Voting: Your Right and Responsibility

Protest Art on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Since we are heading to the polls in a couple of days, I decided to share a two-minute video reminding Americans why we must vote. In the video, my 83-year-old relative recounts her experience with attempted voter suppression and finally casting her first vote for U.S. President.

I’ve heard far too many “reasons” people don’t vote or didn’t vote in this or that election. As Cousin Marie declares, “your vote is where your rights are.” A decision not to vote may eventually lead to revocation of certain rights.

Despite the struggle between Democrats and Republicans that is constantly thrown in our faces, your vote should not be about party affiliation or who makes the most noise. Make an effort to ignore what one candidate or political party says about the other. Avoid the all-day news commentary. Steer clear of social media. Make time to research each candidate for yourself. Take notes. Make lists. Think about what you want for our country, and vote for the individuals whose actual values most align with your own principles–hopefully, principles rooted in love for humanity. Pay attention to what they do, not just what they say.

In short, as my friend Uzoma O. posted as his Facebook status recently:

Stop being Democratic or Republican. Be honest. Have morals. Show empathy. Value integrity. Be a good human.

If it all still sounds like noise to you, vote anyway.

I’ll spare you the lecture on how many people fought and died for our right to vote.  I realize our right to vote includes our right not to vote, but I hope you choose the former. Why? Because beyond being a right, voting is also a civic and sacred responsibility.

In his sermon this weekend, my pastor reminded the congregation that in voting we comply with two of the directives of Micah 6:8–to act justly and love mercy. In voting, we raise our voices, protest, and do our part to right societal wrongs. We stand up for social justice and we work to make compassion and kindness part of our personal and national character.

There’s too much at stake this election season. Your vote–your voice–is far more powerful than silence. Nothing is gained through inaction.

A Written Word: A Small Thing

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.

Psalm 34:18 MSG

Among the precious notes written to me by my colleagues and students is a touching letter and beautiful tulip sculpted by my multi-talented student Tyhara Rain.

I’ve read the letter many times in the quiet of the night and when I pause during the day. Tyhara’s soothing words remind me into Whose arms I can fall when the darkest despair descends:

When you feel too emotionally worn out to get through the day, when your heart aches too much to let you fall asleep, I encourage you to close your eyes…breathe…imagine yourself cradled in the loving arms of our Savior. Feel free to bury your face in His chest, and feel free to feel the ache and sorrow of loss.  Sob if you have to. He understands. Feel his arms wrap tightly and protectively around you in your broken state. Listen to His whisper as He reminds you of His promises of life eternal, everlasting joy, comfort during trials, and His nearness to you always. Stay in His embrace as long as you need. When you’re ready, open your eyes, know God is always with you, and claim the power of God through Jesus to get you through…

I carry Tyhara’s letter with me throughout the day. It remains in my “pouch of pretties,” available when I need to refer to it. The tulip, Lori’s favorite flower, rests on the mantel. In Tyhara’s words, “a small thing to bring comfort […].”

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.

Seven Keys for a Productive and Fulfilling Life

Even though they are spoken directly to graduates, I love the motivational and inspirational graduation speeches. I certainly felt inspired Saturday night as I listened to actor and producer Darryl Bell, of A Different World fame, address the graduates at my alma mater–which is also my employer. 😀

Bell delivered a succinct, timely, and power-packed list speech that resonated with me and reminded me of some basic principles for navigating life. Here are his tips and what I remember of his commentary on each one.

  1.  Use the gifts that call you.  Choose a vocation because of your compulsion toward it, your passion, not simply because you’re competent in an area. Your being good at what you do but hating it leads to a miserable life.  Pay attention to the thing that keeps calling you, the thing you can’t help but do. “Your gifts have been calling you. Answer them.”
  2. Remember the four-year-old.  Four-year-olds are confident that they can do anything.  A few years later, kids begin to learn their strengths and their limits, and begin to doubt themselves. Be like four-year-olds and do not put limits on what is possible. Use all of your abilities and gifts, empowered by your education, to solve the world’s problems.
  3. See the world. Travel beyond your state, beyond your country. Experience other places and cultures. Those interactions will open you up to other ways of seeing and being. If you only know America, you can’t be competitive in a global economy. Travel changes your perspective on life and everything you do.
  4. Pick somebody else.  Sometimes you won’t hear extraordinary advice given because you hear the same voice so often that you automatically tune it out.  Pick someone else. Always ask another person; get another opinion. It affirms and confirms. Sometimes you have to hear [the extraordinary advice] from someone else.
  5. Ask for help.  No one accomplishes anything without the help of others. Life is worse than hard. You’ll have times when you’ll face bone-crushing, soul-crushing defeat, where you’ll feel like “it” isn’t even possible. Interestingly, when you are going through these moments, when you most need help, contrary to what is logical and instinctive, you are least likely to ask for help.  You must fight through your vulnerability and through your shame and ask for help. You’ll be surprised by the people who exceed your expectations in providing what you need to turn the situation around. Be prepared to ask for help.
  6. Be kind. Kindness goes a long way and is long remembered.
  7. Embrace the fear. You experience fear when you try to accomplish something big and you are afraid to fail. “Everything that I accomplished that was worth something scared me and I learned to run toward it, to embrace it.” Fear tells you this is something worth doing. Embrace it! Run toward it! Grab it! Now, go change the world!

Bell punctuated his list with (mostly) entertaining anecdotes from his life that kept us all riveted. He offered keys for a productive and fulfilling life. There are other keys, of course, but I think the graduates found the most important one in the school’s motto–“God first!”

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.   –Matthew 6:33 AMP

Until next time…

[Note: Photo from Pixabay.com]

If We Love Each Other…

I read something this morning that nearly brought me to tears–a comment written in response to a blog post about God’s love for us. The post, written nearly two years ago, had few comments, but one comment in particular caught my attention. It was written by a man who for several years dealt with a series of really bad circumstances and came to the conclusion–after a lifetime of belief–that God does not love him. The saddest thing, however, is that the comment sat beneath the blog post with no response for a full year before another “random person” stumbled upon the post and read the comment.

A full year.

Even after the “random person’s” response, neither the author of the post nor the Christian organization that hosts the site responded. In nearly two years.

If it hurt me, imagine how much it affected the man who so bravely and desperately cried out. He needed an answer. He needed a virtual hug and assurance of God’s intimate concern and love for him.

He got crickets.

The thing that keeps me sane and walking upright in this world is knowing that God absolutely loves me, but I first experienced God’s love through others.

It is God’s love for and in us that allows us to love sincerely and deeply; it is His love that permeates our being and generates love action. It’s nearly impossible to experience or “possess” Divine Love and not be transformed.

Loving God and understanding His love for humanity results in reaching out to hurting people, living out His presence in our lives, and showing the world who He is–through acts of love.

Without human manifestation of God’s love, His love is simply theory.

But If Not: MLK on Civil Disobedience

There is a reward if you do right for righteousness’ sake. It says that somehow that burning fiery furnace was transformed into an air-conditioned living room. Somebody looked in there and said “We put three in here, but now we see four.” Don’t ever think you’re by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary, but you’ll never go alone. Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you and criticize you, but you never go alone. For somewhere I read that “one with God is a majority,” and God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority. Walk with Him this morning and believe in Him and do what is right and He’ll be with you even until the consummation of the ages. Yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul, but I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone, no, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. Where you’re going […], tell the world that you’re going with truth. You’re going with justice, you’re going with goodness, and you will have an eternal companionship. And the world will look at you and they won’t understand you, for your fiery furnace will be around you, but you’ll go on anyhow. But if not, [you] will not bow, and God grant that we will never bow before the gods of evil.         –Martin Luther King, Jr., “But If Not”

The quote above is from “But If Not,” a favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon. The sermon, based on the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–“the three Hebrew boys” of Daniel 3–was delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in November 1967.

If you’re interested in listening to the full sermon, click the “play” button below: