Hero Flamming

ImageWe have heard a lot about heroes since September 11th, 2001. Those accounts have been ones I have easily supported and so is this one. I already shouted out a “Happy Birthday, Dr. Flamming!” on Monday February 3rd for the occasion. Now, as I meditated on the photograph I discovered from the day before his birthday, more story must be shared. Just as no single Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John – provides as full a picture as hearing them all, I add this to the chorus of resonate tones for a Dr. Flamming living life boldly.

My highest Dr. Flamming acclaim is that I was almost his Teaching Assistant for his preaching course at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. It was my delight and to my great advantage as a preacher and a person to be in a student in a small class of Dr. Flamming’s. Have you ever been around people who you can tell they have learned and learned and learned through deep life experiences and serious introspection?  Although people age and even achieve higher titles and accolades, not all people learn as they go. Dr. Flamming has learned and resulted in very humble patience and wisdom.

Dr. Flamming is an accomplished minister and a famous preacher. Yet he never attempted to mold students into himself or into his style of preaching. He encouraged students to discover who they are in their own creation, how they are each created by God. How I am called to preach (or live) may not be the same way the Dr. Flamming or another student is called to preach (or live). His taught us all to be faithful to God in our daily prayer lives. He taught us to be patient and loving with everyone. He taught us to smile, laugh and enjoy life and one another.

As a trained teacher myself I know that there are three kinds of curriculum that every teacher has: explicit, implicit, and null. Dr. Flamming’s explicit curriculum had to do with how we preach and how we pray daily. His implicit curriculum was about caring for people and enjoying all of God’s creation (especially one another). His conversation frequently included how he continued throughout life to learn things and how his heart and mind were always expanded.

One’s null curriculum is what one teaches by what is unsaid. Dr. Flamming never said an unkind word and never excluded anyone. What do we teach by what we don’t say? Dr. Flamming never spoke with spite or dislike. He never spoke of people as “others” in any way, shape or form. There were, obviously, no people that were outsiders, that were the sinners over there, or even lesser people of faith. Dr. Flamming, it seems clear by what he does not say, sees himself as equally low as every other human being that he has been fortunate to sojourn with. He knows the frailty of human life and is grateful for what we have to share even while mourning what we might have lost.

Being human is an exceptional thing and being human well takes ordinary heroism. Dr. Flamming is being human with extraordinary heroism.

Single on Valentine’s Day? Love yourself!!!

Everyone's got heart

Everyone’s got heart

Single on Valentine’s Day? You are fine. Commercial Valentine’s Day and society in general will send the messages that you are suppose to be with someone. You may even agree, as I did. Maybe you would like to be with somebody permanently and that is a fine and healthy desire. It obviously, however, cannot be forced. So if you are single today, take a deep breath, you are fine.

Multiple Intelligence Theory is Howard Gardner’s brainchild. He initially defined and isolated seven intelligences in people’s brains. The criteria were rigorous and others have been discovered since MI’s beginnings. My strongest intelligences are interpersonal and intrapersonal (a word spellcheck opposes (click “learn spelling”)). Intrapersonal is one’s relationship with one’s self. Sound weird? I already know that you talk to yourself so you might as well admit that you listen to yourself too.

Interpersonal relationships, ones with other people, are obviously important, but no less important than your relationship with you. What are the messages that you say to yourself? Do you grant yourself grace and forgiveness as you would (hopefully) with others? It is from this sense of intrapersonal relationship that I declare to you: love yourself!

I do not only mean go buy yourself flowers, chocolate and a card on Valentine’s Day. I do not only mean take yourself out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. I mean tell yourself all of the good things about yourself. Say them in your head. Say them out loud when you’re alone and, seriously, do not hide them from saying them about yourself with other people. This is not some sort of self-help seminar or absurdity. If we cannot say that we love and like ourselves then we have much progress to make.

If this is difficult for you, as it can be for me, here is a strategy that may help. Often people will not do a healthy, good thing for themselves, but they would rarely fail to do the same healthy, good thing for someone else. If this sounds like you then know this: whatever you are doing you are teaching it to others. If you show others how to say peculiar things like, “I like me,” or “I love me,” or “I do it because I like/love me,” then they will learn to do likewise. It’s better for everyone involved and it is not arrogant. It only needs to be true.

Lastly, I will say that it is okay to be lonely. In fact it is good to be able to identify whatever emotions you are experiencing. It is okay to feel things deeply and even lean into them a little bit. But there is no reason to dwell on or emphasize the negative. Recognize when have crossed lines beyond what is healthy into what is destructive.  Emotions are part of being alive. So if you have emotions, congratulations, seriously, you are alive! Savor it, drink it all in.

Single (Again) on Valentine’s Day

For Lovers, Single or Not.

For Lovers, Single or Not.

I created a stir last December when I blogged “Single (Again) on Christmas.” Like a couple quietly carries its excitement in the first trimester of a pregnancy, I had quietly been hopeful in a new courtship. When the blog posted some close to me had worried that a miscarriage had taken place. And quietly I reassured them that I only meant that another holiday was passing when I was unmarried. Nobody is happier than I am to report that I am, as I was at Christmas, unmarried yet pouring my heart into the adoration of a still young romance.

I have spent most of 41 years of life failing, by crude evaluation, at romance. It may, therefore, be no surprise that, although I have consistently had great joy for those who had found committed love, I have deeply reinforced cynicism and resentment about the ideas of love in my own life or about the idea that there is love to be found for everyone.

I worked at a Kroger grocery store for a couple years and I was glad to be single around Valentine’s Day. I mainly worked the front of the store (cashier, customer service, accounting, bagging, and supervising). It meant that I watched the Valentine’s Day insanity. All of the magazine and tabloids went into high gear. The floral department did more business than the rest of the year combined. Chocolate and anything pink was purchased after waiting in very long lines. And the price of everything had gone up for those purchasing men. And God be praying for any fella that did not secure dinner reservations or acquire the some requisite gifts and card. These were the supposed lucky ones on the planet who were in romantic relationships. No, thank you.

imagesYet the sorrow seemed to rain down on single people as well. They had neither some one to buy for or to buy for them on this special romantic day. Pairs of single people or groups often get together for dinner and make the restaurant lines even worse. And these people don’t give up their table when they are done either. They are happy to see the couples waiting indefinitely while the singles savor their own social time together.  And how many single people are simply alone at home, some of us fine but most experiencing an occasional sting of loneliness on February 14th?

I wish I had planned sooner for this year but hopefully I will do better in the future. Since the single girls probably won’t invite my girlfriend out with them and the singles guys may not think to invite me out (or in), maybe my girlfriend and I could invite everyone to my place instead. Couples have 364 days of the year to take their significant other out or make her/him dinner at home; give up February 14th. Surprise your partner by holding your own Valentine’s Day.

imagesThe current arrangement is a lose-lose situation. The only winners on February 14th Valentine’s Day are the people who’s stuff we buy. The buyers can only meet the expectations of the ones we are buying for. Take quality time to completely stop and make sure you’re loved one knows she/he is loved. But do not spend money, just that day.

Maybe you think you need an excuse to do “something crazy” that’s romantic like driving 300 miles to visit him. You don’t really. But if you think you do then just claim your Valentine’s Day, whenever you want it.

Happy 80th Birthday, Dr. Flamming!

Happy birthday, Dr. Flamming! To others, pictured are me (left), Dr. Somerville (center), and Dr. Flamming.

Happy birthday, Dr. Flamming! To others, pictured are me (left), Dr. Somerville (center), and Dr. Flamming.

Yesterday I was in the eye of an emotional storm when Dr. James Somerville acknowledged Dr. James Flamming   the day before Dr. Flamming’s 80th birthday and the congregation swelled with warm applause and rose to its feet. Dr. Flamming was surrounded immediately by his sons, wife and sister-in-law. The only people not standing, in fact, were the three of us sitting right in front of the Flammings, so not to obstruct people’s view and attempts to connect with them.

I have been blessed to have Dr. Flamming as my preaching professor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and to be a member of the First Baptist Congregation with him, where he has remained since his retirement six years ago.

Happy birthday, Dr. Flamming, and thank you for all of your teaching and mentorship.

And, to everyone else, please don’t fail to click here to see how Richmond’s First Baptist Church made their love plain.

Does Anybody Hear that Ringing?

It's not a wrong number, I am calling you.

It’s not a wrong number, I am calling you.

We have all know the experience of a telephone ringing in a room while nobody seems to move for it. Somebody might ask, “Does anybody hear that ringing?” I always answer too quickly in the affirmative and then wish I’d said, “Ringing? What ringing? I don’t hear anything.”

Maybe a more common contemporary experience is people’s cell phones ringing or beeping with people reaching toward their phones asking, “Is that you or me?”

My point is that somebody, in each case, is trying to communicate to us and we are not hearing rightly. For two weeks at Richmond’s First Baptist Church I have come away with roughly the same message – which means I need it pretty badly — from two different preachers. The message I received was, “Answer your calling?”

To expand a little, “Jay, you are stressing out about too many things. You are not in control of a great many things. Your job is to serve – serve me (God) and serve people.”

MLK Jr. Day: Open Mouth Insert Whole Leg

imagesAt 41 I have spent most of my life in institutions of “higher education.” Such institutions, by their nature, have always been unable to completely avoid engaging the reality of inequality across races. There has been at least a shred of understanding that racism, when anyone in the community experienced it, ought to be confronted. I have taken several classes that have included the topic in the curriculum. I have spent many nights in the lounge of dormitories listening to students freely exchange their experiences of being from assorted backgrounds. In every conversation I have been surprised that I have yet to arrive at the unbiased human being I would like to be.  Perhaps “unbiased human” is an impossibility, if we are to be honest.

I believe I have had every possible stereotype of all different types of people be broken. Name a stereotype and I am sure I have seen more than one exception. I, therefore, cognitively know that the stereotype, the bias, is unreliable and wrong. All I need to do at that point is delete it from my brain’s wiring. Done. The next time I met a white man with excellent dancing skills, therefore, I need not be surprised. Or when I meet a white man who claims to be a great dancer then I should not doubt him. Unfortunately, the false belief persists. I remain surprised despite the unfairness to each talented caucasian dancing fellow. (It is possible that my caucasian self wants this stereotype to endure as an excuse to blame my ancestors for my Steve Martin-esque dancing abilities instead of myself.)

imagesThe persistence of biases is a much bigger problem, however, than the example I cited. 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr., on August 28th, 1963, gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the mall in Washington, DC. 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln, on January 1st, 1863, issued the Emancipation Proclamation. How can we be so slow to grow? How can injustice from one human being to another based on skin color be reality after 50 and 150 years? How can unfairness be a completely predictable experience for people of color in America, not on an occasion, but with regularity?

In our day we have become complacent and blind. For my experience as a white person moving around the east coast and the midwest, to generalize, it sounds as though we would like to believe that equality exists and racism is only a part of our past, not America’s present. It is difficult for any human being to see realities she or he does not want to see; we see what we want or expect to see. We want to believe in a free and equal America. We will seek out information to support what we want to believe.* We need to wake up.

We need to wake up to see reality as reality is. The reality is that we are still all wired to make presumptions based on appearances, including race. We cannot counter this internal process until we recognize it. It is immoral, it is wrong to make conclusions based on race.

imagesOnce we wake up to the immorality of our current reality then we must do something about it. We ought to be upset but we ought not become absurd. We want to be effective, not hostile. We ought to be persuasive, not irrational. Equality is reasonable, even in the face of unreasonable behavior or thinking.

We are journeying together and so it is that we all will always be learning. I believe an excellent strategy to improve things is to ask what people’s experiences are and how they think we might improve things. Then continue the good work. Be sure and recruit diversity of opinions and experiences because there is no singular experience, not for any category of people.

And one important closing thought as we take courage to break the silences and try to understand new perspectives, ask for grace. Acknowledge that each of us will, in our clear ignorance and with no maliciousness, open our mouths and insert our feet so deeply into our mouths that we will be able to see our own rear ends. Laugh now because it will not be funny when it happens. Take a deep breath and recognize the opportunity to teach the other person a new (and kinder) way of thinking and speaking.

* I recommend readings by George Lakoff or Daniel Kahneman.