Category Archives: Cultural Critique

Embracing A New Normal

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This is an exciting time for Christendom. I’m reminded of the scripture found in Isaiah 43:16-21, MSG Bible, “This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”

COVID19 has created a new normal in this global society for years to come. Even the church has been affected. I illustrate:

  • Churches have remained empty, but functional
  • Ministers are learning to adapt from traditional building worship to online, teleconferencing, and live streaming platforms.
  • Steward Boards and Officers are creating ways for members and friends to give online, by mail, or text to give.
  • The class leader system is resurfacing due to necessity of the hour.
  • District, Regional, Episcopal, and Connectional meetings are being reshaped for online delivery.

Indeed, this is a new normal. When I was in the military, we had an exercise called running in place. It was excellent for getting our heart rate up but did little for moving forward. There was forward momentum nor forward progress. I wonder if we are changing to reflect God’s new move or just running in place, waiting for things to return the way they were.

I believe this is a time to examine our ways as a denomination. I believe we should ask the question what rituals, meetings, gatherings, modes of operation and methods have become too cumbersome to serve this present age. This is a challenge for our College of Bishops, General Officers, Presiding Elders, Pastors, and Lay Leaders.  We can not assume that we will ever go back to business as usual. Can we discern what God’s new normal is for our church?

Matthew 9:14-17, MSG Bible, reads, “A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?”

15 Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” 16-17 He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”

In the age of G5 and Corona Viruses (of which many other strains will arise in the coming months) what of our structure can we renovate to “serve this present age.”  In a cultural slang, we have heard it said, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Meaning, preserve the essentials, throw out the excessive or nonessential. This is the question for every leader and the College of Bishops are wrestling even now to establish such distinctions.

This is new for us all and we all must support our leadership, adjust to the new normal, and remember our theme for this quadrennial which I doubt was designed to address this pandemic but which certainly is apropos for this pandemic.  Our theme is “Getting back to the basics as we envision our way forward taking care of God’s business.”  This is both prophetic and relevant for our present circumstances and for moving forward into our new normal.

Let us unite to pray, fast, and seek God’s hand at work in this present age.  Are we the church being led by God’s Spirit, able to answer this challenge, and meet the needs of the present age or are we kicking and screaming to return to the old way?

Well I believe conditions force us to rethink what is Methodist and what it means to be a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. I believe we have the right leaders, in the right places, to receive from the Lord – through collaboration, deliberation, and experimentation – to guide us boldly into this new normal.

The Louisiana Region Annual Conference is strategically forming a plan to move from the precautions of social distancing due to the Corona Virus pandemic to one which will address the critical facets of the brick and mortar Annual Conference in light of the new normal.  To that end, we have cancelled our normal Annual Conference and are looking at the legal and traditional requirements to necessary for the Teleconference Annual Conference format.

We trust that the good people of the Louisiana Region will engage in this discussion with your Pastors, Presiding Elders, and your Bishop.

 

How did you treat the poor?

Text:  Luke 16:19-31

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

 

Introduction

In 2014, Louisiana was ranked 49th among states in terms of their poverty population.  Overall, 19% of Louisianians live in poverty which means they make $23,834 or less for a family with four. The Income Inequality Ratio is 18.3% and ranks Louisiana as 47th in the Nation.  This refers to the ratio of the share of income going to the top 20 percent of households and the share of income going to the bottom 20 percent of households in 2014.  Despite these statistics, Louisiana had an overall unemployment rate of 6.4% which means that imbedded in this Capitalistic democracy are built in mechanisms designed to keep the rich richer and the poor poorer.[1]

Additonally, Louisiana has the fourth highest rate of school-aged children living in poverty among the 50 United States and Washington, D.C., according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico, respectively, have higher rates of poverty among children ages 5-17.[2]

The national average rate of school-aged children in poverty is 21 percent, but just 10 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have a lower rate than that. In Louisiana, 27 percent of school-aged children are in poverty, or 212,904 potential students.[3]

Knowing this how can the church refuse to support scholarships and programs designed to help our children graduate high school and college.  I believe its because they have so interwined the American Way with Scripture until their religion is so heavenly minded it is no earthly good.

And so this parable provides relevant lessons for us this morning. This parable helps us answer the questions:  How can a society rich in resources and opportunities still have persons languishing in poverty and despair?  In response perhaps one should look at the tension found in the word of God which states you reap what you sow and “He that lendeth to the poor, lendeth unto God.”  (Now might I add that the word “lendeth” could also be read as “He that leans toward the poor with aid and assistance in that which is needed, leans toward the heart of God.”  It is not a loan to the poor person per se, but an act done on behalf of God.  An act rewarded by God, not this world system.)   This tension exists because of the world system, known and taught in American schools and lived out by shrewd business habits with prooftexting and excuses for all the ills contained within this system.   In other words, interpreting the Scripture through a capitalistic, free market mindset automatically lends itself to error.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

 

James, the Moderator of the Jewish-Christian Church warned: “5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”[4]

And so let us consider the lessons of this parable in the context of our subject for this morning.

First, you can’t help the poor if you can’t see the poor.  Luke 16:19-20 reads, 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” And when I say “see” I’m talking about with the human eyes and with the understanding of their plight in your mind which compels you to act with favor toward them.

Note that this rich man never saw this man Lazarus.  This rich man lived in a worldly reality.  Lazarus represents a condition more than he does a person; he is poor; his represents poverty that often befalls a child of God.  But the rich man represents how this world’s systems rewards those who hustle, grind, and keep their minds on their paper.  And you can get so high in this world’s system until those in poverty become invisible and irrelevant.

Lazarus “was laid” outside his home each day which simply means that Lazarus became the rich man’s responsibility.  All the rich man had to do was acknowledge him, view him as a child of God and help him.  He was laid at his gate, right in front of him but this rich man had his windows tinted, rolled up, and hit the gas without even looking both ways else he would have seen Lazarus.  He was so busy being busy, he did not acknowledge the condition of Lazarus.  Some of us are so busy being busy, until we have no time to stop and see the plight of those right in front of us.  We do what I call drive by shootings without the gun; we see poverty, roll up our windows in fear and keep on driving.  And I say to you slow down and see your community, slow down and see your neighbor who is languishing in poverty.

Note also that the demon of poverty does not come alone; it brings sickness, mental illness, and despair. Poverty causes people to live a horrible life; watching those who have been blessed in the midst of a wicked society live as if they do not exist is a painful reality experienced by the poor.  Luke depicts Lazarus’ plight like this:  “21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Can you see this man?  Are your eyes open to the plight of the poor among you?  But in this world system, How quick we are to defund indigent care programs, refuse to open clothing and food pantry ministries and refuse to aid the homeless.  Lord, have mercy!

Note also that this man’s name, Lazarus means, “God helps.”  So from his very name we see that this man though at the rich man’s home is not dependent on the rich man for help.  Though he is living out his condition of poverty, he is not depicted as having this rich man as his only source.  His name suggests he is leaning and depending on God for his sustenance.  He’s at this rich man’s door, but he’s looking unto the hills from whence cometh his help; his hope is in the Lord, God Almighty.  Lord, have mercy!  But let me move on……

Second, you can’t help the poor if you don’t believe that poverty is an unavoidable reality.  I suggest this morning that when Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus was in fact letting us know that poverty is an unavoidable human condition.  This world system creates gaps between the rich and the middle class and the rich and the poor.  This gap is unavoidable in a capitalistic free market society and if you’re going to see the poor with the right attitude you must subscribe to this premise, “the poor you have with you always.”

If you believe that people are poor due to a lack of education, a lack of being reared in the proper environment, or because they have been lazy, shiftless, and slothful then you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality. If you can’t see how people can be poor in a society rich in resources and opportunities, you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality.  Lord, have mercy!

Let me say emphatically with Jesus, Lewis Temple, the poor you will have with you always.  And that poverty will remain in some sectors of the population despite our best efforts to eradicate it.  That does not mean we should not fight this world system that produces poverty, we should.  What it means is that we should not lose hope as we fight this demonic condition when things do not change as readily as we suppose.

Third, if you are not generous toward the poor right before you, then you won’t help those far away.  In other words, if you pass by a poor person on the street right outside your home, you won’t travel distant lands on mission fields to help them either.  Don’t you get tired of hearing folks talk about going to Africa or India to help the poor, when they won’t give to the Salvation Army, the Church, at home?  Isn’t it irrating to hear people talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They say their care for the poor, but refuse to implement a food bank program or provide assistance to the Christian Community Action on the local level.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 2

Jesus says to us in this parable that if you don’t open your eyes to the needs right in your neighborhood, if you don’t believe that life produces poverty, if you don’t help those in front of you, you will have to give an account for that kind of unrealistic stewardship.

Luke 16:22-26 reads, “22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

Beloved, stewardship demands that we look at this world system as juxtaposed to the kingdodm of God.  Despite the actions of the rich man, those who live in the kingdom of God should operate from a totally different perspective.  We should live with heaven in our view and even more importantly than that, we should live our lives based on the Word of God.

A man was driving his car, when he saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road. He saw that she needed help. So he stopped his Pontiac near her Mercedes and got out.

He smiled, while he was approaching her, still she was worried, as nobody had stopped for hours. Moreover, he did not look safe, as his appearance was so poor and shabby. He could see, how frightened she was, so he tried to calm her: „ I‘m here to help you, don‘t worry. My name is Bryan Anderson“.

The tire was flat, so he had to crawl under the car. While changing the tire, he got dirty and his hands were hurt. When the job was done, she asked how much she owed him for his help. Bryan smiled. He said: „If you really want to pay me back, the next time you see someone, who needs help, give that person the needed assistance. And think of me“.

At the same evening, the lady stopped by a small cafe. That place looked dingy. Then she saw a waitress, nearly eight months pregnant, wiping her wet hair with a towel. The waitress had a sweet friendly smile, although she had spent on her feet the whole day.

The lady wondered how someone, who has so little, can be so kind and giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan. The lady had finished her meal and paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress went to get change and when she came back, the lady was gone. She left a note on the napkin: „You don‘t own me anything. Somebody once helped me, just like now I‘m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, do not let this chain of love end with you“. The waitress found four more one hundred bills under the napkin.

That night the waitress came home earlier. She was thinking about the lady and the money she left. She was wondering, how the lady could know, how much she and her husband needed it, especially now, when the baby will soon arrive. She knew that her husband worried about that, so she was glad to tell him good news. Then she kissed him and whispered „Now everything will be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson“[5].  That is a dynamic picture of what happens when we accept the fact that we are living in exile, that this world is not our home and its systems are not our systems.

 

Conclusion

Finally, Luke says we should govern our lives based on the revealed, written Word of God. Luke writes in 16:27-31, ” 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Beloved, I know how easy it is to get caught up in this American system of success and fame, yet let me urge you to judge America by the standard of God’s Word.  If a person has not helped the poor before they are elected to office, don’t expect them to help after they’ve been elected.

In the kingdom of God, riches do not come from a capitalistic free-market system but true riches come from having a heart for the things of God.  I urge you today, to consider your attitude toward the poor and stop operating as an American and begin to act as a child existing in the kingdom of God.  Do it now because one day, you will give an account of your stewardeship.  And I ask will you be like this rich man or will you be generous in your stewardship as a Christian ought.

I trust that you, will continue to support those who mission is eradicating poverty right here and right now.  Praise the Lord!

 

[1] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/louisiana-2015-report/

[2] http://www.nola.com/news/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/12/poverty_education_louisiana_ce.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] James 2:5-9, KJV.

[5] http://www.inspirationalstories.eu/stories/inspirational-stories-about-helping-others/

Commercialization of Christmas

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:6-7)

A child learns much from the words of a parent. However that child learns more from the actions of that parent.

One of the lessons children learn is money management.  Christmas is upon us; it’s a time to celebrate the birth of Christ by imitating God, the Father.  We imitate the act that God gave us Jesus by giving our best to others. 

Yet at this festive season some parents are teaching their children to misuse money by going in debt. My parents were poor.  We didn’t get the latest toy or the newest sneakers.  We got hand – me – down bikes and clothes for school.

As I reflect on this I realize that my parents could have gone in debt to give us things but they didn’t;  they gave us presence. When we awakened both were there to start off Christmas morning with us. Heck,  dad would even sing with us. Christmas was a happy morning.

My parents were teaching us to live within our means and enjoy each others company.  That’s what Christmas is about because there’s hope,  peace, joy, and love among family.  More than anything else Joseph,  Mary, and Jesus were family.  No room in the inn but hope, peace, joy, and love in their hearts. 

Spend time with your family this year and enjoy each others presence more than the gifts. For Christmas means Emanuel which is “God with us.”

A Message to Parents

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.   These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.   Repeat them to your children.  Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol  on your forehead.    Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Not giving children a moral compass could lead to a chaos. However, teaching apart from example also leads to tragedy.
This is not an argument for perfection rather its an argument for integrity.

As you grow,  your life should reflect your stated beliefs and convictions more closely. Your children should be able to witness that growth and respect you for it.

Life is now and always has been an unmastered process. Talk to your children about the process so they will not be discouraged nor disappointed with your journey or there own.

Be blessed!

Monetization of Tragedy

Michael Brown is dead, killed by an officer whose duty is to protect and defend.  That officer used deadly force but there wasn’t anyone’s life at stake,  not even his own.  What was the officer protecting? What was the officer defending?

Even more tragic in my mind is this fundraising business.  The police department has a legal defense fund for its officers. Why does the officer need money now for a trial that remains a distant possibility.  He hasn’t been charged or arrested for anything. 

And Michael Brown’s families are being used as pawns by Black organizations to enlarge there coffers.  Why should such tragedies be turned into financial exploitation?  Who will be the beneficiaries of these schemes?

At a gut level, I fully disapprove of both these shenanigans!

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What do you value?

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

It has been said that if you want to see what a person values,  find out what she spends her money on.  That is a superficial indicator dependent upon the premise everyone values money.

Some people don’t place value on money and so spend it arbitrarily. Such people can’t be dependent upon to ‘treasure’ the things they spend their money on. There is a real disconnect for such people between their money and their ‘heart.’

In this text, ‘treasure’ is best translated as ‘the things you value’.  We could paraphrase by saying,  “For where the things you value are, there will your true self be also.”  A person who values benevolence will be found giving, helping, and serving in the areas he values.  A person who values family will be found investing in those things that promote family.

What do you value? Check your calendar;  it will be a better barometer than your checkbook. Where you spend your money is just one of the variables that may indicate what you really treasure.

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The Investment Factor : A Changed People, Changing the World!

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.   Repeat them to your children.  Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

Invest in teaching,  mentoring, modeling your faith to your children.  Don’t allow them to grow up unfamiliar with your God. They may not all choose your God but they each will be able to make an informed decision. 

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Rethinking Crime and Violence..

“A slacker’s craving will kill him because his hands refuse to work. He is filled with craving  all day long, but the righteous give and don’t hold back.” (Proverbs 21:25-26)

The slacker does not die alone.  When the righteous withholds charity from the slacker,  crime and violence are the results.  Poverty left to its own devices tends toward theft and murder. Judging the slacker rather than blessing the slacker or the slackers’ progeny, creates civil unrest.

The righteous understands his or her responsibility to maintain a decent and orderly society despite the presence of slackers.  Selah.

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Jeez, get a room why don’t you

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I don’t like watching couples show affection in public. Once while visiting another state, I attended a church service where public display of affection was affirmed and welcomed.  One couple actually embraced and kissed during the service and I thought it was so inappropriate.  I mean I know you two love each other, but do I have to look at it.  When I see it even now, I mutter,  “get a room” in serious jest.

But in a moment of clarity and focus, I remember.  Once I was engaged in a moment of ecstasy with my true love; we were in public but we were also alone.  I knew people were around but my eyes were filled with her.  At that moment I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought.  That was our special moment to share together.  You see, love has no rules of a sort.  Personal decency for society’s sake is appropriate I suppose, but I wanted to kiss her every time I saw her, wherever I saw her.  I suspect it is no different with same sex couples either and I suspect they care as less about what I think as I did when it happened to me.

No I don’t like it when I see public displays of intimacy regardless of who does it.  But guess what, because I have been in love, I’ve learned to get over it.  Societal norms not withstanding, It’s not my business nor my right to dictate others expression of their love.  I looked myself in the mirror and said get over it; you participated in love too, you know.

 

My Mother’s Strength was My Greatest Need

I didn’t like my mother growing up. Well, that might be harsh. Let me say I didn’t know my mother growing up. There was no time for a relationship. My mother was more interested in respect and obedience than relationship. And so I didn’t like her because I didn’t know her. Here I was a dwarf of a child listening to this woman barking orders and swinging the switch to keep 13 children in line.

Mother was a strong disciplinarian; I assumed she wasn’t capable of loving me because in my eyes she just lived to beat me. I believe I got a beating for waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. The solution to every problem, mother had with me and my siblings was a good switching or backhand or belt or whatever was handy at the time.

Mother could be relentless in her discipline but reserved in her demonstration of love. No, I didn’t like my mother growing up. I didn’t like her because I didn’t know her.

There was no relationship worthy of Mother becoming my friend; someone, I could like. There little time for nurturing in that fashion. There was only time for work, church, and school. The fun we had included baseball, the beach, and festivals about town. She took us to relatives’ homes and allowed us to roam like children.

So I grew up rebellious at times and conforming at times. I stayed in some trouble and people would say I was a problem child because of my nonconformity. I was different; I was alone. I was in trouble at school but a saint at church. My school teachers would pull my ears but my Sunday School teacher would kiss me on my cheeks. I got baptized at 12, sang in the youth choir, and became an orator in plays and programs, a favored poet in my church. I got in trouble at school, in jail at sixteen, and pulled over for DUI as an adult. My troubles intensified when my best friend, my brother Dwight drowned at 15; I was 16 at the time. For many years my life was in a spiral of self-destruction through riotous living.

My mother, however, kept telling me she was praying for me. I didn’t like my mother because I didn’t know my mother. That is until I realized the length she would go to ensure my safety and prosperity in life. I was older before my rebellion turned into reconciliation. My mother talked with me when I grew up; she nurtured my longings and aspirations and became my biggest fan. Always there for the major accomplishments in my life and always visiting and calling to come see her grands. Mother became my friend; I was older; I understood. I realized she had always been, my mother!