Monthly Archives: December 2005

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QUICK HIT: Pray for the Dungys

Sometimes I strive to entertaining or amusing, but this is neither.

It’s being reported today that James Dungy, son of Indianapolis Colts’ head coach Tony Dungy, was found dead in his apartment. He was 18 years old.

I bring this up because Dungy is not only the celebrated head coach of a team that’s poised to win the Super Bowl, but because he is also an outspoken Christian.

In a media-saturated sports world where flash and glitz get attention, Dungy is a rare breed. He takes opportunities to speak up about his faith, but rarely grandstands to get attention. Dungy lives in a high-pressure world, a level of competitive excellence where the slightest miscue can provoke millions of people to second-guess your every move. Yet he’s repeatedly maintained an unpopular view in the NFL — that his faith is more important than his job.

During the ensuing controversy about the Terrell Owens / Desperate Housewives Monday Night Football intro segment last fall, Tony Dungy was one of the few voices from within the NFL to voice his disapproval of the sexually suggestive vignette. Afterward, a lot of the TV and radio talking heads were quick to say that the bit wasn’t a big deal, but no one had the gall to challenge Dungy directly on his opinion, ’cause none of ’em wanted to admit that he was right.

Indy sports fans were disappointed last week when their Colts suffered their first loss on the field for the season. But Dungy is experiencing a loss exponentially more ravaging and painful. And as the news broke today, two of ESPN’s NFL columnists have already weighed in on the matter, praising Dungy for his devout faith. The sports world is watching Dungy to see how he reacts to this unfathomable tragedy.

I will pray for Tony Dungy, and if you feel so led I ask you to do the same.

Pray for the Dungy family as they sort through the difficulties of this grevious process. Pray for God’s peace and presence to be bestowed upon them. And pray that this experience would only serve to solidify his testimony and elevate his favor among the elite names in sports.

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It’s Christmas; Embrace the Unexpected

I imagine that the one thing that most of us really enjoy about Christmas is the sense of nostalgia and tradition that it has come to represent in our lives. We choose to spend time with family, and we take part in activities that help us to get into “the Christmas spirit.” You know, eggnog, tinsel, mistletoe… all that good stuff.

In the big picture, however, it seems like all the focus on Christmas tradition is a little bit… well… misplaced. Not that traditions aren’t important — they’re great. They’re one of the things that help to hold families together. But in light of all the events that precipitated the first Christmas, our collective focus on the traditional seems, to me at least, a little bit absurd.

Because Christmas, fundamentally, is about unexpected change.

Let’s face it — if some teenage girl suddenly showed up pregnant and tried to convince the people around her that The Holy Spirit was the father of the child… my guess is, most of us wouldn’t just go on with our regular business. We’d be peppering her with invasive questions. Some of us would try to psychoanalyze her. Or try to book her for an appearance on Jerry Springer.

Plus, the whole idea of God coming down here, where we are… well, without any divine revelation, the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous. Why would he want to do that? Does God know how ugly it gets down here? With the pollution and the hostility and the road rage from people who can’t drive in the snow?

It’s crazy down here, God. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

See, that’s what I think God loves to do the most. He loves to dote over his children, and just when they think they’ve got Him figured out — booyah — He goes the other way. He pulls something out that’s totally unexpected.

And it makes history.

And even though we’ve all heard the facts about the Christmas story a thousand times over, I think we miss the collective whoa factor of it all, because we have the benefit of centuries’ worth of perspective and commentary. But if something that crazy happened today, I don’t think it would just be business as usual.

The only comparison I can think of is what happened a few years ago at a Dairy Queen in Coppell, Texas. Customers at this normally sleepy location were lined up around the block to get in, because manager Parrish Chapman had a new trainee that day — internet billionaire Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

A few weeks earlier, Cuban had criticized then-head of NBA officiating Ed Rush because he felt his team was being unfairly penalized and Rush’s office wasn’t listening to his repeated complaints. During a postgame interview with local media, Cuban, fuming as usual, said that Ed Rush couldn’t manage a Dairy Queen. Naturally, the good folks at DQ heard about it, and challenged him publicly. Basically, their attitude was, if managing a DQ is so easy, why don’t YOU give it a try?

So he did.

And this, in my opinion, is — pardon the cliche — what Christmas is all about. The inexplicable madness of someone with all of the money, status and clout of Mark Cuban, taking the time to learn how to work the ‘Blizzard’ machine and make dip cones. An unexpected, almost random act that demonstrates an underlying passion. In this case, it was Cuban’s passion for publicity more than anything else. But with God, it’s a passion for His people, a desire to show us how to live this life the way He intended.

Now don’t take this and run too far with it.

If anyone asks you, “So, what did Jelani have to say in his Christmas column?” and your answer is “he says Mark Cuban is God,” then you’ve missed the point entirely.

My point is that part of the (*ahem*) magic of the season comes from the fact that God is continually at work in the earth in ways that defy our imagination and expectation.

Yes, God is a righteous God, yes, he wants us to be law-abiding, moral people… blah blah blah. You can hear that message at a lot of churches this time of year. What I’m saying is that He’s not just the Great Hall Monitor in the Sky, boring us to death with a bunch of rules and regulations and restrictions on all the really fun stuff.

On the contrary, God is alive and well, and His level of creativity and omnipotence is second to none. And sometimes his plans consist of the most incomprehensible combinations of phenomena.

I mean, I can just imagine the Father, in his divine conference room, drawing up his plans on the heavenly whiteboard while Jesus and the Holy Spirit ask clarifying questions.

“So, we’re gonna send Jesus to earth, and he’s gonna live the life, okay, I get all that, but okay, where is he gonna start?”

“Nazareth.”

“Well, actually Bethlehem. And then, you know, later on, Nazareth.”

“Hmm… you’re sure about this now?”

“Yep. Trust me, Jesus, it’s gonna be great.

“So who are gonna be the parents?”

“Mary and… well, technically, I guess Joseph, too.”

“Technically?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, he’s gonna raise you up, show you how to tie your sandals, you know, all that.”

“But he’s not actually going to…”

“Nope.”

[Pause.]


“So how is she gonna get pregnant?”

[Another pause.]


“Funny you should ask…”



I’m having fun with this, of course, but don’t let my propensity for imaginary dialogue distract you from the Truth.

Christmas is about God interacting with our world, and the eternal hilarity that ensues as a result. So as you continue in your holiday cheer, keep that in mind. Don’t be rattled by the inevitable surprises He will put in your path. Just trust Him and enjoy the ride.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Fine Lines: Virgil Thompson

(“Fine Lines” title taken from “Change of Subject,” a blog by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune.)

“The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish.” – Virgil Thompson

Yeah, and then if you know the right people, your music will eventually be popularized on American Idol, covered by American cover bands, illegally downloaded by American college students, and hoarded by multinational corporations headed by Americans.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

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Open Letter to Snoop Dogg & Jamie Foxx

Snoop Dizzle and my man J-Foxx,

First of all, congratulations for your life achievements thus far. You’re both successful entertainers, and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed both of your work quite a bit from time to time. It’s been a pleasure seeing both of you make the transition from being cult favorites among Black audiences to mainstream sensations.

I’m also glad that you both have seen fit to get involved with what is a sensitive and politically polarizing subject, capital punishment. I’m sure that Stanley “Tookie” Williams was grateful to have stars of your magnitude shedding light on his predicament. And I’m sure that even those people who fully support the death penalty can appreciate the good attempts Williams made to dissuade young people from joining gangs, even if they don’t think those deeds outweighed the heinous criminal acts he was convicted of committing.

Nevertheless, Tookie couldn’t run from the past forever, and his number was finally called. As Ken “Hawk” Harrelson would say, “he gone.”

So my question to you is simple:

What are you going to do now?

Specifically, what plans do you have to carry on Tookie’s legacy?

If he meant as much to you as you’ve indicated, then I hope to see you both continue to advance his legacy by doing whatever you can to stop the influence of gangs on America’s youth. And it’s probably not as hard as you think.

It may be simply a matter of helping provide products with positive entertainment value that don’t glorify violence or perpetuate gangsta / playa ethos that help to perpetuate the spiral of crime and degradation. It could be as simple as committing time, energy and money to advance extra-curricular programs that can give kids something to do besides knock off corner stores and sling rock.

Or maybe it could be something as simple as continuing to speak out about the problem. An interview here, a speaking engagement there, etc. I don’t know what your publicists have in mind. But if this is something you’re serious about, then by all means, let them in on your convictions. Please continue your efforts to make a difference.

Because if you don’t, then it’s gonna look bad for you. Many people (myself included) will conclude that this whole Tookie Williams affair was a sham; not quite an elaborate set-up, but much worse than just a waning of interest. It’s gonna look like you were less interested in changing our communities for the better and more interested in grabbing the spotlight to push a cause in order to network with Hollywood leftist activists.

I’m not God, and I can’t judge your motives. But I like you both, so I’m hoping you can quiet my skeptical instincts by continuing to be diligent in your anti-gang activism. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t bother yourselves with any other forms of activism. Because by then nobody’s gonna take you seriously. Credibility is like currency — if you’re not careful, it can disappear in a hurry.

So Snoop, with that in mind, keep your mind on your money and your money on your mind. Think of where it can do the most good. Jamie, do like you used to say with your “Wanda” character from In Living Color. Rock my world. Be so bold and daring in your desire to create change that you’ll be willing to look silly and endure criticism for what you believe.

Don’t just do it because I’m challenging you. Do it ’cause it’s the right thing to do.

And if he meant so much to you, then do it for Tookie.

sincerely,

Jelani Greenidge
Blogger, “Mixin’ It Up.”

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State of the Blogger Address

Most blogs tend to be personal in nature. While this blog’s focus is usually not on me or my life, the fact that I have aimed this blog at friends and associates means that it’s reasonable to assume at least a few might want to know how my bride and I are doing.

If, on the other hand, you’ve stumbled onto this blog and know / care nothing about me and my personhood, then feel free to skip on to something more interesting. I’m not so pretentious to think that someone who doesn’t know me already would naturally be interested to hear all the details of my life.

* * *


For those of you who haven’t heard, in July of ’05, my wife Holly and I made the difficult decision to follow what we felt to be God’s leading to move across the country from Chicago to Portland, Oregon.

It was a pretty difficult decision, for a lot of reasons. Fundamentally, we just didn’t want to do something that monumental unless we were sure that God was calling us to do it. And on the practical tip, we really weren’t trynna move again.

‘Cause when you’re in your mid-twenties, you end up moving a bunch of times, in and out of dorms, in and out of parents and relatives, in and out of apartments with friends. And after a while, it gets old.

Plus, the last time I had moved it was into Holly’s apartment, which was in a nice cozy brick building a few blocks away from where I worked. And having just gotten married in October of last year, it was the first time I had lived in a fully-furnished apartment with nice things. For most of my adult life, my furniture consisted of janky borrowed couches, cement blocks, my computer, and a bunch of books and CDs.

So it was somewhat reluctantly that we began, in August, the process of packing our things into boxes so that they could be carried by strangers and put into a storage facility, while we drove our ’96 Dodge Intrepid 2500 miles across ten different states. Good times, lemme tell ya.

I’m now the vocal director for Irvington Covenant Church, the church my father started about 17 years ago. (Hard to believe it’s been that long.) Right now I’m working a corporate temp job that might become more permanant, and Holly is in transition between jobs, although this newest one she’s excited about because it’s part time, so she gets to spend more time holding things down on the home front. Which is definitely good for both of us.

Holly and I aren’t completely settled in yet, because this fall has been the busiest fall in the history of my family. A funeral, two weddings, new church, new jobs, and a host of other dramatic subplots have meant precious little downtime at home to do things like open boxes and hang curtains.

Anyway, now we’re enjoying life in Portland. It’s a great change of pace from what we experienced in Chicago. Even though there are things we miss terribly about Chicago (go White Sox!), we’re glad to be in the right place at the right time. We’ve got a cozy apartment across the street from a city park that features a rose garden so beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s actually in the hood.
And Holly still can’t believe that these low-30s temps are the coldest it’s probably going to get in Portland. She keeps asking me, “So… when do we get winter around here?” We both miss the snow, but only in a nostalgic, aesthetic sense. We don’t really miss bitter cold, howling winds, or the nasty traffic snarls that Chicagoans have to endure every year.
Rain we do get plenty of, but when I think of it as a free car wash every few days, I enjoy it a little better.


Anyway, I guess that’s enough for now. For more details, email me or give me a call at five oh three, seven five four, seven four eight zero.

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Legacy is the measure of life’s impact

Kerrion, Carrington, and Kennedy are children. Blessed children. Blessed because they are primary beneficiaries of a powerful legacy.

Yes, they receive the benefits of economic affluence and exposure to A-list celebrities on a regular basis. And yes, they’re in a prime position to have any musical ability nurtured and developed in a way most young musicians could only dream of. But those things are tiny compared to the legacy of honesty and integrity demonstrated by their father, gospel superstar Kirk Franklin.

Franklin was a guest of world-famous TV talk guru Oprah Winfrey recently. But instead of promoting his new album, Hero, or engaging in some other fluff story, Kirk Franklin appeared to discuss his freedom from addiction. Which, in and of itself is not newsworthy, since just about every legendary performer has had to struggle with some obsession that got out of control. But Franklin’s struggle was not with drugs or alcohol, but with a subject many consider to be taboo in the church: pornography.


Porn in the U.S.A.

Porn has gone so mainstream that most celebrities either laugh it off and pretend it’s not a big deal or deny any knowledge or involvement. And statistically, Christians are just as susceptible (if not more so) to the lure of porn, because sexuality in the church is always so hush-hush. Even though it’s been a cancerous scourge for so long, people in the church are slow to talk about it.

Even with guys like Craig Gross and Mike Foster, creators of XXXChurch.com (tagline: “The #1 Christian porn site”), who have made it their mission to go around and talk about porn and its effects on society, it’s still a touchy thing. XXXChurch has been denounced by many conservative Christians, probably for no other reason than the idea of putting “XXX” in front of the word “church.” These Southern Californian believers have been at it since 2002, traveling to porn trade shows (with their wives, of course) with a message that God offers something better. The very idea of two Christian men having a porn outreach is somewhat jarring, so instead of hammering their morals home with fire and brimstone, they use subversive humor to lower defenses. And it seems to be working, because they’ve gotten a lot of exposure. Just last week, they were featured on a CNN broadcast.

But even with all that exposure, the XXXChurch guys don’t have even close to the same level of Q-rating star power that Kirk Franklin has. So for Kirk and his wife Tammy to appear on Oprah’s show and discuss the toll that pornography took on their marriage… well, it made for more than mesmerizing television. It made a difference. Because of that broadcast, millions of men, particularly Black men, will be inspired to take a step and make themselves vulnerable to criticism by admitting that they have a problem. After all, if Kirk doesn’t care about people looking down at him, then why should they feel any different?

That’s why Kirk Franklin’s legacy will be found not only in record sales and music awards, but in modeling what a stable marriage looks like. His children will grow up seeing a father who can honor his wife by admitting his wrongdoing. More than popularity or fame, a reputation for honesty and integrity is a powerful legacy to leave.

That can be a hard lesson to learn.

In this life, people who take a stand for honesty and integrity don’t always get kudos on a national stage.

Sometimes, they get the shaft.

‘Everybody Pays’

This was one of the lessons I gleaned from a great book I read recently. It’s called Everybody Pays: Two Men, One Murder, and the Price of Truth. It’s the story of Harry Aleman, a notorious hitman for the Chicago Outfit, and Bob Lowe, the lone witness to one of his murders. In 1972, organized crime thrived on intimidation and the unspoken code of silence from people who didn’t want to get involved. So when federal investigators uncovered Bob Lowe, an eyewitness to a crime that was actually willing to testify, they were thrilled. Finally they had a chance to take Harry Aleman down for good.

Only, it didn’t exactly happen that way. Corruption inside the Chicago criminal court system made it possible for the judge presiding over the case to be bribed with $10,000 in exchange for an acquittal. So Lowe, who had to uproot his family and move several times for fear of retaliation, had sacrificed it all — and lost.

Or so it seemed, anyway. So distraught from the acquittal, Lowe’s life began to spiral as he moved from dead-end job to dead-end job, drowning in Jack Daniels and dabbling in cocaine. Eventually he served some time on his own for a few robberies he committed in a drunken stupor. It wasn’t until after he had served a few years and gotten himself sober again that he could look back and see where he had gone wrong.

Even so, Lowe was eager to put the whole ordeal behind him after he was released from prison. So when authorities re-indicted Harry Aleman for the same murder, after having already proven that the first trial in 1976 was fixed, Lowe was, let’s say, less than enthusiastic to participate. “Go to hell,” he told one of the investigators.

Nevertheless, in September of 1997 Aleman was tried again, and the defense again called Bob Lowe to testify. The first time around, Aleman’s defense team had shredded his credibility with a series of questions designed to leave him confused and unsure of himself. This time, Bob Lowe was unshakeable. With all he and his family had gone through, he was determined to prevail. He told the truth, kept his head up, and came out looking like a hero.

Which Legacy Is it?

As the book comes to a close, it’s natural to examine the legacies that both men will leave. Any good story has a protagonist and an antagonist, but these two men provide a rounded portrait of both sides of humanity. Neither man can claim a spotless resumé. In the book, the authors Possley and Kogan depict Bob Lowe as the hero, and in many ways he was. But to members of his family, his brand of heroism was tragic. Lowe was so fixated on the injustice that he suffered as a result of Aleman’s acquittal, letting his alcoholic desires have the best of him.

Even more fascinating, however, is Aleman himself. If you read the transcript of his plea for release from custody in 1990, you’ll read the words of love and devotion he has for his family. And I’m sure in many Chicago neighborhoods, even today, you’ll find plenty of people willing to put in a good word for Harry Aleman. “He was a good man,” they’ll say. His wife Ruth, who died in 2000, insisted that he was always a model father. He showered his children with gifts, always made sure to have dinner with them, and treasured spending time with them.

With all the love that Harry Aleman received from his loyal supporters, it’s hard to remember that this is the same man that was one of the most feared men in Chicago. He was wanted for countless mob-related murders spanning over twelve years. Yet here he is, somehow being cast as a family man. Which portrait is right? Depends on who you ask. As a man of advanced years, Harry Aleman doesn’t appear fit the role of celebrity hitman anymore. But as for whether he’s had a change of heart, none except God and Aleman himself can truly answer that question.

Do Gangsters Change?

That’s an essential question in what is becoming a similar controversy in Los Angeles. Hollywood personalities and other left-leaning activists are lobbying for Gov. Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to Stanley “Tookie” Williams. The West Coast’s “Crips” co-founder was convicted of four murders in 1979 and was, during the penalty phase of his trial, sentenced to death. Since then, his advocates say, he has undergone an extraordinary transformation from gang leader to peacemaker.

Charles L. Lindner, former president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Association, had this to say about Tookie Williams in an L.A. times editorial pleading for his life:

Schwarzenegger should seriously consider the mitigating evidence that has arisen since Williams was sentenced to death. If Ingber could have presented evidence that Williams would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, that he would write anti-gang children’s books and negotiate the end to a gang war, it is reasonable to believe that the jury might have found sufficient value in Williams’ life to spare him death.

Advocates of Tookie Williams believe that his goodwill efforts outweigh the heinous crimes he committed as a young adult.

Not so, says Joshua Marquis, a Clatsop County, Ore. district attorney and vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. In an opposing editorial, he proclaimed that Williams is a murderer that should die for his crimes:

So what makes Williams deserving of the extraordinary benefit of commutation? We are asked to believe that because he has coauthored some children’s books he has “reformed.” Yet he refuses to do what we morally and legally expect even from shoplifters: to express remorse for his actions. His true legacy may lie with his children. His namesake, Stanley Williams Jr., is doing time in another California prison for second-degree murder. Williams claims he discourages kids from getting involved in gang life, yet a San Quentin official recently suggested that he still orchestrates gang activity outside the prison, according to an Associated Press story.

The AP story Marquis is referring to is a claim by San Quentin prison officials to discredit Tookie’s claims of redemptive conversion. If Williams really wanted to make restitution for his crimes, they say, then he would agree to submit to what they call a “debriefing” process, wherein he is expected to inform on his old Crip compadres. His refusal to do so, combined with his substantial prison bank account and an informal association with other incarcerated Crips has led authorities to believe that he may still have a controlling voice in current gang operations.

Both sides of this argument have compelling arguments, and I can understand why this is such a heated argument. Death-penalty opponents have been waiting for a case like this for years to illustrate just how flawed our system is. On the other end of it, many victim-advocate groups are decrying this outcry of support, saying that it justifies gang violence and ignores the suffering of the families of victims who don’t have the liberal P.R. machine on their side.

But question of whether Tookie’s execution will be commuted to a life sentence is, in the grand scheme of things, somewhat irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what Gov. Schwarzenegger decides, Tookie Williams is going to die in custody of the state of California. If he is pardoned and given clemency, then — by all means — it’s a victory for his cause. Hopefully he will be able to continue his efforts at redirecting young lives away from gang activity and thug life. But if not, if Tookie is required by the state to atone for his crime by relinquishing his life on earth to a poisonous needle, then his example of redemption and peacemaking will live on. He will become a cultural, socio-political martyr, a sort of Tupac-meets-Che-Guevara figure.

In other words, the good causes that Williams’ latter years have come to represent should only be advanced more fully in his death. If Williams is executed, and the cadres of leftist advocates fail to pick up the ball and run with his message of hope and redemption, then they’ll be exposed as opportunists that cared more about a political agenda then they did about making a difference in the community.

But hopefully that won’t happen. It’s my sincere hope that, live or die, the life of Tookie Williams will be celebrated as an example of someone who chose to alter his destiny and pass on a greater legacy.

Project Clean Slate

I imagine the example of Tookie Williams and others like him must have inspired Portland civic leader Roy Jay.

Besides presiding over Portland’s African-American Chamber of Commerce and cementing his status as one of P-town’s biggest movers and shakers, Jay masterminded the overwhelmingly successful initiative Project Clean Slate. The first of its kind, the project allows citizens to clear minor criminal convictions from their records, exchanging the requisite fines for community service.

Projects like these are important in urban communities. Inequalities in our criminal justice system sometimes result in hardworking, productive citizens being arrested unfairly. Once you add an unhealthy fear of police and ignorance of legal protocol into the mix, there can be thousands of poor ethnic minorites with minor blemishes on their record. These convictions can prevent them from capitalizing on better job opportunities or adequate housing options.

It’s no wonder, then, that the project was a success , with over 2,500 Oregonians who lined up to make a new start. Roy Jay understands a basic truth that sometimes eludes hard-liners: wiping away minor criminal convictions can help people in the margins to avoid major ones. It’s an anthropological extension of the broken-window theory , which says that more serious crimes can be deterred by constant, vigilant upkeep of urban environments. In this way, the broken windows are emblematic of broken lives. But just as the windows can be restored, so can people. Even the darkest chapters in a person’s life can be followed by redemption.

What Does It All Mean?

There are many lessons we can learn from these stories.

First, life on this earth is not merely a series of linear progressions. People are complex creatures, equally capable of both benevolence and brutality. That’s why stereotyping isn’t a fail-safe way to evaluate people. People change. Situations change. As Hume teaches us, the past is not a reliable way to predict the future.

So as we look toward the future, it may pay dividends to remain flexible in your alliances with people and ideas. The heroes and villains of today could end up changing sides in five years, like free agent sports heroes in the offseason.

At the same time, though, we must cling to the things we value most. And in these stories, those qualities were hope and integrity.

For in the same way that vandalism and broken windows detract from the general quality of life, sometimes failures of the past can rob us of our confidence and dignity. If you experience enough of them, you may eventually come to the conclusion that you’re better off embracing your dysfunction instead of trying to get a handle on it.

But that’s where hope and integrity come in and make a difference. It’s why Kirk Franklin was able to repair his marriage, why Bob Lowe got paroled and Harry Aleman got convicted. It’s the integrity to admit when you need help. It’s the hope that no matter how dark a chapter of life we’ve endured, we get a chance to write another.

In the final analysis, our lives will be a composite of all those life chapters. The main question that will shape our future biographies will not be whether or not we left a legacy, but what our legacy consisted of.

‘Cause that’s what we’ll be known for.

That’s what will make a difference.

I’m G*Natural; thanks for mixin’ it up with me.