Christians think that as long as we present God with what He gave us, we’ll be fine. Not so. If we don’t help grow God’s kingdom, even a little bit, then it is as if He had not given us any gifts or talents to begin with. Putting the money in the bank was something simple that did not take much effort; how often do we not put in the effort to speak with someone about God or to pay our tithes and give our offerings? When we don’t put in the effort required to grow what God has given us, we are being the wicked servant Jesus warned us about.

In conclusion, many Christians erroneously believe that if they had more money, they would do better with it. Others say that when they make more money, they’ll pay their tithes, yet when a raise comes, they simply spend more money and never tithe. Based on the Scripture, if we did a better job of managing the little that we had, not only would we have more as a result of our good stewardship, but God would bless us with more. This is what I believe Jesus means when He says, “For whoever has will be given more … Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 25:29, NIV). To God, if we don’t put forth the effort to grow a little, then we won’t have the “talent,” skill, or practice needed to manage something greater.

Why we need the Africa Study Bible

Why we need the Africa Study Bible

The internet is saturated with tons of information for all facets of life, including spiritual resources.

In fact, if you do an Amazon search for something like study Bible results will include a wide variety of options. While scrolling down the list, you will find study Bibles for men and women. You will find study Bibles for couples and you can also find a study Bible in just about every translation. So why would anyone need another study Bible, particularly the Africa Study Bible?

Well, to start, we suppose you should start by asking, “What exactly is the Africa Study Bible?”

While all of aforementioned study Bibles have their merit, the Africa Study Bible delivers something unique. It contains insight and knowledge about the Bible from a non-majority culture perspective. It is packed with over 2,400 features, and 350 scholars from more than 50 African countries have contributed to the making of this Bible.

The features of the Africa Study Bible speak on different topics through the lens of African culture. Whether you’re African or a member of the African Diaspora, this Bible provides in-depth knowledge to show that Christianity extends beyond just one group of people.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not solely the territory of those of European ancestry. In fact, it is the countries and cultures of the South and the East where Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. Not only that, but studies show that Africa played a major role in the development of Christian theology. The Africa Study Bible helps to make that clear and it can make that clear for you as well.

The Africa Study Bible is loaded with tons of features, including:

  • Book introductions explaining the history of each book
  • Touch Points to show where the culture of the Bible meets African cultures and how Africans shaped Christian belief
  • Learn Notes to teach the foundations, values, and the doctrine of the Christian faith.
  • Proverbs and Stories to enlighten readers through the parallels of Scripture and cultural wisdom found in wise sayings and fables.
  • Application Notes to inspire readers to reflect on issues and apply truth to everyday life
  • Articles giving practical advice on how to live out the Christian faith, focusing on 50 critical concerns facing the church in Africa and its people
  • Topical Index and Concordance that lists the biblical text s and Africa Study Bible features by topic and defines difficult-to-understand words connecting concepts from Genesis to Revelation for research and teaching
  • Maps, Graphical Timelines, and Other Features that spread throughout the Bible and help provide insight and understanding

With this Bible you will have specific insight and knowledge into the cultures and customs of the Bible from an African perspective. This will equip you with tools to share non-majority insights with your congregation or Bible study. The Africa Study Bible can help you to reclaim Christianity’s African roots.

Get yours today here!

Check out our interview with Dr. A. Okechukwu Ogbonnaya, Ph.D. on the inspiration behind the Africa Study Bible and its impact on our community below:

 

A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

In the first installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Check back soon for Part 2 of this compelling story.

Thanks to ongoing work of justice advocates across the United States, we are increasingly aware of the devastating effects of our prison system on the millions of individuals who have been incarcerated.

In the land of freedom and liberty, we incarcerate more of our citizens per capita than any other country in the world. There has been a 500% increase in our prison population over the last 30 years, and more than one out of every 100 adults in the country is currently behind bars.

Angela Davis notes that “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” Through a broken system of predatory profiling, mandatory sentencing, and profit mongering, millions of individuals are being “disappeared” from their communities, and from their families.

So what is it like to be on the outside while someone you love is on the inside?

PJ, Molly, Cheryl, and Kim share their stories.

Broken Relationships

“I grew up with siblings who were always in and out of jail,” PJ remembers. “Our family was constantly interrupted. I’ve never been in prison, but I have five siblings and they have all been in prison. It’s like they were caught in a cycle and they couldn’t get out. They weren’t out for even a year sometimes.”

The first time her older brother went to jail, he was nine.

PJ notes that a system that doesn’t repair what’s broken, just perpetuates the brokenness. “The prison system doesn’t fix anything, it just stalls it,” she notes. “My godbrother went in when his daughter was a baby, and came out when she was 18. So where is that whole relationship? Not only is it him who’s being institutionalized, but there’s her whose growing up without a father.”

By her own admission, Molly went to jail quite a bit when she was younger. “I was addicted and it really affected my kids, because I was not there,” she recalls. When she was inside, Molly’s mother took care of her children. She understands that when you’re locked up, “other people are having to hold up your end.” Each time she had to explain to her mother that she was once again locked up she knew it affected her mother emotionally.

Molly is usually the one that manages the household, which meant when she wasn’t around, others were left to handle things on their own. “It can make people feel abandoned, left behind, feeling somewhat at a lost as a result of my being locked up.”

“On the other hand,” Molly recalls, “my daughter’s father used to go in and out of jail a lot, and I actually felt relieved. He was abusive. When he was locked up I was happy because that meant he was out of my hair for a bit.”

Cheryl has two loved one’s currently in the system, one already sentenced, the other waiting to go through the process. “It’s almost like going through a loss, almost like a death,” she notes. “There’s a grieving process. There is a long adjustment.”

Kim’s youngest son has been locked away for awhile. She shares that “it’s hard even to gather as a family. He was the one who was always joking and laughing.” He has lost his support system, and they have lost him.

“He and his younger sister were real close. It’s been hard for her, not having him around her. We have a grandson that was his little buddy, and now he’s not around. They were babies when he left. Now they’re getting ready to graduate high school and go off to college”

Visits

PJ recalls going to visit her siblings in jail as a kid. “I hated how dingy and dark it was,” she says. “I hated talking to them through the glass on the phone. I remember having to be picked up to see them through the window.”

She now has a nephew that’s been inside for three years, even though he only just got sentenced a year ago. She is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to talk to him for a while.

Because he was arrested in another state, PJ and her nephew are nearly 2,000 miles apart from one another. “The prison does have video visits that you can buy,” she says. “But, you have to pay with a credit card, then you have to download software, then at the time assigned you have to log on with that software.”

PJ says the system works as long as you have access to things like credit cards, computers, reliable internet, and a webcam. But, it’s still a better situation than it used to be.

“When he first got there we had to write to him on a post card,” she recalls. “We couldn’t even write a letter. That was their rule. You had to communicate on a post card.”

Kim also struggled to overcome long distances to stay connected with her son during his incarceration. When she was, in fact, able to visit, it could be difficult. “He was very angry in the beginning, so visits were hard,” Kim recalls. “He would get mad and tell us not to visit. It took a long time for him to calm down and accept.”

However, for PJ it’s a no-win situation: “They cut you off and make you feel abandoned on both sides. The people on the outside feel abandoned, and the person doing time feels abandoned. Then you’re supposed to reunify that relationship afterward. But its already been traumatized.”

Visit our site next week for Part 2 of this story.

Women bloggers spawn an evangelical ‘crisis of authority’

Women bloggers spawn an evangelical ‘crisis of authority’

(RNS) When Sarah Bessey started blogging in 2005, she saw it as a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

And that was in the early days of the Christian blogosphere, which she remembers as an “oasis of community” — strangers sharing everything from parenting tips to theology and filling comment sections with “lively and respectful” dialogue.

Flash forward to 2017.

In many places, blogging seems to have become all about personal branding. At the same time, Bessey’s blog has brought her speaking engagements and inspired two books — “Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women” and “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith” — with a third in the works. Bessey now has nearly 43,000 followers on Twitter and about 38,000 onFacebook.

“The internet gave women like me — women who are outside of the usual power and leadership narratives and structures — a voice and a community,” Bessey told RNS by email. “We began to write and we began to find each other, we began to learn and be challenged, we began to realize we weren’t as alone as we thought we were. Blogging gave us a way past the gatekeepers of evangelicalism.”

For many Christian women, including racial minorities, and others whose voices traditionally have not been heard by or represented in institutional churches, the internet has created new platforms to teach, preach and connect.

That includes countless personal blogs and social media accounts like Bessey’s. It also includes online ministries that have grown to include offline events like Propel Women(in)courageThe Influence Network and IF:Gathering, and Bible study communities like She Reads Truth, which started as a hashtag by several online strangers to share what they were reading in the Bible and has grown to a website, app, book and specialty Bible that counted 500,000 active users last fall.

“People used to ask me, ‘Where did all these women writers and influencers come from?!’ and I’d have to laugh when I said, ‘The internet!’” Bessey wrote in her email.

But, if the furor on social media this past month is to be believed, the abundance of faith bloggers also has created what the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren  called a “crisis of authority.”

“Is literally everyone with a computer — do they equally hold authority to teach and preach?” said Warren, an Anglican priest, who wrote a commentary for Christianity Today titled “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?

What’s happening

The controversy started just before Easter. Writer and speaker Jen Hatmaker criticized “the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.” Hatmaker said she had encountered all that after affirming in an interview last fall with RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt that same-sex relationships can be holy.

A day later, Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted that when considering the “things that need crucifying with Christ I vote personal branding. It’s gross.”

“I am so sick of it and them I could vomit,” Moore wrote.

And, after the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear trended on Twitter, Bessey started #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear to “amplify the voices of women who have too often been silenced” in the church, she wrote in a Facebook post. More followed, including #ThingsOnlyBlackChristianWomenHear.

Warren said the controversy touched on nearly all of the disagreements currently roiling the waters of evangelical Christianity — one of which is complementarianism, or the belief that men and women have different roles.

“We’re talking about the history of evangelicalism, anti-institutionalism meets complementarianism meets marketing, money and power meets marginalization of minority voices — all of these things collide in this conversation,” she told RNS.

Warren said her concerns extend to the male-dominated “megachurch” model, as well.

Austin Channing Brown. Photo courtesy of Austin Channing Brown

“I think the reason — and this is why I wrote the piece — that a lot of women are going outside their congregations to the internet for discipleship, is that they don’t have women in their congregations who can come to them, not just as buddies but with pastoral authority,” Warren said.

Many women already are gifted teachers, and the institutional church should embrace them, she suggested. That’s a mutual relationship: Bloggers also should work to “build a church bigger than their own personal brand and submit to this long tradition of Christian faith.”

That’s precisely why internet platforms are so important, according to Austin Channing Brown, who writes and speaks about justice and racial reconciliation.

Not only does it give a voice to those the institutional church hasn’t — and minority women in particular often are overlooked for leadership positions, Brown said — but also, she tweeted, “important things have been said from outside denominations because denominations were all messed up.”

Not all churches and denominations confer authority through a seminary education. Brown is ordained by her Full Gospel Baptist Church denomination though she doesn’t have a traditional seminary degree.

“The church has survived the printing press, radio and televangelists. We survived the rise of non-denominational churches and megachurches. We survived generations of white men with a platform and no traditional governing body sanctioning or approving their words,” she said in an email to RNS.

“But I don’t want to frame this newest step in the democratization of influencing the church as something to be survived. Many Christians believe that the church is made better when marginalized voices bring a new narrative to old ideas.”

Why this isn’t new

Questions about authority and influence go back at least as far as 1517, as those on all sides of the conversation are fond of pointing out. After Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, they were distributed widely via new media (then, the printing press), sparking the Protestant Reformation.

“So, no, I am not worried about women with blogs becoming a crisis for the church. I suspect that we will survive, and maybe even be made better by their presence,” Brown said.

Many famous evangelicals have lacked seminary training or institutional backing. For instance, best-selling author Ann Voskamp recently noted that D.L. Moody — the 19th-century evangelist who founded the Chicago Evangelization Society, later renamed the Moody Bible Institute — had no more than a fifth-grade education.

Evangelicalism is what historian Daniel Silliman calls a “discourse community.” It has no agreed-upon definition, no creed, no single person or council who can speak for the entire movement.

“It’s a conversation, so those platforms shape the conversation,” Silliman said.

It just looks different in 2017 than it did in the world of the 1970s, when the conversation happened primarily through Christian bookstores and radio.

Bessey, the blogger, says it’s easy for someone with a recognized platform to sneer at building such a following. But she says the church is stronger when those unauthorized voices get heard.

“I know that I love Jesus and follow Jesus better when I hear why and how other people follow him — especially when I hear from people who aren’t always approved by the establishment,” she said. “God isn’t trademarked.”

Kendrick Only Half Right About God’s Judgment

Kendrick Only Half Right About God’s Judgment

Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is one of the most popular music stars in the nation today, with multiple songs on his new album charting in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 songs. His single “Humble.” drew praise and critique from all sides of the Black community for its message as a corrective to pride and yet centering the conversation on his own desires as a Black man.

Recently Kendrick Lamar did an interview with hip-hop website DJ Booth, where he shared that one of his major messages in the new album D—. is that God is to be feared in a way that brings reverence and obedience. He shares that in his experience, many churches’ message is hope and forgiveness without talking about God’s requirement for obedience and judgment on sin.

He hopes his album will provoke thought and discussion of the idea that God is gracious and loving, but also a God of wrath and judgment who wants to use suffering to correct and discipline His children. Kendrick states in an email response to DJ Booth’s article:

“Our God is a loving God. Yes. He’s a merciful God. Yes. But he’s even more so a God of DISCIPLE [sic]. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline. Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.”

An incomplete articulation of the faith

Kendrick Lamar’s sentiment is spot on; God is both a God of love and a God of obedience, merciful and disciplinary. Kendrick’s feelings about hearing only of God’s hope, blessing, and happiness as a child, leaving him feeling empty, are all too real for many people, including Christians.

The sort of preaching that does not speak to suffering, judgment, and consequences for sin while highlighting only God’s blessing is an incomplete teaching and sharing of Christian faith. A Christianity that pushes consequences and rewards into “the sweet by-and-by” is another incomplete articulation of the faith.

However, Kendrick’s wording is a bit misleading and his implications aren’t in line with what we see revealed in Scripture in light of Christ. Mercy itself means that God chooses not to make us suffer for every conscious choice of sin.

The idea that God would inflict harm on someone close to us for sin suggests belief in curses or divine consequences on whole households that aren’t congruent with what the Old Testament reveals (Jeremiah 31:28–30; Ezekiel 18:1–3) and Jesus teaches (Matthew 16:27).

It is reasonable based on Scripture to say that sin has consequences and that it affects a family, but its effect comes directly from its cause (Romans 6:23, 7:5, James 1:14–16), such as violence causing physical and psychological harm, not indirect through a divine judgment.

It is absolutely true that God disciplines the believer, even in light of grace (Hebrews 12:3–11). But mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12–14), and the very definition of grace through the death of Jesus Christ is that we do not get what we deserve for our sins (Ephesians 2:4–16).

Got Cheap Grace?

What Kendrick has pointed out for the church is that many people are not hearing the message of consequences for sin that leads us to repentance. We live in a society where sin is seen as tolerable, and forgiveness for sin comes without price.

In addition, suffering in Black communities is often ignored or given a bandage of hope in “our season” instead of confronted with the Gospel of Jesus. Or worse but more commonly, some Christians use “cheap grace” to justify their hypocrisy.

Jesus proclaims life in the midst of death, righteous living and resurrection as acts of resistance to worldliness and death. As a result of seeing Christians who articulate a theology of grace without repentance and that fails to address suffering of Black people, Kendrick is left to find explanation for his reality in the law of Deuteronomy instead of the grace of Christ.

Jesus called for us to be disciples, not simply to be saved. Salvation is a free gift; following Christ is costly. Hope is in Jesus our Savior to redeem us from our suffering, not in ourselves to live righteously enough to end our own suffering.

This faith is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us by grace, not by works that save us from curses. The church would be wise to hear Kendrick Lamar and others like him as they cry out for understanding and direction that addresses the suffering, immorality, and brokenness they see in the world.

Jesus does not leave us to account for our sin on our own by the power of the law. In love, He gives Christians the Holy Spirit by grace to transform us, make us holy, and empower us to live justly. However, the church must preach the Gospel of Jesus that calls us to repentance and new life, not simply blesses us with no accountability if we are to reach the Kendrick Lamars in our world.

Four Tips to Encourage Single Christian Women in Their Work

Four Tips to Encourage Single Christian Women in Their Work

I’d like to honor the single Christian woman who is working late tonight instead of being taken out to dinner. (But, please keep reading even if that’s not you. If you’ve ever been disappointed with God, I hope this encourages you, too.)

The longing for family

A 38-year-old, single Christian friend of mine told me recently that she got a promotion. The only problem, she said, is that she’d rather be a stay-at-home mom, “packing school lunches.”

This isn’t someone who’s simply dreaming about the greener grass on the other side of the hill. This is a gal who has sought to steward her talents for God’s glory. She earned a graduate degree and is in a job leveraging her strengths and bringing about great flourishing around her—both in and outside of work.

But the natural longing for family of many Christian women like my friend is real—it’s God-given. This is why stewarding your vocation as a single Christian woman can be confusing. As you apply yourself and advance in your career, it can feel like you’re getting further away from marriage and family. I’ve heard women say:

I’m afraid that if I pursue my work with vigor that it will signal to God that I’m less interested in marriage and family;

or,

I’m afraid that my Ph.D. scares men away.

As someone who was in this demographic for many years, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what I have learned along the way.

1. Choose to be fully alive.

Christian singles, and others who similarly wait on God’s timing for something, have a choice to make. We can either keep our hearts alive to the Lord, or turn away from him and kill our desire.

It’s comforting that scripture recognizes the often-hard reality of life this side of heaven—that there is longing and disappointment:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Prov. 13:12).

What do women long for? While women do value significance and meaning in their work, they also long for intimacy in relationship.

Seeking intimacy with the Lord has sustained me in the “now, but not yet” aspect of life and God’s kingdom. The Bible instructs us to be honest and pour out our hearts to the Lord (Ps. 62:8). This way, we keep our heart alive and its longings close to the surface, though painful. As we open our hearts to God and his will, he can pour out his love and give us both a vision and a desire for what he is calling us to do today.

An additional benefit of choosing to be fully alive is that it has a ripple effect on our relationships, family, and even our work.

2. Be fully female.

God has made us uniquely male and female, in his image (Genesis 1:27). The fact that he has you in the office and not at home nurturing children right now is not a mistake. Not only are you designed with specific talents unique to you, your perspective as a woman adds richness to a work product that otherwise might only have a male perspective.

While women have different strengths, being fully feminine may mean letting an empathetic, nurturing side show through as you interact with colleagues and add your input to projects.

God has also designed many women, like him, to be strong protectors of the weak and vulnerable. Author Carolyn Custis James writes that the Hebrew word for “helper” (ezer), used to describe women in Genesis 2:18, can be defined as “strong helper,” even like a warrior. Without the work of women, our society would be a much different place.

3. Know God.

When years pass and longings go unfulfilled, some single women begin to lose enthusiasm about growing their skills on the job and lose faith in God’s loving character.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, we learn how important it is to put our faith in who God really is. Many people learn from this parable we are to invest and grow our talents for God, not “bury” them. This is true. But few understand how it also teaches that trusting in the true character of God compels us to serve him well. The servant who buried his talent said,

”Master,’ he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground” (Matt. 25:24-25).

The wicked servant buried his talent because he didn’t trust in the character of God. If we serve a God of love, who gave his one and only son on our behalf, can’t we trust him with our hearts and our vocation?

4. Know Your Purpose.

When we have a transcendent, God-given purpose, everything looks different. I’ve seen single Christian women go from tears and slumping in their chairs to sitting up straight with hope in their eyes when they are reminded of their identity in Christ and their purpose. Each one of us, no matter our marital status, plays an active role through our work in God’s master plan of restoration through Jesus Christ.

This is where churches can do better in coming alongside single women, not just to comfort and encourage them as they live a single life, but to challenge them in their calling.

The topic of Christian singleness and vocation, like life’s most pressing and difficult questions, deserves a rich theology. Whether we’re packing lunches or sitting at an office computer, we owe it to ourselves to wrestle with the Lord and dig into scripture to reflect deeply and soundly about our vocations.

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

Generosity: Going beyond the tithe

Generosity: Going beyond the tithe

I’d garner a wage that if you’ve ever stepped into a church, you’re familiar with the “Offering” moment. It’s generally a time in the service where someone will get up and give a brief message about the importance of tithing.

It is almost comical how quickly the energy in the room changes in this moment. People revert back to high school tendencies and hide their faces for fear of eye contact and looming shame.

At the church I currently attend, they pass buckets down rows and I, as discreetly as possible, glance at how much my neighbor has contributed while simultaneously feeling the need to defend why I have nothing tangible to place in the bucket because I give online. All of this, of course, happens in seconds. Then, the moment passes and everyone seems to release a collective breath, almost as if to say, “OK, we’re done talking about money.”

A lot of times when we hear sermons on giving, we hear it from the perspective of “Give because God’s going to give it back to you.” Another perspective is “Give because God will punish you if you don’t.”

I’m not going to argue against those perspectives. I want to offer a new one, perhaps, a deeper one.

This Giving Thing is Nothing New

2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are basically an offering message nestled in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Without getting too much into the historical context of this passage, let’s establish a little background to set the scene.

It’s important to read the letter as a whole. Paul was attempting to re-establish his authority with the Corinthian church. There were “false prophets” trying to usurp his relationship with the church; there were questions around hierarchy within the church as it pertains to spiritual gifts, etc., etc.

Needless to say, the church at Corinth needed a stern talking to. While this was going on in Corinth, according to Colin Kruse’s The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, the Jewish Christians of Judea had been hit hard by outbreaks of famine during the reign of Claudius (emperor of Rome AD 41-54).

Theologian Tom Wright goes on to explain the sensitivity of Paul’s ask. Wright states, “[Paul] knows that at every stage the project is a tricky one: persuading the Gentile churches to hand over money, especially the Corinthian church that had seemed to rebel against him; taking the money safely, and with proper accounting, to Jerusalem; and delivering it acceptably to the church there.”

There’s one passage in particular that I’d like to highlight. 2 Corinthians 8:4 says, “… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of
sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (emphasis mine).

We could all learn a thing or two about giving

The summer after I finished university, I moved in with a family from the church I was attending. It was a pretty new experience for me, living with a family I barely knew and having to get used to their customs. For example, every day at 6 p.m., dinner was on the table and we had family dinner. I was expected to be home for dinner every night, something I’d never experienced before.

One night, I was running a bit late. I didn’t think it necessary to call because I figured they wouldn’t miss me, or they wouldn’t notice or care that I wasn’t there. So, imagine my surprise when I walked in and everyone was at the table waiting on me to get there.

I was floored and embarrassed at the same time. I was lovingly, yet sternly, reminded that dinner is at 6 p.m. and I should kindly let them know when I’ll be late in the future. It was a shift in worldview for me. Because I was now seen as a part of their family, I was expected to act like a part of their family.

In the same way, since we, as Christians, have now been welcomed into God’s family, we are expected to act differently. We are expected to be generous.

God so loved the world that he gave … generosity is a character trait of being the Lord’s people. Our capacity to give exists only because God first gave. We give because, through Jesus Christ, it’s in our DNA to give.

It isn’t by force or threat that we should approach generosity. It is with full conviction of who we are in Christ that we live generous lives. It goes far beyond one moment one day a week. It should bleed into our everyday lives. Urgently search out ways to give.

I’ve challenged myself to carry dollar bills and bottles of water and fruit in my car because I know I’m going to pass homeless people on the street. It’s a simple way to purpose to be generous. It’s our privilege as the Lord’s people to do so.

The Church and Marriage: Why Can’t We Talk About Sex?

The Church and Marriage: Why Can’t We Talk About Sex?

The Church is supposed to be a haven for people.

It is often said that the church house is like a hospital, and the believers are the patients searching for healing. If you believe that to be at least somewhat true, then I think we should talk about what spiritual services are—and are not—being provided in the church.

We often talk about how to deal with finances, sickness, employment issues, death of loved ones, and even relationships, but one of the things that we rarely, if ever, talk about in church is sex.

Of course, the church has a biblical interest in advocating that sexual relations occur within the confines of marriage. However, church folk have gotten so good at phrases such as, “just say no,” “not until you’re married,” and “save yourself for that special someone,” that when Christians do get married, especially young couples, some may find that members of the church are at a loss for words about what to tell them when they have questions about sex.

So many people, especially young people, who wait until marriage to have sex get to their wedding night, honeymoon, and beyond and have no clue on what a healthy, sexual relationship with their spouse looks like. (And that’s not even considering the weird, sexual comments and questions that church people do feel strangely comfortable discussing. I can’t tell you how many times church folks have asked, “So when are you all going to give us some babies?”…as if our children will be theirs. It also seems as if they should dictate when we should have offspring and as if when my wife and I do decide to try for children – which involves sex – is any of their business! But I digress…)

Plenty of married couples have problems in their sex lives and want to talk to their pastor about it or have a forum about what sex means for their Christian walk. But, too often, neither the pastor nor the church want to talk about it.

Believe it or not, sexual intercourse could be considered a holy act between a husband and wife. Sex has the power and potential of drawing the bride and groom closer to one another and to create life. If that isn’t holy, I don’t know what is.

So why should the church have responsible conversations about sex? Here are a couple of reasons:

Sex is natural. It doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Too often when people try to bring up sex, the inclination is to tell them to stop talking about it because it’s “taboo,” “dirty,” “fast” or (worst of all) “unholy,” and it quells a much-needed conversation. However, these conversations need to be had – or avoided – at the appropriate level and age of those in question, including teens.

The church has to realize that if we’re not educating teenagers and young adults on godly principles about sex, then someone somewhere is educating them about sex. And, more than likely, God has nothing to do with their teaching.

We do married couples a disservice when we avoid talking about sex.

Many church people have no problem talking about and encouraging married couples to have babies, but they like to pretend that the magical decision to start a family comes without sex. Well, it doesn’t.

In fact, many would argue that sex is just as much a part of the list of marital issues as budgeting, child-rearing, career conflicts, intimacy, not spending enough time together, bad habits, and other common marital problems. Of course, sex conversations, like all other marital conversations, should be initiated by the couple. However, if they have an issue that they raise with other members of the church community, we should be willing to tackle it—including sex.

Ultimately, sex is one thing about humanity that I don’t imagine will go away anytime soon. (And if it did, we’d be in trouble.) God created and ordained sex as a blessing for married couples and we shouldn’t shy away from that. Another thing that I don’t think will be going away anytime soon is sin. Yet, I think that the church needs a reminder that sex itself is not sinful. Sex is blessed and ordained by God and too often we foolishly conflate sex with sin and we shouldn’t.

Why do you think sex continues to be a topic that’s off limits for married couples in the church? Share your thoughts below.

7 Tips to Help Manage Depression and Anxiety

7 Tips to Help Manage Depression and Anxiety

Dealing with a mental illness is never easy but with the proper strategies and tools, you can learn to manage your mental health while living a happy life.

Self-care is the root for coping with mental illness. I never understood the meaning of self-care until I was hospitalized. It sounds simple to take care of yourself but you would be surprised by how many people neglect self-care.

Many of us tend to take care of everyone else without realizing that we are more valuable and effective if we take the time to give ourselves some TLC. 3 John 1:2 says “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”

God desires for us to be healthy. But, how can He dwell within in us if we aren’t healthy in our mind, body, and spirit?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States. It is also common for individuals with depression to have an anxiety disorder or vice versa. In fact, 6.7 percent of the United States population has major depressive disorder (MDD).

However, the good news is that 80 percent of those treated for depression and anxiety show improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. In addition to clinical treatment, there are a variety of coping mechanisms that help manage your symptoms.

Feeding your spirit can include praying and/or reading your Word. However, we, as Christians, may also want to consider opening our minds to additional coping strategies that will impact one’s spirit, body, and mind.

1. Therapy

I have been in therapy for a year and a half, and it has been a long process but I am reaping the benefits for sticking it out. Find a therapist that you like and feel comfortable talking to. Therapy offers personal insight, empowerment, coping strategies, prevention of future illness distress, and someone to talk to without judgment. I was hesitant in the beginning because I thought to myself “I am not crazy. I do not need therapy.” However, I am glad I put my fear aside and gave it a try. While you can talk to a friend, family member or pastor, I recommend that you speak with a person who has a background in mental illness.

2. Balanced Diet

It is not rocket science but the foods we eat impact our illness. If your mental illness is a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to be conscious of how food affects you. I have noticed when I consume an obsessive amount of comfort foods such as ice-cream and cookies, I feel worse. Here is the problem with overeating; it decreases your energy because your body must work harder to break down the food. Not to mention, overeating can lead to being overweight. A balanced diet helps with concentration and energy levels. According to Everyday Health, foods such as turkey, walnuts, fatty fish, whole grains and green tea help with depression.

3. Exercise

You do not have to go to the gym every day if that is not your thing but you can take a walk, attend a dance class, play sports or play with children. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals , such as endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemical, interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also helps to alleviate stress, improve self-esteem, and sleep.

4. Create a support group

It can be frustrating when you have a mental illness and no one understands you and/or judges you. Finding the right support team is important. This may include a life-coach, therapist and/or psychiatrist, significant other, family or friends. Each individual should help in some way by meeting a need or needs. If the relationship is not healthy then you may want to consider removing them completely from your life. You should be able to share with your support group whether you are having a good or bad day. When you struggle with a mental illness, every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, and that is okay.

5. Listening to nature sounds

Before I go to sleep, I play sounds of waves as it helps to relax my mind and body. I enjoy hearing the sounds of waves, raindrops, and waterfalls. When most of us take vacations, we tend to go to the beach, tropical islands or lakes to relax and rejuvenate. So, it makes sense that the sound of nature such as birds chirping and waves help many relax, specifically, the sound of water. According to an article by the Huffington Post, water gives our brain rest from overstimulation and induces a meditative state.

6. Himalayan Salt Lamp

I had no idea of the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp. The lamp is a carved piece of rock from the Mountains in Northeast Pakistan and stretches across approximately 186 miles from the Jhelum River to the Indus River. The Himalayan salt lamp releases negative ions which promote a relaxing environment and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. WebMD explains it perfectly. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin which help to alleviate depression, stress, and boost energy.

7. Journaling

While journaling is not anything new in the mental health world, I think it is important for anyone struggling with a mental illness. It helps you be honest with yourself, track changes, create goals and express feelings through journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can be as free as you want and it is a judgment-free zone. You can journal once a day, a few times a day or every few days; there is no set schedule so it does not feel like a chore. If you are in therapy, journaling can allow you to write topics and concerns that you can discuss in therapy that will better aid you in your recovery and healing. Journaling helps to clarify your thoughts, reduce stress and solve problems. It has also been proven that journaling is one of the most effective coping skills.

While the above seven strategies mentioned are not the only strategies for coping and taking care of yourself, it is important to find what works for you. Take the time and step outside of your comfort zone for managing your mental illness and begin your journey to healing. God often pushes us outside of our comfort zone to strengthen our faith in Him and ourselves.

 

Faith and Work Series: Managing Expectations about Work, Life After College

Faith and Work Series: Managing Expectations about Work, Life After College

For the next several weeks, Urban Faith will be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.

In an article on The Gospel Coalition site titled “What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?”, Jackie Knapp reflects on conversations she’s had with old friends looking back on their 20s. Apparently, life after college wasn’t quite what they had envisioned:

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard.

The specific tribulations that afflicted some of her friends—“infertility,” “devastating breakups,” “marriage conflicts,” etc.—are not universal experiences. Still, many recent graduates will experience a similar gap between their expectations of life after college and reality, asking, “Where did I go wrong?”

But life after college can be just as good as any other life stage if you know what to reasonably expect.

There are three major spheres of life that are especially germane to a discussion about recent graduates (and soon-to-be-graduates)—work, friendships, and romance. In each of these areas, know that God is not absent even when post-college life isn’t what you hoped it would be. The points I make here are inspired by Erica Young Reitz’s fuller treatment of the subject (including other topics such as family, finances, and more) in her excellent book, After College, with today’s focus being work.

Doubts and Anxiety About Work

The pressure to find a job after graduation is exacerbated by thinking that if you can find work—any work at all—you’ll be satisfied. (Those who have been struggling in their job search are especially likely to believe this.)

As good as it is to have a job, though, work can have its disappointments and frustrations beyond having a demanding boss or catty co-workers. The job opportunity you searched so hard for could turn out to be something mundane that doesn’t draw on your education or unique gifts, or you could have an interim job such as a Starbucks barista or a grocery store cashier.

But even if you get a job in your field, you may begin to have second thoughts about your chosen career path, wondering, “Is this really what I want to spend my life doing?”

In either case, even the blessing of having a job quickly becomes clouded with doubt and despondency.

But those clouds can be dispersed with a proper understanding of both our particular work and God’s broader calling on us.

Seeing Work Through a Biblical Lens

First, to rightly understand the nature of our work and calling, we must be familiar with the biblical story of the world we inhabit. Reitz divides this story into four parts—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—and characterizes them as follows:

  1. Creation: “God created the world and everything in it, including us, his image-bearers.”
  2. Fall: “Sin entered in, bringing a curse to all of creation.”
  3. Redemption: “God sent Jesus to die and rise again to save us and the whole world from sin and death to reverse the curse.”
  4. Restoration: “God is bringing his kingdom (perfect order) to every inch of this world, and we get to be a part of it!”

This is a heavily condensed version of IFWE’s four-chapter gospel, but the points relevant to our discussion can be easily applied.

When God created the world and pronounced everything in it good (Gen.1:31), he did not then retreat into seclusion and leave the world to its own devices. In his great love for what he has made, he continues to sustain (Heb. 1:3) and provide for (Ps. 104) his creation, even at this very moment. Also, when God created Adam and Eve, he tasked them with caring for creation as well (Gen. 1:28).

What this means for you and your work is that you, too, are an agent of God’s loving sustenance and restoration of the world, even if the part you play in it seems small in your eyes. This is why Martin Lutheremphasized the dignity of all work:

The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.

To return to our earlier examples of seemingly menial work, the espressos and lattes a barista makes help other people stay alert so they can do their jobs well and he or she helps provide an environment where the community can gather. A grocery store cashier empowers people to get home with the food they need to live and feed their families.

These jobs, which on the surface appear to be cogs in a machine, are performed by people who are every bit as valuable to God in these positions as a doctor or a teacher. And the “machine” they are part of would not work without them.

As Reitz says, no matter what our job is, God’s care for his creation through human agents means we get to:

Join Christ daily, wherever we are, in his ongoing work of caring for the whole creation: people, institutions, communities and the earth itself. Our purpose begins the moment we wake up and interact with the world.

Indeed, this “should give us a reason to get up in the morning”—no matter what work God has put before us.

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. The original article can be accessed here. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

Crown of Thorns: One Woman’s Journey From Foster Care To Success

Crown of Thorns: One Woman’s Journey From Foster Care To Success

Shalita O’Neale is not your average survivor.

The 34-year-old is a foster care graduate who took her experiences and used them as inspiration to create the Fostering Change Network, a nonprofit that creates avenues to a successful life while eliminating the stigma of being a foster care child. The organization is based in the Washington, D.C., area and hosts networking and workshop events throughout the country, including its Six Degrees of Foster Care Gala/Alumni Powerhouse Network event planned for New York City in May.
When O’Neale was approached for this interview, she was eager to tell her story so that anyone who has gone through similar troubles will be encouraged. Check out our interview with Shalita below as she shares her journey from sufferer to survivor.

THE BEGINNING OF GOD’S CHARGE

O’Neale was thrust into a horrific situation that many do not survive, but her tenacity to be loved served a purpose and she was encouraged along the way by an unlikely person.

How did you end up in foster care?

SO: My mother was murdered when I was two years old and my father was never part of my life; he drank himself to death when I was 16, but I didn’t find out until I was 19.

What was your experience in foster care?

SO: My experience in foster care was extremely lonely. I tried very hard to fit in and to avoid being a burden, even with my own family. I was put in a Kinship Placement with my grandmother at age five, but due to her alcoholism and physical and verbal abuse I was placed with my uncle until I was 13. Unfortunately, he was also physically abusive. At 13, I gathered the courage to tell someone and officially went into foster care. I lived in two different foster homes before going to live in a group home and often felt I was being punished because I did not have parents. There were people along the way that encouraged me and spoke to my potential and I am forever grateful for them. It was this and my desire to prove everyone wrong that fueled my ambition to succeed.

What are some of words inspiration that kept you going?

SO: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi

CB: Who was your role model growing up?

SO: Aaliyah! I was so lonely through my different living situations, despite that I had much older siblings (17 years older). My brother and sister were dealing with their own set of trials, because of our mother’s murder. But Aaliyah was the big sister I never had with her mix of tomboy and “girly” style, love of music, and humility that I could relate to. When she died I grieved heavily, but she still inspired me to grow into that type of woman, a woman who was loved and admired for all that she gave to the world.

PURPOSE FOUND

Shalita chased the light despite her strenuous beginnings and went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and her master’s degree in social work, with a concentration in community organizing and social action from the University of Maryland. Looking at Shalita, she did not seem like the hard-core detective type like Misty Knight from Luke Cage. We laughed about that. However her past did dictate what her future would become and in this case it was a good thing.

What was your “savior” moment? What made you create the Fostering Change Network?

SO: I’ve had several savior moments. Every time I wanted to give up, even end my life, there was something that removed the despair. Almost as if in the next moment, the feeling was forgotten and my will to live and to continue to move forward, replenished. I believe God has consistently used people, angels and spirit guides to intervene on my behalf. I started Fostering Change Network to show others from foster care that they are valuable contributions to this world and that they are capable of great things. I created FCN to highlight the accomplishments of alumni of foster care nationally and internationally and to provide the support they need to take their personal and professional endeavors to the next level.

Do you feel like God handed you this journey for a reason?

Shalita poses with her family. She admits that her family’s love is what keeps her motivated in spite of her past.

SO: Absolutely! I have come this far, learned so much and kept my “crown” in place during all attempts to remove it. I accept the power that I have been given and understand it is my calling to help others do the same. I’ve been married to an amazing human being for almost 10 years. He has always been very supportive of and patient with me. He was the first one to show me that you can disagree with someone without leaving them.  You can love someone and not agree with everything they do or say. From my experience with my family and in foster care, I used to believe that it was normal to just leave people or force them out when you didn’t see eye to eye. My husband and I have grown together through our different journeys. He is an amazing father to our 6-year-old son, Amani.  Amani has shown me what it feels like to have a heart on the outside of my body.  I was afraid that I would not know how to be a good mother or wife because I have never seen it, but they have awakened those instincts in me. I may not have known what unconditional love looked like as a child, but I knew what it was supposed to feel like. I let my heart lead and I now have a family of my own to pour into, in the way I would have wanted to be poured into.

THE MARCH FORWARD

Although living a Christ-like experience we are only human and can still hold animosity towards those who have wronged us. When Shalita was asked about this, she took a breath, and with wisdom explained why it was important to forgive in order to grow into who you must become; and more importantly how it affects the future of those around you.

Do you forgive your parents? Both biological and your grandmother and uncle?

SO: Forgiveness was necessary for me to step into the person I am today.  I will always be on the journey of “becoming,” but about a year ago, I was stuck and I didn’t know why.  I realized that after so many years, I had not forgiven my father, mother, grandmother or uncle and so many others.  I told myself I did, but the way I was living my life, making my decisions and attracting negative people and situations told me otherwise. Not only did I have to forgive them but I forgave myself, which was the hardest thing of all.

If there is never another like you, what is your hope for the future of foster care kids?

SO: I want foster children to grow up in a world where there is a universal understanding that they add value and are worthy. My hope for the future is that they see themselves and their greatness through people who have been in their shoes and lead by example. My hope is that they see the world full of opportunities that are available to them instead of a world full of people that mistreat and misunderstand them.

What is next for you. When it is time to remove your “crown”? 

SO: I don’t think I will ever remove my crown; I strive to always be present with my power as a “Light Worker” in human form. Although some days its more challenging than others. In everything I do (foster care-related or otherwise) and with every person I meet, I hope even if only for a moment to help them adjust their own crown and to realize that it has always been resting there, gracefully, on their heads all along.

Do you have anything that you want the world to understand about people like you?

SO: It is time for adults who have experienced foster care at some point in their childhood to step forward. We are gifted. We are resilient. We have given so much to our communities and to the world. There are so many of us hiding in plain sight, waiting to bump into someone who can share in our experiences of foster care. We have wanted a safe space to heal and achieve with others that “get it.” Fostering Change Network is it. We are a network of alumni that have overcome the barriers associated with foster care and we are leading Fortune 500 companies. We are celebrities, legislators, community organizers, human service professionals. We are amazing parents to our children. We are not the stigma. To the alumni of foster care reading this I say: Welcome home.

Shalita O’Neale ended this interview with an embracing hug that gave the feel of “home.” Essentially she was built for this purpose. The Upcoming Alumni Powerhouse Networking Conference and Six Degrees of Foster Care Gala will feature a variety of speakers , workshops, and entertainment to include Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Humble G, and poet Bathsheba & Cage Free Voices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith and Family: 5 Reasons Why You Should Watch TV One’s ‘The Manns’

Faith and Family: 5 Reasons Why You Should Watch TV One’s ‘The Manns’

In the world of ratchet television programming, balance is certainly needed. So, when wholesome family shows are created, it is worth mentioning. The Manns, starring gospel power couple David and Tamela Mann, joins the TV One family with a docu-series highlighting Christian values, family drama, and fun.

Tamela Mann juggles the hats of mom, fashion designer, singer, and actress while her husband David Mann manages the roles of dad, actor, comedian, and business owner of Tillymann Entertainment Inc., the family business. Above all, the Manns enjoy spending time with their four children, eight grandchildren, extended family and friends.

So, as if all of that isn’t enough, here are five more reasons why The Manns is the show to watch:

1. It’s a great example of Christian marriage and family.

David and Tamela Mann are a God-fearing couple who have been married for almost 30 years. Through family and internal conflicts, viewers are able to witness how a family’s faith is tested each week throughout the series.

For the next several weeks, the Manns will experience everything from Tamela’s near-death experience during weight-loss surgery to her unconditional support for her daughter Tia who considers the surgery. Then, there are the episodes when the gospel power couple must address everything from their children’s addiction to their electronic devices to their daughter Porcia’s surprise boyfriend.

But, through it all, it is their trust in God that holds them together.

2. It’s hilarious.

Get ready! The Manns will give you a heartfelt “I can’t breathe” laugh as you witness hilarious moments, such as David Sr. and David Jr. “shouting” in heels and David Sr. facing his claustrophobia, or fear of confined spaces, and fear of mice. You don’t want to miss it!

3. It’s Real.

The Manns do not paint a picture of perfection as Christians. They are transparent about their issues and are intentional in showing viewers how they overcome them. However, viewers are also able to witness special moments, such as when Tamela wins her first Grammy and launches a clothing line.

4. You will be encouraged.

The faith journey is never easy, but some fail to realize that celebrities are not exempt from pain and disappointment. However, the Manns exists as a reality show that emphasizes the importance of keeping God first.

5. You can watch it guilt-free.

Thanks to reality shows like The Manns, you no longer have to refer to reality TV as a “guilty pleasure.” Unlike many of its counterparts, The Manns is for the entire family.

Can’t get enough of The Manns? You can also catch David and Tamela on The Manns Family Tour with their son David Jr., and daughters Porchia and Tia or join the conversation by connecting via social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@tvonetv) using the hashtag #THEMANNS.

Watch The Manns every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TV One.