What gives me faith in Memphis

February 24, 2013 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Nadeem Zafar

Memphis is a friendly city for all faiths. I do not think my faith has ever been “tested” for being in Memphis though there is an encounter that I remember, and that I found shocking and rude.

At one of the large whole-sale stores, many years ago, I was greeted with the Muslim greeting of peace by someone in the line behind me and as a reflex response I turned around and returned the greeting. The gentleman introduced himself as an ex-serviceman who had served in Iraq and had now returned. I thanked him for his service. I was then asked if I was a Muslim. I said yes!

Then the gentleman said that he is now a missionary and he knows he is going to heaven and asked me if I knew where I was going after my death. I thought that was very rude and in the face. I politely responded that I had no written guaranty from the Almighty that I was going to heaven and that I had to earn heaven through my words and actions, but above all hope and pray for Divine Love and Mercy. Other than this incident, I have never found my faith to be tested by anything Memphis.

What gives me faith in Memphis? The caring people, my friends, and the Gospel in the air. Even those who face many challenges in life, including hunger, are very willing to share whatever little they have with others. An excellent example are the children at Bellevue Middle School and how successfully they have run the Kids Kan campaign to fight hunger for the last 21 years.



Many closed doors, but many open hearts

February 24, 2011 in Featured Question of the Week, How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Greg Diaz

Memphis has tested my faith in a very personal way. 

I came to Memphis on November 15, 1999, with my wife, 2 month-old son and 21-month-old daughter, with all the hope, dreams and desire to begin my first church.  It was a challenge to say the least, but it was one that we were prepared for. 

It was not difficult to share my faith, to walk the streets and share the gospel with the Latino men and women I came across daily; it was exciting to share my faith with them. What was difficult was seeing how many churches were not accepting or even open to just saying hello to someone who was in the trenches with them. So many wouldn’t take the time to take a second and just shake the hand of someone who was in the shoes that they had probably been in when they first began ministry. 

But, at the same time my faith grew because along the way I met teachers, mentors and people that I can this day truly call my friends.  I met men who weren’t selfish with their wisdom and knowledge, such as Dr. R Craig Strickland, who took the time to teach and mentor me for the sake of saving me the time and mistakes that he had made, because he saw potential in me. I met men who wanted to heal wounds and build bridges and become my brother as Dr. Stacy L. Spencer did so selflessly and with such grace and love. I met so many others here in Memphis like them who serve, build bridges, stand in the gap and are willing to risk it all for the sake of their faith, values and their people.

It has been my personal experiences that it is in those times of test that we also find hope and we grow in our faith.  If it had not been for all those closed doors then, I never would have met Dr. Strickland and Dr. Spencer.  It was Paul who wrote that all things work for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28), and it was also Paul who said that though we are persecuted and challenged from every side, pressed and crushed, we will never be abandoned or destroyed (2 Cor 4:7-11).


Love thy Memphis neighbors

February 23, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis? by Craig Strickland

How does Memphis test your faith?

One of the greatest tests of my faith in Memphis is demonstrating my love for God by loving the neighbors of our great city.  Jesus told us to love God and to also love our neighbor.  If we want to show the people of Memphis our love for God, we can start by going the extra mile for the people around us.  There are literally hundreds of opportunities for us to make a difference in Memphis each and every day.  Consider the number of faith communities and non-profits that are addressing the wellness needs of our city.  What are we doing to strengthen or make new commitments to these organizations and their causes?  We can also make a difference when we take initiative to personally reach out to people that are hurting or struggling.  These can be people who live in our immediate neighborhood or those who are simply eating at the same restaurant as us. Usually it takes just a few minutes to figure out a way to lift a burden off of someone.  The cost to us is sacrifice; the reward to us is unity and grace.

We will absolutely begin to realize why Christ expressed the importance of loving our neighbor when we get involved in meeting the needs of the fatherless, the penniless or the hopeless.  What if we decided to make new neighbors based on finding a need?  The challenge to love our neighbor is the challenge to do more than acknowledge problems. The solution for my greatest test of faith in Memphis is to do something. Taking care of the needs of others will make a radical difference in all our lives.

What gives you faith in Memphis?

Our city’s readiness for change is what gives me strong faith in Memphis.  Change is inevitable for all of us, which is why we have to be on alert for where changes are taking place.  This is why I wrote an entire chapter about people being ready for change in my little book “Rethinking Reason.”  Twenty five years ago we could not have imagined just how quickly technology would move, or what direction it would go.  Now we live in a world where information is shared instantly, social media has us more connected to more people, and our pace of living has us making decisions in seconds and not hours.  Change will continue to happen, which is why our city must continue to be ready for change.

One of the greatest parts of being the senior and founding pastor of Hope church has been the many changes we have made throughout our church’s 23-year history.  We see change as an important part of keeping up with where God is leading our church.  Whether it’s growing in diversity or staying continuously connected to the immediate needs that exist in our city, it is part of Hope’s DNA to move with change.  We have to continue to be ready for change as a city and prepared to act on that change when we are given the opportunity.


Good souls in need of focus

February 18, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Scott Morris

Memphis  tests my  faith  because  it is so hard for us to develop the will to work together on projects for  sustained periods of time. We are good about coming together to discuss the problem and can actually have  good ideas but we all too often cannot keep focused long enough to create the change needed to improve the situation we are addressing.

What gives me faith in Memphis is that there are so many good souls who care deeply about our city. People of faith, people of passion, people of genuine goodness who want to see Memphis be the city of good abode. Being with these folks makes me smile and want to keep working.


God gives us freedom to bless or curse

February 18, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Jay Earheart-Brown

What tests your faith in Memphis? What gives you faith in Memphis?

My faith is grounded in a God who created the world, called it good, and seeks to redeem and bless all who are a part of that creation. Living in Memphis, my faith is tested when I see so many areas of our city where people are struggling to survive, turning to destructive behavior, and denying the value and worth of all people. My faith is tested when I see leaders, whether in religion or business or political life, whose primary concern is themselves. On the other hand, the difficulties caused by poverty, addiction, violence, and all sorts of misery we humans inflict on ourselves and one another does not surprise me. As a Christian of the Reformed tradition, I have a healthy sense of our human sinfulness. For me, the destruction that we humans cause is a consequence of God’s gift of freedom to all of us, freedom to build or to tear down, bless or to curse.

More surprising to me are all the countless acts of courage and decency that are evident in my city. I have faith in Memphis because of the many organizations that are working every day to heal and care for all the residents of Memphis. I have faith in Memphis because of the dedicated teachers who teach my two sons every day in the Memphis City Schools, and because of all the church people who are putting their faith into action in feeding the hungry, repairing dilapidated housing, and working to overcome the racial divides that pull us apart. My faith in Memphis is strengthened by the students who come to Memphis Theological Seminary year by year, called by God to proclaim their faith and work for justice and mercy in the world. I have faith in Memphis because of leaders who genuinely care more about seeking the peace and well-being of our city than lining their own pockets. Whenever my faith is weak, whenever my pessimism about our human frailty is strong, God shows me someone engaged in living out their faith in the God who loves the whole world, and I set to work once more to make love evident in my own actions, and to demonstrate my faith in the God of love.


Divided neighborhoods, good neighbors

February 17, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Randolph Meade Walker

How does Memphis test my faith?

The Memphis metropolitan area operates in a far too exclusive collection of enclaves. Each constituency acts as if it is not part of the whole. The area is sitting on the threshold of greatness, but our energy and resources are expended unwisely on beating up each other. These enclaves are segmented along racial, class, partisan, and sectional boundaries. Hence, we are far too divided to be as attractive as God would have us to be.

From my faith tradition, a fragmented world view is an alien concept. Christians are instructed to love God holistically, which means with all of our mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37) We cannot confine our love of God to one day or one place. Wherever we are, and at all times, we are to demonstrate love for God. This the vertical dimension of Christian love.

Read the rest of this entry →


Prophetic and pragmatic leadership

February 17, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by L. LaSimba Gray, Jr.

What tests my faith in Memphis? Why gives me faith in Memphis?

I returned to Memphis in 1973 and confessed my calling to ministry in 1974. However, I began in prophetic ministry (speaking truth to power) in 1964 as a student activist at Lane College. My introduction to prophetic ministry began at the Greater Middle Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. E. W. Williamson and Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks.

These two men of God were always on the cutting edge of transformation for the City of Memphis. Rev. Williamson ran for the Memphis City School Board when it was not popular nor safe. He lost that race but won admiration and respect of many Memphians because of his charisma and courage. Then Dr. Hooks replaced Rev. Williamson as my pastor and the legacy of prophetic ministry continued to a higher level.

I witnessed Dr. Hooks run for public office on the “Freedom Ticket” along with attorney Russell Sugarman, attorney A. W. Willis and Rev. Roy Love. My dear Mother, Mrs. Corine Olivia Gray, would instruct her children on a daily basis to pray for pastor Hooks.

Read the rest of this entry →


Respect for religious minorities

February 17, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Joel Finkelstein

What tests my faith in Memphis? What gives me faith in Memphis?

What makes us strong in our faith? It can be personal and it can be social. Our faith can be strengthened by personal experiences we have, both good and bad that make us give extra attention to our relationship with G-d, be it the death of a parent, the birth of a child, or the loss of a job. Our faith can also be strengthened or challenged by our inner struggle with G-d which on one day can bring me to euphoric praises of His name, and on the next day, to a crisis of faith.

However, one’s faith is also effected by one’s surroundings. We are social creatures. We tend to flock toward the crowd. We tend to do that which others around us do. As Jews, we find ourselves as a minority in United States, where we boast of a mere 5-6 million Jews, and in Memphis we are in an even greater minority, perhaps less than 10,000. Being in a minority can challenge one’s faith. If to me, the most important thing in life is to study and observe the Torah (the bible and all its Jewish commentaries and laws), then at times I may seek approval from those around me. Do others seem to value this study and practice or do others think of it as odd or unimportant?

Many of our youth spend a year studying Torah in Israel. When everyone else is so keenly focused on which college to go to, what career path to follow, our tradition says, slow down, go to study, think about your commitment to our faith and  our people and our relationship to Israel. It’s out of step with those around us. It’s not reinforced in the media, in the crowds. There are more people cheering and going wild at the Tigers’ game than at a small Torah study hall in East Memphis. It is challenging to our faith to grow up in a place in which the street does not promote the values which we hold dear; observance of Shabbat, Kosher laws, and the study of Torah.

Read the rest of this entry →


Suffering and compassion in Memphis

February 17, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Mark Muesse

What tests my faith in Memphis? What gives me faith in Memphis?

A discussion of “faith” probably makes more sense for practitioners of the Abrahamic traditions than for Buddhists and others whose worldviews do not depend on belief. While faith is a principal way of understanding one’s participation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is not a central category for talking about Buddhism. Buddhism is not founded on faith. The Buddhist traditions do not ask anyone to accept creedal statements, scriptures, doctrines, or beliefs on faith. Rather, Buddhists are encouraged to discover the truths about the world and themselves by what can best be described as an empirical method. The Buddha himself insisted that those who would follow in his way should not accept what he taught on his authority but on the basis of their own experience. He told them:

Do not accept anything simply because it is said to be revelation;

Do not accept it merely because it is traditional;
Do not accept anything that is hearsay;
Do not accept anything because it comes from sacred texts;
Do not accept it only on the grounds of pure logic or because it seems rational;
Do not accept it because you agree with it after reflecting on it;
Do not accept it on the grounds that the teacher is competent or simply because he is regarded as “our teacher”;

Read the rest of this entry →


Southern and biblical hospitality

February 17, 2011 in How does Memphis test your Faith? What gives you faith in Memphis?, Question of the Week by Peter Gathje

What tests my faith in Memphis? What gives me faith in Memphis?

I find that Memphis offers the most challenging tests of my faith in the ways people and institutions fail to offer hospitality to our poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. This failure is not simply a failure of charity, but also of justice. The God of Moses, of the prophets, and of Jesus, hears the cry of the poor, but too often Memphis is deaf to this cry. I have seen this in the destruction of low-income housing in this city, replaced by upscale housing. I have seen this in the racist attitudes and actions of people who assert that Shelby County is not part of Memphis, whether the issue at hand is schools or taxes or parks or transportation. I have seen this in the mean-spirited anti-panhandling ordinances passed while neither the city nor the county offers free shelter to homeless persons, and the services that are offered are woefully inadequate for empowering people to get off the streets. I have seen this in the hateful comments celebrating the death of a 15 year old shot in the back in Memphis apparently during a robbery. I have seen this in the ways in which we have not welcomed immigrants, especially from countries south of the U.S. border. My faith is challenged because instead of the recognition that we are all in this together, that we are all created in the image of God, that God desires and works toward an inclusive and diverse community, there is the enduring fear, hatred, and oppression of others based upon differences of race, class, sexual orientation, and religion.

What strengthens my faith is that I see God active in the many people and organizations that express the desire and work of God for hospitality and the just inclusion of people within a diverse community. I see God active in this way in the many people who get up each day and do their best at jobs that keep our community viable:  sanitation workers, janitors, bus drivers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, teachers, and many more. I see God active in the poorest members of our community who daily carry on with grace and dignity in the face of crushing hardships, who struggle without much or any help for job loss, mental illness, addiction, physical illness and injuries. I see God active in the multitude of compassionate actions and works of advocacy that build toward God’s Beloved Community. There are hundreds of organizations doing this and they continue without much funding or fanfare, organizations such as  Workers Interfaith Network, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Church Health Center, Streets Ministries, Door of Hope, Bridges, Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Facing History and Ourselves, the Mid-South Food Bank, Memphis Center for Independent Living, (Yo! Memphis) not sure this is still operating, and Urban Farms Memphis.

These and so many others reflect a God’s desire for a community that is healthy, welcoming, inclusive of all. I deeply believe what Jesus taught, that God is present in the “least of these” and that the prophet Isaiah was right when he proclaimed, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darknessYour people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” When I see people and organizations in Memphis working in ways that reflect that prophetic vision of God’s desire and work, my faith is strengthened.