First day of office hours at church

Wonderful day yesterday, August 29th. Had a productive meeting with my ministerial transition team. They are a really dyanmic and supportive group who really believe in the church and what we are attempting to achieve.
I also had a chance to do some pastoral counciling during the day and a delicious lunch was prepared for us by some members of the church using the leftovers from Sunday potluck which tasted even better the second time around.
I am looking forward to getting back to work in the office this Friday!

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New ministerial position in Black Mountain, NC

Yesterday was my first day as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swananoa Valley. We had a wonderful intergenerational service to celebrate and affirm our generational diversity within our congregation and community.
Afterwards, a wonderful potluck meal was served with delicious food and deserts. I have been in the ministry for 18 years and August 26th, 2012 was a most memorable day (aside from my ordinations) indeed. I stand on the shoulders of many people who believed in me and supported me on this journey. For their guidance and support I am ever grateful.
In the words of the prolific Theologian Howard Thurman, “they have placed a crown above my head that I will struggle to grow tall enough to wear.”
Thanks be to God….

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An Idea Whose Time Has Come….

I finally got my book published as an e-book on December 26th, 2011. The small publisher from Arizona who decided to work with me back in 2005 decided to retire leaving me with the always nagging human question of “what now?”. My wife Judy assisted me in re-editing the book as my first publisher did not do the greatest job in making the book flow as smoothly as it could.
There was also the fact that now the book would not be out in a hard copy. Now I must admit that I really do like the feel of going into a bookstore and coming out with a hard cover book in my hand. For me it just feels good. But for now at least it appears that electronic books are the way to go for me until I find a publisher.
The book is entitled,”Alien Scriptures;Extraterrestrials In The Holy Bible”. The book is a compilation of my personal experiences on the subject along with my Master’s Thesis in Divinity Studies. An appearance on the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” helped a bit with the sales and for that I am ever grateful. When I initially began writing and speaking about this topic a mere 17 years ago, one’s mental sanity and reputation would have been called into question.
Yet today our culture is saturated with the idea that not only are we not alone in the universe, but that maybe, just maybe our own government is lying to us about not only about the reality of ET life but that we have even made contact with that life! Times do indeed change, and Goethe’s statement that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come is a powerful testament indeed.
In the meantime I encourage all of my fellow human beings to “keep looking up”. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to buy the book!
You may purchase the kindle book on Amazon!
Or the NOOK Book @ Barnes&Noble!

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The Unexpected Call….A Short Story 1.6.12

The Unexpected Call
“Hello, may I help you?” I had just moved into my new office at the hospital and was still getting myself situated. “This is Glenda.” How are you? I asked, not really wanting to talk at the moment. “ I need you to do me a really big favor”. The voice sounded so weak and fragile over the phone my initial reaction was. Uh Oh. “What can I do for you?” I said, thinking at the same time what am I getting myself into?
Back in May Glenda was referred to me by someone about a possible job connection at the hospital. Hiring nor firing are in my job description but we set up a meeting a few days afterwards to meet. There are so few people of color who are professionals here in town so I wanted to at least reach out to her and perhaps be of some kind of service if I could.
Glenda is an African American woman, late 50ish, with a perfectly shaped skull and close cropped hair, with a deep chocolate brown complextion. She wears thick black rimmed glasses and has the look of a scholar. She is very well educated and is careful to pronounce her sentences with near perfect diction. Her mental energy is formidable, and her smile lights up her face like the way light blinds one when one first awakens from a deep sleep. There is a very pleasant aura about her.
We’ve only spoken two or three times since we met back in May and so I’m thinking this is a bit early to begin asking for “big favors.” I am also a wee bit embarrassed and ashamed by my thought process.
“My dad died over the weekend and I was wondering if you would say a few words for him. He’s going to be cremated and it’s very informal.” Her voice was cracking as she spoke. ‘What time are we talking?” Around 1pm was the reply. I had a meeting until 1:30 pm but she said she would work around my schedule. We agreed to meet in front of the hospital at 2pm as her daughter would be accompanying her as well. She had traveled from Washington, DC.
I was so glad Glenda picked me up as I would never have found the funeral parlor. The lapis blue PT Cruiser pulled up in front of the hospital and fortunately I had grabbed my Unitarian Christian Book of Common Prayer ( I used this book back in my UU Christian days and never got rid of it) thinking surely something will be appropriate in this book for the occasion. I would later discover that I would not need it. I also called Glenda back to inquire if her dad was indeed a Christian. Her reply was yes he is.
I gathered brief snippets of information about her father and she provided them readily. His name was Martin. Awkwardly I explained why I inquired earlier during the ride over about his religious beliefs. I explained that I simply wanted to have the appropriate religious material on hand and she assured me that she had understood. I inquired how he died and she just said his heart gave out. Glenda also confessed that her father was more “spiritual than religious.” This statement somehow gave me a feeling of relief. Although I am not a Christian I would have use whatever material she requested that would make she and her daughter comfortable. For more orthodox Christians this type of phrasing of religion and spirituality can seem harsh and biting, but there are times when there is a difference between the two perspectives. Religion can at times become religiousity and spirituality can become just another way of not dealing with life and feeling superior to more traditional religious beliefs. But this was not the case and I understood her perfectly, for she was describing myself as well.
Her father was a musician who had learned to play the trumpet as a young man and felt that piano playing was a bit too sissy. Even with geniuses like Basie and Ellington around at the time?, I asked. Yes, she replied. Martin was from Eastern North Carolina. He loved jazz, enjoyed reading the daily newspaper, loved to talk politics, served in our nation’s armed forces during the 2nd world war, and loved his daughter and grand-daughter.
Glenda did not go into too much detail when I initially inquired if she and her father had been close. She said that they were but she had some “forgiving” to do. Ah, family dynamics and relationships I thought. Difficult and trying at best. Toxic at worst. The pain in her voice was palpable though she smiled in spite of herself. She stated frankly that her dad never really believed he was loved. Ever. I could not help but think, and I recall that I had even made the remark that if one cannot except love one cannot really give it. Was that too forward? The sentence was already out of my mouth. She briefly nodded and mumbled, “yeah”.
During the car ride, her daughter, Inetta, was quiet. We introduced ourselves earlier and we noted that at one time she was also a Diversity and Inclusion Officer for an institution. This is the same position I now hold at the hospital. Inetta’s facial features reminded me of producer, director, Spike Lee, only much more feminine looking. She had her hair in one medium size braid that reached just beyond the crown of her head with a very pronounced widows peak. Her eyes were sharp and she had the same intellectual energy that I felt from her mom with eyes that gazed out from heavy looking eye lids which gave one the impression either that she was ready for sleep or had just woke up . She wore the same 1950’s looking thick black framed glasses as did her mom, and she was extremely thin, with a long flowing sky blue skirt, a blue denim wrangler jacket, with a silk paisley scarf around her neck which accentuated her skin which was more the color of caramel chocolate. I have always loved the colors of my people.
I made small talk while I tried to recall two poems for the occasion. One poem entitled, Dear Lovely Death, by Langston Hughes, and another called, If I should Go While You’re Still Here. They are both personal favorites of mine. I jotted them both down on a piece of scrap paper as we drove along.
After awhile we arrived at the funeral/cremation parlor. The air is crisp, cloudy, and cool. The leaves were orange, yellow, brown, and red, and they shimmied as the breeze rustled through the trees. I love this time of year in these mountains. There is something about an overcast sky in the autumn that holds me in awe when I gaze upward.
We enter the building which is sparsely decorated as far as furniture goes, and say hello a three times but no one answers. Glenda excuses herself to go to the ladies room while Inetta and I look around. I begin to peruse the literature about cremation. I have talked with my wife about my being cremated instead of having a large funeral (and yes, it is a bit presumptuous of me to assume that my funeral would be well attended) which would only create an even bigger expense for her when I died. That is to say if I go while she’s still here. When I mentioned the idea to my mother about my possibly being cremated when my time comes she may it quite clear that she found the idea distasteful.
At this time we are still waiting for someone, anyone to assist us, when as if on cue a bald white gentleman enters the room. He is wearing the solemn, weary look of someone who has been doing this kind of work for centuries. His face appeared pinched almost as though he had caught himself in his zipper while in the bathroom. Despite this look, Inetta and I shake his hands, and at that moment Glenda comes out of the ladies room , smiles, and shakes his hands as well, explaining that hers were not quite dry.
There is some personal business that they need to talk over regarding money and G.I.Benefits and so I offer to wait while they go into his office to talk. It’s been awhile since I have been in funeral parlor. In a previous life I had been a chaplain (for the same hospital before I became Mr. Diversity, as my Masters Degree is in Divinity Studies) I routinely escorted families to see their deceased loved ones in a room provided by the hospital for such a time as this. Yet the last time I was in a funeral parlor was when my brother was murdered 16 years ago.
I also began to acknowledge the seeming randomness of life and how events can take shape. Just a few hours ago I was sitting in my new office wondering about what the next phase of my job would entail and I get a call from someone I had not spoken to in months, requesting that me of all people, would be the one to speak at her dad’s funeral. Needless, to say I was honored and I even told Glenda so. One just never knows where the journey will take you. My whole day had change because of this unexpected call.
The door opened and Glenda, Inetta, and the parlor director exited and made a bee line to another room where the body was lying in state. The room was typical of these types of viewing rooms, with rows of wooden folding chairs lined up and an isle down the middle. Old time Baptist hymn music was piped in and I could not help humming and then singing along as these were the hymns I had grown up with as a child. As I an adult I have long since moved on from the theology these songs express and yet even after all these years they were so comforting to hear.
I held back as Glenda and Inett approached the coffin. Glenda had already begun to cry. I gently placed my hand in the small of her back as she gazed down at her father lying there as I gently whispered for her to let it out. My heart went out to her. Yes it is the natural order of things (most of the time)for a child to out the parent. I say most of the time for my brother was murdered back in 1995 and my parents live every day with that wound. I watched as Inett made the sign of the cross and would not look up from her father’s serene expression.
He was dressed in a dark blue suit and his hair and beard were a lovely silver. The corners of his mouth were turned down and their appeared in my view a certain sadness in the expression, as if a burden reluctantly yet out of necessity has been laid to rest.
As I was gazing at the body in the coffin, Glenda reached into the huge shoulder bag and began pulling out photographs, a newspaper, some yellow tulips that I had forgotten she had brought along, and various personal items belonging to her dad. She placed them all in the coffin with him, touchingly telling what she was leaving with him and why. It was like witnessing ancient Egyptian custom of bringing articles for the deceased to take with them on their journey to the afterlife, which is in fact exactly what it was. I exchanged rings with my brother before they closed the coffin on him at his funeral.
There were family photos, photos of him in Europe with an all African American unit during the war, photos of Glenda and Inette when they were all younger with bright smiles beaming from ear to ear. I noticed that there was only one picture of Martin and his wife. I did not feel that it was may place to bring this up and so I just kept my mouth shut, yet I was curious. Why wasn’t his wife here?
After Glenda explained why she had brought the last item for him to take on his journey it just felt like the time for me to begin my homily. I just jumped into the silence but so as not to be intrusive and this felt like the right time. I spoke about the brevity and ironies of life. The courage ti took to live it and the love of family and friends.
I recited both poems and wished Martin well on his journey. Afterwards I sat down while they stayed for a few moments at the coffin. Glenda told her dad that she was leaving now and gave him one long kiss on his forehead. The tears were really flowing now and then Glenda and Inette turned and walked away as if ready to leave. I asked Glenda if she was really ready to go, if she wanted to give him one last kiss and say goodbye. She replied, “I don’t think I can do it again”. I suggested that she try one more time and she did go over and kiss him again and said “goodbye daddy, I love you”.

As we said goodbye to the funeral director Glenda and Inette invited me to lunch. I initially refused but did give in to the offer and the lunch was indeed tasty. We had cornbread, collard greens, cabbage, smoked potato salad , smoked pork, smoked chicken, and spare ribs. This is not a part of my regular diet but once in awhile it sure hits the spot. My companions chose the sweet tea with jokes about getting diabetes from the beverage. We all laughed as I chose a glass of water.
On the way to the car I did build up the courage to inquire of Glenda why her father’s wife did not come. She told me that her step mother did not want to come as she felt he would be better off being buried in Washington D.C. because afterall, that is where they lived.But Glenda had the body sent here so he could be buried at “home” which she says was what he wanted in the first place. Family dynamics again.
Afterwards, as goodbyes were being said, Glenda handed me an envelope and told me not to say anything but just except it. She told me that she knew I was the one to do this and that she knew that I would be available. I thanked her again as she dropped me off back at work and we hugged and said that we would be in touch soon.
When I arrived back to my office I opened the envelope and discovered that Glenda had already written a thank you to me which emphasized to me that she did indeed know that I would be available today to answer her request. Talk about faith in claiming what you need. She wrote;
“Dearest Michael,
I’ve always said that sometimes the reason that you meet someone isn’t for the reason that you think. Thank you so much for helping my daughter and I to say our final goodbyes to our father/grandfather. It really means so very much to us. Had you met my father while he was alive I think that the two of you would have become fast friends. I am sorry that you won’t have the opportunity. Yet, I do believe that his spirit will be smiling among us.”
With deepest appreciation,
Glenda, and Inetta
I smiledto myself as I glanced at the business card I had taken from the funeral parlor.

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The Limits of Critical Thinking

Psychologist B.F. Skinner once said that, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten”. T.S. Elliott asks, ‘Where is the wisdom lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge lost in wisdom? Our postmodern information culture forces us to become overly cerebral, but it really doesn’t teach us to think, much less to feel for that matter. So now the question really becomes— How are we educating our children?

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What’s In a Name?

Perhaps the small town of Kewaunee, Wisconsin can answer the above query. A town of only 2,745 people have decided to change the name of the local High School Football Team. Under a new state law whose purpose is to eliminate race based nick names, mascots, and logos, the Kewaunee School District has decided to drop the name, “Indians” which had been in use since 1936.

No easy tasks as old habits die hard and normally the only people who welcome change are babies with wet diapers.  To help things along, students and community residents were asked to come up with other suggestions. This law is the first of its kind and it allows school district communities to make complaints about race based names that may be considered offensive. Districts can debate that a name isn’t discriminatory with a tribe’s approval. One can only wonder this was not thought of initially. Back in 2005, the NCAA prohibited the use of First Nation’s Peoples nicknames, mascots, and imagery during championship events.  Wisconsin’s law is the first of its kind.

Right here in Asheville, Mr. Monroe Gilmore, who is the coordinator of The North Carolina Mascot Education & Action Group (NCMEAG) is attempting to raise the consciousness of our community regarding “Indian” mascots.  NCMEAG is a project of Western North Carolina Citizens for and End to Institutional  Bigotry, also known as (WNCCEIB). Mr. Gilmore admits to growing up a Redskins fan ( no huge crime, especially since they are playing well this season thus far) and not really thinking about the subject until local First Nations people complained about a mascot in one of the local schools back in 1996. The question posed was, how can you say you honoring me when I don’t feel honored? Many of us don’t think about these things because they are part of the air we breathe in our society.

That said, now that we do know because these issues are being raised, what excuse do we have?  And yes, there are Native Americans who don’t mind the names or mascots and their may always be.  I wonder how long this would last if it were about an African American Mascot?  How long? Not long!

Thanks to Mr. Gilmore and others, 36 schools around the state of North Carolina have retired their “Indian Mascots” since 2002. Great work Monroe Gilmore. Somebody’s listening.

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Medicine and Race

The U.S. has apologized for yet another complicity in what can only be termed as a racist medical experiement. American scientists deliberately infected prisoners and patients in a mental hospital in Guatemala with syphylis 60 years ago.  The time period was 1946-1948 and the recent discovery prompted US officials to apologize this past Friday. Of course “outraged” was expressed.  Quite naturally, this story dredges up other American medical wrong doings such as The Infamous Tuskegee Experiment.

The Tuskegee syphilis study has scarred African American to this very day. African American men were ignored after being diagnosed with syphilis from 1932-1972 in Alabama. Deliberately ingnored without ever being offered treatment. But then again, why would they be offered treatment? They’re not really human anyway. For those of you who believe these are isolated incidents in our young nation’s glorious past, please purchase, Medical Aparthied: The Dark History(no pun intended) Of Medical Experiments on Black Americans From Colonial Times To The Present. The author is Harriet Washington. Ms. Washington is a medical writer and editor,as well as being a Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School and Stanford University. She is also the visiting scholar at De Paul University School of Law. I’m sure our First Nations brothers and sisters have their stories to tell about blankets being deliberately given to tribes after they had been infected with smallpox. Talk about germ warfare, but no more of that.

I write this because I have worked in healthcare, specifically as a hospital chaplain in New York City and here in Asheville. I have witnessed the fear among people of color right here in this city regarding our health care system. One may argue that this fear borders on paranoia. Yet history says other wise. A study in Bloomberg Businessweek on September 10th of this year reports of a distrust of hospitals by African Americans which deters them from even blood donation. Science without conscience is the soul’s perdition. I still encourage African American citizens here in Asheville to participate whenever free screenings are offered by Mission if they cannot afford otherwise.  Prevention is key.

As healthcare workers we must be sensitive to this history whether we choose to believe it or not. It is part of diversity education and cultural competency. We must be responsible for our own health, and yet history cannot be ignored. That is unless one feels bound to repeat it!

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Star Crossed Lovers?

It can be said that after money, America’s other obsessions are race and sex, and not necessarily in that

order. Mr. Jermaine Glover, 37 years young, now faces a first degree murder charge in the death of Ms. Misty Lynn Carter. Ms. Carter’s corpse was found October 19, 2009 near the Parkway in Buncombe County.  Glover is African American. Carter is white. The conversations I overheard and participated in run the gamut. Some African Americans I encountered expressed that they had hoped it wasn’t one of “us” who killed Misty Lynn Carter, to “he shouldn’t have been runnin’ ‘round with that white girl anyhow”. Less sensitive comments included phrases such as Jungle Fever, or he was only after one

Comments from whites I know ran along the lines of, “she should have known better to mess with those people” to “you know how they are”. Another comment went along the lines of, “what were her parents thinking? I would never had tolerated that kind of relationship”. Don’t get me wrong here. This was nothing like the O.J.Simpson trial. Mr. Glover is hardly a celebrity or high profile individual, neither is Ms. Carter for that matter. They are simply two human beings caught up in extremely tragic circumstances. My heart goes out to the Carter family as I can know first hand (as an older sibling, not as a parent) what it’s like to have a loved one murdered. That kind of wound never really heals. I feel for Mr. Glover and his family as well as his life and those of his family will never be the same regardless of whether he is found innocent or guilty.

Mr. Glover must bear the cross of being considered hyper-sexual and violent, a stereotype that most men of color in our society must bear. Ms. Misty Lynn Carter, even in death, is having her and her parents character scrutinized and under suspicion for having dared to be in relationship with “the other.” Some of the tongue wagging I overheard was registered as a conspiratorial whisper and some statements were boldly stated with all of the self righteousness one can muster.  William Faulkner’s statement about the past never really being past comes to mind.

Certainly, justice must be served and the guilty party or parties must be punished. Yet right now both these families need our thoughts and prayers. Race and sex can wait!

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Shelter From The Storms Of Life

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”.  So goes the story as told by Matthew in the first gospel (Mt.8:20), and it is repeated again in the gospel according to Luke (Luke 9:58).  Both stories attest to the fact that the most influential individual in Western religious history knew first hand what is was like to be homeless.

The Asheville Buncombe Homeless Initiative has a 10 year plan to eliminate homeless in our community. Quite a challenge and well worth the effort.  Lord, knows we need them. Their website states that 2,000 people experience homelessness in Asheville and Buncombe County at any given time during a single year. They also acknowledge the fact that homelessness is a public health and economic problem that can be ended, and that everyone deserves safe and affordable housing. Yes, everyone!

Then we here of the Nonprofit the Pathways to Permanent Housing Program of Homeward Bound.  This non profit placed its 200th person into permanent housing here in Asheville.  This is their calling; to find homes for the homeless. Realizing that it is not only about finding a home for the individual, this organization works to support those who finally find shelter in order to maintain the residence.  According to Jason Sanford who shared this information in the ACT, 90% of the 200 people that Homeward Bound has assisted in finding a home have stayed in that home.  Standards must be met for the clients to receive assistance which also assists them in maintaining dignity and self respect.

At times our culture can become so self righteous as to have the perspective that I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, why can’t they?  It’s almost as if one solution fits all. Admittedly, life would be much easier this way but it just isn’t so.  So many Americans are literally one or tow paychecks away from being homeless. Thank goodness for Homeward Bound, The Asheville Buncombe Homeless Initiative, along with other like minded organizations and individuals for their commitment and support.

It’s so nice to read about the good that human beings are doing for one another. It keeps hope alive in a world that at times seems so over wrought with problems and madness.  Perhaps Jeshua would have rested easier knowing that others have a place to rest their head.

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A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

While watching CNN last week I viewed a segment on the derth of African American Teachers in our public  schools. The segment also featured a segment on how to educate African American Males.  Immediately the words of African American Intellectual W.E. B. Dubois came to mind regarding American’s question to its African American citizens, How does it feel to be a problem?

Make no mistake there is a problem. It just may not be strictly an African American one. The Schott Foundation data states that in Bumcombe, County 45.6% of African American males graduated high school in 2009-2010. Dismal. White males are having their problems too. White male high school graduation rates in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida ranged from 57-59%. Yet the Schott report states, “The American Educational System is failing Black Males”.

In 2007-2008, North Carolina’s graduation rate for African American males was just 46%. There was some progress in Hertford, Co. North Carolina where 47% of white males graduated and 64% of African American males did as well. In mostly white Swain County, 58% of white males graduated. State wide, 59.6% African American males graduated and 76.5% white males graduated in 2009-2010. In many North Carolina districts (ours included), barely half of African American males manage to graduate in 4 years. Some don’t even manage that.

The Schott report maintains that African American males do well in schools that provide the necessary resources and support, such as equitable resources, high quality teachers, small class size, early literacy tests, after school programs, and social and health services. What makes them any different than any other students? There is plenty of blame to go around. Societal racism, anti-intellectualism, low expectations from teachers, students, and families, etc. All a lethal combination when developing the life of the mind.

Yet Guildford County in Greensboro managed 69% of black males graduating in 2009-2010. Newark, New Jersey managed 76% for the same year.  Please, does anyone have their phone numbers?

Perhaps we need to re-read Carter G. Woodson’s, The Miseducation of the Negro, or remind ourselves of the United Negro College Funds mantra that a mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste. Yet when I hear this news, I cannot help but think of the words of Cassius from Shakespeare’s, Julius Ceasar. “The fault dear Brutus lies not in the stars, but in ourselves!”

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