Thursday, September 29, 2016

Couldn't They Have Chosen a Better Way To Do It?

I had a friend ask me this question in response to the young men who chose and who continue to choose to kneel as a silent (maybe not so silent) protest against the recent violence in our (already) Great country.  I was even Facebook accosted by someone who read that I had advised a young man who was considering doing the same thing.  Needless to say, I have been internally fuming and feverishly searching for the time and space to respond to these "situations"  And, since my dogs decided to act like newborn babies, and forced me out of my bed at 2:30 a.m., I now have the time and space to do so.
I am always intrigued by the suggestion that one “find better ways of protesting.” It is as if we are saying, your protest is making me uncomfortable and uneasy. I don’t like the way you are doing it.  We cannot forget that protesting within itself is an expression of disapproval of an action or idea, and inherently places those who are the proponents of that idea or the doers of that action in a defensive posture. In other words, “a protest is always going to piss someone off."  Furthermore, it has occurred to me that those of us not adversely touched by the idea or act are generally the ones calling for those who are being crushed under the weight of that same idea to "wait, slow down, not act, or find another way."  If I saw you drowning, I would not stand on the shore and ask you to be patient with the water. I promise that I would try to save you.  Or, at the very least, I would allow you to fight for your life without the pressure of having to worry about whether or not I approved of how you were doing it. I might even deal with the fact that I might get a little wet from all of the splashing you might do; and not attack you for that either. But, again, that’s just because I would want you to survive.   

So, let's take a look at this protest in particular. These young men, instead of standing for the national anthem, kneeled down and prayed for our country. (I'm just repeating what was reported.) So, are we objecting to the act of praying, the time of their prayer, the fact that they kneeled down (which itself is an act derived from the bible and was used to show reverence), or that they did it in such a way so as to bring "disgrace" and "dishonor" to our flag, country, servicemen or whatever people place in this space? It cannot be that we object to the prayer. We all got riled up when they said we could not pray before games, in schools, or around other public events. Well, not riled up enough to protest until they reversed that decision. But, that is another story. The kneeling within itself is not offensive to most. We are a nation under God. And, even though no one protests the fact that we don’t recite the pledge anymore (that darn God word keeps getting in the way), we still claim to be that nation under that one God.  With that in mind, kneeling is a Godly act. As my kids used to say when they wanted to prove the “rightness” of saying hell, “It’s in the bible.”  The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament.  And I have never heard anyone complain about the act on its own. Kneeling is not the issue.  So we are left with the fact that the act is "disgraceful" (I am borrowing that word from someone you may or may not know) and disrespects our country and those who died for us to have the freedoms we enjoy.  Let me see if I understand this intellectual conundrum. 

The funders of this already GREAT country created a constitution.  As schoolchildren learn in their civics classes, the first ten amendments to the Constitution were added at the insistence of the Anti-Federalists who believed an enumeration of protected individual freedoms was necessary to ensure the government did not transgress on natural rights always retained by the people. And, the very first thing they wanted to protect was our freedom to express ourselves.  Maybe they thought it was important.  It was so important that our First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  And, we have young men and women who serve and die to protect this right. But, our argument is that exercising that right disrespects the people who gave us the right.  That argument lacks so much that I refuse to even engage in the act of discussing it any further.  If you do not see the fallacy in it, you are either unable to or unwilling to. Neither of these issues will be affected by any amount of logic or argument on my part. 

Alas, I am left with one possibility. When those young men kneeled, they were not attacking any one. They were trying to say something.  They were trying to say something that others had tried to express through violence, and the message was consumed by the clamor of chaos and confusion.  They were trying to say something that others tried to express through politicians and policy, and the message was pinned down by pundits of the opponents, policies and the powers that be.  These young men were trying to share a message. And, in the moments when people were regarding and remembering what our (already) GREAT country stands for, they peacefully knelt and prayed their quiet message into the minds of the masses.  Finally, in that moment, what was deep inside of them was allowed to float to the surface and be seen and recognized for what it was. And their quiet act, at that same time, allowed what was deep inside the hearts of others to float to the surface and be seen and recognized for what it was as well. 

So could they have chosen a different way? I am sure they could have. But, who are we to judge how drowning people survive that process?   I love you each.


Monday, March 21, 2016

I Understand Why We Need Black Churches; Even though I don't pastor one.

I pastor a multicultural church. And, I love it.  I love my church family. I love my church. But, this week, I came home to be with my family, and I had a revelation.  
My niece said on yesterday that she was never going to a “black church.”  When she said it I was taken back. I was shocked. I was hurt that she would judge her church experience solely on the color of the participants.  But, I didn’t really have time to deal with it. I was on my way to church. And, I was running late.  As I sat there experiencing the worship, it came to me.  I was reminded why we must have Black churches. I was reminded why I need Black church.  Church has been a powerful and important part in the lives of Black people in this country ever since the institution was “allowed” to exist on plantations.  The church was the one place that slaves could be truly free from “the gaze.”  The gaze is a term popularized by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.  It refers to the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This was a constant state for the slave. Someone was always watching.  Someone was always looking. They were constantly under the gaze of someone. But, then there was Sunday. They were still slaves, but for that time in church they were not watched. They were not gazed upon. They were free. Sure, they were still slaves. But for that time in church they could be as loud as they wanted. They could sing of the life that they wanted. They could dance and shout and do whatever they wanted. And, no one criticized. No one judged them. They did not have to defend their cries or their songs or their anything. It was church. And, it was a gaze free zone.  So, we run though the 60s and 70s when again the church was a place that Black people used the gaze-free zone of the church to be free. They organized political movements, free from the gaze of the “other.”  And it was still a safe place for Black people to express the anguish and repressed anger that they could not let out in their homes, or on their jobs. 
So, as I sat there experiencing worship, it was clear to me why the Black church was so important to Black people.  It is a gaze-free zone. It’s safe to confess that you believe in something you cannot see. It is a safe place to cry and shout.  In the Black church, you can boldly proclaim that Black lives matter, without worrying that you have to explain it to your White friends.  You can respond to the call, and not have to explain why you just said “all the time,” when the pastor said, “God is good.”   You don’t have to have a reason to cry. No one is judging your grammar, or your life, or anything else.  You don’t have to defend your beliefs to your agnostic friends. You don’t have to justify your beliefs to your non-believing friends.  The only stank eye you get is from the lady who thinks your skirt is too short, or your white is not “winter white.”  So, why the Black church; because sometimes you need to be free of the gaze.  Why the Black church? Because sometimes you just need to be. 
This is just a quick note. I did not spend a lot of time composing it. These are just my thoughts. This does not mean I am racist, Jordan. And, the truth is that if you live a constant gaze-free experience, you may not understand this post. And, I am ok with that. And, I still love you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Where did the King James Bible Come From?

The King James Bible

The commissioning of the King James Bible took place in 1604. However, very few people know the true story behind the creation of this Bible translation.

In 1604 England, the country was shocked by the death of Queen Elizabeth. Scotland's James VI succeeded her, thus becoming James I of England. Because James had been raised under Presbyterian influences, the Puritans had reason to expect that James would push for their reformation efforts.  They were gravely mistaken.

James was acquainted with many of their kind in Scotland, and he did not like them.   Because the Puritans were powerful, and James wanted unity and stability in the church and state, he had to listen to them.  There were 2 powerful groups struggling for power.  There were the Papists who longed for the English church to return to the Roman fold. And, the Puritans, who insisted that England's Reformation did not go far enough, because it still retained too many Catholic elements. Then there was Parliament -- eager to expand its power beyond the role it had at the time. There was a significant Puritan influence and representation in the Parliament.

James received word of his cousin Elizabeth's death and his appointment to the throne, and on April 5, he began his journey from Edinburgh to London for his coronation.  A delegation of Puritans presented James a petition that outlined their grievances and the reforms they desired. The document was known as the Millenary Petition. This petition was the catalyst for the Hampton Court Conference. However, the Millenary Petition contains no mention at all of a new Bible translation.
James took the petition seriously enough to call for a conference. The participants in the conference were the king, his Privy Council of advisors, nine bishops and deans and, four moderate representatives of the Puritan cause, the most prominent being Dr. John Reynolds, head of Corpus Christi College.

On the second day, the four Puritans were allowed to join the meeting. John Reynolds took the lead on their behalf and raised the question of church government. However, any chance of his being heard was lost by one unintended reference.

Reynolds posed his question this way: "Why shouldn't the bishops govern jointly with a presbyterie of their brethren, the pastors and ministers of the Church."

The word presbyterie was like waving a red flag before a bull. The king exploded in reply: "If you aim at a Scots Presbyterie, it agreeth as well with monarchy as God and the devil! Then Jack, and Tom, and Will, and Dick shall meet and censure me and my council." He then uttered what can be considered his defining motto and summary: "No bishop, no King!"

While Reynolds' unfortunate use of the term presbyterie damaged the Puritan case, he does get credit for proposing the most significant achievement of the conference. Reynolds "moved his majesty that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reign of King Henry VIII and King Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original." James warmed to a new translation because he despised the then popular Geneva Bible. He was bothered more by its sometimes borderline revolutionary marginal notes than by the actual quality of the translation.

So James ordered a new translation. It was to be accurate and true to the originals. He appointed fifty of the nation's finest language scholars and approved rules for carefully checking the results.
James also wanted a popular translation. He insisted that the translation use old familiar terms and names and be readable in the idiom of the day.

It was made clear that James wanted no biased notes affixed to the translation, as in the Geneva Bible. Rule #6 stated: "No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words." Also, James was looking for a single translation that the whole nation could rely on "To be read in the whole Church," as he phrased it.

He decreed that special pains be "taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority...."

The final product was the first bible translation intended primarily for public and popular consumption. It was to be read orally -- intended more to be heard in public than to be read in private.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

After A Conversation With a Friend and My Mother

My mother was a civil rights activist. She marched with Dr. King. She marched with Abernathy. She marched with people who never even made "the list". She was a freedom walker (the lesser known cousin of the freedom riders).  She was a nonconformist. She was a fighter. 

She was arrested for her defiance. She was disowned for her defiance.  She stood up and was beaten for those who could not stand for themselves.  She bore the fullness of Bull Connor's batons, dogs, and hoses. And, for years after her civil rights marching was over, her fighting continued.  In fact, she lived out the rest of her life with the scars from the physical beatings on her body and the scars from the "experience" on her spirit.

And, all the time she was marching and fighting for civil rights, there where throngs of people (Black people and White people) who sat in the safety of their homes and refused to do anything. There were even more of them who, from the comfort of their couches and recliners, criticized her and those like her for what they did. What my mother, and the people like her, did was not popular. They stood up against the police force. They stood up against an established and empowered ideal.  They stood up against the government and the "laws of the land". They broke the law. Do not allow people to lie to you. Not all Black people marched for civil rights, and not all White people opposed it.  It was not a "kumbaya" experience. Yet, and still, there were those who were brave enough to do it.

Now, over fifty years later, the children and grandchildren of those same people who took issue with what my mother stood for, reap the benefits of her jailing, beatings, and suffering.  Those same people who refused to do anything, now live in a better America because "those people" stood up for what they thought was right. Some of you reading this blog have had opportunities that you would otherwise not have been afforded because of those "thugs and criminals" who marched through the streets of Selma, Birmingham, Jackson, Chicago, Watts, Nashville, and a sundry of other American cities.

My mother told me this. My mother talked about this to me. And, in all of her discussion, I never once heard her say anything negative about the people who did not march. She never attacked those who exercised their right to not march. She only said that if there were not people like her; people who were willing to stand up for what was right, regardless, the America that we know would not exist.

I said all of that, to say this.  Mike Brown was not the perfect poster child for a movement. He was not selected the way Rosa Parks was. He was not planted and prepared prior to his engagement with the police officer. There was no church meeting to "set it up."  However, he was a living young man. And, his death highlighted something that many people know to be true. Mike Brown may or may not have had his hands up. But he was unarmed. And, his death highlighted something that many people know to be true. Mike Brown struck a police officer inside of his vehicle. He was not acting the way I would advise my young men to act. But he was moving away from the officer when he was shot. And, his death highlighted something that many people know to be true. Mike Brown was a thief who assaulted an officer. However, Chris Lollie was just picking up his children, Tamir Rice was playing in the park, and Eric Gardner was just trying to breathe. Consequently, Mike Brown's death highlighted something that many people know to be true. "Jesse, if there were not people like me; people who were willing to stand up for what was right, regardless, the America that we know ...[will no longer] exist."

I am standing up for right. And, even if you choose to shoot, I wont stand down.   I love you each.

Be well. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Mother's Services

Thank you each for your care and concern for my family.  I figured I would post this information here so as to not have a lot of posts on Facebook.  I cannot explain it. But, there is something in me that just doesn't like posting certain things in that forum.  This is not an attempt on my part not to communicate with you personally.  Feel free to call my cell phone, if you want to contact me. I just needed a place to answer some general questions en-mass. Feel free to post comments and questions here.  I will update this as we finalize plans.

Memorial Service
Place:   First Memorial Baptist Church
              3012 15th Avenue North
              Birmingham, Alabama  35234
Date:   Tuesday November 4th, 2014
Time:   12:00

Place:   Henderson Event Center
             103 Bessemer Super Hwy
             Midfield, AL 35064
Date:    Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Time:    2 p.m.

Family Visitation
Place:       New Hope Baptist Church, Robinwood
                 119 6th Street, Robinwood
                 Tarrant, Alabama  35217

Date:       Sunday, November 2, 2014
Time:      3 p.m. - 4 p.m.

Public Visitation (Monday, November 3, 2014)
Eastside Funeral Home
5523 1st Avenue North
Birmingham, Alabama 35212-2405
Phone:   205.592.2233

Cards and Well Wishes may be mailed to:

In Memory of  Wavelyn Y. Hartley
#4 11th Court West
Birmingham Alabama 35204

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Can I Be Angry With God?

Mad as Hell; And Still a Christian

I recently had a friend send me a message seeking some advice and words on a myriad of subjects.  They were all tied to the fact that she recently experienced a great loss. They were all interrelated. And, they were all very heart-wrenching to read and difficult to answer.  There is one question, however, that is quietly universal. And, I coin it as such because it is a question that almost all of us have asked at some point in our lives. But it relates to an action that very few of us are willing to admit to having.  She simply asked "Does God understand my anger?".  What she wanted to know was if God knew that she was angry with God and if God understood why she was angry.

What a powerful question. What a hard place to exist. What an awe filled moment; that time when you come face to face with the fact that you are mad as hell with the God that you love.  And, because I know that others have been there, I thought I would devote some time to this question.

For those of you who know the story, I want you to think back to Mary and Martha when their brother died.  (For those of you who do not know the story, here is a link:  I want you to focus on what Mary and Martha say to Jesus when he finally shows up. I want you to look at what Jesus asks them to do in response to their comments about "if you had been here". And, I want you to think about how you would have felt if you were them.  For this moment only, forget that Lazarus is a part of the story other than the fact that he is the source of their pain and grief.

OK! Now, let's deal with the quiet question as to whether God understands our anger.  The short answer is "YES!".  At this point, many of you can navigate away from this page and move on with your lives.  For those of you who elect to stay, there is more.  

Let's start by understanding that Mary and Martha were both angry with Jesus. They are not calm people who come out and say in a nice manner, "if you had been here, he would be alive.  But, it's alright. We understand".  They were upset that he did not come in time. They were upset that he was not doing anything and still did not come. They were upset that he was supposed to be their friend and still he did not do anything. They had did all that they could to help Jesus and his ministry. They were friends of Jesus. They were believers. And, despite all of this, when they needed him the most he did not show up in time.  They were hurt. They were sad. They were disappointed. They were human. They were angry.  They still believed in the Resurrection. (Just look at what the one sister says about believing that her brother will rise again at the second coming.) But they were angry and HURT. This is a normal response to unfortunate things that occur outside of our ability to reason with or explain away those things; innocent people who are hurt or killed by senseless violence, hurricanes that kill thousands, and children being taken from us for "no reason at all".  

It is normal to be angry.  It does not make you evil or different. You get to have that moment or moments.  You get to be angry and hurt. And there is not a time limit on that. And at this time, you get to go to your God and talk to that God.  Mary and Martha say "if you had been here", and they are hurt and angry. But look at what Jesus asks them to do.  He doesn't say "you better not be mad at me, I am all powerful".  He says to them, "Take me to the place where you laid him". He is asking them to take him "to the place where you are hurting". Take me to the place where you gave up and thought all was lost. Take me to the moment you gave up on me and thought all was lost.  God wants you to take him to your tomb and to be honest with him about where it is.  Take him to your place of hurt and be honest with him about it. Tell him what hurts you and stop trying to mask it under the cover of "I am a good christian. And, good Christians don't get angry with God". Be honest with God about where you are and where your hurt is. The brother cannot be raised, if the sisters are not honest about where the brother lies.  You cannot be healed as long as you lie about where your hurt is, or if there is even a need to be healed.  Stop allowing people to convince you that you don't have a right to be whatever you are in terms of dealing with your burden or pain.  

Now, when you get there, you need to be prepared to work a little.  Have a strong community around you. You will need help with some of this work. Don't be afraid to seek professional help, the guidance of your elders,  or the loving embraces of your friends and family.  There will be a lot of stones to roll away.  And, for starters, you will need to roll the stone of pretense away. Be prepared for the hurt that will come while trying to work through this process. And be assured that whereas this process will not bring loved ones back (as was the case with Lazarus), your savior can and will raise your life again. But first you have to be honest and OK with the fact that this is not fair.  Be honest that this was not what you wanted. Be brave enough to say that this was not GOOD for your life. And, even though you know it will work for the good, right now it stinks.

So, be mad with God. But, continue to seek God. Be hurt, because that is normal for humans and Christians alike. Be honest with yourself and others. Be prepared to work. Be prepared to receive your resurrection. And, above all, be blessed in the God of all things.

I love you,