Loving God. Loving People. Loving Place.
|Posted by [email protected] on December 26, 2018 at 7:40 PM|
KWANZZA > CHRISTMAS?
Now I know as a pastor this may seem like a rather strange statement. The only response I have to those who may feel that way is… that is great! Why? Because that means I have your attention.
Let me begin by saying that I am a lover of everything Christmas. I love the music, lights, food,family atmosphere, and the way people seem to be just a little nicer to each other most of the time. (Excluding when they are shopping, of course.) I am most of all excited about celebrating the birth of Christ and the Christian belief that God himself put on human flesh and moved into the neighborhood! John 1:14 MSG
COMMUNAL > INDIVIDUAL
However for the last few years I have had the opportunity to do less shopping, wrapping and holiday decorating and have spent more time serving, helping and building relationships in my community during this time of year. It is during the holidays when many of the defensive walls my, tougher to get to know, neighbors put up all year may come down just for a few weeks. I mean, this is the season to be jolly, right?
The principles of Christmas like joy, peace, kindness, family, and giving are usually on full display and well received by almost everyone during this time of year. While this is true, unfortunately, these principles are still extremely individualized so we think about giving individually but rarely consider the communal effects. This is why we flock to purchase gifts for less fortunate individuals, or make meals for the homeless but rarely consider the factors that have led to these needs. We are focused on Christmas as a seasonal fix, which is why most churches ramp up their outreach during this time of year, Canaan included. Don’t get me wrong none of these things are necessarily bad, that is not my premise at all. I am glad that the church is able to be a temporary solution during the holidays. But are we truly concerned about eradicating the issues in which we call ourselves being a temporary solution? Or would we rather remain a temporary fix so we can feel useful once a year?
CONSISTENTJUSTICE > SEASONAL COMPASSION
I am especially worried about the image that seasonal giving portrays in communities of color where the Christmas holiday is just a magnified example of everyday realities. When you look at the average minority family during the Christmas holiday, you begin to understand that this time of year, which should bring joy and peace, typically brings frustration and disappointment. Parents are overly worried about providing for their children and I don’t just mean gifts under the tree. Students are home from school for two weeks while most parents still have to work. Not only do they have to figure out childcare but the heat and lights are running, extra meals must be provided, warmer clothing is necessary, family may be coming over for the holidays and on top of that gifts are still an expectation even when kids know parents are struggling.(At least that’s how it was in my house.)
A few years ago, I made the decision that I would take seriously, for the first time, the Kwanzaa holiday and carefully read, understand and embrace the principles of the Nguzo Saba. I have of course taught on Kwanzaa as an elementary school teacher and even been a part of a school that used the Nguzo Saba as its guiding principles for culture and climate. But just like many others, I felt like it was really just an add-on to Christmas that was not all that important to my family. Simply put, I was wrong and for the last few years, Kwanzaa has had just as big of an impact on me as Christmas.
Everyday since. on the day after Christmas, I have read one of the principles, lit a candle on the Kinara and prayed that God would help me to see how the principle coincided with my Christian call. What I have realized more than ever over the years is that the guiding principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa MUST become our guiding principles everyday. Christians must learn to take our eyes and hearts of our individualistic desires long enough to see our negligence towards the communal aspects of our faith. Kwanzaa reminded me that if our church helps families have a Merry Christmas and does little in ensuring those same families won’t need us next year to do the same thing, then we have missed the mark.
CHRISTMAS + KWANZAA= IMPORTANT
I am not naïve, I know next Christmas and every Christmas after that there will be a need to deliver gifts for children of incarcerated men and women from our community. However, Kwanzaa reminds us that all year long we should be a part of the fight to keep our men and women out of this predatory system in the first place. Next year, we will again sing Christmas Carols for our neighbors with the Chicago Children’s Choir. However, Kwanzaa reinforces that we should also sing songs to celebrate our history and the life of great leaders black leaders which we will bring the choir to do this coming February. Christmas reminds us of all that is good about God and humanity. Kwanzaa reminds us that it takes work to see that good perpetuated on a consistent basis.
As a Christian community developer, I feel like I immerse myself in the best of both worlds each year. I have celebrated the abiding principles of Christmas and also been enlightened and challenged by the collective spirit of Kwanzaa. When I think of the year round struggles faced in our community I can’t help but be inspired by the principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa and challenged to truly incorporate them into my everyday life.
So, whether it is because I am still allowing the principles of the Nguzo Saba to permeate my thoughts, if it is the newness of the celebration in my home, or just the fact that I have been called by God to serve neglected neighborhoods. I can truly say that while Kwanzaa and Christmas are a necessary part of my growth each holiday season. Once again, this year Kwanzaa may be more important for me than Christmas.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are as follows:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
|Posted by [email protected] on July 3, 2017 at 10:00 AM|
|Posted by [email protected] on February 14, 2017 at 7:15 PM|
Some Serious Questions about Safety
Those of us who live in inner city spaces often have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. I can remember when a young wife and mother whom I married and counseled disagreed with her husband about the neighborhood in which they should purchase a home and raise their young family. He grew up on the south side of Chicago and felt like raising his family in the inner city would be a great choice. However, she had grown up on the outskirts of Chicago and with the spike in violence she was worried about raising a family in the city. She wrote a blog asking some very significant questions and because she knew where my wife and I had chosen to raise our families she asked if I would read her blog and let her know what I thought. As she closed out her blog she asked some very poignant questions and they were the same hard questions I asked myself after the shooting in my alley. I have included her questions and my response below. So as a mother, how do I ensure MY children are safe? How do we make sure our family is comfortable? How do we make sure our home is a refuge for us? These questions make total and complete sense!
As parents, when we look into the eyes of our children for the first time, or feel them kick their soon to be mother’s stomach we instantly fall in love with them and want nothing more than to protect them from as much pain as possible. In our human mind as well as the mind of society it makes perfect sense for safety to be a top priority. The issue for me is not with safety being important but with the thought that we can keep our families safe and protected from the evils of society by isolating and insulating them from certain places and individuals. I have learned, mostly through experience, that God actually has some different thoughts about safety and what actually constitutes a safe place.
Seeking a Safe Space
In Jeremiah 29:4-7 we find these words written by Jeremiah the prophet to the Jews who found themselves banished to Babylon, the last place on Earth they wanted to live or felt safe. This was tough for them because they had an opportunity to taste the “good life” of the Promised Land and knew what it was like to be in the place they had always dreamed of living. However, God moved them into Babylon and let them know that they were going to be there for quite awhile and therefore should build houses, plant gardens and raise families. He closes the letter with this little bit of advice to Israel. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile; and pray to the Lord on it’s behalf, for in it’s welfare you will find your welfare.
For me it is in this last promise to Israel that I find much comfort and have been open to understand what I have experienced over the last 10 years of living and raising a family in the inner city. What God is telling us here is that it is not enough to desire safety for ourselves we must actively desire the same thing for everyone else in our community as well. Americans often believe we must work really hard to keep our family, home and children safe and at the same time everyone else must seek to do the same for their own families. However, as we see in this passage Israel is told to seek the welfare (safety) of the city where God sent them because in its welfare (safety) they would find their welfare (safety).
Striving for a Safe Place
I personally (though I admittedly still struggle) have made the decision not to worship the idol of safety and to remember that my life and the life of my children are in the hands of God. However, safety is still a priority but it is the safety of all children not just mine. If I work to make the neighborhood I live in a safer place for all children, then it becomes a safer place for my children! If I pray fervently for the place God has put me than when God answers my prayers all of my community benefits, which includes my family.
So although it is extremely challenging, I have learned that wherever I end up making a home I must actively seek the welfare of that place. I may not always necessarily get to choose the most comfortable place but I can always choose to actively pray and seek the welfare of wherever I live. So the closest thing to ensuring our children’s safety is to make sure we are a part of community and resident organizations, work with community assisted policing strategies, volunteer as coaches and mentors as well as find a church that is engaged with the community and wants to see it reflect the glory of God. Train them up well, be honest about the tough things in the world and of course don’t put them in harms way intentionally. Do not make decisions to please family members, or for fear of hurting feelings but also be aware just like bullets have no name they also have no zip code.
Settling for No Simple Solutions
Lastly I leave you with a quote that I call living with the Bifocals perspective:
PERSON AND EVERY PLACE BOTH REVEAL THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE BROKENNESS
So even if you decide to live outside of the inner city you must pray often for the place you live, because if you do not it is a sign that you do not believe there is brokenness where you live as well. Yes, safety can be a priority but we must not fall prey to idolizing it or forget that our family’s safety is actually tied up in the safety of the entire community. So, ultimately, you are not looking to just create a safe space for your children and family you are seeking a safe place for all God’s children, which includes your family.
As I pen this blog our community is presently dealing with the news of two young girls, eleven and twelve years old being shot this weekend. I just found out this morning that one of the girls passed away while the other fights for her life. I must be honest and say that the trauma children and parents from our communities endure on a daily basis can be overwhelming and there are no easy and simple solutions. However, I am convinced if we give up hope for transformation and turn inward, settling for safety for ourselves rather than seeking peace and welfare for the city, we will never truly achieve our own welfare. If you find a safe place for yourself but don't participate in creating a safe space for all are you ever really safe?
|Posted by [email protected] on July 8, 2016 at 10:00 AM|
SCREAMING AT MY TELEVISION
“Now that’s what happens when we come back home!” On June 19, 2016 I sat in my living room repeatedly screaming these words at my television. I sat mesmerized watching an elated Cleveland Cavaliers team burst into screams of jubilation while simultaneously feeling a corporate sigh of relief from the entire Cleveland area. For the first time, even as a lifelong Bulls fan, I could not help but feel a special connection with Cavs superstar and homegrown talent, Lebron James. Something happened that evening as I watched him weep uncontrollably, face first on the court it was as if I connected with him in a way I had not previously. It was as if I somehow understood that release of frustration and could relate to the tears of joy. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way insinuating that my community or neighborhood views me the way the Cleveland area views Lebron! However, I do believe I have had a taste of the joy he was feeling at that moment. The joy of being a part of the corporate flourishing of your community, the joy of persevering when others tell you to give up and the pride that only comes from returning back home even when it is far more comfortable to be somewhere else.
THE “DECISION” IS MADE…
I am not writing this to highlight the championship run by the Cleveland Cavaliers but to speak to the underlying story of a young person of color returning back home for the corporate flourishing of the place that raised them. When Lebron made his polarizing “decision” to leave his hometown for the beaches of Miami we saw the entire city negatively affected and virtually fall apart at the seams. As a society we responded pretty harshly to him and the city as well as we watched them burn jerseys and say really insensitive things. The truth is that many inner city communities around our country constantly experience this same phenomenon just without the pageantry and TV cameras. A large percentage of youth of color are being told directly and indirectly that a return to the communities in which they were raised would be a sign of failure or just far too difficult and therefore, a poor decision. Every year after graduation thousands of students leave inner city neighborhoods with the hope of never returning. Many of them had their “decisions” made for them long before they could form their own based on popular opinion, media input and the desire for comfort at all costs. However, as has been evident in the last few years, a move to a different community or social class does not mean an escape from the struggles associated with being people of color in America.
ESCAPE RATHER THAN INVEST
Most of those who become successful or achieve a level of notoriety after they move away only hear themselves discussed as “survivors” in the context of the communities in which they grew up. We often hear, especially in sports, statements like “you know this person is tough because you have to be tough to make it out of the place where they grew up!” These statements, although not meant to be derogatory, perpetuate the cycle of our communities being viewed as places to escape rather than invest. This leads individuals to see the need to give of their resources but never invest in long-term relationships. Professional athletes often give of their time and resources to the cities in which they play but it is rare to have the kind of connection Lebron does to his city. In his letter to his fans upon returning back to Cleveland Lebron discussed how he saw his time in Miami the same as other young people’s four years away in college. He needed some time away to see things differently and to experience life in a new way. He hoped to bring the knowledge and experiences back with him as he worked with those back home to bring forth their corporate dream. I agree that leaving your community for a season or visiting other places can be extremely helpful and during these times you should be rooted and invested completely wherever you are. There are amazing things you can learn while away, I gained valuable lessons and relationships in Alabama during my college years that have been crucial to my work back home. However, please stay attentive to the call and be aware of God’s voice for the temptation to escapism is real! Don’t fall prey to upward mobile notions of just giving back if you know you feel the call to COME BACK!
LEARNING FROM LEBRON AND CLEVELAND
I know that everyone will not and cannot return to their communities and that there are segments of our population who cannot even relate to the notion of home. Even with those glaring truths, I am confident that their needs to be a clarion call for young people to return to their inner city communities. I understand the frustrations attached to that call but I also invite you to imagine the glorious beauty of being a part of something bigger than you, the desire to ultimately help your communities’ dreams become reality and the opportunity to have your wildest dreams imagined as well. It is not easy, it is a long road, and the pressure to succeed is elevated. But just imagine what our neighborhoods would look like if we never lost our most educated, talented, artistic, athletic, technologically advanced, leaders. When you combine our knowledge of the community and ability to navigate unjust systems with the grit, resilience and ingenuity of those who have had to remain then we can see a corporate flourishing in our communities similar to what we saw this year for Cleveland! There are so many great things we can learn from the triumph of Lebron James and the city of Cleveland, however I think many of us may forgot the arduous journey and the perseverance it took to see that corporate flourishing happen. Here are five tough things that those of us who return to our inner city communities can learn from Lebron and Cleveland:
1. EXPECT DISBELIEF
I remember asking myself a few years back, who in their right mind goes back to Cleveland from Miami? It becomes imperative that we listen to the voice of God calling us back to our communities. We must fight against the erroneous dogma that has made our communities places to escape rather than invest. It begins with an accurate view of God and creation. If God created everything and said “It is Good” and never took the statement back even after the entrance of sin, then we must ask ourselves some serious questions. Why can’t we remain in our communities and be successful? Who told us we couldn’t? Why do we believe them?
2. EXPECT DIFFICULTIES
Lebron was drafted in 2003 and it took 13 years to win a championship and continued victory is not promised moving forward. In the inner city, there are a myriad of systems created to initiate and perpetuate a culture of hopelessness. Therefore, once you begin working you are often fighting against systemic hopelessness from those within your community as well as those on the outside. If you know you have the call back home to an inner city community you should expect to persevere through difficulties and be ready to stay for the long haul.
3. EXPECT DISTRACTIONS
Rumors, bad team relationships, even issues with his own mother at one point all became major distractions for Lebron on this journey. We should all expect distractions especially when we decide to remain around the people who have known us our whole lives, before we grew up and became leaders. There will be plenty of distractions trying to keep you from doing what you are called to do, often more than usual when you are back home because of the strain of already established relationships.
4. EXPECT DISCOURAGEMENT
I can’t imagine how discouraging it must have been for Cleveland to lose 2 of their 3 top players and then ultimately the 2015 NBA Finals after being so close. There are so many times you will have moments of victory immediately followed by moments of discouragement. How you handle these moments of discouragement will be crucial to your longevity back home. Tears over broken relationships, frustration over lack of resources, anger over disinvestment all will be reoccurring themes but do not let them define you or make you forget the small victories along the way. Learn to celebrate and record each victory so that you are prepared for your moments of discouragement.
5. EXPECT DIVISON
Immediately after winning the finals the question was asked of Lebron “Now that you were able to got this done how does it make you feel?” His answer to the question was, “ I just want to get back home and celebrate with the people of Cleveland. “ Ultimately, people will try to cause division, sometimes unknowingly, by making community victories all about you. TV cameras show up, newspapers want a quote from you and people want to come visit your community to “learn” from you. Although none of these are negative activities if not careful they can begin to drive a wedge between you and your community. If you are perceived as someone looking for opportunities to grow their own brand rather than working for the flourishing of the entire community you can quickly lose the equity that comes with genuine relationships. When everything is said and done we want everyone to feel as though they were a part of making community transformation happen.
NBA Opening Day 2016-2017 when the championship banner is raised to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena it will not say Lebron James, it will say Cleveland Cavaliers. As it should be! Thank you Lebron and the Cleveland community for reminding us what can happen when we go beyond just giving back to our communities and actually come back!