March 22, 2012


My father-in-law, Joseph Level, wrote a powerful note titled, "Suspicious" in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I've re-posted it below:

I have been stopped by "law enforcement" in traffic, in public, and in retail stores before for being "suspicious".  Yet, by the grace of God, I was able, to some degree, corral my anger enough to remain dignified and articulate enough through each humiliating encounter.  I'm sure I displayed a bit of righteous indignation…even I couldn't help myself.  Regardless of how much I have been prepped to expect these unfortunate situations to occur in my life, I was never quite prepared when it happened.  And although I know I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, I continue to live and breathe in earnest expectation for the next time I suddenly appear suspect.  However, it pales in comparison to the absolute terror that grips me when I consider my own four sons in light of the curious case of Trayvon Martin. 

As the husband of one and the father of our seven children, most would consider me to be too tough on them.  I plead not guilty.  I haven’t been tough enough.  Don’t get it twisted.  They are great young adults, teens, and kids…every single one of them.  Shanda, our oldest daughter, is married to a wonderful man she met as an undergraduate and both alumni of UNC-Chapel Hill; Brittani is a sophomore at Wake Forest University; Joseph III is a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill; Josh, a high school sophomore who attends a private boarding school in Asheville, NC (Christ School); Jeremy, an 8th grader; Jordan, 8, our youngest daughter; and infant son, Jaydon (hey, what can we say…lol). 

As parents, my wife and I have spent countless hours helping to shape their character and social graces.  No pat on the back wanted or needed.  It’s what we’re supposed to do and I’m sure most of you, too, have the same testimony.  We’ve talked about all the subjects that every mommy and daddy talk about.  We’ve talked about all the subjects that mommy and daddy are afraid to talk about.  We’ve talked about all the subjects that every black mommy and daddy must address. 

And then, there are the daily “present” black father “heart to hearts” I must have with my black sons about what it means to be a black man in America.  (I could take some time to differentiate black man vs black man of God; or even black man vs black male, but I won’t.  I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference regarding this topic, so forgive me).  I’m not talking about those pep talks about how you’ve got to be twice as good as your classmates just to stay competitive (cue the righteous indignation!).   I’m referring to those “suspicious” talks, and I’m bothered by the thought of even having these conversations with my sons in 2012…all these years after slavery, Jim Crow, MLK and up to Obama!  

Why must I talk to them about being hyper sensitive about how they walk; their posture; when and when not to make eye contact; when and when not to smile; where to place your hands; their vernacular and tone of voice with police, security, coaches, teachers, and other authority figures?   Must I teach them about the dangers of just being in upscale stores, ethnic stores, or even grocery stores?  What about the dangers of being in a luxury car, SUV, station wagon, a “hoop-tee”, or on a bike?  Can I forget about teaching them what slacks, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, shoes, caps and colors they’re safely permitted to wear?  Do I teach them when to say “yes sir” or “yes-suh”, “yes maam” or “yes-sum”?  Do I have to teach them when it’s safe to get in the water, when and where it's safe to “make water”, or when and where it’s safe to even come outside and play without being targeted and gunned down?  And for what?  Being “suspicious”?  (O-M-G, forgive me for not teaching them to use the fork farthest to the left for the salad and to place their napkin in the plate only when they’re finished eating.)   I mean, really? 

If you have any suspicions about whether or not I am, you’re d--n right I’m angry. I’m terrified for our sons.  I grieve for Mr. Martin, his family, and all loved ones left after such senseless tragedies.

But most of all, today, I’m grateful that my boys are alive and well, and able to know how their father feels for and about them. 

I just pray that they also remember what I’ve taught them.  I love them too much not to keep trying. 

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March 14, 2012

Look Closer

Photo Credit: stock.xchng

The world is more complex than it's ever been. In order to make good decisions, we have to be willing to devote more thought to the things around us. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be swayed with slick marketing when the tools needed to make informed decisions are easier to access than they've ever been.

I recently told someone that people like good marketing more than they like good products.  The desire for  companies, authority figures and the media to make us feel a certain way leaves us open to being manipulated far too easily.  

It frustrates me that, in a world where information is readily available, hundreds of thousands of people watch a short, (albeit well-produced) video and walk away believing they have a full understanding of a complex conflict that's been going on for decades. 

People watch the cable news network that most closely aligns with their political perspective and walk away thinking they've got the whole picture. 

People hear a couple of sermons with a few Scriptures (usually taken out of context) and walk away thinking that they have a handle on theological issues that people have wrestled with for thousands of years.

We owe it to ourselves to resist our tendency to view things one-dimensionally and take the time and study necessary to more fully grasp the issues that confront us.  Taking a more thoughtful, deliberate approach isn't always easy--I get that.

But if we want to have meaningful discussions and make informed decisions about important matters we have to look at things from more than just one perspective.
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November 3, 2011

Wisdom From Ecclesiastes

A few verses that caught my attention recently...

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 - A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
  • It really is a blessing to be able to find enjoyment in the work that you do.  I think this verse also speaks to the value of having an overall sense of contentment about your life.  Not that things are exactly as you would like them to be, but that you find a way to appreciate who, what and where you are in life.

Ecclesiastes 4:4 - And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
  • So much of what people seek after is a response to what they see others seeking after.  Many times you don't want something until you see someone else with it.  It's so important to have a value system that is independent of external pressures false ideals.

Ecclesiastes 6:11 - The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
  • I've written before about the power of brevity.  Words are important, so we should use them wisely.

Ecclesiastes 7:8 - The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
  • Any time you're building or establishing something in your life, the early stages can be small, difficult or frustrating.  The key is to focus on the goal you're ultimately pursuing.  Pride says, "I need to arrive NOW".  Patience says, "These small steps are progress.  I'll get there in due time"

Ecclesiastes 7:14 - When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.  Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.
  • Sometimes we try to evaluate our standing with God based on how we feel about our current circumstances.  When things are going well, we should be grateful and thankful.  But we need wisdom to see clearly when things aren't going the way we would like.  We have to refrain from assuming that difficult situations are a sign that God has become upset or has forsaken us.  God is always sovereign and good, no matter where life finds us.

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September 20, 2011

The Death Penalty and Troy Davis

Over the past week, the movement to stop Troy Davis' execution has gained traction around the country, particularly through social media.  Most people are protesting because there doesn't seem to be much evidence supporting Davis' conviction.   The only evidence tying Davis to the crime is the testimony of 9 witnesses--7 of which have changed or recanted their accounts.

At the time of this post, Mr. Davis has been denied clemency by the Georgia Pardons Board and is scheduled to be executed in a little over 24 hours.

I wish Troy Davis' case didn't come down to last minute appeals.  There shouldn't be time constraints on proving a person's innocence.  Here are a few reasons I don't support the death penalty:

1. - I don't believe that executions are the truest expression of God's perspective of justice here on earth.  My views are mostly summed up by what Jesus says here as well as this passage:

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment." - James 2:12-13

We can't let our anger lead us to forcefully and permanently preclude someone from having another opportunity to receive God's grace.

2. - Even the most remote possibility of executing an innocent person is too much of a risk to take.  Why risk killing an innocent person when you can effectively protect the public by imprisoning those convicted of crimes?  

3. - The death penalty does nothing to deter future murders or other violent acts.  These crimes are usually prompted by out of control emotions and a disregard for human life.  A fear of punishment is the last thing going through the mind of a would-be murderer. 

I've lost a family member to murder and I know the anger and desire for revenge that can come with that.  But I don't think that those emotions should form the basis for determining what justice is in our society.

How do you feel about the death penalty?  What shapes your perspective?
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September 9, 2011


Recently read a book called "Focus" by Leo Babauta.  The basic idea is that our technology driven world is constantly presenting us with distractions that clutter our lives and keep us from doing the things that really matter.

"Focus" provides strategies for eliminating these distractions and becoming more productive.  Most of it surrounds limiting your use of social networking, watching less tv and finding periods of time to "unplug" from other things that keep you from being productive.

There are two different versions of the book.  I read the free, e-book version.  It gives you the major arguments Babauta wants to convey.  There is also a premium digital version that covers the same topics but goes more in-depth and actually includes videos as well.  

There was nothing really groundbreaking about Focus.  I was just at a point where I needed to focus more, so I enjoyed reading Babauta's thoughts.  If you're interested, you can get the free version here.
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August 18, 2011


Photo Credit: Stock.xchng

Don't despise the place you currently find yourself.  Instead of dwelling on the problems you're facing, focus on how the lessons you've been learning will help you as you move forward.

Your preparation doesn't always look like your destination.  When David was working as a shepherd boy, he probably didn't think his work tending sheep was preparing him to be king.  But it was.

The fact that what you're doing now is not what you ultimately want to do isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Your current situation has value--it's just that it's hard to appreciate it until you get past it.

You have the tools and passion you need, but you may not have the wisdom and understanding to use them.  It's one thing to have skills.  It's another thing to apply those skills and talents appropriately in your life.

While you're being prepared, you learn the ways that God has uniquely gifted you.  You learn what works for you and what doesn't.  You grow.  You develop.  You gain confidence.

You may not have asked to be where you are, but whether you recognize it or not, your present circumstances are providing you with much needed preparation.
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August 12, 2011

I Need to Write More

I'm basically just writing this post because I haven't posted anything in a couple of weeks and I felt like I was losing some of my blogging discipline.

Just trying to get back in the flow of reading, gathering links and writing.  It feels good.

The way to write a paper or maintain a blog or write a book is largely about making the decision to sit down and write.

Once that decision is made, the words will come.

With that said, I'll be posting more stuff soon.
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