Sunday, April 26, 2009

Express yourself

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

It is one of our greatest challenges: expressing our faith to others. It is a touchy subject to discuss in this secular world we live in. I attended a rally where the moderator made it perfectly clear that when a young lady offer a prayer that she make it as broad as possible. Why would would you ask a Christian to pray for you if it is suppose to be bland and generic?

Why not invite a rabbi or an imam if you are concerned about diversity of faith? Every program I have ever attended when those leaders of their faith were invited, they prayed as they would pray in their houses of worship. Why do we have to compromise because we believe in a Savior who intercedes with the Father on our behalf?

I am not a zealot, and as a former public servant, I understand there has to be a balance with my personal faith and application of the U.S. Constitution. But my constitutional right is to be able to express myself and my faith as I wish. One may not ascribe to my beliefs and as long as I respect the beliefs of others, then I am operating within the parameters of the law.

But what must be important for those of us who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ is that we are not ashamed of the Gospel that defines our lives and strengthens our faith. We have been given a charge to express ourselves, not necessarily in a boisterous way, but in the way we act and comport ourselves.

We should give comfort, we should show compassion, we should be fair and just. More importantly, we must profess our faith and pray for all of God's children. Political correctness has its place as a discipline to show sensitivity, but it is not meant for you to compromise your values.

If you are a believer, then be a believer in public as well as in private. Be bold, but not belligerent. Be strong in your faith, but not obstinate. Be a voice of hope, not of fear. Our God is an awesome God. Don't be afraid to talk about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is Vindictiveness Justified?

Two incidents recently have caught my attention and put the aforementioned question in my mind. The first incident involved the cheer leading coach who was fired because it was discovered that she had posed for Playboy Magazine. The second incident involved the beauty queen who lost her chance for the Miss USA crown because of her answer concerning same-sex marriages.

In the first incident, the cheer leading coach had suspended the captain of the cheer leading team because she had missed three consecutive practices. The child then informed her mother that she had heard a rumor the coach had some pictures of her naked on the Internet. Sure enough, mom found them and promptly informed school officials.

In the second incident, the beauty queen, Ms. California, was making a strong case to be the next Miss USA. Then came the toughest part of the pageant, the Q & A session. In a true luck of the draw scenario, Perez Hilton, the openly gay Internet gossip blogger, was the judge Ms. California had to answer a question from. Hilton asked the contestant her position on same-sex marriages and after fumbling through the answer, she basically declared that marriage was between a man and a woman. Hilton did not like that answer, neither did the crowd and at least one other judge, a former Miss USA. Hence, Ms. North Carolina won and Ms. California was first runner-up.

I wonder how Ms. North Carolina would have answered that question.

Anyway, in the end it was probably right that the cheer leading coach was asked to step down based on the provocative pictures, but now that it is out in the open, she may be able to land another job teaching or training cheerleaders in the future.

In the end it is probably good that Ms. North Carolina, who nailed her question on the federal bailout plan, won because she was the best overall contestant and Ms. California was more polished on the morning talk shows than she was in that big moment. Ms. California more than likely has a job waiting for her on Fox News or CBN, so she will win out in the end.

But does it justify the vindictiveness of an angry mother or a single-issue activist? In a Machiavellian sort of way it does, but it should not be a standard practice, especially since it greatly impacts the lives of other individuals. There have been many moments in my life where I wanted to drop that hammer on somebody, especially in the political arena.

But I have always believed in the principle, what goes around, comes around. If I employed that vindictive strategy on others, it would give them license to use it on me. I hope that I will continue to have the self-discipline to stay within those boundaries. I also hope that others in the future would adhere to them as well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Handshakes and Tea Parties

As last week ended, President Obama was in Trinidad and a million Americans were being mobilized. No, we were not preparing to invade a Caribbean country, but these two separate events events made news worthy of noting.

While President Obama was attending the Summit of the Americas, finishing his foreign policy tour, about one million Americans gathered to protest the President's domestic policy efforts to revive the economy. In what many have called a preemptive strike, "Tea Parties" were held across the nation to protest what they say are inevitable tax increases to cover the expenses of the federal bailout plan.

So far, those tax increases do not seem to be on the horizon, at least not to the average taxpayer, but the protests, started by grassroots activists but usurped by Fox News and Newt Gingrich, have put many on notice that any sort of change in the economic policy will lead to a seismic shift in the body politic. 2010 should be an interesting election year.

Back in Trinidad, the President seems to have made a new friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez was all smiles when he met Obama on the first day of the summit. By the second day, Chavez became chummy enough with the President to give him a book. Now granted the book was forty years old and it was about how the USA has negatively impacted the Latin American countries, but it was a friendly gesture from an international leader who has roundly criticized the previous American president.

Obama said that one handshake and a gift does not immediately reverse years of discord, but he did acknowledge it was a good-spirited gesture. That was not the only highlight of a summit designed to discuss economics. Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan President gave a fifty-minute discourse on the evil past of the United States and all of the leaders were pressuring President Obama to end the embargo with Cuba.

That summit may have a bigger impact on our foreign policy than the G20 Summit held a week earlier because these are our closest neighbors. It will be interesting to see how the President responds in the coming months to the items discussed at the Summit of the Americas, while he is dealing with the tea parties at home.

Wonder how people would respond to a picture of President Obama shaking hands with Newt Gingrich?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fellowship

Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1 - 2:2, John 20:19-31

It is our duty to fellowship with others in the Christian faith. It was never meant for us to have a relationship with Jesus and God and keep it to ourselves. We are suppose to spread the Gospel and bring others into the fold. Then , we are to fellowship with each other, to keep each other strong in the faith.

Fellowship was important for the Disciples of Jesus for survival. They were being hunted by the Jews and Romans alike. It was the resurrection of Jesus that gave them the common purpose of staying together and the Holy Spirit dwelling in them that bolstered their faith.

We are burdened with many things in life and are constantly being persecuted by the enemy, yet we try to abandon the very things that strengthened the Disciples through their immediate adversity. We think that we can handle it ourselves instead of letting go and trusting God.

Our faith in God and our resolve in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our strength. When you are in battle with the powers of principalities of darkness, you have to rely on your strength. Give up your earthly pride, sacrifice your earthly ego and surrender them to God. The transformation that God will invoke within you will allow you to overcome anything the enemy places in your path.

When we place our faith in the God who can make the crooked places straight, we should have the faith that will show us how to get our lives back on track when we are led astray. That is why we must reach out to others along this temporal journey here on Earth, to build our strength and to be a blessing to others.

If you do not have a church home, find one. If you do have a church home, reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ. The joy of Jesus is not meant to be hoarded, it is meant to be shared. Follow the commission of our Lord and Savior and spread the good news, starting with the person next to you.

Friday, April 17, 2009

WTF #3

I was in a quandary about which WTF moment I wanted to expound upon: The Kutcher-CNN Twitter-off or the Domino's Pizza employee of the month video. After finding out that the Twitter contest, which was who could get 1 million followers first, was a charity event to bring awareness to the malaria problem around the world, I was cool with that event.

So my outrage can now be solely focused on the two nitwits in Domino's Pizza outfits that decided it was funny to put dried snot balls in sandwiches, videotape it and post it on YouTube. Now I know why Sen. John Stennis did not want C-SPAN in the U.S. Senate, some people don't need to be on television, or in this case, the Internet.

They said it was just an innocent prank. Well, that innocent prank cost them their jobs and may have cost Domino's Pizza future business and excessive health inspections. It is never cool to play with people's food, especially mine. We all have had fears about rebellious waiters and fast-food personnel doing grotesque things with our orders, and this video just confirmed those fears.

To say that these "workers" were stupid would be giving them a compliment. When people are dying eating products with pistachios and peanuts in them, and the U.S. Congress trying to make major decisions about regulating food safety in this country, the timing of this prank could not have been worse.

I hope the people in the restaurant industry across America take a good look at the video and remember these idiots' faces, for they should never be allowed to work in that industry again. This is a WTF moment that people will remember for a long time and may have lasting effects long after these fools stretch out their fifteen minutes of infamy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"I have seen the Lord!"

Acts 10:34-43 , Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:1-11, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-18 , Mark 16:1-8

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.' Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!' (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that he had said these things to her."
-- John 20, 1-18, NRSV

May God continue to bless you, be with you and keep you in His favor always, especially this day when we celebrate the exodus from bondage and the Resurrection.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Glimmers of hope and concern

President Obama referred to the current slight upturn in the economy as a glimmer of hope, which is more positive than he has been in recent months. However, he is right to only offer a glimmer because we are seeing a new world of economics evolving.

Case in point, people are getting a real shock as they are finding out that their credit is being slashed even thought they have not done anything but pay their bills. I have written about this before, but it is shocking to me that in a consumer driven economy, the credit companies are single-handily reducing the wealth of the nation and limiting spending power when a boost is needed.

If the government does not step in to strongly regulate these credit card companies, these companies will continue to reek havoc on this economy and the consumers this economy needs to have to fully recover.

Other concerns:
As stated before at the beginning of the year, the drug war in Mexico and the piracy off the Somalian coast were going to be the biggest issues of the year. So far that has come true and is affecting Americans. President Obama must act decisively and swiftly to control these threats or it could prove to be a thorn is his administration like the Iranian hostage crisis negatively impacted on President Carter's administration.

Finally, a personal note.

What is it going to take to get people to stop driving drunk? The latest victim: a young man who earlier in the evening had fulfilled a lifelong dream, pitching six shutout innings in a major league baseball game. Nick Adenhart died because a man named Andrew Thomas Gallo decided to become a lethal weapon by driving while intoxicated.

When I was a legislator, I successfully passed a bill that stated if a person is killed or injured as the result of an accident caused by a drunk driver, that drunk driver must post bail to be released. A year earlier, a drunk driver killed five children in an accident in Madison County, MS and the judge released the driver on his own recognisance. I was outraged that a judge felt that a man who used poor judgement to get into that tragic situation could be trusted to walk out of jail without bail.

Now I am satisfied that no one will ever be allowed that privilege again. If you drive drunk, you should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. You are a danger to society as a whole when you get behind the wheel drunk. Any danger to society must be taken off the streets.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Right to Work

What is "right to work"? To me, it is an oxymoron. While Southern states cast themselves as right to work states, they are really saying they are right to servitude states. If look at the states that call themselves right to work states, their per capita incomes are some of the lowest in the country.

They don't allow workers to sign contracts nor do they have protections for workers' safety. They definitely do not want you to join a union. Despite the historical fact that unions were the reason why certain safeguards and industry standards are in place, and that health insurance for employees and equal pay for equal work is even in the public discourse, these right to work states will tell you that this is not necessary and unions are bad for business.

Mississippians are so grateful to find employment in these labor-intensive jobs that they buy into these arguments. That is sad, because Jesus implored us not to sell our soul for earthly gain. We cannot continue to use the arguments of past, such as the unions are communist organizations, or modern day scapegoating of the current financial crisis, to justify denying people the right to organize and receive livable wages to sustain themselves.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is a way for workers to protect themselves from abusive, manipulative employers. They can join a union individually without a vote conducted and controlled by their bosses. I witnessed an union election in 2008 in Canton. The employees were told all sorts of things that would be taken away from them if they started a local in their plant, like losing leasing privileges and possibly being laid off. Naturally, these workers were scared enough where the majority needed to unionize failed.

However, if the EFCA was in place, those folks that wanted be in a union could be, and those that did not, would not, yet not infringe on the other workers' ability to join. Sounds simple, right? Well not to the opponents of EFCA. They have made claims that unions would intimidate workers to join and that their right to privacy would be taken away. First point, federal labor laws protect employees from intimidation from any party to join or not to join a union. Second, it would be your right to join, your privacy would not be violated unless you decided to tell someone else you joined the union. Third, the elections for creating a union are not fair, as the aforementioned case illustrates, therefore, a fair election process is not a valid argument.

Let me put it to you this way, say you want to join the NRA, but 65 percent of your neighbors said that you cannot be a member, thus you could not join. Is that fair? Then why is it fair in the place where you earn a living to take care of your family?

It is time for Congress to stop playing games and pass the EFCA. Let's return freedom back into the workplace. Let's respect a person's rights at work, instead of just offering a right to work.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Listen to God

Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 14:1 - 15:47

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and prepare for the glorious day we call Easter Sunday, let us remember one simple task: listen to God. When we are facing challenges in our life, we tend to shut out God and try to do it alone. That will only lead to more grief.

God has always been there when we needed Him, but if we continually ignore His advice and guidance, we tend to fall into the traps the enemy has for us. Even Jesus needed to listen to God in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was taken away by high priest's mob. It is one thing to pray, but we have to wait for the response. We need a word from the Lord before we act in haste.

God's reassurance can get us through any situation. All we have to do is listen.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

41 years later

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped out of his room, room number 306, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee and stood on the second floor balcony. At 6:01 pm, a shot rang out and the bullet struck Dr. King in the neck. An hour and four minutes later, Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital.

41 years later, we are reminded always about this solemn day. The images of the more than 60 riots throughout America. The video of Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis, Indiana. The screams and the wails when the news was delivered.

I remember being alone in the living room that day in our second floor apartment in Chicago, Illinois. I was three years old. I was doing what three-year-olds do, playing in my own little world, when the noise from the television caught my attention. I saw a man talking from a desk with a picture of Dr. King in the background, with the writing underneath saying, "Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968."

I remember him saying Dr. King was shot and that is all. It was a couple of years later before I understood what had really happened and a few more years to understand the gravity of it all. My parents were quiet most of that time immediately following the assassination. Nobody pulled me aside to give me details or to ask how I was feeling. But in retrospect, I can tell you that the mood was very somber.

As the years moved on, and my awareness rose, I think about what impact that event had on America as a whole. It still feels like a major thread of the fabric that comprises America has been permanently unwoven. A major stain in our history that cannot be blotted out.

However, we have moved on and African-Americans have continued to make great strides. Yet I still wonder what would have happened if this event did not take place this day. Would Dr. King have lived long enough to see a President Barack Obama? Would there be more accountability within our own communities? Would we see more organized efforts to challenge the status quo?

All great hypothetical questions, but I guess the most important thing is that we have survived such a crushing blow. Our Moses, never seeing the Promised Land but doing God's will to help get us there, taught us well. Let us remember this day and his life, while continuing to learn lessons, build foundations and thus fulfilling his dream.

Friday, April 3, 2009

We can handle our own expectations

Well, the moment has finally happened. For those of us who have been die-hard Chicago Bears fans, this is the moment we have been waiting for since 1985. We now have a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback calling the signals in Soldier Field.

The Denver Broncos traded QB Jay Cutler to the Bears and a 2009 fifth-round draft pick in exchange for QB Kyle Orton, a 2009 first-round and third round pick, and a 2010 first round pick. Orton was 21-12 as the starting quarterback for the Bears, better than Rex Grossman (19-12) who led the Bears to their last Super Bowl trip. Orton was steady but not a deep-ball threat, which limits the potential for a speedster like Devin Hester at wide receiver. It is no surprise that while Orton was under center, the running backs and the tight ends were the top receivers on the team. It will be interesting if he can stretch the field in Denver with quality receivers like Brendon Marshall and Eddie Royal like Cutler did.

Now it is Cutler's turn in Chicago to work his magic. Throwing for over 4000 yards last year and with a cannon for an arm, the potential for a higher scoring, more productive offense in the Windy City is welcome news. The Chicago defense, which has carried the team for years, is getting older, which means they cannot be relied upon to win games week in and week out. Therefore it was welcome news to Bears fans when General Manager Jerry Angelo pulled the trigger quickly to make this deal happen. Even though Grossman was at best erratic in his play, he showed that when the Bears have a quarterback that can widen the field, combined with their still above average defense, they are legitimate threat to win a championship.

Matt Forte, the Bears new star running back, even becomes more of a threat with Cutler on the field. NFL defenses have to respect Cutler's ability to make plays deep down field, thus they do not have the luxury of crowding eight men in the box to shut down Forte. Expect Matt to have a monster season running the football, as well as catching those quick slants from Cutler.

Now the experts are saying that Chicago fans should not get their hopes up, that Minnesota and Green Bay are still better teams. The Bears, with Orton, split the season with the Vikings and the Packers last year and were one game away from making the playoffs. Cutler will help get Chicago over that hump.

The experts are saying that Cutler will be flat on his back most of the time, but the Bears also picked up 7-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace yesterday to help with that situation. So don't tell us not to get our hopes up, we know what we needed and yesterday our prayers were answered. Cutler is not a bad seed. He just needed to feel appreciated by the team he battled for, but with a new coach coming into Denver, conflicts developed and tensions rose. Cutler needed to get out and Chicago will welcome him with open arms.

We do have high hopes in Da Bears Nation, and no prognostication by the experts can diminish that. We know that a better team will hit the field in the fall and that finally, we have a quarterback in the truest sense of the word. Bear down, Chicago Bears.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Moats moving on

Ryan Moats is use to being watched and getting media attention. He is a professional football player. But now he is gathering attention for something he had not planned. Moats was the young black man that was detained by former Dallas Police officer Robert Powell on March 17 as he was driving his wife to the hospital to spend the last moments of his mother-in-law's life at her bedside.

As the world knows now, Powell stopped Moats for running a red light and detained them in the hospital parking lot. Moats' wife left the car and made it to her mother's bedside, but Moats did not. As of today, Powell has resigned and Moats is ready to move on.

Most of us would have been thinking about how we spend the money we would get in a lawsuit by now. Not Moats. He doesn't even want to meet with Powell face-to-face. He and his wife said in an interview that nothing can bring back that moment in time, so it is time to move on. They have expressed forgiveness for the act and toward Powell. They haven't even filed a formal complaint with the Dallas Police Department.

They are glad that the community has responded to this injustice and would encourage that people remain vigilant against these type of incidents. But the Moats' are ready to continue living their life as they want to, not to be solely defined by this moment in time.

Many people were pleased with the way Ryan Moats handled himself during the ordeal. Now we know that this was not an act. It is obvious that he has a deep spiritual core and that inner strength is carrying him and his family through. I am sure though that the next linebacker he runs into will experience some release of his tension, after all he is only human. And that is the way it should be.

Kudos to the Moats family for the class they have shown as they move forward. I offer my prayers and condolences to the family.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The moment of a lifetime

They say that first impressions are lasting. This is President Obama's first impression as the leader of the free world overseas. He will sit down with all of the most powerful leaders of the world today and tomorrow as he attends the G20 Summit.

While many are concerned about what Michelle Obama will wear while having tea with the Queen of England, most of us will be following what comes out of the summit. Will we reach better relations with Russia and China? Can we rebuild the coalition that was damaged during the Iraqi War? Will the President get the other financial leaders to continue stimulating their respective economies?

So far, so good. There is optimism abound and there is a genuine sense of good will leading up to the summit, but once the talks begin, we will see what happens. This is the magic moment many of us that supported Obama have been waiting for. We'll see if he can deliver in this grand stage.