I’M TRYING HARD TO MAINTAIN A BALANCE

      Where do you and I begin when so much has happened the past couple of weeks?  There were times when my little cup ran over with grief and I thought there were no words of comfort to be found.  There were moments when all I could do was taste my tears as I tried so hard to make sense out of what was happening in places like Nepal and Baltimore, Maryland.  And then I saw a fifteen year old boy being rescued from the rubble of the earthquake in Nepal after five days in darkness and fear. My Lord what a blessing that was!  I saw my spirits soaring as I witnessed one mother in Baltimore publicly chastising her sixteen year old son for throwing rocks at the police during a demonstration. I remembered the words of Howard Thurman: “life is antecedent and consequences, reaping and sowing darkness and light, joy and sorrow.” Yes my friends life is like that! And it is up to us to find a balance.
    So many who respond to my writings on this blog often begin their words with “I woke up this morning. . .” or they write “I was just thinking of something you said. . ..” There is something deeply settling about the very first words from our mouths especially when we are trying to maintain a balance for all that is going on in and around us. When your cup is running over for whatever reason what do you do to turn the situation around?  How long does it usually take for you to find the other side of that which caused your cup to run over in the first place?  And when you get to the other side of what has stopped you in your tracks can you remember how you got there?  I want to encourage you to take time to discern how you felt when you came out of the wilderness of an experience that caused you to wonder how you were going to make it?  I believe by doing so you and I can learn how to maintain the balance between the joys and sorrows of daily living. Life, as a matter of fact is like that!  One day we are riding high and our spirits are soaring with joy and gratitude.  The next day our spirits have forgotten how to soar and joy is no where to be found.  That’s life! I believe we are called to maintain that delicate balance between soaring high and traveling the low road of despair and heartbreak.  Aha, but how to do it?
     Those who begin their writings with “I woke up this morning. . .” have already received the first gift life offers which is simply this: “you woke up.”  What a joy there is in “waking up.”   One faithful friend who reads my entries sent words causing my spirit to soar.  How did she know I needed to hear those words and at that particular time when my own cup was running over?  I submit her words were exactly the balance I needed at the time even though I had no idea she was thinking about me.  As a matter of fact, it was her remembering a time of grace of sharing, listening and understanding which caused her to make contact with me again.  Little did either of us know at that first serendipitous meeting it would become a moment of balance.  Here are the words she shared with me which I now share with you with the hope they may help you to find your balance:
     Let your mind be quiet, realizing the beauty of the world, and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store.  All that you have within you, all that your heart desires, all that your nature so specially fits you for-that or the counterpart of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for you.  It will surely come to you. Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time will it come.  All your crying and fever and reaching out of hands will make no difference.  Therefore do not begin that game at all. Edward Carpenter, author.
     Waiting is one of the hardest things for us to do.  When my soul is in the lost and found I don’t want to wait to be found.  I want to be.  But wait I must.  I must believe that I am not alone in my waiting-the God of my life waits with me.  The boy trapped beneath the rubble of bricks and steel waited and waited for help to come.  Surely, he though he would not be found and though tired of waiting he had no other choice.  But he did not lose hope and after five long days of waiting he was rescued.  I believe God was in the waiting with this fifteen year old boy and ultimately, that is why he was rescued.  You may rightly ask about those who waited to be rescued but were not?  I can only say their deaths became the tragic fact for them and for their loved ones waiting for them to be found.  Life is like that!
     My thanks for all of you and for Dianna who reached out to me in a moment of my need for discernment and balance. Come by here Lord, come by here!  Come into our hearts as we seek balance for our daily endeavors.  Fill the lives of those for whom justice has been delayed and not expected. Lord touch the hearts of those who walked the streets of Baltimore with hope for “joy that comes in the morning” and it came on May.1st. Send your Angels of mercy to the weeping souls of those who lost loved ones and friends in the devastating earthquake in Nepal.  Come into the lives of those who have come to expect injustice but continue to hope for justice.  For those in Nepal for whom the experience of the agony is real, please send Your Comforter and Healer into the middle of their unbearable pain and grief.  May we all find a pathway to peace and reconciliation as we try to discern what God is saying to us through natural and unnatural causes.  I ask all of this in the Name of the One who loves us unconditionally, Jesus the Christ and in Whose Name I pray. Amen.  And so it is!
Dr. Paul

FINDING JOY SO YOU MAY FLY

         I discovered this morning that somewhere along the way I had put joy on the back burner of my life.  Do you know what I mean? It was during my quiet time that I realized joy was missing from my daily routine.  Have you wondered why you have been feeling overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of daily living?  Have you been in the storm too long not knowing how or when your storm will be over?  I encourage you to read the words of the French poet Apollinaire written here:
        
 “Come to the edge” he said.  “We can’t, were afraid” they responded.  “Come to the edge” he said. “We can’t ,we will fall” they responded.  “Come to the edge” he said.  And so they came.  And he pushed them.  And they flew.
     I suspect our spirits are so frayed these days it is difficult to believe Apollinaire’s words fit our situation.  We are so over whelmed by life’s vicissitudes that we don’t have confidence our joy can ever be restored.  May I remind you of what Scripture says about our condition: weeping may endure for the might but joy cometh in the morning. I want to encourage you to stop whatever you are doing for a few moments and allow the poet’s words to penetrate your heart and mind.  Put yourself in the group Apollinaire is calling.  He’s calling you to the edge.  Are you willing to step closer to the edge?  If not why not?  Do you wish for restoration of a bit of joy in your life and if you truly do, I invite you to come to the edge with me.  Go deep within yourself. In the quiet moment you have just entered see yourself standing in need of some joy.  Now come closer to the edge you have envisioned with your mind.  Are you ready to be pushed?  Who will be pushing you?  Are you afraid you will fall into the abyss of darkness?  Will you come fly with me?
      Now allow yourself be pushed over your imaginary edge. It is up to you whether you will fly or fall.  I know I can fly because I just did while writing this entry.  My joy was restored because I would not give my consent to fear.  I listened to music on a device given to me as a gift by the choir of First Presbyterian Church.  Whatever was weighing heavily on my mind and making me fearful got lost.  I stepped away from fear and inserted in its place the joy of being alive and being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who having come to the edge were pushed but now they are flying.  I remembered how beautiful I felt as the music engulfed me with its many melodies. I could feel my anxieties and petty thoughts slowly peeling away.  Joy, joy, joy started lifting me higher and higher.  I could hear my Grandmother sitting in her rocking chair on her wraparound porch singing her favorite songs at the end of each day.  She always sat in her rocking chair on her porch at the end of each day.  It would be many years later that I realized this routine was her way of restoring joy to her life  at the end of each day God had given her life.
     One more thing!  You will have to be willing to practice what I have just described if you want to free yourself from the fears and anxieties that haunt us and try to invade our space.   I am flying now and I am stronger now as the joy keeps lifting me higher and higher.  It is flying time for Dr. Paul.  It is flying time for you.  So, fly, fly, fly.  The God of your life and mine is flying with you. Joy awaits you.  And so it is.

MORNING DISCOVERIES

Do you remember what was on your mind before you went to sleep last night? If so, what was foremost on your mind?  I remember what was on my mind last night but when I woke up this morning I tried to remember exactly what I was thinking and could not.  Why?  Because my morning discoveries started me on a new path.  So what did I discover?  First, I realized I woke up.  Yes, I woke up and that in and of itself made me grateful.  Secondly, I could feel the warmth of our home as I listened to the furnace purring away.  I was mindful of so many who did not wake up in a warm place. Thirdly, I discovered whatever was tugging at my spirit before I went to bed last night is still there however, I am not as overwhelmed by it because my body is more refreshed and I had a good nights sleep.  Fourth, I could taste the sweet nectar of the morning’s silence which fueled my spirit in new and amazing ways. I am not prepared to face whatever the day has for me.

      Morning discoveries are good for you and for me especially if we give ourselves a few moments to get centered before we do anything else.  I will approach whatever is on my calendar today with a new sense of purpose because what I was pondering before I went to sleep had become toxic. Now that I am awake and refreshed and truly thankful, I can begin my day with a different narrative.  Morning discoveries is an exercise we should practice as a way of preparing ourselves for what lies ahead.  Surely, we cannot always know what lies ahead but we can ground ourselves in preparation for that which lies ahead of us.  One of my friends sent me an email apologizing for something toxic he had said which he chalked up to not having had his morning coffee.  While this is true for my friend I happen to know that was not the only reason. He has a disciplined routine each morning which includes reading from Scripture, saying his prayers and then he begins his physical workout.  Whenever this routine is interrupted for whatever reasons he knows his day is freighted with poor outcomes.
     As you prepare for your activities today stop for a few minutes to read this entry.  More importantly, prepare yourself by giving thanks that you have lived to see another day.  Simply say “thank you for waking me up this morning. . .thank you for every breath I take. . .thank you for the quiet moment I am about to take. . .thank you for my new discoveries this morning. . .thank you for the voices I will hear this morning. . .thank you for the sound of silence I am about to take. ..thank you for the first person who greets me with a warm greeting.  Morning discoveries are God’s gifts to the human spirit and for that I am eternally grateful.  And so it is.
Dr. Paul

WHEN READING LIFE’S CLUES IS NOT ENOUGH

 

      I should like to remind everyone that a part of my daily spiritual disciplines is reading life’s clues as they unfold around me.  This requires my paying attention and staying focused as “life” goes on around me and you. My personal spiritual disciplines include recording what I feel, sense and discern.  I do this through journaling and by being quiet long enough to discern or to decipher what has just occurred.  I find comfort in writing in my journal especially when I am paying attention to what has caught my attention or has caused me to think twice.  Consequently, I woke up very early this morning because even in my sleeping I sensed the need to journal about whatever was making me restless.  Aha, I thought as I headed to my study to write down what was keeping me awake: acting on the clues of yesterday and beyond.
     I am aware of the clues around me that I have neglected to act upon.  I have followed most of my spiritual disciplines but some clues I have neglected to act upon so my days and nights have been restless.  I am  aware of the physical activity I am engaging in whenever I have not acted upon life’s clues.  For example, I become easily agitated when I have ignored clues or have not stopped to acknowledge them.  When I am agitated I am mostly upset about something I have not done or have not spoken about.  I enjoy spontaneity but it becomes clogged up when I have not acted upon my clues.  There is a churning inside of me that will only stop when I take action on those clues.
     Let me be more specific. I found myself agitated and even angry when I read the Congress waited until the very last minute to take action on the funding of the DHS.  After retreating to my journal I realized it was not just the law makers actions on last Friday that irritated me but it was their inaction for the last couple of years.  I realized how I had been seething because this Congress has done very little to advance the common good. Now that I have identified the ‘real’ clue it is up to me to act upon it.  Clearly, there are some action items for me to take and I am preparing myself to do just that.
     The gift of discernment is especially wonderful when I act upon what I have discerned.  I am reminded again and again of that old spiritual song “its me, its me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”  I am the one I have been waiting for and I am the one who has not acted upon the plethora of clues life has placed in my path.  Again, I retreat to my journal and I begin to write and slowly my spirit calms me down.  When I have calmed down I see the good I do not do. I realize reading the clues is not enough rather, I must act on those clues.
     To be sure reading the clues is an important and necessary step for my spiritual disciplines.  But I must practice my spiritual disciplines and in doing so I open myself up to hear what God has been saying to me all along.  I feel with a new purpose and intensity because I am no longer in captivity.  In opening up myself to hear what God has to say to me I am now prepared to hear what life has to say to me.  I am prepared to take action on what I neglected to discern in the first place.
     I confess how easy it is to be overwhelmed by life’s clues especially if we are apostles of sensitiveness.  My actions do not necessarily have be heroic or spectacular.  They need only to be real.  I will know its real when I can feel it deep in my soul.
     I  am in solidarity with the poem of the late Maya Angelou “I know why the caged bird sings”. Like the caged bird my spirit longs to be free and that freedom can only come when I am aware of life’s clues and can act upon them.  Take time to observe the many blessings occurring all around you but don’t stop there-take action.  Take time to listen to that still small voice calling you to be better than you are and then take action.  Take time to make an assessment of YOU. Take note of what you have left undone.  Take note of what you would like to get done.  Take time to listen to your own thoughts so you can listen to the thoughts of others.  Take inventory of yourself. Take a note about how you are treating those around you and how you might treat them differently and with more kindness and integrity.  Take time to say ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ and you will be amazed at what it does for you.  It will open up spaces and places you have kept closed for a long time.  It will reveal a sense of purpose for you to follow.  In opening up ourselves to others it will also open us up to ourselves.  Stop navel gazing and stop whinnying and complaining and allow your self to taste the freedom which comes when we are totally sensitive and open to hear what the God of life may be saying to us.  Learn how to walk in the light of your own authenticity because it is your roadmap to wholeness.  It will enable you to act upon life’s clues in ways you never dreamed about.  And so it is. 
Dr. Paul

MY REFLECTIONS ON SELMA

                           
           On March 21,1965 at the invitation of my friend and colleague Andy Young, along with my brother in ministry, Rev. Dr. Carl Dudley, and I went to Selma, Alabama.  Dr. King routinely sent out calls for clergy and others to join him in marches and demonstrations which brought attention to the unjust laws and law-makers throughout the south.  As I remember Carl Dudley earlier had been the only white minister out of 100 invited by Dr. Dr. King to join him in Miami, Florida to address what would become the title of one of King’s booksWhere Do We Go From Here?  There were so many organizations and churches sending representatives to Selma that there were no more commercial flights available for my group of clergy to travel to Selma.  However, the late Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis, Missouri and a champion of civil rights made a call to James S. McDonnell, CEO of McDonnell Douglas Aircraft who made his private plane available to us.  Further, five of the Presbyterian ministers invited to travel with me were given an ultimatum by their Sessions (The governing board of Presbyterian churches) not to go to Selma if they wanted to keep their pastorates. All five ministers accompanied me and Carl anyway.
     One has to remember the movie Selma is just a movie and not a documentary, albeit in my opinion it was a wonderful artistic achievement and I encourage all to see the movie.  A documentary is giving factual material in an artistic form and there were some omissions which might have encouraged many more folks to see the movie.  When we arrived in Selma our airplane was diverted to a small airfield a couple of miles away from the main Selma airport but closer to the local church that served as headquarters for the marchers. Unfortunately the movie did not capture the importance of the role the local churches played in the Selma marches. We went directly to one of the many local churches welcoming us to Selma where we sang, prayed and prepared for the march ahead. The songs steadied our nerves and the prayers gave us courage to participate in the march. In retrospect I could not have put myself in harms way except for the fact of my young age of 30 and the inspiration following Andy Young in Selma.
     It was a beautiful warm and humid day and the crowd was huge as we awaited Dr. King’s arrival to the podium.  I remember the presence of many white protesters who lined the streets as we marched to the center of the area where Dr. King would be speaking.  They shouted at us and called us all sorts of ugly and disrespectful names but they could do nothing more because the White House had sent the national guard to protect us.  Furthermore, the freedom songs, the prayers and the strength of the crowd itself had thoroughly prepared me for such a time as this.  The movie did not give much information about the strong support we experienced from many white clergy and students from around the country. The movie unfortunately did not capture the bravery and sacrifices of the black citizens of Selma who cheered us on and provided water for us and who left their porches to embrace us as we began gathering for Dr. King’s speech.  These citizens had to remain in Selma after all of us had left and that put them once again in harms way.  But they never complained nor did they stop their efforts to “let freedom roll down like a mighty river” in a segregated and hateful city of Selma.  I can never forget how they made all of us marching feel welcomed.  These citizens are the real heroes even though particular names like John Lewis and Andy Young and others were mentioned in the movie and rightly so.
      As the March ended and Dr. King left the podium Carl Dudley and I headed back to the church where we were to meet the clergy from St. Louis who had traveled to Selma with us.  I felt so affirmed and comforted by what had just occurred in Selma defying all of the efforts of Governor Wallace to keep us from marching.  How I wished the movie could have captured the joy and determination and the inspiration of those whites having their first experience of praying and singing and worshipping in a black church. The movie did not show the courageous Catholic Nuns who gave the march organizers their permission to place them at the very head of the marches and demonstrations especially in Selma.  To be clear this decision was a part of the organizers strategy because we believed even the angriest of whites would dare not attack or denigrate the Nuns with national television cameras rolling.  And it worked.
      A few weeks ago I answered a phone call from Nate Dudley, eldest son of the late Rev. Dr. Carl Dudley.  Nate was calling to ask me to speak to his daughter Emerson who had just been to see the movie Selma with the family and he wanted Emerson to hear directly from me about her Grandfather’s experience with me in Selma.  I will remember for years to come my telephone conversation which is further evidence of the importance for everyone to see the movie irrespective of the historical omissions.  I told Emerson the story of her grandfather and I had while walking back to the church where we were to meet our group.  As we were about 150 yards away from the church Carl and I looked up and we were being surrounded by about 50 or more angry white people, mostly men who began shouting at us and calling us names.  They referred to Carl as a “N” lover as they got closer and closer to us.  There was some minor pushing and shoving of us but Carl and I had had nonviolence training which was a prerequisite for clergy like us who were directly involved in the movement.  I was not terribly frightened at first but as they got closer to us it became clear that Carl and I could be harmed. In an instant one of the white men spat in my face which caused me great anger in spite of my nonviolence training. For one moment Carl froze because he knew I had been violated and as well as we knew each other he had no idea how I would respond to this violation of me.  In a nano second I thought to myself “I am going to die or get hurt badly because I am going to knock this guy in the mouth regardless . . and in the next second I saw my pregnant wife’s face and I realized I might never see the birth of our second child.”  I caught Carl’s eyes and he had a sheepish smile on his face that told me we should run which we did and as we looked back having left them in the dust (remember we were very young) we heard them laughing and saying “look at those N run”.  Needless to say this was a defining moment in my life which made me rethink my role for future marches and demonstrations.  It would be several years before I would participate or demonstrate in marches where there was a possibility that I would be personally violated again.
     Selma is worth seeing because it reveals a horrible period of segregation and discrimination and violence and death  of black people.  It reveals how we were treated by a large segment of white people in this country which so many of today’s generation have no knowledge of.  I just read an article about a curriculum known as Advance Placement which is believed to be too negative and critical about American history especially history like the kind represented in the movie Selma causing a State politician to introduce a bill banning AP in the classrooms.  Selma reveals what really happened in America and everyone needs to know about this historical stain in our history.  Selma does just that and I encourage everyone to see the movie and have discussions and conversations about it.  I believe our future generations need to know about the country’s history so they may learn from it rather than deny it really happened.  I had to control my inner feelings in the movie Selma especially the clip on the four girls killed in Sunday school at a Birmingham church.  But that is an historical truth and fact which needs to be known.  The tragedy of 9/11 is revisited every year since it occurred as a reminder of America’s resolve and determination in the midst of that horrific terrorist attack.  Advance Placement is but one way and an important way of assuring the history of America is authenticated.
      As we were preparing to leave Selma that March day in 1965 we discovered via radio that Mrs. Viola Luizzo a white woman from Detroit had been brutally murdered.  After the euphoria of the Selma march and Dr. King’s speech and a coming together of peoples from all around the country her death caught everyone off guard.  There was a pall over the country upon hearing the news of Mrs. Luizzo’s murder making for a toxic and scary atmosphere which engulfed me and Carl.  People are dangerous when they respond out of fear and anger and that was the atmosphere for many more months to come.  The Rev. James Reeb a white Unitarian minister was brutally beaten to death having stopped in a convenience store in Selma.  That incident is portrayed in the movie Selma and as awful as it was it is a part of America’s ugly past and needs to be known.  As I near my 80th birthday in September 2015 I am mindful of how truly fortunate and blessed I am to have lived through this period of history.  I know for a fact that I am alive today because of the nonviolence training I received at the hands of Ambassador Andy Young.  I know for a fact that “trouble don’t last always.”  I know deep in my soul why the songs in black churches were central to my survival and participation in Selma and elsewhere.  And that is why “I don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come to far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.”  And so it is.
Dr.Paul
     Next Entry: Reflections on the U.S. Congress

SOME IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

     One of Dr. M.L.King, Jr’s  favorite quotation begins thusly:
          Vanity asks the question-is it popular?
          Expedience asks the question-is it politic?
          Cowardice asks the question-is it safe?
          Conscience asks the question-is it right?
          There comes a time when we must take a position that is neither popular, or politic or safe, but one must take is because it is right.
I have learned that life’s questions are far more important than life’s answers. So, I ask you what kind of questions are you asking?  Are you on good terms with your conscience? What are you truly thankful for?  What are you doing for others?   How free are you from fear?  What do you truly hunger for?  Are you listening for the sound of the genuine in YOU?  What constitutes authenticity for you? How do you live each day?  Where do you find joy? Where do you find love?  To whom are you accountable?
These and other questions is what I believe the stuff of life is made of.  The more questions I have the better understanding I have of myself and the world in which you and I live. The more questions you and I have the more we keep searching.  You see, the art of asking questions is the prelude to discernment.  For example, when I ask the question “why is there war in Nigeria and Afghanistan” my question is more about discernment than the question itself.  You and I must always be on the hunt for discernment which is preceded by asking questions. I ask questions about my sorrow in search of discernment about my need for joy.  I ask questions about my fears in search of discernment about freedom from my fears.  Notice that I am not asking for answers as much as I am searching for discernment about my fears.  In my discernment I am led to discovery that allows me to ask more and more questions.
It is important for me to be on good terms with my conscience because it is my conscience that keeps asking me the question “is it right?” Is it right for me to worry?  Is it right for me to remain silent when I know it is important to break the silence with my questions?  I am always, always in conversation with my conscience.  Sometime I am in a tug of war with my conscience because I am not always prepared to accept the consequences of what my conscience is saying to me.  During this “tug of war” with my conscience I am on the hunt for something that is deeper and deeper inside of me.  I know the deep inside of me is speaking to the deep inside of me and I long for some kind of discernment that will enlightenment me.  The more questions I raise about the deeper side of me the more discernment I find,  For example, I keep asking why it is so hard for me to forgive those who have waged war against my spirit.  It is a legitimate question that keeps me working on ways to acknowledge I have more ground on forgiveness to cover.  If I should stop seeking forgiveness for those waging war against my spirit I will have surrendered, thus putting a halt to my discernment.  You see, it is discernment that flushes out the questions for my life and yours.
There is something quite liberating about asking questions.  For example, when I ask questions about some of life’s mysteries I am emboldened by the simple fact of discernment of these mysteries.  There is freedom in the questions because the questions lead me to other questions.  As long as I keep asking questions I am involved in a process of keeping myself open to hear other questions.  From these questions comes discernment and discernment creates other questions that nourishes my spirit.  The purpose of asking questions is to nourish our spirit.  My spirit is the pathway to my heart wherein lies my discernment.  Discernment is also another way of saying I am enlightened.  Enlightenment leads me to an awareness that I am on good terms with my conscience and that allows me the freedom to be me without making it difficult for you to be you.
There is fluidity in the asking of questions which keeps my activities alive.  I am alive and my conscience is alive so long as my life’s questions are fluid.  In journaling I raise questions over and over again that often leads me to an understanding of who I am in the presence of the God of life.  As I wrestle with life’s dilemmas and as I seek understanding for those things I do not understand, I am comforted in the knowledge that I can ask questions from the depths of my heart and find even more questions in my life with God.
My goal is never to grow tired of asking questions. And remember, there is in God sufficient strength, whatever our needs may be.
Dr. Paul

A TIME FOR RECONCILIATION AND PEACE MAKING

                      
     I have been sitting here thinking about the numerous demonstrations following the Grand Jury verdicts in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.  I was feeling my own anger welling up inside of me as I helplessly watched the riots and the vandalism occurring in real time on many of the television networks.  If that were not enough I then read about the senseless murder of two innocent NYPD officers as they sat in their vehicles.  The shooter turned out to be a black man with severe mental issues yet causing a huge reaction from cops around the country. More animosity began between the Mayor of NYC and organizations representing the cops. Even now the anger of protestors and the cops has caused a huge divide within city government. How can you call for calm when there is so much anger welling up inside of the NYPD and the community?  How can a truce be forged out of this chaos and bickering?
     I officiated the funeral of a fraternity brother who died at age 93. He was a distinguished law professor at the Howard University Law School.  Testimony after testimony mostly from family members and former students could not say enough about their beloved professor.  As I listened to these tributes I realized the professor’s career path had begun when America was deeply separate and not equal.  Against all sorts of odds and barriers the professor forged ahead and did not allow a repressive and segregated system keep him from pursuing his goals and aspirations.  I know several men and women like the professor whose contributions are well known throughout the country. These giants whose shoulders I stand upon today faced cruelties, oppressive policemen, racist judicial systems and a plethora of other indignities but they never, ever allowed these vicissitudes to stop their forward progress..  They faced obstacles far greater than the ones African Americans are facing today but they never allowed anger or attempts to block their progress from  forging ahead.  So I ask, “why can’t we?”  Why can’t we find ways to come together as “the people” and work towards reconciliation and peace?
      Make no mistake, I know the present road to equality and justice for all is difficult.  I realize the despair and hopelessness of many of the people peacefully protesting what seems to them to be  an unjust system badly in need of fixing. However, vandalism ,destruction of property and attacks against the cops will solve nothing.  NYPD cops blaming their mayor for the violence that occurred following the Grand Jury’s verdicts and their disrespect for Mayor DeBlasio only increases the violence and anger of the community.  Their actions solve nothing!  What needs to happen is this: put aside animosity, accusations and anger and create a space for reconciliation and peace. Most importantly, it must be remembered that we are all victims at some time or another. We are all guilty of harboring racist and insensitive beliefs learned long ago by many of us.  There must be some place where such a diverse and inclusive group of people may come together to work on solutions to the issues now dividing America.
    Creating such a space for reconciliation and peace could be simple if houses of worship were approached about opening up space for dialogue, discussion and soul searching. If not houses of worship then some other space could be opened up.  But this must be done as soon as possible in order for the anger and accusations to subside.  Mounting fears and suspicions following the senseless murder of two innocent cops must be addressed immediately.
      A few years ago I spent six weeks in South Africa as a guest of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa.  I arrived shortly after Apartheid had been dismantled and Nelson Mandela was overwhelmingly elected President.  Consider the brutality and inhumanity of apartheid in SA and the 27 years of false imprisonment of Nelson Mandela who never allowed his incarceration and inhumane treatment to cause him to respond with anger or violence.  I personally witnessed a session of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed following the ANC’s political victory.  I saw first hand how reconciliation and forgiveness allowed true freedom for the people of SA.  I realize oppression of any kind is awful and must be eradicated.  But there is no comparison between apartheid in SA and the brutality by law enforcement agencies throughout America.  If SA could create a truth and reconciliation commission then why can’t we?  It is in my humble opinion the most reasonable solution to the seemingly never ending fight against racism, sexism and militarism which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, defined as the three great sins of America. Doing nothing only continues the disconnect between the police and the community which will only produce a negative response and outcome.  Why not give ourselves a chance to confess and forgive so we can be reconciled with each other?  Why not decrease the animosity and rancor and fear by considering such a Commission?  Think about it! “They drew a circle that shut me out, heretic, rebel a thing to flout, but love and I had the wit to win, so we drew a circle and took them in.”  And so it is.
Dr. Paul

DEFIANT OR JUST DUMB?

   Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in his defense of the torture tactics used by the CIA during the Bush Administration that the tactics were not “torture” as defined by the Justice Department.  One has to wonder whether or not the media should be interviewing this senile old man in the first place.  Besides, his remarks are predictable and horrible in that all it does is to poor more negativity upon an already negative and angry public.  His unbridled remarks only gives rise to more fanatics like Senator Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman.  Why do we need to know or even care what fanatics are saying?  All they know how to do is to criticize.  In the meantime while covering Cheney’s misguided remarks and the antics of Ted Cruz both houses of Congress reluctantly and narrowly pass a short-term spending bill preventing another shut down of the Government.  We should know by now how strategic Ted Cruz’s and Dick Cheney’s actions are being choreographed. Not only is Cheney defiant he is dumb. And he is resentful of President Obama’s presidency.
      There is more coverage by the media of Cheney’s defiance than coverage of the demonstrations and protests in Washington. D.C.  Did you see the report on hundreds of pages of documents “inadvertently left out” by the Missouri Prosecutor handling the Michael Brown case? We need to keep our eyes on the prize which is not about what Dick Cheney is or is not saying.  We should keep our eyes of the prize which to my mind is finding newer and better ways to address the great racial and cultural divide in America.  We should be having serious discussions about changing the paradigm on how we should approach a growing distrust of the very men and women in law enforcement sworn to protect rather than punish and kill mostly African American men. And yes, we should be having discussions and dialogue on the rise in black on black crime which is destroying the once revered fabric of the African American communities around the country.
      We might give consideration to establishing what one of my devoted surrogate son’s is proposing and that is to make the Dr.M.L.King,Jr. holiday a day of “Peace and Partnership” with police precincts across America. Houses of worship of all religious faiths would join with policemen in a service of dialogue, discussion and discernment. There must however, be guided strategies to follow the demonstrations.  We are under no illusion that Peace and Partnership programs will solve the problems but it is a start.  I have some experience of the positive impact a congregation can have on law enforcement.  During my pastorate in Brooklyn Heights, New York one of our signature programs which continues to this day is recognizing the policemen of the 84th precinct every year in a Sunday service of worship.  During my ministry I at First Presbyterian Church I had direct communication with the police officers of the precinct.  I conducted sensitivity training sessions at the precinct, spoke regularly at the beginning of their work day, met often with the leadership of NYPD, thus establishing a relationship and partnership with them. Me and my clergy colleagues were often called upon in tense moments with the precinct and the community.  Our presence made a difference.
      I continue to believe there is a still more excellent way to address the disconnect and distrust between the police and the community.  I continue to believe we are smart enough to find solutions to the growing tensions between the police and the community.  I am clear that the recent verdicts handed down by the grand juries in Ferguson and on Staten Island are reprehensible and has placed a huge stain upon law enforcement in America. I grieve at the sight of the mothers of young African American men shot to death and who have come together to express their outrage over the loss of their sons. Black lives do matter and we must not let these mothers voices be silenced.  But we must also come together to find solutions to the problems lest they keep happening.
      Somehow we need to find ways to change the atmosphere of anger and violence and mistrust within law enforcement in America. As long as the negative voices in our political system continue to be heard above the efforts of groups like One Ferguson and those peacefully demonstrating around the country all we will have is more violence and disruptions.  Dick Cheney’s comments and reasoning are divisive and angry causing those who support his point of view to act in the same manner.  It is our right to disagree and to express our point of view which is one of the best practices of a democracy. However, when those views are laced with angry words and personal attacks the outcome is predictable.  There must be room for civilized discourse to take place.  There must be room for differing points of views but it need not be nasty and confrontational and divisive. May we come together in one accord to find solutions to the many issues confronting our nation.  With the help of the Creator, I know and believe it is possible for us to find the still more excellent way.
And so it is!
Dr. Paul

PERHAPS A NEW PARADIGM IS NEEDED?

      I HAVE BEEN ALLOWING MY OWN DUST TO SETTLE FOLLOWING THE TWO VERDICTS HANDED DOWN A COUPLE WEEKS AGO WHERE NO CHARGES WERE FILED AGAINST TWO WHITE POLICE OFFCERS WHO KILLED TWO UNARMED BLACK MEN.  IT TOOK LONGER THAN I EXPECTEDFOR ME TO RECOVER  WHICH SURPRISED ME.  IT WAS NOT UNTIL FRAN AND I WERE ON A PLANNED CRUISE LAST WEEK THAT I SLOWLY BEGAN TO FEEL MY OLD SELF RETURNING.  SITTING ON OUR DECK NO THE SHIP AND FEELING THE COLD AIR OF BALTIMORE GRADUALLY TURNING INTO THE WARM SUN OF THE CARIBBEAN I WAS REMINDED HOW MUCH LIFE IS LIKE THAT.  LIFE IS REAPING AND SOWING ,IT IS ANTECEDENT AND CONSEQUENCE, IT IS EXHAUSTING AND REPLENISHING, IT IS  WEEPING AND REJOICING.  “HOLY MOSES, I HAVE BEEN REDEEMED.”
      I RETURN TO A SHORT WRITING OF HOWARD THURMAN WHICH SPEAKS TO ME AND I WOULD HOPE IT SPEAKS TO YOU. IT READS:
         AT TIMES WHEN THE STRAIN IS HEAVIEST UPON US, AND OUR TIRED NERVES CRY OUT
         IN MANY TONGUED PAIN BECAUSE THE FLOW OF LOVE IS CHOKED FAR BELOW THE
         THE DEEP RECESSES OF THE HEART,WE SEEK WITH CRAVINGS FIRM AND HARD THE
         STRENGTH TO BREAK THE DAM THAT WE MAY LIVE AGAIN IN LOVE’S WARM STREAM.
         UNTIL ,AT LAST, WE ARE RESTORED AND MADE ANEW.
I HAVE SPENT MY ENTIRE LIFE WORKING FOR TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE.  EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME THAT TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE IS OFTEN DELAYED DURING THOSE TIMES WHEN THE STRAIN IS THE HEAVIEST.  EXPERIENCE HAS ALSO TAUGHT ME THAT ‘TROUBLE DON’T LAST ALWAYS.’  EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME THAT NO ONE CAN RIDE YOUR BACK WHEN IT’S BENT SO I HAVE LEARNED TO STAND UP.  WHILE I WAS DEEPLY DISAPPOINTED WITH THE RECENT VERDICTS I AM ALSO AWARE THAT IT MAY BE TIME FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE STRATEGIES BEING USED WHICH MEANS A POSSIBLE SHIFT IN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LEADERSHIP IN AMERICA.  MAYBE, JUST MAYBE THE DO NOTHING, INFIGHTING AND OBSTRUCTIONIST U.S. CONGRESS HAS AFFECTED THE WAY WE HAVE BEEN THINKING AND ACTING.  THINK ABOUT IT! WE HAVE SEEN A STEADY PLETHORA OF BAD NEWS IN SPORTS, IN POLITICS, IN BUSINESS IN RELIGION AND IN OUR OWN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. IT SEEMS OUR PENCHANT TO BE FEARFUL AND ACCUSATORY EVEN OF THOSE SERVING ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE EBOLA VIRUS HAS CAUSED US TO TURN AGAINST EACH OTHER INSTEAD OF TURNING TO EACH OTHER. NO WONDER WE ARE IN SUCH A NEGATIVE ATTITUDINAL MESS.  HERE IS WHAT I AM PROPOSING AND REMEMBER WHAT I HAVE ALWAYS SAID: I HAVE NO NEED TO BE RIGHT AS MUCH AS I HAVE A NEED TO BE HEARD.
  1. CHANGE IN THE NARRATIVE. PITHY SLOGANS AND WORDS LIKE ‘WE SHALL OVERCOME“ AND “I CAN’T BREATHE’ WHILE NOTE WORTHY MAY NEED REVISING. INSTEAD MAYBE THE WORDS SHOULD BE “YOU MAY TAKE MY BREATHE AWAY BUT YOU CAN’T TAKE AWAY MY HOPE”. OR WORDS LIKE:WE WILL OVERCOME.’ MAYBE WE SHOULD BE DEVELOPING AND INCORPORATING NEW PERSPECTVES LIKE THE POINT OF VIEW OF A POOR BLACK GIRL OR BOY, OR WELCOMING THE DISINHERITED OF ANY RACE TO THE TABLE WHERE DECISIONS ARE BEING MADE.  WITH A COUNTRY SOON TO BE MAJORITY-MINORITY THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER SAYS DR. PATRICIA KING WHOSE WORDS APPEAR IN THE NEWSLETTER OF THE CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND.  FURTHER, WE MUST BE INTENTIONAL AND CREATIVE ABOUT CHANGING THE NARRATIVE WHATEVER IT IS TO BECOME.
  2. CHANGE IN LEADERS AND LEADERSHIP STYLES.SENATORS MITCH MCCONNELL, JOHN MCCAIN, TED CRUZ, AND RON PAUL HAVE CREATED SUCH A NEGATIVE ATMOSPHERE IN THE PUBLIC AND POLITICAL DISCOURSE AFFECTING A SERIOUS NEGATIVE CHANGE IN THE WAY WE DISRESPECT AND TREAT EACH OTHER. REV. AL SHARPTON, REV. JESSE JACKSON, DR. BEN CARSON AND TEA PARTY MEMBERS WHILE EFFECTIVE IN THE PAST HAVE LITTLE MORAL OR SPIRITUAL CAPACITY. THEY ARE ANGRY AND THEIR MESSSAGE ARISES OUT OF ANGER AFFECTING THOSE WHO WOULD FOLLOW THEM. SOME WHITES SAY THEY HAVE BEEN RELUCTANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PRESENT DEMONSTRATIONS AND PROTEST BECAUSE IT APPEARS THEY ARE NOT WELCOME-LIKE “THIS IS A BLACK THING.’  I REALIZE I WILL RECEIVE SOME PUSH BACK HERE.
  3. NEW SEATS AT THE TABLE FOR CHANGE. THE NEW TABLE MUST BE MADE UP OF THE CIRCLE OF INCLUSIVITY 0F HIP HOPPERS, YOUTHS, BLACK, HISPANIC, WOMEN, MEN, ASIANS AND MUSLIMS AND SENIORS LIKE AMBASSADOR YOUNG AND MAYOR DINKINS AND JIMMY CARTER AND RABBI ELI WEISEL AND OTHERS. THEIR GREATEST ASSET SHOULD BE THEIR WILLINGNESS TO LISTENAND TO UNDERSTAND AS THEY CREATE A NEW PARADIGM AND A NEW NARRATIVE WE CAN ALL LIVE BY. THEY MUST BE TRANSPARENT AND INTENTIONAL ABOUT THEIR WORK.
HAVING SAID THE ABOVE I WOULD LIKE ALL OF YOU WHO MAY READ THESE WORDS TO KNOW THAT I STILL REMAIN HOPEFUL IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING HAPPENING IN THE WORLD.  HOPE IS WHAT I DO. PRAISING GOD IS WHAT I DO. RESPECTING OTHERS IS WHAT I DO. LOVING OTHERS IS WHAT I DO. BEING PEACEFUL IS WHAT I DO. BEING GRATEFUL IS WHAT I DO. BEING SPIRITUAL IS WHAT I DO. BEING JOYFUL IS WHAT I DO. BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER IS WHAT I DO. BEING PRAYERFUL IS WHAT I DO.  BEING ACCOUNTABLE IS WHAT I DO. BEING IN SILENCE IS WHAT I DO. BEING FAITHFUL IS WHAT I DO. BEING INCLUSIVE IS WHAT I DO. SEEKING FORGIVENESS IS WHAT I DO. WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHO ARE YOU? WHO ARE YOU BECOMING?
AND SO IT IS!
DR. PAUL

YOU MIGHT AS WELL GET USED TO ME

                     There is something stirring deep inside of my soul as I watch what is happening in God’s world today. My cup has been running over for a very long time and as such, it is causing me great pain. I sit in my study late at night trying to get myself centered and focused lest I fall into the abyss of darkness. As a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement I find myself wondering whether the matter of race will ever be settled?  Denial is a dangerous condition regardless of skin color or ethnicity.  That so many are in denial about race and racism is disturbing to my spirit and I am wondering what it will take to turn things around?  But, as I was listening to gospel music (something I do almost every evening) to regain my balance after the events of the day, I heard a song that brought tears to my eyes and lift to my tattered spirits.  It was for me a sacramental moment in which I remembered that I was a child of God and that I mattered to a lot of people and I also mattered to me.  The song reminded me that no matter what is happening in the world I am still a part of the world and it is up to me to create a sacred place where I can be me without making it difficult for you to be you. By creating a sacred space within, I heard these words which affirmed me as a person of value, a person of worth and a person of faith. Here are the words:might as well get used to me, I am living without apology, I’m not wrong here, I belong here so you might as well get used to me.”
   When certain members of Congress stand before the American people in righteous indignation towards President Obama declaring publicly “they will do everything in their power to thwart and block anything this president tries to do” why are we not surprised this Congress has the worst record of any Congress in history?  Equally important, the media through its correspondents repeatedly fail to ask members of Congress simple questions like “is there anything good this president has done?” “do you remember Mr. McConnell how you and a few others of your political party have repeatedly said your only goal is to make sure this president fails?”  And now that Republicans have political control of both houses of Congress they are calling upon the president to “work with them”. Mr. McConnell, Speaker Boehner “you might as well get used to me, I belong here, I am living without apology.”
    All of my life I have been working to make sure no one will be marginalized or written off because we do not fit the flawed images held by white people of what they think we are supposed to look like or be. However, if you live in denial that race makes a difference in how a person is treated you begin to believe that.  Such expressions as “why don’t black people get a job, or why don’t they get an education or why are they always complaining about race race.”?
Unfortunately, the McConnells and Boheners and Limbaugh’s and others like them have never believed that a Black man should ever, ever be the President of the United States.  They still seethe each time they see President Obama bounding up the stairs of Air Force One (which they believed to be exclusively for them).  The presidency to their mind has been reserved for white men and they remain in shock, they are angry and they are determined to do everything in their power to make sure this never happens again.  What newscasters, pundits, scholars and others won’t talk about is what I have just said and that is puzzling to me.  Well, here’s to all of you: I am living like its meant to be, I am living without apology, I belong here, so you might as well get used to me.”
       Tonight the President is scheduled to make use of his constitutional authority to address the Immigration matter and already the three major media networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, have decided not to carry the President’s message. However, two Hispanic networks and CNN are poised to carry President Obama’s important message.  Why is that?  I am not sure if this has ever happened before with the networks especially on such a controversial topic as Immigration.  Whatever the reasons, Republican threats and posturing towards President Obama are being reported over and over again on the networks.  They seemed to be crazed about this president using his constitutional powers which is revealing their true character and racist attitudes.  Unfortunately, many people agree with the networks and the Republicans threats by making such dumb statements like ‘lets sue him, lets impeach him.”  And not only Republicans but some Democrats agree President Obama should wait until the new members of the Congress are seated promising they will give the Immigration discussion a fair chance.  Why would the President trust that?   Might as well get used to me, I am living without apology, I belong here.
    In the meantime, the correspondents like Blitzer and Tapper and others have not asked any of the Republicans railing against President Obama the crucial questions. Unemployment was 7.8% when President Obama took office in 2009 and it is now 5.8%, Dow was 7,949 in 2009 it is now 17.573. GDP was -5.4 but is now +3.5; deficit was 9.8 in 2009 and it is now 2.8. Why aren’t these critics being asked about these facts?  Why don’t the correspondents remind the President’s critics why they refuse to give the president credit for anything he does or about the accomplishments that have been made since he took office?  Now that John McClain will be chair of the Armed Forces Committee in the Senate, I am wondering if he will try to impose his failed policies upon the Obama administration and how will the press treat him?  I still believe the election of Barack Obama twice to the office of the presidency is the major factor driving white men to unprecedented racial and homophobic rants about the President?  In case it is, I believe it to be a good thing because they are only affirming what we already knew they were thinking about black folks anyway.  After all in their minds the election of a black man to the presidency of the United States was never supposed to happen in the first place. Looking at “requirements” to become president Mr. Obama passes the test with flying colors except of course, he is black.  Instead they say he is “smug, an elitist and egotist” all being words of denial about their true feelings of being racists.  So few are ready to talk about these matters and instead couch their words in phrases and terms which do not get at the heart of the matter.  I say again, these are my thoughts and opinions and I have no need to be “right” about what I have said rather I need to be heard.  In hearing what I have written one can agree or disagree and that is my right as much as it is yours.  By doing so we can enter into honest and open dialogue about what we think and believe.  As long as we are open and transparent about our beliefs the better it will be.  I firmly disagree with some of what President Obama is doing and saying and I let him know that through the contacts I have of people close to him.  However, he deserves to be heard and to be respected as the Leader of the Free world.  Nothing more and nothing less because the President’s office is sacred and therefore must be respected by all.  Whether the president is a woman, or Hispanic or Black should be of no consequence.  Again I say “you might as well get used to me.”
   As a nation waits to hear the verdict of the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri it seems clear to me major mistakes have already been made by the authorities. The first mistake is declaring a State of Emergency by the Governor.  Secondly, inserting 5000 police officers to keep the peace. Thirdly, deploying the National Guard for standby in the case of violent protests. This kind of build up places more emphasis upon a armed response which creates an atmosphere of fear.  When any one of us responds out of fear there are serious and often violent consequences.  Very little has been said about groups in Ferguson who have been working since the flare up in August, to keep the peace, to provide space for dialogue and to engage in nonviolent protests.  Such a group is One Ferguson who too few people know about.  The media has not covered their efforts nor have the authorities worked closely with One Ferguson to hear their ideas and for them to hear what the authorities are thinking.  Given the police build up and instituting a state of emergency portends some in authority may already know the decision which may favor no indictment.  I don’t know this to be the case but my antenna  went up the moment I heard about the decisions of the Governor and police.  Again I say, you might as well get used to me, I am living without apology, I belong here.”
And so it is!
Dr. Paul

paulsmithblog