In the Middle

In the Middle

Do you suppose there is a hush in heaven with all the chaos here below? We are some distance from each other and the end. We are somewhere in the middle, and hope is a faithful companion for the miles ahead. We can each decide how to view this season – are we in the middle of a crisis or of an inevitable miracle? Per Emily Dickinson, “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul…” If we stop reeling, pause and listen, the birds are still chirping, our hearts are still beating, and the sun did rise again today.

We’ve been distracted for way too long, and now whether six feet below or apart, we are acutely aware of each other. I have reached out to friends I haven’t called in years. I have been surprised by a caring text from someone I blocked. How did I become that person floating by, head in my smart-phone, oblivious as a cloud? Now I wonder as I scroll through my contact list and pause at each name, was I a storm and can I make things right, or was I a peaceful shade and can I be more?

Stay socially-distanced but connected.

At our first virtual Sunday service at TCOTW, our Pastor Tim Clark, said, “Fear is a bigger virus than COVID-19.” Those words fortified me against the dread that could infect and drag me into the global paranoia about the Coronavirus. So, I confess, I’ve boldly hosted a couple of Friday-night-Afrocentric jam sessions in my house complete with almond enjoy and kamikaze cocktails, tequila shots, and endless small chops for few fully-vetted friends. (Don’t get ugly and judge. And yes, I adhered to the guidelines on gatherings) 

Still, I was seeking a word to keep me hopeful. Then the lovely Kristina from my Sidekick Team shared Joel Osteen’s “In the Middle of Miracle” message. I’ve listened to it on repeat and just had to pass it on. The Israelites experienced God’s unusual miracle as they walked through the middle of the Red Sea and escaped a formidable enemy. Even if you are not Christian, if you are alive and breathing today, listen, and be reminded that while we are in the middle of this challenging season, we are also in the middle of a miracle. 

Become an answer to prayer as a good neighbor to everyone and choose kindness. A Native American* proverb says, “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves.”  We will be marked by how we choose to engage humanity (and maybe literally, going by the incessant talk of mandatory vaccines and chipping) There’s work to do, love to share, promises to keep, and many miles still ahead. Remain thankful to our heroes in scrubs, camouflage, trucks, trains, hosting virtual classes, at check-out counters, advocates for inclusion and the forgotten, first-responders, caregivers, anyone spreading joy, and leading the way. This situation has humbled us, reminded everyone what matters, and turned us towards the invisible God to help battle this unseen enemy.

Guard your mind against fear, practice stillness. Pray. The human body is God’s organic technology, designed to heal when afflicted. All things still work together for our good. Seek the supernatural grace of God in these changing times and stay connected to Source. We are in the middle of the season’s bestselling narrative titled “Coronavirus,” but seasons come and go. Our collective human story is not over, and the angelic chorus has not abated for a nanosecond. Sometimes, miracles happen along the way when we reject despair and instead share hope through music, poems, laughter, resources, lessons, home-cooked meals, or acts of kindness.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.                                                                                                          Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923)

We are in the middle of an unfolding miracle, a reset, and a great awakening. I pray that we will come through victorious, not broken, or empty-handed. As we journey to the other side, we will be forever changed for the better. 

Ama.

 

References & Notes:

*Some Native Americans self-identify as “Indians” or “American Indians.”

Image Credits: Pixabay

The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995)

The Servant Leader – Becoming a Solutionary P.1

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The Servant Leader – Becoming a “Solutionary” Part 1

What is a servant’s heart? To most people, the quintessential servant’s heart is – Mother Teresa and her team of sisters in blue-piped white saris *washing the feet of the poor and sickly in Calcutta, India. An important fact is that on a train ride in 1946, she answered the “call within the call” to give up her role as Principal of Saint Mary’s to work in the slums with the poorest and sickest in Calcutta without a perfect seven-point plan on how to make that happen. Two years later, with official permission granted and basic medical training, she walked into the streets and her life’s work.

Having accessed what was needed on the ground, she founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 with a small team of former teachers and students. By the time of her death in 1997, she oversaw a leper colony, a home for those affected by HIV/AIDs, mobile clinics, nursing homes, a center for special-needs children in Kochi, and so much more. Were there hard, gut-wrenching times? Undoubtedly. But the servant’s heart does not strive for perfection but stays focused on being a solution as long as there is an entrenched need. She garnered some criticisms but also accolades, donations, and humanitarian awards including the 1979 Nobel peace prize. Canonized in 2016 as St. Teresa of Calcutta, today, the revered servant’s humanitarian work has expanded to an international, multi-million dollar charity with 5150 sisters actively working in more than 758 missions across 139 countries.**

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay

Two things recently got me thinking about servant leaders and the servant’s heart. First, team members were asked to take up supervisory positions and more responsibilities for a special ministry at church. Everyone took some time to consider our request. Some needed to hear from God and others needed to consult their families before committing. Of course, one must always consider the impact of serving on the family. Is hearing from God seeking an audible confirmation? Is that trying to make a distinction between what’s generally good and what’s specifically good for me? As believers, we have the Word, His peace, and His Spirit to guide us and these do. While we can’t accept every assignment, I think if it calls you up higher and beyond yourself, if it seems challenging and taunts any sense of inadequacy, it is so worth trying. But lean on God and like a miner, dig deep within for strengths and abilities that would otherwise remain dormant. A stagnant life is like the Dead Sea. Living things and beings need to grow. My breakthrough moments have always happened when I challenged myself to take the scary, unusual, and unexpected path.

Secondly, I came across Dr. Angela Lauria (Author’s Incubator) ideas on the servant’s heart.
Dr. Lauria states that “being in a place to serve has a lot to do with building your leadership muscle…becoming an object in motion…a forward-moving being.” Thus a servant’s heart is not passively idling till directions are given. Robert K. Greenleaf originally coined the term ‘servant leader’ in the publication of his classic 1970 essay, ‘The Servant as Leader‘  which launched the modern servant-leadership movement. The best leaders with an enduring impact like St. Teresa, whose maxim “I thirst…”  reminds us of the words and sufferings of Christ, adjure us to do as they have done. They are active catalysts for change, upturning the status quo, being and urging others to become “solutionaries.” Their work seeks a higher purpose to better humanity and transcends the individual. According to Greenleaf, their philosophy and practices seek to create “a more just and caring world.” A true servant detests inertia. One’s usefulness expires when they can no longer move forward. There are always new goals and challenges to tackle if we resist the paralyzing need to be 100% certain of success. 

Now, even though I know that our greatest lessons come from failures, I am just as guilty of research overload, calculating, and planning every step, making sure all the data and algorithms are just right, but then guess what happens? Nothing. Nothing but analysis-paralysis, because once we seek a no-fail process, we create an artificial biosphere, one so perfect that it has no place in reality and we lose the fun and adventure of fully living as we try to avoid (at all costs) the tension between what is and what could be. St. Teresa of Calcutta would have probably died as an excellent school principal if she had over-analyzed the extent of her assignment and in fear, refused to step out.

Okay, back to the church request – not everyone accepted the higher call but we truly love and appreciate every member of our team because in their own ways they actively serve and care for the most vulnerable amongst our children.
Servants are actually leaders who roll up their sleeves’ and “get action.” (Theodore Roosevelt) But if everyone leads, who will follow? Some people will never step up and then others who are “leader-first” are selfishly motivated by the quest for power, fame, or wealth. “Servant-first” people who make a “conscious choice to lead” then take deliberate action are in the people business. Greenleaf states that we can test a servant leader’s effectiveness by accessing if our collective humanity is better for it. Therefore, I’m convinced that we can both selectively follow and consciously lead. Our leadership and genius manifest in our specific assignments and we can learn from others in the arena.

So, take the instinct, volunteer, fan the flames of natural tendencies and build with commitment. Servant leaders act and recognize excuses for what they are – stumbling blocks to one’s true calling. Examples of servant leaders abound like Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, St. Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Moses, Albert Schweitzer, Jack Ma, Herb Kelleher, etc. This world can be hard and full of pain-points, but servant leaders are altruistic and the real heroes of our time. They have answered the call to be solutionaries and to an adventure – imperfect, unpredictable, and scary…but so worth it!

Ama.
#Becoming

References & Notes:

(1)The command or *mandatum in St. John’s gospel has become a religious rite observed in Islam and Christianity. Maundy Thursday during the Holy Week imitates the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus as a lesson in humility and service to each other. In Islam, the Wudu is a partial ablution or purifying activity before salat (formal prayers) and handling the Qur’an.

(2) Data of Active Contemplative Sisters (2015) The Order of the Missionaries of Charity. https://www.motherteresa.org/missionaries-of-charity.html website accessed 1/21/2020

(3) Mother Teresa (1910-1997) https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/mother-teresa. updd. 08/26/19

(4) Dr. Angela E. Lauria, 2016. “The Incubated Author – 10 Steps to Start a Movement With Your Message.” KPP eBook

(5) Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. 1970. ‘The Servant as Leader’ https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/  website accessed 1/21/2020

(6)”Solutionary” is the word used by my brother, Hon. Idopise Essien to describe his life work as a compassionate, solution-driven entrepreneur seeking to address the problems of entrenched rural communities. His company, Seteiye Integrated Services, takes solar-powered lighting to off-grid villages in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. I’ll explore his journey in the upcoming “A Servant’s Heart – Part 2.”

Image Credits: Google & Pixabay

The Makeover – A Breakup Ritual

 

The Makeover – A Breakup Ritual

by Ama Danesi

 

Does my face hiss like a repellent, will another walk away?
One fizzled without reason, another from pity or naiveté
described the shroud, darkness over his loins and my face.
Shunted, his quiver melted, the promise puddled.
His last embrace, like a scorpion’s segmented tail, hurtful.

Take me to Asiya, teach me about a lover’s face,
douse me in herbal steam & incant loudly to chase
the ugly away & buff the crust of hurt from
the charred sun-burn on my heart,
the etched path of tears to my dimples.

Take me to Asiya, behind faded blue walls,
in white garments, and rust-colored beads,
from eyes sunken, reveal what deviance ails us.
Healer, have I been so wicked in this life
that my face darkens like that of a bear?
Daughter, the unwise chase the sly sun moving east.
Seeking a slate unburdened by history and familiar hurt.
They cannot see you – easier to walk away and watch as
you blaze beyond comprehension among the stars.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay

Who is Clarence Avant – The Black Godfather?

Who is Clarence Avant – The Black GodFather? And Why Should We Care?

Reginald Hudlin produced and directed the Netflix documentary, The Black Godfather (2019) which chronicles the unusual path to power, influence, and the weightiness of Clarence Avant. In a culture obsessed with fame and celebrity, and in the ruthless business of television, film, music, and politics. This inimitable man wielded much of the power that shaped the 20th-century culture and yet did not need or seek the spotlight. To most people, he is The Godfather who just happened to be black because his goal was to ensure that all stakeholders irrespective of race and status in any deal, bought into a broader vision of fairness and respect for each other’s value. For this ultimate dealmaker in his work as a music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer, it often came down to “numbers.”

Through a career that spanned 50 years and numerous awards, like his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2016), BET Honors (2013), and the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award (2019), Clarence Avant’s core message (laced with choice curse words) remained simple – family is the foundation for success, know your worth and demand it, move forward and bring others along, and know that real wealth comes from entrepreneurship and ownership. He is an intentional family man to his wife of 57 years, Jacqueline “Jackie” Gray and their children, Nicole (Fmr. Amb. to The Bahamas) and Alexander. He is a true friend to his lifelong buddy, Quincy Jones; and a no B.S. mentor to the countless individuals from all walks of life grafted into the bloodline of this Black Godfather.

He moved effortlessly between black and white communities connecting people, instinctively recognizing and serving the unmet need. He mentored a bloodline of high powered executives like Sony/ATV’s Jon Platt, Benny Medina; musicians and entrepreneurs like P. Diddy, Jay-Z, Snoop, Ludacris, Jamie Foxx; sports legends like Muhammed Ali and Aaron Hall; politicians like Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Al Sharpton, Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama. He helped launch the musical careers of producers like La Reid, Babyface, Terry Lewis, and Jimmy Jam; and artists like Bill Withers (Lean on Me, Ain’t no sunshine), Johnny Nash (I can see clearly now), Janet Jackson, and The SOS Band. On his now-defunct Sussex and Tubu record labels, he signed up talent regardless of race. It was Clarence Avant who made the phone call to move then Sen. Barack Obama’s unforgettable 2004 DNC speech to prime time, even though he remained loyal to his friends, the Clintons during the Democratic Primaries in 2008.

Why Should We Care?

This is someone you’ll like to know…I know I would. We learn in his story how to give ourselves in service to the greater good for all, how to receive help from friends when we fall, and how to remain authentic no matter what. From a poor kid born in 1931 in the segregated North Carolina, a teenager sent away to be raised by his aunt in New Jersey after getting into trouble, Avant became a behind-the-scenes power-broker and influencer. We watch the story of a man without advanced education use street smarts, learn life skills from his mentor, Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser and apply them with his trademark candor and fairness to all who came into his path.

When asked about the motivation for his life-work, Avant points to the 1955 racially- motivated lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Heart-broken and initially enraged by the senseless torture and murder, he refused to yield to hate and chose to become a bridge. This Netflix documentary is a well-deserved tribute to a living icon and a condensed account worth watching about a man, leader, and father, who remains crystal clear about his purpose which is to recognize the value in another, to facilitate connections that move people towards the “promised land,” so that they can, in turn, help the next generation.

Onward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes/References:

Reginald Hudlin:

Producer and Director for House Party (1990), Django Unchained (2012) and Marshall (2017)

Image Credit: Netflix, Billboard, Google

Youtube: The Black Godfather (Netflix 2019)

 

Qui Vive

Already, this year has been exceptionally trying, but I have chosen to serve and to give out what I need most – an encouraging word. My hope for you all today is that you do not become weary from expecting the good. I am so ready for the harvest that comes after the waiting…

Qui Vive by Ama Danesi

In whatever state we find ourselves

God is working out the opposite.

When we fall, He lifts us up.

When we are bound, He frees our souls.

In the face of certain defeat, He is working

out a victory that cannot be denied.

In our darkest nights and earnest watching – qui vive.

His love roars loud and clear above the taunting waves.

He calms our heartbeat to the rhythm of His breath.

He sent us a helpless baby as Savior of the world.

Once an alien in Egypt but rich in gold, silver, and myrrh.

The pain and suffering that He allows, ushers in

destiny and purpose. He plants in untilled soil, that the

harvest may be wild and unrestrained reaching to

the ends of the earth and places marked “x.”

In the face of sorrow, our hope & joy is His name –

Emmanuel, God with us.

 

Alert & hopeful,

AD.

Historical Fun Fact:

Even motor boats have a purpose and are remembered for their service. The USS Qui Vive (SP – 1004) was part of the United States Naval Fighting fleet from 1917 – 1919. She served as a patrol vessel then as a hospital boat in the 5th Naval District during World War 1. Originally built by the Hutchinson Brothers (Alexandria, NY) for Houston Barnard (Rochester, NY) she was chartered by the Navy until she was decommissioned and returned at the end of her naval career. Her current state is unknown but her work and service endure.
(Bio and image credit: NavSource.org /Wikipedia/Pixabay)