Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shepastor: “Plato, Pavlov and Woodson Were On to Something…”

Jeremiah 5:21New Life Version (NLV)
21 ‘Hear this, O foolish people without understanding, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.

The “spirit of injustice” has dynamic morphing abilities. It is keen and deceptive. It somehow deludes its carriers into believing they are fighting for what is right, standing against that which is immoral while all the while becoming that which they claim to despise.

The Nation has watched as those zealous for the “unborn child” fight for their rights while within the womb, but turn a blind eye when those same children need healthcare benefits and a “healthy start.” We have watched as the Church “stands” against racism and poverty, but maintains and in action promotes sexism and inequality. But the most tragic manifestation of all of these human maladies (particularly in the case of sexism) is to watch the oppressed maintain their own oppressive status.

In his work The Republic (in short), Plato presents the analogy of “The Cave.” In it he describes individuals who have been chained together and forced to stare at a wall in a dark cave. Light from a fire presents shadows upon the wall – all they see day in and day out are distorted shadows. He suggests that if one of the prisoners were to break free and walk out towards the light, his eyes would burn and pain him and he would quickly turn back. If someone were to drag him, against his will out into the light, he would fight and despise the individual who was trying to free him.

Initially, the pain from the light would be overwhelming. However, eventually, his eyes would adjust and he would see the beauty of the outside world. Filled with joy of this new knowledge, he would try to return to the cave to free his former fellow prisoners. Upon re-entrance, his eyes would again hurt and hinder him from seeing the shadows that were once so clear in the darkness. His fellow prisoners would determine that whatever he experienced outside of the cave was so painful, they should never try to leave. Furthermore, they will try to kill anyone else who tries to leave again!

The Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiment with dogs asserted that dogs (and ultimately humans) could be “conditioned” to have certain responses when two otherwise unassociated items were paired. In his experiment, Pavlov rang a bell and then gave the dog food. After several times, the dogs began to salivate in response to the bell. The dog began to associate the bell with the food.

The late Dr. Carter G. Woodson declared the following about conditioning…

“If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
― Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
Plato, Pavlov and Woodson were definitely on to something! Tragically, in 2015, many of the oppressed still would rather remain in the proverbial cave and watch “shadows,” rather than endure the initial sting of the sunlight. As a female pastor, it pains me to see many of my sisters still making excuses for inequities in the church. Particularly as an African American clergy woman, the pain of the dichotomous reality we face is only superseded by other women who fight to maintain the status quo in order to reap the perceived rewards of affirmation from their male counterparts. Much like Pavlov’s dog, they “salivate” for acceptance in the “boys club.” They have been conditioned not to challenge, but to accept and “behave.”

As suggested by Dr. Woodson, their thinking has been controlled and conditioned for so long, those who oppress don’t have to worry about their actions. While it is never beneficial to be a “bull in a china cabinet,” there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Too frequently we remain silent when justice prompts us to speak. To God be the glory, many great strides have been made. We still, however, have “miles to go before we sleep.”

May we by faith step out of the cave, “fast” from the food of false affirmation and speak the truth in love. May we resist the temptation to go for loud “Amens” and Hallelujahs by cutting down other sisters who speak out against that which is clearly unjust. May we risk the pain of alienation for a season for the greater good of all.

Remember, today’s hero’s and shero’s were yesterday’s menaces and villains.

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shepastor: "Listening 101..."

So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. Job 2:13, KJV

Pain, suffering, grief, anger, frustration – these are feelings that we all experience at one time or another in life. Some episodes of the above said emotions can be so intense that words fail us. At other times, our words are in abundance, but there is no one to truly listen. Individuals may find themselves wanting to talk about how they feel, how particular experiences impacted them, how the struggle is effecting their lives. But all too often, they are stopped at the proverbial door – a door that could potentially lead to their healing.

When someone is wrestling to make sense of or to process their pain, most often they are not desiring answers from another human, as much as an empathic, listening ear. While “sitting in silence” as Job’s friends did initially can be an appropriate response, depending upon the circumstance, there are also ways to listen and provide opportunities for the one in pain to feel “heard.”

Frequently, people of faith feel the need to give some answer, some scripture, some “prescription” to address the speaker’s problem. Sometimes they will use words that minimize the person’s pain in the face of some facts or even faith., i.e., “Don’t even worry about that – God will take care of it…All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose…Well, what can you expect? You know that they don’t know the Lord…I don’t know what more to say, you know that they have a problem, you shouldn’t even let that bother you…”

Although these remarks are meant to bring some measure of comfort and are well intentioned, more often than not, they de-legitimize the person’s pain, calls their trust in God into question and basically tells them to “suck it up!”

One of the most valuable educational experiences I received was during my chaplain residency. There we were taught the critical pastoral care skill of “active listening.” In a nutshell, active listening is a process by which the “listener” shows the speaker that they are listening by repeating what the speaker said in their own words. They also offer empathic (“feeling into”) responses that encourage the speaker to continue to open up.

Some examples of active listening responses are as follows…

- So they said thus and so to you? What was that like? How did that make you feel?
- I can imagine that was very difficult for you. I’m hearing you say…How did you handle that?
- It sounds like you feel very isolated. How would you describe it?
The above examples don’t allow for “yes” and “no” responses. They encourage the speaker to share (if they so desire) from their inner most being their thoughts, feelings and emotions. These kinds of statements also affirm the individual’s right to plop their feelings out on the table, so to speak and look at them. As odd as it may seem, sometimes people don’t even realize the depth of their pain, the intensity of their emotion or even the misguided process of their thoughts until they’ve been given this opportunity to say what they feel in a safe environment.

This process is not meant to enable “pity partying,” but rather to allow the speaker to release pinned up frustration, emotion and toxic ideas through verbalizing their feelings.

The next time the Lord presents you with the opportunity to be with someone who is “processing,” ask yourself some questions before you speak:

- Will these words allow them to open up or shut them down?
- Am I listening actively or am I trying to fix?
- How might I feel if I were in their shoes? What would I want a listener to provide for me in terms of a “space to speak for real?”
- How can I respond in a way that lets them know that I “hear” them?

One of the best gifts that you can give a person in pain and struggle is an “active listening ear.”

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Shepastor: “Great Insights From a Phenomenal Woman…”

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven Ecclesiastes 3:1, KJV

In recent days I’ve met several women, who like myself have reached their 50’s – to God be the glory! In funny and serious ways, we commiserated about changes that appear to happen quite suddenly at this age. The phrase, “mid-life crisis” began to make more sense to me! The beloved “phenomenal woman” herself, the late Maya Angelou provides us with some words of wisdom and great insight as we transition through life’s seasons…

By Maya Angelou

When I was in my younger days,
I weighed a few pounds less,
I needn't hold my tummy in
to wear a belted dress.
But now that I am older,
I've set my body free;
There's the comfort of elastic
Where once my waist would be.
Inventor of those high-heeled shoes
My feet have not forgiven;
I have to wear a nine now,
But used to wear a seven.
And how about those pantyhose-
They're sized by weight, you see,
So how come when I put them on
The crotch is at my knee?
I need to wear these glasses
As the print's been getting smaller;
And it wasn't very long ago
I know that I was taller.
Though my hair has turned to gray
and my skin no longer fits,
On the inside, I'm the same old me,
It's the outsides changed a bit.

But, on a positive note...

I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

You can read more by visiting,

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shepastor: “The Cost of Obeying God, Rather than Men…”

27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. 29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5: 27-29, KJV

The season is upon us where we focus more clearly upon the struggles of our Nation to embrace civil rights for all. Around this time of year many read about, pray about, sing about, and have special gatherings about those men and women who gave their lives so that our Nation may fully realize the words, “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…”
Familiar to most are the names, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medger Evers, Mahatma Ghandi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, John Lewis and others. We honor these individuals for their courage, selfless deeds and tenacity to change the course of history in favor of freedom and human rights for all. Each had to make a decision to stand up against systems that were fettered by hatred and ignorance. Several of them paid the ultimate price – faithful unto death.

There is, however, a name that doesn’t readily come to mind when we list these heroes, yet none the less is a giant among them. She was not a pastor, a community leader, or someone of any particular note. She was a house wife and mother who saw the travesties committed against people of color and was compelled to do what she could to bring about change. Her name is Viola Liuzzo. After witnessing “Bloody Sunday,” (The day, March 7, 1965, when civil rights activists attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in order to vote and were met with billy clubs, fire hoses, vicious dogs, tear gas and guns by local law enforcement) she determined that she could not stand by and do nothing.

She became a member of the local NAACP. She took the bold step of going South, uniting with Dr. King and others in the marches from Selma to Montgomery. Mrs. Liuzzo assisted by transporting civil rights workers between the two cities. On one of those trips, she was spotted transporting a young African American male student worker. She was shot in the head and killed by members of the KKK. Her death, along with the televised brutalities associated with those marches to Montgomery sparked the outcry of the Nation.

Her family was ostracized, taunted and threatened. She was accused of being a tramp, a whore and a bad mother for leaving her children to “meddle in business that was not her own.” Despite all of these false accusations and shameful acts of cowardice, Mrs. Viola Liuzzo shines among the great ones. God used her to help change the world. You can read more about Mrs. Liuzzo at

Discipleship is costly. The currency, however, is well spent when life, healing and deliverance are birthed. May we too have the courage to speak, stand, serve and love even when the masses are behaving to the contrary.

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