Not My Enemy, But My Friend

At the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, a few lawmakers met to “study” whether radical Islam has infiltrated the state.  Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, accused local Muslim leaders of participating in terrorist activities, “The enemy must be stopped. We're going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We're going to be called that by terrorists organizations like CAIR that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom” (NewsOK, 10/26/2016).

While Bennett stated his purpose for the meeting, he also revealed his objective, “We're going to do all we can to kick these terrorist organizations out of the state of Oklahoma” (Ibid.) When Rep. Bennett refers to “terrorists organization” he is referring to my good friends, Imam Imad Enchassi and Adam Soltani.  Enchassi is the local Senior Imam at The Islamic Center of Greater Oklahoma City.  Soltani is the Executive Director of CAIR-OK (Council on American-Islamic Relations).  Without any credible evidence by state or federal law enforcement officials, Bennett and his associates are attempting to create unsubstantiated and unfounded accusations against peaceful Americans whose faith happens to differ from his.  

There are numerous reasons why this line of legislative harassment is unacceptable.  As a Christian minister, I find the actions by Bennett and other legislators as egregiously opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   During Jesus life and ministry, he engaged and welcomed the strangers among his people, even when his people felt differently about them.  From the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) to healing the servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), Jesus practiced what he preached.  And speaking of preaching, he had these words to say, 

“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

-Matthew 25:42-46

As a Baptist minister, I am absolutely terrified local magistrates are once again using faith as a tool for persecution and harassment.  In the 17th Century, Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned, and publicly whipped for advocating a faith different from that of the majority. This kind of religious persecution prompted Roger Williams to declare in 1644, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (

In that same year, Massachusetts “outlawed” being a Baptist altogether, declaring them to be a danger to the state, “some whereof (as others before them) denied the ordinance of the magistracy…bring guilt upon us, infection and trouble to our churches, and hazard to the whole commonwealth” (Leonard, Baptist Ways, 78).  The New England magistrates felt as though Baptists were a terror in their own right, causing chaos and mayhem among their commonwealth.  In my opinion, there is no difference between what 17th Century Puritan magistrates were doing and what Rep. Bennett is doing today.

Finally, as an American, I am appalled at this line of false inquiry and inquisition. Revolutionary Baptist Pastor, John Leland, expressed the sentiments of a liberal democracy when he declared, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians” (  

The charade that took place at the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday should make every American’s blood boil.  There is nothing more un-American than elected public officials making unsubstantiated accusations against law abiding and peaceful citizens of a different faith.  This line of inquiry and investigation must cease immediately.  If allowed to continue, the echoes of a new McCarthyism will grow louder over time.  

Therefore, as a Christian and Baptist minister, I stand beside my Muslim brothers and sisters because I truly believe this is what Jesus would do.  As an American citizen, I stand beside you because I still believe that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land for every citizen, not just the powerful elite.  In closing, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I, for one, do not consider you an enemy, but a friend.  

Harry Caray, The Cubs, and the Summer of 1983

Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs laid to rest the “Curse of the Billy Goat” by winning the National League pennant over the Los Angeles Dodgers and moving on to this year’s World Series.  The curse stretches all the way back to 1945, when Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his goat’s odor was bothering fans during the fourth game of the 1945 World Series.   Offended, Sianis quipped, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!”

Sianis turned out to be a modern prophet of sorts.  His very accurate prediction takes me back to the summer of 1983.  The Randall family was living on the east side of Tulsa.  My dad worked at an insurance company, my mom was enrolled in a Master’s program at Northeastern State University, my younger brother was being taken care of by grandmother, and I had the run of the house.  Needless to say, as a soon-to-be teenager, I did not get up that early during the summer.  However, I always made certain to be wide awake when the Chicago Cubs had a home game.

Back in those days, the Cubs played all of their home games during the day since Wrigley Field was not fitted for lights.  Therefore, for an eleven year old baseball fan, it was a perfect scenario.  Tuned into WGN out of Chicago, I would pop a frozen pizza into the oven, and listen for my summer caretaker, Harry Caray, to welcome me to the game.

“The starting line up for today’s Chicago Cubs,” Caray would announce, “Bill Buckner at first, Ryne Sandberg at second, Ron Cey at third, Larry Bowa at shortstop, Leon Durham in left, Mel Hall in center, Keith Moreland in right, Jody Davis behind the plate, and Fergie Jenkins on the mound.”  Now, the Cubs were terrible that year, winning only 71 games while losing 91.  Poor Harry would get so disgusted with them, by the seventh inning stretch his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” might have been slurred just a bit.  

Nevertheless, those summer days filled my heart.  I loved watching baseball and listening to Harry Caray make his sidekick, Steve Stone, so uncomfortable with his questions and remarks.  It was a baseball kid’s dream.  Now, today, the Cubs are headed to the World Series.  Caray’s mic has long since been silenced with time, but his voice still echoes around Wrigley Field.  A few decades ago, my grandfather went to Chicago and caught a game.  Amazingly, he ran into Caray outside the park.  My grandfather removed his new cap he had purchased at the game and Caray signed the bill of it.  Today, that cap sits on a bookshelf in my study.  It is worn and faded over the ages, but when the first pitch of the World Series is thrown out this year, I will be wearing it with pride.


Go Cubs!

Pooh Bear is Back!

On a blustery winter’s night near the Hundred Acre Wood, a father and his two sons nestled in a cozy bed just before it was time for sleep.  The wind outside the boy’s bedroom kept knocking up against the window, causing the boys to scurry under their covers each time they heard it.  A warm light cast shadows on the wall, reminding the two boys of the heffalumps and woozles they had run across in their book.  It was getting late.  “One more story,” they beseeched their father.  With a wry smile, knowing he would give into their request, the father cracked open A.A. Milne’s wonderfully written and imaginatively created, “Winnie-the-Pooh.”  Delightfully warm and at peace, they read one more story.

For several years, when the boys were young this routine played out each night.  Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Eeyore would join Christopher Robin for one adventure after another in the Hundred Acre Wood.  Pooh and his friends were reading staples for my boys.  A.A. Milne’s characters filled their minds and hearts with simple adventures, unending kindness, remarkable decency, and honey pots full of love.  There were no greater influential fictional characters for my small children than these simple personalities portraying foundational human attributes.

My heart is bursting today, because I just learned that a new Winnie-the-Pooh book is being released on October 25, 2016.  There have only been two sequels sanctioned by Pooh Properties, the first released in 2009 called “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.”  Now, this new publication, “The Best Bear in All the World,” is conceding with the bear’s 90th birthday.  A new chapter will be introduced.  Penguin will make an appearance during the winter setting.  Brian Sibley, who wrote the story, said he was inspired by seeing a photograph of Milne and his son, Christopher, playing with a bear and toy penguin (Shea, New York Times, 10/14/2016).  

I am thrilled at the idea that this winter parents will be snuggling up with children at night and cracking open this new adventure staring Pooh and his friends.  Parents, if you wish to raise kind and compassionate children, buy this book and read it to them as often as you can.  Pooh Bear is back!  I, for one, am thrilled!  Where’s my hot chocolate?  Where’s my blanket?  Where’s my book?  It’s time to return to the Hundred Acre Wood.

Bob Dylan, The Prophet

Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, Dylan’s family called Hibbing, Minnesota home.  They lived in a small Jewish community outside of Duluth, after Dylan’s father contracted polio.  Dylan experienced a typical childhood for a young Jewish boy growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s. As a young boy, Dylan recalled listening to a blues radio station broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana.  Soon, he was listening to musical icons Little Richard and Elvis Presley.

Bob Dylan has been creating amazing music over a span of seven decades.  Some of his greatest hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”  There were these, and many others, that spoke both realism and peace into generation after generation of fans.  However, for me, my favorite Dylan hit has always been, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

The song was released in 1964 during a time when President Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War and signed the Civil Rights Acts.  During this period of the 1960’s, people felt like the world was spinning so rapidly that each day brought something shocking and/or revolutionary to the front pages of their newspapers.  For the generation from which I was born, Dylan’s song captured the time perfectly.

Come gather ’round people where ever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a’ changin’!

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen

And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a’ changin’!

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a’ changin’!

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a’ changin’!

The line it is drawn the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a’ changin’!

While Dylan brilliantly and poetically captured the realities of the 1960’s, his lyrics and music are timeless.  Read the words again, but this time apply them to our day.  Indeed, the times are a changing and the waters are swelling.  We need prophets to take up their pens once again.  We need statesmen more concerned about the wellbeing of our country than their reelections.  We need families that place love above everything else, even when they don’t understand.  As the old poet reminds us, these days  are quickly fading.  Therefore, we need to act today, not tomorrow.  

Congrats Bob Dylan on your Nobel Prize and thank you for being a prophet among us!


Keeping Church and State Separate

Essays in Response to Oklahoma State Question 790

Stating the Problem

Oklahoma State Question 790 is asking citizens to remove Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution.  Article 2, Section 5, reads, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”  This set of essays will provide a clear understanding of the issues and an argument why eliminating Article 2, Section 5, would be unbiblical, historically demeaning, legally indefensible, and impractical to implement.   

Essay #3

“Legal Response”

Colonial America

During Colonial America, religious liberty for all colonists was thwarted through legal entanglements between the established church and local magistrates.  The precedent of separation between church and state was unheard of in Colonial America, making life very difficult for the likes of Baptists, Quakers, and other non-conformist faiths.  Individuals like Roger Williams, Anna Hutchinson, and Mary Dyer were banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because based on the local laws, they practiced a faith contrary to the established church.  Dyer was actually executed at the Boston Commons on June 1, 1660.

Baptists Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, and John Crandall were arrested in Massachusetts for preaching and proclaiming believer’s baptism.  Eventually Holmes was convicted and publicly whipped for his part in the matter. Under the governance of ruling authorities in the Bay Colonies, individuals fleeing persecution from the throne of England landed in America only to discover another oppressor.  Baptist and other dissenters’ stories served as essential evidence for the birth of a national policy on religious liberty.

Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

At the final resting place of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, visitors will read the following on his tombstone, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence of The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom And Father of the University of Virginia.”  Jefferson, along with fellow Virginian, James Madison, felt very strongly about the the right for every citizen to legally have religious liberty within the new United States of America, as well as solidifying that very same liberty for his beloved state of Virginia.  Thus, he authored the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” and sent it to the state assembly in 1779, twelve years before the First Amendment was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution.  

Jefferson wrote, “That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

He continued, “Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities” (Ragosta, 223-224).

In other words, Jefferson and Madison (who actually lobbied for the bill’s passage in 1786, while Jefferson was Minister to France) were successful in their attempt to separate church and state.  The two Founding Fathers from Virginia believed that no person should ever pay taxes to support any church.  Unknowingly, Jefferson’s statute would be the precursor to his more famous metaphor of establishing a wall between church and state.

Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

Jefferson’s bill did not come without controversy though.  Fellow Virginian Patrick Henry attempted to pass a state bill that would have taxed Virginians in order to support “Teachers of the Christian Religion.”  With Jefferson out of the country and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom still being debated on the Virginia House of Delegates, James Madison took up his pen in 1785 to author a stinging rebuttal to Henry.  It was called, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.”

Madison argued, “Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

He turns up his argument, “The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.”

Madison’s words sting.  The great author of the U.S. Constitution proclaimed that any government seeking to take away the conscience of the individual by requiring intellectual or financial submission to religion, perverts conscience and is a tyrant.  However, his most pointed words are for those who allow themselves to be governed by tyrants and are so willing to prostitute their consciences.  They are mere slaves to these tyrants.  

U.S. Constitution – No Religious Text Clause

With Virginia securing religious liberty and church/state separation in 1786, Madison and his fellow delegates began to take up the idea of creating a federal government on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia.  After decades of religious and civil entanglements, the delegates had to make a clear statement regarding religions proper place in the new government they were forming. 

Before James Madison penned the first sixteen words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Constitutional Congress had to settle the election of federal legislators.  In Article VI, they addressed the issue of a religious test, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

It is evident that the Founders were adamant that church and state were to be separated when it came to electing officers of the new government.  By making this declaration, the Founders created a secular government where religion would be able to thrive in a free market void of government intrusion.  However, they also secured religions proper place by stating that religion can influence government from outside the wall, but that the election of legislators and the work they conduct should be in the interest of the government and not religion.

Bill of Rights – First Amendment

Immediately, the Founders understood the need for Amendments to the Constitution.  There were glaring generalities that needed to be secured through offering clearer meaning.  Therefore, Madison picked up his pen once again and began to craft the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The first sixteen words of the First Amendment speak loudly and clearly to what the Founder’s beliefs were when it came to religion’s place in the United States of America.

It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  With the brilliance of these two clauses, known as the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause, the founders ensured the separation of church and state.  The government should not establish, endorse, or favor any religion.  However, the government also has the responsibility to ensure each citizen is able to practice or not practice their faith as their conscience dictates.  Both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses have steered church and state issues since America’s founding.  The Supreme Court has heard and ruled on numerous cases regarding the practice of religion in America, but they all have had to measure those decision agains the Founder’s first sixteen words of the First Amendment.

Even when the Court ruled for a broader understanding of the Free Exercise Clause than separatists would prefer, there still remained a high level of respect for church/state separation.  In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the Court ruled that New Jersey law allowed reimbursement of money to families who sent their students to school using the public transportation system.  In the majority opinion (5-4 decision), Justice Hugo Black and fellow Baptist, declared, "in the words of Jefferson, the clause (First Amendment) against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'…that wall must be high and impregnable.  We could not approve the slightest breach."

Treaty of Tripoli

After ratification of the Constitution, the country still muddled through the muddy waters of implementing their new adopted measures for self-governance.  Religious persecution still existed after the Constitution was adopted and ratified, so the country continued to debate the proper relationship between the church and state.  Many still felt like the U.S. Government should somehow acknowledge the institution was governed by the people, but with a direct influence of the Christian religion.

It has never been more apparent that America was not intended to be a “Christian nation” than when President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797.  American merchant ships were being terrorized by Barbary pirates within the Mediterranean Sea.  To secure safe passage for the merchants, President Washington sent a delegation to negotiate peace in 1795.  By 1797 during the Adams’ Administration, a treaty was agreed upon, ratified by the Senate, and signed by Adams.

The important part of the treaty dealing with religion is found in Article 11.  It reads, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

The conclusion is clear, America has never been nor should ever be, a government founded on religion.  While the Christian religion has always been influential to our Founders and citizens, the government is prohibited from establishing religion as a foundation for laws that govern the people.  When religion is used as a pretext to the laws and treaties of the country, a violation of the First Amendment is at stake, not to mention a barrier to treaties with other countries where their religion differs from the religion practiced by a large number of Americans.

Oklahoma Constitution & the Enabling Act

The Oklahoma Constitution was ratified by the U.S. Constitution on November 16, 1907, making Oklahoma the 46th U.S. state. When Oklahoma entered statehood, our state leaders understood they needed to comply with federal mandates to join the United States.  One such mandate is known as the Enabling Act of 1906.  According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, “The Enabling Act empowered the people of the Oklahoma and Indian territories to elect delegates to a constitutional convention and set up a state capital temporarily at Guthrie, in former Oklahoma Territory. The capital was to remain at Guthrie until 1913 and thereafter would be located permanently by electors chosen at a statewide election that would be called by the legislature.”

More so, the Act included several stipulations that were required laws in order to enter statehood.  Again, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, there were two specific requirements dealing with religion, “Freedom of religion was to be preserved…and…the establishment of public schools, which were to be nonsectarian.”  By agreeing to these terms, Oklahoma was adopting the principles defined by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

In addition to the Enabling Act, territories requesting statehood had to also agree that the U.S. Constitution reigned supreme over any state constitutions, as spelled out in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It concludes, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

While none-legal but still important, state legislators also heard testimonies from Native American children being whipped and forced to attend Christians worship services at agricultural schools funded by the government.  The new state was well aware of the evils conducted by coerced religion. In the new state of Oklahoma, the notion of “killing the Indian to save the soul” would not be acceptable for a state seeking to enact freedom for all of her citizens. The establishment and promotion of religion by the state would not be tolerated. Thus, when the Oklahoma Constitution was adopted in 1907, Article 2, Section 5, was included to protect the rights of every Oklahoma citizen, especially those coming from Indian Territory.


The previous arguments touch upon the overarching legal history as to why religious liberty and church/state separation are so crucial to the health and well being of our country.  While there remains numerous court cases that can be analyzed and discussed by legal experts, this essay attempted to demonstrate the legislative history of religious liberty.  Religious liberty has always been a bedrock for American principles and the wall separating church and state has been a wise and respectable barrier between the two.  If State Question 790 passes, there will be two immediate consequences.  First, Oklahoma will be seen as a state that does not respect its previous promises of what it means to be part of the United States.  Second, the law will be immediately appealed where it will be ruled unconstitutional based on both the Oklahoma Constitution and the United States Constitution.  This futile exercise conducted by lawmakers is nothing more than a veiled attempt to score political points and cause harm to state agencies (particular public education), but it is also an enormous waste of tax payers money and in direct violation with the founding principles of Oklahoma and the United States of America.

The Two Al’s: Regret and Peace

Al was a chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist.  Born on October 21, 1833 in Sweden, later moving to Paris, Al grew up a devote Lutheran.  His faith was always important to him, as he learned to lean on it during times of struggle.  His most perplexing struggle came later in life when he realized one of his inventions had caused more harm than he could have ever imagined.

In 1867, Al patented an invention that truly changed the world.   He discovered that when nitroglycerin was incased in an absorbent insert like kieselguhr that it became much safer to handle.  Up to this point, nitroglycerin had been used as an explosive but it was so dangerous that many times it killed or maimed its handler.  In submitting his patent, Al decided to name his new invention after the Greek word for power, dynamite.

Decades later, there was another scientist named Al who discovered a formula that was later used to create the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein’s, Theory of Relativity, e=mc2, was crucial to those working on the bomb during World War II.  In his biography on Einstein, Walter Isaacson, notes that when hearing about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein grew somber knowing his formula resulted in such catastrophic death.

Isaacson notes, “Einstein’s efforts to prevent future death were motivated not only by his old pacifist instincts but also, he admitted, by his guilty feelings about the role he had played in encouraging the atom bomb project” (Isaacson, 490).  After the war, Einstein gave a speech at a dinner in New York City on a cold December night.  The aging theorist admitted he felt a great kinship with the scientist for which the event was named after, The Alfred Bernard Nobel Peace Prize Gala. 

Alfred Nobel created the peace prize “to atone for having invented the most powerful explosives (dynamite) ever known to his time” (Isaacson, 490).  Einstein felt as though he were in a similar situation, “Today, the physicists who participated in forging the most formidable and dangerous weapon of all times are harassed by an equal feeling of responsibility, not to say guilt” (ibid.).

How often do we carry around these same feelings?  How many times have we been part of something that felt right at the time, only to produce unknown consequences we wish had not occurred?  How many times have we made a mistake we wish we could go back and change, but realize we must now live with the consequences?  For those of us that carry these burdens over our shoulders, there is hope.  Like Nobel and Einstein, we too can live with our pasts as we strive after justice and peace for the future.  Listen to the words of James 3:17-18, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

America, We Are Better Than This!

The presidential debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may have very well been the lowest moment in American political history.  Even before the debate began, one of the candidates decided to put on a spectacle that felt more like a sideshow circus act than a presidential debate.  The debate did not make it any better, for within the first thirty minutes both candidates were leveling sexual accusations against the other or the other’s spouse.  One candidate even threatened to jail his opponent if elected.  

America, we are better than this!  We are better than what we are seeing and hearing from this election.  We have candidates from our two major parties whom the country does not embrace all that enthusiastically.  We have slipped into rhetoric that sounds more like a…I was going to say a middle school lunchroom…but I feel like they are even better than what we are currently seeing and hearing.  What has happened to us, America?  How did we get to this point?  How have we fallen so far? 

In my sermon yesterday, I made the following statement, “The reality we don’t want to face is that what we have seen over the last few months sadly reveals what we have become (as a nation).”  American politics is simply mimicking what plays out all across this country.  Let me be even more pointed, we elect the politicians we deserve.  What does this mean? America, we deserve what we are seeing and hearing because simply stated, they…are…us.  

The Prophet Hosea rebuked a nation that had prostituted itself.  Listen to his words, “Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.  There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.  Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.  Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish (Hosea 4:1-3a).

America, we too are heading down this road of self-destruction.  We are heading down a road where disgusting sexual discourse and possible sexual assault can be explained away if it benefits “our” candidate.  We are heading down a road where “saying anything to get elected” is just “playing politics.”  We are heading down a road where the real issues are only a backdrop to the reality-television mentality we crave.   We are heading down a road where we hold our next president to the same standards we hold for a contestant on the next season of “The Bachelor.”

America, we are better than this!  While we are a deeply divided nation now, my prayer for our country is that we learn from this mistake.  The time to rise out of our current predicament has arrived.  The time for new leaders to emerge, from a new generation, has come.  Our democracy is stronger when liberals and conservatives work together with integrity, civility, and wisdom to make this nation a more perfect union.  We must live with our past mistakes, but this is no excuse why we cannot begin working towards reconciliation and a better tomorrow.  We can have a brighter future, but we need new leaders with new voices to begin the march forward.  

Again, the Prophet Hosea, ““Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.  Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).

America, we are better than this!



Can we talk about sex?

Debra Hirsch has recently released a book entitled, Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality.  In the Washington Post’s “OnFaith” section last week, Hirsch discussed her book.  She made the point that for the most part, the church often only debates the “rights-and-wrongs” about sexuality and spirituality.  The church never really has a meaningful conversation about the topic.  Listen to her comments….

Why do we always seem to get stuck talking about the negative stuff? Why does our first response to all things sexual usually come with a pointing finger? Why do sexual sins seem to overshadow all others, marking us with both shame and disgrace? Why do we have such a problem relating to sexual minorities, both in and outside the church? Sex certainly gets a lot of airplay, but sadly, it’s mostly negative.

Hirsch is correct.  Anytime the church discusses – more like debates – the topic of sexuality, it often begins with someone declaring an act “sinful” and someone else making a counter point.  Now, we come by this honestly, because the Bible often mentions sex in a negative light.  The Old Testament spells out certain cultural laws, while the New Testament mentions it in very vague and uncertain terms.  There are moments when sex is discussed in a positive manner, but we tend to skim over those because they make us uncomfortable.

Several years ago as we debated human sexuality in a Doctor of Ministry seminar, I jokingly said to my cohorts, “I just wish Jesus would have left us a Christian version of the Kama Sutra.  It sure would have made all this much easier for us.”  Alas, he did not.  But maybe that decision was on purpose, because Jesus left us a guiding principle for everything we do as Christians….LOVE (Matthew 22:34-40).  

Love should be the focal point of any discussion we have within the church.  When we veer away from love, we tend to become judgmental and shortsighted.  In my own Baptist tribe, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, we are undertaking a project called Illuminations.  Leaders of this project will be charged, among other things, to address the 16 year old policy against hiring LGBTQ people.  

Even within the moderate-leaning fellowship, there are individuals and churches still uncomfortable with this issue.  My hope and prayer for this process is that love will guide these deliberations.  CBF’s Illumination Project should not be about what is right-and-wrong about human sexuality, but whether or not we are going to let love win the day.  If love is allowed to supersede all else, then each of us can maintain our individual conscience while honoring the consciences of others.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton) recently said, “Love is love, is love, is love…”


It seems like yesterday that I woke up to a new world, a world where a sixteen-year-old discovered both the freedom and responsibility of sliding behind the wheel.  There was nothing better than my first solo-drive when no parent could tell me to turn down the radio. My mom sent me to the grocery store for bread, but she might as well have sent me to the moon.  The exhilaration of driving a car by myself gave me a sense of empowerment and freedom.  To think my parents and the State of Oklahoma had confidence in me – even though a bit shaky I am sure – offered the affirmation that every teenager needs. 

This morning, another sixteen-year-old woke to a new world.  Our youngest son, Tanner, has filled our lives with warm memories, joyful excitement, and ceaseless energy.  His mother and I are so proud of the young man he is becoming.  There is no other sixteen-year-old boy in the world more kind, more generous, and more excited about life than Tanner.  He wakes each day as though it were Saturday morning, full of endless possibilities and potential adventures.  

When he was a toddler, he used to wake up early and venture into our bedroom.  As two young and exhausted parents, Missy and I would be attempting to drain the last bit of sleep out of the morning.  Tanner would quietly walk to my side of the bed, clasp my face in his little hands, and declare in his “inside” voice, “BUT DADDY, IT’S A SUNNY DAY!”  For Tanner, a sunny day meant long walks in the park, soccer games in the backyard, or just finding a warm place outdoors to be a family.  

From the very beginning, Tanner has had places to go and people to see.  Missy and I realized some years ago that we are just passengers on this incredible journey he is traveling. He has taken us on such a wonderful path thus far, we cannot even imagine what the roads ahead are like for him.  Of course, there will be mountains, there will be valleys, there will be straight roads, and there will be curved roads.  Therefore, on this day he sets out for a new adventure on his amazing journey, I offer the following prayer for my sixteen-year-old son who has truly been driving all of his life…

Dear Lord,

May your grace, mercy, and love fall upon my son.

May he discover your love, your joy, and your hope as he sets out on his excursion.

May you keep his roads straight, while protecting him over the mountains and through the valleys.

May you always place a sunny day in his mirror, even when the darkness of rain and storm arise.

He is my son, and unto you I trust his future journey.


Clergy and Law Enforcement Discuss Community Policing

Over the last few months, Norman clergy and law enforcement have been gathering to discuss the state of our community.  NPD’s Chief Keith Humphrey and other law enforcement leaders have been wonderful as we discuss the role of cultural diversity and the importance of community policing.  Clergy have been able to communicate to law enforcement some of the concerns heard within congressional conversations, as well as provide much needed support and encouragement to the brave men and women who patrol our neighborhoods.

In addition, law enforcement has been able to educate clergy about their efforts to incorporate community policing in Norman.  The clergy have learned a lot about police tactics, some that even seem “rude” to citizens but are very important for the safety of officers and citizens.  While learning about each other in these conversations, the most important development has been the humanization of the other.  When law enforcement and the community begin to converse with one another and develop relationships, community begins to emerge as we discover we are more alike than different.  

During our last meeting, Chief Humphrey made a statement that caused a hush to fall over the room, “I just wish every city in America realized we are one incident away from our city being the next Ferguson.”  In this one sentence, the Chief summed up the reason we have been convening over the last few months.    Clergy and law enforcement leaders acknowledge the complexities and depth of the issues we are facing.  We cannot solve these issues in one set of meetings.  However, we can begin to work towards a more beloved community.  

Clergy and law enforcement want to offer an opportunity to address these issues before another incident arises.  If our efforts are successful, we may even be able to prevent incidents like we have seen across the country from developing in our community.  Therefore, in conjunction with The Xenia Institute for Social Justice, we would like to invite you to an evening that hopes to begin connecting law enforcement and community.  The meeting is October 10th, 7:00 PM, at First Presbyterian Church of Norman (555 S. University, Norman, OK, 73069).  

Speakers for the event include Norman Mayor, Lynne Miller; Norman Police Chief, Keith Humphrey, Assistant Director for LGBTQ Program (OU), Kasey Catlett; and Special Assistant to the Vice President (OU), D’Andrea Fisher.  The event is open to the public, so please plan on attending.  Let’s come together as we all seek to make Norman a more perfect community where peace and prosperity can live within all of our citizens.