Thursday, July 21, 2016

Some Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

Soon I’ll be seventy years old.  It’s hard to fathom this, since I still feel twenty-five.

When I was young, I lived for moments.  Today, I’m living for time. Langston Hughes has a poem that included the line, “life is short, but God is long.”  That’s how I feel these days.

My decades as a Christian activist have taught me valuable lessons.  I’ve had to learn a lot of these things the hard way, but I boiled a handful of “lessons” down to twelve common sense and overlapping principles of protest, some of which are adapted from my book Free At Last? — all of which are based on familiar biblical truths. 

They’ve served me well at different levels of cultural engagement, so I offer them as a reminder of our true focus, the gracious God who has ‘shown us what is good.’  I hope they can help us avoid the “syncretistic subculture” discussed in my last blog, and save us unnecessary tears and wasted years as we seek to ‘do what the Lord requires of us — namely “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with...God” (Micah 6:8).

Many of you in the field will already be familiar with these concepts, but there are also some men and women I’ve spoken with who are just wading into the waters of protest and prayer, even at this stage.  If you don’t find these principles helpful today, I hope they will be useful in the years to come.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, there will always be something in our immediate surroundings that will fall short of God’s plan for a just society.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reflections on Black Lives

Last night, two young Black Christian leaders from our community came to visit us.  They joined a steady stream of young people who’ve come to our home in the last few years seeking answers.  One brother was primarily concerned about unjust policing in our city, the other with the high crime rate in his neighborhood.

Both of these issues have affected them and their friends deeply.  My two young brothers expressed their frustration with measures that often lack practical application, be they protest or prayer.  They were united by their larger concern over the lack of discipleship, the absence of applied biblical principles, and a prophetic void – all three, they sensed, were at the heart of their frustrations.  They expressed a profound sentiment: “‘Black Lives Matter’ won’t matter to us until all Black lives matter.” 

They also came with a question, “What do we do?”

Most folk acknowledge that there are at least two versions of “black lives matter.”  For the Christian, making some sort of distinction makes it possible to participate in the movement for Black lives without compromising fidelity to Scripture.  Not long ago, the two versions were distinct.  They’ve since become so intertwined that it’s worth revisiting how they’re framed and perceived, and how they might be evolving.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Racism Alone? – Reflections on the Current National Divide

When I heard the decision not to indict the killers of Eric Garner, my outraged response was, “here we go again!”  If the Michael Brown case lacked moral clarity, the senseless tragedy of the Eric Garner case was much more clear.  No matter what the circumstances were, here were two more African American men added to the list of senseless killings, arousing strong reactions nationally and internationally.

Some claim that these killings demonstrate the existence of racist structures that permeate our society.  Others claim that these killings resulted from criminal behavior or “a lack of personal responsibility.”  While both positions point to contributing factors, they both continue to ignore the elephant in the room, namely culture – a factor that dwarfs the previous two. 

We have made astounding progress against racism thanks to the Civil Rights and Black Consciousness movements.  Yet in the ’hood, conditions have not improved accordingly.  Today, there is a growing culture of dysfunctionality eating away not just at the ‘hood, but at our larger society.  It is often government funded through well meaning but mismanaged subsistence programs.  It is having devastating effects across cultures, yet is felt most profoundly in the ’hood.  It is a culture derived from the old “redneck” South – a culture nurtured by structures of oppression and one that wears down initiative and personal responsibility – whose value system elevates and encourages anti-achieverism, fatherlessness, dependency, helplessness, hopelessness, self-sabotaging/self-destructive behavior, fratricide, etc., and in extreme cases, nihilism. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ferguson — “We Don’t All Look Alike”

Photo Credit: Megan Sims @The_Blackness48
Howard University Student Body via USAToday
A quiet rage has been inside me since the shooting of Michael Brown on August 15 — a rage I kept under control as I tried to be objective, and resist being manipulated by the strident and predictable rhetoric surrounding this senseless killing.  However, as I watched Michael’s funeral, that rage burned hot.  It brought to mind the senseless and tragic deaths of other young Black men: Eric Garner, age 43 on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island, NY; Trayvon Martin, age17 on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, FL.  I couldn’t help recalling the horrifying murder of Emmett Louis Till, age 14 on August 28, 1955 in the Mississippi Delta.  His body was fished out of the Tallahatchie River after being beaten and shot in the head.  The image of his mutilated and bloated body is still seared in my memory.

Before you write me off for strident and predictable rhetoric of my own, you must know that these killings are not the only ones that have me incensed.  I am likewise enraged by the murders of thousands of young African American men in places like Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, where the killers happened to be Black.  I have lost personal friends in “drive-by” shootings, simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters


UPDATE: (12/5/13) Several of the men on the above panel have issued apologies. Their comments can be found here, here and here.

UPDATE: (12/21/13) The NCFIC site administrators have removed the original video from the NCFIC web and blog sites.


To our dear brothers and sisters,

Our culture — within and outside of the Church — will always misunderstand your Kingdom work ... at this, you must not be dismayed.

You know better than anyone that we are in the midst of a devastating cultural crisis, a cancer that is destroying souls in our community.  This cultural cancer doesn't discriminate by socioeconomic class or by color, but merely takes different manifestations according to the hopelessness that festers in each of the despairing.  

We have seen the rise of ghetto nihilism, Wall Street nihilism, government nihilism, Hollywood nihilism, gender nihilism, and on and on.  Many of our self-appointed cultural gatekeepers are exploiting this crisis for personal gain, instituting programs and legislation that promise satisfaction, yet work against the liberating biblical principles we seek to teach.

For those who live and work in our most hopeless areas, be it in the city, the 'hood,' or in the 'burbs, it sometimes seems as if the deck is stacked against our Kingdom work.  And so, we carefully count each hard-won victory as precious Kingdom treasure — each life saved, each family mended, each young woman or man who comes to see themselves a bit more clearly through Christ’s eyes, know Him more intimately, and find their ultimate identity in Him.    

Thanks to your labor, God is not without human testimony.  Daily, for decades, you have been used to breathe new life into dry bones.  Yours has been a powerful and refreshing voice of redemption and cultural renewal.

Now, a new set of self-appointed gatekeepers has emerged who are out of touch with our most basic core concerns. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Undercurrents: A Perspective on Why the Trayvon Case Aches



How does one begin to explain this feeling? 

Korean culture has a name for it … they call it Han  

Han. The overwhelming feeling of helplessness in the face of irreversible cultural sorrow; a cold fist that reaches deep into a people’s collective soul, only to pull away having grasped a fistful of emptiness and despair. 

Something… simply... is... not... right.

Friday, June 28, 2013

An “Illiberal” Liberalism: Why Black Folk Can’t Get Ahead



While many people are loyal to a single news outlet in their homes, my wife and I take in a considerable amount of daily news from a variety of viewpoints – domestic and foreign, liberal and conservative, and much more.  A few nights ago, Fox News featured an audience of articulate African American citizens who identified themselves as “conservatives.”  What caught our ear was host Sean Hannity’s teaser for the show: he announced that African American conservatives “don’t enjoy freedom of speech” in their own country.  With our curiosity piqued, we tuned in.

As we listened to the audience describe the disdain they had experienced from fellow African Americans for their conservative affiliation, we realized that, experientially, we had much in common with them.  We don’t subscribe personally to either the conservative or liberal ideology; we have as many agreements with both as we have disagreements. 

Yet with few exceptions, one thing remains fairly consistent: when we express our disagreement with the prevailing “liberal” agenda, we’re often tagged with the same epithets that leftists use to besmirch these conservatives.