Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My surprise birthday party

   On June 29th, I turned 70 years old. In the week prior to my 70th birthday, I was out of the city with a busload of youth on a learning tour of Louisiana. When I returned home I received a call that a couple who used our church fellowship facility the prior day was creating a scene at the facility. She insisted, they said, that she had another day promised. She brought wedding guests as well, I was told.
   Before I could unpack, I rushed to the facility and was greatly disturbed because there were cars parked everywhere, "This woman has lost her mind," I thought.
  When I walked in the door, I was hit with a giant, "Surprise!"
   They got me!
   There were church members, family, politicians, and friends packed into the facility and big projector on the stage that showed videos tributes from people I have mentored over the years. There was food, laughter, music, and memories.
   God was praised.
   It was the first birthday, I've ever had. Ever.
   Some denominations teach that we should not celebrate birthdays. They note that birthday celebrations are only mentioned twice in the Bible, the Egyptian Pharaoh in Joseph’s time (Genesis 40:20) and King Herod in Jesus’ time (Matthew 14:6Mark 6:21). Since both these men were non-believers, they think it's wrong to have a birthday party.
   Celebrating birthdays is not prohibited in scripture. If a Christian chooses to celebrate a birthday as a special day, that’s all right; if a believer does not celebrate birthdays, that’s all right, too. Let each be “fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5-6)
   It's a matter of choice, but if there is a celebration, it should be done decently and in order in a way that glorifies the Lord.
   They surprised me on my 70th birthday.
   They gave me a party to remember.
   God was glorified.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Lessons from the Cookie Jar

In 1959 I returned to Monroe from Oakland, California after an intermittent two-year stay in the Alameda County home for Delinquents. In California, I was incarcerated at eight years old for burglary and theft. Finally, the courts sent me back to Monroe where I was to live with my dad.

He was always busy with his businesses and I lived in his 20th street house mostly alone. I moved in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt Hill, who lived across the street. I moved in, spending the nights frequently and bringing more of my things with every overnight stay.

She noticed that I was obviously trying to move in and she and her husband talked to my dad who gladly gave his permission. 

I had to learn the rules of her house, which were very strict. She showed me the pictures of her three children on the wall. One was a nurse and two were school teachers. She said if I planned to live in her house that I should also plan to go to college, like all of her children.

She also showed me the cookie jar. It was green and yellow porcelain and looked like an oversized ear of corn. She baked fresh cookies regularly and kept the jar filled with oatmeal and peanut butter cookies. At the end of the day, if I didn’t break any rules, my reward was to treat myself with cookies from the jar.

If I broke the rules, I lost my cookie jar privileges and received an additional hour of “reading” as a punishment. (Three hours a day was standard reading time, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That was another house rule). When I broke a house rule she presented me with the “A” volume of the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia which was followed by all of the others as my delinquent behavior continued.

It took two years for me to even slightly reform. When I didn’t earn a cookie, I took one. Each stolen cookie came with a long lecture afterward and another hour of reading. She counted the cookies in the jar, I counted the hours I spent reading stupid books like the encyclopedia.

“Don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t beg. Be a man that pleases God.” That was the lecture, I knew it from memory and could recite it verbatim. After the lecture, she’d hug me and say she expected great things from me. She was the only person close to me that hugged me. My dad never hugged me, I rarely saw my mother even though she was in the same city; she didn’t hug me either. No matter what I did, Mrs. Hill hugged me and said she expected great things from me; but only after I had finished reading.

The jar became more than a cookie container; it was a reminder that even though I was a delinquent I could grow up and do something meaningful if I could make a turn and keep my hand out of the cookie jar.

Since reading was the punishment for stealing cookies or breaking any of her rules
Ethan and Cadence Wright with the Cookie Jar
, I made it to “Z” many times.

When I saw a picture of my grandsons with that Cookie Jar, it brought back memories. I hated that cookie jar, but I loved the cookies. That cookie jar offered a reward but it also meant hours of reading for breaking the rules. As I sat for hours crying and reading, that cookie jar became symbol reward and punishment.

The upside from all of that reading was I began an honor student in the 5th grade at J.S.Clark Elementary although I never really completed the 3rd and 4th grade because I was locked up in juvenile hall. I learned to read well and increased my vocabulary.

I hated the cookie jar because it resulted in many extra hours of torment reading the encyclopedia, the Bible, Life Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Comic Books and the Newspaper.

Now, 60 years later, reading is a habit. On most weeks, I read four books at a time, jumping from one to another. My wife reads, too. 

I hope my grandsons learn the lessons of the cookie jar and develop a taste for reading, too. I’m glad they have the cookie jar and I hope they take of it because it has a lot of significance in our family.

Friday, November 02, 2018

He made me prepare for college, I preached his funeral

I was 14 years old and had no intention of going to college, because nobody in our family ever attended even a day of college. They all worked hard, but college was not in the picture. In fact, I was a C-D student. My favorite classes were lunch break, recess, and school vacations.
I thought college was unnecessary because I didn’t need to go to college to make money. I always found a way to make money. I sold seeds, greeting cards, newspapers, comic books, light bulbs, and pecans. I mowed lawns, raked leaves, shined shoes, wrote plays, and sold them. I had three News-Star paper routes, a News-Leader route and earned $15 a week writing a weekly teen column. College was out of the picture for me. I knew how to make money and it sure wasn’t working a $1.15 cent an hour minimum wage job or sitting in a boring class all day.
However, at Carroll High School, a student like me had no choice, preparing for college was not optional. What was optional were electives. The school wanted every graduate to be prepared for college AND to graduate with a skill that would help them get a job.
The school guidance counselor, Richard Miles chose business electives for me. He said I should go to college and study journalism, theater and the arts, but I was convinced that I wasn’t college material. I was so slow in some classes that when the teacher called my name and announced my grade as “B” I ducked because I thought I would be stung.
Mr. Miles said, “Our job is to prepare you for your future, whether you use it or not. If you choose to be a wine head and sit on the street corner it’s your choice, but Carroll will give you the knowledge needed to stop being a bum, when you get ready, and climb the ladder to success.”
Between 1964-67 I never made the honor roll once, but I was also suspended once for pulling the fire alarm. I was paddled often, frequently sent to the principal’s office, ran away from home, and was the school fool. The senior class had seven homerooms. The smartest students were in division 12/1. I was in 12/7. By all estimates, I wasn’t cut out for college; but the school’s principal Henry Carroll forced me, and others like me, to prepare anyway.
I complained but, Mr. Miles chose business electives for me. I learned to type 80 words a minute on blind keyboards using touch. I had to take Algebra for college prep, but business math and bookkeeping as electives. I was also required to participate in “Junior Achievement” which prepared students to own and operate businesses, manufacture products, sell stock and pay dividends to stockholders. The school taught us that black people should learn to own businesses and provide jobs rather than always looking for a job.
The class that was most challenging was “Gregg Shorthand.” I was the only boy in the class, but I learned it quickly. Each little line meant something and a person who was proficient at shorthand could accurately take notes; there were no tape recorders or cell phone records. I used it to write plays and later to take reporter’s notes, sermon notes and more. The strokes were quick and smooth, but they looked like chicken scratch.
Today, I still use some of the shorthand strokes. I learned in high school. I type 93 words a minute, and I use the business understanding that I learned from high school “Junior Achievement.” I used everything I learned from my business electives over a lifetime and ended up going to college after all; Mr. Miles was right. I eventually earned two degrees from ULM and a Doctorate in Theology.
Today, my longhand and cursive writing looks horrible. Strangely, the scribbled strokes of my high school shorthand still look the same. I went to college and built on the foundation I received at Carroll.
I bless the memory of Mr. Richard Miles. He wouldn’t let me take the easy route.
Many years later, I became his pastor.
I preached his funeral.
My notes for his funeral oration, entitled, “Milestones” were written in shorthand and typed on a word processor at 93 words a minute.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Trump, Cosby, others prove that dark secrets will come to light

    With the recent conviction of Bill Cosby for alleged sexual offenses against a woman several decades ago, attention is brought to Bible truth that dark secrets will one day be revealed.

    The conviction of Cosby, which is being appealed, is highlighted by the fact that 50 women have accused him of virtually the same offense: drugging them and then having sex with them. The fact that these accusations took as long as 40 years to surface disturbs many people, but it highlights a basic Biblical truth: What's done in the dark will come to the light.

    Cosby's name was a shocker to many because of his "Mr. Clean" image derived from "The Cosby Show" reputation being the ideal family man and, "America's Dad." However, he is not alone. Since October of 2017 over 70 high profile men have faced similar charges including Donald Trump, President of the United States; Harvey Weinstein, a powerful movie industry personality; Donovan McNabb, football player; Matt Lauer, the Today Show anchor; Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records, and many more. Most of these men are accused of sexual offenses that were allegedly committed decades ago.

   All of these accusations from decades ago brings to light Luke 8:17, "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."

    The accusations against these men were hidden from the public view for many reasons. The general public in King David's time would not have known about King David's dark and sinful activities with Bathsheba had it not been for the fact the Prophet Nathan called him out. Then, the whole story started to unravel: How David had an affair with her, impregnated her, and then caused her husband to be killed in battle to cover it up.

    It was done in the dark, but he came to the light.

    We are not immune. Neither can we point fingers.  All of us have dark secrets we hope stay in the dark and in the past. We would certainly be embarrassed if some of our darkest moments came to light.

    That's why we are thankful that Jesus is forgiving and merciful. He wipes out our indiscretions from God's book and gives us a chance at eternal life. That's the core of our faith. 

    Unfortunately, although our sins may be expunged from God's judgment, the courts of law are not so forgiving; that's what Mr. Cosby and others are finding out.

Monday, February 26, 2018

I Admired Billy Graham

  In 1961 I was fascinated with evangelist Billy Graham’s televised crusades. I lived with the Hill family in Monroe, La. and they were very religious, watching the Graham crusade on television was a no brainer.
  It seemed that they were aired on CBS at least twice each year in our community.
  Mrs. Hill sat in front of the television religiously and watched, and so did the rest of her family, me included. Their conversation was about his intelligence, the large crowds and the presence of Negroes in the audience and choir.
  I watched with curiosity. It amazed me that so many people came to his rallies. I was even more amazed that when he gave the invitation that thousands came down to the altar to rededicate their lives to God.
  I first noticed his intelligent presence. He preached in a style that blacks called lecturing. He never yelled, but spoke clearly about Jesus as savior and his willingness to forgive. He offered that forgiveness and thousands accepted.
  I was also Impressed that he included Blacks in his choir and had Ethel Waters to sing “His eye is on the sparrow.” He was was criticized for his integrated crusades but he did not back down.That impressed me.
  I watched all of the televised crusades until they stopped airing them.
  He died in 2018 at the age of 99.
  He made an impression on me that lasted a lifetime.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

They drank beer on Sunday, but they were neighborly

  In the late 1980’s my family attended a convention in Richmond, Virginia. We drove a blue Ford LTD that was long past its prime. On the return trip, a stream of white smoke clouded the highway and soon the car just stopped.

  We were a mile from an exit and 20 miles from a hotel. The five of us walked along the highway, passed by hundreds of cars as we walked in the summer heat on a Sunday morning. We looked pretty ragged that day. A man, his wife and three little boys who were dirty, sweaty and tired.

   A church van approached us and the driver asked if we wanted a ride to his worship services. We declined after explaining our situation. They van drove off to pick up worshippers waiting for rides.

   At the exit, in Ladysmith, Va., we were assisted by several men who were drinking alcohol and playing loud music. They put us in their car and carried us 20 miles to a hotel, and then returned and towed our car to their home. They happened to be mechanics.

   We had a blown head gasket, but they stayed up all night long, drinking, listening to loud music and repaired our vehicle. They only charged us for the parts and continued drinking.

   As we pulled away, the church van stopped us and the driver asked whether we had our problem solved. He said, “God bless you,” and then drove away.

   Each time we go in that direction my wife bakes a cake to take to those men, in gratitude for helping us when we were stranded. We never even thought about attending that church.

   Luke 10:29 asks a question, “Who is my neighbor?”

   On that Sunday, when we were in distress, our neighbors were three drinking men who listened to loud music on Sunday, but gave of themselves to help us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

She fasted and posted, did she really fast?

  A young woman was concerned with her weight, so she decided to go on a diet. She concluded that fasting at the same time was a “cool” idea. As she fasted she posted to all of her friends on Face book that she was on a 30 day fast. Her posts received hundreds of comments and likes. At the end, she announced she had lost ten pounds and attributed to fasting. She received even more comments and congratulations from her friends!

   The young woman participated in a weight loss regimen,  but it was not a spiritual fast. Fasting means we do without a prescribed diet for the purpose of helping us intensify our spiritual connection with God. Each time we would normally consume the item of the fast, we pray instead.

   The churning in our stomachs reminds us of the yearnings in our soul and keeps us on task.

   Fasting is secret. It is not posted on Face book, Tweeted or announced. It is part of a believer’s prayer life. It is not a weight loss program.

   No one should know that we are fasting by our appearance or communications; that is, if we are really fasting.

   In Matthew 6:18 Jesus says, "That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly."

   The moment we tell someone we are fasting, it loses its power!