Zachery Tims Found Dead

Zachery Tims Found Dead

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Pastor Zachery Tims' body was found in a NYC hotel in Times Square.

Investigation into the death of megachurch Pastor Zachery Tims, 42, continues as mass online condolences accompany few details of his Aug. 12 passing in a New York City hotel room. Police reportedly found Tims, pastor of the 8,000-member New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., near Orlando, unresponsive on the floor of his room in the W Hotel in Times Square early Friday evening. As of Sunday night following his death, reports said police did not suspect foul play. Even as they awaited autopsy results Monday afternoon, police reportedly had no plans for a criminal investigation.

Many had heard of Tims’ death through Facebook and Twitter postings before mainstream media began reporting additional information Monday morning. By noon, tweets expressing grief over Tims’ death flooded Twitter at about 25 tweets per minute, trending in Orlando. Beyond shock, other posts mentioned the impact Tims had even beyond the walls of his church.

“I know the word, but I am still stunned over the death of Pastor Zachary Tims,” tweeted Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill. “He texted me encouragement every Sunday.” Other nationally known church and gospel music personalities posting their sentiments included CeCe Winans, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Fred Hammond and Jonathan Nelson. Commentator Roland Martin informed followers of the latest information, even though little was available beyond initial reports. The latest news reports claim a white powdery substance was found on Tims’ body, leading authorities to suspect that his death was drug related.

Originally from Baltimore, Tims earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Towson State University and another in theology from Maranatha Baptist Bible College, both in Maryland. He founded New Destiny in 1996 with six members. As church membership grew, the congregation continually expanded its facilities to ultimately hold its 8,000 members. He is survived by his ex-wife and four children.

The Inevitable Amy Winehouse

The Inevitable Amy Winehouse

FALLEN STAR: Amy Winehouse, dead at 27.

Amy Winehouse emerged on the pop-music scene not so much like a rising star as like a falling one.

In “Rehab,” the hit song from her 2006 breakthrough album, Back to Black, the singer let us know upfront what we were in for if we decided to become her fans—a maddening, chaotic, troubled ride. But her soulful and honest voice, and the potential we heard there, left us no choice but to listen, appreciate, and hope against hope that she would eventually shake her well-publicized demons and rise to the brilliant promise of her talent.

But it was not to be.

The report of the British singer’s death today at 27 was not unexpected, but it still jarred us, like the earthshaking blast of thunder that trails a violent lightning flash. On Twitter and Facebook, update after update expressed a sort of resigned shock. “I knew it was a matter of time,” wrote one commenter. “I’m surprised she lasted this long,” said another.

Another popular Winehouse song found the singer declaring, “You know that I’m no good.” Like “Rehab,” it was a prophetic moment of self-disclosure that felt like both a defiant proclamation and an eerie plea for help. The lyrics — “I cheated myself, like I knew I would” — resonated with many of us who, like the apostle Paul, struggle with the reality of our sinful natures.

“I do not understand what I do,” said Paul. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

For Amy Winehouse, the struggle was with drugs, alcohol, and bad relationships. For us, the addictions might be different, but we have felt the strain nonetheless.

There’s so much in Ms. Winehouse’s tragic story to explore. In some ways, her brief career was the most convincing anti-drug campaign to hit pop culture. Or, maybe everything that needs to be said was already said during her descent.

The initial reports said Winehouse’s cause of death was unexplained. But no explanation was really necessary.

Why Did Police Kill Jose Guerena?

Why Did Police Kill Jose Guerena?

SWIFT INJUSTICE?: Former U.S. Marine Jose Guerena was shot down in his own home by police.

The morning of May 5 must have been a nightmare for the Guerena family. After a SWAT team shot 71 bullets at 26-year-old Jose Guerena in his home, his wife Vanessa Guerena dialed 911, begging for an ambulance. It was about 9:30 a.m. in Tucson, Ariz., and Jose Guerena, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran, had just confronted the SWAT team with a rifle.

Paramedics arrived at the scene and waited an hour and 14 minutes for the clear to go in, but deputies never allowed them to treat or examine Guerena. At 10:59 a.m., Jose Guerena was pronounced dead. Of the 71 bullets, 22 had hit and killed him.

Vanessa Guerena later told the media that she and her husband thought the raid was a home invasion. She had seen a man with a gun through a window and had awoken Jose Guerena, who had been sleeping after working a night shift, according to news reports. Vanessa Guerena said her husband told her and their 4-year-old son Joel to hide in the closet and then went to face the intruders.

Moments later, the SWAT team opened fire on Jose Guerena. Some police officers later explained they thought they saw a muzzle flash, but they later learned that Jose Guerena hadn’t even taken his gun off safety.

As Jose Guerena bled to death, the 911 operator asked Vanessa Guerena questions to determine if she was calling from one of the houses a SWAT team had been sent to. The recording of the phone conversation has been released and can be heard on the Arizona Daily Star website.

“Please send me an ambulance and you can ask more questions later, please!” Vanessa Guerena said over the phone.

The video of the shooting taken from an officer’s helmet camera has been released and published by KGUN 9 news. (Note: The video is not graphic. You can see and hear the SWAT team shooting, but Jose Guerena’s body is not visible.)
 

Facing pressure to come clean with the details, the sheriff said last week that the raid was part of a 20-month drug and homicide investigation. But in the end, police didn’t find any drugs in the Guerena home. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has reluctantly been releasing more information over the past month, including the above video, a transcript of their interrogation of Vanessa Guerena (part one and part two), and the transcript of the debriefing after the shooting.

On Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department finally released the search warrant, along with affidavits and property sheets. The new information gives us an idea why they suspected Jose Guerena of being connected to their drug and homicide investigation, but lacks any evidence that would have warranted an arrest.

But now, not even the most condemning evidence could diminish the tragedy that occurred. Perhaps one of the reasons this particular tragedy strikes deeply is because history carries many such stories of police aggression against minorities—revealing a prejudice that hasn’t disappeared.

In the instant an officer’s finger rests on the trigger, the shade of the suspect’s skin can influence their decision to fire. University of Chicago assistant professor Joshua Correll and other researchers ran a study in which police officers had to decide whether or not to shoot a suspect in a video simulation. The study found that officers made the decision to shoot armed black suspects more quickly than armed white suspects, according to “Race as a Trigger” in The Chicago Reporter.

When such a racial bias exists, the death of Jose Guerena is yet another incident that is widening the rift between law enforcement and minority communities.

Even if the SWAT team was convinced Jose Guerena was ready to shoot them, was it necessary to fire 71 bullets at him, and then leave him to bleed to death? And even if Jose Guerena was a criminal (and there’s no proof that he was), does that mean he deserved to die? Without a trial, and under the gaze of his wife and son, no less?

In this instance, one can’t help but think authorities treated the Guerena family worse than criminals, rather than treating them like people—a dying father, a wife mourning the loss of her husband, and a son traumatized by his own father’s death. Which should make you think: where’s the line between righteously enforcing the law to protect society and enforcing it so aggressively that you forget your suspects are fellow human beings?

How are we as Christians called to respond when that line is crossed? Should we demand justice for Jose Guerena’s death, extend forgiveness to the officers who perhaps realize now that they made a terrible mistake, or both? And how can we heal the rift that’s grown between law enforcement and minority communities?

In the end, it’s kids who ask the toughest questions. Reyna Ortiz, a relative looking after Vanessa Guerena and her children, told ABC News that Jose Guerena’s 4-year-old son Joel is asking, “Why did the police kill my daddy?”

Three Days in 1969

Three Days in 1969 for urban faithForty years ago this week, more than 400,000 concertgoers gathered on the muddy grounds of a 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York to celebrate what was billed as “three days of peace and music.” The Woodstock Music & Art Fair transformed the way we think about popular music and youth culture. In fact, it became an emblem of the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

The past week has been filled with observances of the music festival’s anniversary, an “acid trip” down memory lane for many baby boomers. And next week the celebration continues with the release of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, a cinematic tribute to that legendary gathering.

In a turbulent era that found the nation reeling from its involvement in the Vietnam War — a period that was just a year removed from the shocking assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy — Woodstock represented the power of unbridled hope, freedom, and youthful exuberance. Of course, it also represented that great American trinity of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” — with newly embraced freedom also came the collateral damage of hedonistic living.

Out of all the acts that performed during Woodstock — artists like Janis Joplin, The Who, Santana, and Joan Baez — arguably none has become more identified with the event than Jimi Hendrix, whose two-hour set actually took place on August 18, after the music festival was officially over. Rain and technical snafus had pushed his performance to early that Monday morning. With only an estimated 80,000 people remaining to witness it, Hendrix delivered one of his most stirring performances.

If anyone could make his guitar weep, it was Jimi Hendrix. He made it sing — in ecstasy and sadness. He made sounds that had never been heard before. It’s no wonder that, in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked him as number one on its list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

Hendrix, who was a lefty, taught himself to play a Fender Stratocaster upside down, so that his right-handed guitar could be played left-handed. He experimented tirelessly with amplified feedback and unorthodox chord structures, while incorporating blues, jazz, funk, and his own electrified brand of psychedelic rock into a sound that has influenced virtually every rock guitarist since (not to mention urban funk and pop artists such as George Clinton and Prince).

Hendrix achieved worldwide fame following his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Two years later, he headlined Woodstock, where he played his enduring version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Through his blistering, sonic barrage, you could actually hear “the bombs bursting in air” and see “the rockets red glare.” And, with it being the era of Vietnam, he even threw in a few notes of “Taps” to keep things interesting.

Sadly, Hendrix died a little over a year later, in 1970, at age 28 from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol. He was famously ensnared by the destructive lure of alcohol and drugs, and is counted among a number of tragic and untimely deaths from that late-’60s/early-’70s era. But his impact on music is undeniable.

What’s more, Hendrix’s very presence at Woodstock (along with other artists of color like Baez, Richie Havens, Carlos Santana, and Sly & the Family Stone) put forth a visible declaration of the way that art and pop culture could transcend and overcome even our most entrenched social divisions. Martin Johnson’s retrospective at TheRoot.com offers a great summation of Hendrix’s appearance at Woodstock and the importance of his legacy.

Of the songs he left behind, one of my favorites is “Night Bird Flying” from The Cry of Love (1971). This was the first recording released after his death. The first song on the album is called “Freedom.” It’s a word that can describe different types of liberation. Being set free from vice may not have been the primary meaning, but it’s a desire that he probably felt.

The struggle to be free may be what gives rise to songs like “Night Bird Flying.” It’s an amazing confluence of expression and sound.

She’s just a night bird flyin’ through the night

Fly on

She’s just a night bird making a midnight, midnight flight

Sail on, sail on

For me, in the early ’70s, “Night Bird Flying” became an expression of the spiritual peace that eluded me, despite my efforts to find satisfaction in other things. It gave voice to a feeling of estrangement. I remember being a restless teenager, returning home from a Hawaiian vacation with my family. During the trip, I had a falling out with my younger brother. It grieved me. On the flight back, I sullenly sat apart from the rest of my family members. Few things are as troubling as the feeling that you are at odds with someone, especially a member of your own family.

Alone in my grief, I thought of Hendrix’s song. How I yearned for a better day. Would it ever come?

I remember the telling photograph that was taken on one of the Hawaiian Islands. My whole family was arrayed in Hawaiian shirts while I leaned away from them in my T-shirt that, on the back, displayed images of cannabis and a water pipe. The shirt’s lettering boldly proclaimed: “Smoke It!” In contrast to the scowl on my face, my siblings smiled in a way that showed they still had an innocence that would be lost when they eventually followed me into using drugs.

Though getting high brought me temporary relief, I was a troubled soul. It was no less so as I sat on the plane and felt the loneliness of separation. Listening in my mind to the Hendrix song made me want to soar like some mythical night bird. In the midst of trouble, the psalmist David longed for wings that he might take flight and find relief in some place of refuge. “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!” he wrote. “I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest” (Psalm 55:6-8, ESV).

I wonder if Hendrix felt a longing like this. He may not have known what it was, but it could have been what made his guitar an expression of his desire. The sorrow of not finding the true freedom that he sought seemed to seep into his music.

In a Christianity Today article entitled “Learning to Cry for the Culture,” singer and writer John Fischer observes that evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s most crucial legacy was tears. He writes, “Schaeffer never meant for Christians to take a combative stance in society without first experiencing empathy for the human predicament that brought us to this place.” Rather, he advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them. He believed that “instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep over the lost person who created it.” Fischer concludes his article by saying, “The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day should make us cry in ours.”

In A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card reminds us that the Bible is full of lament — people of faith, including Jesus, giving voice to the sorrow and anguish that fills their hearts. It’s a means of staying connected to God when the world is not as it should be. It’s the mourning that Jesus commends.

I have a lot to learn about this, but I desire to be more compassionate. Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw the throng of people that had gathered in a remote area to hear Him. They were “like sheep without a shepherd.” In fact, they probably looked a lot like the multitude of hippies gathered at Woodstock. Jesus welcomes them all, and feeds them both physically and spiritually (Mark 6:30-44).

As contemporary followers of Jesus, we also have an opportunity to show compassion to those who are searching, those who are lost.

I feel sad knowing that Hendrix felt conflicted at times as we all do. I don’t imagine that he found the freedom that he yearned for. I wouldn’t pretend to know. But I do know that the longing in his music was so deep that I can hear his discontent over his present circumstances, his reaching out for something more. Thus I lament for Hendrix:

You were among the greatest of your generation.
You achieved heights that few know.

Through your guitar,
you sang and wept,
laughed and mourned,
danced and lamented.

You kissed the sky, but your wings were broken.
You could not reach what you longed for.

As we remember Woodstock this month, I’m also remembering the multitude of young people who gathered at that muddy farm. Many of them, now 40 years older, are probably still yearning for something more. We can celebrate the excitement and history of that phenomenal event that forever changed popular culture. But I also want to say a prayer for those restless souls who are still searching, who are still longing for true peace and love.

The Crass Supper

“The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you are eating, because if you knew you might not want to eat it ” — Food, Inc.

I recently headed out to a sold-out showing of the documentary Food, Inc. at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema here in Austin, Texas. Generally, getting dinner and drinks along with my movie is my favorite “night out” activity, but in watching a film which critically examines our industrial food system, it was a bit strange. Granted, all around me I heard orders for veggie burgers and the local organic veggie platter, and there wasn’t a high fructose corn syrup soda to be seen, but I was glad to have finished my (veggie) burger by the time the previews ended. Although I have sought to inform myself about the injustices in our modern food system, Food, Inc. presents the most comprehensive and disturbing summary of that system I have seen yet. It is a necessary film for basically anyone who eats food.

A film which took three years to make with a large part of its budget going to pay the legal fees defending itself against lawsuits from the industrial food companies, Food, Inc. takes a hard look at how corporations now control the production of our food, resulting in generally unhealthy, environmentally hazardous, and completely unsustainable food that in truth threatens the very well-being of our country.

From the animals that are confined in inhumane cages, left to stand in their own mire, fed unnatural diets and cocktails of drugs and hormones to the impoverished workers who are treated with the same disrespect, this system has sacrificed the respect and well-being of living creatures and people for the sake of profit. But Food Inc. doesn’t just stop with detailing those atrocities; it delves into the problems with government subsidies and the ways the fearmongering enforcement of genetically modified food copyrights are destroying the small farmer. People are being hurt by this industrial food system that dumps chemicals into our environment with reckless abandon and produces unnatural and unhealthy food for our consumption.

I appreciated though how Food, Inc. didn’t simply present the issues with industrial food as a clear cut, good vs. evil scenario. It acknowledged that poor workers have no choice but to take jobs on the factory farms, and that farmers have no choice but to give into the pressure to work with the huge industries. Those industries have so altered our nation’s laws, and have so many lawyers working for them, that any farmer who resists joining their ranks finds themselves out of work at best, and sued penniless for simply encouraging people to not buy the big company’s products. The farmers and workers are desperate for a better system where real freedom and healthy standards exist, but for now they have to work with what they’ve got.

Food, Inc. also explores why for the average working class family in America, buying healthy food isn’t an option, especially in many urban communites where the absence of full-service grocery retailers has created “food deserts.” And whether you’re urban, rural, or suburban, it is far cheaper to buy the cheeseburger from the drive-thru dollar menu than it is to buy fruit or vegetables. That is because everything in that cheeseburger comes from corn, which our government subsidizes so much that farmers can sell it below the cost of production. So the poor American eats the extremely unhealthy food because it is cheaper. But the rising epidemic of type 2 diabetes shows the hidden cost of that value meal.

The poor in our country — those with no health or job insurance — are getting sick at alarming rates due to the unhealthy, cheap food they eat. This is injustice of the highest extreme — but it’s all part of our industrial food system. It’s a complicated system that gives us unhealthy, unsustainable food that disrespects the earth, animals, and people all in the name of making the greatest profit for a handful of corporations. This is the story of the food we eat every day.

But in truth, I have a lot of friends who don’t want to know anything about their food. They shelter their kids from knowing the whole “circle of life” stuff, but also tell me point blank that they don’t want to know the story behind their food. In their mind, what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Unfortunately, as Food Inc. shows, that isn’t always the case.

I wasn’t expecting this film to be a tear-jerker, but hearing a mom talk about how her toddler son ate a hamburger and was dead in 12 days had me weeping. This mom was the typical middle-American Republican mom on vacation, but the hamburger they bought their son on the way home was tainted with E. coli 0157:H7, a deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria common in factory farmed cows. These cows, fed unnatural diets of corn, develop diseases (like E. coli) and are treated regularly with antibiotics, which leads to drug-resistant strains like this one. This mom has become the unlikely activist for food safety. The meat company who sent out the tainted meat knew it was tainted and didn’t issue a recall until two weeks after her son was dead. As she puts it, all she wants is an apology from the company and a guarantee that they are doing everything possible to prevent it from ever happening again. Instead, she finds the companies fighting for more lax food safety laws and herself under threat of a lawsuit under the “veggie libel” laws for discouraging people to buy meat products. Yeah, look up these laws — express fears about the safety of your food and you could be sued for causing these companies loss of revenue. So much for free speech, much less safe food. It’s hard to know the truth if you are not allowed to talk about it.

But for all the doom and gloom that Food, Inc. rightly covers, I was grateful that it didn’t end the story there. Instead of throwing up its arms and admitting defeat or even insisting that we all go join some intentional community/hippie commune immediately, Food, Inc. details the practical ways we can start changing the system from within. It profiles the organic dairy farmers who although they had boycotted Wal-Mart all their lives, were now selling their product to them. Some may call them sell-outs, and they are under no illusion that Wal-Mart jumped on the organic bandwagon out of the goodness of their hearts, but to get a store with a distribution as huge as Wal-Mart’s means significant amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics are kept from polluting our ecosystem. That’s a really big deal, and one of the main reason to buy organic. Working within the system, even if it is with Wal-Mart, makes progress happen faster and on a much larger scale.

The movie concludes with the reminder that we can each make a difference every time we go to the store. The point isn’t to abandon the food system, or stop buying food, but to simply demand healthier, sustainable food. We can choose to vote with our pocketbooks for the type of food we want to support. Do we want to support the food that oppresses animals, workers, and the environment or the food that does its best to care for all those things? We have that choice; we just have to be willing to make it.

Food, Inc. opens across the U.S. this summer. Check the Food, Inc. website to see if it is playing near you.