Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful For Hope in the Midst of Strife

Recently, while observing numerous online disputes of great intensity, I found myself extremely troubled by the strife. The words of the holiday tune "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" began to resound in my heart, and I became deeply troubled, to the point of tears. In unison with the well-known lyrics, I lamented, "... And in despair I bowed my head There is no peace on earth I said For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men." Indeed, hatred and enmity dominate so much of the social media landscape, that it seems even good friendships are mocked and destroyed by the toxicity of opinions that are violently presented and combatively defended. "There is no peace on earth I said." But, just as my despair crested, I engaged in a few uplifting conversations with friends who have persisted in fighting the Good Fight, and loving others with wreckless abandon, regardless of how the are treated. Their devotion to the ways of Jesus and to loving their neighbors as themselves, brought new life to the hope ultimately expressed in the tune of old: "Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men! This inspiring hope reminded me of the admonition of Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. " Brothers and Sisters, in the midst of discouraging times, let us continue to sow good seed in the lives of all we meet, knowing that our labor will not be in vain, if we faint not! "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men!" For this hope, I am thankful!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thankful For His Service

In this first Veterans Day without Dad, my heart cannot help but notice his absence. As I reflect on why he is such a heroic presence in my life, the example of his daily walk is the inescapable answer. 

I learned many lessons of leadership not only by listening to his advice,  but even more by watching his actions.  He was even-tempered, a true listener, a real friend to his peers, and he just loved people! I could hear the love in his military greetings, see it in his hand salute, and feel it in my heart when he laughed. His love was even recognizable until the end. When it seemed he had lost all sense of time and space due to his dementia, he somehow willed himself not to forget me. Until his dying breath he had his special greeting for me, Luz, the family and close friends, he maintained his right hand grip and he never relinquished his relentless optimism.  He remained an inspiration. 

Veterans Day is reminder of the man he became after he volunteered to enter the profession of arms, intrigued by a recruiting poster of a lone paratrooper descending through sunny skies filled with heavenly white clouds. The Army provided a stability a large portion of his childhood lacked. The Airborne culture gave him a conduit through which to demonstrate his finest character traits of courage, devotion,  extreme commitment and immeasurable perseverance.

I am fortunate to have him as a father and to share his name. It is my life's mission to honor him and the name he gave me.  More than anyone living, I am thankful for his service.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Violence - Destroyer of Civilizations

No civilization can continue in violence and expect to continue to thrive. As I have been reflecting on the violent events of this year in the US, some verses from Genesis have come to mind regarding the cause of God's ultimate displeasure with humanity during the days of Noah. These verses have strong relevance for our times as well. Observe what the Scriptures say:

"Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth" (Genesis 6:11-13.)

Life was problematic on every moral level in the world at that time, but the proliferation of violence was a tipping factor for God's judgment. We know that there will not be a flood on the scale of Noah's again, but civilizations have risen and fallen time and time again ever since those days because of violence and corruption. Jesus warned that the end would be near when humanity once again approached wickedness on the level of the days of Noah. I am not prone to be a "doom and gloomer" but we are living in extremely violent times and Jesus instructed His followers to be observant of the times. We must resist this evil and not simply allow it to wash over us like a tidal wave over which we have no control. We can do something. Therefore, Let us now hold our own homes and communities accountable in our direct leadership and confront the violence directly around us. As the Texas church massacre case reminds us, domestic violence is a springboard for violence everywhere else.

Let us also hold our political representatives accountable in confronting violence, calling them to be more than powerful place-holders with personal perks, but demanding that they work and serve to re-establish peace in the land for the rest of us, who do not have the benefit of round the clock professional personal protection. It is becoming clearer that even the basic rules and regulations we have put in place are not being seriously enforced. Part of the responsibility of Public Service is ensuring excellence in administrative oversight. Let us call these leaders to utilize the tools being neglecting and simultaneously closing the loopholes that have riddled our national fabric to make the tools of violence accessible to people never meant to have access to such instruments. If political leaders will not prioritize this life or death issue in establishing good practices and implementing existing policies, let us change the guard until there are people in place who will!

We must care enough to confront the violence we are experiencing in all the ways we can, at every level we can. To neglect the issue is to continue to imperil our existence. As we remain indecisive and ineffective, Violence continues to chip away at our foundation one bloody incident, and countless lives at a time. We cannot afford to wait for the next round of assaults before taking action. Look around you, jump in, and take action where you can. Civilization is at stake.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Facing Evil Days

As the peace within our nation gives way to surging seas of violence, satisfactory explanations are illusive, and any semblance of security seems unattainable.  In such confusing and fearful times, philosophical pondering doesn't provide much comfort or rest for our souls.  There are responses, however, that I believe are meaningful and helpful even as we wrestle with the unrelenting problem of evil.  As we search for meaning and understanding in painful times, we must simultaneously engage the real carnage evil bestows on us.  We must comfort those who mourn, protect those who are vulnerable and commit ourselves even more resolutely to live by the Law of Love.  

The latest act of savagery that has grabbed our national attention should remind us that following Jesus and walking in faith is not a talismanic or charmed protection from episodes of evil or occurrences of barbarity.  Walking as a follower of Jesus is, rather, on-going preparation for confronting daily wickedness, whether we in our flesh are victims of it, or even if we survive to battle against it in the on-going cosmic war that Jesus told us is at hand. 

For that reason, we must pray for and comfort those who are suffering, and we must work to expose and confront the evil that lurks among us.  At the same time, we must work to engage others in our daily circles of influence so that as much as it has to do with us, we are not passively waiting for the next tragedy.  Let us continually devote ourselves to actively lead the way in our communities for the good by seeking to convert those who are tempted to embrace evil and wickedness as normative life ways.  Let us act to turn the treacherous away from their treachery.  Let us also work to raise up those in our charge to forgo wickedness in the first place and to choose goodness and beauty over evil and ugly, not allowing themselves to be captured by the tempter's snares.  As we labor to lead this fight for good proactively and incarnationally, let us take heart in the opening words of Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

We will not fear.  We will trust in the Lord to help us, embolden us and sustain us to fight the Good Fight until He comes, or until our time on earth is done. May the Lord have mercy on all those who are suffering and may we commit ourselves to be agents of His grace, mercy and peace - every day.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"You picked a fine day to start drinking, Jackson!"

This is a West Point Fourth Class Delinquency report which I earned on my 18th Birthday.  It just so happened that our Cadet Company's dining in fell on my birthday, which meant though I was a Plebe - Freshman - I'd actually get to eat! Not only that, but a great steak dinner too, with champagne!

At the time, all active duty military personnel could drink in NY state at the age of 18, so I know exactly where and when I had my first drink. One major factor I failed to consider was that I was just over a week out of shoulder surgery and on a good dose of Tylenol-3 ... with Codeine ... which I had also never had before!

As our special guest, a Colonel reported to be the wealthiest officer in the Army, shared his economic wisdom,  the steak  champagne and Tylenol-3 did their work. I heard the first few sentences of his talk, followed by applause and words of thanks for his sharing. As they applauded, it seemed everyone in the chain of command was glaring at me with complete rage! I was told to report to several people immediately following dinner and was certain I wouldn't survive the night.

My last stop was with my Tactical Officer and a ranking cadet in the Company.  The Tac's words were first for the ranking cadet whom he asked a series of questions including how did he expect me, who had never had a drink or a surgery to understand the effects of alcohol and very strong prescription drugs?  There was a bunch of "Yes and no Sir-ing" then he asked the other cadet to leave. 

After Cadet "X'" departed, the Tac then explained to me the peril of my ways, and amazingly told me I wouldn't get "slugged" - West Point jargon for formal punitive measures - for my stupidity due to what he considered "mitigating circumstances." He ended his comments with a smirk and this admonition, "You picked a fine night to start drinking, Jackson! I think you better stick to soda pop and burgers from now on!"  Knowing a gift when I see one, I took the advice then and continue to take it now! Won't forget turning 18 and my adventurous days in Cadet Gray! Go E!!

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.