Faith and Finances

Growing up, it seemed like everything I wanted required an amount of money I didn’t have. From shoes to clothes and hanging out with friends—it all cost something! My understanding of money stemmed from not having it and not having money caused me to want it more than anything else. 

 

When I was a little boy, I stole ten dollars out of my mother’s purse. I’ll never forget that day. It was Friday. My school was selling pickles and popcorn and she wouldn’t give me money for it. On that Friday, I bought my cousins and I pickles and popcorn and we ate it before we arrived home. When I got home, I got a nice whooping for my behavior. As a child, raised by a single mother, I had no idea how my stealing impacted her finances. After that day, I knew money had to be earned-not stolen. 

 

Fast forward to teenage years. I started working at the age of thirteen. I couldn’t wait to earn my own money because I knew it gave me access to what I wanted. At this job, I was making three hundred dollars every two weeks. My mother set up a bank account for me and having my own money was everything I imagined. When I got paid, I bought what I wanted. I never saved and I ran out of money the week I got paid. Anxiously, I waited for my next check to have money again. The wait was painful!  My mind was filled with thoughts of what I would do next with the money. I spent until I had no more.

 

Money was important to me. I literally loved it. I loved all that I could do with it. Therefore, I worked as much as I could to obtain money. I’ve been in the workforce for 19 years and I’m only 32!

 

For the first quarter of my life, I thought the money was the source of life. I didn’t understand money as a resource given by God. However, when I started my journey with God, the Bible gave me a new perspective on money. I learned three valuable lessons I would like to share:

 

1. God is the Source of Life 
2. What You Spend Your Money on–Shows Where Your Heart is 
3. Giving is an Act of Worship unto God 

 

God is the Source of Life

 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭24:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

After reading scripture, I learned that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in it (Genesis 1). This fact alone changed my mindset. If God created me; then, my livelihood is reliant on Him not money. Without God, I can’t work—let alone breathe. Therefore, God is the source of life. Without God, money wouldn’t mean anything.

 

What You Spend Your Money on, Shows Where Your Heart is 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew‬ ‭6:21‬ ‭NIV

 

When I reflect on my past and what I spent my money on, I can see my heart desires. I desired to be accepted by others. Everything I bought was to cope with my brokenness and rejection. Majority of my life, I spent my money on new clothes and shoes, food, and entertainment. I spent it to make me feel good and to make people like me. Every time I gave, I expected something in return. I used money to create a life different than the life I truly had and I never made enough to do that.

 

 

Giving is an Act of Worship Unto God

 

I had no idea that money could be given without getting something back. Before this revelation, I viewed money as power to purchase. I never saw it the way God meant it to be. Once I allowed God into my life, I discovered I was a steward of the money I earned. As an act of worship to God, I can use my money to help people. I started to view money as a way to sustain my life and bless others. Now, I give as an act of worship to God. I give to people in need, my local church and other places I feel led to give. In conclusion, I learned that money is only a resource God gave us to do His will on earth. We have to give our finances to God and spend money in a way that honors and brings Him glory. That looks different for everyone.

Reclaiming Christ: Abandoning White Jesus

Growing up, I remember hearing someone say, “White is right.” According to them, this meant White people were able to fix anything and make everything right. Upon hearing this, it seemed as though they were telling the truth. On television, Whites were always depicted as problem solvers, leaders and heroes. Majority of what I’d seen and heard growing up reinforced that statement. Even Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, was depicted as a White man. While America was comprised of many ethnic groups, including Blacks, it frequently highlighted the goodness of Whites. Often, Blacks were and still are depicted as criminals, disruptive, problematic and evil in media. Especially Black men.

In “Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority”, Tom Burell writes, “Negative media reinforcements not only influence how cops, judges, employers, and others view black males, they affect how young blacks view themselves.”

As a black male, I grew up thinking I had to mimic White behavior to be good or right. I had no idea I was being brainwashed by propaganda and there was a big system of racism controlling how I viewed myself. Not only did I adopt negative views about myself, these incorrect thoughts came into my faith and view of God.

Before reading about Jesus in the Bible and seeking to understand my faith in-depth, I’d seen an image of Him. It was an image of a White man with blue eyes and long wavy brown hair. For years, this image came into my mind as I lifted my hands and worshiped God. Since I could remember, every historical figure in the Bible was depicted as White. From the movie “ The Passion of Christ” to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” America took the image of a White Jesus and made him known to the world. Now that I am older and understand scripture, it is clear that Jesus Christ is of Jewish descent. Jesus’ real ethnicity did not reflect the image that was ingrained in my mind. Trying to imagine a Palestine Jew as Christ literally disgruntled my thoughts and made me curious at the same time. I wanted to know Jesus in the Bible versus the White Jesus I’d seen on television and hanging up on church walls.

When I read “Jesus and the Disinherited” by Howard Thurman, I realized the United States of America established and centered its union around an idol instead of the God in the Bible. Thurman explains how a group of powerful and influential White Americans replaced the true historical Palestinian Jew Jesus with a false Anglo-Saxon (White) Jesus. Sadly, this replacement and improper depiction of Jesus; brainwashed, controlled, and oppressed people for centuries.

From antebellum south slavery to modern day freedom, some Americans have misused the sacred biblical scripture for power and control over Blacks and other races. Insomuch, Black Americans were forced to bow down to the White Jesus instead of the Palestinian Jew Jesus. In America, the Protestant Church was built on the White Jesus image and cultivated it from generation to generation. This White Jesus impacted the black christian experience; however, it didn’t hinder Blacks from a relationship with God. Outwardly, we lived under the scrutiny of White superiority empowered by a White Jesus; but, inwardly we had hope in the real Jesus Christ. When reflecting on the plight of Blacks in America, I could relate to the real Jesus. His journey in the Roman Empire was like ours in America. He suffered; He was abused and oppressed; He was crucified like we were lynched. We are genuine partakers in the sufferings of Christ. In some ways we’re still trapped between the White Jesus and the real Jesus. Today, Blacks have the freedom to choose which Jesus we will serve.

Theologian, Howard Thurman said, “Living in a climate of deep insecurity, Jesus, faced with so narrow a margin of civil guarantees, had to find some other basis upon which to establish a sense of well-being. He knew that the goals of religion as he understood them could never be worked out within the then-established order. Deep from within that order he projected a dream, the logic of which would give to all the needful security. There would be room for all, and no man would be a threat to his brother. “The kingdom of God is within.” “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” After reading this quote, I ask myself do I follow this Jesus? I believe I do, along with other believers which include some White Americans.

In order for Blacks to reclaim Christ, in America, we must access “the Kingdom within” as Thurman described. For Whites, in America, they will have to give up white superiority in order to access “the Kingdom within” Thurman describes. Lastly, James Cone said it best, “For [Martin Luther] King nonviolence was more than a strategy; it was the way of life defined by love for others—the only way to heal broken humanity.” In order for America to reclaim Christ, we must love others and remain a follower of the Real Jesus.

Prison and God

Part One: My Story

Blacks are being incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race in America. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 40% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. For black men in their thirties, one in every 10 are in prison or jail on any given day. Some people have described mass incarceration as a hidden agenda—a new caste system to enslave black people in America.

In a recent conversation with my older cousin, he said, “Mass incarceration is a tool used to keep God’s people broken.” After reflecting on such a provocative thought, I remembered how nearly every adult male I knew as a child went to prison. My biological father and the majority of my uncles were incarcerated at some point in their lives. Some were gone for many years for drug offenses, while others went to prison for shorter sentences for smaller crimes. For so long, I considered my father and uncles “bad guys.” It was not until I had an encounter of my own with the law that my perception of them and myself changed.

In 2012, I nearly went to prison for 4-6 years for “failure to stop a crime.” This was life-changing and very eye-opening for me. From one experience, I was dismissed from my graduate program and fired from my job. Humiliation barely scratches the surface of what I felt. I was labeled a criminal and “a bad guy.” I spent almost five years in litigation for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Overall, I spent seven years being untangled from the web of the  justice system. I thank God I didn’t go to prison physically, but psychologically I became a prisoner to the trauma of being labeled and targeted as a Black man. This experience forced me to ask God many questions—why? Why was prison on my journey towards graduating from college? Am I a criminal? Was God punishing me?

I felt like a criminal. I felt bad, wrong. Not one of my accomplishments mattered in that moment. I was a statistic and my hard work came to an end. I’ll never forget that day in court. The judge looked at me and said, “You are being charged with a felony. Your bond is $300,000. You are a flight risk and a threat to the community.” The irony of this is, at that time, my current job was to serve the community. Yet, I was being charged and considered a threat. After hearing this, I threw my head back and allowed tears to roll out of my eyes as I whispered, “Oh God.” I was simply hanging out with friends, at a party, and this happened. After spending seven days in jail, five years in court and two years under court supervision, I can honestly say the justice system is unfair towards Black men. I believe it targets completely innocent people and imprison them. I believe it captures those who commit the crime, those connected to those who do the crime and those who are there and have no idea a crime is taking place. What’s complex about this is actually determining what is a crime. Often, blacks are involved in something that may resemble a crime, but it’s not. The justice system will sometimes exaggerate what was done and stretch the truth to make an incident become a crime—especially when Black men are involved. Again, this is all my opinion my personal experience and observation. I can only back it up by the countless stories of black men being incarcerated for crimes they didn’t do or crimes they didn’t know was a crime. I had no idea that being with someone who did wrong made the person who didn’t do anything a criminal. Guilty by association? I’m convinced that black men in America are in need of justice, redemption and the justice system needs to be reformed.

Biblically, the children of Israel (God’s chosen people) were enslaved by the Egyptians. In the book of Exodus (Exodus 1:1-22), it is written, the Egyptians placed slave masters over the Israelite people and oppressed them. The Egyptians were so threatened by the growth—they started to kill the boys. Biblically, this slavery is not considered punishment from God. However, they suffered and God didn’t intervene until they cried out to Him. After they cried out, God raised up Moses to emancipate them from slavery. God liberated the Israelite people so they could worship Him. Later in the Bible, we read how God redeems Israel in the wilderness and reforms society with His principles of justice.

Like Ancient Egypt, America enslaved Blacks. Like the Israelite people, Blacks were issued slave owners and worked hard without pay. They were fruitful and multiplied like the Israelite people and were oppressed for hundreds of years before they were liberated. Once blacks were liberated in America, they didn’t go to a wilderness for redemption like the Israelite people, they stayed in the same country among the same people who enslaved them. This is where the narrative differs from God’s chosen people. Could it be, Blacks are unable to be completely redeemed because we are still among those who once owned us? Does the freedom and progression of Blacks threaten the American empire? Are Blacks suffering because our dependence/faith remains upon our oppressor instead of God? Or even this: how do you positively impact and change the place you inhabit when its structure is built upon your oppression? Where is God in all of this?

I believe, God is within us. Unlike ancient biblical times, we are now in the era of Jesus Christ—the Gospel era. Like Moses, God sent Jesus to save the world. Like Jesus, Black men are falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Jesus  is falsely accused of a crime, placed in prison, and killed as punishment. The Roman Empire imprisons Jesus, kills him and God redeems him by raising Him from the dead. As a result of this, those who believe in Jesus are saved and made right with God. There is a formula… slavery, punishment, redemption and reform. Do we need all of them? Is slavery good? Does punishment push us towards redemption despite the fact we may be falsely accused and or imprisoned?

God sends Jesus Christ to redeem mankind once and for all. However, in America, Blacks redemption is complex. Despite our redemption, we struggle to experience absolute freedom. I believe America is hindering God’s plan for Blacks. Reformation starts with recognition that there is a flaw in the societal system. We can see that Blacks are being imprisoned at much higher rates than any other race in America. Is this because we are the most sinful? Are we the “bad guys?” I don’t think so! Could we be involved in another form of slavery for the advancement of another group of people? Maybe! Do we need to cry out to God? Absolutely! Are Blacks being punished for ancient sin? I don’t think so. I think they are being oppressed. Could reform be achieved in a place that slavery has existed? I think so, but it may take us some time. If we advocate now, things can start changing. But, without God we can’t do it. Historically, God has been the liberator. We need Him to help us. We have to speak up on this and fight for change like Moses and maybe even die like Jesus. In order to do this, I believe we need to accept the story of Jesus Christ as truth. We need to believe in Him so that our sin can be forgiven and we can receive the Holy Spirit, which is God’s Spirit within us. With the Holy Spirit within us, we can live righteous lives and have the true power to turn from sin, which brings punishment. As a result of living righteous and powerful, we can then make the proper argument against injustice. But, it has to start with being in right standing with God, because He is the liberator.

In conclusion, America is a country that believes in civil death instead of redemption. Where is God in all of this? I believe He is with us, and our redemption still exists—even if it isn’t visibly tangible in the society we live in. We have to fight the good fight by challenging the systems in place and continue to share the Gospel. This is a heavy topic to tackle, I’m just sharing some of my thoughts. Here are a few reformation questions I’d like to ask to contribute to the discussion that is already taking place:

How does society shift its toxic dependency and usage of the penal system?

What can be implemented to ensure ex-felons have the opportunity to healthily and strategically return to society as productive and reformed citizens?

What does a reformed penal system look like? What does a penal system rid of discrimination and racial bias look like? How does it function and how is it properly being implemented?

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