Monday, August 14, 2017

It is Not About a Sermon It is About Vision and Mission: Charlottesville Ain’t New

It is Not About a Sermon It is About Vision and Mission: Charlottesville Ain’t New

All over the internet, we had calls last week for preachers to preach about Charlottesville.  I heard the call and I fully agree that we should stand for, live for, fight for and preach about justice.  What I am responding to are the calls that went something like this, “If your pastor doesn’t preach about "said issue" this week then you should find another church.”  I would rephrase that call. If your church does not have as a core value the liberation work of God for all people, then you should find another church.  What I am trying to say is that this weekend was not about a sermon but rather it was about the very vision and mission of the church.  We as a church are not called to be reactive but rather we are called to be prophetic.

At Wheat Street our vision reads like this:
We exist to develop mature disciples of Jesus Christ who make a real difference in the world by actively seeking the justice, freedom, liberation, and peace of God.
(Luke 4:18; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 1:16-20; Mark 6:30-44; Mark 7:1-23; Mark 9:33-37; Mark 10:13-16; Mark 12:41-44; Acts 1:6-11; Acts 2:14-21; Acts 2:43-47; Acts 4:23-37; Philippians 4:4-9)


At the core of who we understand ourselves to be as a faith community, at Wheat Street Baptist Church, is built on the foundation of the liberative work God is doing in the world.  This is more than a sermon, or a reaction to the latest, continuing acts of hate. We do this work every day, it is not about the latest sermon it is about the continuing struggle for justice.  It is not the sermon but the vision and mission that I am more concerned about.  What is your church’s vision and mission and how does it speak to justice?  It is the everyday work we do in the struggle that I am focused on.  As much as what we say on Sunday is important it is equally important what we do Monday through Saturday as prophetic witnesses who act by the power of God in the world to fight for justice, this is our call.  So yes, we preach and we then live in such a way that our preaching becomes lived in this world as we fight for justice.  We don’t need an act of hate/racism to spur us into action.  We are called by the prophetic ministry of Jesus, the radical liberator, to this work of liberation every day!!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Strength of a Woman: Power, Pain and Liberation



The Strength of a Woman: Power, Pain and Liberation

What is it about Mary J. Blige that is amazing? Everything. She is a super star, first class performer, great voice, authentic and transparent.  My wife and I love Mary J. Blige and we have been fans since the early days.  Mary and her music are simply the best.  Her songs tell stories.  Stories of pain, power, desire, disappoint, hope, ecstasy, and love.  Yes, love.  I can’t help but feel Mary is a person filled with love and whenever you see her you really feel like she loves her fans, and we sure do love her back.

The show last night was simply amazing. Mary took us all the way back and brought us up to her new work.  The Wolf Creek Amphitheater was packed and we didn’t sit down the entire show.  We sang every song, did the Mary J. dance and to put is simply the choir was in the house.  While I was there as a true fan and follower I couldn’t take my preacher hat off.  There was something spiritual about this gathering of faithful Mary followers.

The band of followers weren’t Mary worshippers but Mary took us to a place of worship.  We were in touch with life’s twists and turns, ups and downs and the power of God to get us through what we have gone through.  The honesty in Mary’s songs and her re-telling of these stories through song took us to a place of truth.  Her telling of her story honestly and transparently meant we felt her.  As she shared her pain, her hope and her refusal to give up on life gave us life.  She didn’t tell us all is well but she told us all will be well.  She let us know we will get through what we are going through because we got through what we went through.  She showed us the power of music to minister to us and pull us through the hard times. She also pointed us directly to God as she was clear that it was God and good friends who got her through and continue to get her through.



There is something about Mary J. Blige and her body of work.  She is once in a lifetime artist.  I am so thankful to God for creating her for this time.  To have experienced her and her work has been and continues to be such a blessing.  Mary has inspired me to be a better husband, a better pastor, a transparent/authentic story teller and to not be afraid of sharing my story because in sharing others are liberated with me.  Mary,  “Thanks for being a model for me, for putting on a great show that did more than entertain. Thanks for the liberative work you do to set us free to be free and get through this thing called life!”  What does Mary mean to you?  How has she or other artists spoken to your life?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The New Jim Crow - Re-Read / Recommitment: Just Mercy




The New Jim Crow - Re-Read / Recommitment: Just Mercy



I just finished re-reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  when I read this book when it first came out I was overwhelmed.  I read it in awe but on the second read the issue became digestible.  I could see, feel and carve out a space for contemplative action.  I see what I need to do to address the life trajectory of my brothers and sisters who are caught in this vicious system.  As a professor, pastor and artist I have to create work that calls attention to this system of injustice.  I have to shine a light on this evil. When we see what is happening it will lead us to doing something about what we see.  You can’t look at injustice and be in relationship with just God and do nothing.  Our faith compels us to act.


At our church we are going to develop a Freedom Ministry.  The birth of this ministry will be a six week Bible Study and reading centered around the book The New Jim Crow along with looking at the work of work of Bryan Stevenson and his book Just Mercy.  The ministry will start with a time study and prayer to first understand both the real and spiritual sides of the issue(s).  As we come to an understanding of what we are dealing with we will then develop a plan of action. We will act on our plan and then move forward. We ask your prayers and support as we do what God has called us to do.  What is God calling you to do?  I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Good Music Ain't Hard to Find: Adam and Kat Hawley are The TRUTH


I am a huge jazz guitar fan.  My love affair with jazz began with Wes Montgomery.  So I am biased when it comes to my favorite artists. I have a new favorite and it is Adam Hawley.  This brother is the truth.  I became hip to Adam when he hit Billboard #1 with his 35th Street jam off of his debut release Just the Beginning.  I checked out the album I was blown away from start to finish.


When I heard he was coming to Atlanta I made it my business to be there.  I had been in church all day but I drug myself and my camera to the Velvet Note.  I met the brother and his family and you could feel the love immediately.  A real good brother who loves his wife and his family, you can see it and feel it.  This love I felt after meeting them was transferred to the stage.  What a performance.


There is something special about a very talented artist who loves the music and the people they perform with and for.  Adam cares about those who come to see him.  He reaches out and touches you when he plays.  He is such a gifted musician that you don’t even notice how hard he is working because the musicianship is just that good. He makes that guitar do things that make even a novice go…WTH!  

When he and his wife, Kat, perform together you see the love and respect they have for each other.  They take you to a place with them as their two souls unite on stage. I say this while realizing all the connotations of this phrase, there is a sacredness about the Hawley family and I thank the creator for this union.  To sum this up. If you don’t have the album Just the Beginning - get it today.  Stream it today.  If Adam Hawley is coming to a town near you drive, catch an uber, walk, run / jog you want to experience this brother all the way LIVE! 


The future of jazz is in good hands.  We have to support these artists and their work.  Will you join me in supporting my brother?  Will you buy the album?  Stream it on Spotify, Apple Music…will you do that today? A star is born...give him some shine.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Seeing Jazz: The History of Jazz Photography....carrying on the tradition

Seeing Jazz: 

The History of Jazz Photography....carrying on the tradition

I am so thankful for Benjamin Cawthra’s book Blue Notes in Black and White:  Photography and Jazz because this book helps me see the history of what I do.  I am a photographer who has a rich and deep connection to jazz.  Jazz was the music that I feel in love with as a kid in the 1960s.  As a baby my father would sit me beside the speakers of his record player and let the smooth sounds of Wes Montgomery quiet a crying child.  I was that child and Wes Montgomery was my comforter.

I find myself in my mid-fifties and I am still in love with jazz.  As a photographer jazz is one of my main subjects and Cawthra’s book has helped me wrap my mind and eyes around the history of jazz photography.  While I knew of the artist he writes about, both musicians and photographers, I needed his work to help me put the big picture together. The book gives you a timeline and way to walk thought the history of jazz and jazz photography in context.  The color and context of jazz comes to life in this work.

This book also helped me see what is next.  I am not just collecting images of jazz artists but rather I am creating a visual story that speaks to the past, present and future of jazz in historical context.  My images are a part of this great legacy and I must treat this work as a child of those who have come before me.  The great photographers whose work Cawthra’s helps me see is so important to be familiar with.  As a modern artist I am not creating new work but rather I am creating work that is connected to the past. 

Artist must know their history because in knowing your history you see how you and your work are connected.  Your work is what is next but it can’t be separated from what came before.  As we look back at our artistic history it informs our work and we begin to see and shoot in relationship to our ancestors and elders. Cawthra’s book brings those great artist from the past to life. This is a life giving book and I thank God for the life it gave me. What is that story that you are a part of? What came before you and your work that you need to consult in order to create?


Friday, May 20, 2016

The Power of Play: Love, Listen, Learn and Sound Good Together

To see musicians play together amazes me. They listen to each other, appreciate each other, compliment each other and we are the ultimate beneficiaries.  The give and take that goes on on stage is a model for what life and leadership can be when we love what we do and appreciate those we do it with. In life and in organizations we can have a tendency to look down on others and not value what they bring to the table.  In music the artists appreciate the artistry and instrument their fellow band member brings to the stage and the play together.

To watch Antone Knight share the stage with the likes of Ken Ford was moving.  Not that I haven't seen this before but to see it last night moved me in a special way.  As I reflect on my journey today I am mindful of how arrogant people dismiss and talk down to others and I so wish we could learn to play together. When we play we have to listen and respect the other as we want to sound good together.  Today I recommit to listen and play with others.  Who do you need to be listening to?  Can you hear those you play with?  What is your role in the band you play in?


Friday, May 13, 2016

Being Willing to Make Mistakes: Pushing the Art





Last night was my first time seeing / hearing Victor Wooten live.  I am a bass fan and to be honest I love the guitar.  My love relationship with jazz began with great guitar players.  When it comes to the bass it is at the core of this love affair.  While I have seen and heard Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke I hadn’t heard Victor. Now that I have heard all three I can say I have been in the presence of the Holy Trinity of Bass Players.

The show was spiritual.  You feel the power of the Spirit working through Victor. He is a good person and his music amplifies his angelic presence. While the show was truly moving what impressed me most was his willing to push the envelope.  He and his band played a song they hadn’t rehearsed over and over but rather they were introduced to the song during sound check.   Victor admitted that this was a new song and this was their first time playing it and there were going to be some mistakes.  He was clear you have to go for it, try new stuff and you have to live with the mistakes if you are going to get better.



Victor said, “I would rather us go for something cool and mess up rather than play it safe and play the same way every night.” This spoke volumes to me and my work as well as the gift that is Victor Wooten.  Victor isn’t satisfied with what he has created but rather he is always creating new stuff as he pushes the envelope as he delights in the gifts of mistakes.  If we are going to grow we have to try new stuff and live with the mess of the creative process of becoming that artist you were created to be.  Are you willing to make mistakes as you push your art to the next point on the journey?  Are you making enough  mistakes are or you playing it safe (pun intended)?



It is Not About a Sermon It is About Vision and Mission: Charlottesville Ain’t New

It is Not About a Sermon It is About Vision and Mission: Charlottesville Ain’t New All over the internet, we had calls last week for ...