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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Henry Sylvester Bobo is my late paternal grandfather.  To say, I adored and respected this man would be a gross understatement. I miss this man. When I think of him, and that’s often, I smile. He taught me much (and he still teaches me posthumously).  I observed him up close and personal and from a far (we stayed in Kansas City, MO; he and my grandmother lived in Kansas City, KS). I am people watcher. I am an observer (credit my engineering training and laboratory days). Watching and observing grandpa was a joy to me and a preoccupation of mine. What did I observe and/or learn from this honorable and illustrious man?

First, he taught me that it’s okay to have an imagination. My granddad was wildly creative.  His imagination manifested itself in the beautiful works he did with bricks, concrete and stone. He built fireplaces, patios, and walls.  He was an entrepreneur: a self-employed brickmason! And he was good. His imagination was evident with his “home made shoes.” Long story, but those shoes, they were a sight to behold!

Second, he was a tender, affectionate and gentle man. He was the first African-American man to say to me, “I love you.” The first man. Although I struggle to say those three words, I still remember my dear grandpa saying those words to me; I was a teenager I believe.

Third, he showed me husbandry.  He was not a perfect man (I am certain his kids would attest to that); however, from what I observed, he was a good husband to the late Willa Mae, his dear love and the former high kicking majorette at Sumner High School.  Theirs was the true Camelot marriage in my mind. I vividly remember my grandpa, the doting husband, would respond to Willa Mae’s inquiries by saying “yes, baby.” When she became a vulnerable and ‘weak lamb’ – when she grew ill and struggled with dementia – she would ask the same question repeatedly and yet, he would respond patiently, “yes, baby.”  When she was hospitalized, he stayed in the hospital room with her by sleeping on an uncomfortable couch. He loved his wife, Willa Mae.  When Willa Mae died, they had been married 67 years – yes, count them, 67 years!

Fourth, he was a man of few words. In a world where so many are talking and making unintelligible ‘blah, blah, blah’ noise, for him to be a man of few words was/is refreshing to me.

Fifth, he was not a TV watcher (or I don’t remember him being a TV watcher); he loved to ‘pittle’ in the yard.  I am not sure what he was always doing in the backyard, but he would be doing something; he would be pittling. Maybe that’s where I get my restlessness and my tendency to pittle.  Let’s just say that he was industrious and that his work ethnic was quite remarkable.

Sixth, he and my late grandmother, loved ‘fancy’ cars (at least they were fancy to me).  They loved the Ford Thunderbird, for example.  Once upon a time they had a convertible Thunderbird. Today, I have a convertible Ford Mustang. Yes, they influenced me with their flare for fashion and their taste, their eclecticism, their class and dignity and their adventure for cars.

Seventh, he served in WWII aboard a Navy Ship and while he did not talk about it, I am certain he suffered many indignities from his fellow white ship men.  He suffered indignities state side too as he lived during the overtly racist and insidious Jim Crow days. Yet, when I saw him, his head was proudly and confidently held up…he did not walk around like someone beat down.

Eighth, he was a brilliant man.  He invented several contractions (I regret not helping him getting some of these things patented).  He was truly a scholar-athlete in high school – lettering in football and basketball. Unbeknownst to me was his nickname in high school – ‘Betty Boop’; ironically, my daughter Briana, her nickname was ‘Betty Boop’.

Ninth, even as he got older, he was still fit…maybe because he pittled, maybe because of his work ethic.  He had a ‘six pack’ for all the years I known him.

Tenth, he was a Christian man. He taught Sunday School and sometimes he would walk to church (maybe another reason why he was fit); while we, my brother and grandmother and me, were typically and fashionably tardy. And as we came into Stranger’s Rest Baptist Church through the side door and took our normal spot, grandpa would smile and shake his head not in a condemning way but admirably toward his Willa Mae. You can tell he admired his beautiful and always fashionably stylish wife.

What a fine specimen of a man was Henry Sylvester Bobo!

The Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” are so life giving and refreshing! This verse can be rendered “there is no death-sentence for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To condemn is to not only pronounce guilt but the adjudication of punishment. For Christians, there is now no condemnation because the righteous and fair Judge, God, arranged it so that Christ took upon Himself my (our) condemnation (1 John 2:2); He became sin that I (we) might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s all fine and good but…

Some colleagues that live in Kansas City, MO told me that a certain church was preaching through the Book of Matthew.  One advantage of preaching through an entire book includes seeing how individual units fit within the context of the entire book.  One ‘disadvantage’ is that you cannot pick your text; each week you take the next text in succession. A few weeks ago, the pastor, of this certain church, stopped and parked at Matthew 19:1-9: the passage on divorce. A colleague went on to tell me that as soon as the topic was introduced from the pulpit, a woman stood up and left the church (this is before the pastor really got into his sermon).

This action by this lady is very telling. Could it communicate that her wounds were fresh? Perhaps.  Could her actions communicate something else? Yes. Maybe her action is a ‘both-and’ or it could be an ‘either-or’; nevertheless, I believe it communicates that something is awry; something is severely broken in the church. Have we, those who are married, ‘condemned’ those who are divorced by our words and our non-verbal words? I think so.  These are some ways I think we have nullified Paul’s words in Romans 8:1 and subconsciously (or consciously) condemned those who have endured divorce.  Here are a few ways I think we, members of the church and those in the ‘married only club’, condemn those who are going through a divorce or have already suffered through the painful, treacherous and arduous journey of divorce:

  1. When we cluster ourselves into affinity groups.  You know the routine: married couples congregate with married couples. Married couples with kids congregate with other married couples with kids. What does such congregating communicate to singles? To singles with kids? To those who are divorced? To those going through the process of divorce? Churches need to be very aware that their culture might communicate, “we are a church of people that have it all together and one of the prerequisites for having it all together is being married with ‘awesome’ kids.” In other words, a church can pit one group against another.
  2. When we inquire about a person’s single or marital status.  It’s okay to inquire but I wonder how we react when we learn a person has went through a divorce.  Do we lament with them? Or do we say, “Oh” in a contemptible tone that communicates, “you are one of them”? Remember it is not what you say but how you say it. And while we think we might be genuine with our verbal words, our facial expressions or non-verbal words don’t lie.  Our non-verbal words are often more honest and truthful than our verbal words!
  3. When a couple is going through the process of divorce, we abandon the family as though they are a pariah or as though they have an incurable and contagious disease.  This actually happened to a close friend; her parents were going through a divorce and the church family was AWOL. News Flash: This is the time where families going through this “painful amputation” needs the church the most. And post-divorce, ex-spouses and kids are still picking up the pieces, splinters, fragments, etc.; we need to be there to serve as a ballast. And we must be mindful that journeying with such folks will take time and much patience.
  4. When a couple is going through the process of divorce, we overly punish them as though this infraction is more heinous, than say, over drinking or peeking at pornography. I know of a church that unfairly and overly punished a couple undergoing a divorce and it was very public and thus, quite embarrassing. So, we might say that their punishment was exacerbated.

In case you did not know, the church has an image problem: we are often viewed as being judgmental (for a stark reminder of this, see Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” p. 11, 1997 ). The church also can inadvertently condemn others verbally and non-verbally. I encourage us all to be gracious, winsome, generous and hospitable toward those who are hurting; especially those who have suffered through a divorce and those currently taking the steps toward a divorce. Divorce is never a ‘clean break’ – it can jack up a family – ex-spouses, kids, in-laws, etc. (For those who say, “the kids are resilient, they will survive…just don’t know!) Those who are divorced or going through a divorce inherit a stigma. May we practice the ministry of presence and be there for these dear people to lessen the sting of this stigma.  Better yet, may we love these dear people (‘our neighbors’) as we love ourselves. May we live out the implications “no longer any condemnation” in our local communities. Maybe then ladies like the one above will not get up and leave the church no matter how fresh or old her wounds are.

Years ago, I helped organize a conference entitled, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO).  It was a conference about domestic abuse. There was one statement I have remembered: one of the speakers said, “clergy are some of the main perpetrators of domestic violence.”  I also remember a story.  One of the speakers recounted this horrific story.  A woman who was battered repeatedly by her husband had enough so she defended herself and killed him.  When asked why did she do it? Instead of answering, this imago Dei bearer simply raised her skirt — her pelvic area was black and blue.  Her husband had hit her in this area with a two by four! Yes, a piece of wood. Domestic violence is an insidious evil.  Domestic violence is committed by people who are sick and cowards.

My dear friend, sister and high school classmate, Rachelle Law, has given us a front row seat into the domestic violence she experienced “behind closed doors” almost three decades ago. To see Rachelle today you would say incredulously, “this could not have happened to you…come on.” She is beautiful, illustrious, industrious and gregarious. Yet, I encourage you to read about her harrowing experience and ongoing recovery in her latest book, “You Are Beautiful: The Hidden Consequences of Domestic Violence That Linger” (2016). I say “ongoing” because as Rachelle states in her book, the consequences of domestic abuse create a ripple effect – they linger.

Of late, athletes, in general, and football players, in particular, who have been accused of perpetuating violence against women have been in the news. For example, football players Johnny Manziel and Jonathan Dwyer have been in the news recently and who can forget Ray Rice.  However, this book brings domestic violence close to home because I walked the same majestic halls at Southeast High School (Kansas City, MO) as Rachelle did. I watched Rachelle as a cheerleader. As Rachelle says in her book, the person in the cubicle next to yours may be a victim of domestic abuse; the person sitting next to you in the pew might be a victim of domestic abuse. Sufferers of domestic abuse are good actors and actresses.  However, may we see them.  And once we really see them, let’s come to their aid. May we use our capacity, fueled by compassion, and rescue them from this grave injustice or living hell.

It takes incredible courage to open your closet for all to see your skeletons. Rachelle does just that. May reading this book help us to truly notice and see sufferers of domestic abuse.  May reading this book help us to see sufferers as human beings with incredible worth and value.  May reading this book help us to see all victims of domestic abuse as truly beautiful.