Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Part II - Out The Closet And Free at Last


Out The Closet and Free at Last
Part II
While writing Part I, it became clear that the issues surrounding closet captivity extended well beyond a college degree. Indeed, your emails and postings echoed my observation. One writer in particular cut to the core issue with the precision of a skilled surgeon. Aptly named, Anonymous, the writer's comment challenged us to "stop making excuses for being substandard." Substandard? Substandard! But, please don't shoot the messenger. I believe Anonymous' comment requires us to ask some difficult questions. What role does the fear of being substandard play in our lives? After all, what is it that causes intelligent people to:
  • reassess your hard-earned Associates degree as worthless, view your Bachelor's Degree as artwork, your Master's Degree as expensive artwork and your Doctorate... ?
  • push yourself to succeed and ultimately achieve, but stops you from demanding what you should justifiably receive for your efforts?
  • believe your home isn't big enough, bank account not fat enough, wrist not blingin' enough, and your children-"not me" enough?
  • submit to the mindset that maybe the career/house/love of my dreams isn't really in the cards for me.

Feel free to pause here if you need to catch your breath.

Let's be real - no one wants to be labeled substandard. Both the Wall Street whiz kid and the child struggling thru remedial math share a common aspiration to make their mark in this world. If feeling substandard is the cause, then are our standards to blame? Standards, by definition, are a measuring tool and we use them every day to gauge our place in this world. America is arguably the world leader in programming it's standards to the masses. Every time you turn on the television, flip thru your favorite magazine, peruse the newspaper, or go online, a standard is being imprinted and reinforced into your psyche. It is impossible to escape. Yet, as invasive as this assault may be I submit to you that standards, while problematic, are not the core problem.

To identify the core problem, I need to transport you back in time. Next stop: Paradise. Not Taz's garden, but the paradise known as the Garden of Eden. It is there that you will come face to face with the only species evicted from paradise and his name is - you got it - Mankind. Fast-forward to 2006 and Mankind is still suffering from Post-Eden Stress Syndrome (P.E.S.S.). Once lord of his garden dominion, now relegated to being the fierce protector of - you got it - standards. Simple enough, just uphold the standards as written and all is well... right? Not exactly. Mankind has a uniquely human characteristic which Webster's Dictionary defines as Subjectivity. Once again, he is lord of his dominion and no standard, law or scripture is safe from his subjective interpretation. What shall we call them, these lords of standards? Let us call them what they truly are - let us call them the Gatekeepers.

Who are the Gatekeepers? Anonymous defines them in that we don't know who they are. There are no telltale signs or traits. They are the family next door, perhaps your boss, maybe the loan officer or your Department Head. It's the club doorman responsible for managing the door. Simple task, until P.E.S.S. signals the subjective mind that he is now pageantry judge and jury. Pick a law school and witness a similar situation. The Tenure Committee is charged with bestowing tenure upon the most qualified law professor. P.E.S.S. translation: Let us bestow tenure upon the professor created in our likeness. And you wonder why we got evicted from paradise?

Who are the Gatekeepers? Truth is, it is each of us and within all of us. It's our little piece of heaven when exercised for our benefit and hell on earth when abused to our detriment. I believe it is this hellish experience that keeps intelligent people trapped in hellish closets or scurrying back to safety. But, God is good and as much as you may try, you cannot erase the Divinely-implanted movable pictures we call dreams that foretell who you're destined to become.

So, my friend, the question remains - do you want to be free? I'm talking that everlasting, Free at Last, kind of freedom? I know I do but truthfully, I don't have a solution to the Gatekeeper. But an interesting thing happened as I pondered my predicament. I really believe I read and re-read the opening prayer from Part I one time too many. For no logical reason, my eyes gravitated to the clutter underneath my end table, focusing on a little burgundy book entitled, Jesus CEO. The book, written by Laurie Beth Jones, was gifted to me in 1995 and judging by the dust I hadn't revisited it's pages in quite some time. I grabbed the book, and it literally fell open to page 4, the focal point being the Chapter title centered in a sea of blank space. It read:

He Said "I Am"

I stared awhile, then slowly turned two pages. The next chapter title sent chills through my body.

His "I Am" Statements Are What He Became

I flipped back to the opening chapter and read intently as Ms. Jones detailed Christ emergence from His wilderness experience -- 40 days and 40 nights of temptation. He emerged stronger as a result of His experience and shortly thereafter began describing Himself as "I Am..."

  • the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
  • the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
  • the Light of the World (John 8:12)

But the thing that blew me away was this: His "I Am" declarations were issued BEFORE they came to be. That's right, He spoke them into existence! I sure hope you didn't miss that!

Perhaps logical standards are invading your thought process. How can I compare your situation to Jesus? After all, He is the Son of God. True, but who are you? But, He...? But, nothing. Who are you?

I told you last week this train was coming to your town. If this is your stop, then you probably know your share of Gatekeepers. You've had your own wilderness experiences -- degree/no degree, no work experience/over-qualified, underpaid/grossly underpaid with an assortment of No, No and No thrown in for good measure. For still others, Jesus 40-day experience is but a weekend when compared to the years you've spent navigating your own wilderness. My friend, wilderness experiences come and go, but how we emerge is the difference between walking in power or limping to Home Depot to fortify your old closet. Through the abuse of subjectivity, the Gatekeepers have kept you reeling. With every failed attempt at their movable targets, your spirit weakens. They are dreams killers. They have attempted to define who you are, and worse, affirm who you'll never be. But if Laurie Beth Jones illustrated anything, it was the indisputable fact that the power of Christ and His "I Am" affirmations are the key to true freedom!

You stepped out the closet -- now go the distance and proclaim boldly that you're Free at Last. In the spirit of Christ, emerge from your wilderness experience and boldly declare your own divinely-inspired "I Am" statements and believe it. Believe it in the face of doubt, in spite of the fear and for the added delight of making mere mortals of the dreaded Gatekeepers. If you aspire to be a Video Game Programmer with an emphasis in Sports, let your paper proclaim I Am A Video Game Programmer and yes, I KNOW SPORTS! If you're a Student, make sure your paper declares I Am A College Graduate. Here is not the place to be generic. Are you an incredible Wife or Fantastic Husband? Say it and believe it. Don't worry, this ain't fantasizing. I'm just asking you to boldly declare and believe those things you've always known yourself to be, even if no one sees it but you and the awesome, omnipotent God who declared "I Am That I Am."

Be Bold. Be Blessed. And most of all, Believe! Don't put it off -- do it today! Kendall King -- please sing my song right now -- and if the Gatekeepers ask "who told you to sing," you tell them That Johnson Boy - that's who!

I Am Free

Praise The Lord, I'm Free

No Longer Bound

No More Chains Holding Me...

(Written by Percy Bady)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Confession: Out The Closet & Free at Last! (Part I)

Trapped in the closet,
consumed by the night
Clinging to the door knob
with all of thy might;
What compels me to dwell here
and suffer this fright?
Lord, grant me the courage
to walk in Your Light.
If the words of this prayer seem desperate, they are. Such is the reality of a life lived in the closet. How else would you characterize it? The mere association of gaiety and being trapped in the closet is an oxymoran. How strong is the stranglehold of the closet? One can only wish they had the courage to utter this prayer. I should know as I've spent much of my adult life trapped in this closet.
You can close your mouth now. After all, who knew? I can assure you not many. Mind you, I've never lied about my situation. I opted instead to live by the creed, "Don't Ask/Don't Tell." I hoped that some day I would be bold enough to share my dilemma. But today was not that day, nor was disclosure one of my wonderful little goals of 2006. However, I could not have predicted that my inaugural blog entry would cause so many of you to breach my "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" zone. It's not your fault for surely you did not know.
Neither did the ladies of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment (www.nabfeme.org), who invited me to serve as Honorary Co-Chair for their 2005 International Women's Summit. Already a proud mentor member, I was truly elated to receive this honor. Later that night, my elation turned to panic as the closet demons doused my elation with tidal waves of fear. "God, please don't let me be 'outed' in front of 500 successful, got-it-together sistas."
Simultaneously, some 300 miles away a loving wife, mother and spiritual warrior was winding down an impressive career as an educator. When her son informed me that she was being honored by the women's ministry, I couldn't think of a more worthy individual. However, his voice contained none of the expectant joy and before I could inquire he added that his mom's initial excitement had turned somber. I immediately knew why. While we had never discussed the issue, I had witnessed her closet tendencies. He worried that she would refuse the honor rather than risk disclosure. When he asked me what should he do, I answered with an abrupt "Nothing," my voice unable to hide my discomfort. My reply didn't rest well with either of us, but for vastly different reasons. He had no idea that I shared his mother's predicament.
As I surveyed our plight, I realized that no degree of personal or professional achievements would spare us the gaze of the dreaded microscope. Would the 500 women of NABFEME treat me differently if they knew of my closet existence? Would the women's ministry still honor my friend's mom once her secret came to light? After too many anxious moments and unreturned phone calls, I was forced to do the unthinkable. No, I didn't come out of the closet. But, with a few keystrokes and a nervous tap of the send button, I forged my secret onto the pages of the NABFEME Program booklet and at the very least peeked out from the closet. It would take readers less than a minute to unravel years of anxiety. As their eyes surveyed my brief bio, they would realize my closet-generating secret...
I do not have a college degree.
There it is -- centered and on display for the world to see. Perhaps you're thinking, "Dude, you endured all that drama over a piece of paper?"
I certainly did. But before you blow it off as nonsense, consider this -- I have more than enough credits to finish my degree in a reasonable amount of time. Even without the parchment, I'm well-educated, successful, respected and have amassed a wide array of experience with multiple areas of expertise. I'm generally perceived as confident, and can be down right cocky around August 2nd. Yet, in spite of my successes and achievements, I would run to my closet at the mere request for bio. For those that don't get it, just hold on. This Freedom Train has two stops and perhaps yours is coming. But if what I suspect is true, for others of you -- this is your stop.
You may never perceive yourself as living in the closet, but if the truth were told there are jobs you would pursue, organizations you would join, heck -- probably even a mate you just might pursue, if only... There's a bio you would write, a book or a screenplay, if only... For others, you would live the life you dream of living... if only. I think you see where this is going.
But I'm here to tell you my friend, that today is the day that we smash those dream-killing, joy-stealing closets to smithereens! If today is indeed my coming out party, then please don't make me party alone! Like all of my parties, it's a classic old-school B.Y.O. party -- you bring your own closet, I'll provide the sledgehammer. Anything else that you could possibly need has already been divinely invested in you. As with any great party, we need a great theme. Setting the theme for this party is a quote from Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, who wrote...
"The only real prison is fear,
and the only real freedom is freedom from fear."
Anybody... and I do mean ANYBODY who feels like breaking down some some prison walls, holla back!
Lastly, this is only Part one of a two-part series. After all, I promised you Out The Closet and Free at Last. Next week, the Freedom Train rolls into your town. Pay attention -- it may very well be your stop. And if anybody ask, you tell them That Johnson Boy Said It.

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