***** 5 Star Serving Your Spouse *****

Question for Spouses and Lovers; If your lovin’ was named after a restaurant, what would it be? 

I didn’t ask my wife this question.  But rather I recently asked what’s her favorite restaurant.  Her answer was Citizen Kanes Steakhouse, a nice little spot in the St. Louis County municipal town named Kirkwood.  I took her there for our one and only visit during our most recent anniversary. 

Citizens came highly recommended by someone whose name escapes me.  But he or she had enough credibility to make break out in ‘big shot’ mode and make dinner reservations for what was sure to be a wonderful, but pricy experience. 

I was correct about all of the above.  The experience was awesome.  Sitting at a cozy little table in the corner upstairs, we enjoyed wine, appetizers and a steak that we both agreed was the best either of us ever had.  The service was nothing short of outstanding either.  We left the restaurant feeling extremely satisfied and thoroughly impressed.  We promised ourselves that we would visit again at some other special occasion.

citizen kanesCitizen Kanes

Part of what makes a restaurant experience unique, is the combination of meeting a primal need (eating for survival) and the extras that tap into another sensual desire which is to experience pleasure.  Eating touches four of the five senses.  i.e., sight, smell, touch, taste.  (You can get the fifth sense of hearing if the food is sizzling when you receive it.)

I liken the primal needs and pleasures of food to love and marriage.  Each partner embodies the restaurant service provider, as well as the one seeking to satisfy a hunger within.  To sustain health, we each need a steady diet.  Being fed once a month, week, or any random day is not going to make for a healthy and sustainable life.  However, food isn’t the only essential for creating an enjoyable dining experience.  There is also the atmosphere, the lighting, the décor.  A restaurant can have the best food, but if the atmosphere is not appealing to the eyes and nose, or if the host is not professional and inviting, even if the customer endures long enough to try to meal, the negative presentation can taint the entire experience.

The finest dining establishments entail minutia towards the slightest of details.  This includes the ingredients as well as the preparations.  The temperature and time in which to prepare certain items.  There isn’t just the main course, but the wine and the appetizers.  In order to succeed in providing Five Star service, I have to be on top of all the little details that make my abode a welcoming paradise.  Relationship food isn’t just functionally natural, it’s also emotional and spiritual.  It’s wrapped in a blanket of security and protection, fun and sensations.  I am the owner, the greeter, the server, the chef, and the general manager.  My #1 goal is to satisfy my customer so much that she never desires to eat at any other establishment.  I must be versatile and nuanced enough in becoming all things that I may please one.

wine

Perhaps you think this is all kind of over the top.  That it doesn’t take ‘all of that.’  Here is something to consider.  Your lover is your customer.  And your customer is going to be hungry.  You may think your customer should always just show up at your doorstep.  But don’t sleep on this; There are many restaurants to choose from.  All of them with signs advertising what it is they have to offer your lover.  Some restaurants cater to the cheap date.  They deliver fast food in just a few moments.  You can get drive-thru service; go to the window, make a request over the loudspeaker, (phone, email, IM) and ‘wham bam’ receive services without even getting out of the car.  Some go above that, perhaps he/she would have opportunity to sit down a while and enjoy a meal.  The experience may not be so good that they want to go everyday, but perhaps there is something on the menu they enjoy.  Other businesses go the the very top of the food chain.  (Pun intended)  And get this, none of these restaurants care about where your lover dined previously.  They will welcome his/her business now! It doesn’t always take that much effort either.  Hell, nowadays one can even get a meal at a gas station!

And so it is with your lover. My goal is to represent the best of what my wife desires, (the most flavorful steak ever with all of the extras) while being able to quickly convert to something she just wants to snack on.  Even she doesn’t want to eat steak every day.  In my eyes, when it comes to taste and service, the customer is always right.  As the service provider who wants her repeat and exclusive business, I must adapt according to what she desires on the menu at any given moment. I am her personal chef.  And I have to be open for business at all times.

The purpose behind the goal, is that as she goes about her business and she sees the lights of golden arches, spots the brightness of the castle; as she passes by that spot that sits outback, she won’t consider stopping in because she’s already full and satisfied. 

So I ask you, what is your loving like?  I want my lovin to be like….Citizen Kanes~

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Winning: Not Just About the X’s and O’s…

Growing up I was an awesome baseball player.  I ate, slept breathed the game.  Most times my talents were head and shoulders above any other player on the field.  Those who know me you know I don’t say these words lightly or to brag.  Certainly there is a much larger point to this story.  Hitting, fielding and strategy came easy for me and my passion caused me to work really hard at it.

I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  A series of unfortunate events made that a challenge I did not overcome.  As an adult I took up the game of basketball.  There were two reasons for this. 

1) I wanted to compete like I did in baseball.

2) It was easier to get 2-20 guys to play hoops than it was 18 to play baseball on any given day.

I’d played hoops growing up on the playgrounds or in gym class.  But I never went out for the team.  I pretty much started from scratch.   The guys I hung out with played often. In the summer, we played 5 nights a week.  Some of those guys were pretty damn good too.  Most were better than me.  I hung around getting ‘next’ or lobbied to get myself on a team.  Most times I came early to make sure I played before the well known ballers got to the court.  If my team didn’t win, my other four teammates would get picked up but that may have been the end of my night.  Having that feeling of desperation, I had to figure things out pretty quickly. 

Coach Board

I started with what I had.  I was fast, intelligent and fiercely competitive.  Scoring wise I had a quick first step and got to the hoop at will with only a right hand.  But that wasn’t my focus.  I worked on my defense, passing and setting picks.  Furthermore, I did what nobody else wanted to do, took on the best offensive player on the other team.  I took plenty of licks too.  Sometimes the game was over with before it even got started.  As time went on I got better at it though.  I became that guy that no offensive juggernaut my size or slightly above wanted to see.  They knew I would be on them like white on rice.  My goal was to shut them down.  For the upper echelon players, my goal was to bide my time, play my role and make an impact at a critical point before the final score was decided.  For example; if the game went to 12, even if my man scored 8, my goal was to make him miss or make a mistake at 10 or 11.  If the game was close my team still had a chance to win.

This happened more times than I can say.  And yet, as my game grew my status seemed stifled.  A playground full of guys can see me dominate defensively, hit a few jump shots and still leave me standing on the sidelines if my previous team lost.

After a while, my intensity and almost hatred of sporting perceptions of disrespect increased.  Since I wasn’t from the area that I lived in at the time, some of the guys would pick lesser players than me just because they knew them better.  Being picked last when I wasn’t the 10th best player on the court drove me harder.  My quiet yet burning mantra would be: “I know my own captain don’t respect me.  But I ended up with this team.  So fine.  YOU (the other team captain) on the other hand are going to regret that you didn’t pick me.  I’m going to make your life hell!  And most of the time I did just that.  Nothing gave me more joy and inner satisfaction that winning those games.

Fast forward 20 some years later, that chip never left my shoulder.  Among ‘serious hoopers,’ talent wise I was a serviceable basketball player.  I never tried to be Jordan but I knew my role and I knew how to win.  By this time I could score too.  I spent years in high level competition and seldom had my confidence shaken.  At this time, my mindset was to take on whatever role I sensed my team needed to help us win.  In my late 30s I started going to this gym on Monday and Wednesday nights.  There were many hoopers and wanna-be-hoopers.  Most of them at least a decade younger than me.  The games were intense.  One of my most memorable hoops moments happened as a result of me getting my lunch handed to me.  In this particular game I was matched against a local legend.  He was major in college and played in the pros too. I competed against this dude as hard and as smart as I could.  He shook me loose once and after that he never took an open shot against me.  I was all but in his shorts.  None of that mattered.  He ate me for lunch.  Tore my ass to pieces scoring at will.  I may have been in his mix, but he disposed of me like a professional assassin.  I walked away feeling good.  I knew he earned every basket he got. I was beaten by a much better man that night.  Charge it to the game…it happens.

Playground

But what happened the next time out is what surprised me.  The same player that busted my ass two nights before picked me on his team.  Me!  Of all the guys on the court I was the FIRST one he picked.  Not only that, I brought that same intensity and confidence with me and we rolled off 6 straight games that night closing the gym undefeated!  Every time I shot the ball, my nemeses from two nights ago would yell, “BUCKET” or “That’s Three!” and start running back to play defense before the ball even went in the goal.  And he was right.  I was on fire.  I still played the same level of defense and brought the intensity the whole night.  I’m thinking to myself; ‘Now that this guy had showed me respect, I couldn’t let him think he was wrong about me.’  He laid back and managed his game.  Scored when he felt like it which wasn’t much. He had fun watching me do my thing.  It was a night I’ll never forget.

The point of this entire story is this: Sports are often a reflection of life.  Sometimes it’s not about the Xs and O’s.  Its about NUTS!  Who’s got them, who doesn’t.  Playing basketball this way served as one measurement of my manhood.  Basketball in itself is just a game.  But it wasn’t about the game or whether I won or lost.  It was about testing my abilities and my will to overcome challenges and shortcomings.  It’s survival of the fittest.  Like rams butting heads or a pack of lions in a pit duking it out for respect and pissing all over to claim a piece of territory.  I’ve played lesser and greater players than myself over the years.  But my most satisfying victories came against guys that on paper I had no business being able to compete with.  For them, perhaps it was just another game.  For me, it showed me that I had what it takes to make it in the world.  That meant I could survive competition and adversity in the workplace.  That one day, I could be happy and live my dreams in life.  I too can be a winner!  I don’t think as men, we really know who we are and what we have within till we get into that den and see what we are made of.  My parents weren’t able to instill a winning attitude in me growing up.  Playing sports was partially how I gained that extra inner confidence.  I never saw myself owning my own business, but now I do.  And I am just getting started.

To have skill and expertise is great!  Education is priceless!  Connections are essential.  However, we can never underestimate the basic qualities of sheer effort, heart, desire, determination. There is a difference between winning and being a winner, losing and being a loser.

A man who won’t quit, cannot be stopped!  He’s just going to keep on coming till he get’s what he came for!

The Pioneering of another Jefferson

Before there was Idol, Hoarders, Snookie, and the Real House Porn Stars of Insert City; when people actually sat down and wrote content for entertainment, there was a ground breaking show called, “All In The Family.” In addition to the comedy, that show dealt with many of the issues America was dealing with at the time such as class, race, liberalism vs. conservatism, abortion, and so on. That content and quality of the show holds up today, though one would never see such a production today nor it’s fierce unapologetic critique of our ignorance unless Seth MacFarland sets it in animation.

Sherman Hemsley’s George Jefferson character on All In The Family and his verbal analytical challenges to Archie Bunker’s view of White Americanism was so impressive to the producers that they added a spin off show around George called, "The Jeffersons."

jefferson

George represented something that was never seen on TV at the time. Unlike the pervasive and all too common ghettoized back drop of Good Times, George was a business owner (Jefferson Cleaners) and lived in a high rise apartment in Manhattan. Not only was George not anybody’s servant, hell he even had a maid. And the genius of having Marla Gibb’s Florence Johnston’s maid character was that she actually had the boldness and freedom to say the things that so many maids wish they could say to their white bosses.

And boy did we laugh because although George was rich, with that also came a type of detachment he had to certain realities that most regular American people were dealing with. George was just as prejudice against his neighbors interracial marriage as Archie Bunker would have been, giving them something in common.

That show lasted for 11 seasons. And best believe without George Jefferson there is no Dr. Huckstable.

Thanks for your contributions Mr. Hemsley. R.I.P

My Evening With the G.O.A.T.

****Re-post in honor of The G.O.A.T / Original January 17 2012****

Upon hearing that today is the 70th Birthday for the (Greatest of All Time) Muhammad Ali, it reminded me of the evening that I was honored to spend with The Champ.  The year was 2005 and the occasion was “The Butterfly Ball” in Atlanta, Georgia.  The event was a fundraiser for The Ali Center, a museum dedicated to the career and humanitarian efforts of Ali that was being constructed in Louisville, KY.

Before I go further you have to understand what Muhammad Ali meant to me growing up in the 70s.  As a child there were two celebrities that I looked up to.  Muhammad Ali and then Sugar Ray Leonard.  At the time I was too young to understand Ali’s political and heroic defiant stand against participating in the Vietnam War, and I wasn’t necessarily a boxing aficionado.  But what I did recognize was Ali’s charm, confidence, star power and unapologetic boldness in public at a time when many black public figures wouldn’t dare.  Inwardly I knew he was making a place for me and his persona gave me a definite sense of pride.  Muhammad Ali to me was so significant that he was almost legend and unreal; An ethereal figure on television that may as well have been from outer space in terms of what I felt was my chance at ever seeing him face to face.  That feeling never left me even as I grew older and cried when he lost in humiliating fashion at the of his career.

Ali and Lewis

(Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Tom Joyner)

The event was star studded and included people like Cornel West, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Tom Joyner, and many others including former Heavy Weight Champion Lennox Lewis, who gave $2 million of his own money because of the love he has for The Champ.  Brian McKnight had a trio set for the entertainment.  The week before making the trip to the ATL, I called Ali’s people and asked if there was a chance that I could meet The Champ and get a photo.  The woman on the phone told me that Ali hadn’t been feeling well as of late, but when he is generally he’s very generous of such request.  I hoped for the best.

After dinner and music, several speakers came up to talk about what Muhammad Ali has meant to them.  The most touching was probably Professor West who couldn’t hold back his tears as well as Ali’s daughter Lala who also tearfully recalled so many occasions where ‘daddy’  loved and cherished her and her siblings.  I was about 25 feet from the podium in awe.

Lala Ali

(Lala Ali, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali)

Finally when The Champ got up, he struggled to stand and speak but offered several jokes and took assorted pot shots and the people he loved.  Except for the laughs the room was totally silent as he spoke.  He was a total hoot.  When he finished and after he exited the stage I wanted to get a hand shake and possibly a photo.  The celebrities were getting theirs in and I was sort of intimidated to step in.  But then I thought to myself, “It’s now or never.  To hell with it man get in there!”

So I made my way through the big shots and tried to approach him.  He had a handler with him and I said, “Is it ok if I take a picture with The Champ?”  The handler said, “The Champ is tired and we need to get him out of here so he can rest.”  And this is what I’ll never forget…what gave Ali the beyond the universe status with me.  He heard me and pushed his handler away motioning me to come close to him.  I shook his hand and said my peace in his ear, then needed to get this photo taken quickly.  Over my right shoulder is Mayor Andrew Young.  I said, “Mayor would you mind,” handing him my camera.  He smiled with enthusiasm and said, “Sure.”  And there struggling to stand on his own The Champ made two fist and took that damn picture.

A few seconds later I looked at the camera hoping to God that the mayor didn’t screw up my photo and there it was.  I stared at it.  A photo of me and Muhammad Ali.  I thought back to my childhood and all that he had meant to me and thinking how untouchable I thought he’d be.  It was surreal as if time had stood still.  All I could think to myself was, “That’s freaking Muhammad Ali.  That’s freaking Muhammad Ali!”  Talking about ‘floating like a butterfly….’

If he had went on his way without taking the photo I still would have felt blessed.  It would have been all good and I would have understood.  But the fact that he pressed his way and didn’t “big time” me as just another cat he’s met out of millions, I will NEVER FORGET THAT!

For this reason as well as the many others are why he will always be The G.O.A.T. to me!

Happy Birthday Champ!

Me & The Greatest of All Time

(Me and the G.O.A.T.)

Catching Up With Charlie Bubba

**Parental Discretion Advised

Been a long time since I caught up with my old friend from the neighborhood.  For those not familiar, Charlie Bubba is an old timer from East St. Louis who was a friend of my father’s.   A street philosopher if you will, Bubba has a funny way of seeing politics, religion, and just life in general.  Normally I catch up to him say once a quarter.  But with my schedule it’s been quite a while since I’ve had the chance to get his opinions on the comings and goings of America and the world.

I saw Charlie at Lincoln Park over the weekend.  As usual he had his potions with him.   And I brought a little something myself.  He was glad to see me; and I him.  So after exchanging pleasantries, and toasting a sad goodbye to the two young children shot to death by their mother a few days ago, I pulled out my recorder to get the latest. 

Me:  CB.  What have you been vibing on lately?  What you wanna talk about?   Jobs, POTUS… 

CB: The president?  You mean Beohner’s Bitch?  Ha!  That’s what I call’em.  I swear I think he must have some compromising photos of Bama or something. Cause he is one compromising negro!  I mean got’damn.  He’s the POTUS!  How you gone let a mufucka tell YOU when to announce a fucking jobs bill?  Security?  Shit.  He’s the fuckin president.  You got secret service under the bed when he’s doing Michelle.  You control security.  You spose to be running the motherfucker!  You don’t let congress tell you what the fuck to do.  Now he put his self up against the NF fuckin L.  On opening fuckin night!  Dumb!  You think imma be lookin at his ass?  Imma tell you what I’m gonna do.  Imma be lit up at the spot with some Henney in one hand, and some ribs in another, seeing what kinda JOB the Packers gone do against Breese nem’.  Shit.  I’ll catch up in the morning.  He’s putting himself last so imma put him last. 

Me: I heard they may move the speech up a bit time wise.  But speaking of Michelle.  Do you think she speaks her mind or shares her opinion on these things?  What do you think she thinks?

 CB:  Imma tell you what she thinking.  She’s thinking do she want to keep the drapes she’s got in Chicago when she moves back in 2012.  She’s thinking about what school she wants to send her daughters to.  That’s what she’s thinking.

 Me:  So who’s going to challenge?

 CB: Shit I don’t know.  Anybody with a back bone for starters!  In this country nowadays.  It’s who ever talks the most shit no matter how ignorant.  I guess Mitt or that Ken Doll country preacher lookin dude. 

 Me: Rick Perry?

 CB: Yea that mother fucker.  He’s a scary son of a bitch too.  Just on the gay thing a while ago he was like New York can do its own thing.  States rights shit.  Then after the fact, signs the marriage act.  He don’t know whether he wants to be a preacher or a politician.  Hell I guess they both the same right?  And what the fuck he talkin about he would do the fed chairman in Texas?  After he supported him?  He ain’t shit.

 Me: What about Palin?  Is she getting in or not?

 CB: Palin… oh that bitch is fine ain’t she?  I’d tap that Alaskan ass.  (laughs hysterically)  But she ain’t givin it up is she?  She is the ultimate dick tease.  Ridin buses every other month talkin shit.  ‘Imma run… maybe… maybe not.  Imma suck ya dick, no I ain’t.  Imma let you get it…. SIKE!’  Attention whore!  She should thank McCain every day for putting her on the squad.  I’d like to see her and Bachmann in a debate though.  Bet Bachmann would bitch slap her silly ass.

 Me:  But Palin knows bows and arrows.

 CB: Touché mother fucker!  (laughing) The point is that irregardless, they should do a reality TV where all them fuckers are in the house like The Bachelor or something.  You know some Survivor type shit.  Let America vote.

 Me:  (laughing)  I feel you on that.  Then throw Gadhafi  in the mix too!

 CB: Oh hell yea!  Is he the emperor with no clothes or what?  Talkin about, “I’m in charge.  Ya’ll keep on fighting.  I know they ran me out the crib.  Took all my guns, swam in my pool and stole my goat skin silk sheets and shit.  But I will not be denied.”   That dude been in the palace too fucking long.  That’s probably how Castro would act.

 After a few more sips and laughs I asked Charlie Bubba what else had his ear in the news besides the obvious.  He thought for a second and then his eyes brightened. 

 CB: Oh yea!  White chicks gone missing.  I ain’t even going there on how they report when blonde women goes missing vs. Blacks or Mexicans.  Fuck that.  What I wonder is when they show all these news reports about who dunnit, why and all that shit.  They never have a mother fucker on there saying, “Hey stupid bitches – stop meeting mother fuckers on the computer box and leaving the country with them!  Niggas is crazy.  You might get killed! I mean what these gals think gonna happen to them?  In these days and times?  Got-damn where they get their decision makin skills from?  They give the sob stories, but never talk about the dumb ass decisions in the first place.  That’s what they need to be talkin about.  Do a whole special report on it!  Have Soladad or Coop do a special on it.  They can call it, “Dumb bitches meet a man in public a few times, meet his friends, parents and shit then leave for Aruba.”  How about that?

 Me:  That’s kinda hard Bubba.  But I get your point.

Soon after that it was time for me to go.  Charlie Bubba’s getting old and not looking as good these days.  Physically, life has taken its toll.  But his mind is still sharp and his opinions haven’t waned a bit.  I wished him well and told him to stay up.  His last words…

CB: Flyers got that ass spanked in Georgia last week.  (East St. Louis Football Team) (Coach) Sunkett is dumb.  He shakes hands with the other coaches when he wins but walks off the field when he loses.  What he may not realize is that if any school ask the conference for tapes, they get them.  Cause everybody hates him for embarrassing these White schools.  Period.  They got that whip though again though.  Hope the kids be eligible so the state won’t fuck them over again.  Imma check them out tonight.  Playin some school from Kansas.  We’ll see.  If it ain’t one thing it’s another.

ME: Later C-Bubba

CB: C-Mac my dude!

 

Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

‘Why I Refuse To Join A Church (Part 2)

Go to church but they tease us, with a picture of a blue-eyed Jesus!  –  Ice Cube

Well, sort of.  I don’t take these lyrics from Ice Cube’s rant from his classical African-American community critique “Us” as an issue of merely color; but rather ideology.

I tried to make this point in the last church I belonged to.  Our services were tailored in a fashion that allowed us to ask questions or make comments during the sermon.  As you can imagine, that made for some memorable experiences, both for the good and not so good.  At the time George W. Bush was campaigning for a  second term in the White House.  There was a heavy religious fervor regarding that election too.  Both Catholic and Protestant organizations were galvanized similarly (if not more) than they were in 2000.

My comment during the service was that I found the election season offered at least two different Jesuses.  Immediately when I said it there were cat calls from the other members.  “Oh no, there is only ONE Jesus.”  I think they thought I was being literal.  And I found it hard to explain, as I was cut off continuously.  My point was that while most Christian churches share the same basic bible for scripture references, Jesus’ points of emphasis and agenda seemed to go down racial, class, social and political divides.

I recall visiting a prominent church in South St. Louis when the subject of the election came up.  The pastor of the church said, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.  But I will say that I’m not voting for someone who is for killing babies.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, I can understand Jesus being bent about abortion, but he’s not bent about torture or bombings of civilian communities?  What about all of the other injustices and crimes against humanity out there perpetrated by men for political or ideological reasons?  Is that ultimately what this election is about?”  I’ll get back to that.

Later I attended a different church for a men’s breakfast.  As usual when the subject of men come up at such an event it’s natural for the meaning of manhood and how it’s manifested in society to be brought up.  Some of the speakers made a point of making sure that homosexuality and manhood had nothing in common.  In doing so words and phrases to describe gays or being gay were slung around.  They consisted of standards such as ‘sweet’ ‘sissies’ and ‘punks’ to name a few.  Then there was the usual reference to Adam and Steve.

While all of these black macho evangelical males “amen’d” and approved of this name calling, I raised my hand and asked a question:

(Paraphrasing)

“I hear all of this name and cat calling regarding the homosexual community.  And while I respect the fact that your brand of faith entitles you the right to have your own opinion that homosexuality is a sin, do you honestly believe that Jesus would endorse the name calling that some of you are using such as ‘sissy,’ ‘punk’ or even ‘fags?’ “ 

At that point the pastor was silent.  To speak boldly like this against the precepts of leadership in a powerful black church is not something grinned upon.  But one of the elders jumped in quickly to the rescue.  With anger he burst from his seat and started spouting off scriptures in Leviticus and how homosexuality was a sin and that God didn’t like it and neither should any Christian.  He was practically foaming at the mouth from the front of the sanctuary as he looked towards my way in the back.

I reiterated:

“I’m not discussing the validity or non validation of homosexuality as a sin.  What I am asking… is that if there were homosexuals in this congregation, (and chances are there one or more among this group of men) if I were a homosexual who was struggling with my sexual identity vs. what I believe my faith allows, would your words as well as your spiritual disposition attract me to you as a source of help, or would I be repulsed, insulted or put off by your tone?  Would Jesus address a person who happens to be a homosexual with the names you choose along with your mocking tone?”  

DEAD SILENCE in the congregation.  I think some thought a fight was about to ensue.

The elder grew more angry, then shouted something else before the pastor got up and addressed my question… sort of.

“I understand what you are saying brother.  And perhaps you are right that we can do better with the name calling.  But let me be clear, homosexuality is a sin.  Now let’s move on.” 

This, among other things at that time, drew me to the conclusion that as far as the evangelical community was concerned, all God/Jesus really cared about were what I called the ‘Big 3’  Abortion, Homosexuality, and Stem Cell Research- all of which He was against.

That’s right.  Let it be known henceforth that these are the bullet points on Jesus’ hit list.  But was it really? 

The question of Jesus and the identification of his agenda have been going on thousands of years, right?  In the scriptures he seemed to identify it himself:

Matthew 16:13-15

13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is?

   14 And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

   15 He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am?

   16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In my estimation, this question is still the most divisive among Christian believers.  Who Jesus is- a direct result of what he endorses- stands for, evangelizes, and lives by.  As Christians (followers or Disciples of Christ) by very definition that agenda should translate into their own.  And this is where confusion and division has obviously settled in.

Let’s take it step by step.  While these are not absolute, I think we can agree that these are generally the focus, missions, and nature of Jesus, depending on the demographics and world view of the worshipper. 

During slavery a certain segment of the population believed that Jesus endorsed the enslavement of Africans which included selling, beating, raping and murdering people that Jesus/God created.  During this same period the slaves (often taught Christianity either from Catholics in Africa or Protestant enslaver in America) believed that Jesus would deliver them from their oppression. 

Similarly, during the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, The KKK (who defined themselves a Christian organization) believed as they do today that Jesus choose them to be superior, while other nationalities are inferior. Many churches, both black and white, believed that Jesus created, loves and values all men equally. 

These days we face many of the same challenges.  Some upwardly mobile church dogma believe that Jesus favors the wealthy while others believe Jesus is concerned for the poor.  

Let me give you a biblical example and how it may play out today:

John 6:5-14

5When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

   6And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.

   7Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.

   8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,

   9There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

   10And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

   11And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

   12When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

  13Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

   14Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

 Newt Gingrich

If something like this were to happen, one side of the Christian agenda would report it this way:

Boy donates food, Jesus takes the little and performs a miracle to serve thousands.  The people rejoice.

Another Christian agenda would report it this way:

Unemployed multitude threaten to mug little righteous boy who has food.  Jesus the self-appointed welfare socialist takes the food away from the one who had in order to spread the wealth.  Claims of a miracle go unsubstantiated, but Newt Gingrich says that Jesus should face prosecution for robbery.  Sara Palin said Jesus is an illegal alien- “just look at his name”- (Pronounced Hey-Seuss) and bad for American values.  Finally, Rush Limbaugh called him “The Magic Hebrew.” 

Ok (chuckle) I’m having a little fun with this.  But you get my point.  This conversation has political ramifications, but in this context it’s not political at all. 

I have attended many of these churches during my lifetime so I speak with experience.

The evidence shows that our depiction of Jesus, given his world view, is something either given to us by others or something we decide upon ourselves- based on our own background- sociopolitical, socioeconomic and dogmatic vantage point.  Christians decide which Jesus to follow based on what they are comfortable with.  That’s right.  Believe it or not, Christians have pretty much picked their own Jesus to worship and follow based on their own accepted set of criteria.

For those living in inner cities, their Jesus cares about the poor; thought not exclusively.  For many living in upper class neighborhoods, Jesus wants you to have riches.   Many ministers I know believe and teach directly that the level that God shows his favor and blessings upon you, and the very proof of your own level of faith is a direct result of the believer’s financial status.

 Rev Ike

Some Christians promote charity and believe that government should help with social causes.  Other Christians are for cutting any and everything having to do with helping those less fortunate.  It’s happening in this country in a big way right now.  I’m not making a judgment one way or the other but more asking why is it that so-called liberal Christians believe one thing while conservative Christians believe something else entirely – while reading the same bible?

I’ve heard it said that it’s up to moderate Muslims to speak out against radical Muslims who are for violent and other unrighteous acts done in their name.  While I agree with that I rarely see Christians doing the same. 

When have you heard of moderate Christians speaking out against Pastor Steve Anderson and Rev. Wiley Drake  for praying that President Obama dies?  Have you ever been up late and night and seen those ministry programs where they offer to sell you God’s blessing for $500-$1000?

So why not just join a church that chooses a Jesus I am comfortable with?

On the one hand, that sounds kind of attractive, right?  But on the other, I’m not so sure about that.  My own personal evangelical bent lends me to believe that God, by virture of being the creator of the universe (which includes my very existence), has the authority to demand without question first and foremost that he be in charge.  If that is the case I certainly don’t need to align myself with a church that simply makes me comfortable.  Furthermore, I can’t fathom believing in a gospel that is not transferable to any and all communities in the world.   I can’t believe a message in College Park, Georgia that could not be preached in the slums of Calcutta, India just because the economic opportunities are not the same.

The bottom line in my view is that Jesus (as we know him) has been bastardized and transformed into a political football, tossed to and fro by whoever wields his name.  He’s been labeled like soup, and packaged for consumption like a Happy Meal or an Ipad too often for the purposes of manipulation, domination, or deceit.  That’s not to say all churches, ministers, or parishioners, liberal or conservative, are all bad or good.   But what is the difference in that or any other religious group that have segments that do good work?   The point for me is that following God as I want to know him is so profoundly vital to my own spiritual growth and well-being, dogmatic preferences and spiritual limitations cancel my mere desire to belong in such a  group.

Read Why I Refuse To Join A Church Part 1 here.