A global pandemic never factored into my imagination when I envisioned my 50th birthday.
Quarantine certainly changed my plans as the half-century mark of my life arrived but having my two adult sons with me is a greater gift than I could ever want.
I’ve been told that turning 50 is a milestone. I’m not really sure why it feels that way, but knowing I’ve reached the midway point of being highlighted on the Today show seems poignant.
Therefore, I want to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the last 50 years of life.
1. Never forget where you come from. When I took the job as chief executive officer of Good Faith Media, I must admit something peculiar. I felt like an imposter.
No matter the titles and responsibilities I’ve held throughout my career, I will always be that little “Indian Kid” from Eastern Oklahoma.
I do not share this to demonstrate a fake humility or seek sympathy. I share it from a standpoint of pride.
When I think of my life now, I think of my Indigenous ancestors walking through the snow from the homelands to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. I think of my brown relatives that were shamed for being who God created them to be.
At 50, I am reminded I am still that brown kid who was pretty good at hitting a baseball.
2. Never forget where you come from, but realize others come from somewhere too.
It’s vitally important to remember one’s roots, but we must never think our roots are greater than others. This notion revealed itself to me at an early age, while playing middle-school basketball (insert short joke here) with an African-American teammate.
Clarence and I did not live very far from one another, but our worlds were different. His parents worked late almost every night of the week, so my parents would take us to games together. Afterward, we would stop by Wendy’s for a postgame hamburger.
As I tore into my burger as soon it came through the window, Clarence always waited. Surprised, I asked why. He told me he wanted to split the burger with his younger brother at home. I had a younger brother at home, but I was not about to split my burger with him.
As my dad looked at me through the rearview mirror, it hit me. Clarence was sharing for a reason. That night, I realized the privileges of growing up in my home, but I also realized something else.
We all have a place we come from, places that shape our minds and lives. No matter where we come from, we can always learn lessons from others, especially lessons about kindness and generosity. Thanks, Clarence.
3. Find real-life role models to emulate.
Growing up as an avid baseball fan, Kirby Puckett, centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins, was my hero and role model. He played baseball like a kid on the sandlot, giving it everything he had and laughing all the time. He was a remarkable player. Unfortunately, after retirement, allegations of domestic violence emerged.
Because many public figures tend to fall over time, I began to switch my admiration to people I personally knew.
There is no greater person I have met than my grandfather. Herb was a bootlegger’s son, dropping out of school in the seventh grade to pick cotton and help with the family still.
As a young father, Herb decided his family would not suffer hunger and poverty as he experienced. He worked three jobs to provide for his family. Herb changed the course of my family trajectory more than any other. Find real-life heroes and emulate them.
4. Take Jesus seriously while leaving faith open for compromise.
For much of my younger days, I concluded that what a person believed was the most important part of being a Christian. In the context I was raised, I was right. However, as I grew older, I decided I no longer wanted to be a Christian defined by narrow and rigid beliefs. Instead, I wanted to be a Jesus-follower.
The older I get and the more I study, the more I lean on my faith, not in a systematic formula of beliefs, but in a man who became the word of God and dwelt among us.
The life, teachings and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth are central to my faith journey. The more I come to understand the man from Nazareth, the more I see his examples of radical love, inclusion and justice. As people of good faith, we would be wise to spend more time with Jesus and less time debating religious dogmas.
5. Love more, judge less.
We live in a world where judgmentalism is a central tenet of our belief systems. We have made it both an art and science. We revel in tearing down people with an enthusiasm more commonly found at sporting events.
We see people whom we have disagreements with as enemies who must be conquered and destroyed. Our obsession with judgmentalism dehumanizes people in order for us to feel better about ourselves.
As Jesus-followers, we must learn to reject judgmentalism in order to embrace love. Love is not blind, but love loves blindly. Love looks beyond the failures and sins of our humanity, empowering the potential for human growth and relationship.
Jesus offered the most important practice of faith: love God and love others. And, yes, those “others” include those whom we consider enemies.
6. Listen more, talk less.
This sounds hypocritical coming from a CEO of a media nonprofit and perhaps it is. However, I would argue that the most important moment in developing an ideology or opinion is to listen to wise and sincere voices.
Listening to people’s stories and ideas assisted me in forming my own worldview. From my family to church members, a vast amount of voices are telling important stories and sharing significant ideas.
We would be wise to shut our mouths more often and listen to the voices of others. We also need to shut out the loud noises causing chaos and spreading lies in order to hear the heartfelt realities of people’s lives. In those voices, we will hear a call for hope and a call for a genuine community.
7. Love and peace cannot exist apart from justice.
Through much of my faith journey, justice was neither taught nor promoted. Emphasis was placed on salvation and sin – sins that were emphasized by white male pastors, mind you.
The concept of justice was presented more like divine revenge toward another (most likely a person of color). In evangelical churches, the notion of social justice was never brought up.
Yet, the older I get, the more I see social justice being at the heart of the gospel. The good news does not start at death. The good news begins in the here and now, prompted and advocated by none other than Jesus himself.
Jesus’ gospel was a social gospel, emphasizing both the individual and the community. When one person faced injustice, the entire community was threatened. Salvation means justice today and the days to come.
8. Finally, live life with enthusiasm, excitement and joy.
It does not matter if you’re 20, 50 or 70 years old; never stop living without these three components in your life. Life is too short and goes by too fast to stop living at any point.
Live life like a child, enthusiastic about discovering something new. Remember the first time a ladybug crawled on your hand or the first time you kissed a significant other and let the enthusiasm of life flow through your veins.
Live life excited for tomorrow. Even if darkness looms, the potential for light always exists. The arc of the moral universe is always bending toward justice and light, so pull hard to bend the arc more and shine your light brightly. Your excitement fuels the changes we need to make and the differences we need.
Live life with joy. When I look back over the last 50 years, I remember a lot of times when disappointment and tears met me on life’s pathway. However, there were other moments when laughter and joy were around every corner. A life without joy and laughter is a reality, unfortunately. Because of this truth, we need to work hard to spread joy and laughter to others when they are absent.
As 50 comes and goes, I know more years lay ahead. If they are anything like the first 50, I welcome the future with enthusiasm, excitement and joy.
Thanks to all for being part of my life. I appreciate you all!
CEO of Good Faith Media.