Browsing articles in "family"

Ferguson and A Way Forward

I write this post right after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. The Grand Jury has made the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson when it comes to the shooting death of Michael Brown. There is television evidence showing that already violence has erupted in Ferguson. We need a way forward in the United States of America that brings about healing, justice, peace, reconciliation, and transformation. My faith still leads me to believe that the best way to realize all of this is thru the non-violent advancement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the most excellent example of the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God. The Church is the front line vehicle for this to be realized today. I also believe that people of good will also have an opportunity to seize a reconciling moment if they so choose.

Though this is a tense, divided, and violent moment in our nation, there is a way forward that people of all races, classes, and political ideologies can grab a hold of. But we must look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves how we desire to move forward. Do we want to continue to participate in a deeply divided nation by race, politics, and class? Or is there something on the inside of us that not only desires something better, but provides a push in our soul to participate in this something better? This something better is the Kingdom of God or what Martin Luther King Jr. called, The Beloved Community.

One of the ways we move forward regardless of your personal opinion on this situation is to grieve with the family of Michael Brown. This is biblical. We are reminded of this in the Gospel of Matthew; to grieve with those who are grieving. We are also called biblically to love, forgive, and extend grace. Too many Christians are using this moment to extend political ideology and not the traits of the Kingdom that we are to represent.

Another way forward is for the privileged to listen to and learn from those who are different from them and have a different opinion than them. This is not the time to judge, argue, and patronize if you are privileged. This is a time to listen, pray, learn, and show an amazing humility. This is a genuine way for the Kingdom of God to be expressed. As an African American male, my heart is heavy. This is all very difficult to take in and yes, I wonder if the African American life carries value in this nation. I need my Brothers and Sisters who are not African American to walk with me, pray with me, listen to me, and grieve with me. This kind of reconciling approach is a way forward.

Yet, another way forward is for the Church to not ignore this issue. The Church must be a force of racial reconciliation and righteousness. The Church must acknowledge that we live in a broken world. This not only includes broken people, but broken systems as well. We must bring to bear the love, grace, transformative power, reconciliation, and justice of God upon this reality. The Church must be a bridge over social troubled waters of brokenness and division. Pastors who ignore these realities in their preaching and shepherding ignore the mission field outside their church walls. The Church must build a bridge between the police and under-resourced communities. The Church must build bridges between the haves and the have not’s. The Church must see, care for, and empower the Poor, the marginalized, and the undervalued. This is our biblical responsibility. The Church should not wait for unfortunate circumstances, but should be a constant force of transformation. We must prayerfully grab hold of this moment and find our way forward.

 

Child Discpline: “Spare the Switch?”

Sep 16, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, spiritual growth  //  1 Comment

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him”

Proverbs 13:24 (ESV)

 

The recent news about Minnesota Viking Running Back, Adrian Peterson whooping his 4 year son excessively with a switch has sparked a lot of discussion throughout social media. My even stating that he excessively whooped his son could cause great frustration with those who would say I’m using language to cover up what is really child abuse. In the end, child abuse could very well end up be the concluding verdict in the legal process. But I will let the process take its course.

Let me start by saying that there are a number of issues at work here. One, is the cultural differences and opinions around child discipline. And when I say cultural differences, I’m not purely focused on race or ethnicity. Values and behavior within this issue can be based on demographics, economic class, and one’s own childhood issues. Two, we have to ask ourselves how much we value children in our society. Some are reacting based on their love for football, not children. Some are reacting based on defending an African American male that they feel is being made an example of within the power institutions of the media, the NFL, and the ever-growing public opinion. But even this category doesn’t seem to put children first. Some people are reacting based on what they went thru as a child and the unresolved issues around how they were disciplined. I wonder what our discussions would be in our society if we put children first on these types of issues.

I was spanked and whooped as a part of being disciplined by my parents. This was the cultural context in which I grew up. I have never doubted that my parents loved me dearly as a child. I also know that they were different in their discipline of me than how their parents disciplined them. Now that I’m a parent, I discipline my children somewhat different than my parents disciplined me. I know this, though I received spankings and whoopings growing up, my doctor never saw marks on my body that raised high concerns. I’m not here to judge Adrian Peterson, I’m here to say that we need to be willing to revisit on a regular basis the complex issues around disciplining our children. Here are some thoughts-

1.) Never discipline your child when you are angry. Cool off, explain to your child why you are disciplining them, and when it’s over hug and tell them how much you love them.

2.) Ask yourself if physical punishment of some kind is the needed response at that time or are you doing it because it’s all you know or you’re too tired to think thru other options.

3.) Don’t parent in isolation. You should have other family members, friends, and even professionals who you allow to speak into your life about how you discipline your children.

4.) An arrogant parent is an ignorant parent.

I’m not telling you to spank or not spank your child. I’m not telling you to whoop or not whoop your children. What I am saying is, continue to grow as a parent. Don’t do something just because your parents did. My parents listened to 8 tracks, but I don’t. It’s a different day. Be wise, be loving, be consistent, and keep learning when it comes to being a parent. As a Christian, I ultimately want to be directed by God in how I parent. What directs and guides you? Speaking of Christianity, I would encourage you to study all of the interactions of Jesus with children. Also, reflect upon what could become the thin line between discipline and abuse. Finally, as a society we must wrestle with how much we truly value children in our society. We are so quick to judge and defend celebrities sometimes while our kids become second-class citizens.

Violent and Passive Men in the Church

Sep 8, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, preaching, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  2 Comments

With the releasing of the TMZ video showing NFL player Ray Rice punching his then fiancée so hard that she was knocked unconscious, we once again see that domestic violence is a serious and tragic issue among professional athletes. But what about the seriousness of domestic violence within the Church?

I am concerned that domestic abuse is not dealt with nearly at the level that it should be within the Church. Now you may disagree with me, but let me ask you, when is the last time domestic abuse was brought up biblically within a sermon in your Church? If you would say recently, I would be impressed and envious. I can’t tell you the last time I heard a sermon on the topic. I can say to you though that as a Pastor and ministry leader, I have walked with many couples where domestic abuse was an issue. I have challenged men over the years in I congregations where I’ve served about how they treat women. I have also a few times had to confront friends and family members when I witnessed how they treated their wives and girlfriends. There have also been the times when I have had to deal with male Pastors who treated their wives as second class citizens. Some of the things I’ve heard male Pastors say to their wives have hurt me deeply. It also made me wonder what happened when they got home behind closed doors.

I have been deeply challenged lately in my own preaching to deal more often with the issue of violence as the primary means to solve conflict. Too many men know no other way to deal with a conflict than to resort to some sort of threatening or violent behavior. The Church must own that this approach to solving conflict with women could be connected to an extreme and misappropriated theology of the man as the head over the woman. I’m not talking about a spiritual leading and serving based on the love of Christ for the Church, but a belief that a woman must do as a man says or face the consequences. The Church must dismantle this dysfunctional and damaging theology and replace it with deep biblical teaching on love and forgiveness as the primary way to solve conflict. There is the great possibility that violent and hurting men will be sitting in congregations this Sunday. Who will preach to them a word that could deal with and begin to dismantle the demons of violence within?

There is also the possibility that non-violent men who are passive and lack the courage to confront domestic violence will be sitting in congregations this Sunday as well. Who will minister to them? The Church can and must deal with the issue of domestic violence. This is not just a problem in the National Football League. This is about a broader culture of violence, sin, and brokenness that can be dismantled thru the love and transformation found in Christ.

 

Racial Profiling, Thug-ology, and the Church

Aug 18, 2014   //   by efremsmith   //   family, justice, race, reconciliation, the church  //  4 Comments

I know what it’s like to be racially profiled-

1.) I was once asked by police officers what I was doing when I was standing in the driveway of my own house with other African American family members. We weren’t loud, we were just saying goodbye after a family BBQ at my house.

2.) As a teen I was accused of stealing candy and when I lifted up my shirt and emptied my pockets to show I had stolen nothing, there was no apology. I was still asked to leave the store though.

3.) I was once sitting in my car in front of the house of a friend waiting for him to come out and I was approached and cussed out by a police officer.

4.) Myself and two other African-American males riding in my car were pulled over because we fit the description of someone who had robbed a house nearby.

Did I mention that it’s painful to tell these examples?

I know what it’s like to grow up in a community culture of thug-ology-

1.) Growing up, I watched as the Bloods Gang took over more and more of my neighborhood.

2.) A classmate of mine was beaten so badly in the hallway afterschool during my senior year of high school, that he died days later.

3.) A math teacher at my high school was arrested for selling drugs to students.

4.) Once my wife and I, along with our oldest daughter who was just a baby at the time, found ourselves lying on the floor of our home because two guys were in our backyard shooting across the street at some other guys.

Did I mention that it’s painful to share these examples?

I believe that racial profiling can systemically be dismantled. There must be increased cross-cultural training and racial competency development of officers. The existence of racial disparities within the criminal justice system must be acknowledged. There should be increased positive interaction between the police and African American communities. There should be justice and apologies when mistakes are made. Developing trust should be an on-going effort. The police should work with the Urban Church towards these ends.

As African Americans, we can no longer live in denial about the deep seated culture and the glamorization of contextualized thug-ology within our communities. I’ve witnessed too many examples of our people justifying African-American young men dressing and carrying themselves in ways that will never prepare them for a productive career. I’ve seen too many parents get so excited about 8th grade promotions and high school graduations with no expectation or push for their Sons to go to college. I mean a four year liberal arts college or university. I’ve learned that if you want your African American Sons to go to college and not jail, the work actually begins in the 3rd and 5th grade. Too many parents are in denial and believe a myth about how good the children are, while ignoring how deeply they are enslaved to aspects of thug-ology.

Let me say right now that thug-ology does not justify racial profiling and the deaths of too many African American young males by police. At the same time, racial profiling does not justify the denial of the significance of contextualized thug-ology culture within too many predominately African American communities.

The Urban Church and specifically the African American Church has a major role to play in both of these areas. She must be willing to be prophetic within both of these areas. I agree with one of the Fathers of Black Theology, Dr. J. Deotis Roberts. He has written on many occasions about the importance of the African American Church being about both liberation and reconciliation. I believe African American pastors have a unique ability to provide a framework for advancing the Kingdom of God that includes justice and presents the multi-ethnic, Beloved Community. Dr. Roberts also believes that the African American Church must address the need to stabilize and strengthen the African American family. Without strong African American families, there is no African American Church.

I was just in Oakland this past week and too many churches were closed, with signs stating that they are only open for Wednesday Bible Study and Sunday Morning Worship. This is unacceptable. The issues facing our cities calls for collaborative church strategies that put Christians on the streets until systems change and crime reduces significantly. Commuter Churches must become Community Churches again. The Church can indeed address both racial profiling and thug-ology.

Understanding The Butler

Aug 19, 2013   //   by efremsmith   //   family, race  //  1 Comment

I recently saw the movie, The Butler and I believe that this is a must see movie. I realize that this film is taking some criticism because of the liberties that Director, Lee Daniels takes in moving away from the real life story. To this, I want to provide just a couple of reflections-

One, Lee Daniels stated in many interviews leading up to the premiere of the film, that this movie is less about a Civil Rights Movement story and more about the story between a Black Father and Son. To this degree, there is still a Black History lesson that can be learned by watching the film for what it truly is and not making it something it’s not. There are parts of the film that I thought could have been done better. I didn’t think it made the film stronger to have the Son character, in every facet of the Civil Rights Movement, including being both a Freedom Rider and a Black Panther. I wasn’t sure if I was watching the story of the Butler’s Son or the life of Stokely Carmichael. But again, the powerful lessons from this movie is understanding the impact that slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and modern systemic racism has on the relationship between Black Fathers and Black Sons. This is in no way intended to take away from the important issue of individual responsibility. What it does is bring needed balance in understanding the challenge.

Second, the criticisms of the liberties that Lee Daniels takes in moving from all elements and the issues surrounding the real life Butler create a double standard as far as I’m concerned. This same artistic license has been taken by Spielberg in Lincoln, Stone in JFK, and recently in the Cable series on the Bible. It doesn’t bother me that Daniels puts his perspective into the story, he’s the director and this is universally done in Hollywood. Remember, he states that it’s, “inspired by a true story” and “based on a true story.” It’s not intended to be a film shown on the biography channel. I have more issues when European/White license is taken in movies made portraying the Bible than what Daniels does in this film.

The larger question that this film raises, especially in light of the recent George Zimmerman verdict is, “Will this country continue to examine the impact that continuing broken systems in the United States have upon the live of Black Fathers and Black Sons?”

 

The Re-birth of Jesus

Dec 24, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   family, reconciliation, spiritual growth, the church  //  9 Comments

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, there has been a recent focus on how Christ has been taken out of Christmas. Christmas in the context of this debate, has been turned into a consumeristic, marketing, and materialism movement. We were even lead to believe a few years ago that on Black Friday, our Christmas shopping could rescue the economy with this view of Christmas. Black Friday may one day become a holiday all by itself creating the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas. But this isn’t the Christmas problem that I want to deal with. The problem I want to bring up has been an issue much longer. I want to focus on those of us that still keep Christ in Christmas. We have another  problem.

Our problem is with the Christ that we lift up during Christmas. In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world, we continue to lift up a Eurocentric Jesus. The majority, if not all of the images of the Nativity Scene continue to be a White Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even though this scene takes place far away from any European country. Our problem is that as we strive to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we actually lift up a false Jesus. By lifting up a false Jesus, we run the risk of that Western Jesus become the very symbol of what Christmas has become. We also must remember that Christmas isn’t a biblically based holiday in the first place. First century Christian Jews would not have placed the importance on Christmas that we do today. Over time Christian Gentiles made the pagan rooted festivals of both Christmas and Easter what they are today and have long forgotten the true biblical holidays such as Passover and Pentecost.

I’m not saying that we should move away from Christmas and Easter. No, I’m saying that we should recover the real roots of how they came to be celebrations for us in the first place so that we can present the real, biblical Jesus to the world. Christmas and Easter are pagan rooted festivals that were used for evangelism purposes to present Jesus to the Gentile world. This was a multicultural world. Over time though the European part of the pagan world came to dominate Christianity through Constantine and the Roman empire. This led to the re-birth of Jesus into a European.

In this Christmas season the church has the opportunity to recover the true Jesus based on Matthew 1 and John 1. We can also recover the mission of the true Jesus through Luke 4 and Matthew 9, 10, and 25. The real Jesus is a Afro-Asiatic Jew (Matthew 1), but most importantly the Son of God, Who has existed before what we know as the beginning of time (John 1). The real Jesus calls us beyond consumerism to a life of truth, transformation, compassion, mercy, and justice. The church must present the gift of the real Jesus to the world and solve the real Christmas problem.

Just a Few Words

Aug 15, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   family, spiritual growth  //  4 Comments

Maybe like me, you felt today as if the weight of the world was upon you. In your own power you were trying to provide all the answers, take care of all the business, and find time for your family as well. As the day comes to an end there’s still an opportunity to do what should have been done at the beginning. Approach the God of the universe with the weights upon your shoulders. Allow God to lighten your load. None of us have the ability in our own might to handle the full load of life’s journey. Find the rest and the strength your soul desires.

The Hip Hop Generation and Idolatry

Jul 28, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   family, hip hop, justice, the church, youth ministry  //  1 Comment

“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)

As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.

The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?

My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.

I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.

Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

The Power of the Family Reunion

Jul 23, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   family  //  5 Comments

Berry Family Reunion

This weekend, I participated in the Berry family reunion in Houston, Texas. This reunion celebrates my wife’s family on her dad’s side. The theme of the weekend was “legacy.” Besides the very hot weather (100 degrees the whole time), this has been a very powerful time. I love attending family reunions. It was about 20 years ago when my life was greatly impacted thru a family reunion on my mother’s side of the family.

At that reunion I found out that my great, great grandfather was full-blooded Irish and married a woman who was half African-American and half Native American. I left that family reunion years ago embracing that I’m African-American and also multi-ethnic. A few years later, while in seminary, I unpacked further Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as a multi-ethnic Jew, who was the Son of Man (Matthew 1). These two discoveries have had a tremendous influence on discovering my ministry calling.

I wonder how many people are disconnected from their life mission, simply because they are disconnected from their family tree and cultural heritage?

At the Berry family reunion, many people shared on the power of family and the importance of legacy. Our ability to leave a legacy in the earth is deeply connected to an intimate relationship with God and having a deep understanding of our heritage. This, I believe has become a great weakness for many of my European-American brothers and sisters. By becoming White, they have become greatly disconnected from a heritage that could possibly fuel a deeper understanding of life and mission. I believe African-Americans could offer a great gift to our European-American brothers and sisters, by being more public in conversations about the power of heritage and legacy. There are people of all ethnicities who have become disconnected from family and heritage. Allow God to speak to you about discovering the power of your own family heritage and legacy regardless of ethnicity or racial background. You may discover your life mission.

Family as Ministry

May 26, 2009   //   by efremsmith   //   family  //  No Comments

I introduced the Biblical concept of marriage as ministry a couple of weeks ago, so it makes sense to lift up family as ministry as well. In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram about a blessing that is the foundation for the birth of the nation of Israel. This blessing is also connected to the family tree of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter of Matthew.

This is the context in which I want to deal with family as ministry. Could it be that if all God had to work with was the family that the Kingdom of God could be expanded? I believe so. Family is a blessing from God and can be a vehicle of the extension and expression of God’s love. If marriage is a ministry, the family is a ministry as well that builds upon the gift of a God-centered Covenant. 

The problem is that many people use family as a place to primarily get their individual needs met. This can cause family to be a place of envy, competitiveness, and abuse. Family is first and foremost about God. Family ought to be a picture on the earth of the community and culture of God’s Kingdom. This possibility is about experiencing family God’s way verses our way. Our families regardless of what they look like right now could be transformed into vehicles of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, truth, and compassion. 

Think deeply this week about how God wants to use you in your family to express who God is. God may want to be a reconciler through you in your family today. Will you let God be this through you? God may want to express compassion in your family today through you. Will you allow God to be God in and through you?

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