Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

 

The lies that resulted in the loss of life at the United States Capitol this week were the inevitable fruit of the poisonous tree. We express no surprise in Wednesday’s outcome—the swelling crowds, stirred into believing that they have been disenfranchised, the overrun of police, the overspreading of chaos across the Capitol, penetrating it with the deadly virus of violence. We condemn it, nevertheless.

Though we deplore the civic confusion, we saw it coming. The Trump administration set out to skirt the ethics watchdogs in government early on. Repeated attacks on the news media have meant that the whistleblowers have been effectively muted. Repeated attacks on critics, anybody who threw a flag on the play, meant that they suffered the allegation of self-seeking, and their warnings also rendered ineffective. Baseless lies now motivate the actions of so many, leading us closer than ever to our own destruction.

I pause here as a I remember a maxim taught by my friend Brian Wright whose parents never suffered lies in their home. Lying was met with the strictest of consequences because “if you lie, you’ll do anything.”

So here we are. President Trump, who maintains a pathologically compromised relationship with truth,  stood back and stood by while the crowd he commanded moved on the Capitol. It should have been foreseen that a fringe on the frontline would tragically overstep.

Time and investigation will tell us more about the mental state and culpability of those who scaled walls, broke through barricades and windows, and who in utter disrespect propped their feet upon desks, while daring to pose for selfies. Prosecution, if it is to come, will determine their fate. In the meantime, as a black Christian, several untruths must be confronted—again.

Security Lapse Due to the Failure of Racial Profiling

While President Trump may have incited the crowd that marched on the Capitol, it remains to be seen how involved the administration had been in directing security forces to stand down. As of this writing, the head of the Capitol police has resigned in acknowledgement of the historic lapse in security. But, the fact that they were overwhelmed, outnumbered, or failed to call in reinforcements in advance, was not a failure in the heat of the moment. And, reinforcements from the National Guard arrived an hour after the call from Washington, D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser according to a Reuters report. It appears, at least now, that the threat was largely underestimated, and woefully dismissed.

The Capitol was stormed one day after prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisconsin announced they would not charge the police officers in the shooting of Jacob Blake. Note the egregious double standard: Blake was unarmed, shot in the back, seven times, while walking away from police, after a domestic disturbance in which he was not involved. Juxtapose this with the spellbinding video of police being brushed aside while thousands of white rioters maneuvered themselves into what we thought would have been one of the most secure settings in the country.

The lie perpetuated is that black skin and black bodies are more dangerous, and suspect, at any given time and circumstance. The lie perpetuated is that one can trust white skin and white bodies, no matter how many, how dangerous, and how much damage done. That is the faulty assumption and failure of racial profiling in a nutshell. And this is the naked, racist truth on display for all the world to see, again.

So, in my black body, contemplating my black husband, and black children, and black friends, I echo a social media meme I saw that day: “It’s not that I want them to shoot them. I want them to not shoot us, the way they don’t shoot them.”

Looking for the Real Right

The second area of untruth is found in the tangled association with some in the Christian right. As Christians, we winced at the sight of the individual who carried the bright yellow placard heralding “Jesus Saves”, or the orange Jesus flag that draped an interloper breaching the House floor. What about the senior, white man carrying the Christian flag?

We can think of nothing about the cause of Jesus that is consistent with the attempt to impede any process by brute force. This, the latest and extreme misappropriation of Christian faith rides a defiant wave. As a Christian publication, we’ve seen the strident rhetoric ramping up:

“Americans need to resist the ‘progressive’ push coming from so many influencers in our society, and restore a Christian conscience to our nation,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, in a press release we received Monday. “We are in a battle to show America her way back to God.”

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s breach, another Christian group, Moms For America, sought to discredit the news reports, downplay the danger, and deflect blame on Antifa, and even Black Lives Matter.

“Why am I here?” said Kimberly Fletcher who was on Capitol Hill Wednesday ( in her own press release), “[b]ecause freedom is worth fighting for. When my children and grandchildren ask me where I was when the Constitution hung in the balance and the Republic was on the verge of collapse, I will say I was there, on the frontlines, fighting to my last breath to save it!”

Just as racial and political unrest—fueled by mistrust and untruths—have been fomenting for months, so is there unrest among the faithful. Amid conspiracy theories about nano-technology in vaccines that would inhibit the conscience, and first amendment objections to mask mandates, or safety restrictions on the numbers of worshippers at church, believers are in danger of devolving into a spiritual mob. The result is a confusing witness that tends to engender skepticism and resistance here among our youth, and around the world, rather than trust and openness.

One friend told me she received this very question in an email from a sincere Christian, new in the faith, from Afghanistan: “What does ‘Jesus Saves’ have to do with ‘Don’t Tread on Me?’”

Stay Sober, My Friends

As lawyer, activist, and song writer James Weldon Johnson penned the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” more than one hundred years ago, sober vigilance in these last days is a tall order. We must protect discernment, act in truth, and reject the temptation to corrupt it for personal gain.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

 




Valuation

After a painstaking search in the dusty records of an Kentucky recorder’s office, my friend Jacqueline Palmer found her ancestor Franklin Dale. Palmer and her cousins scanned large volumes to find clues and signs of life. All that remains are the legal entries in a book, and that’s where they discovered a ledger that indicated the portion of shares investors held on each enslaved soul. She tells the story in a Dayton Tedx video due out this month. Palmer’s great-grandfather and other family members had been reduced to commodities, with investors holding shares of their black bodies. Astonishingly, the portfolio of one self-styled entrepreneur included a 1/144th share of a human being.

Disgusted, but not surprised, Palmer remembered the prevailing thinking at that time caused a nation to apportion congressional representation by recognizing and counting African Americans, but only 3/5ths of each of them. 

That’s a big discount. That’s the term that William “Sandy” Darity uses to determine the quality and value of the lived experience of black life and financial worth in the U.S., when measured against that of white lives and net worth. Darity, a professor of Public Policy at Duke University and his wife, folklorist Kristen Mullen, co-authored the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century, published last April. 

“The discount rate on black humanity has been enormous” Darity and Mullen wrote in From Here. “A variety of metrics indicate that even after the end of Jim Crow black lives are routinely assigned a worth approximately 30 percent that of white lives.”

Ancient moral wisdom found in the Bible rebukes this history, and the system that birthed and perpetuates it. How do we know this? I point you to the Bible’s repeated declaration that “God hates dishonest scales.” The Bible explains that false balances are an abomination to the Lord. They represent the criminal tools used to steal and cheat. They are the infrastructure that furthers the aims of those who lack scruples, to the benefit of their progeny and prosperity. The scales, hold the appearance of integrity, equity, and due process. One may not be able to detect the faulty calibration with the naked eye, yet it’s there. One cannot always trace the human actor that set the scales askew in the first place, but God assures us that He sees the actor and the system. “Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” (Micah 6:11, NLT*). 

One needs no forensic accounting to see the current evidence of this illegitimate value system, Darity said during a Brookings Institute session “Reparations: Whether, Why and How?” The disparate impact of the Coronavirus on black lives now takes center stage, leading other areas in which blacks take a greater hit, like health and environmental justice, food and housing insecurity. 

Last year we watched this value differential at work, illustrated in Kenosha, Wisconsin in stark relief. There Jacob Blake a black, 29 year-old, father suffered a police-involved shooting in front of three of his children while unarmed. As a result of the shooting, Blake was paralyzed from the waist down, and handcuffed to a hospital bed. When protestors converged upon the small city to demand justice of police officers, Kyle Rittenhouse, a white, 17 year-old showed up with an automatic weapon. Rittenhouse walked, undetected and un-arrested, until he was confronted by protesters, at which point (or points), he is alleged to have shot three people, killing two of them. What makes this story evergreen is the surprising, and disgusting overwhelming financial support for him. His $2 million bond was paid by interested donors, including presumed believers who visited the Christian crowdfunding site “Give Send Go.” We don’t have space to cover the nearly $200 million raised, post-election, to support recounts, and runoffs to support a status quo with which more than half of the country’s white voters agree.

I’m so glad we live in a universe where the Creator God values us all individually so much that He has logged the number of hairs on our heads. This God gave all to have us in His life. In His hands and feet Jesus bears the marks of His Divine stake in us. “How can I give you up?” Jesus said, and where can we go from Him? the Psalmist asks. He has assessed our future, and immeasurable inheritance as a son and daughter of God. Until then, He has given us the distinct privilege to call out the lingering imbalances that attempt to legitimize faulty human valuation, particularly because of race and ethnicity. 




I Dream a World Where We Can Make It Stop

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!
—Langston Hughes

Back to back Black bodies building up in the streets have our communities triaging men downed in the coronavirus, racism and poverty pandemics. One hundred years on from Langston Hughes’ dreaming, this nightmare is still going.

I recently discovered the work of Kareem Lucas, who Kickstarted a theatrical event around his observational poetry. His “Rated Black: An American Requiem” sits on an unusual, dramatic device: a young man preemptively administering his own “homegoing” ahead of what he expects to be his inevitable, tragic demise.

“After consuming all this violence upon and death of Black people I decided to tell my own story on my own terms in my own way, before I become a trending hashtag that’s an unwilling martyr, or a super predator instantly shamed and blamed,” Lucas wrote in a petition for funds for “Rated Black.” “Death is not a distant thought. Death is a fast approaching inevitability that must be accepted and appropriately planned for.”

God, where am I going?
The lines in front of me
use references that lie,
and the truth is not a direction.
I need to inspect my expectation.
I wish I could talk to my destiny
and ask it ‘What will I be?

A month ago, I was ready to chuck the silly dreams for a collective destiny of co-existence. No trigger warning could have prepared my spirit for the murderous aggression we saw against Ahmad Arbery by a white former police investigator and his son. Nothing could rouse us from the nightmare of knowing Breonna Taylor perished when police shot her in her sleep. I couldn’t stomach the evil of police officer Derek Chauvin’s barbarism toward George Floyd. Nothing steals your optimism more than hearing of white Christian brothers wonder why George Floyd has been made a martyr. This has been a rape of our fragile peace.

Except, then, the people took to the streets. Now Congress is pushing through a bill—likely to face hurdles in the Senate, and risk of veto—that renounces brutish practices such as chokeholds, and “no-knock” warrants. When the people took to the streets, we see District Attorneys bringing their case against murderers, and securing indictments, and exacting justice for the depravity with which these people treat life. When the people took to the streets they mounted attacks on the symbolism of racist regimes. They turned their sights to monuments to the civil war, the confederacy and slavery worldwide. This included that of ole’ Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy, who fell with a crunch on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue. Pennsylvania Avenue, with one of the world’s most famous addresses, is now our yellow brick road, for it declares that “Black Lives Matter.” And who knew that Martin Luther King Jr.’s often repeated dream would see fulfillment, not in child’s play, but in the coming together of little children of all races to fight the power.

Can I dare to dream that this will change anything? My personal piece ‘d resistance came in the observation of a grainy image of hope, when police vehicles clustered in my neighborhood. While the lights swirled and officers worked, off on a side street sat a little red hatchback. Its young, white, male driver—sealed inside—trained his cell phone camera on their every move.

2020 July August cover
This article is part of our 2020 July / August  Issue
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BUCKET LIST FOR THE SAVED

PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW

I praise God that even though it looks like we may have to slog through months of economic challenge, health threats, global movements and machinations, He is still in control. We don’t know what’s on the horizon, and truthfully, stock analysts, political pundits, policy makers, and executives don’t either, yet God knows. I praise Him that even now, as the earth experiences a new quiet God’s Spirit speaks to our hearts, and agitates the subconsciousness.

IN MY HEAD. IN MY FEELINGS.

Confession truth: we have nagging questions and unfinished business, made real by the realization that we, too, could contract this virus that could wipe us out in a matter of weeks. As we grieve in acute sadness and isolation the passing of our loved ones, we, too, realize this thing could come for us. There would be no time to say good-bye, no time for getting things in order if they have not already been. Answers to those nagging questions can surely be found in the Word, in prayer and through providence. “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart,” Jeremiah 29:13.

The midnight madness, the 2 a.m. sleeplessness, and the 4 a.m., listlessness, are all opportunities to seek peace and alignment with the Almighty God.

And, if we don’t let them, there’s not one thing that will take us away from God’s loving care. (Romans 8:38, 39)

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM

Expectancy, is a state of joy, not dread. The joys and sorrows here and now, will be completely eclipsed upon the return of Jesus. Even so, come Lord, Jesus! It helps to imagine that moment. What’s on your bucket list? Here’s mine:

5. I want to reunite with loved ones. I imagine my father clasping the hands of the angel sent to wake him up and bursting forth from that box we laid him in. That “twinkling” moment to come (1 Corinthians 15:51) reminds us that whether your heart disappeared into a hospital, never to be seen again, or whether it visits the graveside every month for decades, this is a season. Like the fragrant cherry blossoms of spring, our friends and family members, asleep in their graves spring up when the light of the Son breaks forth upon the earth.

4. I want to experience the power to sustain. Don’t get me wrong. I have experienced, and am experiencing God’s day-to-day grace. Like David, I have been young, and now I’m old, and I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging bread (Psalm 37:25). The Mighty Rock flowed twice for Israel when they were thirsty; manna appeared every morning in the wilderness; ravens visited the refugee prophet Elijah; and, a poor widow’s meal and oil just would not run out as long as it was needed. I wouldn’t mind seeing what God cooks up this time.

3. I want to see the rescue of the saved. I often think of the story of how Jesus was taken to the temple as a baby (Luke 2:22-38). Levitical law required parents to present their son and an offering before the Lord. Can you imagine the scene when Joseph and Mary walked in and when the priest asked the baby’s name, they said Jesus? (Matthew 1:21). That day, the Holy Ghost revealed to two onlookers that this is it. This is Whom you’ve been waiting for, the consolation of Israel. Likewise, I wouldn’t mind seeing the plans for destruction against God’s people fail. I wouldn’t mind seeing the weapons falter, and, after all, the clear indication of God’s favor. I wouldn’t mind seeing the spine-tingling sight of a little cloud, the size of a man’s hand in the distance.

2. I want to fly away. 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Thessalonians 5 says whether we wake or sleep, the saved are going to be caught up in the air to meet the Lord. Richard Branson, Elon Musk, space travel is in my future. Star Trek, Star Wars, no need for a time warp technology, because what is time in infinity?

1. I want to see Jesus. This theme of scripture, hymns, poems, and gospel songs fills the number one spot. Ironically, perhaps our wishes are moot, because the Bible already says of the return of Jesus: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen,” Revelation 1:7. But, as many songwriter’s have mused, I want to see Him.

Don’t despair now. Our ancestors used to sing,

I open my mouth unto the Lord, and I won’t turn back. I will go. I shall go, to see what the end’s going to be.




The Official Statement of MESSAGE on Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

In solidarity with the outcries of justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others who have died at the hands of police brutality, Message denounces racial violence and calls for the prosecution of all the officers and persons involved.

Reflecting on the recent murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, and the global outcry for racial justice, Message shares in the outrage that Floyd’s death followed an officer’s senseless restraint over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. We condemn the violent take down of another unarmed black man, father, son, and friend. And we condemn the violence that caused a most humiliating and inhumane death.

We condemn the police line of protection around this act as repugnant to everything we stand for as an organization and as a nation. Rather than serve and protect George Floyd, the police chose to stand in solidarity with their comrade Derek Chauvin. In spite of eight and a half minutes of pleading on deaf ears, pleas of a grown man for his mother, pleas for his life, not one officer intervened. This passivity counters the deadly belief of the “one bad apple,” making Chauvin’s choice their choice, and created a real time illustration of how institutional racism continues to spawn.

Here at Message we also condemn the pause in determining whether to prosecute. The pause evidenced a sense of ambivalence toward justice for George Floyd in contravention of his birthright as an American. It was this pause that stirred the feeling of hopelessness and angst in the hearts of people of color everywhere, and contributed to the unrest and protests across the globe.

While we are pleased to hear of the recent arrests of the remaining officers we believe it necessary to continue to apply pressure to ensure all four officers are indicted and convicted. It is precisely the inability of the court system to discern right from wrong and execute justice that enables the contagion of such brutality. As advocates for criminal justice reform, Message believes it critical that justice be found for George Floyd.

As truth tellers, we commend the capture of this incident and the screaming protests waged while it unfolded. Without you many would never have acknowledged the depths of the ugliness of America’s systemic racism. This infection of racism has festered so deeply into the bone that without direct action and change we are in danger of losing the life of our country. We encourage you, pray for you, and join you in your protests to ensure that even when against the highest wall of opposition truth can and will be captured and disseminated.

Our condemnation extends to the militaristic response to peaceful protests and protestors. People are more important than property, yet, leadership mobilizes the military to protect windows, while it sets off tear gas on protesters. We further decry the characterization as “violent” as it applies to passionate protestors. Violence is a word that applies to the injury of the body of George Floyd. Violence applies to the suffocation Derek Chauvin employed while restraining Floyd. It is not violent to protest, and is a constitutional right.  So we decry the expenditures and deployments now to protect property. They could easily have been realigned previously to support people in need. We join the calls for redirecting police department funds–where they are especially rich in heavy equipment and tactical gear–into schools and communities. 

Finally, we lament that this is one more injury to the spirit, one more layer of anguish African Americans, have to navigate. While we bury our dead in greater numbers in the midst of a pandemic, and while so many jobless struggle to find the means to support their families, we find ourselves now having to deal with more state sanctioned violence. We mourn because of the vicarious pain caused here by the police. We cling to our loved ones, afraid for them to live because they could die. We are afraid to sink into a never ending loop of grief, hopelessness and powerlessness. But while we mourn we will still mobilize; while we hope we will still help; and while we sob we will still stand for justice and righteousness.

As a publication we are committed to, in the midst of such great tragedy, bringing you truth, hope, and inspiration as we all continue to war against injustice in all its various forms.

It is our greatest hope and privilege to call on the strong arm of the Lord to assist us and you in this fight. Be encouraged that we serve a God who sits high, and looks low. He will not overlook the sins of the guilty, but in His righteous judgment bring all to justice.




In Honor of Pat Sparks Harris, Friend and Associate Message Editor

September 25, 1947 – May 20, 2020

Pat Sparks Harris, the long-time backbone of Message (1999-2018), served most recently as our Associate Editor before she retired. What distinguished her 20-year career was that she never lost the keen realization that her work mattered.

Pat’s life came to a tragic end this week, the result of a horrific traffic accident on a Pennsylvania highway. In the final, final analysis we expect to find that she was running the Lord’s errands.

Mischief and Mission

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Pat was known for her active personality and mischief. She shared that she often tasted soap as a consequence for her “smart mouth.” Growing up, Pat played the accordion, piano and organ. And, though a beloved little sister to several protective brothers, she was a true caretaker to them. She married Leonard F. Harris, a religious literature salesman, or “literature evangelist” and associate publishing director in New York.

Together they reared two children, and then Pat became a single parent. Her children devoted their lives to ministry, like their mother. Daughter Lisa Quailey is part of the Volunteer Atlantic Union Adventist Youth Ministry (AYM) Compassion Advisory, and serves in the New York City Community Partner and Faith-based Networks. Her son L. David Harris is a prolific writer and longtime contributor to Message.  He currently serves as the Communication Director for the Central Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Pat’s children with their spouses and children held an all-consuming and treasured space in Pat’s heart.

Pat Harris at 18. Sisters like her are special, says Alvin Kibble, Vice-President of the Adventist Church in North America. Some are given at birth, “and some by Divine Purpose.”

Family Ties

“Sisters are really special, each one designed for us by God. Some by birth and some by Divine Purpose,” said Alvin Kibble, vice-president Vice President for Big Data + Social Media, Public Affairs & Religious Liberty, Literature Ministries, and Executive Coaching, Training & Development at the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Both a childhood friend and long-time colleague, Kibble remembered their last meal together, one that included plenty of chatter, teasing and laughter.

“She was a lovely Christian woman who loved the Lord and His people and His Church,” said Daniel Jackson, President of the Adventist Church in North America. “She would come by my office from time to time and we would just talk and laugh. She would often put on a stern face and pretend to be upset with me or the brethren but then, after a few moments she would break into laughter. Both Donna [his wife] and I loved her.”

“We have lost a great friend, sister in Christ, soldier on the battlefield, and prayer warrior of God,” said Alex Bryant, Secretary for the Adventist Church in North America and Chairman of the Message Executive Committee. “I will forever cherish her warm smile and thoughtful compassion. She seemed to always know intuitively when things were not quite right with you. At those particular moments for me, she would often come and just say that she was going to send up a special prayer for me. She did it in a way that you knew that she knew something was on your heart but she would not pry.”

“She was just texting us last week,” said Dwayne Crawford, Owner of Byrd Tire in Hagerstown, Maryland. While they may not have always known her name, everybody in town knew the kind lady who stopped to chat, and leave books.

“As a former vice president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association and Editor of Message Magazine (1999- 2007), one of the distinct privileges and experiences I enjoyed was the hiring of Pat Harris as my Executive Assistant and Associate Editor,” said Ron C. Smith, PhD, D.Min., President of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “I was always impressed with her missional heart for the salvation of underprivileged people.  Our professional, but, fun-loving relationship as brother and sister transcended geographical relocations over the years since we worked for seven years together in the same office. I’ll never forget her passion for prison ministry and the circulation of Message Magazine copies in urban communities.”

Lifetime Ministry

In 1985, as an adult learner, Pat completed her Bachelor’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in alcoholism counseling from York College, part of the City University of New York network. She became the owner of Sparks Funeral Home in Brooklyn, the business her beloved brother Chester Sparks built from the ground up. Once, for a major protest, Pat loaned an empty casket to activist and civil rights leader, Al Sharpton. The casket was an important statement against police brutality and killings, a cause that stirred fire in Pat’s spirit. She also worked with influencer and activist Dennis Dillion, a pastor whose Brooklyn Christian Center ran a long-running black, weekly newspaper called the New York Christian Times.

Another central value for Pat was advocacy in the interest of young people and children. Fiercely protective and always engaged, she would often chastise senior adults who were less than patient and understanding. She hated their dismissiveness: “Excuse me,” she would point her finger, “how old was Jesus?”

It was the work of literature evangelism that defined Harris most. This intensely personal,  middle-of-the-sidewalk kind of introduction to Jesus still works. She would regale, but not with stories of conquest. Instead, her eyes would moisten when she recounted the Spirit’s leading, the providential meetings, and the opening of hearts. She was grateful to play a part.

We once took a six-hour road trip. Every gas station attendant, toll booth operator, and passerby received a book, magazine or tract. Sometimes she made me give it to them. I once told her I found an unpriced sharing book on the shelf in the media department at Wal-Mart. She looked away with a wryness that let me know she had been sharing in stealth mode. And, true to Christ’s mandate, Pat made sure she attended church services monthly at a Maryland prison from which she always left inspired.

Famous Last

“The first time I met Ms. Pat,” said Garrison Hayes, Pastor of the Community Praise Center in Alexandria, Virginia where Pat attended regularly, “we sat down at Sabbath lunch and talked for over an hour! We talked about how much she loved her family and she shared some of the fascinating and complicated parts of her upbringing. I was captured by her outstanding and honest storytelling abilities, and befriended by her endearingly infectious smile.”

Pat Harris was not one to stand in front of a crowd—ever—to tell her shockingly painful life-story. Yet, she shared it, personally, one-to-one. Though so many knew of her personal heartaches, we also caught her testimony of forgiveness. Though we often shuddered to think of her history of childhood trauma and mistreatment, she schooled us in people-loving. Never one to waste a good lesson, she encouraged the habit of seeking God in prayer for everything. “And, I’m not just talking to you,” she would say, “I’m talking to me.”




Healing and Wholeness in Washington D.C.’s Historic Howard University Hospital

Howard University Hospital, in Washington, D.C., was formerly the first Freedman’s Hospital, established in 1862 for the treatment of African Americans, particularly those who were formerly

Image from HowardsHeritage.wordpress.com 

enslaved.

Since 1967 Howard has operated the hospital, placing it at its current location. This February, Adventist HealthCare assumed management of the hospital with an eye toward strengthening its financial standing, continuing its legacy of graduating black medical students, providing more training outlets, and building a new hospital in the rapidly changing neighborhood. The fusion of fortunes for Howard and Adventist is worth noting here.

Howard graduates more black medical students than Harvard, Yale and MIT combined. Dr. Charles Drew was one of its famous practitioners, known for his research and advancements in blood transfusions. As it did at its inception Howard cares for patients who lack means, and according to the Washington Post, 85% of its patients are public pay. 

In a parallel universe, the four-hospital network Adventist HealthCare sprouted in the region from one hospital—the Washington Sanitarium established in 1907, and later called Washington Adventist Hospital. With a firm belief that one’s good health fosters one’s relationship with God and service to humanity, it incorporated modern health technique with a wholistic approach to healing.

One unfortunate link in the history of these two institutions makes this story fascinating and transformative. Washington Sanitarium received a very ill Lucy Byard one September day in 1943. A Seventh-day Adventist, known for her hospitality and vegetarian cooking, Byard and her husband sought treatment from the Sanitarium. However, when the couple arrived and the hospital staff realized the Byards were black, they turned them away. Ill as she was with liver cancer, and wasting away, the Byards left by taxi, straight to Freedman’s, the hospital that treated everybody. Unfortunately, however, Lucy died there a month later.

Seventh-day Adventists felt this loss, sorely. This faithful grandmother and church musician had been a devoted sister in the church. She entertained great and small, including leaders such as the former editor of Message, Louis B. Reynolds. Hence, in large part, her death pushed the call for equity in the denomination into a different sphere. Black leaders rightfully demanded fairness and access, immediately. White leaders—publicly chagrined and spiritually indicted—placated the request by “allowing” black leaders to govern their own affairs under the banner of Adventism. While the decision to do so may have lacked the sincere change many hoped for, the legacy has been exponential growth of the denomination among African Americans, and all people of color all over the world.

Now separated by seven decades, Anita Adams-Jenkins a black, female, Adventist hospital executive presents on the campus of the Howard University Hospital. She, and the hospital system want to redefine the relationship.

“I toured Howard University Hospital, and the workers didn’t know who we were. I was with some of the leadership at Howard. It was great,” said Adams-Jenkins, who started her profession as a respiratory therapist. She advanced into leadership, acquired her MBA, and managed virtually every hospital function until she became President of the A-rated Sycamore Hospital in Miamisburg, Ohio. Howard, though, is in a different neighborhood.

“What I really saw was Wakanda,” said Adams-Jenkins referencing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ culture-changing inspiration of “Black Panther” and its fictional,  technologically-advanced African kingdom. “I saw clinicians and nurses who knew their stuff, and I could help them go to that next level. I know this can be a very special place filled with people who take care of everybody with excellence and that they are the best of the best.”

I tell this tale of two institutions for two simple reasons. Observe, the intersection of race, need, and medical care 158 years ago. It understandably required specialized institutions to address the overwhelming need of formerly enslaved people. Yet the great advancements in medical treatments of our time still fail under bias in practice and lack of access for the underserved. Read in the right light, the Byard story painfully checks the heart of every practitioner.

I tell this tale, also, for the beauty of what can be. Imagine the health of our people when “Wakanda” embraces anew the community-healing, soul-nourishing and transformational practices that extend health, life, and knowledge of the Creator’s care and concern. That truly is next level.


This article is part of our 2020 March / April
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How to Play The Conscience Card

I totally get it. Faithful and God-fearing means one has to stand up for the cause of God in the face of encroaching evil. Students of the Bible do more than wait as human conflicts increase and environmental breakdown intensifies. In the unseen clash between rulers of darkness and angels of light and right, we are participants.

Participant may be too lazy a word here. When it comes to the influence now being waged by some of America’s evangelical groups, they’re working with a vengeance to bring Christian values to the forefront of world morality. It is vengeance because, as one conservative author and commentator writes, when they helped elect Donald Trump as president, they vowed to “hit back twice as hard” because they believe they had to take a backseat in the era of Barack Obama.

Obama, a professed Christian, increasingly sought to uphold the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. The White House began to neutralize the language that traditionally recognized Christians. Federal agencies and funding recipients were expected to offer their services with neutral and thus inclusive treatment. Further, Obama created an atmosphere that was inclusive of a diversity of people, religious beliefs and practices. He included Muslims and members of LGBTQ+ communities into official White House ceremony and tradition.

With Trump’s election, largely credited to the support of Evangelical Christians, the power of the church, at the invitation of the state, is just warming up. From a cabinet with eight active and vocal Christians, to the quick and unobstructed appointment of pro-life judges on the federal bench, Make America Great Again, means Christians are back in style.

The Netflix documentary “The Family” traced the underground influence Christian leaders leveraged among elected leaders in the U.S. and globally. The National Prayer Breakfast, according to the film, has been more than a time for prayer, reflection, and direction. Rather, it is a chance for well-connected, yet religious activists to gain access to world leaders in order to influence their policy and governance. So much for the separation of church and state.

Evangelicals, so sure that they are on the right side of the Bible and history, claim Trump is the most “biblically friendly” president the U.S. has ever seen. They are so sure on this that when Trump surprised his own cabinet and intelligence personnel with an abrupt change in Syria, Evangelical pundit and pastor Pat Robertson said Trump was in danger of “losing the mandate of heaven.”

Whether you consider yourself Christian and care about the unborn or the incarcerated, the rule of law or police abuse, there has to be a balancing analysis and maybe synthesis. Matthew 25’s mandate to reach the poor, the oppressed, and the incarcerated in mercy for Christ is clear. It is clear, also, that the Bible invites each believer to cast his or her whole being squarely on the Lord’s side—believing and doing the work of the kingdom (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 10:32, 33; Matthew 12:50; James 2:17, as just some example texts). For Christians who cherish liberty of conscience, there is a critical question: how much of God’s kingdom comes to this world, when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”?

If there were a playbook, I would think some of these ideas would be central operating principles for the Christian seeking to affect her world:

The end does not justify the means. Consider the tragic story of Judas, who for 30 pieces of silver, sold away the Messiah to be crucified. This illustrates the idea that even though the plan of God to redeem the world meant His son would shed His blood and die, God didn’t endorse the betrayal, the conspiracy, the blood money. “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” Judas cried, on his way to a guilt-ridden suicide.

Hollow participation to gain position and power likewise damages the unity, commitment and the witness of the body of Christ. The Spirit exposed the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, and their final, lying words condemned them.

Love covers a multitude of sins, but don’t use love as your cover-up. Maybe David, a man after God’s own heart, was too secure in his prosperity, power and poetry. He completely blanked when tempted to wield his power to get what he wanted, and again, to what end? The shedding of innocent blood.

Finally, we can never fool ourselves into thinking whatever fundamentalist mission and vision we’re on need not pass the test of the light of scripture, and wise counsel. God sees all. (Revisit the scenes in Ezekiel 8 in which spiritual leaders betrayed God’s trust behind closed doors.) Sure, there will come a time when the masses will not endure sound doctrine, and true believers will suffer. In the meantime, the prospect of public scrutiny should lead us to act with transparency and accountability before God and people.


This article is part of our 2019 November / December Issue
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Give Hope on Giving Tuesday

Today is Black Friday and your shopping, if you did any, is likely done for the day. Or are you waiting to get some deals online on Cyber Monday? Either way, please plan on supporting Message magazine on Giving Tuesday December 2, 2019. In the midst of the holiday shopping season, Giving Tuesday is a day to shift ones’ focus to helping others. It’s an opportunity to give towards a specific organizations’ efforts that support your community.

Message is focused on reaching the urban community with the good news of God’s saving grace. Our Giving Tuesday efforts are focused on maxing out the campaign to send subscriptions to incarcerated citizens or their families. We are reaching the oft forgotten with the light of the gospel. Go to www.messagemagazine.com/donate to participate in Giving Tuesday or www.messagemagazine.com/subscribe to send a subscription.




It’s a Trap, I’m Telling You!

The prospect of a sunny day at an Orlando water park to cap off summer vacation managed to raise an eyebrow among our emerging adult children. With one in college, one a senior in high school, and one in eighth grade, we were lucky they wanted to be with us at all.

We trailed our kids up at least 150 steps to the top of Volcano Bay’s Ko’okiri, anxious for the fun to begin. Breathless on the top deck I was stunned as my children each climbed into the door of a clear capsule then vanished down the chute.

Wait, wuh?

I hadn’t researched the new Ko’okiri. I didn’t know it is reportedly the world’s tallest body slide, with the highest plunge, a fall at a 70 degree angle and 125 feet of sheer terror. I didn’t know about the trap door. If you think this is about quality experiences to cement relationships, you’re getting way

Volcano Bay

ahead of me. No, I’m using this as a metaphor for the dramatic and quick decline of the spiritual interests and practices of our millennials and the teens after them, the Generation Zers, or “screenagers.”

Have you seen the numbers in Gen Z The Culture Beliefs and Motivation Shaping The Next Generation? (Barna, 2018) More agnostics, atheists and “nones,” more ambivalence about the relevance of Christianity, and pillars of faith. As a Christian, this feels like a breathless ride into the abyss.

Without question, we believe the task to keep the legacy going falls to Christian parents: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” Deuteronomy 6:4-7.

So, people of faith want their children to have a living faith, a faith that allows them to navigate a secular, if not hostile society (p. 80). But, if a vibrant Christian life is what we want for them, researchers studying this younger cohort wonder at the dichotomy in modeling and teaching in parents. Parents bubble-wrap their children’s lives to protect them, yet, leave them unprepared for spiritual challenge.

Parents wait in cars for the school bus with their children to avoid the stranger danger. Yet, the empty streets after school, hide the fact that there are plenty of children in the area; they’re just spending their time inside, isolated, and unsupervised with uncritical access to a hazardous universe of media at their fingertips.

“[I]n an age of social media, ubiquitous porn, self-harm, cyberbullying and sexting,” said James Emery White (Gen Z p. 35, Barna, 2018), “children need greater protection than ever before—not less. Thanks to their parents, however, Gen Z is growing up too fast, and childhood has slowly evaporated in the name of independence and freedom.”

I am convinced that relationships are the most powerful shaping influences during the teenage years.

Strangely also, the unintended message Gen Z catches from watching the professional pursuits of their parents is the idea that financial success is the highest goal. Parents are role models, alright, for what they supply. Gen Zers are missing the underlying source of drive: purpose and life-meaning. It is no wonder that as a group, they are not in a hurry to engage in the the lifework of an adult.

Similarly, we seem surprised at what appears to be ambivalence on the part of our young people when it comes to “lifestyle” choices. We have taught them love, tolerance, compassion, appreciation for differences, talents, and gifts, cultures, races and peoples. Now, in the face of exploding exposure to diversity in gender, race and culture, and religion, instead of being threatened, our young people seem non-committal. It is logical, and not as frightening as one may think, according to Fikre Prince, an Associate Pastor, Evangel Ministries.

“When we make it seem as though God is against youth or their friends, of course they want to find ways to rationalize or explain away that idea. A lot of what comes across as ambivalence is really kids trying to make sense of what they hear, what they see, what they know of truth and love” said Prince. (p.67) We can help them by giving them a way to understand and explain their own beliefs (1 Peter 3:15, 16), but have to respect the way their compassion and empathy, and capacity for inclusiveness get tested every day.

Fortunately, we can both teach and learn by coming alongside the twenty-somethings and “screenagers” among us. “Gen Z increasingly feels isolated and alone, but they hunger for real relationships,” writes Jonathan Morrow, Director of Cultural Engagement at Impact 360 Institute. “I am convinced that relationships are the most powerful shaping influence during the teenage years.”

The teenager operating Ko’orkiri wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I watched her chat with a co-worker while she worked her buttons when the sudden clang of the trap door at my feet let me know she pushed my button. Free-falling and drowning at the same time, I thought “This might really be the end.”

As my husband and I washed ashore the concrete beach at the bottom, nose and sinuses stinging, pulling swimsuits from the crevices in which they hide, I realized one kid’s thrill ride, is another woman’s near death experience.


This article is part of our 2019 September / October Issue
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