Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year's resolution for a happier new you

Every year on December 31st at exactly 12:00 o'clock midnight fireworks light up the night sky, champagne corks pop, horns and whistles blow, hugs and kisses are exchanged and well wishes for a Happy New Year greet people all over the world. Most people view this annual end of the year ritual as a chance to start the New Year with a clean slate.

Habitually, some people make New Year's resolutions every year. But I wonder how many of these New Year's resolutions are actually holdovers from previous failed attempts? We seem to regurgitate the same resolutions from year to year (i.e."This year I will lose the weight.") hoping for a different result. According to Clinical Psychologist and researcher John Norcross:
Approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Sound like you? Well, you are not alone. Millions of people are stuck in this perennial revolving door of making New Year's resolutions, only to break them a few weeks or months down the road, reverting to the same old way of doing things or to the same habits they promised to change. Let's face it, our human efforts at self-improvement are at best superficial, external, and destined to fail every time. Psychology professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are often a form of cultural procrastination :
[In] an effort to reinvent oneself, people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. People [really] aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.
Then, there are those who believe that all it takes is willpower to succeed in keeping resolutions (And how's that been working for you?). If willpower alone is all that's needed, you would have succeeded with that first diet or the first time you tried to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs or whatever else you tried to will yourself to stop or start doing. New Year's Resolutions by themselves have no power, says author S. Michael Houdmann:
Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity.
For resolutions to succeed, it takes more than proper motivation. Once you decide you want to make a change, you need a specific plan, organization, time management, peer or professional support to make it work. In "10 Worst New Year’s Resolutions (And How to Make Them Work)," writer Ann Pietrangelo lays out a partial recipe for success. However, Pietrangelo's formula leaves out one key ingredient --- spiritual resolve.
True, we are creatures of habit. Spiritual resolve acknowledges that we are also creatures created by a loving God for a purpose. As such, we are ultimately accountable to our Creator. Spiritual resolve must undergird any desire we have for a changed life. Without spiritual resolve and God's help, our human efforts are nothing more than a house built on sand. The Bible explains it this way:
When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB
It takes spiritual resolve to surrender your old life in exchange for a new life in Christ. When resolutions fail, God alone has the power to change you. You don't have to go it alone anymore trying to make life work, you have a helper to guide you. Likewise, you don't have to wait until next December 31 at 12 o'clock midnight to take advantage of the offer. You can begin this new year with your sins forgiven and a chance to start your life over. Believe me, it doesn't get any better than that. Happy New Year, happier new you!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The rumor that has been spreading around the world for more than 2,000 years

Who have you told?
We all know how rumors are spread. One person hears or sees something and tells someone else. That person tells another person who tells another, who tells another, who tells another, and so on. Rumors can travel like wildfire through neighborhoods, cities, towns, countries, across oceans, and nowadays, over the Internet. Long before you or I was born a rumor got started that is still being spread around the world more than 2,000 years later.
The rumor is that shepherds were in a field one night watching their sheep when suddenly an angel appeared to them saying: "Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:11 NIV)." After the initial shock of this unexpected heavenly visitation, one of the shepherds said: "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing [check out this rumor] that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (Luke 2:15 NIV)." So, off they went to Bethlehem leaving their sheep behind.
When they arrived days later, they found the mother Mary, father Joseph and the promised baby just as the angel had said. Now these shepherds had a choice, they could have just observed the happenings at the stable, hung around worshiping and getting their praise on and then returned home to the fields. After all, they had busy jobs with a flock of hungry, needy sheep to feed and care for. Instead of going home and keeping what they had witnessed to themselves, these transformed shepherds set out across the land to "spread the word [rumor] concerning what had been told to them about this child. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:17 NIV)."
Today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this rumored birth of Christ Jesus, the savior for all humankind, which the shepherds spread thousands of years ago, is still being spread around the world on every known continent by Christians everywhere. Perhaps you too are a believer today because somebody told somebody who told somebody, who told somebody, and that somebody told you about the Good News that a Savior called Christ Jesus was born into the world to save us from ours sins. The question now is, "Who have you told?"

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas miracle: When death took a detour

Miracle - A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.— Webster's dictionary

believe in miracles. I have enough faith to expect them to happen in my life in when I pray. Even though we don't hear enough about divine miracles nowadays, they do still happen. I know because I was the recipient of a divine miracle on Christmas Day 2002. The following is a true account of that miracle and the events as they occurred that day.

To give you a little background, by December of that year, I had been caring for my 83 year old mother throughout her 22 year battle with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS had long ago taken away her ability to walk, but by 2002, Mom had also lost her ability to speak, feed herself, chew or swallow. At the same time, she started having seizures, which gradually became more persistent, unrelenting, and life-threatening. As a result, Mom was hospitalized and given high doses of phenobarbital to quell the seizures. We left the hospital 12 days later, just three days before Christmas.

Even though mother couldn't speak, her eyes told me that she was glad to be back home. We both were. After I made her comfortable in bed and checked her feeding tube, I took a break to rest. When I returned to check on her, I noticed that Mom was staring hard at the window at the foot of her bed. She appeared not to even notice that I had entered the room. This was not like her. I stood by her bedside calling her name, but she paid me no notice. Instead, she was focused hard at the foot of her bed like she saw something something in her room that my eyes couldn't see. The look on her face more radiant than I'd ever seen her. She was literally glowing, smiling even. I stood there waiting for her to finally notice me. I said nothing about what I had witnessed. As I readied the IV pole for her feeding, she looked directly at me, and with a trembling hand waved me off. I knew what she was asking, so I said, "Mom I can't not feed you that's between you and Jesus."

The next morning, the home care nurse came by for a routine check of Mom's vital signs. 
After the nurse left, I bathed, dressed, and transferred mother to her wheelchair. She was happy to be out of bed. The long hospital stay had been tough on her, but I told her that we were not going to let MS get the better of us; that we were in this fight together to the end.
I combed her hair before leaving her in the care of the aide while I went to the store. When I returned, the aide said Mom had called my name and then went to sleep. After letting the aide out, I went to check on Mom. When I couldn't wake her, I realized that she was not asleep, but had slipped quietly into a coma. It was Christmas Eve.

I really didn't know what else to do except put her to bed and hope that she would pull through as she had done in the past. Even though things were not looking good at that point, I made the decision not to take her back to the hospital. Instead, I called for the home care nurse, and left her a message to come. Going back to the hospital was not an option for us. It was Mom's wish and mine that when death came he would find her at home.  I called my sister and waited for her to come. During the long hours I was alone, I held Mom's hand and talked to her. I believed that even in her comatose state, she could still hear me.

Later that evening, my sister joined me in a bedside vigil for our mother. Together we stood watch as imminent death seemed poised to take our mother from us. I don't remember why, but for some reason, I needed something from the drugstore. My sister volunteered to go. It was after midnight when she left for the 24-hour pharmacy a few blocks away. It seemed like she was gone for a longer than usual time. I wondered if she was somewhere crying? I went over to the window to look out. It was snowing. It was then I realized it was Christmas Day.

Still alone, I returned to mother's bedside and reached for her hand. I was surprised by how cold it had become. I started rubbing her arms, legs, feet—I was startled by how ice cold they all were— like the life blood had suddenly drained out of them. I checked her to see if she was still breathing. She was, but just barely. Her breathing was shallow and made a faint rattling noise when she exhaled. I ran to the other side of the bed to check the 1,000 ml drainage bag that hung there. It should have been full of urine since she was still taking in fluids through the feeding tube. But, it was empty except for a reddish-brown stain at the bottom. My immediate thought was that her kidneys had shut down. For the first time, I allowed myself to entertain the real possibility that Mom was slipping away; that she was in fact dying. In desperation, I cried aloud—
"Mom, it's Christmas Day. Please don't die on Christmas."
Just at that moment, I got an sudden urge to use the bathroom. When I returned moments later, I took Mom's hand again, but something was different. Her hand felt noticeably warmer. Surprised by this, I began feeling for her arms, her legs, her feet, her forehead—her entire body was now feverishly hot. Quickly I went to the other side of the bed to check her drainage bag. The bag was filled to overflowing with clear, yellow urine after having been empty only moments before.

At that moment, I realized what God had done—stopping death in it's tracks. He heard my  plea and performed a miracle. I can just imagine Mom engaging in a negotiation with the angel just outside the gates of Heaven, her holding up one finger and pleading with God—

"Please God, can I go back for one more day? That's my daughter."
Mom died, but not on Christmas Day. She died the day after on December 26 sometime around 2:00 pm. This time my sister and I were together when mother breathed her last. This might have been the end of the story were it not for what Jesus Christ did long ago in dying for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. Because of Christ, life doesn't end at the grave. And whoever believes in Christ is assured of eternal life. I can't wait to see mother again to find out what really happened on that fateful Christmas Day.
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. John 3:16 CEV

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why Black History Month still matters in the 21st century

African-American Millennials say they never really learned anything useful during Black History Month activities at school, and they fret that having a formal, month-long observance gives the nation a pass to ignore black history the rest of the year.— Shreveport Times

Today's black youth are so far removed from the events recapitulated during Black History Month that some may question whether Black History Month is still relevant to them?. Obviously, those who think this way have never heard of George Santayana who famously said:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
What self-respecting people throws away its history? It would be foolish to do so. Every generation needs to know from whence it came in order to determine its future course. No one questions if the Revolutionary War or the Holocaust are still relevant today? Black History Month serves to remind blacks as well as whites of how far we've come as a nation since the dark days of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. Not only that, Black History Month gives blacks a chance to tell their history from their own point of view with no holds barred.

Without a doubt, blacks have an important place in American history whenever the story of America is told. Black History Month plays homage to this fact, and documents it. And while it may be inspiring, indeed, instructive to look in the rear view mirror of black history from time to time, each generation is responsible for confronting the vexing issues of their day, finding their own solutions, and taking their place alongside history. For 21st century blacks, this means speaking out about resurgent issues of racial inequality and social injustice that are not unlike those endured by earlier generations of blacks some 100 years ago in America. Black History Month should motivate 21st century blacks to continue confronting American society until these conditions no longer exist. We can't afford to take the pressure off. Freedom is too important a right to accept anything less..
Up from slavery, black lives have always mattered.
To do away with Black History Month would be like "cutting off our nose to spite our face." Black youth need Black History Month to understand their rightful place in the struggle for racial equality and social justice for their own generation.  The freedom mantle has been passed to a new generation. The question these 21st century blacks must ask themselves is not how far they've come, but where they're headed?

Black History Month recitations must move beyond reciting Dr Martin Luther King Jr's, "I Have A Dream" speech to the question King himself posed in his last book, "Where Do We go From Here: Chaos or Community? "  In that 1967 book, Dr King described the then state of black people in America as follows:
  • Half of all Negroes live in substandard housing
  • Negroes have half the income of whites
  • There are twice as many Negroes unemployed
  • The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites
  • In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites
  • One twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college
  • Of employed Negroes, 75 percent hold menial jobs
The question blacks need to ask of themselves is "How much has changed since Dr King made those observations?"

According to former Harvard professor and theologian Cornel West not much has changed from 1967 to now, despite having a black president in the White House. West has been critical of President Barack Obama for what he says is "a perceived lack of quantifiable social and economic progress in poorer black communities."
Black people have suffered more in this age than in the recent past. Empirical indices of infant mortality rates, mass incarceration rates, mass unemployment and dramatic declines in household wealth reveal this sad reality. How do we account for this irony? It goes far beyond the individual figure of President Obama himself, though he is complicit; he is a symptom, not a primary cause. Although he is a symbol for some of either a post-racial condition or incredible Black progress, his presidency conceals the escalating levels of social misery in poor and Black America. —Black Prophetic Fire (Beacon Press) by Cornel West.
In 2014, The National Urban League released the 38th edition of "The State of Black America"  a report that details economic disparities impeding black progress— unemployment and underemployment, two strong indicators of growth and progress. Without question, there are large disparities between blacks and whites on all social and economic indices.

In the short span of 50 years, the outcry of blacks has gone from "We shall overcome" to "Black lives matter" reflecting a worsening of social and economic conditions in the black community. Without a Black History Month, 21st century blacks would have no idea how these two protests are inter-connected. A newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC provides a more permanent and accessible archive for everyone to study black history and its place in the history of America. If Black History Month has anything to teach America about its racially troubled past, it is this— the struggle against racial inequality and for social justice is one that we, as a nation, must win together.
I don't feel no ways tired, I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.— Curtis Burrell

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dancing for the Lord beats 'Dancing with the Stars'

I grew up in a Baptist church
Where it was hard for me, you see
To raise my hands and stomp my feet,
When I felt the Spirit move in me.

We just didn't do that sorta thing
Back where I came from.
"Child, you crazy?" Grandma'd say.
"You better sit still and hush that fuss
'fore I get my strap and give you some."

So, I'd sit there like a lady
Beside her like she said,
But way down deep on the inside
I'd be dancing out of my head.

When I grew up, I left the church
And went out on my own.
Free at last to let it all hang out
After all now, I was grown.

I took a chance
Cause I wanted to dance.
And the world beckoned, "Baby come on.
Shake that body to the beat

Let the rhythm take control.
Wave your hands in the air
Like you just don't care.
Get down right hysterical."

I danced for the world for quite awhile,
I was having so much fun.
Can't nobody stop me now (this child of the night.)
I knew nothing of the Son.

Then, one day between the smoke and the noise
I heard a small voice inside my head say,
"Come home my child, this isn't for you."
And as my eyes searched the crowd,
I knew it was true.

So, I went home that night and prayed:
"Father God, please forgive me for all the years I spent
Dancing to the beat of a different drummer
With all my heart I now repent."

"Come into my heart, Lord
Use my feet and my hands.
Teach me how to dance for you
Just like King David danced."

I wanna dance like David danced.
I wanna dance like David danced.

Got my hands in the air
Moving in the Spirit like I don't have a care.
Giving God some serious praise for the rest of my days
I wanna dance like David danced.

(c) 2003 Carolyn K. Erwin

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Facebook is changing how we make 'friends'

While Facebook has enabled us to become more connected across geographic, cultural and generational divides, it’s also left many people, particularly the young, feeling more disconnected. ---Margie Warrell, Forbes

Click. I just unfriended some people on my Facebook page. Unfriending someone may sound cold and heartless, but to be honest, it was easier than I thought it would be. I felt no emotional pangs whatsoever. Besides, it made perfect sense under the circumstances. Except for incessant snippets and snapshot postings about "what's on [their] minds," I realized that I had no real connection to the people I unfriended. They weren't really my friends; they belonged to someone else. I added them because Facebook kept pushing me to do it, so I did.

In order to create a Facebook account, you have to add friends to your profile. My friends and your friends are Facebook's bread and butter. As the largest social media site in the world with 1.4 billion users, Facebook brings home 1 billion per quarter in advertising revenue thanks largely to the friends you and I feed into it. The more friends we add, the better Facebook likes us. Facebook gleans through the snippets of personal data we provide in our posts, sells the information to advertisers who then feed it back to us in the form of ads on our Facebook page. Adding insult to injury, some users have also been touting Facebook as a way for you to make money off your friends.

But forget about Facebook's motives, the real danger here is what Facebook is doing to our ability as human beings to relate to each other in meaningful ways. Before Facebook, a friend was usually someone with whom you shared life, a history and emotional ties; someone you cared about and who cared about you. Facebook changed all that by creating a platform that promotes instant friendships between persons whose only real connection may indeed be in cyberspace. In his blog, "Social media, Pretend Friends and the Lie of False Intimacy," writer Jay Baer says:
Social media forces upon us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn't actually exist....Is that what we want – spending considerable time building large networks of shallow connections, potentially at the expense of deepening a few cherished friendships upon which we can truly rely?
With social media users spending on average an aggregate of 700 billion minutes a month online, the opportunity to cultivate and nurture offline friendships diminishes. The generation mostly affected by this are 18 to 24 year-olds who comprise 98 percent of social media users. Wherever you look, nowadays, you see young adults with their faces buried in their android devices, presumably checking their Facebook page, rather than interacting with the people around them. I remember watching a young couple in a restaurant having dinner. Between bites of food, their attention was focused more on their smartphones than on each other. And they're not alone; some older adults are just as guilty of this behavior. I wonder what 'Dear Abby' would say about someone who constantly checks their phone when they're with you?

So where are we headed as a society in light of our dogged reliance and near obsession with social media connectivity? A study by the American Sociological Association suggests that we are heading down a dangerous path toward social isolation, if not social stagnation:
The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be. This change indicates something that’s not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. ---Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of Sociology at Duke University
A post on Facebook or "tweet" on Twitter can never replace a hug when you really need one. Hopefully, you have someone in your life who fills the role of being there for you when you need them. When God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, he placed within their DNA a unique material property that seeks to pair up and replicate itself. God created humankind to have a relationship with Him, and with other people. Belonging defines our place in this world. Life is made richer by mutually satisfying relationships that are nurtured over time. We are defined by our relationships. Clearly, there needs to be a balance as well as a distinction between the relationships we create online and those we pursue in real life.

The people I unfriended from my Facebook page probably won't even miss me, or even realize that I'm gone. Well, no matter. No longer having to read their posts will give me more time to make a few more phone calls, send personal notes to friends I haven't connected with in awhile and join some real life friends for a game of cards. I'm sure Facebook will be waiting when I get back.
Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,
when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me --
Job 29:4-5

Friday, August 12, 2016

Youth hostels are giving older travelers a bigger bang for their bucks

Hostels aren't just for the youth anymore. They're for anyone who's young at heart.
Hi-New York

Regardless of whether or not you live on a fixed income, unless you're Donald Trump, nobody should want to spend more money than they have to for something they can get cheaper elsewhere. With the price of a night's lodging on the rise at even moderately priced hotels, older travelers are seeking an alternative, and some have found it in youth hostels.
Now don't let the word "youth" turn you away. The "youth" part has been dropped from the name because hostels aren't just for youth anymore. Hostels have been attracting increasing numbers of older adult travelers who are discovering what the youth have known all along— hostelling is a great way to see the world and not spend a fortune doing it (Sorry, Mr. Trump). Although still a primary destination for a younger generation, hostels are attracting an older clientele with their ideal locations, low cost and convenience.

I'll let you in on a little secret. I am a converted hosteler. Those who know me may be shocked that I would even consider sleeping in a hostel environment (pun intended). To be honest, when I first decided to try hostelling, I was somewhat apprehensive about what to expect. But I didn't go in cold, and neither should you. I did my homework, looked at websites, and read hostel reviews prior to booking. During a trip to Chicago, I actually checked out of my hotel early just so I could spend one night in a hostel to try it out. My first night at the Hi-Chicago hostel, the staff served up a complimentary meal of Chicago-style hot dogs. From that point on, I was hooked on hostels.

Whatever misgivings, reluctance or fears you may have about hostels, I urge you to keep an open mind. Hostels have grown up, and more importantly, spruced up, as travel writer, Alex Schechter, points out:
Forget the typical hostel clich├ęs of cramped rooms, messy bathrooms, and lackluster design. As hotels show across-the-board improvements in their amenities, public spaces, and digital capabilities, so too are hostels catching up to the times with contemporary designs, upgraded facilities, centralized locations, and dedicated concierge staff.
Forget about the glam and glamour because you won't find it in most hostels. What you will find are clean, comfortable, safe accommodations in some great places for far less than what most hotels charge. Hostels offer a dormitory style sleeping arrangement, which means you could be sharing a room with other people (Sound a little creepy? I thought so too, at first). Room sharing configurations can have as few as four or as many as 12 beds to a room, depending on the size of the hostel. But if room-sharing bothers you, many hostels also have private rooms, which will cost you a little more. If you are traveling with family members, you can all share the same room or suite. Unlike a hotel, you won't get room service in a hostel. Instead, most hostels have fully equipped kitchens for you to store and prepare your own meals. Some hostels include a continental breakfast in the room charge, or may have an on-site cafe where you can purchase meals. These comments are from a veteran hosteler:
I was quite anxious before I had stayed in a hostel for the first time. I was concerned about the safety of my belongings and how easy it would be to meet people in each one I stayed. But the more I traveled, the more I realized hostels really are for everybody. They’re for people from all social backgrounds, from all parts of the world, all walks of life and all ages. If you’re concerned that your age puts hostels out of your reach, I’ve two words for you – don’t be.—Colm Hanratty
If you like making new friends, hostels are a great way to meet travelers from other countries. On a recent visit to New York, I stayed at the Hi-New York City hostel where I met Marie from Martinique and Virina from Germany, who I gifted with a copy of the New Testament. Both women are staying in hostels as they travel throughout the U.S. I also met Ben from Ghana. I didn't see my roommates very much, but I do know they were from Brazil, Australia and Sweden. For their part, hostels try to foster a sense of community among the guests through organized activities like city tours, pub crawls, comedy nights, movies and pizza parties. Participation is voluntary.

There are many hostels located in cities throughout the U.S. and around the world. Think of someplace in the world you'd like to go. You might be surprised to learn that there is at least one hostel there, maybe more. An easy way to find out is to do an online search at Hostelling International and Hostelworld, two of the largest hostel booking and membership sites. Between these two websites, you'll find thousands of hostel listings in places like—New Orleans, Miami Beach, San Diego, London, Paris, Portugal, China, Africa, The Netherlands—just to give you an idea of what's out there.

Well, I've just about said all that I can on the subject. It's now up to you to decide if hostelling is for you. As for me, I'm off to book my next hostel adventure in Miami Beach. Until next time, Hostel la vista, baby.
When you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go.—John 21:18 TLB

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why "Black Lives Matter" is a win-win for us all

The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism, and racial inequality in the US remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent.—Statement by the United Nations on Racism in the U.S. 

Recently, I had a conversation with a Jewish man in which I compared the enslavement of Jews in Egypt to the ordeal of Africans in America whose ancestors were brought to this country in chains and sold into slavery. I asked him how Jews have been able to transcend their own enslavement. He admitted that slavery for Africans in America was 10 times worse than for Jews in Egypt. He went on to say that one thing that helped Jews move beyond their past was the fact that the old slave generation died out in the wilderness, and was replaced by a new generation that knew no slavery. They got a new start, so to speak.

Africans in America a.k.a blacks are not there yet. A legacy of slavery still mars generations of blacks who continue to be marginalized by American society despite the anomaly of electing a black president in 2008. The United Nations recently took note that black people in the U.S. still face daily reminders of their slave past, even generations later, in the form of subtle and sometimes not so subtle societal discrimination, inequality, injustice and racism that is exclusively based on their skin color. Unlike Jews, blacks can't hide who they are, not that they should have to. It's America's image of black people, and blacks own self-image that must change. For that to happen, hearts must also change.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. —Ezekiel 36:26
The growing controversy over the Black Lives Matter movement sends a clear signal that hearts need to be transformed on both sides. Some have chosen to view Black Lives Matter as negative, divisive and racist, even though the movement's founders have stated otherwise:
#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that black lives, which are seen as without value within a white supremacy [structure in America], are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on black lives, we understand that when black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole...   
This is why we call on black people and our allies to take up the call that black lives matter. We’re not saying black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.—Black Lives Matter statement of purpose
In times past, when blacks in the U.S. organized to achieve parity within the bounds of the majority white society, such groups were targeted for destruction by the government, and their leaders neutralized—i.e. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Whitney Young, Martin Luther King Jr., George Jackson, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis and Huey Newton, And so it is with the new Black Lives Matters movement, purposely labelled a terrorist group by some to set the stage for its eventual demise like all the others before it. And that could happen unless America changes course and is convinced of the positives that could come from embracing its racially divided past, righting the many wrongs it's done to blacks, and opening the door to economic opportunities for this oppressed group. Telling blacks they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps while you still have your boot on their necks holding them down is disingenuous. When Black Lives Matter, we all benefit, and we all matter.

Undoubtedly, blacks must also be accountable for their own actions. For Black Lives Matter to really matter, the black community has to come together and police itself. Black futures are being decimated by self inflicted wounds from black-on-black crime, drug addiction and trafficking, illiteracy, joblessness, juvenile delinquency and a broken family structure of single parent households. Not that these things aren't occurring in other communities, but the numbers for blacks are out of proportion to their percentage in the population. Destructive forces, counter-productive attitudes and behaviors within the black community need to be called out and stopped no matter who's doing it. No longer should those persons committing crimes against black people be ignored and given safe haven to do more harm. If Black Lives Matter they must matter first within the black community, and to their own people.
if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again.—2 Chronicles 7:14
But it doesn't stop there. Likewise, good-hearted whites must not keep silent when racism continues rear its ugly head in private or public conversations, within institutions, media reporting, commercial images, jokes, comments and so on. To do so only serves to perpetuate and pass down the vestiges of prejudice that divide this country. For America to be made whole, blacks and whites must coalesce to expose and root out the bad apples among us.  No doubt it will take a committed village to do it, but it's not an impossible task. In the end, it will be worth it, and a win-win for the generations to come.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Love alert: You could be dating a serial cheater

I asked this question of a male friend recently, “Why do men cheat?" I'm still waiting for an answer. Gone are the days it seems when the biblical edict of one man, one woman actually meant something. There was a time when couples dated in preparation for marriage. Nowadays, couples date, even have sex just for pleasure without any thought of commitment. Words like "we're engaged" or "my fiance" have lost the exclusivity they once had. Fidelity and monogamy are still valued as moral absolutes in our society, but not always practiced.

What's behind this shift in our morals? Blame it on the law of supply and demand coupled with unrestrained freewill.There are too many women and not enough men to go around. This gender discrepancy is the perfect breeding ground for the serial cheater who considers it his duty to take full advantage and seize the moment.
n his article, "New Math on Campus," New York Times reporter Alex Williams sums it up this way: "Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories." W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, agrees. “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” says Campbell. Translation: more partners, more sex.
Serial cheaters have simultaneous relationships with multiple unsuspecting partners. Women, who knowingly or unknowingly date a serial cheater, run the risk of becoming a victim of his promiscuity, of possibly acquiring an STD or HIV/AIDS, and of being devalued by a relationship you thought was committed. Some women ignore a man's cheating because they feel they have to in order to keep him. As one woman observed, “If a guy is not getting what he wants, he can quickly and abruptly go to the next one, because there are so many of us.”

You could be dating a serial cheater. Here are some signs to watch out for (Disclaimer: This does not mean that every man who exhibits one or more of these behaviors is a serial cheater. Know your man.).

If he seems too good to be true, he probably is. Serial cheaters are charmers, a real Mr. Nice Guy. In the early stages of a relationship, he goes out of his way to spend time with you. He calls you several times a day just to say he's thinking of you. He treats you like a queen, opens doors and when you're walking together, he insists that you walk on the inside away from the traffic. He likes to caress and hold hands. He may act as if sex is the farthest thing from his mind when it's the only thing on his mind. He doesn't have to rush you because he knows he has other women he can be intimate with.

In the article, "Sex: Are men really after only one thing?" psychologist Dr. Diana Kirschner addresses this question: "For example, a small percentage of men are caught in what I call the Player Deadly Dating Pattern. These are often the "hot bad boys" who can be enormously infatuating to women because of their smooth romantic alpha behavior. But under that seductive bravado they are usually insecure, have low self esteem and a "me-first mentality." These are the men who value conquest over being connected and honorable. For these reasons, the Player can pose a great deal of difficulty for women who want a lasting love relationship."

Serial cheaters are generally good talkers. Pay close attention to what he does, not just what he says. Serial cheaters are good at what I call "vanilla" conversations --- a whole lot of talk with little substance. Serial cheaters give more detail than necessary about mundane things to keep you off balance so you don't ask questions. Names and gender references are purposely omitted to prevent a slip of the tongue. Don't be reluctant to interview any man who wants a dating relationship with you. Ask the important questions upfront. What are his values, goals, family background, purpose for wanting to date you, etc. If he's evasive or talks a lot of jive, dump him. It will save you time and heartbreak down the road.

He's a real friendly guy, except most of his friends are women. You've heard of the expression, "He's a man's man." Serial cheaters are more like every woman's man. Women are attracted to him because of his sensitivity to a woman's needs. He's a helper, a confidant, a shoulder to cry on, a port in a storm, someone who totally understands you ---everything a woman could want, except he's all that with a lot of other women too. He may not be having sex with all of them but it's a sure bet that at least two or three are more than just "friends." A serial cheater collects friends for a hobby. I once knew a serial cheater who bragged about having over 200 names in his contact list. Knowing him most were probably women.

Observe how your guy acts toward you around other women. Is he easily distracted by them? Does he make comments ("She's a good looking woman.") on their appearance, especially physical features, in your presence? Is his attention divided when he's with you? Are your dates or phone calls hurried like you're on speed dial? Does he never intentionally bring you around any of his other women friends?

Other issues that could have an impact on how he views women are an addiction to sex and pornography, which he keeps hidden. Some hints at this problem may be his off color comments or sexual innuendo during ordinary conversations with you, or he may half jokingly ask you to talk "dirty" to him when he knows that's not your style. These are important cues to think about.

Serial cheaters like long distance relationships, the farther the better. A serial cheater prides himself on being able to engage in multiple relationships with women without any of them knowing about the others. Distance is a great enabler for him. The women he dates conveniently live in different cities, usually ones he visits regularly for other reasons as well (i.e. work, family, recreation). The trips usually last a few days. He may even call to "check in" as if he is accounting for his time. He usually comes back with "vanilla" explanations about what he did while he was away, and don’t forget the gifts. Don't be fooled. If your intuition tells you something's going on, you're probably right.

Better to date locally; it's easier and safer. You want someone who has roots down deep in the community not someone who's a transient. Get to know your potential date/mate through his friends, family and the people he hangs out with. If he never takes you around them, watch out something's not kosher about your relationship. Could be he's hiding something more than just you.

Don't think because a serial cheater gets married he's changed his ways. Serial cheaters often marry, in fact serially, one woman after another. Let's suppose you date a serial cheater who decides he wants to marry you. At some point, the marriage may run into trouble or he may get bored so he starts looking around for other distractions. Consequently, he goes back to what he knows best, and adds adultery to his portfolio.

One serial cheater's first wife left him after learning that he cheated before they married. He remarried but when his second wife became overweight and unattractive to him, his eyes began to wander. On his way to work every morning, he started noticing a nice looking woman. He made sure their paths would cross. One night, he ran into her at a local bar and they began a torrid affair. Eventually, he left his second wife for this woman, who he later married. They had a turbulent marriage, which ended in a nasty divorce. Now he’s free, single and uncommitted, ready to test the relationship waters again. He's joined a mega-church where he's got lots of women to choose from. The sad part is he thinks he's happy. Well, maybe he is---at least on the outside.

Dating is serious business. Rather than just looking for immediate gratification, look for someone who would make you a good husband and father to your children or a true companion in your old age. So many silly women have laid themselves out there. And now the children are paying the price for mother's mistakes. Calling someone your child's "baby daddy" is no substitute for giving them a father who is more than just a sperm donor.

Serial cheaters need professional help to confront their problem. You are not the Red Cross so don't even attempt a rescue mission. Leave it to the professionals. On your way out of the relationship, there's nothing wrong with a gentle suggestion that he might benefit from talking with a relationship or spiritual counselor about his feelings. Serial cheaters are emotionally detached from their behavior and reluctant to talk about it. When you confront them, they see themselves as the victim believing that something is wrong with you for rejecting them. Serial cheaters are seldom the first to leave a relationship even if it's bad.

Instead, they withdraw emotionally and wait for you to take the first step, which you eventually do out of frustration. Being seen as the victim, makes it easier for serial cheaters to solicit sympathy from friends and a new unsuspecting partner. It's all part of the plan.

There is hope for the woman who's looking for a good man. There are many decent men of good character out there in spite of the bad example set by serial cheaters. But good men usually look for women of equally good character with whom they have something in common. In my previous article, "Love well: How to cultivate healthy relationships," I advise women and men to take stock of themselves and cultivate realistic expectations of what you need and don't need, want and don't want in a relationship. And if you know you have low self-esteem, low self-respect, abandonment, trust or other issues get to work on them through professional or spiritual counseling before you seek to be in relationship with anybody.

The Bible offers wise counsel about relationships, and especially about how to choose companions of good character. It's really true that what God has joined together neither man nor woman can tear apart. If you're someone who's been hurt by a serial cheater, or you are that serial cheater, God has a plan for you. You may be at a point where you've tried everything and everybody and your life is still emptyGod can restore you and put your life back on the right track. You've got nothing more to lose and everything to gain.

Note: Need to know how to trust again? For relationship help, I highly recommend the book, Beyond Boundaries.