Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Habit of Having Habits

"You don't have to keep [habits]. They keep you." --Frank Crane

Like most, I have a set morning routine from what I watch as I start my day to the order in which I get dressed to what I eat. Part of that routine includes morning prayer. Ninety-five percent of the time, before my feet hit the floor, my knees do first. Not right; not wrong. Just what I do. However, in being away on vacation, it wasn't until I was saying grace over breakfast on the THIRD day that I realized it was my first verbal commune with God. I was a little embarrassed with myself but quickly appreciative for the realization it brought me: how many other things am I--and maybe a lot of us--doing out of routine as opposed to authentically.

I recall hearing a sermon in church once when the pastor purposely made an un-Christian-like remark. On cue, several parishioners replied, "Amen." The pastor then stopped and said, "No. That is not correct. And now I know how many are not truly listening and simply responding out of habit." It brought shame to those "usual suspects" of the "Amen corner," but hopefully it brought conviction and awareness.

Like that incident, my absence of prayer caused me to think of other ways we are habitual and how we can be transformed by more awareness as well. How many of us sit in church every Sunday yet our minds are on the football game score or even what we have on our agenda for the week? How many of us end our conversations with family and friends with "I love you," yet harbor ill feelings in our hearts about them that go unspoken? How many of us walk in the office with a cheery "Good morning," yet cursed all the way into work about how awful the day already is? How many of us encourage friends to "Call me if you need me!" but check the caller ID to try and avoid them when the time is inconvenient to us? And how many of us bow our heads over every meal and recite the grace we learned at age 5, but never truly reflect on what it means to be thankful to have food on our plates?

We're all guilty of it, but perhaps it's time to be more intentional with our words and actions. Perhaps when we tell someone we love them, we need to add WHY. Perhaps if the morning is not going so well, simply greeting your co-workers with "hello" is enough. Perhaps instead of telling friends to call you if they need you, you just simply perform a random act of kindness for them without being asked. And perhaps when we say our grace, we actually thank God for each item on our plate from the peas to the carrots. If we truly looked at everything we did and said daily, we'd be surprised to discover how habitual we really are and perhaps, like me, we'll begin to desire something a little more heartfelt and honest.

Now I know realistically we won't be able to do this every day about every thing and definitely not overnight, but if we commit to truly start thinking about what we do and WHY, we can begin to take small steps toward aligning our thoughts, words, and actions more often, which can only breed better relationships, more truth, richer love, and, as always, increased growth for all of us.

And so as I challenge you, I challenge myself as well to do better--starting with an honest commune with God today, although it's already 2 in the afternoon, and I've long started my day. Because I'm realizing I'd rather be late and authentic than on-time and routine. Amen to that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Numbers Don't Lie...But Do They Matter?

70% of black women won't marry...50% of marriages end in divorce...African-Americans account for 44% of all new HIV cases...80% of Americans are in debt. The numbers game is playing out everywhere. And it's obvious we are a nation obsessed with, fearful of, and controlled by statistics. Not saying these numbers aren't true, but I've come to realize that focusing on them has done very little to create a shift in our relationships, health, or wallets. The most it's done is cripple our hope and create a wealth of fear. And any psychologist or spiritual healer will tell you, fear and growth cannot exist in the same space.

In fact, I've come to realize that one example of a good relationship can spark more hope for a couple's love life than a zillion articles telling them what they're doing wrong. Seeing one friend slow walk their way out of debt (and be willing to share about it) creates more encouragement for a person facing foreclosure than a thousand CNN "Debt in America" specials. And one guy telling his buddy he gets tested annually (and encouraging him to do the same) can provide a better wake-up call than a million "scary" stories related to the disease. Don't get me wrong: our community still NEEDS this kind of activism and those who go out to do so are truly our faceless heroes. But I also realized it wasn't until the message shifted from "AIDS Can Kill You" to "We Are Greater Than AIDS" did the sting of fear diminish to where the desire to be more conscious and proactive grew. Is some cases, getting tested even became "cool."

It is said that only .02% of high school basketball players make it to the NBA. Yet, for the countless number of young boys that wake up every day motivated by that dream, statistics don't matter. All most have is one favorite player to emulate or one good mentor that believes in them to provide enough hope to carry them through each new day, whether they're growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles or the inner city of Chicago. Hope. That's it. And that's all most of us need for there to be a shift in thinking that manifests change.

Not statistics, not horror stories, not hours upon hours at happy hours with girlfriends declaring, "Chile, there ain't no good men left." Not stories telling us that every other house on the block is being lost and unemployment is at an all-time high. And not article after article declaring the new death toll of African-Americans is rising. If there was enough hope to sustain our ancestors and lead them through a wretched 400 years, surely there's enough to lead us to happy relationships, good health, and hearty living.

So, you can choose to let your life be influenced by negative numbers or you can choose to let your life be shaped by positive thinking. The choice is yours. The focus is yours. And hope is there for the taking. Look for it. Find it. And hold on to it. And when you believe it and it begins to transform your outlook and thus your life, don't forget to be that hope for someone else. That's what will make the difference that leads to change. Not fear. But hope. And that can not be measured.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The More Things Change....

I will admit, being in my own bubble called "life," I was late in learning of the story of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American teen, shot to death by a Jewish neighborhood watch leader named George Zimmerman in Orlando, Florida. Like most, I was horrified at hearing about another senseless death, mortified that an investigation had uncovered that the police led questioning and changed eyewitness statements, and disgusted that the authorities involved chose to focus on what a stand-up citizen with a squeaky clean record Zimmerman has been (which turned out to be a lie) yet doing nothing to reveal the squeaky clean record the victim actually had. Lauded as a good kid that still allowed his parents to kiss him publicly, another young black man is dead for, well, it seems, just being black.

Of course there are the typical details of the suspect looking suspicious, of him "being out of place" walking in a gated community (which Trayvon's dad's girlfriend lived in), and after being approached by what I'm sure Trayvon saw as an equally suspicious-looking stranger (a.k.a the neighborhood watch captain) of putting up a struggle that ended his life. Zimmerman is claiming the shooting was in self-defense. However, details are slowly revealing what we all inherently know when we hear these stories. We've seen it all before--Rodney King, Sean Bell, the Jena 6. Dare I take a long trip down memory lane to 1955's civil rights icon Emmett Till? And in 2012, here we still are. Victims of suspicion; corpses of corruption.

At times like this, I am beyond answers. I realized just how far beyond, when my first instinctive thought after reading the details of the case was to say, "Dag, I wish Trayvon wasn't wearing that hoodie." Yep, that is where I am. Desperately trying to find ANYTHING that could possibly keep our youth from being targets. In my exasperation, I've unconciously put the blame on the victim, for I've lost all hope for the perpetrators. It's no longer about freedom of (fashion) expression; it's about survival. For no matter how many Black in America specials CNN produces, regardless of the countless number of dollars Will Smith brings to the box office portraying a heroic black male, no matter how many networks Oprah may own, regardless of how many "black friends you have," take most people out of their comfort zone--or worse, put a black face in theirs--and all they see is a suspect.

Sadly, even if this case finds Trayvon vindicated, it's safe to assume that victory will be short lived--until the next hooded black kid decides to walk to the store for a bag of Skittles. The only solution to it all lies in a complete overhaul of a thought process birthed by a racist nation and, sadly, kept alive by those who continue to find comfort in stereotypes, peace in segregation, and joy in superiority. Until everyone suffering from this "mental illness" is committed to a complete shift in their thinking, the protests and marches will continue right along with these tragedies. And thus, I'll continue to wish Trayvon hadn't worn his hoodie.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stop! In the Name of Love

"What is this love thing all about?" --Martin Lawrence, Martin

Maybe better stated, what is their love thing all about? The couple in question: Pop music darlings Rihanna and Chris Brown. Their initial foray into “couplehood” made headlines; the punch that sent Rihanna sailing out of the relationship made even bigger headlines. Interviews abounded, declarations were made, restraining orders were put into place, and new love interests found their way into both of their lives. And then it was quiet—-until now. According to reports the two appear to be tweeting and texting their way back into each other's hearts and, possibly, each other's arms. Normally not a big deal when this involves young lovers or entertainment figures, except for the fact that this relationship and, thus, its tragic end, created proverbial lines drawn in the sand by many: domestic violence survivors, women interest groups, die-hard fans of Chris Breezy, faithful Rih Rih stans, and simply lovers of good music who didn’t care about any of it. And so a possible reignited flame between the two seems to have again heated everyone. But not me.

Before I go any further, I will say in no way am I condoning or diminishing the horrific effects of domestic violence. That alone is a topic for another blog. But not only was I not surprised at this rumored reuniting, I was actually waiting (not hoping) for it. Maybe it was the unconvincing way Rihanna spoke to Diane Sawyer during her first public interview and half-heartedly convinced us she had learned her lesson and was never going back. Maybe it was that in every fourth song Chris put out, there seemed to be some nod to Rihanna—and not in a bad way. Maybe it was the subtle, across-the-room glances photographers caught of them that read, “Oh, how I miss you….” Or maybe it was the leaked news of them chatting whenever they could steal away from the press and public. In any regards, lessons learned or not, these two have a love for each other that maybe even they can’t explain. Does it appear to be a healthy one? No. Is it something we can learn from? Yes.

Much like our own relationships—even when violence is not a factor—they end when and how we want them to. No amount of coaxing, talking, support, or even restraining orders have ever made a difference when two people want to be together. It only ends when one or both parties agree enough is enough. We’ve seen it with Ike and Tina. We’ve seen it with Whitney and Bobby. And we’re seeing it with Chris and Rihanna.

These relationships end when individual growth authentically happens (not when a publicist says it has) or when someone’s spirit desires something healthier and finds the courage to seek it. Until then, the only thing we can hope for—-and all learn from—-is that it’s personal growth that draws healthy, unconditional, supportive love into our lives that doesn’t hurt in any sense of the word; it's not our lip service. I’m not saying these two have not done their self work and, thus, re-discovered each other. If so, that's beautiful as everyone deserves a second chance when they've done the work to earn it. But if they haven’t, we can save our talk and work on ourselves instead.