Gun Violence, Stranger Things and the Unseen Battle Our Children Face

It was 2017 and Netflix had come out with this series that was EVERYWHERE and, it was 🔥. It was making headlines and the buzz was intense. I’d recently started working at an ultra-hipster ad agency based in Brooklyn and coworkers on my company’s internal sites were even talking about the show. The premise seemed simple: A group of middle schoolers help a young girl with powers and they work together to fight supernatural creatures and bad guys. The music channeled the 80s vibe with laser-point accuracy and somehow captured an era many folks fondly remember or at least wish they could. Since I was a kid back then, that time felt lighter, more innocent. Back then, I was unaware of most of the strife that was happening in the U.S. and the world. The music, movies and fashion defined how I viewed that time in the world. Movies like The Goonies, E.T., The Lost Boys and Firestarter were thrilling but also felt so PG and fun. Stranger Things successfully bottled that style of filmmaking with the nuance and care a favorite era receives after it’s had to time to marinate.

Though the 80s had more than its fair share of struggle and contention, it’s still viewed to a certain degree as cheesy, over the top but beloved. The show’s fourth season premiered just a few days after the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, and it prompted Netflix to place a warning before the start of the show: “We filmed this season of Stranger Things a year ago. But given the recent tragic shooting at a school in Texas, viewers may find the opening scene of episode one distressing. We are deeply saddened by this unspeakable violence, and our hearts go out to every family mourning a loved one.”

It certainly made sense to add the caution. The “kids” we’d all been rooting for since 2016 were now high schoolers and though they thought they’d had a reprieve from all the madness, new battles were emerging. Not only teenage angst, cliques and peer pressure to contend with, the specter of past battles started to invade again. As I dug into the latest season, after nearly a three-year wait, this show hit in a totally different way. I witnessed parents, sometimes clueless, sometimes apathetic or just anxious. I saw different factions of the government working against or for the children fighting to save their town and ultimately the world. Law enforcement was often inept and chasing wrong and inaccurate leads because they were so unaware and unwilling to see what was really happening. In many ways, all the young characters are fending for themselves, circumventing systems and dealing with a world that is under attack by unseen and seen forces. And it hit me — this is exactly what the children of America have been facing for far too many years. When the Columbine shooting happened in 1999, it shook the nation. It was unbelievable and the level of detail and strategic planning to carry out the scope of the act was staggering. And ever since that time, these shootings have become increasingly commonplace. Active shooter drills and lockdowns are almost the norm for schoolkids. Searingly, the loss of life, the suffering for families left behind and the PTSD that remains for those who survive is incalculable.

When I came up, school was considered almost hallowed ground, a haven for children from the violence skewering communities in America. There was the occasional fight or after-school stick-up for the latest Nikes but those incidents weren’t considered as commonplace. When it did start getting more serious in areas like my hometown of Detroit, every morning many urban school kids had to go through metal detectors in hopes of catching someone carrying a weapon on school grounds. But growing up as a teen in the late 80s and early 90s, I didn’t even consider that I wouldn’t be safe in class. My focus was to get educated, have a little fun and maybe meet a new friend.

I wonder why so many people seem to think it’s okay not to have real effective measures in place to protect our most vulnerable citizens? Since Uvalde, there’s been an understandable outcry about sensible gun laws. But consequently, there’s been very small progress in making common-sense measures to at least make sure guns aren’t handed out like it’s a 2-for-1 sale at Walmart. While I’m at it, let’s just add this calculus equation right here: g (y) = (y−4) (2y + y2). This math makes just as much sense to this English major why we here in the United States need assault rifles like we’re soldiers in Ukraine.

The mainstream media and many in the general public are unable to recognize the most disturbing part of this frightening issue: our children are under a new spiritual attack. The increased violence in our schools is not just by happenstance. It is a strategic act of aggression. It’s not just because of the proliferation of guns and the increased access many have, but the enemy doesn’t want our children to thrive and grow. The time he has grows shorter and shorter in the earth and his plan has always been to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). What better asset to attack? It is the most precious one on the planet and the only creation that has been made in God’s likeness and image (Genesis 1:27). In the most “connected” society in human history, it is sadly one of the most lonely and toxic environments modern man has faced. Our children are bathing in a sea of superficial rants, greed, extreme polarity and false happiness parading as glamour and success. Many children are suffering in silence, teetering on the brink of madness and the children who remain are left have varied amounts of collateral damage.

As the back-t0-school season is upon us, many parents are understandably filled with deep concerns about their children returning to classrooms. But there are answers. It’s not wrapped in positive thoughts and vain ramblings. It’s not the latest talking head on the news or even world leaders. It’s not every teacher, principal and class custodian having a CPL. Kids wearing bulletproof backpacks is certainly not the answer. We do need more gun restrictions. We do need more accountability from those who’ve failed to protect our children. Sadly, public prayer left schools many years ago. But those with kids in school: encourage them to pray during the school day. Because we do need prayer. We do need fasting. There is HOPE. The Lord brings peace where there is chaos and clarity where there is confusion. As we’ve floated farther and farther away from Him, our world has grown dimmer and dimmer. But He does want us to work while we still have light, while it’s still day to bring solutions to a dying world. We can be outraged as Jesus was at leaders of the day and turn over the tables for our troubling times. During the civil rights era, God used Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Dorothy Height and so many others to make tangible change to a system that was built on overtly oppressing and committing acts of violence toward people of color. Real-life solutions are available if we are tuned in to not just the latest news stories but to what the Spirit of God has to say and how we may bless and protect the future generations that are counting on us today.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “’My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12-13

 Our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

“Our prayer and God’s mercy are like two buckets in a well; as one ascends the other descends.” Bishop Arthur Hopkins

Why Jon Batiste Is the Best Response to the Angry Black Man Narrative Right Now

Okay y’all. I’m not going to rehash the Oscar fiasco. We know what it is. We’re all over it already, no matter what you think about it. But last Sunday’s Grammy Awards was the feel-good story we can all get behind. I got familiar with Jon Batiste probably about 2 years ago. I caught an episode of the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and he was the smiling “piano guy” serving as the bandleader/music director since 2015. Last year, I saw an interview of him on The Daily Show and I got a better sense of some of his range, catching a clip of his music video for Freedom and I was impressed. This year, I decided to watch The Grammys, not really expecting too much. Boy was I surprised. I enjoyed a number of performances and Batiste was a main highlight. It was exuberantly ecstatic, electric and had such a sense of lightness and joy that radiated off the screen, featuring vibrantly dressed dancers and singers, channeling multiple decades all at one time. He gave colorful Chuck Berry-Liberace hybrid vibes with a gospel thread. I also saw style influences from the greats like Little Richard, James Brown and Michael Jackson. And if you’ve ever watched The Wiz and Black Panther, the similarities in wardrobe were undeniable. By the end of the night, he took home 5 Grammys, including Album of the Year. His speech was humble, insightful and gracious: “I believe this to my core, there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor,” he said. “The creative arts are subjective and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It’s like a song or an album is made and it’s almost like it has a radar to find the person when they need it the most. I’d like to thank God. I just put my head down and I work on the craft every day. I love music, I’ve been playing since I was a little boy. It’s more than entertainment for me, it’s a spiritual practice…”

A couple days later, I looked him up and read up on this accomplished musician. He comes from a gifted and prestigious musical dynasty hailing from the culturally rich New Orleans area. Batiste has a Bachelor and Master of Music in jazz music from Juilliard. As I’ve feasted on his music the past few days, I’ve heard the enormous range of talent. His hit Freedom may be what he’s best known for because of its viral success, but his music and voice vibrates anywhere between classic jazz, New Orleans brass-band style, R&B, soul, funk, blues, hip-hop and gospel. His self-professed Christian faith simmers and often bubbles up from under his music and the response from his audiences are visceral and joyful.

Album cover created by Karla Cordova

During my research, I found an interview he’d done with CBS Sunday Morning this past February and his story became even more profound. At the age of 35, he is living a life that seemingly is hitting all the right notes. But he and his wife are walking through a very challenging time with tremendous grace and courage and it hit me — this is the award moment we should all be talking about. How do we respond in moments of deep pain? What do we radiate in the most visible moments of our lives? Do we seek moments of joy during the struggle?

And what’s our focus when we witness a big-stage moment go sideways? Do we continually fixate on the outliers? Do we dwell on those that lash out in anger and disappoint us, leaving us feeling betrayed and deceived? It’s understandable. Our brains are wired to pay attention to the atypical, the aberrations that confound us. One of my favorite doctors, neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf, explains this fascination our minds have for the unusual. But can we take more moments to breathe in the incredible God-given talent that He places in the earth to reflect the best in us? Sunday’s Grammy performance was just a taste of his affect on the audience. An obvious prodigy, he’s already made 13 albums in his mid 30s. Is it possible that our fixation on the worst in us is keeping us from seeing what’s been right in front of our faces for so long? Just like the baddest kid in the class gets all the attention but the student who plugs diligently away and is at the top of his class is sometimes given a shoulder shrug because he/she is expected to do well.

So I submit to you an alternative view in these rapidly changing times. Allow me to divert your attention away for a worthwhile moment that I hope sticks with you when you want to get in your feelings about the current cultural climate. It’s hard to deal with folks who want to blankly label and cancel black and brown folks in the limelight when they behave badly. It’s frustrating when someone steps out of line. Those of us of color often carry a mantle of a whole race on our back, but I push back on the narrative that we’re the “good ones” when we’re perceived to be upright, productive and “civilized” people that don’t fulfill the negative stereotypes played out on TV, movies or the evening news. We’re not exceptions to the rule. We’re humans, made in the image of God, experiencing the same hurts, traumas, dreams, joys and victories as anyone else breathing on this earth, as individual as a fingerprint. We are ironically like Batiste’s most well-known genre: jazz. We are fluid, nuanced, varied, unpredictable, flawed, open to interpretation and controversy, sometimes confounding and breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time. 🤎🙏🏾💙 — THB

To watch Batiste’s dynamic Grammy performance, click here: https://bit.ly/3NQtltQ

To watch the Jon Batiste CBS Sunday morning interview, click here https://cbsn.ws/3ueT4Eq

Christmas, Colonialism and the Search for Christ in the Caribbean

In December, my husband and I went on our first international trip. We had a great time just navigating our way through the island and exploring the culture, the landscape and enjoying 80-degree weather. But pretty quickly, we began to realize that there was a lot going on underneath the surface than just tropical vibes and warm breezes. I did research on Caribbean islands months ago, and Curacao started to pop up as a nice destination. It’s right by Aruba and just north of Venezuela. It’s owned by the Dutch like Aruba and St. Maarten. When we went to exchange our money after arriving, the security guard at the bank shared some interesting info. He told me about the racial tension still felt in his country from the Dutch population and that when he was interviewed for a job he was asked if he planned on doing something criminal. He explained to me that he was just like anyone else, desiring to have a good life and not by unscrupulous means. Oh my. I was fresh off the plane, and I had some telling info that ended up playing out during our time there.

We went to our resort, which was its own beautiful little paradise, located by Mambo Beach. I quickly learned that a great majority of people visiting the island are from Holland. There were some people from the US on the beach, but we didn’t encounter other Americans staying at the resort in the 7 days we were there. There were two restaurants on the property and the first morning of our stay we went to the more casual one. As we were walking up to take a seat, I noticed some older people staring at us (possibly Dutch). And when we sat down, they still continued to stare. It was quite disarming. Ironically, we weren’t the only brown people on the property. But the brown people who were there were workers — not guests. On a rare occasion, we’d see some other black people eating at the restaurants, but we discovered they were natives to the island, not guests of the resort.

On another occasion, we went to the more upscale restaurant and enjoyed the live jazz. At one point, I got up to use the restroom and when I returned to the table, my husband told me a man at one of the tables gave me a disgusted look as I passed by him. That was a first for me (or at least to my knowledge). Thankfully I did not see him looking at me, but it emphasized the plight that those of African descent face. Quite often, we are not looking for reasons to focus on or declare racism but rather people remind us that (in their eyes) we don’t belong or there is something inherently wrong with us or our presence. My younger years were more free and unmarred when I moved among people who looked like me. But as the years have passed, gestures, words and scenarios made me more and more aware that I am often viewed through a lens of bias, curiosity or racism. But I’m just like the security guard at the bank. I want to live a life where I am not conscious of the skin I live in, but others remind me that to them it’s an issue or, at the very least, an oddity.

And this was all happening under the backdrop of Christmas. It’s a holiday that’s very meaningful to me as a Christian and it was the first time I was in another country during this time of year. There were beautiful decorations at the resort and often I’d hear famous Christmas songs playing in the common areas of the property.

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When we visited Willemstad, the capital of Curacao, there were a couple of decorative scenes that were quite pretty. But I never saw anything overtly referring to the birth of Christ. It was just secular with some holiday touches. No nativity scenes here as you can see below.

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On the fourth day of our trip, we went on an excursion that took us around the island while we learned more about the history of the country and experienced the natural wonders too. Our first tour stop was a small lake where flamingos live. By the lake, there’s a monument commemorating the first revolt of the African slaves for freedom from the Dutch. There are six other markers around the island just like it. During our vacation, I just sensed this overall undercurrent of the haves and have nots and that many times the haves were of Dutch origin. For me it was another reminder that in a completely different culture and country, the residue of the sin of slavery and racism still permeates the land. And the only answer to all of this is CHRIST. Nations fail to recognize that without Him, humanity is prone to do what humanity often does: fall way short of what’s right and good. How many times has man done horrific things for profit? And man is no different today with his insidious schemes to amass wealth and power. Money in and of itself is not wrong, but people are easily corrupted by their pursuit of it. The word has a simple take on greed: “For the love of money is the root of all evil” 1 Timothy 6:10

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And though living in the world as a black woman is not always easy, I realize that people who are not saved and harbor racism/bias in their heart cannot see me in all my humanity. They can’t see ME as an individual because the world has sold them a lie. And without the spirit of Christ in them, there is no conviction of wrongdoing. The universal need to be accepted and loved is something we can all understand. Even our own family and loved ones don’t always fully embrace us. But total acceptance is only through Jesus Christ. He loves beyond race, gender, sexual identity, income, class, etc. In the Father’s eyes, we are seen purely as His children, made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).

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I’ll admit that my Christianity was challenged during my time in the Caribbean. I had to remember that who I am in Christ is more than how others may view me with their eyes. And though the season of celebrating the birth of my Savior reminds me of the love of Christ, to many it’s just another holiday. My responsibility is to display the heart of Jesus to others and pray that the world comes to realize that life is more than food and clothes (Luke 12:23). This experience also reminded me that I don’t have all the answers to the frustration of race relations in a world system fashioned by fallible man. And sometimes when I write, words fail me as I cannot fully express how much the Lord is grieved by the racial divide in our world. My hope is that more people of Christ will become more willing to confront what concerns the Father.

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” — Psalm 82:3 

“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” — Jeremiah 22:3

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.” — Isaiah 1:17

1619-2019: Never Forget

I remember the day 9/11 happened. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Michigan and I was on my way to work when I heard about the planes crashing. I remember parking my car and seeing people jumping out of their cars to run into the office to hear more about what was happening. This was all pre-social media, but we still had the internet. But going online was a mess because the website traffic made finding out anything impossible. Eventually, my boss found someone with a TV and we heard for ourselves what was happening: We had been attacked on our very soil with our own property. It was a surreal day. We were allowed to leave early from the office and life was so strange and mournful for quite awhile. And though I was not affected by that day directly, the repercussions of that moment are still felt today throughout everyone’s life in America. No one denies the horror of the day and how much that changed our nation. 9/11 is a sacred cow to many. Fervent patriots loudly exclaim, “Never forget!” and many proudly declare their allegiance to God and country. I love my country. It is my home. And I love it enough to recognize that we should be striving to make it a “more perfect union.” Because as our divisive climate is telling us, we are not very united. The genesis of America has sowed seeds of discord and the fallout was always inevitable.

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Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

In 1619, more than 20 nameless Africans came here by way of Virginia. This past August marked 400 years since the first African slaves landed on American shores. And ever since then, our country has paid a heavy price for its sin. The consequences are paid by the descendants of these said slaves and the turmoil our fractured country suffers because we’ve never collectively dealt with the past. But when we talk about the ugliness of the past that Americans have inflicted on its own citizens and those who were brought here by force, there’s a resounding chorus of “It’s in the past.” or “Let it go.” Let’s not live with false illusions that capitalism wasn’t the driving force for the reason slavery and Jim Crow existed. The wealth and prestige America has enjoyed is due in great part to this history. And the very descendants of those who helped build this nation still suffer untold injustice on incalculable levels. We can’t forget what happened because it’s still affecting us today.

When Jews speak of the Holocaust, they declare, “Never forget.” And their pain and history is widely respected and rarely minimized. But so many times, blacks are chided like children if we even whisper about our history. No one would dare silence someone memorializing D-Day. It’s been 75 years since that landing in Normandy became a turning point for WW II and it’s honored around the globe. In 2003, I visited Pearl Harbor. I walked onto the living memorial and experienced its eerie quiet and solemn silence. It was sobering to know that it’s still the watery grave to countless members of our military since 1941. December 7 is Pearl Harbor Day and that moment is considered a “day that will live in infamy.” That hull and its remains are treated as sacred ground. But when we discuss a 400-year history of oppression and all the evils that resulted, defensiveness rises to the surface. Maybe it’s because we can’t point a finger at another country or invader for the horrors of the past and the aftereffects. The blame rests squarely on America’s doorstep. And that’s hard to admit. The best option for many is to ignore or minimize it. It calls for work many of us opt out of doing. When slavery ended, there were no counseling sessions held, no town hall meetings arranged, no person-to-person accountability or “come to Jesus” moment. People were angry, filled with rage that their way of life had been taken away. Families had been destroyed, men, women and children violated and abused on every level but lacked provision, restitution or a way to cope with the past. The slave trade, Jim Crow and the horrific legacy of it are like the disfigured brother of America. He’s hidden in the basement in the dark, not to be disturbed or mentioned for fear of revealing the shame of itself. As Jim Crow ensued, it continued to codify slavery but by another name. We marched on as a country broken, bleeding, scarred with no physician or therapist to patch us up. So in many ways, we’ve become a Frankenstein, patching together revisionist history that never addresses the fact that we’ve been botched from the very inception of this nation. Just ask any Native American how they feel about the history of this nation to hear their story too. 

Many times God ordered the Children of Israel to create memorials to acknowledge His hand in their lives so as to “never forget” His works on their behalf. Remembering and memorializing is a powerful tool to acknowledge the past and all the lessons that come from it. As the images of 9/11 unfolded over the days and weeks that followed, I can’t help but remember seeing faces draped in shock, covered in ash. People of all races came together. Every color helped each other because on that day we were one, we were humans in a shared horror story. We weathered that devastation together — white and black, brown and blue. We faced a mutual enemy from without. And now that the darkness of our past loudly haunts us today, many vociferously deny its existence while our nation implodes from the inside out. If we can muster the courage to personally address one of the biggest issues of our nation, we may begin to resemble the best parts of us we demonstrated on September 11, 2001.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” — Ephesians 2:14

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” — 1 Corinthians 1:10

Racism, the Plan of the Enemy

From language to animals, the earth is full of variety. Even food from different countries has a distinct flavor that becomes a cultural signature. So we can start to assume that the Creator of Heaven and Earth enjoys more than one kind of thing. Ever heard the phrase “Variety is the spice of life”? It’s because He authored all the ingredients. So I think it’s safe to start to assume that when it comes to man, being made in God’s own likeness and image (Genesis 1:26) would naturally encompass every hue on the human spectrum.

Ever since the fall of man (Genesis 3), the serpent has attempted to dismantle anything that reflects God’s presence. Humanity is his target at all times. We have an invisible enemy. His intent is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He will use anything to take us down. One of his biggest weapons against mankind is racism. When people play into his hands, filling themselves with lies about those created in the Lord’s likeness and image, they’ve allowed the enemy to win territory in their heart. He now has a stronghold, teaching people to fear, condemn, prejudge and even hate God’s own creation. You may not believe that Satan exists. That’s very convenient for him. He can stealthily move through your life, using anything in your vicinity — with no resistance from you. Those who believe in Jesus are protected from the enemy’s plans because of His covering through His blood. So though the enemy can have ideas and schemes, the Lord declares “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com:

Racism is the plan of the enemy, but not just to cause chaos, pain and heartache on earth. See this joker knows that his time on earth is short. And he wants to take as many people down with him as possible. Misery loves company, right? If he can get humankind to be so filled with hate, disgust and rage, how can man ever see God? See, Satan wants to take away the gift of salvation from man. Cause at the end of the day he is the biggest hater there is. He is the father of lies (John 8:44) and brings confusion. It only took one question from the serpent in the Garden of Eden to help bring about the fall of humanity. So imagine what he can do by dividing people based on race. Well, you don’t really have to do you? Sadly, we hear and read about it all the time.

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Photo by Sides Imagery on Pexels.com

To me the saddest commentary in this country about racism is that many American Christians are the most silent when it comes to talking about it. We are one of the most segregated populations on any day of the week, not just Sunday. Throughout our every day lives, many Christians will only spend time with other Christians that resemble themselves. This was never God’s plan. So again, you have to assume that this is an evil scheme concocted to separate His children. Jesus even said,“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24) The church is NOT a building. It is people who make up the church, the Body of Christ. We are called lively stones (1 Peter 2:5). So if our stones are not fitted closely together and connected by every supporting ligament (Ephesians 4:16), then our work to express love to a dying world doesn’t have full effect. So when bias and prejudice run wild and unchecked in our country by God’s people, He’s grieved. How can He not be when the very people that Jesus expects to stand for the truth stay silent. There is no debating that Jesus helped those suffering, oppressed and forgotten. Many Christians are very passionate about timely issues in America (i.e., abortion, LGBTQ rights) and express those views with fervency, but the issues like equal access to education, mass incarceration and police brutality go largely ignored.

We have a pretty tainted history in the United States: genocide of Natives, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation. It ain’t pretty. Though history books may try to gloss over these sins, the Lord has not. There are repercussions for sin whether or not it’s repented. If you don’t think so, check out the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. David loved God like crazy, but he was an adulterer and a murderer. His reign as King of Israel started gloriously. But because of his grievous actions, his time as king went out with a whimper and immorality and death ran throughout his bloodline. There was a price to be paid. And as I ponder on the church, scripture and God’s requirement for Christians to operate as one, I can only conclude that it’s past time for us to turn back the tide of hurt, anger, bitterness and confusion that has infested our nation. We need to begin to have hard discussions, visit communities outside our own world and be willing to seek God for answers. If we continue down this path of denial believing everything is fine, we blind our hearts to what God is showing us in this season. We are born in this time for a reason. Let’s use it to the glory of God and thwart the plans of the enemy. ~~THB

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (NIV)
Unity and Diversity in the Body
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 

The Black Experience: Living in America

“How often do you wash your hair?” That was the first question I was ever asked from a white person about my heritage. I was about 11 years old and had gone away to Camp Kinawind in northern Michigan. As a city girl, born and raised in Detroit, it was my first time being around people who didn’t look like me. And based on the question I was asked, I wasn’t the only one. I was with a group of girls from my cabin, hiking in the woods. I guess curiosity got the best of them. After I answered the girl’s question, I was then told that hair is the dirtiest thing on the planet. Now I don’t know where she got the anecdotal evidence to back up this statement, but at 11 years old, I just remember feeling like an oddity, unclean and foreign. It was my first moment feeling like an “other.”

“Do you tan?” I’ve been asked this question more than once by a white person. The answer: Yes. I do. Black people do tan. My friend from Argentina, with Scottish and Italian roots, had the hardest time developing a tan. But because she had light skin, she was probably not questioned about how her skin reacted to the sun. And black people can get skin cancer.

“Is this a meeting of the National Association of Black People?” This question came from a young blonde I’ll call April. It was early on in my advertising career, and I had regular contact with April. I was having a hallway conversation with my coworker friends Katherine and Mary. We all happened to be black. I admit, April was always a blunt speaker, but I appreciated a peek inside the inner thoughts of someone from a different background. You see, for people of color, a totally casual day considered a rather insignificant moment is considered an oddity for some. A few white people talking together in a group doesn’t illicit a visceral response from black people. It happens all the time, unnoticed. It’s “normal.” But place black or brown people in the same scenario in a predominantly white environment, and it’s usually noticed. In this highly polarized climate in America right know, it becomes consequently not so surprising we start hearing about a rash of 911 calls about black people just living like everyone else.

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Photo by Wayne Penales on Pexels.com

“You sure do wait a long time to bury your people!” So this was really a statement with an implied question (in my opinion). This was said by a white woman I considered my friend. I really don’t think she meant any harm in her statement. I think for her it was just so DIFFERENT it seemed “abnormal.” Black Americans usually bury their passed loved ones after about a week. For many in white Americans, it’s usually within a few days. And other cultures bury loved ones within 24-48 hours (“How Different Religions Bury Their Dead” https://bit.ly/2KcZUCp). For my people, we create an obituary that’s in booklet form, sharing pictures, messages, poems. It takes time for the family to gather old photos, time for the printer to print all the copies and money for everything. And the repast. The repast. That’s a big dinner after going to the cemetery that can go on for hours. After my grandma’s repast, we all went to her house and played the music she loved and had a soul train line. Yup. I took a nap in between all the partying. 🙂 But it was how we grieved at the time.

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Photo by 3Motional Studio on Pexels.com

All Americans have varying traditions for numerous reasons. And that’s okay. Not everyone walks in the same space with the same face you look at in the mirror every day. And what seems “normal” or “abnormal” culturally to you is not the same for someone else. Either way is not inherently good or bad, just different. When you visit a foreign country, you don’t normally expect people of that country to do exactly what you do. You EXPECT it to be different. You WANT it to be different. And there’s usually a level of respect for the difference. For Americans, it still seems hard for all races to fully appreciate and learn the nuances. For blacks, we have to learn the mainstream culture because it’s how we are taught, it’s pervasive, expected of us and makes our lives easier. We are bicultural, if you will. And it’s not that we don’t enjoy mainstream culture. Just look to our sports culture and it’s pretty evident we enjoy U.S. pastimes immensely. It’s just that Americans of color are the ones moving through society knowing it’s favorable for us to move between both worlds with ease.

Many people in America are not sensitive to the fact that the default culture is not the default for everyone. Humans usually gravitate to our own experience because it’s familiar and comforting. Individually, we often take for granted that the way we do things is the way everyone does it. And it’s especially easy to do when you’re used to being the status quo of the country. The history of black Americans in this country is relegated to the shortest month of the year and is not vigorously taught in schools across the country. It’s quite strange that the enormous amount of contributions of those descendants of African slaves is whittled down to a paragraph in history books and refers to them as “indentured servants” or “immigrants.” That’s insulting to every hue in the classroom. It’s deceptive and damaging. Sanitizing the history of the country doesn’t keep racism from thriving, and it actually encourages it to grow when it’s obscured.

“Is that where you’re from?” In 1996, I went on a trip to Kentucky with my boyfriend at the time. He was Brazilian. He called himself a white Hispanic. His family originally came from Italy. Just picture a young Sean Penn and that’s pretty much his look. Emerson was fluent in Portuguese and proud of his Brazilian heritage and used to tell me I resembled the women from the region of Bahia. During our trip, we went to some mom and pop shop in a pretty rural part of Kentucky. I bounced in the store with a head full of natural curls that black women didn’t usually wear back in the 90s. The little country store was filled with knickknacks, and I saw a coin collection in one of their glass cases. Nerd Alert: I have a huge coin collection of old and foreign money. As I scanned the coins, I must have asked to see one and the older white Southern gentleman drawled, “Is that where you’re from?” I replied, “No, but my friend over there is from Brazil.” Because Emerson looked like a “normal” American man, he visited the store with no curious stares and questions about ethnic origin.

Questions are good. It starts dialogue. But I think doing a little reading, opening your mind past your own experiences and establishing a relationship with people from different backgrounds can prepare you to make more sensitive observations and judgments. Being aware of conscious bias is a deliberate act. It takes patience and practice because it’s something we are conditioned to do. Consider venturing into a new area to do shopping where there’s a diverse customer base. Visit a location that has some variety or a different culture. Start a conversation with someone at a meetup. You’d be surprised how fun it can be to just breathe in some fresh perspective. When you expose yourself to new people and places, your life becomes enriched. It may feel a little like work at first, but it can turn into a great adventure and journey that changes you for the better.

And guess what? I have an inkling that the Lord really digs diversity. After all, it is His creation: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” From animals to flowers to sea life, there seems to be no end to the variety on the planet, all playing a part in this amazing ecosystem on the earth. God actually says all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And Christians are part of a whole body aka the Body of Christ. So when believers in Jesus Christ ignore, avoid or negate another’s existence or community, the Lord is grieved. He is grieved not only for His creation not working as one but also because the grave disconnect keeps His purposes from being fulfilled to its fullness. If America’s churches are silos, we lack what we need from each other to be effective and reflect God’s glory to a dying world. How can we respond with empathy and action to a community in the Body that is suffering when we are isolated from them? And I’m not talking about mission trips to Honduras or Uganda. Those are wonderful ministries that we need, but so often we bypass the vineyard that is in our backyard because it’s intimidating or uncomfortable. But taking a step in faith to reach out to communities in your vicinity can be freeing and a blessing. ❤ ~~THB

“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile,[a]circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized,[b] slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” — Colossians 3:11 (NLT)

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” — 1 Corinthians 12:12-21 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

I’m That Peculiar Black Girl in the Ad World

I’ve been in the advertising industry for about 20 years. And quite often, I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m black. I’m female. And I’m Christian. Once you get that granular in the advertising world, there are very few of us around. It’s something advertising as a whole has tried to address, but it becomes very clear to those within and without my field that many in upper management and executive-level positions don’t effectively navigate diversity and the issues that permeate many agencies. So then you end up seeing a tone-deaf ad or ad people end up hearing through the grapevine or through (gasp) Adweek.com’s agencyspy page about some massive faux pas. For those not in the know, AgencySpy is like the TMZ of the ad world, fueled by anonymous tippers about the latest tea (aka gossip).

In my Christian walk, I’ve learned that God often puts His people in unusual and extraordinary situations. So why not put a black Christian woman into the microcosm of America called the world of advertising? And most often it’s because of His favor and His divine direction that I experience what I do. So against this backdrop, I’ve been through a couple of growing pains during my career. There have been times when I did not feel a part of a team and despite my earnestness to dig in and learn, it did not change the environment.

My otherness played a part in one particular position in a very pointed way one morning: The woman I worked with every day got on the elevator and acted like I did not exist. It didn’t matter that we sat in the same small work area and worked on the same account constantly. It was a conscious dismissal. I’d never quite experienced this type of behavior in such a continuous way. I consider myself pretty easy to get along with and open to working alongside all types of people, but it seemed my presence was a continuous roadblock to my coworkers. And just in case I thought I was going crazy, there was my cubemate that noticed the difference in treatment as well. I’ll call him Matt. Matt happened to work in a different department from me, but he sat next to me. He casually made the observation one day, and maybe he paid more attention to work dynamics because he was a person of color too. Matt was Bengali-American and Muslim. We used to have great talks, but I never brought up the issues I had at work because of our open space work environment.

Though the climate was pretty merciless, I couldn’t expect to receive mercy if those I worked with didn’t know the Merciful One. I couldn’t let that keep me from being who God created me to be and change my testimony. My faith that the Lord was doing something in me and my hope that this test was not in vain spurred me on. This season ended up being one of the most challenging times in my life. Despite giving much effort, I was floundering and about 8 months into this situation, I wanted out. BAD and IMMEDIATELY. I couldn’t quit with little savings in the bank, so my only recourse was to look for a new job. And despite my striving to exit this painful moment, I would not receive a release from the Lord for another two years. I was perplexed, but I knew I had to Trust Him. As a Christian, I am reminded that so much of the experience is a teacher and about understanding the heart of God. Some seasons are ordained because there’s no other way we can learn and grow. God sent me so many songs to minister to my heart during that time:

“Overcomer” by Mandisa (https://bit.ly/1q0SPTX),

“Sovereign Over Us” by Michael W. Smith (https://bit.l(y/1mxJfWI),

“Need You Now” by Plumb (https://bit.ly/2eYsZll)

“Glorious Unfolding” by Steven Curtis Chapman (https://bit.ly/1phnq1j)

“Fix My Eyes” by For King & Country (https://bit.ly/1E204Qo)

I can’t say I was perfect through the process and my faith was always strong, but I knew that God is good and He can be trusted. So when He did bring me out of that season, He blessed me tremendously. I lived for myself the scripture that says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)

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My next employer flew me to Brooklyn for onboarding my first week of work and to meet members of my team. I had a better position, more pay and a great boss. My supervisor, whom I’ll call Erica, was an advocate, a confidante and friend. She is a feminist and social justice warrior. Erica consciously works on understanding the plight of marginalized communities and is an active ally. She also can knit a beautiful cap and whip up a tasty vegan meal. 😉 My boss actually told me that one of the reasons she hired me was because of the experience I gained from the very position I endured. Through this process, I learned that sometimes being peculiar can be painful, but that He still has my back no matter what it feels like. And though some people can see my very presence as an outlier, an oddity, He can use it as a pathway for a blessing.

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9

For further reading on how the Lord can turn an impossible situation into an incredible opportunity, read about the story of Joseph (my favorite from the Old Testament): Genesis 37, 39-50

America, the Bag Lady

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I have a problem with purses. I put too many items in them. And I get way too comfortable with them and then all of a sudden I’m pulling out old receipts, gum wrappers, coupons, stray kittens…

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I do know that I have a tendency to pick things up along the way in life and get too busy to do a purge.

Every spring, we can see articles, videos online about getting fresh, organized and clutter-free for the season. But how about our own personal baggage? We all tend to hold on to not only material possessions that don’t have value anymore. We also hold onto the past. Sometimes it’s because of trauma, unresolved issues/past hurts, but it weighs us down. It keeps us from seeing things clearly. It reminds me of a song from singer Erykah Badu called “Bag Lady”:

Bag lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto, is you, is you, is you

One day all them bags gon’ get in your way
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way
I said one day all them bags gon’ get in your way
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way, so pack light,
Pack light, mm, pack light, pack light, oh ooh

Bag lady you gon’ miss your bus
You can’t hurry up, ’cause you got too much stuff

How long will we carry on the baggage of the sin of our fathers without repentance? If we never examine what we’re carrying and let it go, we can’t prosper in peace.

I can’t count how many times I’ve read comments from people that say slavery was so long ago and to just get over it. But slavery was not the end of racism. Life is never that cut and dry. That didn’t end the thoughts and opinions that were ingrained in our culture for hundreds of years. It doesn’t go away. It’s a process. The conscience of this country was seared, made numb for centuries to unthinkable atrocities, and we are to believe that Emancipation Proclamation solved our race issues? It didn’t. If you want to read more about our history after slavery, you can read my post entitled “What If Racism Were Real?” here: https://bit.ly/2UIgSQj

If we stopped schlepping along with this abscess and actually treated our history as if it weren’t a sacred cow, we can make great progress in our world. The United States’ timeline is filled with great highs and lows. Just like our own lives, not everything from the past is pleasant, and some things are given to us by birthright. We didn’t start the problem, but it’s incumbent on the present generation to right wrongs. It’s okay to set the weight down and deal with, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward it starts off. Because we haven’t been dealing with race on a national level, we all are walking around untreated. It’s becoming a malignant cancer that metastasizing into the fabric of all of our lives. Do you wonder why you can’t get a rest about all the news stories tied to racism? Could it be that because we’ve let it go so unchecked, so unaddressed, that it’s infected our nation to the point that it has bled into our everyday lives? We’ve needed intervention for a long time. To stop. To heal. To amend. To grieve. To talk. I think God has been holding a mirror up to our nation and we’ve been turning our back on it and Him. But the fallout will not go away, and He knows that. But will we surrender our burden, pray to the Lord for help and let Him check our heart? He can show us what we can do to move forward — without the baggage.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

“a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,” Ecclesiastes 3:6

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17

~~THB

 

 

What If Racism Were Real?

There’s been a subtle narrative happening for quite some time. That maybe we are really in a post-racial society. That people don’t really see color. That black people just pull the race card for anything. But in my best Rod Serling voice, “What if black people were really telling the truth? What if racism was happening in America every day? Are you willing to take a trip with me into the Racist Zone?”

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When I was pre-teen girl, I remember reading that some male doctors believed that women didn’t have cramps during their period. Somehow the pain women were experiencing were all in their pretty, little heads. Now, 30 years later, that’s so laughable to even think the medical profession thought that was true. But that actually gained merit in the medical community. And from my own personal experience, there is NO WAY what I experience is purely a delusion. And it’s now widely accepted that the pain women say they have is accepted. But why were men dictating and declaring to women what they were experiencing with their own bodies? So why are some people, who don’t walk around with black or brown skin, questioning the merit of personal experiences? And I get that folks can lie and that in the age of the bewildering Smollet situation, it makes it that much more unbelievable.

But let’s entertain the possibility that racism still exists. That’s not to say that things have not improved, but considering the trajectory of the timeline of experience for African Americans in this country, the true LEGAL freedom has only happened since the Civil Right era (and that’s still up for debate considering many changes in the laws). After slavery, there were laws put in place that could be named Slavery Lite Legislation. Jim Crow laws were codified ways to keep black citizens from receiving the full rights and benefits that their counterparts received. Many of these laws were in effect until 1965. So real steps to move impediments away were not that long ago. You can read more about these laws here: https://bit.ly/2H1RBLk

So can we honestly intellectually believe that something that was so recently addressed in the past by the government, has been eradicated? A belief system that is so embedded in the foundation of our country and played a great part in the wealth of America does not simply go away because laws are applied. Households across America have been purposefully segregated and false and hateful ideas have been passed down the generations with large swatches of the nation hardly mingling at all.

For many, saying anything against America is likened to knocking over a sacred cow (pun intended). But how are we to become an even “more perfect union” if we don’t allow space for self-reflection? How does the United States, after such enormous changes, continue to limp on as if everything is fixed, the playing field is leveled? The tone and tenor of the country has been set for hundreds of years, especially in the South. And laws don’t change hearts. Sound a little familiar? Because in the Old Testament, laws were the rules that Jews lived by to please God (and many still do today). But those laws were never enough, never meant to be enough and Jesus was truly the fulfillment of the love of God toward man. Is it possible that just as Jesus came to change the hearts of man, putting the law in their hearts, that America hasn’t done the necessary work to be more of the country it claims to be? Is it possible that even though legal revision sought to repair the damage of evil law-based actions more than a mea culpa is required to be a fully healed nation? Have we considered what the Lord thought about the period of time of slavery, Jim Crow, let alone the treatment of Natives here in America? Taking politics out of the whole discussion and considering the heart of God: Do we believe God was not greatly grieved by the treatment of His own creation that was created in His own image?

This is much bigger than politics, it’s about reconciling the sins of this country and marrying it to the true ideals that this nation was founded on. The founding fathers were flawed with many blind spots, just like we are, but I believe the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were inspired by God to build a better democracy. That’s pure speculation on my part, but I’d like to think that we have given people worldwide inspiration and led many countries toward a better way to govern, despite our human flaws.

What if the very thing we’re ignoring and scared to do — have conversation — is the very thing that we all need to start to the journey to heal? What do you think about race relations in America? Do you believe there’s a spiritual element to this conversation? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. ~THB

 

Racism and Reconciliation

Welcome to my new blog project!

So I’ve been out of commission with blogging for a long minute. Though this particular blog page is new, I blogged pretty regularly from 2012 to 2016. But I’ve been pretty busy — I met an awesome man, got married and I bought a house. 🙂 Also throw in a couple of job changes and everyday life, and there you go! But I really want to talk about something that has been heavy on my heart for awhile. Times are tense in America for a myriad of reasons. But a passion point for me for many years has been race relations in America. We can’t solve anything if we don’t admit it, work through it and have honest, awkward and sometimes painful discussions. About two years ago, I had a profound experience in prayer. It lead me to believe that God may be using me as a bridge between races to foster dialogue about our issues with race in this country.

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Ever since I was a small child, I had friends from all different backgrounds in my life. If I connected with someone, his/her background was always secondary. But it didn’t stop me from deeply appreciating differences and at the same time becoming educated about other traditions and cultures. And I don’t want to come off like I’m an expert and perfect when it comes to race relations. I know I have bias and have said things I shouldn’t have and maybe even treated people differently because they weren’t like me. And I am a black female. No one is exempt here. It’s just time that all of us get real about what’s always underneath the surface of our daily interactions and is woven in the fabric of our lives. We’ve all got a lot of unpacking to do. We’ve all been programmed, indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking and believing. My white friends, I plan on having direct conversations on race issues in America and this is not meant to be an indictment or attack on you, your background and beliefs. It’s meant to be a platform for healthy conversations and to be a safe space to talk. And this is not simply a conversation. There is a deep spiritual element to what is at play when we discuss racism. Often in our discussions, online or with friends, we leave out the most important element that is the key to true reconciliation for our nation — the Lord. I really want to get myself out of the way — to a certain extent — when it comes to this conversation. This truly has to be work that God is moving in the midst of. Otherwise our emotions, our history and biases get in the way. My race and experiences inform my opinions and perspective, and that’s not always a bad thing. If you’re open, I’d like to take a journey, an odyssey, if you will. It may get a little rocky, be very eye-opening, scary and liberating all at the same time. I’d love to hear your feedback. I want this to be a constructive and productive place where we can all learn from each other. Prayerfully, we can make a positive change in how we understand one another. Won’t you join me? ~THB