Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Death on my mind

It all started with the death of Frank Melton. As stunning as that was to me, it could not prepare me for what has happened in the following weeks. As a child growing up, "Kung Fu" was one of my favorites TV shows, so I was saddened by the death of David Carradine. It was always my ambition to be old enough to stay up late to watch "The Tonight Show, so to hear about the passing of Ed McMahon was sad as well.

Then came June 25, 2009. Waking up that morning the news was telling the world that Farrah Fawcett had died. Courageous in her later life as she was beautiful, Fawcett's death was clearly a milestone moment for I remember as a budding teenager how captivating was her beauty. It didn't matter that she was white and I was Black, she was fine, and it seemed the whole world was in agreement. It is hard to believe she was only on "Charlie's Angels" for a season, because of the lasting impression she made on every young male mind.

Then, that afternoon, as I was Tweeting, I came across breaking news that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital, collapsing from an apparent heart attack. Heart Attack? MJ? Now I could deal with McMahon at 86, Carradine at 72, and at least we were prepared for Fawcett, 62, since she made it known she was dying of cancer. But Michael Jackson was 50, just six years my senior. It did not take long for my fear to be realized as very shortly Jackson was pronounced dead. Then Billy Mays, 49, the most watched man on television, suddenly died.

All of this dying just compounded the fact that I had buried my fraternity brother, Demetrius "Skip" Mason, 46, the week before. Next, the mother of a good friend, Carolyn Parker, finally lost her battle with cancer. Then yesterday, I found out that my high school principal, Dr. Patrick Ahern died. It is just overwhelming.

We all know that death is a part of life. It can be in your face, like the violent death of Neda Agha Soltan, who has become another martyr of oppression, or subtle as the death of a loved one in their sleep. For those of us in the Christian faith, we believe it is the last chapter of mortality and the first part of immortality. However, it is a painful marker in this journey called life. Jesus even wept when he had heard of Lazarus' passing.

When I use to send out official bereavement letters to constituents, I would always remind them of what the Psalmist said, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." It is a passage often referred to in times of grief to remind us that we still have life and that we should be glad, for we truly do not know when our time is coming.

Nevertheless, it still can be overwhelming when you are constantly being reminded of how old you are and how fragile life is. It motivates you to get in shape, until that first holiday binge, and then you are back to your old habits. It causes you to reflect on precious childhood memories and makes you realize how long that has really been. It gives a moment to reflect on how good you have it, until someone makes you angry or disrespects you.

Basically, it is a brief check-up from the neck up. It is placed on your mind so that you will never forget that your turn is coming. The question then becomes what will you do to prepare for it. Living life to the fullest and making funeral arrangements are not what I am talking about though. I am talking about what are you doing today to hear the phrase, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

What crosses are you willing to bear in this life? What sacrifices are you willing to make in this life? How many lives are you, personally, willing to positively impact, in this life? That is how you prepare for death. Making a decision to change the world as we know it, one person at a time.

There is a stanza in a Michael Jackson song that states, "I'm looking at the man in the mirror/I'm asking him to change his ways." If you have been selfish in your ambition, it is time to change your ways. If you have not done anything to reach out and help your fellow man, it is time to change your ways. If you have not made the effort reconcile your spiritual life, it is time to change your ways.

When I die, thousands of people will not leave flowers on my doorstep or attend the funeral. It probably will not be mentioned on the national news or featured on any magazines covers. But that is alright with me. As long as I hear those fateful words from God, "Well done, my good and faithful servant, well done," I would have accomplished what I wanted to do on my short trip in this world.

Death is on my mind, but it is not a burden. It is a goal, a deadline, to do what I need to do. I hope others can overcome their fear of death and look at it in the same way.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not take this time to say thank you to the aforementioned names. Thank you for the good that you did, for me personally and beyond, and thanks for the reminder for me to keep my house in order until it is my time to join you "in the sweet by and by."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More powerful than death or greed

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Psalm 130 , Psalm 30, Lamentations 3:23-33, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

As the previous week is being absorbed by those of us who are mere spectators in the lives of the rich and famous, we tend to seek answers based on our limited knowledge and power of observation. We, who were fans, have been moved by the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon and David Carradine. Those of us who have to try to live our lives to the best of our ability, we are appalled by the acts of greed by Bernie Madoff and Mark Sanford.

However, the answer lies not in forensic tests or political subpoenas. It lies in our faith. The instruction guide for our lives is the Holy Bible. The scriptures annotated deal with these subjects in many different ways based on different occurrences. The common thread though is that our faith should be our guide to seek the ultimate prize: the favor of God.

No matter how many millions of dollars you can attain, honestly or dishonestly, no matter what access you have to the most decadent of earthly pleasures, nothing is more precious, more rewarding or more valuable than attaining the favor of the Creator of the Universe. It is the favor of God that provides us comfort in times of grief. It is the favor of God that gives us the sustenance to fight off illness and overcome setbacks. It is the favor of God that gives us peace.

The favor of God is more powerful than death or greed because it is divinely ordained. You cannot buy it. You cannot charm your way into it. You cannot manipulate others for it. It must be freely given by God and it must be freely received by His creation. It transcends death to give us eternal life with Him who brought us into this world.

Politicians, socialites and celebrities base their careers seeking the favor and approval of other humans and define their success by their level of approval. But just like everything else in this world, that is temporal and can come crashing down in an instant. It is the equivalent to building a house on a weak foundation.

Those of us who seek the favor of God will have a stronger foundation to live in this world and will attain the ultimate reward: eternal life with the Father. Our future depends on God's favor, therefore we should never settle for anything less. A pat on the back will make you feel good for a moment. The favor of God will endure forever.

Choose wisely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 , I Samuel 17:57 - 18:5, 10-16, Job 38:1-11, Psalm 9:9-20, Psalm 133, Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Last night, I expressed some thoughts about being a father, especially about the responsibility. This morning, I want to talk about the pride. After playing some baseball with my son, I attended a birthday/going away party for one of my stepsons. James is going into the Air Force on Tuesday, so he will be in boot camp on his birthday in July.

As I sat back and observed the proceedings, I watched his father pull him to the side and talk to him, take pictures with him and enjoy the festivities. I was glad to see that, because we had our clashes as to how much of a role he should play in his life. James, who is named after his dad, never held any animosity toward his dad, no matter how many promises he broke. That is partially because I would not let him.

I constantly reminded him that he was blessed to have two fathers, two men who truly loved and cared for him. Judging from the responses last night, he got that. I took pride in watching a young man come into his own, hanging out with his girlfriend, socializing with the other adults attending, enjoying the moment while mentally preparing for the decision he made. I am so proud of him. He was a challenge to raise, but not in a totally negative way. I mean, he was a boy after all.

Now he is a man, and the next time I will see him, he will have evolved greatly in his manhood. I cannot hold his hand anymore. I cannot protect him anymore. He will be truly on his own. However, I am confident he is equipped for that and I am honored that I had a role in making that happen.

Now I have one more stepson to raise and that will be a challenge in a totally different way, as I have entered his life in a very late stage. I think it will work out, but it will not be as smooth as it was with my older stepsons. However, I know, from those earlier experiences, it will have a positive outcome, for he has never had a real father in his life.

My biological son loves me. I love him. I will continue to do all I can to show that to him, and with all the experience I have accumulated over these years being a co-father to other young men, I am confident that my son will make me just as proud as I am of his older stepbrothers. That is what Father's Day is all about to me: Pride, Responsibility and Love.

Christ said the most important thing we can do as human beings is love one another. It is imperative that a father loves his children.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some more random thoughts

I thought once the campaign season was over I would have more time to write my thoughts. That has not been the case. Therefore, I have to compartmentalize my thoughts and hope I can remember them when I have the time.

There is one thing that is on my mind to start off. The saga of Sammy Sosa. Sosa was one of my favorite Chicago athletes when he played for the Cubs and the White Sox. He was a speed guy with the Pale Hose with some power, but when he came across town to the Cubs, he became an icon of power. His ability to blast baseballs onto Waveland Avenue was a sight to behold and it was almost predictable. When Sosa hit the ball good, he would take this giant hop out of the batter's box, and we fans started tracking the flight of the ball to see how far it went.

In 1998, Sosa and Mark McGuire's chase of Roger Maris' single season record for home runs sparked an interest in baseball that was desperately needed after the strike of 1994. Fans and the national spotlight returned to the game, and Sosa and McGuire were hailed as heroes. Now ten years later, they are look upon as cheaters. This past week, Sosa's name came up as one of the 104 MLB players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, the same list that Alex Rodriguez showed up on.

What a disappointment. Although there was suspicion about Sosa before the news this past week, I hoped against hope that he did not cheat. Now for the record, taking steroids cannot improve hand-eye coordination, so he did have to exhibit above-ability ability. But arming that extraordinary ability with steroids made him more lethal when he made contact with the ball. The ball went a lot further because more power was in that swing.

In other words, a genuine moment of joy in a sport that I love has been tainted forever. I can't say that I am mad at Sosa, especially in the climate he played in, but I am very disappointed. Nevertheless, I will remember the moments of joy, like when a friend or a loved one dies, you remember the joy they brought to life instead of the death.

Meanwhile the world is moving on, with threats from North Korea, discussions about Israel-Palestinian relations, debates about health care reform and questionable elections in Iran. I had a fraternity brother die at the age of 46, one of my stepsons is going into the Air Force, and I am working at a job that pays little, but provides the benefits my son needs to have quality health insurance.

Although I have achieved much in my life, my son's recent birthday and the upcoming Father's Day celebration remind me of my greatest achievement and my greatest responsibility. Sometimes it seems daunting, trying to balance the demands of my work and passion with the duties of fatherhood. It is even harder since I do not live with him everyday. I am doing the best that I can and I hope that in the end, when he has made it to adulthood, that he will appreciate what I tried to do for him, even if that meant I could not hang out with him all the time.

My lack of finances compromises me in many things, but I know it does not compromise my love for him. I just hope he will figure it out someday. I guess I am writing my Father's Day piece a day early, but in truth all I have to say is that I pray that God gives me the strength and the resources to be the father I need to be. Now if you excuse me, my son has requested my presence in a game of baseball.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We grow because of Him

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 20, Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 4:26-34

Our lives have been touched by God in many ways. When we face adversity, we manage to overcome. When we get sick, we are healed.When we struggle financially, we are given the resources to survive. Our faith is the commodity that is the common thread in times of crisis and challenge.

Therefore, since our faith is directed toward God, God helps us through our struggles. Our triumph over struggles helps us grow into better Christians and thus better children of Our Creator. Our growth is part of our anointing. When God chooses us to carry forth His mission, He understands that our journey will be a rough one. But the strength we draw from, our faith, allows to re-focus our efforts and help us to carry out the purpose God has set forth for us.

Samuel was instructed to find from the sons of Jesse a king for the people of Israel. Despite all of the other brothers' looks or skill set , it was the Sheppard boy, David, whom God anointed for the crown. In other words, it does not matter what people say you should be doing, or what they believe you have the skill set for, God has given you a higher calling.

It is doing His will. It is to be done of our own free will, not based on other people's judgment or public opinion. When we live as though we understand what we are here for on earth, and not surrendering to earthly pressures, we will be able to do what God intended. We will grow because of Him.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Seven Years Ago

It was a calm, yet balmy morning. The sun had not risen yet as it was around 4 a.m. My wife and I got dressed and headed to Baptist Hospital for our appointment. Both of us were full of anticipation and hope. After we arrived at Baptist, we were escorted to our room and preparations were made for the upcoming event. At 6:30 a.m. my wife was wheeled into the operating room and I followed. Then the next twenty minutes changed my life.

It was at that moment that my son was born. Funny thing was he did not want to cooperate, as he squirmed away from the doctor momentarily to crawl back in the safe womb he was being extracted from. That was my first sign my son was smart. Nevertheless, he cooperated and let out his first scream without being prompted to do so.

The nurse let me hold him for a brief moment and then it was off to the tanning room where he was hand and foot printed and placed under his lamp. It was a far cry from when I came into this world, basically being stuck in a window sill so I could get my tan.

My son seemed content with the whole procedure while I was in a constant state of amazement and solemn respect all at the same time. He had a smile that was almost like a smirk, exuding a sense of confidence that everything was going to be alright. Looking at that bundle of joy, I had to agree.

Now, as I fast forward to the present, I am watching him take swimming lessons, playing video games and listening to him tell me about his "good" friend at school over lunch. It is hard to believe that seven years have gone by so fast.

My parents told me to cherish the moments that I have with him because they will be gone in an instant. They were so right. Eleven years from now, I will be writing about how his high school graduation was and how proud I am of him for what he has achieved. But, that is in the future, hopefully. Right now, I just have to marvel at the young man he is becoming, his steady striving for independence while maintaining his desire to be around his parents.

Pretty soon, we will be doing the Little League circuit, going on more road trips, talking about girls that are more than just "good" friends and all the other things fathers and sons do together. I look forward to those moments with the same anticipation I had seven years ago.

Happy Birthday, Son.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NHL vs. NBA

The National Hockey League obviously are students of Lamar Hunt, the founder of the American Football League. Hunt felt that if he put the best athletes on the field, thus putting the best show in front of a sports-hungry American public, that he could compete with the big boy, the National Football League. The AFL did well for awhile, with the Jets and the Chiefs beating the NFL's best head-to-head, but financially they were no match, and eventually had to merge. Same with the American Basketball Association and the Women's Professional Basketball League.

However, never before have we had a sport deliberately making a move to challenge another sport altogether. The NHL moved their Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to compete head-to-head with Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Good luck with that.

So why would the NHL make a move to challenge the NBA? To show that they are still the fourth major professional sport in America, especially to get TV time and the big advertisers. They have the stars, especially the young phenom Sidney Crosby, that are marketable. Let's face it, if Roger Federer is marketable, Alex Ovechkin is marketable.

But they have to have the numbers. Strong TV numbers against the NBA would send a message that professional hockey is here to stay and that advertisers should take notice. The Versus Network has made a major coup in securing the contract to broadcast NHL games, especially when ESPN let hockey go. Now to parlay that into a financial success, they have to get the major advertisements and their players have to get the endorsements like Wayne Gretzky use to get.

That is why the numbers are important. The only point I would make is that playoff hockey is much better than regular season hockey and the NHL All-Star Game sucks. I don't know what it would take to improve the All-Star Game other than to keep it simple, but that is a shortcoming they must address.

Look, there are hockey fans, there are basketball fans. The casual fan will be able to name the NBA players better than the NHL players. Nevertheless, hockey is one of the world's greatest, exciting and most athletic sports. For its sake, I hope this gambit pays off tonight, because hockey needs to be back in the limelight again.

BTW, the game starts at 8 pm EDT on NBC.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Send me to uplift

Isaiah 6:1-8, Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17



How many of us volunteer for a cause that we believe in or a charity we support? We will do anything to support something we are moved by, either financially or physically. Well, it is the same with our faith. We must be willing to volunteer ourselves to the cause of uplifting our fellow man and exposing them to the truth about our faith.

Many of us know the Scripture from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." What we do not remember is that this is a part of a conversation Jesus Christ had with a wealthy man named Nicodemus, who was seeking enlightenment and favor from God.

Jesus was basically recruiting Nicodemus to serve in order to inherit the reward of eternal life with the Father. It is our service to God that truly expresses our faith and invokes the Spirit within us. And we know from our teachings that the Spirit that dwells within us is not a spirit of fear or servitude, but a Spirit of confidence and leadership.

In order to fully enjoy the power that we inherited when we claimed our rightful salvation that Jesus was sent on Earth to secure, we must be willing to share the good news with others and perform service for the Lord, in various capacities. Our lives should always be a living testimony to the glory of God.

So go out and serve the Lord. Since our strength comes from Him, He will provide all the resources we will need to succeed. Again, it is all about exercising our faith so that we may inherit our rightful place in the Kingdom and be receptive to the truth. It is time for us to say to God, "Lord, send me".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Personal Pride

I take this moment to quickly express my personal pride in the election of several of my friends yesterday to public office. Paul Winfield was elected as the second African-American mayor of Vicksburg. Parker Wiseman was formally elected as the Mayor of Starkville. Carolyn Washington was elected to the city council of Rolling Fork and Tony Yarber was elected to the city council of Jackson. Winfield and Wiseman defeated incumbent mayors and Washington and Yarber won open seats.

All of them are under the age of 50 and won in their first ever political campaign. However, none of them were novices in the political process. Winfield had been the board attorney for Warren County and is currently the Treasurer of the Mississippi Democratic Party. Wiseman, whose father is the director of The John Stennis Institute of Government and Public Policy, has been president of the Young Democrats of Mississippi. Washington has been a field director for many local and congressional campaigns and Yarber is currently a elementary school principal.

These newly elected officials are the reason why I stay encouraged about politics in Mississippi and that is a subject that I will delve into in a future blog. Right now, I just want to go on the record to congratulate them on a hard fought victory and I look forward to watch them develop into the positive leaders I know they will become.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Tolerant Rant

On my Facebook page this morning I asked this question: As our young men and women fight radical Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq and Afghanistan, who is fighting the radical Christian fundamentalists here? Killing people in a church, is that a pro-life position?

Now to be fair, I will not hold all Christian fundamentalists accountable for the heinous act of violence that took the life of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas yesterday. However, there are Christian fundamentalists out there that are as dangerous as the terrorist that took Dr. Tiller's life. As we wage a war on terror overseas, we must be as willing and ready to wage a war on terrorists here in the United States.

The same intelligence that is being used on those who seek to harm our country from afar needs to be used right here on this soil. We have constitutional rights in this country, but the one provision that waives that right is treason. When any group of Americans seek to impose their will on a nation by force, it is treason towards this government, and should be dealt with as such.

That may sound harsh, that may make civil libertarians cringe, but it is what it is. Nat Turner and John Brown were treated that way, why not these militias that are springing up all over this country? No one should be shot at a church, regardless of their occupation, political opinion, race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation. It is my hope that every effort is made to make 100 percent sure that the gunman was a soloist. If he is connected with something bigger, every effort should be made to destroy that terrorist cell.

Jesus Christ taught me to be tolerant, and I do my dead-level best to be that way. But to see a person murdered in a church strikes a nerve, like a child being murdered in the streets of Chicago, or a person in the wealthiest nation in the world going to bed homeless and hungry. My tolerance is tested on a consistent basis.

Tolerance can also open the door for further abuses and anarchy if not mixed with vigilance. Case in point, Liberty University has decided not to sanction the College Democrats chapter there because of the Democratic Party's pro-choice position. The leadership of the university said that if the local chapter did not affiliate with the party or not campaign for pro-choice candidates, then they can be allowed to participate in campus activities.

Can you imagine the headlines on FoxNews and the National Review if Tougaloo College decided to disband the College Republicans chapter there based on the GOP's position on affirmative action and that the only way that they could be reinstated is that they distance their chapter from the national party and not endorse anti-affirmative action candidates? In other words, when you use a double-edged sword, remember it cuts both ways.

Those of us that are suppose to believe in the teachings of Christ have to be tolerant of other views of the world. We also know that we do not have to conform to the world we live in. Therefore, my political and personal belief is that even if I disagree with you, I will not try to kill you, nor will I try to muzzle you. On the other hand, I will not sit idly by when you seek to harm my fellow citizens, silence them or seek to commit acts of treason towards my country.

The beauty of the concept of free speech is that it tests our level of tolerance. When we start shutting down organizations at colleges or murdering people in churches, we are seriously flunking the test.

God, continue to give me the strength to pass the test.