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

PERHAPS IT’S TIME FOR A TIME OUT

      I wonder if it’s time for Americans to have a time out?  When children are overactive or they have too much energy that causes a conflict with parents we often say to them ”alright! Time to have a time out.”  When is it time for grown ups to take a time out?  How did we get so cynical and negative about almost anything?  What has caused us to be so unkind towards one another?  Why are we so afraid of people who do not look like us?  Why are we so frightened by the Ebola virus?  Have you thought about it? Over 5000 people in West Africa have died of the virus and many more are infected yet our numbers in the U.S. are less than ten and only one person has died yet, we blame President Obama and the CDC for bringing this deadly virus to the United States.  How dumb is that?
A doctor who has volunteered to treat Ebola patients in West Africa is vilified and taunted by Americans for being “irresponsible”.  Here is one of many who have put themselves in harms way to save t  he lives of innocent people and we are acting like ungrateful children for his services.  I have no doubt this virus is potentially dangerous and the loss of just one life to the virus is too many.  However, we need to take a “time out” and allow the doctors, nurses and other professionals handle this matter.  Those wanting to shut off Africa from the rest of the world are only fanning the flame of hysteria.  What are we so afraid of people?  What is making us turn on each other with vicious and hurtful comments?  I cannot wait until the elections are over so I will not have to listen to the political candidates tearing each other apart with negative campaign ads.  No wonder we have such little respect for each other when all we hear are negative comments about everyone and everything.
I am more terrified by the kids shooting to death their classmates than I am of Ebola.  I am more afraid of ignorant politicians who will say or do almost anything just to get elected to office.  I am more afraid of politicians who place blame on viruses like Ebola yet, they quickly cut funds for research.  I am more afraid of the people who treat returning veterans from military duty like they are second class citizens.  My next door neighbor works at a hospital in Bethesda where he sees the maimed, the broken, and those without limbs having to fight the flawed system that is supposed to care for them.  Perhaps it is time for all of to take a step back and regain our sense of respect for each other.
I would recommend that we do some real soul searching during our time outs.  Think about these words if you will? “I prefer to live by choice, not by chance.” I choose self-esteem, not self pity. I prefer to make changes, not excuses.  I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinions of others. ask yourself: how can I change the narrative of my life?  dreams have no expiration date. cancel your subscription with people who always angry or upset about something. Take time to pray, to meditate, to be silent, to be motivated, to be kind, to be thoughtful, to care more for other people.
My spiritual partner Marsha reminds me over and over again how she refuses to be around people who are negative all of the time.  She goes on to remind me of the importance of finding sacred places to be authentic-to be heard and to learn how to laugh more and to be grateful for blessings seen and unseen.  Marsha also speaks about her need to “take time out” to re-group and regain her balance.  I would suggest that you find a spiritual partner as I have.  It should be the kind of person that really listens to you and you listen back.  Find that person from whom you derive strength and confidence and joy.  In your time out remember that you are not alone.  Remember the words of the spiritual song “I’m so glad trouble don’t last always.”  Take time to listen to music that speaks to something deep inside of you causing you to rejoice.  Listen to the laughter of children when they are playing together-it will make you ever so grateful and joyful.  Most importantly, remember these words: life is short, live it. love is rare, grab it, anger is bad, dump it, fear is awful, face it. Memory is sweet, cherish it.” And  so it is!  Dr. Paul

 

LEARNING WHEN TO LET GO

                  
          I believe many of you have seen the Geico Insurance commercial featuring Kenny Rogers where he is singing softly one of his old favorites ‘The Gambler: you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away’.  These words ring clearly when I think about the many relationships we all have.  There are the relationships with spouses, children, siblings, employers, friends and neighbors that are a major portion of our lives.  However, there comes a time when we must assess those relationships especially the ones upon which we depend heavily.  Or as Kenny Rogers would say “you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away” or else be drawn into the deep abyss of life. There comes a time when we just have to let go so we may move on and become better.
      I saw these words the other day and it caused me to truly think hard about the many relationships all of us are in.  Let go of people who dull your shine, who poison your spirit and bring you drama.. .cancel your subscription to their issues.  There are lots of people we all need to let go of but find it very difficult to do.  I can think of a number of people I need to let go of so I can work on being authentically me.  I want to work harder on managing the necessary relationships in my life.  I would like to be a better husband, father, pastor and friend.  Being brutally truthful I know there are some close relationships I have that I need to let go of.  I have difficulty doing so because I am often in conflict with my self-image (how others see me) and my self-fact (how I see myself).  If I can let go of some of the relationships that poison my spirit I can make room for relationships that are affirming and uplifting for my spirit.  If I can let go of the relationships that dull my shine I can make room for more light to shine upon me.
      I want to learn better how to balance my relationships with people who are willing to understand the differences between my self-image and my self fact.  I am always under siege by my self-image.  While that is not all bad it certainly is not who I am or strive to be.  My self-image is always, always drawing me to a place that is not always authentic.  I do appreciate what others think and say about me because it informs me as to what kind of relationship I wish to enter into or not.  My self-image does not necessarily define who I am because my self-image is not what I think of myself.  I’d like to think my self-image is a sort of proving ground where I wallow in the via positive of what is being said about me.  I often form my relationships with people who have been seduced by my self-image and not by my self fact. I want relationships where my self-fact is as honest and transparent as it can be.  It is important for all of my relationships to be created out of my self-fact.  This requires establishing relationships that can be authentic and genuine.  And if it is not, I want to cancel my subscription to that relationship.
    Letting go of my self-image is not always easy because my self-image always seems to be reinforced by matters that are shallow.  My self-image is always seducing me into thinking and believe the hype rather than the real substance of who I am.  I want to let go of all the people in my relationships that constantly try to dull my shine. By letting go of such relationships I am able to enter into the ‘discovery phase’ of my self-fact.  Those are the relationships I have that allow me to be me without making it difficult for you to be you. I am always on my way to establishing the kind of relationships where I do not have to pretend. In letting go  of relationships that poison my spirit I become more of a vessel willing to be used for the greater good.  My spirit is important to my becoming an apostle of sensitiveness and I cannot be that apostle with relationships that are constantly needing me.  I have to know when to ‘walk away’ and when ‘to run’ less I lose my gait.
      I mentioned how I re-discovered a former student and dear colleague in ministry after several years of losing contact.  When we reconnected it was as though we had never really been apart.  Ours is a relationship built upon friendship, family and faith.  Ours is the kind of relationship where we build each other up rather than tearing each other down.  Ours is a relationship which allows us to speak our truths to each other without judgment and without blame.  We both have ‘sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.’  Most importantly, we have learned how to listen for the sound of the genuine in each other.  Ours continue to be the kind of relationship where we can take our self-image with a grain of salt.  We have learned how to let go of the baggage that is non-essential for our continued journey.  Most importantly, we acknowledge the essential value of our self-fact that enables us to hear the sound of the genuine in each other.  Mike and I have secured our relationship of over thirty years with the seal of God’s blessings.  May all of us re-examine the relationships we are in and find ways to strengthen them so we can make them stronger or find a way to let them go. And may we have the courage to let go of the relationships that keep us from finding our true self fact.  And in doing so let us remember: life is short, live it. love is rare, grab it. anger is bad, dump it. fear is awful, face it. memory is sweet, cherish it. And so it is!
Dr. Paul

THE NEED FOR CONSTANCY NOT CONSISTENCY

      Trinity Church Wall Street is beginning its annual Discovery program, an adult faith and education series this week.  Two words describing the program caught my attention: constancy and consistency.  How do we understand these words in light of events occurring in our world today?  Several crises are upon us: attacks on ISIL; Ebola outbreak in Africa; continued racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo; political elections in November to name just a few. Clearly, there are many more complex issues weighing heavily upon us.  Let us begin with the PBS special last evening on “America After Ferguson”, where Correspondent Gwen Ifill carefully and skillfully moderated a very tense and complex conversation about race in America.
      Last year I attended the memorial service for South African President Nelson Mandela.  Here was a man who embodied the South African word “Ubuntu” or “human kindness”  a bond of sharing  that connects all humanity.”  How does anyone of us in our personal and professional lives embrace Ubuntu?  Is it possible to embrace Ubuntu with ISIL?  Is it possible to embrace Ubuntu in finding a way to defeat and control the Ebola outbreak in Africa?  Could Ubuntu work in Ferguson, Missouri or in American politics?  If we are to solve any of these recurring problems it will, in my opinion require us to have an understanding of Ubuntu in our interactions around the world.  It will also require constancy and consistency if we are to be successful.
Look, for a moment at Ferguson.  For several weeks this beleaguered community has been struggling to find a way out of its mistakes, false starts and unrest caused in the aftermath of the death of an unarmed black teen Michael Brown shot to death by a white police officer.  Now that is a mouthful!  In listening to the residents and others expressing their thoughts on this tragic death which has torn apart its citizens one thing is quite clear: the great racial divide with blacks and whites in America continues.  One need only listen to comments from both sides to realize America has a long ways to go. What makes the distance so long is our lack of constancy.  We have good conversations about most polemics occurring around the globe however, the lack of constancy in our efforts creates the great disconnect.  Without constancy in addressing our issues I am afraid it will be difficult to reach any sort of agreement.
To be constant in our effort to be truthful is a requirement for those who believe in a higher power.  To be constant in our effort to be honest in our relationships is a requirement for breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions about people we do not know nor who look like us.  To be constant and vigilant in our desire to be made whole is a requirement for breaking down racial and cultural barriers.  Constant means unchanging or firmness and faithful and steadfastness in all of our relationships.  Constancy is what leads us to freedom within ourselves.  Freedom results from a forgiveness that is complete.  We are the prisoner and not the one we need to forgive. There is Scripture to reinforce my point: Col.3:13. “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. . forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  President Obama declared in a speech: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, said: “the time is always right to do what is right.”  What prevents any of us from taking in these powerful words of affirmation? 
I continue to say to “I don’t have a need to be right as much as I have a need to be heard.” I don’t wish to throw out another’s beliefs nor my own, rather I want us both to be redeemed.  The great racial divide, the great religious and political divide occur because we are so sure we are right in what we believe in. How can we be so sure we are right when those opposing us are so sure they are right? Most importantly we must find a way to create safe spaces and safe conditions where honest and truthful conversations can be held.  So much of the disconnect within the U.S. Congress is that it is no longer a space where civil and honest discourse may take place.  If I cannot express my thoughts and opinions without being automatically described as a racist, homophobic or gender insensitive then how can I ever change?  I cringe at the thought of the NFL and the NBA are becoming the standard bearers of the discussion about diversity and inclusion.  I am disturbed that the media has become the standard bearers for discourse in America on almost any topic.  We are the ones we are waiting for to heal the brokenness and to find a still more excellent way out.
In my quest to be constant in my faith, trust and love I am always searching for a place which allows me to be wrong so I can be redeemed.  This requires all of us to let go of people who dull our shine or who poison our spirit and who bring you drama.  Cancel your subscription to their issues.  Cancel your subscription to folks who remain in denial about almost anything that asks them to consider another point of view.  May we not impose upon others what we ourselves do not desire.  We consistently rely upon bad habits and opinions that have no basis in reason or fact except as we know them.  Constancy is preferred because the God of my life is constant in loving me, in correcting me, in nudging me, in encouraging me to launch out into the deep.  God is most constant in my life and God continues to keep me grounded so I may find an opening to do His will.  And if you do not believe in God that is your right and privilege and you would be welcomed at my table.  I will not cut you off from dialogue and conversation as so often is the case.  I believe now is the time for us to recapture the dreams of those upon shoulders we stand.  It is impossible until it is done.  And so it is.  
Dr. Paul

IN SEARCH OF COMMON GROUND

       LIKE MANY OF YOU I HAVE BEEN WATCHING THE EVENTS TAKING PLACE IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI AND WONDERING WHETHER COMMON GROUND CAN EVER BE FOUND.  I CONFESS THAT EARLY ON THE IMAGES OF ARMORED VEHICLES ,RUBBER BULLETS ALONG WITH TEAR GAS BEING THROWN AT THE POLICE COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN ANY WHERE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.  IT WAS NOT THE MIDDLE EAST RATHER IT WAS AN AMERICAN CITY WHERE FIFTY TWO YEARS AGO I SPENT TIME AS A VERY YOUNG PASTOR. FERGUSON WAS 99% CAUCASIAN AT THAT TIME BUT THAT NUMBER IS NOW LESS THAN 25%.
THE LATE REV. DR. CARL DUDLEY AND I BEGAN AN INNOVATIVE AND EXCITING MINISTRY IN ST. LOUIS IN 1963.  ONE OF THE SIGNATURE PROGRAMS WE STARTED INVOLVED WHITE MEMBERS OF FIVE SUBURBAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCHES OF WHICH THE FERGUSON CHURCH AND ITS PASTOR WERE PARTICIPANTS.  WITH THE BLESSINGS OF ST. LOUIS PRESBYTERY AND THE FIVE CONGREGATIONS WE INVITED A MINIMUM OF TWO WHITE FAMILIES TO BECOME FULL MEMBERS OF BEREA PRESBYTEERIAN CHURCH WHICH AT THAT TIME WAS AN OLD HISTORIC AFRICAN AMERICAN CONGREGATION.  WE WERE MOVING INTO A BRAND NEW SANCTUARY AND EDUCATIONAL BUILDING WHICH HAD BECOME NEWSWORTHY BECAUSE OF A LARGE FISH NET HANGING AT THE CENTER OF THE SANCTUARY.  THIS WAS ONE OF SEVERAL CREATIVE IDEAS PASTOR DUDLEY INTRODUCED TO CHURCH ARCHITECTECTURE.  FERGUSON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CONGREGATIONS TO SEND FAMILES TO OUR PROGRAM.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR SENT OUT A CALL TO CHURCHES ALL OVER AMERICA TO JOIN HIM IN PEACEFUL NONVIOLENT PROTEST IN THE SOUTH.  CARL AND I WERE AMONG SOME OF THE VERY FIRST MINISTERS TO JOIN DR. KING.  WE ALSO ENCOURAGED THE WHITE PASTORS OF THE FIVE CONGREGATIONS TO JOIN US IN HEADING SOUTH TO SUPPORT DR. KING.  ALL FIVE SENIOR PASTORS IMMEDIATELY SIGNED UP TO GO TO SELMA AND THEY DID SO EVEN THOUGH THEIR CHURCH BOARDS THREATENED TO FIRE THEM IF THEY WENT SOUTH WITH US.  I REMEMBER OUR GOING TO FERGUSON THE NIGHT BEFORE WE WERE TO FLY TO SELMA.  AT THE END OF DINNER OUR HOST WHO WAS ONE OF THE FAMILIES OF FERGUSON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH PARTICIPATING IN OUR EXCHANGE PROGRAM SAID TO US: “WE UNFORTUNATELY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO JOIN YOU AND OUR MINISTER ON THE TRIP TO SELMA HOWEVER, WE WANT YOU TO KNOW YOU HAVE OUR SPIRITUAL, FINANCIAL AND PRAYERFUL SUPPORT SHOULD YOU NEED US. DO WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS RIGHT FOR EVERYONE AND KNOW THAT WE HAVE LAWYERS PRIMED TO COME TO ALABAMA SHOULD YOU BE ARRESTED.”  FERGUSON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH BECAME OUR STRONGEST SUPPORTER FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS OF OUR PASTORATE.
THE FERGUSON OF 55 YEARS AGO IS NOT THE FERGUSON WE HAVE SEEN ON THE SCREENS OF  TELEVISONS THE PAST TWO WEEKS.  THOSE DEMONSTRATING OVER THE SHOOTING DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN BY A WHITE POLICEMAN COULD CARE LESS ABOUT MY STORY AND I GET THAT.  WHAT IS TROUBLING ME IS THE SEEMINGLY LACK OF WHITE MINISTERS AND WHITES IN GENERAL IN THE PROTEST MARCHES.   I RAISE THE QUESTION, WHERE ARE THEY? DID THE CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANZATIONS TRY TO REACH OUT TO THEM?  IF NOT WHY NOT?  WHATEVER IS OR IS NOT NEGOTIATED GOING FORWARD WILL NECESSARILY HAVE TO INCLUDE WHITE PEOPLE.  THEY MUST BE AT THE TABLE TO MAKE SURE THEY HEAR THE PLAINTS OF BLACKS AND VICE VERSA.  DR. KING WAS ALWAYS OPEN TO SITTING AT THE TABLE WITH THE OPPRESSORS.  WHY CAN”T WE? AND I RARELY IF EVER SAW DR. KING ANGRY,  WHAT CAN’T WE?
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT FIFTY YEARS AGO INCLUDED WHITE MINISTERS, WHITE COLLEGE STUDENTS AS WELL AS ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CHRISTIANS AND JEWS.  WHERE ARE THESE ORGANIZATIONS NOW? WE WERE JOINED TOGETHER ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND THEY WERE SUBJECT TO ARRESTS AND INTIMIDATION AND BRUTALITY AS WE WERE.  WHERE ARE THEY NOW? GIVEN THE DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES RACIALLY AND SOCIAL MANY BLACK PROTESTERS DO NOT LOOK LIKE THE PROTESTERS OF FIFTY YEARS AGO.  I BELIEVE THIS CAUSES FEAR AMONG MANY WHITES AND BLACKS WHO IN THEIR OWN WAY HAVE STEREOTYPED AND PROFILED THE NEW GROUP OF PROTESTERS.  FIFTY YEARS AGO THE CONFLICTS WERE MORE IN SOUTHERN STATES THAN IN NORTHERN INDUSTRIAL AREAS WE SEE TODAY. WHAT HAS CHANGED?
AS I PREPARED TO PREACH AT A PREDOMINANTLY WHITE CONGREGATION LAST WEEK IN BETHESDA, MD I REALIZED I HAD NOT GOTTEN OVER SOME OF MY OWN PERSONAL ANGER AND OUTRAGE OF THE SHOOTING DEATHS OF MICHAEL AND ERIC BY THE GUNS OF WHITE POLICEMAN.  I WAS A REAL MESS UNTIL I RECEIVED TWO EMAILS FROM CLOSE FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES WHO ENDED THEIR MESSAGE TO ME WITH THESE WORDS: “THERE IS STILL REASON TO CELEBRATE.”IT WAS NOT UNTIL I SAW THESE WORDS IN FRONT OF ME THAT I REALIZED I COULD NOT PREACH A SERMON REFLECTING MY ANGER AND GRIEF AND DISAPPOINTMENT OVER THE SHOOTING DEATHS. I TURNED IMMEDIATELY TO I CORINTHIANS 13 PAUL’S LETTER TO THE CHURCH IN THAT CITY. THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE SPOKE VOLUMES ABOUT HOW I WAS APPROACHING MY SITUATION IN THE WRONG WAY.  IT HAS BEEN SAID THIS PARTICULAR EPISTLE IS THE BEST DEFINITION OF LOVE EVER PRINTED.  I ALLOWED PAUL’S WORDS TO TOUCH MY HEAD AND MY HEART AND IT SOON MADE A DIFFERENCE IN MY FEELINGS. I KNEW THERE WAS NO WAY FOR ME NOT TO BE OPEN AND PRAYERFUL IN MY TONE. I HAD TO PROVIDE AN OPENING FOR MYSELF BEFORE I COULD FIND AN OPENING FOR OTHERS.  I REMEMBER THE MANY LECTURES AND FOCUS GROUPS DISCUSSING WHETHER OR NOT  NONVIOLENCE COULD WORK AS A STRATEGY IN TODAY’S WORLD OF CONFLICTS.  WHEN I LEARNED OF THE HORRIFIC DEATH OF JOURNALIST JAMES FOLEY IT CAUSED ME TO WONDER WHETHER NONVIOLENCE COULD EVER BE PRACTICED IN TODAY’S WORLD AND I COULD NOT FIND AN ANSWER.  I PERSONALLY AM ALIVE TODAY HAVING PRACTICED NONVIOLENCE DURING MY PARTICIPATION IN MARCHES AND PROTESTS FIFTY YEARS AGO. MY MANYVISITS TO ALABAMA AND GEORGIA WERE FILLED WITH DANGER AND I COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED OR INJURED ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS BUT I WAS NOT AND I AM GRATEFUL FOR THAT.
I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO HEAR AGAIN THE WORDS : NOT BY MIGHT BUT BY MY SPIRIT SAYS THE LORD.” I WILL CONTINUE TO BELIEVE JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL FOR MICHAEL BROWN AND ERIC GARNER AND TRAYVON MARTIN BECAUSE I HAVE MORE FAITH IN WHAT GOD CAN DO FOR AMERICA THAN WHAT AMERICA CAN DO FOR ITSELF. JUSTICE DOES IN FACT ROLL DOWN LIKE A MIGHTY STREAM EACH DAY IN THE LIVES OF PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD.  MY HOPE AND MY PRAYER IS THAT ALL OF US MAY FIND WAYS TO ENTER INTO DIALOGUE WITH THOSE WHOSE OPINIONS MAY DIFFER FROM OURS.  I BELIEVE GOD PROVIDES OPENINGS FOR US TO ENTER INTO IF WE ONLY WOULD ALLOW OURSELVES TO LISTEN FOR THE CLUES. I HOPE YOU AND I MAY FIND THE STRENGTH AND COURAGE TO BE OURSELVES WITHOUT MAKING IT DIFFICULT FOR OTHERS TO BE THEMSELVES.  THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR COMMON GROUND BUT ITS UP TO US TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.  THERE IS ENOUGH ROOM AT THE TABLE OF NEGOTIATION AND RECONCILIATION FOR ALL OF US.  WHY NOT TAKE THAT FIRST STEP AND BEGIN A DIALOGUE WITH YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR CHILDREN YOUR ADVERSARIES-THE KIND OF DIALOGUE THAT DOES NOT PLACE BLAME RATHER IT BECOMES A DIALOGUE THAT IS OPEN TO CONFESSION.  BY DOING SO WE WILL BEGIN TO SEE CHANGE AND JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL IN OUR TIME.  AND SO IT IS!  DR. PAUL

I’M BACK AND WHAT A MESS

                                                                                          
      For the past few weeks my blog page has been under reconstruction. As many of you who know me I am totally in the dark when it comes to technology but thankfully my manager and faithful friend Sue Carlson has once again come to my rescue.  Over several days of back and forth conversations with our new site Sue has successfully gotten my blog back on track.  She deserves kudos for her efforts on my behalf.
   I am mortified by the events taking place around the world and within our own country.  My heart breaks upon seeing babies and children being turned back from the borders.  Photos of these innocent families with their children clinging to their arms touches my heart deeply. Like many of you I care about these families and I am keenly aware of the intricacies involved with Immigration.  There are things you and I do not know about the countries from whence these children and their families come from.  I admit that.  I support the sentiments of Pope Francis who urges compassion over politics in caring for the children. Immigration continues to be a political football at the expense of thousands of children and their families.  Let America be America again for all of them.
      You may remember the letter I wrote to my two grandsons after the Zimmerman verdict last year.  Trayvon Martin who was murdered was the age of my grandsons.  His death could easily have been my own grandsons and your own sons.  So imagine my horror when I saw the video coverage of a NYPD cop viciously grabbing Eric Garner by his neck along with other cops dragging him to the ground in a choke hold!  Eric called out 11 times that he could not breathe but that was not enough to stop the cruel and brutal murder by a white cop. Most disturbing for me was the comments from Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton who said “race was not a factor” in the death of Mr. Garner.  Who do they think they are kidding?  Rev. Sharpton got it right when he said “if the mayor’s son (who is black) did not have the last name de Blasio he could surely be a victim of the NYPD.  Until America acknowledges racist and racism exists America can never be America again!
     It is dangerous to even have a conversation about Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians. News commentators are very careful and cautious with their reporting of the conflict between Hamas and Israel so much so they are careful never to openly criticize Israel. I support the position that Israel has a right to exist.  I support the position that Palestinians have the right to exist.  However, I do not support the wanton killing of over 1600 Palestinians in Gaza many of whom are innocent women and children,  Their homes are shattered as are their lives and it appears to be no end in sight to the violence. Short term cease firings have been violated by both parties fueling even more determination to destroy each other.  Both parties are guilty and playing the blame game has not stopped the killing of innocent people.  Israeli’s and Palestinians must find common ground upon which they may stand and if they will not nor cannot there is no telling what will be left of them.  The U.S. must call Israel to task when they are wrong.  The. U.S. must call Hamas to task when they are wrong.  What’s so difficult about that?  Replenishing weapons to Israel so the bombing and shelling may continue must be questioned.  How difficult is that?  Hamas continuing to relentlessly drop hundreds of missiles per day on Israel must stop.  How difficult is that?  I know it is difficult because the conflict between Palestine and Israel has gone on for years and there are bad feelings between them.  Killing each other is never an answer.  Scripture reminds us that it is “not by might nor power but by my spirit says the Lord.”
      Our do nothing House of Representatives is embarrassing, completely unacceptable and downright an abomination.  The way both parties are acting spills over into the lives of every American.  Unfortunately we are becoming accustomed to dumb and stupid statements from Conservative politicians like Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachman to name a few.  What is newsworthy about any words spoken from the mouth of Sarah Palin for gods sake?  Call out the tea party for who they really are: homophobic, racially insensitive and hell bent on defeating any good thing that President Obama does for our country.  Why are we allowing this small band of people destroy our democratic process simply because they cannot accept a black man as POTUS?  Congress is just a few hours from leaving for a one month recess and what are they doing? Suing the President for doing his job because they won’t do their job.  How dumb is that and most importantly, when with the American people stand up and say “we have had enough.”?
    America has serious problems and we need serious and committed people to address them.  The do nothing Congress is wreaking havoc upon the psyche of the American people.  We say stupid and hurtful things to each other.  We treat each other with disdain.  We are so afraid to speak truth to power because of how our words will be interpreted or misinterpreted.  So, we say nothing and we demand nothing.  We are a nation of believers and we are a people who have common sense.  Now is the time for us to act out what we believe.  I continue to believe we can be better than we are.  I continue to believe we can know what is right and good for our nation.  I continue to believe that we can learn to live together as sisters and brothers if we only give ourselves a chance.  I continue to have faith in the art of lively and helpful debate.  I continue to be believe in a higher power that balances the universe we occupy.  I continue to believe the Creator has my best interest at heart even in the midst of everything going on in my life and yours.  We can be more civil and respectful of one another irrespective of our  race, ethnicity, our color our place of origin or our sexuality.  We can be better than we are.  We do not have to be so negative and we ought to be able to come together to solve our differences.  We can learn to live with our differences but we can only do so when we are truthful about what we feel and think.  Denial of our having blind spots in never good for any of us.  I continue to believe Dr. Howard Thurman’s words: how can I be me without making it difficult for you to be you.  Whatever your doing Lord please don’t do it without me.  Let me be the one daring to admit my short-comings and my weaknesses.  Let me be the one to devote myself to truth telling and to recognizing that it is “me, it is me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”  We only can come this way once in our lives so far as we know so may we find an opening- a pathway to a better understanding of one another.  May we find ways to seek forgiveness and to be forgiven.  May we walk more by faith than by sight until at last we come together before our Maker who lifts us up and says “well done thy good and faithful servant.”
And so it is!
Dr. Paul

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