An expert in getting back up again – writer, speaker, teacher

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Lee Daniels, James Baldwin and Why It Isn’t Impossible for Black Men to Come Out

Lee Daniels, Oprah and their very entertaining movie (The Butler) are having quite a moment.

It always amazes me that the very large and in many ways predictable white power structure makes a decision to "anoint" certain people authorities and makes the decision to silence others.

As a result of Mr. Daniels and Ms. Winfrey's second pairing and obvious grab for the Oscar, it seemed a great time to allow Daniels to not only publicly "come out" but also to spew his brilliance regarding why a "majority" of black gay/bi men stay in the closet.

While I am thrilled that he has publicly acknowledged his sexuality which can only enhance and embolden his work, this business about not "coming out" and allowing himself to be "silenced" so that he could work is troubling and weak.

Many times I have been offered the chance to play the game: Switch pronouns, refer to folks as buddies, gain advice on how to handle love and a lack of communication between myself and the man I was currently dating.

All of the game playing was created by denying who I was and the real nature of my complicated and highly annoying "relationships" with other men.

After growing a pair and hitting my mid 20's, I knew it was time for something else and some very different ways of being.

I started doing my homework and looking for some models of unadulterated courage.

I found one who kicked me in the gut and gave me permission to be my full and present self.

James Baldwin has inspired me for more than twenty years.

Mr. Baldwin was speaking to the "establishment" and creating from a place of honesty and fearlessness fifty years ago. He wrote of gay love, longing and anguish while simultaneously combining it with the "black struggle". Nobody (the black intelligentsia, the government or other artists) could silence him.

When I hear Mr. Daniels describe the struggle of wanting to work, I hear the need to belong.

I hear the need for acceptance and permission to create that only comes, or so we are told, if we don't allow ourselves to be placed in certain boxes.

When I was closeted, I couldn't create shit.

All of my genius and talent was devoted to keeping up a facade.

There was no time or need to develop elaborate, layered characters (via my acting and writing) when my existence was one crowd-pleasing performance after another.

Once I ingested Baldwin's brilliance and boldness and made it my own, amazing things began to happen.

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Why Homelessness Matters and What Can Be Done to Fix It

When you are homeless nothing else matters.

When you don't have solid footing, no matter your level of intelligence or education, everything is seen through the prism of: I don't matter because I have no control or input regarding my most basic of necessities.

I have been there: living in hotels with lunatic boyfriends, sleeping on the floor of a friend's home, trying to determine the lesser of two evils living with my family back in the Midwest or with friends knowing that there was no guarantee that things would turn around.

While there are folks that undoubtedly abuse the system and figure out all types of ways to keep themselves in the space of: Gimmee, can I have, let me borrow, there are those who legitimately want to do better and improve their lives.

Everyone at some point needs some type of assistance.

At different times in our lives, we all need someone who encourages us through a kind word, some insightful problem solving or simply a new approach to a hauntingly familiar problem seen through a fresh set of eyes.

To fix the problem of homelessness, we can start by reappropriating funds.

We can offer financial and housing assistance.

We can offer support while people increase their critical thinking skills which can lead to an increase in self esteem.

We can become our brother's keeper.

We can take on the suffering of others as our own and work to alleviate it.

Alleviate not belittle or offer patronizing statements couched in :Let me show you how to live because you are too stupid to figure it out.

If I jump in and offer suggestions without consulting and attempting to understand what is needed by the people in the most need and the most affected, I also run the risk of augmenting and adding to the problem.

This helps no one.

I have often fantasized about a community wherein people pool resources.

A community wherein diverse groups of folk work together and joyfully move everyone's life forward.

What would this look like?

For one thing, it would involve everyone taking a course in loving well and then a class in critical thinking.

To make this possible one day a week would be devoted to teaching and exploring the concept of love.

The love courses could be taught one day a week and could cover things such as how to treat folks we perceive as different?

We could produce images that involve people clearly learning and being in communion with one another.

We all learn how to behave and dream based on the steady images we allow ourselves to be fed.

We teach intolerance, nonthinking and domination via mass media.

Why not use the same tools to teach love and critical thought?

How do we interact with people we ordinarily have no contact with or seldom find reasons to engage in meaningful conversations?

If the decision is to eradicate homelessness and make everyone self sufficient, we have to examine the reasons why this problem exists.

When I lived in Japan in the mid 90's, homelessness was nonexistent.

Part of my job while living there was teaching people skills they needed to become financially secure and socially productive and independent. It was assumed that everyone had something to offer and would offer it if given the correct way to do this, i.e. training and time to incorporate a new skill set.

This would work here in the States provided that housing and food prices be made lower via community gardens and groups of individuals owning something (their place of residence in joint tenancy).

Unlike a coop board which is stupid and pointless (If I hear about one more moron being worked up because a wire is showing or someone made a visible improvement which required a discussion I will lose my mind), I would rather see a group of folk own a building outright and then deciding how they want it to look and who would be in charge of making improvements and or enhancing the overall look of the building.

People who have lived in their cars have a different understanding of what is important and what needs to be done to accomplish the most with the least.

Many times, I have attacked a problem with the help and insight of someone who had either already dealt with whatever was causing me the blues or was unaffected by the same issue and therefore provided me with some fresh insight and opinions.

This allowed me to fix the problem and then move on to the next one.

If my perception that a social problem is someone else's to solve, I have abdicated responsibility for lending a hand to improve the lives of others.

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Three Ways To Be Courageous in 2016

Ten years ago, I wrote and performed a ballsy, brave, one man show:Knucklebones.

My brave instructor, Gretchen Cryer, had given me permission to write about the scary dark places we all possess.

Talking about male rape, addiction, abandonment, betrayal, teen homosexual longing for love, hurt and redemption, there was no way to unflinchingly explore and create insightful, gutsy analysis without speaking in a multitude of voices and tenses.

As I approach the new year and hurdle towards my fifties, I find myself asking :what happened to that emotionally brave theater soldier?

It is time to stop asking permission and struggling to explain and move into taking charge by tapping into those reservoirs of courage, power, initiative and creativity.

I will create a great year by taking on the following three tasks. Creating as if I don't give a shit and have nothing to lose; welcoming opportunities to be honest and confrontational when it is needed and finally, understanding that there might be a better way of doing things that I have yet to discover.

I want to encourage people to be brave in 2016 and beyond. My act of bravery for the year-publishing my anthology, Ain't I A Man and a collection of Sci Fi Short stories.

While creating sci fi may sound like a blast to create, it may require more than one confrontation.

My students often feel that confrontation is a bad thing.

They feel that actively seeking out and highlighting differences is negative and to be avoided. When I point out that an honest discussion (seen as confrontation) can and often does lead to growth and a severe creative outburst, they seem confused.

We are often taught to avoid honest and passionate discourse and dissent for fear that we will upset someone and eliminate a friendship.

Being bold in 2016 means I must develop a spirit that will allow me to be an outsider, a person who goes against the grain and doesn't die a slow death as a result.

Being honest with myself also means confronting my fears surrounding being misunderstood or put "into a box" to make others comfortable. When I allow others to define me, I become angry and feel the need to disengage and cease creating from a position of boldness and self definition.

A healthy confrontation will mean nothing if my ego and love of being right undermines the process of change that could occur.

Most of us want change if and when we have instituted it.

In order to have a big bold life, it is imperative that we welcome change and don't freak out when it appears.

Finding people we can trust who also are committed to "doing it differently" is required if change is to be welcomed and not shunned. It usually means widening your social circle and seeking out folks who are also yearning for something bolder.

People who want big, bold lives are not afraid to think and look at things via a very different lens.

Most people will never get it.

It is not our job to cajole, teach and manipulate those around us who are content with the way things are and have no use for change and the fear it engenders.

Look to folks who are already on the path to developing change and ushering in a new way of thinking and behaving.

It is never to late to take on change and improvement.

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The Number 1 Reason Relationships Fail (And What to Do About It)

Most of us lie all the time.

My friends and acquaintances who were brought up outside of the United States have a very different approach to love, relationships and friendships.

It is their approach to communicating and commitment that I model when examining and making attempts to deepen and enrich my interactions with others.

While they are not perfect nor without fault regarding some of their choices, there is an understanding of what a friendship looks like and what it entails.

I wrote an essay recently with the title: When Friends Attack.

I wanted to have a look at our collective inability to tell the truth to friends and the problems this causes.

When I was in my twenties, it was important that I know and socialize with as many people as possible.

It was not uncommon for me to spend most of the night dancing away in a club and then meet the same folks for a meal a few hours later.

Nor was it uncommon to twirl the evening away then met a different click of folks a few hours later who had nothing to do with the previous night's shenanigans.

It wasn't so much about living a double life.

It was more about coloring the truth a number of varying shades depending on my present company.

I had a need for unmitigated wiggling and six hours stretches of time reading in my favorite bookstores.

I was not willing to give up any of my worlds and enjoyed darting in and out of all of them often deriving a sense of power from being the conduit to people who ordinarily would have never met.

What I refused to do was tell the truth about what I wanted or required at any given moment.

My understanding of friendships for a very long time was warped and limited.

There was no speaking up unless you were pissed off then things that were said could cause irreparable damage.

Until I turned twenty five, it never occurred to me that a good course of honesty is what all relationships need.

Truth telling, based on my experience, was a weapon used to crush the enemy, get the upper hand and shut down conversation.

This flawed thinking kept me around people I didn't like or respect and allowed me to simply plod along in my life with no serious ride or die commitment to anything.

Truth telling in friendships and human interaction of any kind often has unpredictable results.

When a friend gets brutally honest about a feeling and refuses to remain silent, it is uncomfortable and scary.

Will the relationship end?

Will there be a reassignment of friendship duties?

A confrontation basically means:I'm right;you're wrong.

There is one result that you can usually count on:somebody is gonna get mad.

This is the usual response along with a healthy dose of denial and justification and a dollop of blame just to keep it interesting.

As a result of so much of the shaming that goes along with being honest is it any wonder that people freak out when there is an opportunity to be honest thereby deepening the bond with another?

We are taught that being honest is cute for young children and downright entertaining and well earned by older folks.

Allowing this myth oriented and limited thinking to guide our interactions keeps us all afraid to speak or even think honestly.

If we follow this philosophy, we limit the types of powerful relationships we can create.

We learn to settle.

We learn to manipulate, withhold and lace each interaction with subterfuge and veiled, purposely misleading opinions and insights.

Truth telling in relationships is not easy and will cost you some relationships.

I am often amused when people allow you to regale them with your brilliance and insight regarding the world's problems then wince when you honestly mention your shortcomings and places where you have made mistakes.

When people have told me that I am being rude or brash or have upset them as a result of pointing out what is or is not working, I think of the times when I am being honest about a shortcoming of my own which no one minds hearing.

When we boldly move out of secret keeping and emotional dishonesty, we will upset more than a few of our so called "friends".

True friends require from themselves and whomever they are in relationship with to fully "show up".

Truth telling in our most intimate relations forces us to determine the type of communication we allow and then offers us the opportunity to change it or simply wallow and say this is enough for me.

When I declared that my club hopping days were over, folks got mad.

When I announced I was leaving Detroit, folks got mad.

When I moved to Japan and then New York and then to California, those who were acquaintances shut me out.

Those who had built honest relationships with me encouraged my guts and commitment to personal growth.

They knew our friendship could grow not diminish.

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My Year of Living Dangerously by Taking Full Responsibility for Everything

Yesterday, I made a mistake at work and totally forgot to acquire an agreed upon resource for one of my wonderful students.

Work relationships, like all relationships that you decide to invest in emotionally, give you the opportunity to address familial and chronic distresses and "not good enoughs".

We can decide to speak up or remain quiet and hopefully exit a situation unscathed and unnoticed.

I will apologize for the forgotten agreement.

After the apology, I will move on and highlight to myself all the good that I have provided for this student and the sixty others I have sworn to support and encourage.

2016 will be my year of taking responsibility. I will not blame, whine or point fingers.

I will not look for things to fear nor someone to blame.

I will make sure that I have all the information I need to make a great decision, then make one and deal with the consequences.

My year of taking full responsibility means I will not agree to things I have no desire to partake in nor agree to things I am uneasy about simply to spare the feelings of another.

On New Year's Eve, there was an opportunity to allow someone to defile my home or speak up and stop it.

I chose to speak up.

Knowing that I have he right to speak up despite how anyone feels is a great undertaking and one hell of a drug.

My year of full responsibility is multi-faceted.

Primarily, I am committed to three things: courage, curiosity and stellar communication.

Recently I began living from courage and urgency and my life exploded in many ways.

I bought my first home.

I tore into my day job like the beast that I am and started handling the financial aspect of my newly married status like a pro.

There is no way to take full responsibility without being courageous.

When I have decided that cowardice was a wiser(easier) choice, I felt like shit.

There is nothing worse than regret.

Choosing inaction makes you feel like a coward.

As a bright Seventeen-year-old, I dreamt of an education and passionate learning environment that was Columbia University.

When no one supported this life vision, I simply did what was expected and justified the decision constantly.

Attending an all black, small, liberal arts institution in the South in the 80's as a gay man was one hell of a decision that brought all kinds of oppressive and vile shit into my life.

Between the homophobia, class issues and constant fear of being outed, there also was the issue of not being challenged to look at things critically.

When you are being indoctrinated into the black, heterosexual, bourgeoisie middle class, there really is no time for taking responsibility outside of any arena that will not secure or improve your social standing in the aforementioned arena.

What could my life have been like had I taken full responsibility for my sexuality (coming out), risked being shunned and figured out how to make it financially without the assistance of people more frightened by life than I was and more committed to the status quo ?

The deadliest thing you can ever do is allow people to make life decisions for you or have any say in what you need or should be doing.

Rather than sitting around indulging in pre-determined life assignments, it is more dangerous to tear out and believe that you will figure shit out and self adjust.

bell hooks in her latest books on education encourages us all to become lifelong self-directed learners.

In this process danger is always afoot. Danger of not knowing. Danger of looking like a fool. Danger of having to continue despite brutal and real obstacles.

Real danger is never challenging yourself or finding out how far you can go in your career, in your relationships, in your life.

As you age, being dangerous is both inevitable and highly avoidable.

Most of us are already dead and just haven't crawled into our graves yet.

Take full responsibility and watch miracles unfold.

It is never too late to take on life and challenge and crush your fears.

Contact me and let me know how your danger looks and how you've kicked it in the junk.

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One More Thing to Handle to Make Sure Your Life Doesn’t Suck

While every interaction is a type of communication, I am learning to be direct, deliberate and clear when I speak.

In my day job, it is not uncommon to speak with forty different people during an eight hour workday.

Each person doesn't hear what I say they screen what I say through their personal history and life experiences.

When we choose honest and clear communication, we increase our chances of making personal and professional improvements.

When we are determined to create wonderful lives and kick some serious butt in 2016, we do not allow confusion to remain.

We share, experience and demand clarity at each gathering and interaction.

We can always choose to stop communication, think about what's has been said and ask for things to be repeated.

Most of don't communicate well because we have not made this a priority nor have we, en masse, mastered the fine art of truly, deeply listening to one another.

We wait for the other person to shut up or their voice to trail off so that we can jump in to correct, offer suggestions or recant a similar experience of our own.

We look for inconsistencies or lies and play detective.

Be a true ally.

Try listening with your heart and not a mind that has no use for fresh, innovative perspectives.

If you're making a decision while I'm talking, you ain't listening.

At my day job, I am constantly tasked with heart listening.

Heart listening means I am not sending emails, texting or otherwise engaged no matter how busy I am or what needs to be done.

Here's a solution:

For the next week, put on a great piece of music that you've heard a bazillion times and listen with a different set of ears (heart listen).

I tried this once with Stevie Wonder's Talking Book and heard some things I had never heard before and was brought to tears.

I now proclaim this the year of heart listening and incredible change.

When we really listen, we will be shocked at what we can learn and how similar we are.

Rather than listening to judge, listen to love. Increase your compassion and dare to listen without distractions and agendas.

When I was jazz/blues singer, my teacher was constantly ranting about "opening our ears" and allowing this experience to take hold of us and change us.

I suggest you do the same.

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Three Things to Handle in 2016 to Make Sure Your Life Doesn’t Suck

Most of us make resolutions drunk on champagne and the belief that with hope as our guide, we can make the impossible possible.


How Joss Whedon Saved Me from Homelessness,Unemployment and Low Self Esteem

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its brilliant creator, Joss Whedon, brought a blonde female super hero into our living room on Tuesdays for six incredible seasons.

I initially balked at the idea of this young girl saving the world; I decided to take it on as my guilty pleasure once it hit syndication in the fall of 2001.

Besides all of the snappy one liners, cute outfits, butt kicking and hot boyfriends, this show spoke to me about the human condition in a very specific way.

Given the responsibility to save the world, she dealt with the worst in human beings in the worst environment ever: high school.

She is required to keep her identity a secret (hazards of the job)and navigate two extremes (high school and preventing the world's destruction by battling the forces of evil) without them intersecting.

When the series ended: she had battled a bazillion bad guys, stopped umpteen apocalypses and died twice.

She took care of friends, dealt with her own self doubt and raised a teenage sister.

It was the final season that really catapulted me into the rabid fan I am today.

In one episode she states: "We will seek out our darkest, biggest fears and face them".

Fast forward seven years and I am broke as hell, with no job and sleeping on a friends floor (21st Century version of homelessness).

On more than one occasion, I would remember a powerful line from the show to get me going and inspire myself to keep on pushing.

I love saying that Joss Whedon inspired me and gave me insight (via a fictional world) that all things are possible. I could go on about how the writing was so great or the character development was outstanding and why his fireplace should be overflowing with Emmys.

Instead, I choose to focus on what I learned from this show.

Joss Whedon allowed us to look for and expect power in all the forgotten and dismissed places in the world.

Whedon forced me to push past the limits of my imagination while viewing Buffy's weekly trials and allowed me to use this in my real life crises of finding work and a stable living environment.

Remembering that many people did not appreciate nor understand Buffy yet greatly needed her thinking and muscle to save them, I reminded myself that although people didn't see my gifts that didn't mean they were nonexistent.

When I was told fifty times in one day that I had no marketable skills, I fought back (using the chutzpah gleaned via Buffy Summers) by sharing my skill set and why it was significant.

I requested assistance (from the 50th person I spoke to that day) in learning the new verbiage that would allow me to be heard and my skills seen.

In a huge battle scene with a formidable and seemingly unstoppable foe, Buffy remembers her greatness and takes on the beast with these wonderful words: I always find a way.

After some time, all of the Buffyisms and hard work paid off.

I landed a great job that I took from part time to full time with benefits in less than a year, moved into a condo , bought a car and met a wonderful man who I eventually married.

Surviving and thriving despite adversity takes dedication and an unwavering sense of your own power and abilities.

Surviving and thriving forces us to dig into our inner resources (courage, perseverance and determination) and change the course of our lives.

Make this your motto: I always find a way.


It’s Ok to Cry : Why Men Should Seek Professional Help with Childhood Issues

As a black man, there are certain things I am supposed to know and not need.

As a gay man, there are certain things I should crave.

As an artist, my psychosis (according to popular legend) is what makes me create and is the excuse for anything dangerous, self hating or odd that I exhibit.

Every black boy who then becomes a black male in society is traumatized to some degree.

We are herded into institutions that fear and shame us that are run by people who don't understand us nor make attempts to address our particular sets of needs.

Many times I have heard educated, black folks who are raising our beautiful black boys refer to them in ways that indicate they (black male youths) are violent beasts who need constant watching over, correction by adults and can't be trusted to make great decisions.

I have rarely heard anybody say that young black males need the same thing everyone needs: Love, a sense of belonging, and guidance based on the belief in their inherent goodness.

What I have heard offered for young black males is that they need "structure"(translation : domination and an obsessive approach to their subjugation early and often so that they will not be problems or a bother to anyone).

Having survived childhood and now thriving in adulthood despite all of the obstacles and dumb ways that people tried to "make me into a man", I know from a lived experience that a whole lot of shit goes down when people are around men.

Men, listen up! There are a gazillion ways we can fight back, reclaim our humanity and make the world a better place all at the same time.

I am a firm believer in therapy and that it works.

We must build our love army with folks that have nothing vested in our not being " right in the head".

It is imperative that we marry, partner and befriend people who want and expect the best for us.

While it is not sexy or socially acceptable to crave and fight for mental health, it is needed.

We, as men, must demand that our pain be heard and addressed.

As men who want to change the world and ourselves, it is our duty to seek out and adamantly commit to our mental health and emotional maturation.

We can't be wonderful partners in world change when we haven't changed ourselves.

It is time for men and those that love them, not lust after them or need to manipulate them but deeply love them to demand that we make mental health a priority.

When men decide to be healthy in all incarnations the world will change.

It is not ok that men are left to figure things out.

We won't.

This is an arena that we have been conditioned is not our right and it should be organized and maintained by someone else.

Every male I know, myself included, has childhood wounds that cause problems when there are attempts to establish relationships that demand closeness, vulnerability and trust.

So much of what prevents men from fully showing up is our shame.

Professor Brene Brown states that shame in men shows up in a distinct way: don't be perceived as weak.

Many men feel the need to control others perceptions of them by: having all the answers for everything all the time.

I would love to challenge this frightening and limited stereotype by simply showing up and saying : I don't know.

As men, it is imperative that we refuse to suck it up, pretend things don't hurt when they do and demand that our emotional needs are met without having to bargain away parts of our soul to do it.

Seeking the help of a professional counselor allows us to reevaluate our childhoods and determine the best course of action for addressing our needs.

Gentlemen, it is ok to cry. We have to change ourselves first and then the world.

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Why Jesus is Not Enough: Black Folks, Religion and Mental Health

Most black folks who love, respect and need the approval and validation of their families don’t spend much time challenging the wisdom and insight of their elders.

When we are depressed, Big Momaisms tell us to get something on our stomachs (let big momma make you a cake); pray to Jesus (turn over all rational thought and decision making to an outside source who will fix it for you) and attend church more often.

I have heard black folks quote bible verses and spout the always popular: God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I have seen folks suffer for years because they refuse to step outside church and family rhetoric and realize that (1) Nobody’s coming and (2) They better switch up the way they handle their affairs.

For many years, I honestly believed Jesus would fix it all.

And if that didn’t work, I could always go for the big guns, Jesus’ daddy, God.

While I have nothing against Christianity, I have seen it used to justify all sorts of foolishness and mistreatment of humans.

When something bad happens, I often see black folks say Satan never sleeps or we’re being tested.

When something wonderful occurs, we often trot out the immensely popular:blessed and highly favored.

What Christianity and several religions fail to point out is the common denominator in all situations both good and bad: the man in the mirror.

While I have experienced all kinds of life challenges, I’ve only learned and made better choices when I’ve owned my part of the situation.

Once I stopped waiting for Jesus to fix me, things began to change.

At 14, I began attending a very prestigious all boys high school. I knew nothing about studying, social codes and rigorous academic achievement.

My fist year’s grades were abysmal.

After failing History and being ordered to attend Summer School, I had a choice to make. I could continue to think the instructors would change what they were doing or I could change what I was doing.

Miraculously, I figured out how to study History and my grades began moving into High B status. Within weeks, I was heading towards A status.

I have watched family members and friends suffer needlessly.

I have watched people endure awful relationships and then pray that the other person gets their mind right.

What if God and Prayer aren’t enough?

This world is full of wonderful emotional and mental resources.

What if we prayed to find a great mental health expert, then started looking for and then found one ?

Mental Health must be as important to our community as church, tithing and making sure our pastor has what he needs.

It is time we stand up in our faith and demand more from those who say it is there “calling” to alleviate suffering and uplift the community.

You cannot be black in this culture and not have been psychologically, emotionally and spiritually attacked, violated and diminished at some point.

The very existence of this culture depends on it.

As a result, it is imperative that all black folks seek some type of ongoing spiritual and emotional uplift.

If we are lucky, we will unearth an individual who encourages a blend of spiritual undergirdings with emotional and psychological tools for well being.

Hopefully, we will find a therapist who believes in prayer and action. Community and solitude.

We must remember that the black church has been extremely pivotal in our survival.

We must refuse to use it as a crutch and instead tap into the strength it can and should provide which will allow us to take on personal and communal challenges.

During the Civil Rights era, people prayed then marched.

We are not in a position to choose one over the other.

We must have both: a strong spiritual base and an ability to take powerful, determined well thought out action when needed.

When depression hits, a warm batch of cookies and bowl of ice cream won’t eliminate it. I know; I’ve tried.

What you will need is an ally whose purpose is to remind you of dormant skills and any source of unused personal power.

Religion and therapy should encourage everyone to become self reliant.

It is time we stopped hiding behind Jesus and the pulpit and instead used these entities along with a great therapist to face our personal and collective crap.


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