Still wrestling with a lot of emotions but today I am clear about my role in this discussion.  I am first a faith leader who is a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ.  As a public theologian I have the responsibility to interpret the present news through the lens of the Scriptures. I am an African American male who lives with the oppression and disorientation of subtle racism daily.  I have developed coping skills so this does not control me but it does affect me almost daily.  I am a leader in the African American community with a responsibility to address the presenting symptoms and the underlying causes of the current situation in Ferguson.

My current observations have been informed by countless new sources, countless conversations with colleagues and listening to various observations from random people at Starbucks.  Yes I bought them coffee but they were no shy to share their opinions with or without coffee.

Dr. Robert Franklin wrote an short insightful article that began with his reading of the book of Lamentations.

“Yes… America, the crown has fallen”  says Dr. Robert Franklin. This the line that summarizes the exasperation of a country built on ideals of equality, liberty and freedom.

This is juxtaposed against this line-
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass

WEB DuBois then continues this though by stating that “Most men today cannot conceive freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery”

America’s ideal of freedom and justice comes directly from the preamble of our Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The ideals are not antiquated, out dated or out of touch with modern culture.  They are actually the foundation of our society in which the rest of the world aspires to attain.  This is the crown that Dr. Franklin refers to that has fallen in the wake of the injustice of systematic oppression within our land. Democratically elected leaders who fight for the people and uphold the ideals  of our Constitution. The mistake that many make is to make this about race or to believe that this one decision is the impetus for the current unrest and violence.

Its not about one indictment, one moment, or one death. It is about the decades of systematic oppression and racial injustice that is bound up and embodied in that one indictment, one moment, one death. Dr. Robert Brewer

The challenge is introduced with Frederick Douglass’ comments.  Whether we agree with the decision in Ferguson or not years of injustice have disproportionally affected poor people of color through out America.  Dr. Michelle Alexander’s work on the Mass Incarceration in her book, The New Jim Crow, super illuminates the history of systematic incarceration of African American men by the very system designed on the ideals of “forming a more perfect Union”.

Those who are Bible reading folk will quickly quote John 12:8 or Deuteronomy 15:11.  The Poor will always be with us but those who love  God are called in the sacred text to care for, reach out to, do life with the poor.  This is different than the current modern culture of the politically conservative which seems to be “We do what is necessary to put up with the poor but not to change the system of poverty and oppression”. The liberal political culture says to “give the poor food, housing and medical care” without giving support to empower them to change their situations.

Wouldn’t it be amazing that the elected officials from both sides Love your neighborof the spectrum align themselves with the scripture found in Matthew .  Loving your neighbor as yourself is a direct challenge to provide the same comfort, life sustaining for all who are neighbors. This is usually beyond our comfort zone if it is really going to impact their way of life. The agencies that maintain the systems that ensure poverty many times are self preserving to provide individual services rather than solving challenges and empowering the poor to change their conditions. Public education in poor communities are failing across the nation and yet charter schools in the same neighborhoods have new ways of teaching that empower the children to learn, thrive and change their situations and conditions. Many school systems have the right to veto these charter schools who are making an impact because the tenured school union teachers may loose their jobs even though they don’t want to change their teaching strategies. This is just one example of how the “agency” galvanizes it’s power that maintains the system of poverty.  Education, Economy Development, Healthcare and Justice/Criminal systems can be addressed to change the situation of the poor.  The church must learn to do ministry with the poor not to the poor. This will include moving ministries into the city rather than retreating to the suburbs.

Friday, May 10 2013Image

BALTIMORE, MD – The reality of death and loss is one with which the church and its leadership must cope every day.  Families lose loved ones to disease, age, and inexplicable accidents.  Consoling and encouraging these families is difficult at best and heart wrenching at worst.  It is the challenging task of reminding them that God has a plan for all lives, and a part of that plan is for each life to come to an end in this world.  Some are receptive and understanding, some try to receive it only as hopeful optimism, and others can’t see past their tears and their hurt to anything that God has planned.  Grief comes in many forms, but none so great as the grief felt when one person thinks themselves so audacious as to take the life of another, especially the life of a young boy or girl, making death and loss greater than a pain with which to cope; it becomes a tragedy of the human condition, and a heartbreak for an entire community.  May 9 was a day of such tragedy and heartbreak, as  Rev. Bruce and Mrs. Deborah Haskins were dealt a crushing blow as their son, Joseph, was gunned down in Baltimore, Maryland.

            In a city of tremendous diversity and culture, one reality has made itself glaringly apparent over the last few years that I’ve spent with its people; gun violence is an accepted facet of this community.  No outrage, no disgust at such a wanton act inflicted upon yet another young African-American male, just a brief moment of shock and awe, then back to daily life.  Vitality interlaced with cruelty, as if it is essential to one’s existence in this city.

            I am angry.  I am disgusted, and I am outraged.  I am not only enraged by those who would commit such an act, but also by those who claim that they love and follow God, the giver of life.  Those who  live out their faith as United Methodists in Baltimore, the birthplace of Methodism in America, should be up in arms against the rampant, ravenous, unchecked spirit of violence which plagues all who live here.  We are the people of God who should be claiming dominion over the earth, as God intended, yet we are too timid to claim ownership of the streets where we live and work.  This is unacceptable.  There is too much at stake when we consider that most of these victims of gun violence comprise our next generations.  We are idling while the preservation of our culture and future is decimated. That is unacceptable.

            While I understand the trepidation Christians have when facing the threat of gun violence, we must acknowledge that we have already seen that our elected officials are unable to agree on sensible gun legislation.  Their message is clear: the people must take control and reclaim those environments embroiled in the conflict between the sanctity of life and the violent counter-culture that demands silent compliance from the masses.  Our fear is more deadly than a bullet in that it ensures that more criminals can fire without apprehension.  The United Methodist Church must make a stand and act to infuse the Holy Spirit back into the soul of the Baltimore community.  We must turn our fear into fuel for the fight against the spirit of violence that has nested in the souls of too many people.  It is our responsibility as citizens, as people of God, to protect and defend those souls from such a spirit, and to protect all of our people from the destruction that such a spirit heralds.  Joseph Haskins must be a name that rings in the hearts of every Christian as we lead those hearts to take up courageous action in confronting our local, state, and federal legislators, our police department, and even confronting the passivity in each other.  Reclaim Baltimore in the name of God.  Let Joseph Haskins be the last.

I am not a professional fitness coach. I am an overweight middle aged African American male who refuses to be a part of the negative health statistics.

  • Black men live 7.1 years less than other racial groups
  • Black men have higher death rates than women for all leading causes of death
  • Black men experience disproportionately higher death rates in all the leading causes of death
  • 40% of black men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21% of white men

I ultimately need to 80 pounds to be in the healthy range so I am beginning the journey by losing 10 pounds in 30 days. I am inviting friends and family to join me and to hold me accountable. Ultimately I am developing new lifestyle disciplines for healthy living. I am having my annual physical this month. I will have my cholesterol, sugar level and prostate checked. I am going to learn new ways to eat. I love fried food and for 30 days I will not eat fried food. I loved pastries and for 30 days I will not eat candy, pastries or add sugar to my coffee. I will drink 8 glasses of water for 30 days and walk at least 1 mile a day and exercise 3 times per week in addition to walking.

I invite you to join me.