God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.
“A Black American”
by Smokey Robinson
“I love being Black. I love being called Black. I love being an American.
I love being a Black American, but as a Black man in this country I think it’s a shame
That every few years we get a change of name.
Since those first ships arrived here from Africa that came across the sea
There were already Black men in this country who were free.
And as for those that came over here on those terrible boats,
They were called niggah and slave
And told what to do and how to behave.
And then master started trippin’ and doing his midnight tippin’,
Down to the slave shacks where he forced he and Great-Great Grandma to
And if Great-Great Grandpa protested, he got tarred and feathered.
And at the same time, the Black men in the country who were free,
Were mating with the tribes like the Apache and the Cherokee.
And as a result of all that, we’re a parade of every shade.
And as in this late day and age, you can be sure,
They ain’t too many of us in this country whose bloodline is pure.
But, according to a geological, geographical, genealogy study published
in Time Magazine,
The Black African people were the first on the scene,
So for what it’s worth, the Black African people were the first on earth
And through migration, our characteristics started to change, and rearrange,
To adapt to whatever climate we migrated to.
And that’s how I became me, and you became you.
So, if we gonna go back, let’s go all the way back,
And if Adam was Black and Eve was Black,
Then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is an African American.
Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian
And so on and so on,
That is, if the origin of man is what we’re gonna go on.
And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say,
Then everybody’s Black anyway.
So quit trying to change my identity.
I’m already who I was meant to be
I’m a Black American, born and raised.
And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phrase,
“Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
Cause I’m proud to be Black and I ain’t never lived in Africa,
And ’cause my Great-Great Granddaddy on my Daddy’s side did, don’t mean I want to go back.
Now I have nothing against Africa,
It’s where some of the most beautiful places and people in the world are found.
But I’ve been blessed to go a lot of places in this world,
And if you ask me where I choose to live, I pick America, hands down.
Now, by and by, we were called Negroes, and after while, that name has vanished.
Anyway, Negro is just how you say “black” in Spanish.
Then, we were called colored, but ****, everybody’s one color or another,
And I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other.
And it seems like we reverted back to a time when being called Black was an insult,
Even if it was another Black man who said it, a fight would result,
Cause we’ve been so brainwashed that Black was wrong,
So that even the yellow niggahs and black niggahs couldn’t get along.
But then, came the 1960s when we struggled and died to be called equal and Black,
And we walked with pride with our heads held high and our shoulders pushed back,
And Black was beautiful.
But, I guess that wasn’t good enough,
Cause now here they come with some other stuff.
Who comes up with this **** anyway?
Was it one, or a group of niggahs sitting around one day?
Feelin’ a little insecure again about being called Black
And decided that African American sounded a little more exotic.
Well, I think you were being a little more neurotic.
It’s that same mentality that got “Amos and Andy” put off the air,
Cause’ they were embarrassed about the way the character’s spoke.
And as a result of that action, a lot of wonderful Black actors ended up broke.
When we were just laughin’ and have fun about ourselves.
So I say, “**** you if you can’t take a joke.”
You didn’t see the “Beverly Hillbilly’s” being protested by white folks.
And if you think, that cause you think that being called African American set all Black people’s mind at ease…..
Since we affectionately call each other “niggah”,
I affectionately say to you, “niggah Please”.
How come I didn’t get the chance to vote on who I’d like to be?
Who gave you the right to make that decision for me?
I ain’t under your rule or in your dominion
And I am entitled to my own opinion.
Now there are some African Americans here,
But they recently moved here from places like Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Zaire.
But, now the brother who’s family has lived in the country for generations,
Occupying space in all the locations
New York, Miami, L.A., Detroit, Chicago-
Even if he’s wearing a dashiki and sporting an afro.
And, if you go to Africa in search of your race,
You’ll find out quick you’re not an African American,
You’re just a Black American in Africa takin’ up space.
Why you keep trying to attach yourself to a continent,
Where if you got the chance and you went,
Most people there would even claim you as one of them; as a pure bread daughter or son of them.
Your heritage is right here now, no matter what you call yourself or what you say
And a lot of people died to make it that way.
And if you think America is a leader on inequality and suffering and grievin’
How come there so many people comin’ and so few leavin’?
Rather than all this ‘find fault with America’ **** you promotin’,
If you want to change something, use your privilege, get to the polls!
Commence to votin’!
God knows we’ve earned the right to be called American Americans and be free at last.
And rather than you movin’ forward progress, you dwelling in the past.
We’ve struggled too long; we’ve come too far.
Instead of focusing on who we were, let’s be proud of who we are.
We are the only people whose name is always a trend.
When is this **** gonna end?
Look at all the different colors of our skin-
Black is not our color. It’s our core.
It’s what we been livin’ and fightin’ and dyin’ for.
But if you choose to be called African American and that’s your preference
Then I ‘ll give you that reference
But I know on this issue I don’t stand alone on my own and if I do, then let me be me
And I’d appreciate it if when you see me, you’d say, “there goes a man who says it loud I’m Black. I’m Black. I’m a Black American, and I’m proud
Cause I love being an American. And I love being Black. I love being
Yeah, I said it, and I don’t take it back.”
MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization based in New York City and Oakland, CA. MDRC mounts large-scale demonstrations and uses randomized controlled trials to measure the effects of social and educational policy initiatives.
The driving force behind MDRC is a conviction that reliable evidence, well communicated, can make an important difference in social policy.
People who have spent time in prison often have difficulties finding work and establishing independent lives after their release. MDRC is testing the effectiveness of programs to help former prisoners overcome barriers to employment and reduce their chances of rearrest.
MDRC is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency to improving public education and college graduation rates. We design promising new interventions, evaluate existing programs using the highest research standards, and provide technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale. We work as an intermediary, bringing together public and private funders to test new policy-relevant ideas, and communicate what we learn to policymakers and practitioners — all with the goal of improving the lives of low-income individuals, families, and children.
Today’s blessings are the opportunities we embrace while in hot pursuit of performing ministry and acquiring full alignment with partners and other organizations who are caring about ex-offenders and their families. The many veterans who are displaced and substance abusers are apart of our focus groups as well. We are happy to share with you that Second Chance Alliance is not an all knowing entity, but we are a humble wanting to gain leverage in our approach to effective re-entry solutions in our present community. We are in a work group for the next two weeks called (CHAMPS)
Changing Attitudes and Motivation in Parolees (CHAMPS) Evaluation
With 750,000 people released from prisons each year, there is a pressing need for rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of reentry strategies. Former prisoners face a range of challenges to successful reentry into the community, including low levels of employment and substance abuse problems, all of which impact recidivism rates. Although the prisoner reentry issue has attracted substantial attention and funding in recent years, very little is known about the components of effective reentry programs. It is unknown what in-prison activities are best able to prepare offenders for the return to the community, what works best to stabilize people after they are released, and what long-term efforts are needed to help former prisoners become productive citizens. One avenue for affecting outcomes may be through parole, but little is known about what parole practices are most effective for whom and how additional services aimed at improving offenders’ cognitive and behavioral functioning can complement the work of parole officers.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance, in a collaborative effort with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Institute of Justice, is implementing an innovative parole-based intervention with a well-known cognitive behavioral therapy program as part of a Demonstration Field Experiment on prisoner reentry, known as Changing Attitudes and Motivation in Parolees (CHAMPS).
The National Institute of Justice has selected MDRC and its partner, George Mason University, to conduct a multisite random assignment study to test this reentry model intended to: (1) improve offenders’ motivation to change; (2) address cognitive and behavioral functioning regarding crime-prone thoughts and behaviors; and (3) address core factors that affect offender performance while under community supervision following release from prison.
We are elated to be apart of this training group because it solidifies our platform to be successful model that will be in position to offer a comprehensive focus group of professionals to assist us in our vision objectives at Second Chance Alliance.
Agenda, Scope, and Goals
The overarching goal of this study is to test the effectiveness of parole supervision strategies and a targeted cognitive behavioral intervention to improve outcomes and reduce recidivism for parolees. The evaluation will use a random assignment research design to measure the impact of the following interventions:
- The National Institute of Corrections’ Next Generation relationship and desistence model, which is designed to improve the techniques used by parole officers in supervising and interacting with offenders. The model stems from a relationship theory as well as risk-need-responsivity framework where services are recommended to address risk factors that may create problem behaviors for offenders. Selected parole officers will deliver this model after receiving training.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy consisting of Motivational Enhancement Therapy sessions followed by Thinking for a Change sessions. Treatment providers, not parole officers, will deliver this intervention.
My motivation for writing this blog is twofold: First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations. Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles. Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20). To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.
I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus. I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do: make disciples.
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy. The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc. Some churches do this. Others do not. But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers. It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary. It is aimed at everyone in the church. But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling. That’s okay. But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists? Are you supporting them in your tithes? Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?
The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love. It is what Jesus asked us to do. People are going to hell. Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him. He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well. This is what He wants. Is this happening in your life and church? Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in. If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.
In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers. Our comfort is important to us. But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met. Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs. I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in. Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus. The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians. He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment. He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.
The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more. For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask. But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian. This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.
Is this too harsh?
If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives. Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ. For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.
Pastors have a huge job before them. They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints. This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians. Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape. According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc. This is truly sad and dangerous. Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians. I hope you’re right. But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.
People are going to hell. The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society. Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium. They are supposed to be fishers of men. Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion. This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.
The Christian Church needs to wake Up!
Christianity is under an ever increasing attack. Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms. Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms. Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots. Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach! Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working! Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell. This is the sign of apostasy within the church!
Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly. There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word. There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness. It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world. There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before. Let’s not give up nor become discouraged. Let’s support one another in prayer. Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God. Let’s tithe properly. Let’s witness. Let’s take risks for Jesus. Let’s do what He asks of us.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).
Saul was a head above most men. David was ruddy and smaller in stature. Saul was driven by an evil spirit and died a crazed, God-forsaken man. David drove an evil spirit from Saul with the sound of his lyre. Saul hid out in his tent when Goliath taunted the Israelites. David stood up for his people and his God and defeated Goliath. The difference between bad and great leaders is not appearance or experience. God uses the unexpected, unimpressive, and inexperienced to accomplish remarkable things.
The ultimate contrast between these men was not their appearance or experience; it was their spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit made all the difference in their leadership. The chronicler of Israel’s history points to this primary difference between these two leaders: “And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul . . .” (1 Sam 16:13-14). We’re told that the Spirit rushed upon David, while the Spirit departed from Saul. One man was Spirit-filled and led. The other was Spirit-devoid and distrusting. David pled with God to not take his Spirit (Ps 51:11) from him. God’s Spirit left Saul.
Consider three differences in leadership between David and Saul:
In the face of Philistine blasphemies, David was incited with zeal for the Lord: “He was stirred to the depths with concern for the glory of God.”
David’s zeal was not for personal success but for God’s glory. He wasn’t childishly driven by self-promotion. He was bent on promoting the reputation of God. What am I promoting? Am I stirred to depths for the glory of God? Every one of us can ask these questions. Are we hiding out in our tents, our libraries, our offices, or are we incited with zeal for the Lord to pursue his glory through leadership, work, discipleship and mission? Are we passionately pursuing God’s glory or our own glory in how we lead?
Management vs. Empowerment
Saul tried to manage and control everyone around him. He relied on bribes to get others to fight Goliath (17:25). Saul discouraged young leaders like David (to not fight Goliath) because he was threatened by their leadership. The problem wasn’t that Saul lacked vision for what David could become; it was that he feared what David could become. He sought to manage, not empower the leaders around him. David, on the other hand, was constantly surrounded by “mighty men.”
We can lead our company, church, and organizations through empowerment. Rather than insist on control, we can relinquish control to let other leaders rise up in faith. Often we are too doubtful about some and too confident about others.
Moved by Wisdom
David wasn’t all zeal and faith. His zeal was mature because it was guided by wisdom and marked by self-control. When mocked by his brothers, he did not pick a fight or defend his abilities. Instead, he channeled indignation towards his enemies (17:28-29). The Spirit produces leaders that are balanced and discerning, not merely zealous and faith-filled.
Instead of getting side-tracked by petty issues, comments, and complaints, we lead with “one blind eye and one deaf ear” as Spurgeon put it. Don’t linger over the negative. Instead, we try to wisely discern what voices to listen to and which ones to shut out. Don’t entertain every idea. Follow the Spirit through wisdom, not ambition.
May God make us zealous, empowering, and wise leaders. May he never take his Holy Spirit from us. May we lead well and finish strong, ever dependent upon the Spirit, glorifying our great Redeemer and King Jesus!
Why do you think the way you do? Are the choices you make truly your own, or do influences beyond your control unduly sway your opinions?
Besieged by a cacophony of sights, sounds, impressions, images and emotions—all competing for our time, attention and thoughts—our minds are daily exposed to far more information than we can consciously process. Even in sleep we integrate people, places and events into partly real, sometimes frightful and at other times wildly whimsical dreams. The sheer volume of ideas and information incessantly bombarding our minds creates for us an information crisis, a battle for control over what we think and believe.
The battle for your mind is a reality that you cannot afford to ignore. Believe it or not, you are the focus of relentless efforts to alter your beliefs, and some of the subtle skills meant to shape the way you think are astonishingly powerful and effective.
Commercial advertising is a widely recognized example. Marketing efforts thrive on shaping public habits and influencing choices.
Honest and legitimate advertising is a benefit to consumers and a valuable information source in any modern economy. Yet not all advertising honestly represents the facts, as illustrated by the old saying “Let the buyer beware.”
Beguiling and seductive schemes are so sophisticated and pervasive that America’s NBC Nightly News telecast with Tom Brokaw includes a regular feature called “The Fleecing of America.” Like it or not, you are the target in a never-ending struggle for control over the way you think—and behave.
Right and wrong influences
Under the right circumstances, the influence of others on our lives can be beneficial. People who positively affect our thinking expand our understanding and knowledge. They stimulate our minds and expand our horizons, increasing the excitement and challenge of life itself. From them we learn and grow. Emotionally, we benefit immensely from their nurturing influence. Our fellow human beings contribute enormously to our personal development.
But not all who seek to shape our views are constructive. This is especially true of the massive efforts at work to eradicate society’s standards and values. The previously mentioned adage “Let the buyer beware” is just as applicable to this intellectual and spiritual domain as it is to the marketplace.
In general, irrational ideas foster irrational behavior. How you think controls the way you live and how you relate to other people. Your thoughts will influence your decisions and thus your actions. Ultimately, in this sense, you are what you think.
Consider these questions: Who exerts the greatest influence on your personal opinions? What are the external pulls that sway your thinking the most? What are the sources that affect the standards for your behavior? If you address these questions honestly, you’ll find their answers disturbing as well as profound.
Let’s examine some commonly recognized influences that shape the choices millions of people make every day, noticing the colossal impact those influences have on the behavioral standards of society. Then let’s look at some of the direct and concerted endeavors to modify—and in some cases abolish—almost all standards and values. Finally, let’s squarely face another momentous question: Who should have the greatest influence on how we think and the choices we make, and what is our personal responsibility?
Influence of television and movies
Television is the most powerful medium ever invented for conveying ideas and information to large numbers of people. Remarkably effective and influential, television is drastically altering our society’s thinking and behavioral patterns, even encouraging so-called alternative lifestyles.
Film critic Michael Medved describes the profound impact of the TV and movie business on society. The power of the entertainment business “to influence our actions flows from its ability to redefine what constitutes normal behavior in this society,” he writes. Entertainers have “assumed a dominant role in establishing social conventions. The fantasy figures who entertain us on our TV and movie screens, or who croon to us constantly from our radios and CD players, take the lead in determining what is considered hip, and what will be viewed as hopelessly weird” ( Hollywood vs. America , Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 1992, p. 261, emphasis added throughout).
Mr. Medved notes that society’s standards and values are incrementally but constantly altered by the entertainment media: “According to all available research on the subject, the most significant aspects of influence are gradual and cumulative, not immediate, and they occur only after extended exposure . . . What this means is that the full impact of today’s media messages will only be felt some years in the future” (Medved, p. 260).
“Hollywood no longer reflects—or even respects—the values of most American families. On many of the important issues in contemporary life, popular entertainment seems to go out of its way to challenge conventional notions of decency” (Medved, p. 10).
Music to whose ears?
All too often popular music represents the cutting edge of a philosophy that influences its adherents to seek to undermine all established conventions. Combining catchy tunes with sometimes blatantly antisocial lyrics, popular music exerts a near-incessant influence on many young people. Most adolescents can easily and flawlessly recite the words to today’s most-played tunes, yet they stumble over memorization work at school. Even adults can recall lyrics that were popular decades ago, but they flounder over names and phone numbers of friends.
Music’s influence is profound and pervasive. It is one of the most effective tools to alter the attitudes and outlook of those hearing it, both positively and negatively. It reaches emotions and reasoning simultaneously, ensuring a lasting impact.
For those immersed in the cynical hostility that has characterized much of popular music in recent decades, the consequences can be devastating. Consider the rationale behind the promotion of some music-industry artists:
“Those in the rock business understood very well that the music’s subversion of authority was a large part of its appeal to the young. An impresario who developed one star after another was asked how he did it. He said, ‘I look for someone their parents will hate’ ” (Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah , Regan Books, 1996, p. 23, emphasis added).
Tragically, however, all too many parents find themselves inadequately equipped to explain right from wrong. A recent survey of American adults by the Barna Research Group reveals that 71 percent of Americans still believe in right and wrong, that such a thing as sin exists. But the survey also found that most adults simply grasp no clear concept of right vs. wrong.
An article that accompanied the survey observed that “77 percent of non-Christians said, ‘There are no absolute standards for morals and ethics.’ Yet, shockingly, the majority of born-again Christians—64 percent—agreed with the secular culture that morality is relative. No wonder our lives are indistinguishable from the surrounding culture . . . The church has ‘tons of teachers’ yet it ‘doesn’t seem to be making a difference’ ” ( Southern California Christian Times , June 1996).
Who should set your standards?
Intelligent moral standards serve simply as practical rules for considerate conduct. They establish our ethics, ideals and values. They allow society to function in peace and safety for the benefit of all. Proper moral standards should be carefully thought-out principles for distinguishing right from wrong. Without them, we retain no guidelines for the way we live.
Who holds the prerogative to set absolute standards for the way we think and behave? Some among the academic elite do well to tell us that human traditions are not reliable sources; they are too often contradictory and parochially biased. But they are wrong to tell us that absolute standards of right and wrong do not exist. There most certainly is a source for absolute standards for humanity. The Almighty God, He who created mankind, reveals to us how we should live.
“The distortions and insults about organized religion [in movies and television],” writes Mr. Medved, “will continue unabated as long as our popular culture continues its overall campaign against judgment and values. A war against standards leads logically and inevitably to hostility to religion because it is religious faith that provides the ultimate basis for all standards” (Medved, p. 89).
Only the God who created us can define perfect and reliable guidelines for human conduct. He reveals them to us through the Holy Scriptures. Make no mistake: God’s Word is not of human origin. It carries the highest authority possible.
God cares how you think
How we think—our ideals and beliefs—are important to God. Yet our normal way of thinking is quite different from His. Through the prophet Isaiah, God describes the scope of our universal human problem: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah:55:8-9, emphasis added throughout).
The apostle Paul explains the reason for the gulf between the values of God and most humans: People tend simply to tune out God’s instruction. “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Romans:1:20-21, New Revised Standard Version).
How wrong thinking began
The rejection of God’s guidance is nothing new. It began as far back as the Garden of Eden. There “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan,” began an influence and distortion of human thinking that still grips humanity (Revelation:12:9).
Essentially, Satan’s line to Eve was: “Don’t believe God and trust His words. Trust yourself. Eat the forbidden fruit. Then you will have all the wisdom you need to determine good and evil” (Genesis:3:1-5). Eve was impressed. The devil kindled in her the desire to decide right and wrong for herself.
Eve eagerly fell for Satan’s seductive pitch. Then she persuaded Adam that the two of them were capable of deciding such matters for themselves. They chose to disobey God. They lost their inheritance in Eden and began a life of toil and hardship, all because they allowed their thinking to be swayed by Satan, the archadversary of God (verses 6, 17-19). Satan won this early battle for the human mind. With relatively few exceptions, he has continued to win ever since.
God wants you to think like Him. He wants the principles expressed in His laws to live in your heart and mind (Hebrews:10:16), to form the foundation for your convictions, your thoughts and the way you choose to live your life. He wants to establish in your mind appropriate standards for human behavior—a clear understanding of right and wrong (1 John:3:4).
The apostle Peter expresses God’s concern for the way you think. “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter:3:1-3). New International Version).
Learning to think clearly
Paul goes further, giving timeless guidelines for what we should allow to enter our minds: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV). Wholesome thinking flows from honesty and truth, from a knowledge of what is right, pure and admirable.
Paul describes the results of behavior based on thinking that rejects God’s standards: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians:5:19-21, NIV).
An outstanding model of clear, level-headed thinking is recorded for our benefit: the personal example of Jesus Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul (Philippians 2:5). He admonished: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (verses 2:3-4).
Clear, wholesome thinking puts concern for others as a priority—equal to concern for oneself. It is founded on genuine love for others.
A matter of choice
We live in a society that prides itself on its new ways of thinking, many of which have really been around as long as mankind has existed. Because of the sheer force of these ideas, we are confronted with a personal battle for control of our thoughts and values in the face of almost overwhelming opposition.
God will never force us to think like Him. Even to ancient Israel He said, “. . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life . . .” (Deuteronomy:30:19). God provides the guidance, but the choice to heed or ignore it is always ours.
Those who would abolish standards of conduct often imply that acceptance of values defined by anyone besides yourself—whether God or man—is an abdication of choice.
To blindly accept the ideas of others would, of course, be abdicating personal responsibility. However, to carefully examine, comprehend and adopt the wisdom of God is the mark of one who makes informed and intelligent choices. Acting only on feelings and emotion shows neither discretion nor intelligence.
Corrupting power behind the scene
What is the real source of our society’s rejection of godly values? The apostle Paul explained that his God-given mission to earth’s inhabitants was “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . .” (Acts:26:18).
The Bible reveals Satan as a powerful unseen force influencing humanity. He is described as “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” a being influencing men and women to lead a life of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians:2:2-3, NIV).
Satan’s influence is so pervasive that it affects every area of life in every society. How great is his power over humanity? He “deceives the whole world”! (Revelation:12:9).
Through thousands of years of deceiving people, he has become the “god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel . . .” (2 Corinthians:4:4, NRSV). The influence of Satan and his demons is such that they can sway even the opinions and decisions of world leaders (Revelation:16:14).
Surprising to many, Satan has succeeded in influencing religious beliefs and institutions. He manages to disguise his own ostensibly Christian ministry and religious assemblies (2 Corinthians:11:3-4, 13-15; Revelation:3:9).
He does not present his ways as the greedy, self-centered, vain practices they really are. Nor does he show their destructive, painful end, leading inexorably to suffering and death (Proverbs:14:12; 16:25). On the contrary, he masquerades his thoughts and way of life as enlightenment, fulfillment and satisfaction. God’s Word warns us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians:11:14, NRSV).
Besides religion, Satan’s ideas invade such arenas as business, education, philosophy, government and science. No human interest or endeavor escapes his intrusion. Indeed, we read that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John:5:19).
Does Satan influence your mind?
The consequences of Satan’s influence on mankind’s thought processes have proved devastating. Seldom has the world seen peace; 150 million people have died in wars in just this century. In the same time, more than 100 million have died from diseases, pandemics and natural disasters. Humanity possesses the ability to erase human life from earth many times over.
In spite of constant attempts to improve our lot, thousands live on the verge of starvation, and millions go to sleep hungry every night. A fourth of earth’s population lives under totalitarian regimes with little control over basic decisions that affect their lives.
Under Satan’s influence, human thinking has become so absorbed with self-gratification that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot” (Romans:8:7-8, NRSV).
The prophet Jeremiah recognized that people are blinded by the deceit of their own evil intents. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah:17:9).
Satan has succeeded at turning humanity away from God. The apostle Paul describes the inevitable, tragic results of rejecting God and His way of life:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans:1:28-32, NIV).
Who will win?
God calls some out of this immoral, ungodly, Satan-dominated world. He calls them to fight the influences around them, to resist the tendencies and desires of their own minds. This deeply personal battle, however, is not the sort of conflict we often envision. This battle “is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians:6:12, NRSV).
This struggle pits us against the ingrained, self-centered habits and ways of thinking that have influenced us from birth, as well as a personal foe determined to separate us from God: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter:5:8-9, NIV).
Who will determine your values? Who will win the battle for your mind? Will you allow the influences of Satan on society to control and corrupt your personal beliefs and convictions? Or will it be “God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”? (Philippians 2:13).
A godly victory is possible only by establishing righteous standards as your values. That will require you to make difficult choices.
The apostle Paul expressed it so well in these words: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds [on our minds]. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians:10:3-5, NIV).
Who you allow to exert the greatest influence on your life is your choice. Will you permit God, by seeking His knowledge and assistance, to win the battle for your mind?
In today’s United States, is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says or something else?
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; its in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What is black? Race. Culture. Consciousness. History. Heritage.
A shade darker than brown? The opposite of white?
Who is black? In America, being black has meant having African ancestry.
But not everyone fits neatly into a prototypical model of “blackness.”
Scholar Yaba Blay explores the nuances of racial identity and the influences of skin color in a project called (1)ne Drop, named after a rule in the United States that once mandated that any person with “one drop of Negro blood” was black. Based on assumptions of white purity, it reflects a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
In its colloquial definition, the rule meant that a person with a black relative from five generations ago was also considered black.
One drop was codified in the 1920 Census and became pervasive as courts ruled on it as a principle of law. It was not deemed unconstitutional until 1967.
Blay, a dark-skinned daughter of Ghanian immigrants, had always been able to clearly communicate her racial identity. But she was intrigued by those whose identity was not always apparent. Her project focuses on a diverse group of people – many of whom are mixed race – who claim blackness as their identity.
That identity is expanding in America every day. Blay’s intent was to spark dialogue and see the idea of being black through a whole new lens.
“What’s interesting is that for so long, the need to define blackness has originated from people who were not themselves black, and their need to define it stemmed from their need to control it,” says Blay.
Blackness, she says, isn’t so easily defined by words. What is blackness for one person may not necessarily be that for another.
“And that’s fine,” Blay says. “Personally, my blackness is reflective of my ancestry, my culture and my inheritance.”
“Black,” in reference to people and identity, she says, is worthy of capitalization. Otherwise, black is just another color in the box of crayons. (CNN, like other news organizations, does not capitalize black or white.)
Black and white
Kathleen Cross: Black as a descriptor of color makes her identity hard to accept.
California author Kathleen Cross, 50, remembers taking a public bus ride with her father when she was 8. Her father was noticeably uncomfortable that black kids in the back were acting rowdy. He muttered under his breath: “Making us look bad.”
She understood her father was ashamed of those black kids, that he fancied himself not one of them.
“My father was escaping blackness,” she says. “He didn’t like for me to have dark-skinned friends. He never said it. But I know.”
She asked him once if she had ancestors from Africa. He got quiet. Then, he said: “Maybe, Northern Africa.”
“He wasn’t proud of being black,” she says.
Cross’ black father and her white mother never married. Fair-skinned, blue-eyed Cross was raised in a diverse community.
Later, she found herself in situations where she felt shunned by black people. Even light-skinned black people thought she was white.
“Those who relate to the term ‘black’ as a descriptor of color are unlikely to accept me as black,” she says. “If they relate to the term ‘black’ as a descriptor of culture, history and ancestry, they have no difficulty seeing me as black.”
At one time in her life, she wished she were darker – she might have even swallowed a pill to give her instant pigment if there were such a thing. She even wrote about being “trapped in the body of a white woman.” She didn’t want to “represent the oppressor.”
She no longer thinks that way.
She doesn’t like to check the multiracial box. “It erases everything,” she says.
She doesn’t like biracial, either. Or mixed. It’s not her identity.
“There’s only one race,” she says, “and that’s the human race.”
“I am a descendant of a stolen African and Irish and English immigrants. That makes me black – and white – in America.
Blackness and culture?
Biany Perez, 31, loves Michael Jackson but she doesn’t know the Jackson Five. She didn’t know that “Good Times” was a television show about a black family struggling to survive in south Chicago. Nor was she able to pick up certain colloquialisms in the English spoken by the black kids in the Bronx, where she grew up the daughter of Dominican parents.
Some people questioned Perez’s blackness because she didn’t fit into their definition of black.
She spoke only Spanish at home. She watched Telemundo and listened to Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.
She wasn’t black enough because she was Latina and not Latina enough because she was black.
“The way I look shakes the image of Latina,” says Perez, a program manager at a nonprofit in Philadelphia. “As I started getting older, I felt more comfortable in my skin.”
Now, she calls herself Afro-Domincan.
“I think black is a broader definition I also embrace,” she says. “Black is more than just saying that I am an African in America. It’s political.
“It’s about me connecting myself to my ancestors.”
For Perez, black is about empowerment.
Biany Perez: Too Latina to be black, too black to be Latina?
Kristina Robinson calls herself black over Creole.
Creole identity is a complicated thing in Louisiana, says Kristina Robinson, 29, of New Orleans.
It’s an ethnicity, a cultural designation for people descended from colonial settlers in Louisiana, mainly of French and Latin lineage.
The term Creole was claimed by the French and Spanish settlers in colonial times but it also referred to Africans and people who were a mixture of races. Those mixed-race descendants became a unique racial group and sometimes even included Native American heritage.
But in popular representation, Robinson says Creole has come to be defined as skin color.
She doesn’t want to deny the rich Creole history but she doesn’t identify as such if it means moving away from her blackness.
Black people think that her embrace of Creole means a rejection of being black.
“I never wanted to distance myself from my black ancestors,” says the creative writing graduate student at Dillard University.
“They are the ones who claim me.”
In her light skin, Robinson understands the insidious ways of colorism, a system in which light skin is valued more than dark skin.
“Colorism is a major problem within the Creole community and the black community,” she says. “It’s underdiscussed. It’s perplexing and vexing how to work out this idea. I can see how the one drop rule is why we have so much colorism in our society.
“One drop is a lie,” she says. “Black plus white doesn’t equal black or it doesn’t equal white. It equals black plus white.”
She calls herself black. But other people think she is from India or the Middle East, especially in her academic work environment, where she does not have black colleagues.
“The assumption is I am not black,” she says.
Ultimately, she believes environment plays a big role in identity.
Few people, she says, think that of her sister. One reason may be that her sister has more of a button nose. But another reason is that she works in a field with more black people, whereas Robinson finds herself in academic settings where she is the sole black woman.
Robinson acknowledges her lighter skin gives her privilege in a color-conscious society.
“But in those situations where you have to identify yourself and you choose to identify yourself as white – there’s a big denial going on there.
“I do think it’s troublesome when someone who is of mixed race chooses to deny that part of them that was oppressed,” she says.
Race equals identity, or not?
Race is a social construct; identity is personal.
That’s how James Bartlett, 31, views it.
“I’m black, I’m biracial,” he says of his black father and Irish mother, who met and married in Louisville, Kentucky, just a few years after a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.
He was raised in an all-black neighborhood; his mother was the only white person on the block.
“I interchanged between saying I am biracial and I am black,” he says. “The culture I live in is black. I felt black because black people considered me black. That was because of the one drop rule.”
But later, when he went to Ghana, the locals thought he was from Lebanon. Kids called him “Oburoni,” the word for a white man.
Bartlett felt as though he were being told he was not who he really was even before he could interact with them, as though they were taking away his black identity.
“It put me on the complete opposite side of the coin,” Bartlett says. “The first reaction was to put me in a box.”
In America, people thought of him as a lot of things but not usually straight-up white.
“It’s difficult for me to separate race and identity,” says Bartlett, the newly named executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Diasporan African Arts in Brooklyn.
He is black, he says, because he didn’t grow up with white privilege. What is that? The freedom, he replies, to not have to address race.
“I definitely didn’t grow up with that,” he says.
Being white in America is also knowing that people who look like you are always representing your interests in institutions of power.
“That is the essence of white privilege,” he says. “Regardless of changing (demographic) percentages and numbers, racial representation is going to remain out of balance for quite some time.”
In some ways, Bartlett says, he has been more attuned to race as a light-skinned black man than he would have been had he been darker.
Bartlett feels white people in America are threatened by the tide of color across the nation and that it will give rise to an us against them” mentality.
“I think blackness will change, too,” he says. “The biggest change in the near future will be the end of blackness as a diametric opposite to whiteness.”
Here and abroad
Charles Benjamin Cloud, 63, remembers a time when he was angry at all white people. That was in the time of the white water fountain and the black water fountain.
“They had their side of town; we had ours,” he says of his childhood in New Bern, North Carolina.
As the son of a Cherokee man and a part-Cherokee, part-black woman, Cloud could have passed for something other than black.
“If I had decided to tell everyone I was Puerto Rican or Mexican, people probably wouldn’t have known a difference,” he says.
But he didn’t.
“I never wanted to identify as white,” he says.
“Blackness is a state of mind more so than a physical experience. But back then, physical appearance was much more of a black identity than it is now.”
Cloud joined the Air Force and traveled the world. His light, ruddy complexion threw people off. The Turks thought he was Turkish; the Iranians thought he was from Iran. He even passed for Greek.
But back home, he chose not just to be American. He was black.
What happens when you lose your color as is Sembene McFarland, a 35-year-old emergency room nurse in Newark, New Jersey?
She has a condition known as vitiligo and is losing the pigmentation of her skin. The disorder affects people of all races but is most prominent in those with darker complexions.
McFarland describes herself as “garden-variety black” but once her vitiligo became noticeable, she found herself the target of outlandish comments.
When McFarland was working at a cash register job at a Barnes and Noble, a customer told her, “If you got rid of the rest of the color, you would be a really pretty Asian girl.”
“Thank you very much,” McFarland told the woman. “Have a nice day.”
Now, she can’t relay the story without laughing out loud.
Others have wondered: Were you white first or black first?
“That blew my mind,” she says.
Her skin condition shows how people think of being black so literally, she says.
“When I think black, I don’t think a particular shade,” she says.
McFarland was 16 when she first learned she had vitiligo. It was tough. At that young age, no one wants to stand out.
Later she laughed. In high school in Mississippi, her classmates always joked she wanted to be white. She spoke like a white person. Some people said she sat like a white person – all proper.
Now here she was, turning white.
In the end, McFarland says, it’s not about black or white. It’s all the shades of gray that make people uncomfortable.
Unique but certain
Brandon Stanford’s parents met in school in New Jersey. His mom’s Irish family rejected her for dating a black man.
They’ve been married 37 years.
In that time, a lot has changed about being a child of an interracial marriage. For one, the man who occupies the White House is the son of a Kenyan man and a white American woman. Many Americans think being mixed is “cool.”
Stanford, 29, has his own take.
“I wouldn’t say that being mixed race is either cool or not cool,” he says.
“I’d say it’s a reality that one can choose to embrace by seeing the beauty of a world where the possibilities of transcending the limitations of race and racism exists if one is able to recognize the oneness of humanity. Is this not what our democracy is supposed to represent?”
Stanford, a graduate student in African-American studies at Philadelphia’s Temple University, has had his identity questioned by both whites and blacks. That makes being mixed race difficult for some.
Some times white people speak about black people in front of Stanford, assuming he is white. He lets them go on for a while and then says: “By the way, I am one of them.”
“I have a unique position in the world based upon what my complexion is,” Stanford says. “I always have an opportunity to unsettle people’s minds.”
But Stanford has never wavered on his identity.
“My complexion is not black, yet I am black,” he says.
Stanford doesn’t deny his Irish ancestry. The Irish, he points out, were thought of as inferior by the English. They, too, faced discrimination in the United States. Black people were often called the “dark Irish,” he says.
But the Irish in America distanced themselves from the anti-slavery movement in the interest of joining the white mainstream, Stanford says. That’s where his connection to the Irish stops.
“I identify myself as African-American because of the history of the culture,” he says.
The past in the present
That’s how Kaneesha Parsard, 23, grew up. She was the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1980s.
She didn’t understand what her father’s ancestry – her grandfather was Indian – had to do with her.
“I took the one drop rule pretty seriously,” says Parsard, a graduate student in African-American studies at Yale University.
Parsard’s father was born in British-ruled Jamaica. He was raised with Indian people but identified as black because, she says, of how exclusionary Indian communities can be in Jamaica.
She began to think about her own identity when roti and chicken curry appeared at the Thanksgiving table.
“What I have come to realize is that … people’s history is intertwined, that being mixed race is not at odds with being black,” she says.
“When we think about blackness, it’s usually along a black-white context,” she says. “But there are many histories, interesting histories of resistance.”
For Parsard, blackness stems from a moment in time in 1492, with the discovery of a new land and a history of brutality that followed.
Appearance is a primary factor for many Americans in determining race and identity. For Parsard and others in Yaba Blay’s project, it’s not.