Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Potential of Scouting For All

As the Boy Scouts of America revealed the decision to become co-educational, numerous articles have been posted in response. As an Eagle Scout, I can attest to the great impact scouting had on my development as a boy, and the impact of the role modeling provided by my Scoutmasters and the adult volunteers for our troop, Troop 724, all of whom were either Special Forces officers or NCOs, or officers or NCOs in the 82nd Airborne Division. 

The potential for and importance of shaping the moral character of youth cannot be understated, as youth eventually grow to influence others in all aspects of life, even to the highest levels of leadership.  As we consider a deficit in moral leadership on so many levels of public service and private enterprise, I am reminded of President Gerald Ford's response to an accusation that he was too much of a Boy Scout in his leadership approach to the presidency.  He said in retort,

“It has recently been said that I am too much of a Boy Scout in the way I have conducted myself as president, and so I reviewed the Boy Scout laws and Boy Scout oath. They say that a Scout is ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.’ … And the Boy Scout oath is, ‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout laws, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.’ Well, if these are not the goals of the people of the United States, what they want their president to live up to, then … either you have the wrong man or I have the wrong country.”

While I believe there are strong benefits to having youth development programs that are not co-ed, the decision has been made, with numerous considerations, to make Scouting a shaping opportunity for boys and girls together.  If the moral foundations are not only remembered, but infused to the children who participate in scouting, developing them through rigorous challenge, that comes through growing to respect, love and embrace the power and beauty of nature and nature’s God, Scouting will continue to impact our nation by producing strong potential leaders who will not shy away from responsibility in the face of difficult times. 

Our nation needs dependable leaders, male and female, at every level in every neighborhood, in every state who will live by a code that guides them to consider others beyond and before themselves and who have the moral toughness to stand firm in their convictions, defending the weak, walking in goodness and standing for justice even under pressure to preserve themselves, positions of influence and the perks of power.  If we as a nation, can revive Scouting to be available to all who desire to take on its adventurous challenges and willing to abide by its code, what an accomplishment that would be.  Let us hope that the changes proposed will grow a cadre of strong men and women who are willing to abide by the dictates of this timeless oath:

“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”


Let us “Be Prepared” by seizing this opportunity to develop strong women and men to lead our nation.  The challenges in this world require it.  The future demands it.


Brownsea 22 Camp, BSA, Camp Reeves, NC 1976

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Persuing The Cure For Highlander Syndrome

Black and evangelical. The words may seem incongruous, but have actually been linked for many, many years.  African-Americans evangelicals have been fighting the good fight of bridge building between the racial divides for decades in the United States. Pioneers like Will Pannell was building the foundations for bridges of understanding in the 60’s as was Tom skinner in the 70’s. Countless others have followed since, but few are recognized beyond the limits of their organizations or immediate communities.  Even when Black Evangelicals are recognized on a broader scale, they tend to be viewed from what I call "Highlander Syndrome" - "there can only be one,” as in there can only be one minority voice at a time that the Evangelical base is willing to listen to at one given time, and that one voice had better limit its expressions of opinion to a very tight range of expression, especially on matters of race and social justice.

Such limitations rob the larger spectrum of evangelicalism of the broad tapestry of perspectives and nuances of ideas needed to proclaim Gospel truth and combat error on a day to day basis. These limitations also dishearten those who brave taking the path less trod in their willingness to identify themselves as evangelicals in the face of uncertain acceptance and sometimes withering criticism when an opinion they express falls outside the bounds of political acceptability.

The popular artist Lecrae has made it known that as he has wrestled with the contemporary issues of race and social justice and has sought to bring his evangelical faith to bear on these issues. In his struggle, he has encountered disappointment as he has shared his experiences with other evangelicals who have not welcomed his perspective.  His disappointment has been sufficiently deep, that he is reconsidering his willingness to identify with white evangelicals.  As an evangelical who has experienced the highs and lows of vocational Christian service as a minority serving in an organization of majority origin, I can understand his dilemma.

When his stances have seemed more in line with the standard viewpoints of main evangelicalism, he has been hailed as a hero by the mainstream of that movement, but denigrated as a “mascot” by other minority Christian artists who do not openly identify as evangelical thought they would also identify as “born again.” When his opinions line up more with those of an oppressed minority he is castigated as “compromising” by the evangelical mainstream and yet still viewed with suspicion by others because of his theological perspective.  Being seen as less than faithful by those who supposedly embraced you can cut to the deepest part of a person’s spirit and can lead some to reconsider their faith community alliances, and in some cases, lead others to reconsider their faith.  Lecrae’s faith remains intact, but he is reconsidering his alliances.

If those who claim to be one’s brothers and sisters cannot give enough trust to allow for a divergence of opinion on matters that directly impact one’s life, but that do not impact their lives to the same degree, what is family for?  The challenge is in the Christian family, ultimately, the filial relationship is not determined by opinion, but by blood – the Blood of Jesus.  As the song of old decrees, that Blood “… will never lose its power!”  For his reason above all reasons, call ourselves what we may in terms of labels, all who are called by the Name of Jesus are part of those “peculiar people” who seek the truth, strive to apply it, and hope for the consolation that comes from walking with God.

Nevertheless, the divisions persist and the labels multiply.  At this stage in my own life, if had the opportunity to counsel Lecrae, or anyone else struggling with their Christian label, I would offer this advice:
  • “Do not grow weary in doing good.”
  • “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
  • “Forgetting what is behind, strain toward what is ahead … press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] in Christ …”
  • Don’t worry about what others do and say.  When they are mean forgive them.  If they can’t accept you as you are – move on.
  • Find what you have been called to do, and do it.  Whatever you call yourself, or the work of your heart, do it for the Lord, and let the chips fall where they may!
  • Be true to God. It is He to Whom you will answer – and so will everyone else.
Perhaps the ultimate cure for Highlander Syndrome is to embrace courageous obedience. We must know our calling, pursue it with unrelenting focus and embrace the uncertainty and risks that accompany bold obedience as a follower of Jesus. Such efforts may not help us find a home this side of Heaven, or give us a label that helps people understand who we are, but it can multiply the good work that remains to be done and afford us the peace of mind and satisfaction that accompanies doing the Father's will and finding our joy and peace in Him as we press on doing what He has called us to do.





Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Why Do The Police Encounter Stories Get So Much Traction?

We are blessed as a society with liberties and freedoms that many around the world only dream of. Yet, even in our great land, watched over by the best law enforcement agencies, staffed by the best officers, things sometimes go wrong. At times, the mistakes are painfully common. Why do the protests have so much traction? Let me offer some personal perspective.

I was blessed to be raised in a solid, stable,  two parent family in the military culture,  trained since birth to stop  and stand for the raising of the Colors,  their retirement,  and every by the book appropriate instance.  I still do. I am an Eagle Scout, West Pointer,  ordained pastor, husband and father.  My wife is the only woman I have kissed with passion or slept with, all within the confines of marriage. I am anal about obeying the speed limit and obeying the law. With those credentials,  EVEN I have been pulled over numerous times and had weapons pulled on me twice, including once on campus,  in seminary when I was seen running from a dorm with a Bible  - an action that was reported as a suspicious Black male running around campus with a dark object in his hand. 

Good home training and possessing a generally calm personality helped me survive those encounters, but 1000 pages of Sowell doesn't explain that away and lets me know that there's a problem. For the majority of Black men I know, and I know a LOT of them, this is the case. That's why this these protests have traction. If I'm having these encounters, and others like me are, some that came close to going wrong,  how much more someone with less breaks than me and less community support?

This does not excuse criminal activity,  disrespect of authority or law breaking,  but when numerous solid,  law abiding citizens are themselves having close calls when going about daily business,  concern is warranted and the reporting of such encounters is highly believable.

Let's all work together to lessen these close calls and enable freedom to ring unencumbered by controversy and missteps.

Respectfully,
Sam

Monday, September 25, 2017

Let Freedom Ring!

"Freedom" is an American feel-good word. It is comfort food for the American Soul.  It is used with force and conviction in political rallies and civic classes.  Freedom echoes through American hallways and rings through its valleys as the hallmark of American life and the embodiment of the American way.   

I am aware of my great fortune to possess citizenship in a country that values freedom as such a normal fabric of our nation's existence, that two citizens are able to boldly and publicly express their pleasure or displeasure with the nation, without fear of governmental intervention or federal punishment.  THIS reality is a precious gift,  bought with the blood, sweat and tears not just of those who have served in the Armed Forces, but those ancestors who have built the nation for us, whether by choice or servitude.  

These numerous contributions in the securing of our inalienable rights have been provided not only the marching of soldiers, but also the marching of dissenters,  the marching of contingents of the First Americans on Trails of Tears, and the relentless marching along history's path by an unending parade of sacrifice that has made America the Land of the Free. The ranks of this parade have been filled by laborers, artisans, farmers, professionals and citizens of every sector of American society.  For this reason, this country belongs to every American and we must never forget not only the sacrifices of those who hav defended America, we must remember the contributions of those who have sustained her as well. All Americans are within their rights to express their opinions on matters of social importance - or not - whatever their station in life, from the poorest to the richest; from the most successful to the ever-failing; from the most popular to the most despised.  EVERY American has the right to express themselves.  

Of course, there are no guarantees that one's expression will be liked, appreciated or embraced by anyone else.  Our heroes of history were often the pariah of their own day, braving withering social pressure to stand for well-accepted, popular practices we now call injustice.  Sometimes, even the government that heralds those rights, attempts to stifle them when the heat of the day is just too intense.  Nevertheless, even in the face of powerful opposition, in America, freedom ultimately rings.  

For that reason, wherever one's opinion falls with respect to displaying dissent during the National Anthem, do not lose the beauty of our freedom in the fog of disagreement. Very few nations in the world could stand the strain of allowing dirty national laundry to be aired in the midst of singing the national song. America's greatness lies in its invitation to love it, not in any coercion to do so. For me, who proudly stands as the Colors are flown and the Song is sung, the presence of other Americans who choose to kneel shows in the most vivid manner possible, that Liberty continues to be proclaimed throughout the Land, and those who have contributed to the red stripes on Old Glory, indeed did not die in vain. Let Freedom Ring!




Tuesday, September 19, 2017

And So It Begins - Middle School and the Initiation Of Racialized Chatter

I remember the junior high/middle school years as a somewhat confusing time of wonder and painful adjustments.  It was during those years that I first formed friendships that I enjoy to this day!  It was also the time that I noticed more overtly, unprovoked racialized behavior amongst my peers.  I saw students of a lighter hue harassed by students of a darker hue for walking in the “wrong part” of a hallway or for “walking too cool for your kind.”  It was also during these years that I heard the “n-word” used regularly as an insult resulting in violent exchanges.  Those types of memories have always made me particularly concerned for my own children, fearing that their middle school experience would be baptisms by fire into the uglier sides of American culture. As of this writing, I am 4 for 4 in seeing my concerns realized in the lives of my daughters.

Victoria is a strong young woman who possesses a keen sense of humor and energetic personality while at the same time, exhibiting traits of deep thought and a contemplative nature.  Very recently, after climbing in the car as I picked her up from school, I could see that there was something on her mind. I assumed it was an academic question or goofy anecdote from school.  It was neither.  She began by sharing the awkward, middle school struggle to find a place to sit, when cliques are beginning to form and suddenly who sits next to whom becomes a greater concern.  Finding “friends” she recognized, she sat down and began to eat.

As she consumed her lunch, one “friend”, out of the blue, launches into a rant, proclaiming in bold terms a ridiculous, negative generalization about people of African descent.  Victoria listened unbelievingly.  Others at the table, also stunned, cautioned this individual by reminding them that Victoria was at the table.  The friend responded, “I don’t care!” and continued with her racially charged words.  Victoria quietly at her lunch, and kept the incident to herself until she came home and shared the happening with us.

This type of incident is what keeps those of us who are people of color on guard, even as we “relax” and what keeps those of us who follow Jesus prayed up and prepared.  My gut reaction was one of anger and the words that first came to mind were not edifying in any way.  Nevertheless, I believed that my response would be critical in shaping my daughter’s perspective on herself, her heritage and others who were of different backgrounds.  I swallowed hard, silently prayed hard, and began to share and encourage in what would be a series of discussions on the incident, advising her on reactions to such rants and advising her of when the issue would be considered an escalation worthy of teacher/administrator interaction.

I share this today not for pity, but for perspective.  The day was long enough for all of us as it was, without this extra grenade being tossed in.  Nevertheless, the grenade was thrown and had to be dealt with.  I also share it to remind us as adults that our children hear and repeat the less than righteous things we say.  The content of the rant Victoria heard clearly originated from the home of the person that delivered it.  I know this family and could her the parental voice in my mind that planted the seed.  The thought of such ignorance coming from the mouth of my “friend” was painful and disappointing. 

We don’t have to wonder why our nation is as divided as it is.  For the last few decades it is apparent that for the most part, we have been posturing and play acting that our hearts are for togetherness and our minds are united as one.  Our children, from the university level to middle school, are exposing a different truth.  Brothers sisters and friends, if there is to be any semblance of peace among us, it must begin with us in our own homes.  My recent experience gives me pause and less hope that overcoming progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I am committed to teach the righteousness of love until my dying breath.  I pray you might be convicted to do the same in your homes, amongst your own kindred as well.  One certainty is this.  Our shortcomings in loving others will be ultimately exposed for all to see.  Hatred cannot be forever hidden. May God save us all from ourselves.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Ending The Domination of Toxic Criticsm

Toxic criticism is quickly emerging as the United States' new national pastime.  Distant observers love to criticize others who are actually engaged in trying to make a difference.  If social media posts are to be believed, the United States is a nation of mindless, unfeeling, calloused, inhumane idiots – except for the individuals who write such claims about others - others who are actually attempting to make a difference rather than merely voice a difference of opinion. This prevailing practice of uninvited criticism offered by uninvolved individuals has become even more prominent in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, perhaps the most powerful and destructive hurricane to land on US soil in living memory. 

As it became evident that the storm would be of historic proportions, pundits with years of well-honed skills for criticizing the actions of others under their belts, began harshly assessing the responses of various individuals and entities. These assessments were based on expectations that did not truly appreciate the immensity of the destruction or the human need to assess, adjust and address the situation before engaging in definitive action.  These critiques have been particularly characteristic of how churches have been viewed in their responses to this crisis, and no church has been criticized more than Lakewood Church of Houston, pastored by noted televangelist Joel Osteen. 

In assessing Lakewood’s response to Hurricane Harvey, pundits painted Osteen’s actions as detached, self-centered, lethargic and inadequate.  He was further described as one more concerned about money and comfort than he was about helping those in need and portrayed as one who had no true regard for the city of Houston and its citizens.  The problem with these conclusions are that they are not based on fact.  There is an observable history of Lakewood Church that tells a much different story.  Lakewood was founded by Joel’s father, John Osteen in the late 1950’s.  The senior Osteen was known for preaching an unrelenting message of God’s love and being willing to serve anybody, especially those who were outcasts.  John Osteen led the church through a period when he faced criticisms and violence for opening the doors of the church to all people and refusing to serve in a segregated setting.  Such stands estranged him from other “Bible-believing” ministries of his era, yet Lakewood persisted in following the conviction that Jesus called His people to love all people. 

As the multicultural makeup of Lakewood became accepted by outsiders, the church simultaneously maintained a well-earned reputation for helping the needy and being focused on reaching those who were outcasts. After John Osteen’s passing and Joel’s assumption of Leadership, Lakewood maintained its role as a “go to” resource in times of hardship, serving as a literal shelter from storms in other regional hardships and caring for the vulnerable in numerous emergency situations.  As Hurricane Harvey loomed, Lakewood’s leadership knew they would help, but weren’t sure how they would best assist, knowing they had their own vulnerabilities in terms of the possibility of flooding within the building that serves them.  This self-imposed delay for the sake of sound decision-making and to help prevent Lakewood from becoming a source of trouble rather than help, became fertile ground for every critic of Lakewood in particular and Christianity in general.

The crop of criticism and ridicule that has been produced because of Lakewood’s making more careful assistance decisions has ignored Lakewood’s history, demonstrated ignorance of Lakewood’s core values and applied unrighteous stereotypes to a ministry that while not by any means perfect, makes it a point to serve as a place of refuge and help.  Just because one has an issue with Christians – even when justifiable – does not mean one should feel free to belittle, berate and insult any church within view without taking the time to know the facts. Observe all ministries like one would any entity – with objectivity, fairness and with actual knowledge about what the church stands for and what the church does.  Among agencies who help in times of crisis, churches are often at the very core of the groups that help, and often supply the key players who help as a matter of course in their secular duties. 


While it is true that I do not see eye to eye with Brother Osteen on some matters of doctrine and theology, I have observed him for many years. I take note that he has not forgotten the hallmarks of the faith, and has committed the formidable resources of the ministry he leads for caring for widows, orphans and strangers.  I would invite those who wish to criticize Christians as a matter of sport to know that while you will assuredly find faults at which to take aim, you will also certainly find unrelenting devotion in serving others and excellence in denying self towards which you can strive.  Let us proceed to light more candles and relent of perpetually cursing the darkness.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Presence of a Monument Cannot Twart The Power of A Heritage

The presence of a monument can invite the power to make a statement. The photo presented below was taken in mid-1966 while my father was deployed in the Republic of Vietnam, serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His deployment occurred in the midst of very volatile times at home and my mother's disposition reflected the tension of the times and the danger of Dad's duty assignment.

The occasion of the photo was a visit to the most prominent monument in the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi, during my father's deployment. This visit was not a minor issue and invited some controversy at the time, yet allowed us to make a statement - literally and figuratively - that my parents, raised at the height of Jim Crow in the very heart of Dixie, were now making sacrifices in freedom that obliterated the philosophy of slavery and servitude espoused by the system that erected that monument.

The presence of such monuments rightfully stir strong emotions, yet also provide us with powerful opportunities to reflect on the bad,  commit ourselves to the good and educate those who follow us regarding the costs of evil and the sacrifices required to overcome it and sustain truth and beauty in a free society.

I am concerned that the demolition of such monuments will eventually lead to the denial of transgressions and a sweeping cultural amnesia that will open the gates for evil's reemergence and render prior gains in vain.  I propose that we allow these monuments, in all of their offense, to provide us with opportunities to remember, teach and learn with bold intentionality.

Using these monuments as vivid reminders of our nation at its worst can provide us with powerful  reminders of how we should not live so that we might avoid revisiting the unrighteousness of our past and so that this great experiment called America might not perish from the earth.