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Artist, Teacher, Blogger concerned with American culture, its effect on faith and how Christianity effects American culture, specifically, what the word "christian" means to Americans today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tis The Season!


Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas this year. I know for a lot of people, this season wasn't what they were accustomed to, given our nation's current economy, but I hope that wasn't a deterrent in you being able to experience the joy of the season! Christmas really isn't about how much you have or how much you spend, it's about God's promise of a messiah manifesting in the person of Jesus Christ. For all of us who believe, He is the gift we received... the gift that keeps on giving. So regardless of whether Santa stuffed your stocking with major loot or you had a Charlie Brown tree with no gifts under it, I hope your Christmas was joyful because you were celebrating the best gift of all... the birth of Christ!

This year, I celebrated Christmas with music. I download a bunch of music and created a playlist with old Christmas carols. Sometimes you forget just how meaningful the old Christmas carols are until you really listen to them...all of the verses, and that's what I did this year. I used these songs as a meditation on the meaning of the season. Songs like, “O Come, O Come Emanuel”, which pleads with God to “...ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” This song is about how believers (which the song refers to as Israel) are being held captive by satan's tyrannical reign, and that Christ's coming frees us from satan's reign and gives us victory over death.

Another one of my favorites, “We Three Kings” is about the long journey three kings, or “wise men from the east”, as they are referred to in Matthew, Ch. 2, make in order to find Christ. The song says they traveled, “fields and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star”. Their trip was not quick and they went through great difficulty to find Christ, to worship at his feet and present him with gifts. It isn't always easy to find Christ.

We Three Kings” is also a reminder to me that Christ is for everyone. These kings or wise men from the east were not part of the “chosen people”. They were not part of the “in crowd “. They were not the chief priests or scribes (i.e., religious leaders of the day), they weren't even Jews, yet God chose to revealed himself to them anyway.

Whatever your circumstances this Christmas, I pray you make the journey to find Emanuel... “God with us” and give Him the gift of your heart so that He might give you the gift of victory over the grave... whatever that grave might be. The journey isn't always easy, but it is well worth it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I'm Thankful For...

While going through some old writings, I ran across a journal entry I wrote a couple of years ago. The entry addressed some of the challenges I faced in Chicago, and my deep appreciation for the people of that... my city. I can't express how deeply I love that place, even though I almost died there. I was hit by a car there and developed enlarged heart, just from the stress of being there, but it will always have special place in my heart.

Chicago is an amazing place... a place of extremes. Good and evil, beauty and decay, order and corruption. And on a good day, no city in this country shines more, but it's people are its real treasure. Amongst all the evil and corruption, people still find the courage to try and protect what good they find. People still attempt to protect those who do them good, who show them compassion and who speak the truth.

This entry was written May 31, 2009, after being hit and the enlarged heart and a number of other things but on this Thankgiving Day, the sentiments in this entry are just as true today and they were two years ago. And it is what I am most thankful for today:

Well... it's Sunday again! And for the first time in a long time, I'm not depressed about it. I've actually had a good Sunday. I woke up this morning and had my worship. It started in an unusual way, but I went there after all. I was able to worship and that means more to me than anything! It's such an important part of my life... of most people's lives actually, but many don't know it. I can't imagine anyone wanting to live without it. It gives me peace and joy and gives my life meaning.

I also finished “In Hanuman's Hands”... finally! I think what took me so long was all of the drug stuff. Sounds funny since without it, his story wouldn't have made as much sense, but it was so depressing, some days I just had to put it down and read something else. I eventually finished it because I loved to hear him speak about Hanuman. I look at the way Hanuman was with Cheeni, how long-suffering he was, and I know that's just like God. That's real love, but he always honored his will. Hanuman never left his side, always instructing and guiding gently, never overbearing. That's what I love about God. How could you not love Him when he takes so much care with you. When the one who holds heaven and earth in His hands, who created the moon and the stars and still takes time to come see about you... because He first loved you!

For me, it wasn't drugs, it was loneliness. Having been alone all of my life as an only child, I always longed to have someone who wouldn't leave me... that I actually wanted to stay. I went through periods when I thought that I would find an end to that loneliness with people, and for a short period of time I did with Kevin. But then we broke up and He died, and I was alone again, or so I thought. When I finally began to seek God for my peace and solace, for my comfort, I felt complete for the first time in my life. There's something so wonderful about worship and prayer, it just blesses the person worshiping so much, that I just can't see why anyone would want to live without it! I know I keep saying that, but it's just the truth. I begin to cry every time I say it cause it means so much to me. The tears are my hearts offering to God for being there with me and for me... always. I needed to know that no person could satisfy the longing that was in my heart so that I would seek God and truly know the love of my life. Jesus, I will praise you always for giving me that gift. I cherish it always and forever more.

Now, you might be wondering about the paradox I've gotten myself in. The one where I see the similarities between Hanuman and Christ and to be honest, I'm wondering about that one myself. I believe God transcends culture. Christ taught that but no one in church seems to be able to grasp this. He (Christ) was never interested in making people adopt a culture, it was always about faith in Him and the belief that God loves them. Why the church seems to need to strong-arm people into believing as they do is beyond me. Jesus never did. If Christ is supposed to be in them, then why don't they behave like Christ? This is the question that really tugs at my heart and is causing me to look at other things. I know that if people of other faiths hadn't prayed for me, and I know they have, I would not be here now. I wouldn't have made it these past two years in Chicago. I can't ignore or forget that and I thank them for their love, in the truest since of the word, that they've shown me. I bless them for listening to God's voice, and having mercy to look out for me. God will not forget their labor of love. I know they may have had other reasons for being there and looking out for me, but their acts of compassion have taught me so much, about this city, the people in it and that with all the evil that's here, God is here too and the mercy and the love that they've shown me, God will give back to them a hundred fold. You can't beat God giving.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Check Your Sources

Information is the engine that drives society today.  So many of us hasten to our computers, smartphones or other electronic devices as soon as we get wake up, to get the news of the day... and there's nothing wrong with that.  However we need to slow down and really think about where we are getting our news from, and check our sources.

In 2008, I attended the Rally for the Republic.  An event held by Ron Paul in St.Paul Minnesota.  The event itself was incredible.  I enjoyed all of the speaker Mr. Paul invited and was really impressed by the difference between Mr. Paul's event, and the GOP convention that was taking place directly across the street.  All of Mr. Paul's speakers were informative and substantive and there wasn't a single catch phrase used throughout the entire event.  Inside the arena, it wasn't politics as usual, however, outside the arena was a different story.

Outside the arena, I saw average Americans doing their best to wade through the onslaught of information now available through the internet and books and speaking with other concerned citizens about our changing American landscape.  "Concerned" is the key word.  They were concerned about the country, concerned about their place in it and concerned about where it was headed and they exercised their concern by looking at our nation's past.  Actually, this was why I had come to Minnesota myself, because I shared their concern. But what concerned me more than who was running for president or the Republican convention going on across the street (or the spies they sent over to check us out), or even the protestors that who had come to disrupt that convention, was the vast amount of misinformation I was hearing outside of our convention.

We seem to think, that just because information is published on the internet, that it must be right and many of the people at this convention used the internet to get their information and there's nothing wrong with that, but you still have to check your sources. I realize that my having a background in reality-television gives me a somewhat unfair advantage in this matter, since checking sources for accuracy was part of my job, but their are simple things that anyone can do before they disseminate information, especially when that information will be used by the public to make decisions that will effect our nation. One thing we can all do is check public records when possible.

I conducted a very interesting interview with Ashleighly Moody outside the convention center. He was very open and friendly and had a very interesting take on American History. I really enjoyed doing the interview, however when I got back home, the first thing I did was to check out a story he told about Anthony Johnson. When I first looked on the internet, I found this story online, told exactly as Mr. Moody had told me. But when I checked the public records, I get a completely different story. Take a look at the video below, and you'll see what I mean:
It is absolutely essential to have an informed electorate in order for democracy to work. As we enter this next election cycle and we get a new, massive wave of information, please remember to at least ask yourself the question, “Where did this information come from?” And when possible, check it yourself.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Somewhere around April 20, 2011 I saw a TED speaker video that featured Liz Coleman, who re-invented the Liberal Arts education at Bennington College in the mid 1990's.  I ran across my notes from her TED talk today and was really impressed with what she was able to accomplish and how pertinent it is today.  In reviewing my notes, one statement that she made really resonated with me, "We leave education and values to the fundamentalists who use this to their own benefit to create the absolutes of a theocracy."

"Values"is the word that I want to discuss today.  Ms. Bennington's statement begs the question, "How does one define their values without using or referencing their faith?  And collectively, "How does as society define our values without referencing a single religion?"  I know it can be done, but what is the process?

I know discussion of religious values and social mores is absolutely necessary in defining a societies values, but it has to be an informed discussion, with accurate, non-biased information.  Cliches and catch phrases won't work.  Right wing-religious-hate mongering-political , pseudo journalist- talking heads won't work, and neither will radical atheist religion haters who seek to insult and defame all people of faith.  We all live and have a right to live and believe as we please in this society, so how do we keep the conversation civil with so many distracting and divisive voices out there?

Today, in 2011, in these United States, it is almost impossible to have that conversation.  I say "almost" because I still hold out hope that that conversation can and will take place.  It is needed now more than at any other time in our nations history.  Hopefully we will have this conversation before the next election.  Before things go too far in the wrong direction and it becomes too difficult to find our way back to center... and sanity.




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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As Our Worship Goes... So Goes Our Work

Well, I went to church on Sunday for Easter Service, and it was really interesting. At first, I was a little afraid. Afraid of seeing my former pastor again, since the last time I saw the pastor, it really wasn't all that great, however, it really wasn't that bad. I was shocked at how dead the service was. The praise team started with joy, at least a little, but ended on a real sour note. The service never took off at all and I was really very disappointed. The pastor's message was off, I was really shocked. It looks like I left that church at just the right time. The soloist was ok, but just ok. The way I heard others rave about how good they were, I was shocked to see just how mediocre they were. Their voice was strained, they didn't know how to use the mic (how to move it back and forth from the mouth to control how forcefully their voice came across) it was just really sad to see how bad it was. More importantly, there was no feeling behind the words. Sometimes that's actually more important than the persons ability. The pastor's attempt at preaching was dismal at best, and I'm not talking about their delivery. It was the point she was trying to get across... there wasn't a clear one. The point was convoluted... AND the delivery was choppy as the pastor stumbled over words and at times laughed nervously. It was a real train wreck.

Now my reason for bringing this up and writing about it was to make a greater comment on the state of the church as a whole. What I saw at my former church On Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday to some) is pretty much indicative of what I've seen in the church as a whole today. I've been to several churches, in several states, and seen the same thing repeatedly. As the quality of worship and teaching diminishes, so does the ability and expectations of its congregants.

I believe that there is a direct correlation between the intensity and quality of the worship/word we experience in our spiritual lives, and the intensity and quality of the work we produce in our daily lives. Both require passion. One cannot produce anything of value without it. It saddens me to see leaders in the Body intentionally leading their congregants to less passionate, and sometimes downright depressing worship and understanding of the word. Life is depressing enough. We need our worship to transcend the evil and mundane nature of this life. To shed the “grave clothes” of humanity and come into the presence of our Heavenly Father and enter into “His courts with praise.” Not doing so diminishes every aspect of our lives.

Instead today we see the church becoming stratified... by denomination, by class, by race, by gender and a host of other variables that have absolutely nothing to do with God. The Easter service I attended reminded me of what my students in Chicago talked about when they would report to me on Monday morning, what had gone on in their Sunday services. The inaccuracy of the teaching they received, or in some cases the lack of teaching all together. It was very disheartening to see, especially as the behavior of the students became more and more erratic. It seemed the greater the need for good teaching, the worse it got.

As I looked and listened to the pastor struggle to try to pull together a sermon, and the praise team struggle with the only job they have, to lead the congregation into worship, I began to see that my leaving my former church was the best thing I could have done. I DID “obey the prophet”, by that I mean the visiting Apostle, when I stopped attending that church. That I would be just as empty and hollow as many in that church have become... with a form of godliness, but without any of the power thereof, if I had stayed.

I thank God that He communicates with His people. That If we listen and obey, we will always be prepared for what is to come. That He prepares all those that He calls... even when we don't know it. That if we listen to that “still small voice” and move in faith, we will always be where we need to be, when we need to be there and equipped to do what we need to do, no matter how unqualified we (and the rest of the world for that matter) think we are.



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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Know your history... because it knows you!

One wouldn't think that a blog dedicated to the arts, culture and religion would be interested in U.S. History, but nothing could be further from the truth. History is the foundation of culture. Everything that we see and do and who we are, has its foundation in the past, whether we know it or not. This is why today's blog entry is entitled, “Know Your History... Because It Knows You”. We are formed by our history.

Now, you may wonder, “What has U.S. History got to do with me?” Especially if your family recently immigrated to this country or if you are unaware of any personal historical connections. Well, it has a lot to do with you. Speaking personally, I wasn't aware of any historical connections between my family and the history of this nation, except for the fact that a portion of my ancestors where slaves in the south. For a long time, I believed that was the only connection. I've recently come to find out that this is not true.

I was born in Chicago, Illinois in the late sixties, to parents who are 0 and 1 generation removed from the south. My mother was born in Chicago, but her mother was born in Columbus, Georgia and my father was born in Talladega, Alabama and moved to Chicago when he was 17. These facts were known to me for most of my life, however, I didn't realize how Chicago, the place of my birth, factored so prominently in my southern ancestry and would alter my future in California. I had to move back to Chicago in order to find the connection.

December 24, 2000, my mother and I started a church called, Agape Love Fellowship International Church in Hyde Park, a community in South Los Angeles. My mother was pastor (and still is) and I was support staff and “Jane of all trades”. We rented from and shared facilities with Hyde Park Congregational Church, a now defunct member of the Congregational Church, a denomination who is deeply rooted in American Abolitionist History and this is where my past and present began to connect.

We shared facilities with Hyde Park Congregational Church from Christmas eve, 2000 to November 2006 when the property was bought by another church. During our tenure there, I was fortunate enough to develop a relationship with its pastor, Pastor Kringle, read some congregational materials and really develop a relationship with the church. Now you might ask, “how does one develop a relationship with a church?”, and I do mean “the church”. My connection with Hyde Park Congregational was deeper than just my fondness for Pastor Kringle or the building. The church became a second home for me. Sometimes more of a home then where I was actually living. I spent many hours there, reading, in communal prayer, on the altar singing praise or alone just talking to God. The church seemed to embrace me at a time when I really needed to feel like I belonged somewhere. I knew as soon as I walked into the sanctuary, that I belonged there. When the building was sold, I was devastated and I missed the altar terribly. We were not able to find another facility to have services and Agape wound up having services at different members homes and the park for over a year; however I left Agape Love Fellowship International Church December 25, 2006, exactly six years after our first service.

December 25, 2006 began a year of exploration and movement for me. On that day, my mother became ill, and I knew it was something more serious than a cold. I knew that I had to step away from Agape, and venture out on my own, for my own benefit as well as for my mother's and that's exactly what I did. The first six months of 2007, I hopscotched from job to job, from Los Angeles to Chicago, from ministry to teaching. But before I left Los Angeles, I met someone whose family history would connect with the history of this nation, with abolitionism, inadvertently with congregationalism and to some degree, with my history and what I would experience in Chicago.

I met Danielle Crothers January or February of 2007. She was the girlfriend of my friend's son. While having a chance conversation with her boyfriend, I discovered that she was the descendent of Abolitionist, John Brown. For those of you who don't know, John Brown led a small band of abolitionists, black and white, who attacked an arsenal at Harper's Ferry in the state of Maryland on October 17, 1859. Brown and his band of men, waged war against the institution of slavery and the attack on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry was just the first of many battles the group planned. One might call it the first unofficial battle of the civil war.

Danielle Crothers,
Descendent of John Brown
John Brown,
Led raid on arsenal at 
Harper's Ferry, 1859

At the time of my meeting with Danielle, I simply thought, “How cool! It must be nice to know that your related to someone who fought and gave his life to a cause that drastically changed this nation.” I didn't immediately make the connection between Brown and congregationalism, but the information stayed in the back of my mind.

June 14, 2007, after arriving at work about an hour early, I was sitting in the roof-top garden of the highrise I worked in, and while dreading the thought of going in and crying uncontrollably, I had an epiphany. I didn't have to go in, or stay at that job, or for that matter stay in California. I picked up my cell, called my father and booked a flight and a rental car. By 2:30 that afternoon, I was on a plane to Chicago.

Once I landed in Chicago, it seemed as if the city was happy to see me. I picked up the rental car, and drove all night. I hadn't lived in Chicago since I was twelve, and hadn't visited in twelve years, yet I immediately knew my way around. I stopped at Michael's North, a diner that used to be on the corner of Clark and North Ave., and was greeted by a friendly, quirky wait staff, and a sign posted over the register that read, “I know my thoughts towards you , of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This quote from the book of Jeremiah, really resonated with me. To me, it meant I was on the right path. God confirming that my seemingly impulsive move was in fact me being lead, back to the city of my birth.

My time in Chicago was a real education. I call it Jesus Univ., because it seemed everywhere I went, I learned something about my history, the city's history or Illinois' role in this nation's history, specifically, the Civil War. While preparing reading lessons for my students, I found papers written on the abolitionist movement in Illinois. While attending a classical concert at the Chicago Cultural Center, I stumbled upon a photo of the First Baptist Congregational Church of Chicago, which was formally the First Congregational Church of Chicago, a stop on the Underground Railroad. While doing some personal research at the Chicago History Museum, I stumbled upon The Manual of the First Congregational Church of Chicago which was written in the 1870's. This document included the original statement of faith for the Chicago church and the scriptural foundation for the churches beliefs and structure.  About a year later, while doing some genealogical research at the Newberry Library, I stumbled upon the pastor's sermon at the Quarter Centennial of the First Congregational Church of Chicago which was celebrated May 21st and 22nd, 1876. This document, along with the manual, were absolutely earth shattering for me. Pastor Goodwin's sermon gave me goose bumps as I read it because he was speaking of things and recounting experiences that he had over a 130 years ago but were almost identical to what I had experienced at the Hyde Park Congregational facility in Los Angeles and teaching on the west-side of Chicago, just a few blocks from where the First Congregational building still stands. Pastor Goodwin's sermon recounts how a committee from First Congregational Church of Chicago had been instrumental in counseling President Lincoln before he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. And all of these events took place during the celebration of Lincoln's Bicentennial.

These events and others, coupled with the social changes I began to see in Chicago and had seen in L.A. before I left, caused me to think about the significance of having met Danielle in 2007. Was there a connection between who she was related to, the church I had grown to love and my “accidental” findings in Chicago? Was there any significance in the timing of our meeting, my move to Chicago and Lincoln's Bicentennial, or was it all just coincidence? Personally, I don't think so. The last three years, 2008 through 2010, were some of the most socially, economically and politically volatile in our nation's history. We've had culture wars, military wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic collapse, the rise of the Tea Party and our first African American President, who just happened to be from the Land of Lincoln, Illinois. We've had the rise of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and a myriad of other opinion Journalist more interested in agitating the masses than educating them by communicating unbiased facts. We've had controversies within the Christian Right and conflict between those who believe and those who don't.

Each of these factions believe their rights are more important that any other, and have stooped to the most base communication and behavior. If ever there was a time for those who have fought the hardest and given the most to speak to from the past, to remind us of their sacrifice, and to warn us of what could be in our future if we don't adjust our course, it's now. As a descendent of former slaves, born in the “Land of Lincoln” and connected by association the Congregational Church, I feel a special responsibility to be aware and diligent in protecting the liberties that were bought and paid for with the blood of those who came before me. Black and white, men and women, young and old, saints and sinners, have given all for the rights I enjoy. So maybe, the chance meeting of two descendents, the seed of the Abolitionist and the seed of the slave, was the universe's way of saying, “Remember where you come from, who you come from and what we were willing to give so that you might exist. Remember what we fought for, and don't let our sacrifice be in vain. Remember the unity and brotherhood we enjoyed and be emissaries of that brotherhood in your time. Know your history, because we knows... and love you.”

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome 2011!

Hello everyone and happy New Year!  I hope everyone had a blessed and joyful Christmas and will have a very prosperous New Year.

So far this year, I visited an old friend/acquaintance from church, and it was a very interesting experience.  It just showed me how much I've changed since living in Chicago the past 3 years, and how I'm not really the same person I was when I left in 2007, and I believe that's a good thing.  I've grown. But it also showed me that I'm no longer in sync with the people I knew who are still involved with the culture of church, or what I call "the cult of christianity".  I've grown out of it and that's a really good thing.

To be honest, New Year's Day felt more like Christmas to me than Christmas did.  I have a real expectation of something new and exciting taking place this year and I'm very interested to see how the year unfolds... waiting with baited breath.  I've rekindled my interest in Christian Church History and found a PBS Nova program that you might find interesting and one I really enjoyed, called "Building the Great Cathedrals."

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Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.


Hope you find it interesting.

Have a great New Year!


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