As we navigate change in our world caused by the pandemic, social, economic, and governmental transformation, wisdom of all types is necessary. Leaders are trying to find new ways to engage those they lead and everyone is working to communicate more effectively in our dynamic moment.
UrbanFaith sat down with one of the most influential leaders in the world, Bishop T.D. Jakes who has seized the opportunity to share his insight and experience on how to remain faithful to our purpose as we communicate in our dynamic context. In his new book Don’t Drop the Mic he shares his wisdom on how to faithfully communicate regardless of the audience. It has been called one of Bishop Jakes’ best books as he explores clear and effective communication in our everyday lives and on the world’s biggest platforms. Bishop Jakes has led a megachurch with tens of thousands of members, The Potter’s House for decades, become an entrepreneur, filmmaker, talk show host, producer, and raise his children without dropping the mic. Two of his children are now successful pastors in his ministry network, Sarah Jakes Roberts and Cora Jakes Coleman. This book explores how he stayed true to his message while adapting his method through the years. Full interview is linked above.
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced in June 2019 that her country would shift its focus from traditional metrics of national development like GDP to a well-being budget that prioritizes the happiness of citizens over capitalist gain. Although this sort of state-driven pursuit of happiness might appear to be a novel idea, it actually began in the 1970s, with Bhutan’s King Wangchuck proclaiming that “gross national happiness is more important than gross domestic product.”
Humans seem to have always maintained an intense relationship to happiness. Research is converging on the key ingredients to a happy life, and they do not include increased consumption and more money. Other research indicates that we shouldn’t over-focus on happiness, as that can be counter-productive. Yet the more we seek happiness, the more it can elude us. No sooner have we found it than we begin to sense its fragility and certain end.
Since 2012 and the creation of the World Happiness Report, happiness has had a measurement, with Northern and Western Europe, as well as North America, and other democratic and wealthy countries regularly taking the top positions. This has left many of us scratching our heads. Does that mean that people in other regions such as Africa are necessarily depressed, sad or angry?
Chigozie Obioma, a Nigerian writer and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska, asked himself this very question. Obioma’s work explores the negotiation between tradition and modernity and the impact on happiness. In his 2019 novel An Orchestra of Minorities the hero of the novel, Nonso, is a poor, uneducated chicken farmer who stops Ndali, a well-educated young woman, from hurling herself from a bridge. The narrator of the story is Nonso’s chi, the equivalent of a “guardian spirit” that inhabits the human in traditional Igbo cosmology. Nonso’s journey from poverty and ignorance to striving for an education and recognition do not, as it turns out, bring more happiness to his life. Could ignorance really mean bliss?
Having recently listened to a radio interview with Obioma, we were intrigued by his idea that happiness is “noisy and communal” in poorer regions of the world like Africa, whereas despair in wealthier countries like the United States is “silent and alone”. WHO research demonstrating lower suicide rates in Africa compared to Europe seems to back him up. We recently had a conversation with him to explore these questions.
How we face adversity
Obioma tells us that he has increasingly pondered hope and happiness while observing how people in the United States face adversity. Having counselled several depressed students and colleagues, and observing that each semester at least one student commits suicide, he wonders what sets us apart in our ability to maintain hope. The death of one of his students particularly shocked him:
“You know, this girl who killed herself had a job, was on a scholarship, had a car, she can take her passport from the US and go anywhere, anytime… she is in the richest country in the world.”
He suspects that the hopelessness comes from focusing on “external miseries”. So Obioma decided to investigate by going back to his native country to interview everyday people about hope, happiness, and thoughts of death. Once there, Obioma found the paradoxical coexistence of hope and deprivation.
He relates his exchanges with a particular street market vendor selling books (we’ll call him Chiso) in Lagos. Chiso is a father of two and his wife found herself unexpectedly pregnant with their third child and therefore unable to work. Obioma estimates the value of Chiso’s entire stock of books at around 200 dollars and his monthly salary around 80 dollars – at best. Yet despite being what Obioma refers to as the “wretched of the earth”, Chiso strongly believes that:
“tomorrow will be better… he believes that someday a miracle will turn his life around. It is an abstract idea; I mean, he has reasons to be sad too, right? He is unhappy with his situation. But he is deeply hopeful and can separate the difficulty of the now from the hope of tomorrow”.
Hope against hope
Obioma roamed Nigeria speaking with everyday people like Chiso on questions of hope and happiness, asking them “Have you ever considered suicide?” to which he received dozens of resounding “No!” responses. Many African countries like Nigeria are rife with grinding poverty, needless mortality, and high rates of violence. Yet for Obioma, hope is not about remaining complacent in in the face of great social ills. His is simply a story about radical hope and its implications for happiness in situations of far-reaching hopelessness.
Why then does Chiso continue to hope against all odds? Obioma notes that among the Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria, there is a belief in radical individuality tied again to the concept of the chi. It translates as “I have divinity in me; therefore, I am very important, and in some ways the centre of the world”. By extension, the Igbo believe that “if I strive, I can achieve this”. The fact that similar people have tried similar things and failed does not dampen this radical individuality.
Up to now, the Igbo individuality sounds a lot to us like the Protestant insistence on transformative individualism and direct access to the divine. Indeed, like much of southern Nigeria, the Igbo are now predominantly Christian. How does this affect how they see themselves? Whether Christian (in the south) or Muslim (in the north), Nigerians are highly religious. The kind of Nigerian Christianity that Chiso practices is a syncretic cocktail of European missionary-spread Christianity and traditional beliefs. In this way, Christianity does not negate the Igbo “divine individual” but seems rather to reinforce it, enabling people to harness a “all-powerful force to engineer the desired destiny”, says Obioma.
Understanding the human experience
In the early 2000s, one of us carried out ethnographic research on West African traditions and aesthetics in Werewere Liking’s pan-African arts cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire. Liking’s Aesthetics of Necessity elaborate on how practical creativity is sparked in highly constrained, resource-strapped environments. For Liking, necessity is what spurs the self into creative action, and for Obioma, it’s what prevents a focus on ‘external miseries’ so prevalent among those living with plenty.
Like Obioma, we are struck by the tension between African “poor yet hopeful” and Western “wealthy yet depressed”. The Western philosophical tradition has always been concerned with the contradictions between wealth and happiness. Aristotle addressed this in his Eudemian Ethics, extolling the importance of “human flourishing”, or eudaimonia. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he establishes the negative relationship between the pursuit of wealth and flourishing, reminding us that the “life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking… ” The relevance of Aristotle’s vision holds well today if we consider the negative impact of modern environments in places where wealth abounds. Wealth and modernity do correlate negatively with flourishing: just consider economist Richard Easterlin’s 1974 formulation of the Easterlin paradox: life satisfaction increases with GDP in poor countries, but grows flat in richer countries. In other words, the richer we are, the less we can buy our way into happiness.
So the examples abound – we are in a new age of inquiry into human happiness, particularly abetted by technology, which also brings into focus global inequalities. Yet the fundamental question about whether life is worth living requires a more direct answer. Hope says yes, life is worth living because the best is yet to come. Striving through adversity means hustling on into the future. Some people, it seems, did not need to spend the past two millennia to figure that out. Just ask Chiso.
As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.
Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.
It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.
Some Hard Truths
1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.
But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:
• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.
• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.
• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.
• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.
2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.
But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:
• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?
• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?
• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?
• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?
• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?
• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?
Pray, Think, Talk
There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.
So, what do you think?
Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.
The latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau about poverty are heartbreaking. How is it possible that, in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, 1 out of 6 people are living below the poverty line? Many of us will never have to know what it feels like to be poor (thank God). But when so many people in our cities and neighborhoods are in the grips of poverty (especially blacks, Latinos, and children), we need to pay attention and take it personally.
I remember being in a tight financial situation in college. I was a sophomore renting a room from a family in my church. I grew up poor and was the first in my family to go to college. Fortunately, the family I lived with during my freshman year shared my precarious situation with their friends before they moved. They knew that my chances of finishing college were slim without additional help. I was always struggling to work, carry a full class load, and eat. One anonymous person made a deep impression on me through her unexpected generosity. Every few weeks, I would randomly receive a check from this person with a note that said, “God told me to send this to you.” The checks usually came when I was at my lowest point. When they came, I cried out of sheer joy and relief. Years later when I inquired about my anonymous benefactor, I discovered that she was a single, middle-aged woman living on a fixed income. At first I felt guilty — this woman who had very little sacrificed to support someone she didn’t even know — but then I felt a sense of awe. This woman gave out of her scarcity in a way that challenged my ideas about wealth, prosperity, and poverty. Ever since, I have followed her example in helping others.
As I have matured in my understanding of the Bible, I have noticed that God rarely extols a person simply because of his or her wealth. For wealth to be meaningful, wisdom has to be nearby. If not, we can end up like many celebrities and lottery winners: miserable. Solomon demonstrated this when God gave him a choice between wisdom and riches. He chose wisdom, but God blessed him with both. And his later life is a cautionary tale on the connection between wealth and pride. Godly wisdom is the sure sign of God’s blessings. We have it backward, which is why we forget that God can give His wisdom to anyone — even those we consider poor.
God’s Concern for the Poor
According to the new census report, 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty, the largest on record dating back to 1959 when the census began tracking poverty. This has considerable political implications considering the uptick in the unemployment rate and the debt ceiling legislation that just passed.
Defining poverty is not an exact science. For instance, by current standards, a white family of six would be considered poor even though they may make $50,000 a year combined, own their home, and live frugally. Yet the face of poverty in the U.S. media is usually a black single mother with children. Politics and election cycles often decide how the media will see poverty.
In his book Just Generosity, theologian Ron Sider makes it clear that there is room in God’s economy for the less fortunate. He points us to the Old Testament, where Yahweh charges the Israelites to remember where they came from and care for those who need help within their community. Once they settled in Canaan, the concept of gleaning (leaving leftover crops for the poor) in Leviticus 19:9-10 and the Year of Canceling Debts in Deuteronomy 15: 1-6 applied to everyone. Jesus said he came to preach the good news to the poor. There are many other scriptures that support God’s concern as well.
The Widow’s Example
The crazy thing about wealth is that as we accumulate more of it, we typically find ourselves becoming ever more desperate to preserve it. We may not even be greedy or materialistic people. But the natural instinct is to get as much as we can, and then hold on to it. This is one reason why people with great wealth are rarely as happy as you’d expect.
One of the best antidotes to spiritual discontent is giving. And, paradoxically, it’s often those with the least who give the most. According to a variety of recent studies, lower-income Americans are the most charitable persons in our country. But our media would have us believe that the most generous people are the wealthy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful when a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg donates millions to education or a third-world country. But I’m even more encouraged by my high school students who took up a collection to help a classmate’s family with funeral expenses. Most of them come from impoverished communities. This is one reason why the story of the widow’s offering in Luke 21:1-4 should have relevance for us: the widow sacrifices exorbitantly while the rich hoard their wealth.
Those who don’t have a lot have recognized the simple wisdom that God loves a cheerful giver and that He truly provides. The anonymous woman who helped me get through college believed this. And today’s Christians, along with our current crop of politicians, should work harder to remember this as well.
In part two of this post, I’ll share some ways that we can learn from those who are living in poverty. Please stay tuned, and share your thoughts about poverty, wealth, and generosity in the comments section below.
The Bible says, “A man who finds a wife finds a good thing!” So, my single ladies, are you a “good thing” or used goods? How many more men will you let into your life that simply want to USE you … physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually? Hopefully your answer is “no more,” and you’re ready to give God full control of your love life.
My single ladies, I want to speak restoration, wisdom, and strength into your life right now … so you can walk down a path toward becoming the “good thing” God wants you to be — and perhaps find your own “good thing” in the process.
Another blast of Scripture for you: “A prudent wife is a gift from the Lord ” (Prov.19:14). Well, ladies, if you are a GIFT, keep it wrapped tight. Don’t let the bow slip off until it’s time for the big reveal! Don’t let just anyone unwrap you! You are a beautifully wrapped gift and will be presented to your husband-to-be by God in God’s time.
Listen, sisters, if you’re a single woman of God waiting for marriage, this message is for you. Are you ready?
Y’all better go wake up your girlfriends, and send them this link, because Cee Cee is ’bout to give you some truth for your life right now! If you’re feeling lonely, inferior, desperate, or depressed … this one’s for you. Listen up and check out these 20 nuggets of real-life relationship wisdom, because something here is a message from the Lord to you.
1. No Begging Allowed. If you are feeling rejected by your current boyfriend as we speak … he is not for you. No one should have to beg for affection and compliments. You should never have to ask a man, “Baby, do you think I am beautiful?”
2. Follow Their Example. No women in the Bible put their lives on hold to find a husband. Not Mary, Not Rebekah, Not Ruth, Not Rachel, Not Esther, certainly Not Eve! These women all were busy working and serving when their husbands found them.
3. Pursue Self-Improvement. Work on yourself, ladies. What’s God tellin’ ya? Get an advanced degree, launch a business, redecorate your rooms, learn to create a loving atmosphere for your home, plant a garden, make a scrapbook, write a novel, sew, knit, take cooking classes, take a ballroom dance class, learn how to put up drywall. Then get involved at your church — volunteer to sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, or work with the youth. GOD LOVES WHEN YOU SERVE HIM, and it’s a must to explore your various spiritual gifts while you’re still single!
4. Wait for It. Ladies, this is an obvious one but oh so easy to forget: Please do not have sex with a guy before marriage! This so clouds everything, and you know this! Emotions get attached, or you become physically attached and then may manipulate the guy into marrying you when neither of you are truly ready. Uggh! Not good! Not God!
5. Only God Makes You Whole. Ladies: Please know that you are okay and you are excellent and you are wholewithout a husband. You must be whole before marriage. Two halves do not make a whole concerning marriage! Marital Math is: Whole + Whole = a Wholesome Marriage. Never say, “I just am not complete without him. He makes me complete! He is the air I breathe!” WHAT?! Girl, JESUS is the air you breathe. Don’t confuse a man with the Son of Man. Keep your priorities straight.
6. Is He Serious About God? If your man does not know the Word, apply the Word, live the Word, speak the Word, pray the Word, and meditate on it, then he does not have his sword — which means he’s not gonna be able to fight for you or your marriage! WAKE UP, somebody! A true soldier straps on his sword every day, baby!
7. Beware of the Bling. “Put a Ring On It?” Not so fast! Do not fall for every ring that comes your way. Anyone can flash a ring at you. Some brothers even recycle rings from the last girl that said no!!!! Whew Jesus! Ya betta go tell yo friends this stuff!
8. Do Your Homework. Before you get too far in a relationship, be sure to ASK if he has ever had a drinking problem, abuse problem, drug problem, if he was abused or molested in any way, if he’s been to jail, got warrants, pays child support, even sees his children, has current pictures of his children, been tested recently for HIV and other STDS. Will he even go take an HIV test for you? And if not, why?
9. Yeah, I’m Going There. If he even seems gay … please just let it go, ladies. My God! Stop the madness for real. Who are his friends? Is he extra effeminate? Does he wax his brows? Can’t live without his guy friends and boy trips? Wake up, woman! You are a COVER GIRL!
10. A Word to the Brothers. The Down Low is on the rise. Pay attention, ladies. (And men, get yourself together. STOP ruining women’s lives just to make yourself look straight on the outside. The truth is gonna come out. Some of ya’ll should get an Emmy for the act you put on. Just get truthful with God. How dare you use a woman and then bring up children in that deception and confusion!)
11. No Shackin’ Up. If you are living with your current boyfriend, consider moving out right now! Pack yo’ bag and go to the nearest sistah friend house, or back to your mama, or get a nice li’l 2 bedroom with a girlfriend and split the rent. Come on, now … there has got to be away that you can be self-sufficient. And if YOU took him in cuz he had nowhere to go, umm … where exactly is that going? Honestly!
12. I Repeat, You Need to Wait. Even if you are engaged, please do not live together to save money … Just have him live with a relative until the BIG DAY! There are options, ladies. DO NOT CHEAT! It is so worth it to move in on that big day! Get prepared, but do not cut corners like that.
13. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Ask him now if he likes PORN. People, this junk will ruin — did you hear me? — RUIN a marriage! And if you are hooked on porn, hit my inbox and let me pray with you right now. ‘Cause U got to come up off of that! It’s fake, scripted, perverse, and passionless. They want you to think it’s what sex is, but IT’S NOT. It is godless and destructive! And it has no place in a marriage. LET GOD direct your marital sex life, not X-rated videos!
14. Get Over Yourself. If you are spoiled and selfish — and you know it — DO NOT GET MARRIED … just keep loving your doggone self. You are a Last Days person … the Lord said there would be many … so just keep being a lover of yourself! Just admit it! Maybe if you face it, God will Heal you from it and you will actually be able to LOVE someone else!
15. Is He Trippin’ on the Past? He got the nerve to hold your past against you? What! OMG! Let it go! If he cannot see the God in you now because he’s too distracted by what you used to be, let that suckah loose! We are new in Christ! All old has passed away… and you walkin’ the narrow way too and he wanna talk about who and how you use to be? Awww nawww player … naw!Cut it loose, baby girl! The accuser type! Diggin’ up your buried past! Later!
16. Be Wise About Online Hookups. Beware of using the Internet to find a man. People ain’t always what they seem to be on here. Some ladies are on Match.com, Matchmaker.org, Hitched.com, BlackPlanet, Eharmony, Emarriage … just a searchin’. First, search the Scriptures, baby girl! Many of ya’ll have wrecked Facebook already, just plain abused it, trying to find a man. Some have ruined other women’s marriages! Sad! Beware, ladies!
17. Does He Prefer the Old You? If you meet a man and he is more attracted to the old, unsaved you than the new, saved you … RUN, FORREST, RUN!!!
18. Get the Big Picture. Check out his family and other parts of his life. Meet the parents! If his dog is scared of him, honey run! If he kicks a dog, he will kick you. If he cheats on his taxes, he might cheat on you. If he lies to his mama and his boss, he’ll lie to you. I am so serious! Ya’ll betta open you eyes!
19. What’s Comin’ Outta His Mouth? If he consistently, and in a negative or pushy tone, says you are: fat, ugly, dumb, not good enough, too much, too little, too this, too that … tell him that he’s too unlike Christ for you … See ya!! A real man will do whatever it takes to win your heart with LOVE, not criticism and abuse!
20. Pray Early and Often. Single ladies, one more thing. If God blesses you with a partner someday, one of the most important activities you will do as a wife (without fail) is PRAY FOR YOUR HUSBAND. Well, why not start praying for him now in advance? It makes for great practice. That way, it will be more of a natural part of who you are when he finally comes. Pray for his health, his thought life, his finances, his heart! Pray in advance! Can’t hurt! It certainly worked for me!
That’s my 20, ladies. I’ve got plenty more, but I’ll let you reflect on these for a minute. Here’s the bottom line: In a mutual relationship, a man will do ONLY what you let him do to you … it takes two. So, call on GOD for strength, wisdom, holiness, and self-control right now. You need the Word more than just on Sunday mornings when Pastor is preaching it. Keep your soul ready, your mind sharp, your hair right, and your muscles tight. Keep smiling and believing, single ladies. This is your day!