Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Say what you mean! Mean what you say!

Communication is everything! It’s the breath of life and the food that feeds your soul. It’s too easy to play the game of guess what I’m really saying or read between the lines. I know that most don’t like to be in the middle of a confrontation so will avoid real communication to bypass hurting someone’s feelings or getting hurt themselves. Often I’m in a situation where I’m supposed to be able to read another person’s mind, which I’m not very good at so I put my foot in my mouth.

What stops us from being able to communicate in a clear meaningful fashion? Why is it the case that too often we say what we perceive what others want to hear instead of speaking the truth.  My mom was one not to mince words and would at times embarrass me because of being brutally honest. I would often tell her that she didn’t have to be so blunt. Then we would argue about the difference between what is true vs. what is being brutally honest. My mom’s communication style usually would win out.

I believe communication is a learned skill that one acquires mostly through the influence of their family and peers. The challenge is when you are raised around either screamer types or shy reserve types. I have friends who I truly believed would never be able to speak for themselves and would always require someone else to speak on their behalf. I have other friends who I would be afraid to be around because if I stepped out of line I would get screamed at and be put in my place.  The goal is to acquire your own personal style that expresses who you are and the imprint you want to leave behind.

So what happens when you don’t really know what to say? Isn’t it best to say little or nothing? I don’t necessarily think that silence is golden, unless I’m around a screamer then yes for the sake of my ears please ‘zip’ it! I know that some people will be quick talker thinker types that will always dominate a conversation. The quick talkers will always overshadow the quiet reserve types. The real goal would be for everyone to choose to be better listeners first before trying to express themselves or dominate someone else.

Isn’t it better to be honest and tell someone that you aren’t sure about something instead of misrepresenting yourself? I always tell my at risk youth that it’s so much better to speak the truth because liars have to acquire perfect memory skills.  It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have the answers to someone’s questions or totally understand the mysteries of life!

I love Mark Twain’s common sense approach to life in this quote, ‘I’ve lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.’ It’s too easy to have poor communication skills create problems and heartache that don’t have to happen.

Time to be slow to speak and quick to listen!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Little people matter!

We live in a fast paced culture where we expect everyone to grow up before it’s his or her time. It’s scary to see parents stressing about whether their 2 year old can recite the alphabet, read and is already potty trained. I always end up chuckling at some of my young kids in our non-profit that seem to be too smart for their own good. My hope is to help them grow up in a positive setting where they can have an awesome perspective on life and see that their future is bright! The sad reality is that for many growing up in single parent homes that they can be lost in the busyness of others making life happen.

What makes the difference between a teen that finishes high school and gets a job and a teen that ends up being in the detention center? Too often it comes back to someone making a consistent positive influence in the child’s life. It’s so easy to see too many latch key kids that are left at home because of a working parent or more often a parent that is more interested in clubs and hanging out with friends. It’s time that the larger community sees the awesome opportunity to make a difference!

My hope is to influence those that are capable of giving a few hours a week to invest their heart and mind in a little one so they can see that their life matters! I know that looking back at my youth I had an incredible scoutmaster who was influential in my journey to become an Eagle Scout at the age of 13 along with six other friends. I know that the kids in my life aren’t just faces but real people that have boundless energy, funny sayings, and emotional ups and downs.  They always respond to an adult’s attention in a positive fashion and ultimately give back just as much as I have given to them.

What’s the excuse made for not becoming a big brother or sister to an at risk youth? Sadly it’s usually the simple statement, ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t think I would be good at it.’ I have so many examples around me of college students and older adults who have made the effort and they would glowingly brag about the impact their kid(s) have made in their lives.

So what will secure the future of our country but by our choice to truly invest in the youth that will make tomorrow happen? Time to stop making excuses whether it’s about your time or not having resources. You will discover that just hanging out; listening to crazy stories or going mall walking will make a big difference. So become an ear to a little one and see how your life can be changed forever!

Yes, little people matter and will become the adult of the future who might be the one that chooses to visit you at a senior center or a nursing home!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Stop talking! Start listening! Start learning!

I just read a post from a friend who said that it was time to stop talking, start listening and start learning. He was referring to all of the ongoing banter on social media after the tragic murder of nine members of the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.  So I did just that I listened to the families talk to the alleged murderer of their family members. I heard the words forgiveness, grace and mercy instead of hatred, revenge or kill the __________.

I listened to portions of the worship service on Sunday at the AME Church in Charleston and was humbled to hear the Pastor talk about grace, mercy, forgiveness and the need for racial reconciliation. The reality that hit home was that I wasn’t going to learn much about the issues if I continued to talk and closed myself off to reading more about the past history that has placed our great country in racial jeopardy.

I had a young friend send me the book, ‘The New Jim Crow’. I’m making my way through this book that is written extremely well by someone who is an expert in her field and educated at the best colleges. (Stanford and Vanderbilt.) It is too easy to pretend not to be aware of the ongoing racism and prejudice that exists in today’s society. This book takes the time to unfold the history of what has caused and continues to cause racism and prejudice to put down specific racial groups in ways that most choose to ignore.

The only the way to stop the ongoing racial issues in our country is to step back and acknowledge how easy it has been to be indifferent to someone else’s life circumstances. I just listened to a good friend describe the nightmare she has gone through with her daughter. I could empathize with her but I’ve never had my teen get pregnant at the age of 17, choose to live with her boyfriend who ends up in jail, have a car towed away because of not paying on a payday loan and the drama continues. I listened and helped a little with her grandson’s birthday coming up soon.

My hope is that I will stop assuming I have the answers to everyone else’s ills in life and start to listen more, talk less and read more about what has gotten us to this juncture in our history!

Time to learn more about your neighbor, work partner or person you sit next to at Starbucks or church.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

White is the new Black or is it Black is the new White?

I’m taken back by some of my African American friends who are always arguing about how light skinned they are when in reality they are all ‘Black’ really dark ‘Black’. Yet, why is it the case that Rachel Dolezal gets in trouble for wanting to be ‘Black’ and be part of the local NCAAP group in her home town? She clearly fits better in this African American culture then her parent’s. My wife grew up in Pakistan in the 50’s and because her Iha, who was like a live in Nani, was dark skinned she was banned from her family and considered less than human. Why is there this continued racial confusion happening in our society? Does it really matter as to what the color my skin happens to be and whether I’m a light skinned ‘Black’ or a dark skinned ‘White’?

I grew up in what I call the ‘Heinz 57’ culture where I have a little bit of everything inside of me. Is it inappropriate for me to have an interest in the Hispanic or African American culture that surrounds me in my diverse neighborhood? What happens when I purposefully make friends that are of a totally different racial and cultural background than I grew up around? Is it a grave sin if I connect better with my diverse neighborhood than my ‘Anglo’ friends that look like me but don’t necessarily understand my passion to help the at risk youth in my community?

I have a couple of college interns that are both African American and Bi-Racial that help me better understand life in today’s diverse society. I laughed when a few of my interns see me as being the Black/Brown/White Pastor that works in the hood or barrio! Yet, my wife has a friend from her residency program as a chaplain that was offended by our working outside of our racial group. My challenge to this individual was where was he/she or their group when my kids or teens especially needed male role models?

I’m humbled and amazed at the response of the families that had loved ones murdered in the Historic AME Church in Charleston. What I heard coming from these emotionally distraught family and friends had nothing to do with the color of their skin but with their character and heart! I have no idea what it would be like to loose one of my adult kids or youth from our nonprofit and be able to forgive the individual who committed this heinous crime. I wept along with thousands as the news of this tragedy, brutal murders reverberated across the world.  The phrase that stood out was for God to have mercy on this individual who committed this hideous crime.

Maybe it is time that my ‘White’ friends get to understand what it would be like to be ‘Black’. (Especially after the NBA ‘Black’ superstars dominated playoffs with players like James or Curry!) I would also encourage my ‘Black’ friends to understand what it would be like to be ‘White’.  As long as I’m so quick to judge someone by the shade of his or her skin pigment then I’m truly a lesser person.  I’m ashamed as I posted early that it has taken so long for many churches, mine included, to recognize their sin of indifference that truly is racism and now are finally starting to address it!

The opportunity is for everyone to step back and see the good in all cultural and racial groups and stop making the grave error that because I’m ‘White’ or ‘Black’ I’m better than someone else.  I have learned more in the last decade about real life from a group of ‘Black’ and ‘Brown’ kids and teens then from my college and graduate degrees.

So maybe the new ‘White’ should be ‘Black’ and the new ‘Black’ should be ‘White’!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Indifference kills! Do something!

A week ago my denomination had their general assembly, a large gathering of pastors and leaders, where a group of aging ‘White’ Pastors confessed their sin of indifference towards racism. One of the stalwarts of the church was in tears as he prayed. I’m humbled to hear this news but as I search my heart in the aftermath of the murder of the nine in Charleston this confession is many years too late. What has to go into a person’s mind to push them to bring a gun to a Bible Study? They have been welcomed by the church but have come to ultimately pull their weapon out and murder nine precious lives in cold blood.

I was taken back by the banter over twitter about the social media’s way of labeling murders depending upon their racial background. The truth of the matter is that the young man that deliberately walked into this Historic AME Church with the intention of murdering is truly a monster.  What’s amazing is to hear the families who have been ravaged by this monster to sincerely forgive him in the midst of their pain and heartache. I’m humbled by the example of true grace and mercy that has been exhibited by these family members as they inwardly wail at their loss but express a hope that can even reach out to this young murderer.

How is it possible to live in today’s world and not see the ongoing racism, hatred, intolerance and indifference between all races? As a pastor I’m culpable for my omission of not talking more about racial reconciliation.  How is it possible to claim to be a Christ follower and not see the injustices taking place where my prejudice colors everything I do and say? What needs to happen to stop these egregious types of incidents from continuing? I know that America tires of hearing more tragedies and has become numb from the what’s next mindset. Yet, the indifference will continue unless the average person chooses to take a stand against racism and do something.

What’s going to stop the next young person from scheming a race war to draw attention to his or herself? Yes, parents, pastors, teachers and family members must start talking about this and not pretend that they are far removed from where this just happened! I can no longer plead ignorant about the background causes of racism and indifference. I must become a bridge builder between races, cultures and socio-economic groups.  We can no longer expect someone else to take the first step.

One of my interns had texted me on Thursday night about being in tears after hearing the full story about the mass murder in Charleston. It made me wonder whether many of my fellow ‘White’ Pastor friends were also on their knees in tearful prayer. My intern is an African American College student from LA who is going to college in Phoenix.

Please don’t reassure yourself that indifference isn’t a sin, trust me it is! Now is the time to do something and stop watching from a distance. You could be the one that persuades someone from repeating what just happened! Please pray for these families and this Historic AME Church.