Friday, June 26, 2009

My Fondest Memory of Michael Jackson

It broke my heart yesterday to hear that the singer of the soundtrack of my childhood died yesterday. I have to say that I believe Michael Jackson may have had physical ailments no one was aware of but one ailment he did suffer from that we all were cognizant of was his broken heart. He had been ostracized and rejected by an American society that was ready to put a noose around his neck as a result of false abuse allegations. The love America once had for him dried up and he was left wondering why people were so quick to label him as a pedophile just because he would rather be with children than with adults. Sometimes, I feel just like him.

I believe that he simply was a wounded man from childhood that had never been given the chance to be a child, so when he became an adult he tried to regain what he had lost. Apparently no one had ever told him that regaining childhood is impossible, and when you try to, people look at you like you're crazy.

Which is exactly what happened.

And now, he is dead, I believe, of a broken heart. Rejection can kill you.

But as I remember with the rest of the world today what a great, one-of-a-kind artist he was, I want to tell you a little story.

Picture this: 1982, Southeast side of Grand Rapids, Michigan, 636 Thomas Street to be exact, a bright living room with an antique record player. A four-year-old girl with pig tails, barrettes, and a colorful outfit begs her grandma to "Play the Jackson Five for me, pleeeease?" The grandma, not usually a fan of secular music, having been raised in the church with the awareness that all secular music has the ability to send you to hell, smiles broadly, knowing her only granddaughter loved music, loved to sing, loved to dance, and above all loved Michael Jackson. Everyone in the family knew this; a cousin called all the time to ask the little girl if she was still in love with Michael Jackson and if she still planned to marry him. The answer was always yes.

The little girl's grandma carefully removed the 45 from it's jacket and placed the disc on the turntable, and suddenly her granddaughter's favorite song of all, "ABC", projected from the speakers. The little girl immediately began dancing and bopping all around the living room, singing along to every word. Her grandma stood in the doorway of the living room laughing and bopping right along with her baby.

That little girl was me. The music my grandma played for me was one of the happiest memories I had growing up. My home life was so dysfunctional and when I went to visit my granparents' home, that was the one time I could dance and sing and be a kid and make someone else dance and sing and lay down all the constraints that religion and life and even poverty tried to place on her.

When Michael died yesterday, I felt like part of my childhood went with him. I felt the sincere loss of the days when I could be with my grandma in her house. She went home to be with the Lord in 2005 and as long as I had his music I could relive those days with her. I know it makes very little sense, but his music represented happier times for me - not only when I was four but throughout my childhood and adolescence.

I pray today for his family, his children, and others like me that appreciated his existence. I pray he found the peace that evaded him while he was alive. I hope he knows that he really was loved, even by a little four-year-old dancing around her grandma's living room.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Happens When We Fight Back...

A couple months ago I wrote about a major issue that was taking place in my family that had literally thrown me to my knees. My niece and her siblings had been placed in foster care, though my niece and one of her sisters should have been placed with their fathers or their fathers' families. My mother and I decided to join alongside my brother in the fight for his rights as a father to parent his child or at least to have a say-so in where his daughter should go, since her mother had not maintained her parental standing.

I talked about the frustrations of watching how Michigan and specifically Kent County had botched the case and how our family had been literally undergone character assassination every time we stood up in protest. It has not been an easy battle but I believed then, as I still do now, that families should not be splintered and the real battle was between us and Satan himself, the chief destroyer of families.

It has taken what seems like forever (but really only since November) to get some measure of victory. The truth is God taught my hands to war with wisdom and with the gifts and abilities He has given me to wage war spiritually and naturally. The pen is truly mightier than the sword. The Spirit of God instructed me on how to complete an impacting fight as a Christian by using that same pen.

I wrote a formal complaint to the state, wrote letters to others, and stood in faith believing that I was standing on the side of righteousness against racism, classism, and even judicial injustice. After God showed me where to go and what to do, He taught me how to trust Him and wait.

And now, my family has regained custody of my niece, and in fact, I am still fighting to keep the girls together ultimately if they are not returned to the permanent care of their mother. The battle we waged shook some pretty influential places and positions and I believe it made lots of people remember that truth prevails, even if that truth comes from the mouth of a seemingly insignifcant African-American grandmother and her big-mouth wordsmith of a daughter.

The end result I hope is much bigger than a victory for my family. I hope other families will begin strengthening their families too so that children aren't separated by a system that truly means well but sometimes makes life-altering mistakes that the children will pay for for the rest of their lives.

Thank you to those who prayed for my brother, my niece, and my family. We certainly needed it then, and we still need it now. There is much more to the story that is in fact still happening but this is where God has brought us for now. One thing I know for sure, those who believe in the cause of the Kingdom of God should never remain silent in the face of injustice - even if you don't know if it matters or not. Your voice matters more than you can ever know.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What is in a Name?

A week or so ago, my first cousin Kamani and his wife Amber had their third son, a boy that will follow his older brothers that stand admiringly over his bassinet, I am sure, everyday. The brothers, Kamani Jr. and Jaheim are already fighting over who will love him more.

My cousin and his wife decided to name this baby boy directly and indirectly after our grandfather, Harrison "King" Jones, Sr. I complained a bit when I heard my cousin say that they would possibly choose the name Harrison for their new son (as this is his father's name as well). But I have hidden that name in the treasure chest of the future, hoping to name my first son Harrison William after the names of the greatest father figures I could ever have. The truth is, my cousin had every right to name his son Harrison, but instead he decided on a much different, wonderfully powerful name that I love for that little boy. The very name speaks of greatness.

My new baby cousin is named Kingston Xxavior. I think the name is brilliant. He will be called "King" after my grandfather. And for our family, this is an amazing tribute to the man that helped teach us all what family is truly all about. My grandfather's nickname was given because he truly was a man above men, a wise sage in the community in which we all grew up.

And so, I welcome Kingston Xxavior - already thinking of a poem to write in honor of his name, already thinking of the power that his very name connotes. I look forward to what this little boy will grow up to be...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cold Tangerines

I met an author about a year ago at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing 2008, and I attended a reading she gave in a workshop regarding her book, Cold Tangerines. Her ability to capture the simplicity of faith and the enjoyment of life was exactly what I needed at that moment. For me, faith and church life and my spiritual walk had become way too complicated. When I was a child and teenager, early on in my faith, the love of God was a simply profound reality. It had not become muddled with the issues that can convolute faith in our adulthood.

Shanua Niequist, author of this fantastic orange book, helped remind of the days when I enjoyed life and the small details that make life what it is. Her words reminded me that my life with God could be a deep wellspring springing up into everlasting life.

I am recommending this book to anyone that was in the place I was in - wrestling with having a genuine yet simple faith in God in the face of life's distractions and difficulties. As part of writing this I am going to start including books that I am reading or have read and would recommend. Shauna's book, mentioned before on this blog, is still for me what I need in good reading - a reminder of what the faith walk should truly be about. I think the reason so many people wrestle with faith is because we have a tendency of making it so farfetched and out-of-reach. That is not what God intended. Let's get back to the days when we can enjoy glasses of lemonade, cold tangerines, children's laughter, the kiss of a sunset, the majesty of dawn. That is the point and Shauna has made it.

More Bay Harbor Pics

These pictures are of my co-workers and I on our trip last month. It took me a while to get them. We truly enjoyed oursevles in the cozy resort area. It was so pretty that I wouldn't mind getting married there one day...