Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shepastor: “Ministering to the Least of These,” A Testimony and Challenge From Rev. Monica Harmon, Chaplain.”

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” Luke 4:18 NIV

This week, Shepastor is reposting this important interview given by Rev. Monica Harmon...

A few weeks ago, I had an intriguing conversation with Rev. Monica Harmon, an Associate Minister at Antioch Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio and a community chaplain. She shared with me her experience of visiting a women’s prison in Topeka, Kansas during the American Baptist Biennial. Particularly striking was her story involving a young woman whose mother, sister and two brothers were all incarcerated. The woman, her mother and sister were all located at the same prison. This tragedy compelled me to ask Rev. Monica about her thoughts as she reflected upon this jarring experience. Below is her response…

The Five C’s

Tasha Cobbs, has the hottest new single “Break Every Chain.” This war cry is really an intercession for captives to be set free. Today we must continue to intercede for the least of these. Some of us may never go behind prison walls. You need to ask yourself why or why not? We have distanced ourselves from this reality for the least of these who find themselves serving time for one reason or another. My experience at the Topeka Correctional Institute is related to the Five C’s; challenge, call, communication, compassion and commitment. Recently, The American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministries invited ABC Chaplains for a two day training. Included in the training was an invitation to participate in a trip to Topeka Correctional Institute. While I was not excited about the idea, I decided to participate with the plan. As a result I was changed forever.

The U.S. criminal justice system challenges us to deal with the millions who are incarcerated. We are challenged to deal with the millions of children who are affected by their parent(s) being incarcerated. We are challenged, as Dr. Michelle Alexander states in her book, The New Jim Crow,” by legalized discrimination, demonization and criminalization of black men and women. We are challenged by those who believe justice is blind and everyone gets a fair trial. We are challenged by those who say social justice is no longer an issue.

We are called in Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18 to set those who are captives free. We are called to give them the good news. We are called to visit them according to Matthew 25:35-46. You and I have a responsibility to be our brothers’ keeper. You may say, “He is not my brother.” He may not be your brother, but he or she is somebody’s brother or sister. Where is your brother? Cain responded to the Lord, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” If not you, then who? We can no longer look for others to do for us, what we must do for ourselves.

We must begin to dialogue with those behind bars. When I heard those women’s stories I was amazed as to how they make it from day to day. Many are serving life sentences. We have to become active listeners. We need to hear their stories. We need to find out who is looking after their children. The most important part of any relationship is communication. Without communication there is no relation.

We need compassion in order to reach those behind bars who society has forgotten. I admit it, I had forgotten about women in prison until I was able to put a name with a face on them. Compassion was the key that kept me that day. It was not my love for them, but God’s divine love that enabled me to listen- listen without judgment. God is our only judge.
In order for change to take place in our society we must be committed to the least of these. We must be willing to open ourselves in order to be committed to changing what has become an epidemic. Wake up American. Wake up. We have been asleep too long. It is time to wake up. Where are the Drum Majors for Justice? Michelle Alexander’s work, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is a wake-up call for us all. I strongly urge you to read it!
Rev. Monica Harmon, Chaplain

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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shepastor: "May This Bloodshed Not Be In Vain"

John 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit. ASV

This past week, America was reminded in painful ways that we still have many rivers to cross when it comes to race relations. Although we have elected for two terms our first African American President, racism still looms large in America.

Statistics show that African American and Hispanic males are significantly more likely to be profiled, detained, prosecuted, incarcerated and killed than their Euro American counterparts. Though not to the extreme, as an African American woman, I too have experienced the sting and frustration of racial profiling. As I visit certain stores or neighborhoods, as I enter certain meetings or business rooms, the stares, the sudden appearance of a security guard, the not so subtle store clerk following me around, all serve as reminders that my milk chocolate brown skin still produces fear and suspicion in the majority society.

While legal pundits will argue that the recent tragedy of the murder of Trayvon Martin was not about racial profiling, common sense dictates otherwise. One can't help but wonder if this seventeen year old boy were White, walking down the street on the phone, eating skittles and drinking tea, if he would have been labeled, "suspicious." Arguments that Trayvon had drugs in his system, was guilty of previous crimes, appeared menacing, etc. are irrelevant. The simple fact is that he was walking home.

The testimony of his friend on the phone was discounted because she was in articulate, offensive to some in her appearance and "raw" in her testimony. Although cell phone records proved consistent with her testimony regarding timing, 911 calls revealed racial slurs and an admonition to stay in his car, George Zimmerman, armed with a gun, chose to follow and confront an unarmed, teenager.

Wasn't this child afraid? Wasn't this child filled with anxiety? Wasn't this child concerned about his safety? How did Zimmerman approach him? Did he walk up on him (as Trayvon's friend on the cell phone seemed to indicate)? We will never know. Only Zimmerman's account was believed. An unarmed teenager simply walking home, profiled and stalked by a stranger armed with a 9 millimeter gun fights for his life and is then shot and killed. No attempt was made to discover his identity. As his body lay in a morgue for days, labeled "John Doe," Zimmerman tells his story to the police and is allowed to go home. Only after Trayvon's father filed a missing person's report was his identity made known. Our hearts are broken.

May this tragedy provoke us to enter meaningful dialogue about dangerous laws, stereotypes and their implications and race relations in America. May Trayvon's shed blood push us to produce the fruit of "Justice for all," in our great Nation. I encourage you to visit Essence Magazine's article, "The Danger Outside: How Can We Protect Our Black Boys," at to consider further the realities that exist in our society.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shepastor: "Lazarus Dreams..."

John 11:38-41 Again feeling very upset, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with a large stone covering the entrance. He said, "Move the stone away. ”Martha said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since Lazarus died. There will be a bad smell.” Martha was the sister of the dead man. "Then Jesus said to her, 'Remember what I told you? I said that if you believed, you would see God’s divine greatness.' So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you heard me.'" ERV

The prolific Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes raised the question, "What happens to a dream deferred?" We can inquire further, "What happens when stones cover the passage way to our dreams? Is there hope that dead dreams can be revived?"

A Facebook friend recently posted the picture seen at the top of this post. After chuckling a while, I reflected upon its painful truth shared in a comical way. So often pessimists, fear, guilt, relatives and absent friends place stones before the passage way of our dreams. "Tombed up" and deferred for many seasons, often beautiful, possible, remarkable dreams die. How often have individuals shared their dreams and visions only to have them ridiculed, called silly or foolish, pummeled by others.

Be careful with whom you share your dreams. Be prayerful about the individuals with whom you share the hopes, visions and desires God has placed within your spirit. Be discerning about the recommendations and advice you accept, particularly from those who may have become bitter about life. If per chance your dreams are sealed up in a tomb, remember Jesus' words to Martha, "Then Jesus said to her, “Remember what I told you? I said that if you believed, you would see God’s divine greatness.” So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me."ERV

God can show you His divine greatness. Remember that Jesus petitions the Father on our behalf. Remember what Jesus said, that He is the Resurrection and the life... Remember that through Christ, resurrection, not only in eternity, but in our spirits, our dreams and our future is possible. Allow The Lord to call upon individuals in your life to help to roll the stone away. It does not matter how long the dreams have been in the tomb. They are willing and able to move at God's command. "Where are those who will assist me with removing the stone?" You ask? Begin the resurrection conversation with Jesus. Soon you will see them emerge. It begins with your inquiry.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Shepastor: “Envy: What Good Can We Glean from Such a Toxic Emotion?” Highlights from an article Written by Dr. Julie Exline

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:30, ESV
Scripture instructs that envy is like bone cancer to the heart that lets it remain. However, we all, at times, have fallen prey to its grip. Today’s Shepastor, highlights excerpts from a recent article in Psychology Today, written by clinical psychologist, Dr. Julie Exline, entitled, “Envy: What Good Can We Glean from Such a Toxic Emotion?”

Dr. Exline invites us to consider possible root causes of envy and how we can take something toxic and recycle it into something beneficial. Read on and be blessed…

Challenges in religious and spiritual life
by Julie Exline, Ph.D.

Envy: What Good Can We Glean from Such a Toxic Emotion?
Envy has a nasty side, but it can also be a useful signal of what matters to us.
Published on June 29, 2013 by Dr. Julie J. Exline, Ph.D. in Light and Shadow

Envy has a scent of death about it. It seems to creep up, unbidden, from some filthy gutter in the depths of the soul. It grabs you by the throat, squeezing tight. You taste its bitter poison in the back of your mouth. Envy has claws, too. If you see yourself as a kind and decent person, you might be shocked by the nasty thoughts your mind conjures up when envy strikes. You might not admit these bleak fantasies to anyone else (or even, fully, to yourself). But something inside you wants to take what the envied person has. You want to see the person fall—or at least be brought down a notch. And if something bad does happen to the envied person, you might take a certain grim pleasure in it—what Germans term schadenfreude, roughly translated as “shameful joy.” (For more on schadenfreude, check out Dr. Richard Smith’s new book, The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature.)

It’s little wonder that we call envy the green-eyed monster. Given its destructive power in our emotional lives and relationships, it certainly seems to deserve its time-honored place on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. And in terms of its potential to heap misery upon us, envy is tough to beat. But wait a minute. Even if envy is generally a bad thing, could it contain any seeds that could be used for good in our lives? Before tossing it on the trash heap, let’s see if this ugly feeling called envy contains anything that could possibly be redeemed…

One good aspect of intense negative emotions is that they have “signal value.” In other words, they tell us—often in a loud and obnoxious way—that something’s wrong. And if we pay attention to these signals of trouble, we might be able to turn things around.
Several years ago Richard Smith edited a book entitled Envy: Theory and Research. In one chapter of this book (“Antidotes to Envy: A Conceptual Framework”), Anne Zell and I proposed that envy can serve as a signal of desire, deficit, and disconnection. Listening to these signals may help us to manage feelings of envy. I’ll briefly summarize a few of our ideas here.

Desire. Envy tells us a lot about our desires, because we tend to feel envy in areas that we see as personally relevant and important. I remember feeling an unexpected wave of envy when reading a letter from a friend who had traveled to several exotic locales. It wasn’t until I felt this envy that I recognized a yearning to travel to similar places myself. My friend hadn't done anything wrong, of course; but hearing about her adventures awakened my desire. And since I didn't recognize what was happening inside me, my initial response was to feel envious of my friend. Of course, not every desire that we identify will be healthy or wise to pursue. And some desires we simply can’t meet, such as a wish to be younger or taller. But it’s worth taking a close look at the desires underlying your envy. You just might discover a dream
End Quote

To read the entire article written by Dr. Exline, visit,

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris