Lent and the Least of These

Lent and the Least of These

During Lent, we commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As if it were New Year’s Eve, most Christians make a Lenten resolution, consecrate it with prayer, and stick it out until Easter. Our concern for particularity in this moment, while laudable, can prevent us from grasping — and being grasped by — a broader sense of mission. The immediacy of figuring out, “What am I going to give up?” can prevent us from asking, “What sort of person is God calling me to be within the church and the world?” The first question pivots around our personal aspirations; the second one opens up a vista of service and mission. Developing the latter theme, we might approach Lent as an opportunity to embrace the care of Christ and emulate his ministry of coming alongside and caring for the least of these.

Embracing the care of Christ can be painful, for it often requires a prior admission that we are wounded. Many recent college graduates work hard to secure employment and repay loans, only to experience job loss, a reduction of responsibility, or another economic shift causing them to move back in with their parents. They are wounded. Some 222,000 veterans have returned from Iraq to a jobless recovery, a gridlocked Congress, and employers who cannot grasp the relevance of leadership skills honed in a military context. They, too, are wounded.

Our individual ailments differ, but we share an Augustinian solidarity. The bishop of Hippo suggests that we are Good Samaritans, called to love across differences of race, class, religion, and other social realities. Yet we are also recipients of God’s boundary-bursting, Samaritan love — Jesus found us by the side of the road, bandaged our wounds, and nursed us into wholeness by the power of his Holy Spirit.

As a community whose health has been and is being restored, Christ calls us to tend to the social ills of his people and all people. Matthew 25:31-46, in particular, underscores the importance of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are in prison, and welcoming the stranger.

By caring with and for society’s most vulnerable members — Jesus calls them “the least of these” — we bear witness to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in Christ. We embody his love by performing acts that immediately address the maladies of drug addiction, domestic violence, and chronic sickness. Moreover, our engagement in intermediate, systems-transforming work on behalf of the least of these — inmates, immigrants, gay and lesbian military personnel, and so on — testifies to the restorative justice of God’s kingdom in Christ.

Such care, whether personal or structural, does not itself build or establish God’s kingdom. To claim that it does collapses human initiative into divine work (making devils out of those who may oppose it for well-argued reasons) and, more dangerously, runs the risk of idolizing the stratification of power that enables such change (e.g., relief and development arms of denominations or national governments become sacrosanct instruments beyond critique). Our individual and collective care for “the least of these” represent necessary and yet feeble attempts to follow in the footsteps of our Lord who prioritized the marginalized in his ministry. Our call is not about politics, not about ideology, but about modeling the love and justice of Christ. Cornel West has famously remarked that, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” What does our Christian faith look like out on the street?

Lent reminds us that the church’s social service and justice-making efforts fall short of God’s glory, that our best attempts to repair the world are still broken, leading us to depend anew on the care of Christ. We are weak, but the consolations of our Lord are strong; through him we discover the strength to love, the power to carry on.

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

Don’t Miss The Celebrating Our Heritage Section!

As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.


1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.


2. Home by Toni Morrison

The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.


3. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.


4. God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National AnthemLift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.


5. The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.


6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen is an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”


7. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.


8. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.


9. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.


10. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.


11. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.


Video Courtesy of LEFT ON READ

Are there other titles that you’d like to add to the list? Share them below.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Keeping It 100 About Abstinence

Don’t Believe the Hype: Keeping It 100 About Abstinence

Let’s set aside our inhibitions and have a real conversation about sex, relationships, and abstinence.

Despite biblical teachings (1 Thessalonians 4:3), tons of people would argue that, in today’s society, it’s almost unrealistic to think that anyone would wait to have sex until marriage. The world we live in today tells us that abstinence is an antiquated practice or that no one in their right mind would marry someone without determining whether the sexual chemistry is there first. The list goes on and on, but luckily, some people out there still advocate for waiting until marriage to share something so intimate with their future spouse.

Before we really dive in, I would first like to point out that there is, in fact, a distinction between abstaining from sex and just not having sex. A person might not be sexually active for a variety of reasons. However, abstinence is defined as an intentional and deliberate action to refrain from sexual activity; it is making the decision to save all sexual acts until marriage.

In her book The Naked Truth: About Sex, Love and Relationships, abstinence advocate Lakita Garth says that “abstinence is the art of self-control, self-discipline and delayed gratification.” I get it. You’re probably thinking, Who wants to work that hard for something that is supposed to bring you pleasure? But Garth reminds her readers that there is, in fact, a wonderful reward in the end.

“The fact is, the happiest sex lives are found among those who wait until marriage to have sex,” Garth says. “Those who wait are richly rewarded.”

Waiting to have sex has so many benefits, but here are a few points to start:

Abstinence is more common than you think.

Studies show that only 3%, or 1 in 30 Americans, waited until marriage to have sex. Sure, this number sounds a bit disheartening, but if you stop to think about just how many people that is, it’s not too bad. In fact, that figure means that about 10 million people in America, as we speak, have abstained until marriage. And of course, these stats are even greater within religious groups.

Secondary virginity is a real thing.

Yes, secondary virginity is “a thing.” More and more singles have made the decision to rededicate their lives—and bodies—to God by abstaining from sex. Regardless of their past, they made the decision to start over and choose abstinence even though they initially made the decision to be sexually active in the past. It’s no secret that having sex before marriage has its own negative consequences, including unplanned pregnancy, higher chances of being a single parent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the list goes on and on.

In fact, studies show that 40 percent of children were born to unwed mothers, with nearly two-thirds of those mothers under the age of 30. Nine million new cases of STDs are reported among teens and young adults each year. And regardless of whether you have experienced these negative consequences, making the decision to be a secondary virgin means you can look forward to a future free from exposure to these previous hazards. After all, who has time to stress about an unplanned pregnancy or STDs?

The Wait” is so worth it.

Making the decision to be abstinent is so much deeper than the physical. It provides the opportunity for your relationship to become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the beauty in sharing something so intimate with your spouse and the idea of knowing that you are both truly committed to one another.

Hollywood couple Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin wrote an entire book on the power of abstinence in The Wait. In addition to being more spiritually and emotionally grounded, the couple is open about how amazing sex can be with your partner after making the decision to abstain until marriage. “There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality,” the couple says in a recent interview with Essence magazine. “God created both for the enjoyment of married couples.”

The intimacy that happens within one’s marriage is much greater knowing that sex is something that is only shared between you and your spouse. It’s definitely the icing on the cake.

Can you think of a better option?

Let’s face it, you might have already tried other options besides abstinence, and none of them have worked. Then again, you might be one of those people who made the decision to be abstinent from the very beginning and chose to stick with it until your wedding day. Meagan Good actually chose the former and initially opted to do it her way instead of God’s way. “God had let me make my mistakes,” she says. “Now it was time to do it [His] way.”

In a society of instant gratification, abstinence certainly doesn’t seem ideal for today’s couples, especially people who are seriously attracted to one another. However, I think we all can agree that waiting to have sex until marriage just might be the best decision of your life.

 

Did you catch Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday? Check out what they had to say about the benefits of abstinence below:

 

Is it unrealistic to expect people to wait to have sex before marriage? Share your thoughts below.

6 Ideas to Make This a Summer to Remember

6 Ideas to Make This a Summer to Remember

The sun is out and barbecue grills are fired up. The long-awaited summer season has returned. With longer days and hotter temperatures, everyone is filling their social calendars with vacations, local events, and outside activities to make up for time spent indoors during those dreaded winter months. We’ve put together a list of summer ideas that are sure to make this season one to remember.

1) Pick a Concert

What better way to enjoy the summer than attending concerts and music festivals. Major artists such as; Kirk Franklin, Beyoncé, Tina Campbell , Drake, Adele and many more will tour across the nation creating the perfect night out for fans everywhere. Many cities will also host music festivals, some that are nationally sought after and others that are local jewels. Newark Folk Festival, Made in America and Essence Music Festival are but a few of the many music events that parks and waterfronts across the nation will host.

2) Book a Vacation

Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day mark the beginning and end of the summer travel season. It is during this time that parents save vacation days for exciting family trips while kids are on break. These months also provide the perfect opportunity to take a girl’s trip, guy’s trip, plan a wedding, or explore a new city solo. This summer, set aside some time and plan a trip that fits your budget to gain experiences and make memories that are priceless. Travel to a new country and absorb the local culture. Visit a new and exciting city. Find time for some rest and relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the regular work and school week. Now may be a good time to add new stamps to your passport.

Attractive young woman near car taking pictures with old camera3) Explore Your City

How well do you know your state, City or Neighborhood? The U.S. is full of popular, as well as less known, treasures unique to each state. Busy work, school, and family schedules often do not allow time to just be a tourist in our own backyards. This summer, take some time to explore the place you call home. Not sure where to go? Look up your state’s national parks, beaches, museums, campsites, community events and other tourist attractions for ideas on how to better enjoy your state.

4) Spend Some Quality Time

Summertime is the perfect opportunity to spend much-needed quality time with family, friends, and yourself. Whether you’re building your vacation around a family reunion, or picking out the best spa package for you and the girls, don’t let this summer pass without reconnecting with those that matter the most.

Finishing Touches5) Take Up a Hobby

Have you ever wanted to try something new but can’t find time to do so? With longer days and warmer weather, find some time to pick up a new hobby. Group activities such as sip and paint classes have become increasingly popular for those that want to explore their artistic side. And for those that are interested in fitness, activities such as Destination Fit-Trip provide the opportunity to travel to a new country and participate in group fitness workouts with popular personal trainers. Hobbies can be expensive, however, sites such as Living Social and Groupon allow you to search for various activities at a discounted rate and participate in different types of experiences.

6) Work on Special Projects

Special projects, such as home improvement, are a huge task to undertake both physically and financially. Whether you’re completing the project yourself, or contracting outside help, this summer could be the perfect time to remodel that kitchen or bathroom, add the extra bedroom to the house, or re-do the deck just in time for barbecues. If special projects will be the task of the summer, make sure you utilize Fourth of July sales to save costs on supplies, and complete the work before the season changes.

Do you have any other great ideas to add to the list? Share them with us below.

Inauguration Prayers, Black History, and the Homosexual Agenda

Inauguration Prayers, Black History, and the Homosexual Agenda

Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, speaks to students during the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards Public Forum at Temple Deliverance. (Photo: Mike Brown/Newscom)

Last week, I was excited to read the Washington Post article stating that Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, was going to deliver the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration later this month. This was a historic announcement, since Evers would be the first female who wasn’t a clergy member to deliver what has been deemed “America’s most prominent prayer.” Add to that the fact that she’s a black woman and you can sense the pride I felt reading those words. In a month that marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, to deem this a special occasion wouldn’t do it justice. Not to mention that this is just the second time that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has fallen on Inauguration Day. Later this year we’ll also mark the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In a matter of weeks, an African American man will be sworn in for a second term as the president of the United States. For me, there’s a sense of divine providence in the events leading up to this day. Ms. Evers will stand atop the same steps on which King stood to decry our nation’s treatment of African Americans in this country.

Today, I received some disheartening news. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was removed withdrew as a participant in Obama’s inauguration program. According to an inaugural planner, he withdrew over remarks about homosexuality he made in a sermon he preached in the mid-’90s. The sermon was titled “In Search of a Standard—A Christian Response to Homosexuality.” Man, it must have taken a Herculean Google effort to find that one. But that’s how the public vets people nowadays. Google searches produce “little nuggets” about people that others may use against them. President Obama didn’t have to Google Pastor Giglio, though: He had become aware of Giglio’s work combating human trafficking last year after students at the annual Passion Conference in Atlanta raised millions of dollars for the cause. This year the campaign raised over $3.3 million dollars.

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I attended Giglio’s church for over a year when we lived in Atlanta. We loved it. Giglio was genuine, Christ-centered in his preaching, and humble. Today, he’s been called everything from an unrepentant bigot to a pastor on the outlier of mainstream religious thinking (which might not actually be a bad thing). My dream of seeing a representative of the Civil Rights Movement share the platform with someone who genuinely cares and is doing something about modern-day slavery was crushed today. With more people enslaved today (approximately 27 million) than any other time in human history, this monumental occasion could have had a significant, visceral impact for African Americans. Most of these modern-day slaves are “people of color.”

Instead, we revisit an issue that cropped up in 2009 when Rick Warren was selected to give the benediction—a similar outcry that yielded different results. The difference? The President hadn’t expressed his evolving view on homosexuality at that time. But is this really a civil rights issue? I need not go into the matter of civil rights. I think Voddie Baucham does a pretty good job of addressing the issue here. Dr. Russell Moore suggests that what we may have is a de facto establishment of a state church.

As Moore points out:

The problem is not that [Giglio] wants to exclude homosexuals or others from the public square or of their civil rights. The problem is that he won’t say that they can go to heaven without repentance. That’s not a civil issue, but a religious test of orthodoxy.

The truth is that politicizing prayer is the first essential step to creating a state religion. We’re starting to enter the politically correct season of public prayer. So what’s the new standard? What’s the prerequisite when vetting someone to pray for our nation? Offending no one? We know from Scripture that’s impossible. Someone will always be offended. In fact, held to this standard, Jesus Himself would have been disqualified. Were that the benchmark, we’d have an empty podium on January 21st.

Giglio released this statement today:

I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.

Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.

My greatest desire is that we not be distracted from the things we are focused on…seeing people in our city come to know Jesus, and speaking up for the last and least of these throughout the world.

In my opinion, a grace-filled response to critics. In the coming weeks, the nation will be watching intently. Forget the replacement refs controversy last fall with the NFL—Giglio’s replacement will likely get tons of attention from the faith community, and the nation in general. Not because this person prays more eloquently than Giglio. Not because there’s a symbiotic relationship between this person’s prayer and Ms. Evers-Williams’ prayer. But because the selection will likely represent the evolving ethos of our pluralistic society. Disheartening? Yes. Unexpected? No. When it boils down to it, the words of Robert Godfrey ring true: neither the Republican Party or Democratic Party care about the cause of Christ. But I’m glad there are people like Pastor Giglio in this world who do.