Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Black History Month: Honoring Seeds of Sacrifice

Ms. Chandi Lowry, photo by Bishop Peggy JohnsonRecently I attended an interfaith prayer breakfast celebrating the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dubbs Memorial Community Center in Allentown, Pa. The Lehigh Conference of Churches hosted the gathering.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Pickens, a United Methodist clergyman from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, is executive director of the Conference of Churches. The Mistress of Ceremonies for this event was Ms. Chandi Lowry. As a TV news anchor of the Weekend Edition program for WFMZ, she reports regularly during the week at the Allentown-based station.

Ms. Lowry grew up in New Castle, Pa., and received a degree in communication from the University of Pittsburgh. She began her career in news at WTAE-TV. She later moved to Youngstown, Ohio, to become a reporter. Over the years, she has worked at news stations in Ohio, South Carolina and Georgia and won the Best TV Personality Award from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.

Ms. Lowry is quoted as saying that the best part of being a journalist is “affecting others in a positive way and being able to find out valuable information, and give that knowledge to those who would otherwise not have the chance to learn from it.” One of her activities outside of the newsroom is helping young girls shape their futures in the Junior Miss Program.

I spoke with her during the breakfast and asked her about her opportunities and the future for African Americans in this country. She did not skip a beat in affirming the importance of giving credit where credit is due. She said “without him (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the other pioneers, I would not be here today.”

Sometimes we forget that. Although society has made some progress in the area of human rights and equality, we have a long way to go. In order to do that we must not lose sight of those in the past who were trailblazers. They paved the way for the next generation.

People who are wise with humility and perspective give credit to those who made huge sacrifices in the past, and they never take that progress for granted. Black History Month is a time to celebrate the famous and nameless African Americans who planted the seeds that are large oaks of justice and progress today.

This special month is also a time to do what Ms. Lowry is doing: to mentor and encourage the younger generation so they can continue on the march toward full empowerment and into a future that is yet to be born. Everyone should learn all they can during Black History month and then use the lessons of the past in practical ways today.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Big Picture

On our recent family vacation to Austin, Texas, we drove 23 hours southwest to the home of my mother-in-law.  This was our first long road trip in a very long time and in the past we have used paper maps.  This time we used computer-generated technology that was far more efficient. 

The best part about it was that you could zoom in on an area and see particular street corners, restaurants and gas stations.  Then this same technology enabled us to zoom outward and see the entire map of the United States and that pencil-thin blue line that went from PA to TX in the space of 3 inches.  Seeing the big picture was helpful to get an idea of how far we had come and how far we had left to go. 

When I think of “big picture” I think of the civil rights movement and its most famous leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King lived in a time and a place in history that was specific to the cause of civil rights in the United States and the elimination of Jim Crow laws that had long created an unjust disparity between people of color and Caucasian people.  However, King also saw the big picture that is as big as all of humanity. 

In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

That takes in a lot of landscape!  It includes racial justice, socio-economic justice,  gender parity, disability rights, civil rights for people in the LGBT community,  equal rights for people of various religious beliefs, and humanitarian rights for people who are migrants.  The big picture pulls everyone into the equation, and it puts a huge responsibility on those who have the world’s privileges to see the necessity to work toward leveling the playing ground for everyone’s best interest.

In Parker Palmer’s New Year’s Eve blog “5 New Year’s Revolutions” (, December 30, 2015) he calls for a “revolution” against “the fantasy that a few of us can live secure, private lives while ignoring our complicity in conditions that put many others at mortal risk.”  According to Palmer, fifty percent of the world is malnourished and 68 percent lives on only $2 per day.  Seeing the big picture of poverty and injustice calls us to zoom in on local, practical justice work. 

To honor Dr. King’s vision of justice for all on his birthday, and in the spirit of our denomination's observance of Human Relations Day on Jan. 17, ponder what you can do to help create equity in this world, through your words and deeds.  Be like the big-picture-thinker John Wesley who saw the entire world as his parish. Take a look at how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go to see that everyone has the same freedom and rights in this world.

Then step into that big picture yourself. Find places where you, your gifts and your Christian faith and values might fit. See what's there, what's not there, and how you can help close some gaps, build some bridges and make crooked places straight.

Remember, just as maps change over time, the big picture in which we all live, love and learn as children of God is not yet finished taking shape.  And as 1 John 3:2 tells us, "it doth not yet appear what we shall be."