Young woman performing warming up exercises
I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of graduating seniors and their families last weekend during a Community Baccalaureate Service. I shared from 1 Timothy about the importance of living godly, persevering, and being people of character.
I have just completed an intensive spring of travels and speaking, which had me thinking about the importance of preserving in every area of our lives. Specifically, I have recommitted myself to physical training and the strength conditioning of my body.
I was once a fit and competitive athlete. While serving in the military I always obtained top scores on my physical fitness tests. After transitioning to a different career, however, it was more difficult to be consistent in my workouts. I fell out of love with running. I didn’t have a goal or fitness test to prepare for, and I had lost the support of a like-minded community. I was suffering from a case of PAM:
PRIORITY – When my schedule got busy (which it often was), my workouts would be the first thing to drop from my daily routine. There always seemed like something else was more important to do. I have been really inconsistent over the past couple of years. I would wake up, attempt to get dressed and discover that I could barely fit into my jeans. I would work out consistently for a few weeks, drop the pounds, and repeat the cycle.
ACCOUNTABILITY – In addition to not prioritizing my workouts, few of my local friends prioritized their physical fitness. There were a couple of friends who I occasionally worked out with, but I didn’t consistently have a partner or workout buddy. No one called to make me get up early or challenged me to make the time in my schedule.
MOTIVATION – I can’t honestly say that I always wanted to work out. I have fairly good genes. Most of the women in my family are at or below the average American weight. I’m taller than the average woman and have always been fairly small. My motivation was never a weight issue. I also eat fairly healthy, and my vitals are always great when I go to the doctor, so I’m not all that concerned with my health. My biggest concern and the conclusion I have drawn is: This is an area in my life where I have become lazy. It is that simple and I don’t like it!
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote:
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8 NIV).
Paul also wrote in 1 Cor. 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
In these passages and other scriptures, the Apostle Paul makes the analogy between physical and spiritual discipline. His audience lived in a very athletic and militarized society, so he spoke in a language that they would have understood. He acknowledges the importance of training and disciplining our bodies. He connects the perseverance of this discipline to motivate his hearers concerning their spiritual life. He is basically asking them to consider:
If we are not disciplined in the simple things of this world, like the stewardship of our own bodies (which belong to the Lord), how can we persevere in the more important spiritual matters?
When we make daily decisions about the priority, accountability, and motivation concerning our physical training, we are disciplining ourselves and learning to persevere in the simple things of this life. This is good steward of the gifts of a healthy body and able limbs that God has given us.
I have decided to defeat PAM. I made some changes this year, particularly over the past two months:
PRIORITY – I thank God that I have been able to join a gym that offers classes. When I am not traveling, I schedule gym classes into my day like I would a meeting or a phone conference. Once the workout is on my calendar, I don’t miss it unless I have another option in the day that will work better.
ACCOUNTABILITY – The gym classes offer a great deal of accountability because I know when I am supposed to show up. We can call this self-leadership. When I get there, an instructor has prepared and motivates me to push myself along the way. I see the instructor as my accountability partner, he or she will not allow me to rest too long between sets or quit on myself.
My husband also bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. This helpful tool gives users the ability to track daily steps, sleep, food and calorie intake, heart rate, etc. I primarily use it to track my steps. So much of my work requires that I sit in a chair. My progress (or lack thereof) on the Fitbit lets me know when I have sat too long or when I need to get up and get moving around. It is recommended that we walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain weight on the average American diet. That is my daily step goal. Entering step competitions (which can include walking or running) with friends also keeps me accountable to this challenge.
MOTIVATION – I wish I could tell you that the Word of God convicted me and motivated me to change my slothfulness in this area of my life. The truth is female soloist at American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland, was my inspiration. I follow @mistyonpointe on Instagram and am constantly motivated by her strength and physical stamina. I will never have Misty’s body, but she has motivated me to work hard for my best physical self.
My five favorite exercises right now are:
The instructors always put push-ups at the end of the workout when I am weak, but I am working my way back up to proficiency in this area that used to be a strength.
Writer Jacqueline Holness dresses as her favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama.
With the upcoming New York primaries for the Democratic and Republican parties on Tuesday, the groundbreaking yet vitriolic presidential campaign continues to captivate the country. However, as the campaign showdown plays out, the presidential candidates’ spouses have become targets as well.
Last month, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz traded insults and threw out innuendoes about their respective wives, potential First Ladies Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz, and recently, potential First Gentleman and former president Bill Clinton squared off with Black Lives Matter protestors. Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane O’Meara Sanders has managed to escape negative scrutiny for now.
However, as the country is on the cusp of choosing its candidates at the party conventions, it is appropriate to take a closer look at the attributes and accomplishments of these candidates’ spouses compared to current and former presidential spouses. Although presidents are typically seen as the primary power brokers in their marital relationships, First Ladies throughout history have also contributed significantly in public service, government, and overall American life.
Hillary Clinton is the first former First Lady to campaign for president and to have held the Secretary of State office as well as a senatorial position. According to WhiteHouse.gov, Hillary Clinton was the “first woman elected statewide in New York” to the United States Senate.
In addition to the being the first Black First Lady, the academic accomplishments of Michelle Obama also set her apart as well. Michelle Obama, who was the 1981 salutatorian for Whitney Young High School in Chicago, graduated from Princeton University in 1985, the first First Lady to have earned an undergraduate college degree from an Ivy League institution.
She then secured a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1988, making her the second First Lady to have an advanced college degree, with Hillary Clinton being the first.
While Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are arguably the most popular First Ladies right now, other First Ladies have also distinguished themselves for their contributions to American life. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died on March 6, took on the cause of youth drug addiction when she created the “Just Say No” campaign in 1982 during her husband’s presidency.
According to WhiteHouse.gov, “in 1985 she held a conference at the White House for First Ladies of 17 countries to focus international attention on this problem.” According to the Reagan Foundation website, by 1988, “cocaine use by high-school seniors dropped by one-third, the lowest rate in a decade.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, who held the First Lady position the longest (as her husband and distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt served four terms as president), also championed political causes. She held press conferences, lectured, and had a column “My Day” in a daily syndicated newspaper, according to WhiteHouse.Gov.
She also championed civil rights for Black Americans, including publicly supporting the Tuskegee Airmen. Her friendship with Pauli Murray, a Black civil rights activist and attorney, was captured in The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, a book written by Patricia Bell-Scott and released in February.
Finally, following her husband’s death, Roosevelt became a United Nations spokeswoman.
Mamie Eisenhower, wife of Dwight Eisenhower, sought equality for Black people, though in less public ways. Eisenhower, an honorary member of the National Council of Negro Women, invited Black children to come to the annual Easter Egg Roll, and ensured that the 4-H Club Camp for Negro Boys and Girls was included in special tours of the White House, according to biography.com.
Here is some random trivia about other First Ladies: Should Melania Trump be next First Lady, she won’t be the First Lady to have been born in another country; Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London, England. Similarly, Betty Ford, wife of Gerald Ford, worked as a fashion model, just like Melania Trump. Finally, technically not a First Lady, Harriet Lane served as a First Lady for her uncle James Buchanan, the only president who never married.
While it is impossible to predict who will be the next First Lady or even if there will be a First Gentleman this time next year, it is evident that the spouses of presidents have much to offer the country as well.
For more information about First Ladies, go to www.whitehouse.gov/1600/first-ladies.
The National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases is partnering with black churches to host Kidney Sundays (Photo courtesy of the National Kidney Disease Education Program).
You could be slowly dying and not know it. Your blood could be poisoned, yet you don’t have a clue. Then suddenly you need to be rushed to the hospital, but it’s too late. If only you had taken two simple tests that could have caught the disease before it became critical.
That’s what I was thinking as I listened to Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases talk about the “silent” killer. Rodgers described this scenario that is sadly real for too many African Americans who fail each year to get tested for kidney disease. “It’s really considered the silent disease,” Rodgers said, which is why the institute has partnered with African American churches to publicize the importance of getting tested early before it’s too late.
March is National Kidney Month. On March 3, sixty churches across the country are kicking off the month with ongoing National Kidney Sunday. In partnership with the Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority, the American Diabetes Association, the Institute provides free testing at churches along with a kidney disease toolkit of information to be used for group discussions or individuals. Information includes how to prevent kidney disease and how to treat it successfully. In its second year, The Institute expects this initiative to reach at least 55,000 church members, who will hopefully spread the word to family, friends, coworkers, and so on.
An estimated 26 million Americans suffer from kidney disease. It costs about $23 billion annually to treat late stage kidney disease, Rogers said. Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans are the highest risk groups. Blacks are nearly four times as likely as Whites to develop kidney failure. Though about 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans represent 32 percent of kidney failure cases nationally. Rodgers said much of this has to do with the environment in which many blacks live. Blacks are disproportionately poor; as a result, they often have inferior access to quality health care and nutrition.
“If you’re living in an area where there is not readily access to fresh fruits, but rather fast food that has more soda, and sugar that’s a factor,” said Rogers, adding that the two leading causes of kidney disease are hypertension and diabetes.
The preventable culprit is obesity, which often triggers hypertension and diabetes, Rodgers said. Obesity is a national crisis, which is why First Lady Michelle Obama has initiated the Let’s Move Initative. taken it up as a cause. But why are blacks particularly plagued by obesity? The good doctor didn’t say it, but I will: Much of the black community’s various health and destructive behavior problems are rooted in our cultural practices. These practices have in large part been shaped by our response to racism and oppression. Living sicker and dying younger is a predictable outcome. For generations we have been killing ourselves without thinking. It’s a miracle that we have survived. The black church has been a life source, but it has also have aided and abetted our bad choices.
As I’ve previously written on Urban Faith, Sunday dinners at Big Momma’s house or in church fellowship halls have been killing us gradually. Salty meals that contain starch Mac & Cheese, greasy pork and ribs, and chicken wings fried in lard – washed down with sweet tea or red Kool-Aid that tastes like liquid Skittles – are actually toxic. They may taste heavenly, but they’re not nourishing our bodies no matter how religiously we say the grace before eating. We’ve institutionalized and romanticized soul food rituals to our demise. Caribbean and Afrocentric meals are often no better. We need to renew our minds when it comes to managing our health. The church can lead the way.
We can eat healthy soul food that tastes just as good but with healthier seasonings. We can adopt a Bible-based diet. We can reject processed fast foods that are high in sugar and salt or eat them sparingly. We can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and drink plain water. We can get our bodies moving. If we can’t exercise at a gym for at least 30 minutes a day three times per week, we can get out and walk every day. We can transform poor health in the community by renewing our minds in order to break our destructive eating patterns.
The kidneys are the body’s trash filter. When the kidneys fail the garbage piles up and starts poisoning the body. Rodgers said kidney disease can be found with simple blood and urine tests. For example, protein in the urine could mean kidney disease. If you catch the problem early enough, however, disaster can be averted.
Don’t let death sneak up on you. Get tested. Get your church involved. The life you save may be your own.
My Dearest Sisters,
How many of you remember the song Trade Winds? Some of us might hear Randy Crawford in our heads as we look at the words; some of you younger ladies might hear The Winans.
Here I stand looking, looking around me
While all around me, what do I see?
Unhappy faces behind a painted smile
Heartache and loneliness dressed up in modern style
Unhappy people livin’ in sin and shame
Reflections of myself, life is no easy game
We’re caught in the trade winds, the trade winds of our time.
Randy Crawford (pictured above) released her version of Trade Winds in 1981. The song was also covered by Roberta Flack and Lou Rawls. (Photo courtesy of israbox.com)
There’s no indication that this song was intended to be a “Christian” song, but I hear the call of God in it as surely as I hear His call to Moses at the burning bush, or His call for justice and unity through Dr. King’s Dream. As each of these men were, we are now today living in a time that is ripe for action because it is rife with opposition to the word and will of God.
When I look all around me, I, too see so many things. When I look out my back door, I see young men sending up smoky tendrils of hopelessness as they puff their lives away with cigarettes, both legal and illegal. When I look out my front door, I see women and families going through the mundane routines of life, and when we say “hello” I see the fixed glaze of people who have resigned themselves to a certain existence. When I look across the pews in my church, I see people who raise their hands in worship but who sometimes seem uncomfortable extending their hand in fellowship. I also see those who are fervently seeking God for how to make a difference in the world around them. I hope to see more of those people.
When I look at Christian websites and media, I see us catering to the temporal, fleshly part of ourselves by showcasing the talented, the beautiful, and the up-and-coming, rather than the needy, the lonely, and the down-and-out. Do we have anything to say to those who need a friend, to those whose marriages are sinking fast, whose children are God knows where doing God knows what with God knows whom? Is there a Word stored in our hearts that can penetrate the weary and sin-sick soul of that mother of three in prison for the second time? Or can we only repeat what we read in the pages of our Essence magazine, recite lines we heard in the latest Tyler Perry flick, quote language from Michelle Obama’s last public appearance, or maybe cite one of those “sayings” we heard our stylist borrow from her mother during our last visit to the salon? Sisters, we need to give more because our times demand more. Nothing short of the gospel will bring a change.
When we look around the media and read other women’s explanations for why we are still sleeping with our boyfriends – or girlfriends for that matter – do we not hear God’s call to to act? Does His Spirit, whom the Bible tells us knows the mind of God, not remind us that He is holy yet forgiving? A Washington, DC minister, in response to the issue of many Christian singles being sexually active, is described in Essence magazine as encouraging black Christian women to “embrace both sides of their nature [sexual and sanctified] by recognizing all people are sexual and many church practices are from a different time.” Do we have a response to that? Can we tell anyone that God designed sex to be experienced between a husband and wife and that if we are experiencing it some other way, our experience is contrary to what He wants for us? Does anyone have the courage to further explain that if a woman is not now living up to that standard, God forgives and can empower her to live according to His will going forward? And when we are chided for being out of touch can we brave enough to echo 1 Thessalonians 4:8 – “anyone who refuses to live by these rules [regarding sexual sin] is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God”? Or are we joining the chorus of other voices excusing sexual misconduct based on arguments citing the “complexity” of our lives?
Sisters, when we look around at the women in our families, the women with whom we work and play, and we see slumped shoulders too accustomed to carrying the weight of their worlds, do we know how to tell them of God’s sufficiency for their struggle, and that they can rest in His strength? Or do we simply become the company that misery loves by telling them to “be strong and keep it moving”? Where is the demonstration of the remedy we carry within us? What has happened to the power of the gospel we say we believe? Could it be that we are speaking one of those “other gospels” that has the power to manipulate but is powerless to change us? Our brothers, sisters, children, bosses, preachers, doctors, celebrities, and politicians need to know Jesus. They need His strength, wisdom, compassion, and grace. We are in a unique position to lead them to Him. We have been at the bottom of this country’s social, economic, political, and ecclesiastical structures forever. We know the sting of gender and the stigma of color, but our weaknesses qualify us to be vessels through which His power can flow. It’s time for us to live boldly in that power so that people can see the difference it makes in their lives to know and trust God.
“She must be loosed from her bands and set to work” – Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South (Photo courtesy of cooperproject.org)
If we need inspiration, we can look back a couple hundred years or a couple thousand years. Anna Julia Cooper of the post-reconstruction era black clubwomen’s movement put in perspective our need to rise:
Now the fundamental agency under God in the regeneration, the re-training of the race,…must be the black woman. With all the wrongs and neglects of her past, with all the weakness, the debasement, the moral thralldom of her present, the black woman of today stands mute and wondering at the Herculean task devolving around her. But the cycles wait for her. No other hand can move the lever. She must be loosed from her bands and set to work.
What are these bands that bind us? Consider the strongest one. Our color, rather than being a prism reflecting the beauty, power, and tenderness of Jesus, has become a cord that ties us to people and ideologies which oppose Jesus and His teaching. Christ has become subject to color. Thus have we forfeited the very source of our true power. When faced with opposing positions we almost always choose the one with color at its foundation. Consider poverty. Policies targeting poverty are almost universally based on ties to color. We’ve heard the reasoning that blacks are in poverty primarily because they are black. Yes, color-based discrimination is a factor, but the Bible also speaks of several other reasons people end up in poverty, not the least of which is their relationship to, or rebellion against, God. We rarely acknowledge any of the biblical reasons; yet we without fail heartily embrace the solutions which put race at the heart of a problem. Similarly, if a person whom we hold in high regard ascribes to ideas directly opposed to the word of God, we often vocally support him/her, justifying ourselves by pointing out the need for blacks to advance in society. In these ways and many others, color is our governing allegiance, relegating the supremacy of Christ to the back of the bus.
Our color alone can’t save anyone, relieve anyone’s suffering, or provide a solution to their generational bondage. But our color nailed to His cross and taken up as our cross allows us to enter into the fellowship of His suffering through the shame and rejection that comes because of our color. And if we are partakers with Him in suffering, we are also beneficiaries of His resurrection power. It’s time we brought this power to bear on the entrenched problems of our communities and our world. Sisters, let us be loosed from this band and set to work. Let us no longer stand mute wondering at the task before us. The voices of the white and black feminists, the white female conservatives, and the new black atheists are being heard. Now it’s our turn. Let the voice of the black Christian woman rise as we contend for the faith that has been given to us once for all time.
SHREWDLY CELEBRATING: President Barack Obama shrewdly let his wife Michelle shine at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Mary F. Calvert/Newscom)
Democrats nominated President Barack Obama for a second term at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, but the consensus among pundits was that his wife Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton outshone him in their speeches. Was his by design a more modest speech than those he delivered in 2008 to reflect the chastening of the economic crisis that has defined his tenure? It sure seemed so, as he compared himself to Depression-era president Franklin D. Roosevelt and quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go”?
Speaking of nowhere to go but God, there was a tussle Wednesday afternoon over the fact that the word God initially didn’t appear in the Democratic platform this year. A line about Jerusalem being the perpetual capital of Israel disappeared as well. Just before Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie prayed the invocation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask three times for a floor vote to amend the platform to reinsert these references. Then, Villaraigosa clearly overrode a divided final vote to affirm the changes, which gave the Democrats their own Clint Eastwood moment.
Plenty of speakers talked about God, however, including United Methodist pastor and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missiouri), who went off-script Wednesday and began preaching a passionate mini-sermon. “Hope is the motivation that empowers the unemployed. … It is our hope and faith that moves us to action,” Cleaver shouted. “As long as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sits on the throne of grace, Mr. President, hope on!”
Speaking of shouting, the convention opened with a lot of that Tuesday, most notably from Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker. “It is our most fundamental national aspiration – that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray or whom you choose to love, that if you are an American — first generation or fifth– one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules, and apply your God-given talents, that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills,” Booker yelled as he introduced the party platform.
As to the platform itself, support for same-sex marriage was included for the first time and language about keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare” is gone. The drumbeat championing “choice” over Republican oppression of women’s bodies resounded from the first speaker to the last. Juliet Lapidos of The New York Times noticed and so did Michael Sean Winters, a blogger for The National Catholic Reporter. In a column at CNN, Winters said the Obama campaign has given up on courting moderate, white, working class voters who are primarily concerned about the economy. Instead he is “re-litigating the culture wars he promised to salve.” Even Comedian Jon Stewart’s Daily Show produced a bit about the party of inclusion not being so inclusive when it comes to gun-toting, God-fearing, anti-science Evangelicals.
New York City pastor and councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) told CBN News that he was at the convention to debate the platform change regarding same-sex marriage. “I see myself as a reformer, and I’m hoping that we can put enough pressure (on the party),” Cabrera said. Other Christians were there to offer non-partisan prayers. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, and Blood:Water Mission founder Jena Lee Nardella were among those offering a sweet aroma of prayer amidst the partisan preaching. And Sister Simone Campbell of the Nuns on the Bus delivered a short but impassioned speech about the potential dangers of Republican congressman and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s “immoral budget” and why “our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.”
As to those stunning speeches delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Obama’s was notable for its passion and clarity and for the heart-warming story of the Obamas’ humble beginnings, but also for the fact that Mrs. Obama’s autobiography excluded any mention of her ever having held a job. Instead she described herself as “Mom-in-Chief.” Clinton’s was widely regarded as being so far above others in its rhetorical skill and specificity that even right-leaning pundits conceded he gave Obama the boost he needed, which brings me back to my original point, and that is that the president may not be Bill Clinton, but he is a shrewd politician nonetheless. Just ask Hillary.
What do you think?
What were the high points and low points of the Democrats’ big party?