Are We Running Out of Rights?

Lately, I have seen a lot of memes and comments on social media that suggest that there are not enough rights to go around. One of the ways that I have seen this is through the reaction of All Lives Matter when people proclaim Black Lives Matter. People post Blue Lives Matter, identifying the fact that police officers and emergency personnel are essential. People post Native Lives Matter, identifying the fact that Native American rights have been violated for centuries in the United States. And some have even posted White Lives Matter, completely missing the point of what is happening around our world today.

Have we run out of rights to give out to people?

Is there a supply and demand of rights that I’m not aware of?

Has the supply been depleted and now people are demanding, at a high cost, that rights only be distributed to certain people groups?

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I agree that Black Lives Matter, that Native Lives Matter, that Blue Lives Matter, and that All Lives Matter. I also agree that at this point in history, the movement Black Lives Matter is calling attention to the systemic racism that has oppressed black people throughout the world for centuries. I love the picture with a little girl in pigtails and sunglasses holding a poster that proclaims, “We said, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We never said, ‘Only Black Lives Matter.’ We know All Lives Matter. We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for black lives are in danger.” At a time when it seems that violence against people of color has increased, we all need to agree that all lives matter but that right now, we need to pay attention to the lives that are in danger.

Photo by Garry McGlinchy

I cannot begin to explain the plight of people of color throughout the centuries in our country as a white woman of privilege. We need brave people of color to tell their own stories. One thing that we can do is listen to the stories of those who have been mistreated and oppressed. The other thing we can do is to say something or do something when we see someone being mistreated or oppressed. Remember that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Likewise, I cannot excuse the way that people in power have mistreated the lower classes, treating them like chattel instead of people. I think we can all agree that there are many social evils that we need to address in our world today: racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ageism. But focusing on the rights of one group does not mean that another group of people loses their rights. Black Lives Matter does not mean that White Lives don’t matter or that Blue Lives don’t matter or that All Lives don’t matter.

We haven’t run out of rights.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In my college logic class, I learned a long list of logical fallacies. Logical fallacies present invalid or faulty arguments. They include constructions such as circular reasoning, red herrings, attacking the man (ad hominem or mudslinging), and either/or. Either/or fallacies suggest that there are only two possible outcomes in an argument. Currently, in the United States, either/or fallacies are the root of many of our problems. When we look at politics, we assume that we can only be Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. When we look at abortion, we assume that we can only be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, no rights for the unborn or no rights for women. When we look at racial conflict, some of us assume that we can only support Black Lives or Blue Lives, Black Lives or White Lives.

There are more than two outcomes to any argument. These issues are more complex than this.

And we still haven’t run out of rights. There are plenty of rights for all people. Giving rights to one group doesn’t negate the rights of another.

In Galatians 3, Paul dismantles the early Church’s reliance on the Law. He explains that the Law acted as a guide for the people of God before Christ died for the sins of all people and before He was resurrected, eternally triumphing over sin and death. Paul says that the Law “protected us until we could be made right with God through faith” (v. 24 NLT). However, once Christ was resurrected, a new way was provided for people who seek God. Paul proclaims, “Now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian” (v. 25 NLT). This is good news for all people!

He continues by explaining that through faith in Christ Jesus, we are all children of God. This means that “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female” because we are all one in Christ Jesus (v. 26-28 NLT). We are ONE! We are UNITED!

There are enough rights to go around. We haven’t run out of rights for those who have been mistreated for the color of their skin. We haven’t run out of rights for those who have lost opportunities because of their gender. We haven’t run out of rights for those who haven’t received medical attention because of their social class. We haven’t run out of rights for those who were born outside of the United States. And we haven’t run out of rights for those who have been born into privilege, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual identity, their education, their social class, their religion, their nationality, or their political party.

There is not a rights shortage in the world today.

Let’s reconsider the way that we react to what we see today. Let’s reconsider our rhetoric when we feel the need to defend our position. Let’s reconsider the ways that we show love for all people. Remember that in Christ Jesus, we are all made equal.

And let’s echo the words of Daniel in his prayer in Daniel 9, seeking repentance for the whole world:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the pastors and priests, who spoke in your name to our leaders, our representatives and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of the United States and the inhabitants of the entire world, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our leaders, our representatives and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 The entire world has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

15 “Now, Lord our God[…], we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from […] your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made our world and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Daniel 9:5-19 New Living Translation. Changes made by Beccy McGlinchy are in italics.

Be Doers of the Word: An Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s Christian Ethics

Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass depicts religion and Christianity as two separate realities in the world in which he was living.  Religion is characterized by the slave masters who Douglass encounters throughout his early life as a slave.  This religion is hypocritical, cruel, and dehumanizing. In contrast, for Douglass, Christianity must follow a specific set of principles that are governed by an individual’s sense of ethics.  True Christian ethics require someone to be not just a listener of the Word but, more importantly, a doer of the Word as James encourages in James 1:25.  Douglass’s Christianity is based on the theology that individuals propagate evil but are also capable of overcoming evil with the determination given by God, which most slaves described as Providence. Therefore, Douglass’s view of Christianity challenges the hypocritical and cruel religion that was present in antebellum South in the 19th century and presents a Christianity that is life giving not just for slaves but for the whole of society. 

The religion of antebellum South was based on a patriarchy of control and fear.  This is present in the various “religious” slave masters that Frederick Douglass encounters in his early life.  For example, Douglass explains that “being the slave of a religious master [is] the greatest calamity that could befall [him]” (371).  Wohlport asserts that not only were these slave owners evil in their own right, they also believed that they had equal status to God.  Of Covey, Wohlport explains that due to Covey’s acts of deception toward Douglass as well as seeming to be omnipresent, Covey believes that he is like God and therefore has the right to treat the slaves that he is attempting to break however he deems necessary to get them under his control (184).  Douglass takes it further when he explains that “The religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes” (371).  He uses the metaphor of “a dark shelter” (371) to further this description, highlighting the fact that men like Covey and Auld hid under their religion and used it as an excuse for their “barbarity” and “hateful frauds” (371).  The religion of men like Covey and Auld is quite different from the Providence that Douglass and other slaves were seeking in the midst of their greatest despair.

Besides controlling and tormenting their slaves, the religious patriarchs of antebellum South kept their wives in fear as well.  One of the most pivotal moments of Douglass’s narrative is when Sophia Auld begins to treat him like a slave and no longer  like a human being.  This change in her angelic disposition toward Douglass occurred when her husband discovered that she was teaching Douglass to read.  Of this discovery Auld “forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct [him] further” (351) and Mr. Auld used harsh language such as “nigger” to dehumanize Douglass so that Mrs. Auld no longer saw him as a human being but simply as property to be managed and controlled.  No longer was she disturbed by his status as a slave and no longer did she look on him with a “cheerful eye” or “angelic face” (351).  Rather, because of the influence of her husband and his religion, Mrs. Auld became a type of demon to Douglass since she denied him his humanity through ending his education.

In contrast to men like Covey and Auld, Douglass describes the difference between slave owners who are religious and those who have no sense of religion.  He concludes that those who have no religion are more charitable to their slaves.  Mr. Freeland is an example of such a slave master who “seemed to possess some regard for honor, some reverence for justice, and some respect for humanity” (371).  It is while Douglass is in the possession of Freeland that he is able to start the Sabbath school with other slaves who are interested in developing their understanding of the Bible and morality.  Freeland’s religion seems to be rooted in more Christian values, such as justice, mercy, and compassion, even though as far as Douglass was concerned, Freeland had no religion.  Even though, according to Douglass, Freeland has no formal religion, he lived up to the words of the prophet Micah who wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Holy Bible, Micah 6:8).  In the culture that supported and defended slavery through references to scripture, it is clear that the religion of antebellum South ignored passages that commanded love for neighbor and mercy toward others.  For Douglass, it seemed as if only those men and women without the formal religion of the South maintained these very human qualities.  

Instead of reflecting the religion of the South, Douglass’s view of Christianity is much deeper than just paying lip service to God.  Ferguson explains that for many slaves, they needed to separate their understanding of Southern religion with their perspective of Providence.  She asserts, “Making this theological distinction helps protect them from the emotional damage that could be caused by a religion compromised by two contradictory moral strains” (307).  There were clearly two contradictory moral strains – on the one hand, the religion of the South defended the inerrancy of the Gospel, but on the other hand it defended the institution of slavery.  The religion of the South used specific scriptures to support slavery and to manipulate slaves into believing that they needed to comply with their owners because God had ordained it to be so.  Gibson explains that slave owners and ministers used primarily Luke 12:47 and Ephesians 6:5 to justify slavery as well as the barbarity of slavery, passages that show that slave owners should beat their slaves if they are disobedient and that strict obedience to slavemasters is a Christian duty that God requires of slaves (Gibson 593).  This perspective does not take into account the whole of the Gospel message of love for God and love for others, a clear message throughout the Bible.  For the slaves, they saw Providence as the very embodiment of love and so that is why they do “not confuse their all-encompassing Providence with the schizophrenic Christian God” (Ferguson 307).  As Douglass uncovers in his narrative, true religion is not just about following a certain list of proof texts of the Bible, like slave owners tended to do to justify their cruel acts toward people.  True religion is about embodying the nature of God and being a reflection of the nature of God in the world through action.  

Instead of focusing on the religious tenets of the Christianity of antebellum South, Frederick Douglass sees something much more powerful in his understanding of Christianity.  He applies this understanding to his life and therefore is a doer of the Word and not just a listener of the Word.  Wohlport asserts that Douglass learns that he must work outside of the institution of Southern Christianity in order to gain his freedom (184).  This means that he needs to find the determination to gain his freedom within himself and within his understanding of Providence.  Douglass explains in the appendix to his narrative that “It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify” (391).  He will not find a sympathetic ear within the Church of the South.  He will not find a good Christian brother or sister in the South to help him pay for his freedom.  Not even Master Hugh, who at one point demonstrated true compassion for Douglass after he was beaten by several men in a shipyard (379), was willing to let Douglass save money for his freedom.  Douglass understands that he cannot rely on anyone for his freedom except for himself.  Once he has this freedom, then he will be able to speak this message of self-determination that is provided by Providence to those who can actual do something to stop the evils of slavery:  white Northerners who do not have the same views of Christianity as those present in the South.  

Douglass’s view of Christianity represents a combination of a clear understanding of Providence and self-determination through action.  Several times in his narrative, Douglass calls out to Providence for rescue and for understanding.  When describing the experience of the Sabbath school that he led while in the possession of Mr. Freeland, he reflects on the status of the “precious souls” of his students who he was confident at the writing of his narrative were still “shut up in the prison-house of slavery” (373).  This causes him to reflect on several important questions for one who is struggling to comprehend an all-loving God in the midst of Southern Christianity.  He asks, “‘Does a righteous God govern the universe? And for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor?’” (373).  He wants God to strike down the inhuman slave owners, and rightfully so.  However, he understands that God works within the actions of believers.  He comes to recognize that it is in his power to stand up against his oppressors and to gain his freedom for himself and for others.  This occurs when he stands up against Covey and reflects that “He only can understand the deep satisfaction which I experienced, who has himself repelled by force the bloody arm of slavery” (369).  For Douglass, true Bible following Christianity is both a system of beliefs but also a system of ethics which require action on the part of the believer. 

This system of ethics within the institution of Christianity can be life giving to the entire world.  It is this system of ethics which drove Douglass to gain his own freedom and to begin speaking publicly about the evils of slavery so that those with power within the various institutions in the United States could do something to stop the oppression and brutality against slaves.  It is this system of ethics that calls people today to live not only with a clear understanding of Providence but also a willingness to act.  Even though slavery no longer exists as a systemic evil in the United States today there are other evils present in society which need the actions of people with a clear sense of purpose and a desire to act justly and to love mercy so that those who are oppressed today will feel the same “glorious resurrection” (369) that Douglass describes in his narrative.  As Gibson concludes, “True Christianity reveals its actuality through the right actions of Christians, and in the acts of people their reality is rendered” (599).  This is the Christianity that Douglass loved and that the world needs today.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick.  “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”  The Norton Anthology African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith.  Norton, 2014, pp. 330-393. 

Ferguson, Sally Ann H. “Christian Violence and the Slave Narrative.” American Literature, no. 2, 1996, pp. 297-320. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/2928299.

Gibson, Donald B. “Christianity and Individualism: (Re-)Creation and Reality in Frederick Douglass’s Representation of Self.” African American Review, no. 4, 1992, pp. 591-599. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.3041873&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Holy Bible.  New International Version, Zondervan, 2011.

Wohlpart, A. James. “Privatized Sentiment and the Institution of Christianity: Douglass’s Ethical Stance in the ‘Narrative.'(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass).” ATQ:  19th Century American Culture and Literature, no. 3, 1995, pp. 181-195. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.18022566&site=eds-live&scope=site.

If you are interested in reading The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave go to the link from Project Gutenberg below for a free, digital copy.

He Shouts in a Whisper

We are living in a time with a lot of noise and distraction. Since January of this year, the news has been filled with chaotic information from the impeachment hearings of the U.S. president to the increase of positive cases of COVID-19 and now to cities that are filled with signs of revolution and rebellion as people are standing up against police brutality and systemic racism. It’s difficult to know what information is true because all news outlets are biased in their own political leanings. And if you are scrolling through any social media these days, you will more than likely find people you follow spouting out information that may be true or false. Facebook is filled with clickbait and memes, yelling out against the far right and the far left. And much of the information is filled with emotions of distrust, anger, frustration, fear, and self-righteousness.

In my own personal life, my days have been filled with chaos all its own. I attempt each day to do something meaningful, whether that be writing something of worth, reading something inspirational, supporting my husband’s ministry to our church community, or walking alongside of my adult son as he tries to learn to be independent. I try to reach out to my family members who are scattered throughout the United States, struggling with their own feelings about the pandemic and now the riots and looting happening in their hometowns. And in the midst of the world’s chaos, as a family we have a chaos of our own as my step-dad needed triple bypass surgery almost a month ago and has experienced complications in his recovery for the last few weeks. My chaos includes deciding when the best time will be to travel across the country to be with my mom as she navigates these new waters with my step-dad as he heals. Questions surround me about my safety in traveling because of the pandemic, the demonstrations, and my son’s lack of independence. The waters of chaos are surrounding me as I’m sure they are surrounding many of you today.

Photo by Callum Skelton on Unsplash

In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is living in a world of chaos. He has just been threatened by Ahab and Jezebel who are bent on revenge. He is hiding, afraid that he will be slaughtered by a vicious king and an evil queen. He cries out to God, “‘I have had enough, Lord […] Take my life'” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have made this same cry to God: Lord, I can’t handle anymore. Lord, come back today. Take my life.

In the middle of Elijah’s cry, God hears and sends an angel to minister to Elijah. Elijah eats and rests. Then, he travels for forty days and forty nights, eventually reaching the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:6-9). He is tired, he is beaten down, he is afraid, he is drowning in the waters of chaos.

Then God asks Elijah what he wants. God asks Elijah why he is there. Elijah proclaims: “‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too'” (1 Kings 19:10 NIV). Have you felt that way lately? Have you felt alone? Have you felt like you are the only one who is righteous? Have you felt afraid for your life?

In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still. We are called to listen.

Sometimes we imagine that God will yell from the heavens, “Stop it!” In fact, yesterday, I saw several cartoons and memes that suggested that God is trying to get our attention in all of our chaos through shouting at us. However, God does not shout at us. He whispers into the chaos so that we will be still. So that we will listen.

In 1 Kings 19, we are reminded that God does not shout. God does not return disorder with disorder. God speaks in the whisper.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV

God speaks in the whisper so that we will be still. So that we will be silent. So that we will listen.

We are reminded throughout scripture that God creates order out of disorder. At the beginning, “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2 NIV). It is into the chaos that God spoke creation into being, establishing order.

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

When God saw “how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth,” he reset creation, allowing the waters of chaos to overwhelm the earth so that once again He could create order (Genesis 6:5 NIV).

And when the time was right, he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to whisper into the waters of chaos. Christ, the Prince of Peace. Christ, who did not fight back. Christ who “committed no sin,” who “did not retaliate,” who “made no threats” (1 Peter 2:22-23 NIV).

In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still. We are called to listen. We are called to be like Jesus.

I do not believe that Christians should do nothing. I do not believe that Christians should allow chaos to continue through unjust laws, through oppression, through subjugation, through injustice. I believe that God calls us to action.

However, I also believe that before we act, we need to be still, we need to listen, and we need to be like Jesus.

God has called you out of the chaos through a whisper. Listen to His whisper today. Be still as you listen. Then, act out of the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ in your life “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV).

A Better Way: A Look at Ras the Exhorter/Destroyer in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

In Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, the narrator seeks to reconcile the dying words of his grandfather with navigating his own reality and identity. His grandfather confesses that he had “been a traitor all [his] born days, a spy in the enemy’s country” (16). This is not the reality that he wants for his descendants, and so he exhorts his family to “overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction” (16). The words of his grandfather haunt the narrator throughout his journey toward identity as well as his discovery of the true intentions of the Brotherhood. To some extent, the words of the narrator’s grandfather ring true in the words and actions of Ras the Exhorter/Destroyer.  However, like the cynical, dying words of his grandfather, the narrator is unwilling to accept Ras’s words and deeds as the only way for uplifting the black race. 

Even though it seems as if Ras’s methods in Harlem are not in any way rational, he represents the voice of reason for both Clifton and the narrator who have been manipulated to believe that the Brotherhood has their best interests at heart. He is tired of seeing other black men get manipulated by organizations like the Brotherhood and affirms Tod Clifton’s potential to be a great leader.  He says to Clifton, “Recognize you’self inside and you wan the kings among men!” (373), identifying the fact that Clifton is more than just a pawn to be used by the Brotherhood but that he could be just as powerful and influential as previous black leaders like Marcus Garvey. He also uses reason against Clifton and the narrator to show the irrationality of the three men fighting in the street against one another.  He asks, “‘Is this sanity?  Standing here in three shades of blackness! Three black men fighting in the street because of the white enslaver? Is that sanity? Is that consciousness, scientific understahnding?’” (372). This demonstrates the irrationality of the Brotherhood that is pitting black men against one another to further their cause, attempting to show the narrator that his unity with the Brotherhood will not end with the uplift of the race. 

from Amazon.com

Instead of overcoming them with yeses and destroying them with complicity, Ras the Destroyer seeks action that represents what the narrator seems to want throughout the novel.  The narrator recognizes that words do not mean much if they are not followed with action. As the Exhorter, Ras is satisfied to move the people to his side and to undermine the Brotherhood.  However, after Clifton’s funeral, Ras proclaims that words are futile if they are not followed by action, and so he calls the people to action when he announces, “It is time for Ras the Exhorter become Ras the Destroyer!” (485). Even though the narrator wants change to occur peacefully throughout the novel, through science, reason, and organizing, Ras’s transformation to the Destroyer causes the narrator to recognize that action is what is needed, even if it means complete destruction of Harlem in the process. 

Despite the narrator’s agreement with the need for action, Ras the Destroyer’s methods include burning tenement buildings, shooting white police officers, and hanging white mannequins through the streets of Harlem.  At the end of the novel, Ras does not represent the voice of reason or the path to identity for the narrator.  Instead, he is a voice that needs to be silenced which occurs when the narrator throws the spear at Ras and it rips “through both cheeks” and locks his jaws shut (560). This is not the world that the narrator wants either, one of violence, bloodshed, and destruction.  Instead, the narrator seems to be looking for some sense of compromise between scientific methods of the Brotherhood and action, like Ras, that is rooted in the vision of unity and true brotherhood instead of complicity, manipulation, and violence.

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage International, 1995.

If you would like to read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, go the link below to find a free, digital copy.

We Have to Join Hands

Today, I am writing to figure out what I think, what I feel, and what I believe. My favorite author, Flannery O’Connor wrote in a 1948 letter,

I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. by Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988, p. 5.

Today, I’m trying to discover what I know about the violence that has erupted around our nation. Less than a week ago, George Floyd died as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Other police officers stood by while Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck with his hands in his pockets, according to photographs of the incident. Chauvin and three other officers were fired from the police department, and Chauvin was charged with manslaughter on Friday, May 29th. As a reaction to the unnecessary death of Floyd, protests have erupted throughout the nation, many of them starting peacefully but ending violently.

What I know is that businesses have been destroyed, goods have been stolen, and lives have been lost. The news has been showing footage this morning from all over the nation of small businesses destroyed and fire damage throughout large cities in our country. My Facebook feed was filled this morning with posts from my family and friends in Long Beach and Lakewood, CA.

“The looting has hit our town. It’s here.”

“They’re here. Our city is getting rioted as I type.”

“Looters at the Long Beach Town Center.”

“Family and friends – things did get close last night. It was pretty loud, but we remain safe.”

What I don’t know is who is responsible for the violence that has been sparked throughout the nation. As I spoke to my mother yesterday in Colorado, she told me that my brother in Minnesota said that the Klan is in Minnesota. Sadly, the Klan has been present throughout our nation for over a hundred years. What my brother meant is that the Klan has made itself visible. They’re not hiding. Just like they didn’t hide in 2017 when the Unite the Right demonstration hit Charlottesville, VA.

People are getting wise to the fact that the violence and property damage has been sparked by others infiltrating peaceful protests. These others are reportedly from the alt-right and the alt-left. Some have been hired as demonstrators by organizations like Crowds on Demand (check it out; people really get hired to participate in rallies and protests). This isn’t new. This has been going on for decades. My mother just told me yesterday that a distant family member used to travel the country during the Civil Rights movement, inciting violence in the peaceful protests.

In a recent article from Psychology Today, Dr. Joseph Pierre stated:

As we react and comment on the public response to the murder of George Floyd, we should take care to avoid lumping rioting and rioters and looting and looters together with protest and protesters, as if they’re necessarily the same thing or the same people. Although it has been argued that non-violent protesting, rioting, and even looting are points on a continuum of political revolt, often aimless violence and looting represents the opportunistic exploitation of chaos and lawlessness. New information from around the country suggests that some of the most unruly behavior might be perpetrated by those with their own agendas, distinct from the protesters.

Pierre, Joseph M. “The Psychology of Rioting: The Language of the Unheard.” Psychology Today, 30 May 2020. Electronically accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psych-unseen/202005/the-psychology-rioting-the-language-the-unheard.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a need in our nation for a hard look at the racism that has infected our nation since before its inception. Many do not know, but in the original version of the Declaration of Independence, one of Jefferson’s grievances was against slavery. He wrote,

he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. 

“Jefferson’s ‘Original Rough Draft’ of the Declaration of Independence.” From the Library of Congress, found at https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/declara/ruffdrft.html.

It is possible that our nation may have started with a clear stance against slavery; however, Jefferson himself acknowledged years after the Declaration was signed that the words were

“struck out in complaisance to South Carolina & Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves”

Kelley, Peter. “Documents that Changed the World: The Declaration of Independence’s deleted passage on slavery, 1776.” University of Washington. Electronically accessed at https://www.washington.edu/news/2016/02/25/documents-that-changed-the-world-the-declaration-of-independences-deleted-passage-on-slavery-1776/.

So, here we are over one hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and we are still trying to put bandages on gaping wounds of race relations in our nation.

In a lesser known speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America,” he speaks about the psychology of looting and rioting in America. Recently, I have seen memes that have addressed Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, claiming that he did not support violence. These memes also suggest that the Civil Rights movement was successful. King discredits these assumptions in several ways in his speech, given at Stanford University in 1967.

Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Dr. King’s words are still relevant today, over fifty years after he gave this condemning speech. Many of us may think that because so many years have passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, and so many years have passed since the end of Jim Crow, and so many years have passed since the Civil Rights Act that racism is dead in America. However, King addresses the passage of time as well. He asserts

We’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I’ve heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.

Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Here we are today, preparing for another night of looting, rioting, and protests that will end with more property damage, more goods stolen, and potentially more lives lost. Here we are today, with no real words of unity or hope from our current president. Here we are today, wondering when things will get back to normal, since we are still dealing with social distancing and COVID-19. Here we are today, hopefully coming together to show love and understanding toward others rather than attacking those who are demonstrating peacefully.

And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites try to tell people of color how to protest. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites don’t understand why these protests even started. And we still have an important lesson to learn while some whites have misquoted and misrepresented Dr. King. I’ll let him speak for me because his words are much better than mine:

It is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don’t realize this. The racists still don’t realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an amalgam of black and white.

King, Martin Luther. “The Other America.” Electronically accessed at https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm.

Let’s stop trying to put a bandage on this gaping wound. Let’s start talking and reaching out. Let’s understand that in order to move forward, we have to join hands.

A Discussion of “Two-Ness” in The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Dubois

W.E.B. DuBois builds his claim about the two-ness of black men and women through his book The Souls of the Black Folk. This is not a central focus of his book until “Chapter Ten: Of the Faith of the Fathers” in which he spells out his claim that “From the double life every American Negro must live, as a Negro and as an American” (731).  This double life is the central focus of the remaining chapters of his book in which he highlights the way that the double life affects black people’s views of personal faith, the influence of this double life on the next generation, and the tragic story of men like John who struggle against this double life.  

DuBois asserts the fact that this double life influences the way in which black people saw their own personal faith.  He explains that there are two different ways that people respond to religion due to this twoness.  He writes that “the danger of the one lies in anarchy, that of the other in hypocrisy” (731).  He explains further that this may cause people to sense their lack of power in regard to the world around them and so they become “bitter and vindictive” (731). He then uses a series of contrasts explaining that “his religion, instead of a worship, is a complaint and a curse, a wail rather than a hope, a sneer rather than a faith” (731).  Because black people were unable to express their sorrows and struggles openly in society, this caused some to lash out not at other people but at their own sense of God and faith.

In “Of the Passing of the First-Born,” DuBois presents his personal experience with the loss of his son, Burghardt, who died at only eighteen months old after a ten day illness. In this chapter, he highlights his hopes that the next generation will not live under the Veil that his own generation had experienced.  He explains that “the world loved him” and “he knew no color-line…the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun” (735).  Even though Burghardt’s death was because “no white physicians were willing to treat a black child” (“DuBois, Burghardt”), DuBois reflects on his son’s passing with some sense of consolation since his son did not have to experience the double life that other black children would more than likely have to experience in their lives.  He reflects that “No bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart til it die a living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood” (736).  This memory of his son’s birth, illness, and death presents the tragedy that the next generation will also experience life behind the Veil and a double life.

The final, and most tragic example, of the double life of black people is DuBois’s description of John who struggles against his desire to be educated and his desire to be happy. Unfortunately for John, once he is educated, he is able to see the injustices of the world, especially those that are present in his hometown.  He avoids going home for several years because he does not want to face the racism that is present at home.  When he finally goes home, his main concern is for helping his people, but all of his efforts are futile because of the influence of whites like the Judge who are unwilling to allow men like John to educate black people outside of teaching them “to be faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were” (749).  The most tragic part of John’s story is not when he is facing his death after killing the white John from his hometown but when he is in the theater in New York, reflecting on his own desires and his own struggle with this double life of being black at this time.  DuBois describes “a deep longing” that “swelled in all his heart to rise with that clear music out of the dirt and dust of that low life that held him prisoned and befouled” (746).  Even before returning home, John knew that his efforts at rising above his status as a black man were futile. 

DuBois, W.E.B.  “The Souls of Black Folk.”  The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith.  Norton, 2014, pp. 687-760. 

“DuBois, Burghardt.”  Duboisopedia.  Electronically accessed at http://scua.library.umass.edu/duboisopedia/doku.php?id=about:du_bois_burghardt, 7 March 2018. 

If you are interested in reading The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Dubois, go to the link below from Project Gutenberg.

History of Prejudice: A Reflection on A Red Record by Ida B. Wells

One of the most damaging lies against the black man is the suggestion that he is a monster, capable of immoral acts against women, particularly white women. From emancipation in 1865 until today, there has been a targeted attack against the reputation of black men. This attack has infiltrated the media and the consciousness of America to such an extent that white women throughout the nation may still feel fear when coming into contact with a black man, especially when she is alone. White women have been told by their mothers and their grandmothers that a black man is not to be trusted because he is capable of unspeakable horrors against her virtue and womanhood. This lie is one that Ida B. Wells-Barnett addresses in her book A Red Record.  

In A Red Record, Wells-Barnett asserts that since Emancipation there has been a direct attack on the reputation of black men which has led to widespread lynching throughout the South. She begins by explaining that white slave owners would not have killed their slaves or looked aside if their slaves were killed by someone else because this would cause “a loss of several hundred dollars” (670). She continues by arguing that after emancipation the white man “had no right to scourge the emancipated Negro” (670) and so the white man has devised the lie that black men are not to be trusted in the eyes of all civilized society. She explains that there “have been three distinct eras of Southern barbarism” with three unique excuses for the mistreatment of blacks after Emancipation. First, it was believed that former slaves were planning race riots throughout the South, and so in order to keep order, white men were justified in slaughtering black people (671). The second excuse was due to the fear that black men may actually gain a political voice after they were given the right to vote when the 15th Amendment was enacted in 1870. White Southerners, primarily “the Ku Klux Klan, the Regulators, and the lawless mobs” (671) terrified blacks from voting through countless massacres. Finally, Wells-Barnett addresses the third excuse for the mistreatment of blacks after Emancipation which is the lie that black men are assaulting white women.

from: https://www.amazon.com/Red-Record-Tabulated-Statistics-Lynching/dp/1508472084

As a way to address this lie, Wells-Barnett presents the true story of the way in which black men have interacted with white women throughout their history up to the time of her publication of A Red Record. She explains first that it has been assumed that “a voluntary alliance” (673) between a white woman and a black man is impossible; therefore, “an alliance is proof of force” (673). She further explains that in some cases where a black man was lynched for raping a white woman that it was “known at the time of lynching…and proven after the victim’s death that the relationship…was voluntary and clandestine” (673). Unfortunately, Wells-Barnett points out, these indisputable facts did not matter in the eyes of the law, and there was no justice for white men killing black men unjustly. Next, Wells-Barnett revises the view of black men by reminding her readers that former slaves often protected their master’s wives and daughters at times when their masters were not present to do so themselves. She asserts, “While the master was fighting to forge the fetters upon the slave, he left his wife and children with no protection save the Negroes themselves” (673). She provides this information to show that at one point in history, white men trusted that their wives and daughters would be safe in the care of their black slaves. 

Wells-Barnett is fair in her presentation of the facts that show that the black man has been misrepresented at the time of Reconstruction. She presents information that shows that there have been more black men killed unjustly than white men who have been “tried, convicted, and executed” for unjustly killing black men (671). She also concedes to the fact that not all of the people who have been “hanged, shot and burned alive…were innocent of the charges made against them” (676). She does not suggest that black people should not be held accountable for the crimes they commit, but rather that the punishment should be the same for all classes of citizens (676). Despite Wells-Barnett’s fair assessment of the facts, it is clear that she is biased in her point of view due to the fact that she is a member of the aggrieved class and had been personally threatened because of her published views of the injustices against black people. However, despite this bias, she presents a message that is both relevant and accurate. She addresses her audience with respect but also highlights their responsibility in the matter – that they need to disseminate the information she has published, that they need to condemn any organization that supports or ignores lynching, and that they need protect the voting rights of all citizens. Her remedy is appropriate and manageable for her audience to accomplish and does not put undue weight on any one class of people but suggests a respect for the law as well as a responsibility for those who are condoning lynchings by staying silent about any injustice against “all victims” who are being put “to death without form of law” (675).  In this regard, Wells-Barnett presents a logical and well-supported argument and provides a remedy for the problem in American society post-Emancipation.

It is clear that society’s current prejudices are rooted in history.  Feelings of fear and anxiety toward black men is not something that historically has been isolated to the South.  These feelings of mistrust spread across the nation and have infiltrated the consciousness of many since Emancipation.  Wells-Barnett’s expose´ of lynchings presents the history of why some white women today do not trust black men and why this prejudice needs to be stopped today.  Little girls do not conjure up feelings of anxiety or fear toward anyone unless they have been told that they are not to trust people of certain backgrounds.  Prejudice is taught and is usually passed down from one generation to the next, and based on A Red Record by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, prejudice toward black men is rooted in history that goes back as far as the late 19th century.

Works Cited

Wells-Barnett, Ida B.  “A Red Record.”  The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith.  Norton, 2014, pp. 670-679.

If you are interested in reading A Red Record, you can find a free copy at the link below from Project Gutenberg.

Casual Racism: A Poison that Eats at Our Hearts

A few years ago, I took a class called Black Literary Tradition that focused on over two hundred years of literature from black writers in America and around the world. This class completely changed my outlook on the black experience in the United States and helped me to better understand my casual racism. Casual or covert racism is something that people often experience in societies that have been plagued by overt racism or systemic racism. Casual or covert racism can rise to the surface in some of the most unexpected circumstances. Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Capetown, reflects on his own unexpected, casual racism toward the end of his book, No Future Without Forgiveness. He writes:

On my first visit to Nigeria, I happened to travel to northern Nigeria in a plane piloted by Nigerians. Coming from South Africa where blacks did not do such work, I really grew inches with pride in black achievement. The plane took off smoothly. Then we hit turbulence. At one moment we were at one altitude and the next we had left our stomachs up there as the plane shuddered and dropped. I was shocked at what I discovered – I found I was saying to myself, “I really am bothered that there’s no white man in the cockpit. Can these blacks manage to navigate us out of this horrible experience?” It was all involuntary and spontaneous. I would never have believed that I had in fact been so radically brainwashed. I would have denied it vigorously because I prided myself on being an exponent of black consciousness, but in a crisis something deeper had emerged: I had accepted a white definition of existence, that whites were somehow superior to and more competent than blacks. Of course those black pilots were able to land the plane quite competently.

Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Doubleday, 1999, p. 252.

Casual or covert racism has infected out entire society. Most whites would deny that they are racist, that they have black friends, that they see all people as equal. However, in some of the most unexpected circumstances, racism tends to rise to the surface. Part of the reason that has happened in America is because there has yet to be reconciliation for the years of slavery and systemic racism against blacks for over two hundred years. Tutu also writes about this issue end the conclusion of his book:

If we are going to move on and build a new kind of world community there must be a way in which we can deal with a sordid past. The most effective way would be for the perpetrators or their descendants to acknowledge the awfulness of what happened and the descendants of the victims to respond by granting forgiveness, providing something can be done, even symbolically, to compensate for the anguish experienced, whose consequences are still being lived through today. It may be, for instance, that race relations in the United States will not improve significantly until Native Americans and African Americans get the opportunity to tell their stories and reveal the pain that sits in the pit of their stomachs as a baneful legacy of dispossession and slavery.

Tutu, pp. 278-279.

As Americans, we don’t like to admit that there is still a problem with race relations. We like to imagine that it’s all behind us. But it’s not. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been revealed through the media that two more black men have been senselessly killed, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minnesota. The backstory does not matter. The fact remains that they died unnecessarily. We have a very real problem. We need to change the narrative. And it starts with each of us.

Today, I’m fairly angry at a few of my brothers and sisters who don’t seem to get it. They argue that people should have the right to protest mask wearing and social distancing regulations in their state, but they don’t seem to understand Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the nation. White privilege has poisoned some of our minds to such an extent that we don’t try to understand what it looks like to experience oppression and injustice decades after Jim Crow has ended. We misunderstand when riots break out and expect that any demonstration of blacks is going to end in violence.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

My frustration is not with nonbelievers, but with people who claim to live out the Gospel message in their lives. Church, we must do better. We must be better. We must at least seek to understand rather than live at odds with one another. Forgiveness and mercy must be central to any message we preach. Sweeping obvious racism under the rug is a sure fire way to continue to see unnecessary violence infect our society for decades to come.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some insights that I gained from literature during my Black Literary Tradition course. I hope that by reading literature, we can begin to try to understand the conflicts we still have in our nation. I believe that literature can give us empathy toward one another as it helps us to gain wisdom and knowledge from those in the past. I am open for dialogue with anyone about this issue, and I hope that shared ground can be built for the sake of our nation and for the sake of the Church.

A Few Lessons for Graduates

I wrote this post a few years ago, but I feel like it is timely today.

This last week, I had the opportunity to revisit my high school graduation. As a high school teacher, I get to participate in the graduation ceremony each year. This year, because the students at AHS are known for bringing beach balls to the ceremony, the teachers were dispersed throughout the rows of students and I had a unique opportunity to “relive” my own high school graduation. I listened attentively to the speakers and paid careful attention to the conversations of the graduates. And then I reflected on my own experience with graduation and realized a few things.

Despite our best efforts to make the ceremony important for the graduates, the graduates are not paying attention to the speeches.  At my own high school graduation, I remember vaguely the two students who spoke and I remember that my friends and I made fun of one of the speakers and wondered why she was given the opportunity to speak in the first place.  And then there was the keynote speaker.  I don’t even remember who the person was, just that they had something to do with a local grocery store.  And as I sat and listened to the student speeches on Friday night, I realized how insightful these speeches really were.  But I also realized that the students on the field weren’t listening because they were too worried about a few things.

The first thing that graduates are concerned about is whether or not they look stupid in their mortar board and gown.  The girls are worried about whether or not the silly hat will make their hair look weird, and the guys are wondering if they have to zip up the robe all the way, bummed that no one will get to see their cool tie pin under the robe.  The graduates are also concerned about falling flat on their faces when they walk up to the podium to receive their diploma.  I heard a student behind me slowly becoming more and more anxious as it came time for her row to go up front. But then, amazingly, she survived the walk across the stage without any unfortunate mishaps. And lastly, they’re concerned about forgetting what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to go.  One of the students in our youth group turned down the wrong row, but she was good-natured about the whole thing.

Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

And I realized as I sat there that high school graduation is this weird transition moment.  Students are so used to being told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  From kindergarten on, they’re taught how to walk down the hallways like penguins, they’re told that they have to ask for permission to use the restroom, and they have to raise their hand to speak.  The whole experience is so unlike reality that it’s really weird when I think about it.  But as a teacher, I understand that what we’re attempting to teach them is how to be polite and responsible and all of that.  

But after high school graduation, then what?  I remember feeling so lost after I graduated from high school and college and wondered what I was supposed to do next.  No one was going to tell me what to do, when to do it, or how to do it.  And because of that, I had to learn some lessons on my own.  And those are the lessons that I would like to pass on to this year’s graduating class.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews outlines four important lessons for each of us in chapter 10, verses 19-25.  Part of this scripture has been incredibly important to me since I was a freshman in college.  I had the opportunity to be involved in a Bible study that used verses 24-25 as their key scripture:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  I only hope that for each of our graduates that they will find a group of people as encouraging as those I got to spend a few years with in my early college years.  I also hope that they will learn and apply these God given lessons at a much younger age than I did.

Keep Close to God

The first lesson is to keep close to God.  I have found that I absolutely have to dwell in God’s presence daily.  Brother Lawrence, in The Practice of the Presence of God, talks about the importance and the reality of being in God’s presence throughout our day, that we are able to pray in every moment of our daily lives. But we also need to have that time set apart for God daily.  That looks different for each of us.  For me, that looks like sitting on the couch, trying to keep Buddy off of me, journaling and reading my Bible.  Journaling is the way that I talk to God.  When I pray, I often get distracted by all of the things that I have to do that day:  make copies, e-mail a parent, deal with the kid who is just so obnoxious.  So, journaling helps me to stay focused.  For each of you, you must find what that time looks like. I can’t tell you specifically how to spend that time with God, but I can encourage you to figure out the way that you best talk with God and learn from His Word. In Hebrews 10:22, the writer says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.”  We must draw near to God daily.  We must dwell in His presence.  Without this, anything else that I have to say today is pointless.  We must start by keeping close to God.

Keep in Touch

The second lesson is to keep in touch.  I know there’s that cheesy acronym that we write in yearbooks:  KIT.  I looked through my high school yearbooks a few weeks ago and found that several people had written KIT and their phone numbers.  I wonder if today students write their screen names for Twitter or Facebook and KIT.  But anyway.  The important thing is for each of you to find the people in your lives who will hold you accountable and encourage you.  You must find fellow Christians who will hold you up.  I’ve learned the lesson of not having strong Christians around me.  When Garry and I first moved to Virginia, we really didn’t know why God called us to move.  We thought, to be completely honest, that God was giving us a vacation.  It was like we thought He was saying, “Good job being obedient so far.  Now go to Virginia and take a vacation.”  That is probably one of the most dangerous places to be in, thinking that we’re on spiritual vacation.  And so, with that attitude, we took a vacation from God.  Like King David, we wound up doing things that we weren’t supposed to be doing because we weren’t where God called us to be.  Once we realized that our spiritual lives were suffering, we knew that we had to get plugged in with fellow brothers and sisters.  And I’m sure that you all assume that happened.  We began building strong relationships with other Christians, God called Garry into ministry, and our spiritual lives completely changed for the better.  The writer of Hebrews encourages, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).So, we have to keep in touch with other believers.  We have to find people who will spur us on and encourage us and hold us accountable.

Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

Keep Your Eyes Open

The third lesson is to keep our eyes open.  I’ve learned this lesson twice in my life. Once was when I was a second year teacher and the second was at a Bible study several years ago. As a new teacher, it’s easy to walk through life with blinders on.  We get so focused on every lesson, every student, and everything else involved in teaching that we forget to pay attention to anything else in our lives.  I remember during my second year teaching, I went to the bathroom one morning before school with only five minutes before class started.  My mind was focused on everything that I had to do that day, but when I walked into the restroom, one of our first year teachers was standing there crying.  I thought to myself:  I have two choices.  I can go on with my day and take care of my own business, or I can ask her what’s wrong.  Thankfully, I made the right choice and asked her what was wrong.  She began to explain the stress she was under as a new teacher and in her own personal life.  And I just listened; I didn’t worry about what I had to do in my classroom before the kids came in.  I spent the time listening to someone else in need.  And God blessed that conversation.  For four years, we had a great relationship as fellow teachers because I chose to keep my eyes open and listen to God’s leading.  I learned this same lesson again a few years ago.  I was in a Bible study, and our leader directed us to pray for God to help us keep our eyes open. I had never considered that prayer before, but I realized how important it was to pray that prayer every day. Our society bombards us with so many things that distract us:  our phone, our TV, our computer.  And we can choose to allow those things to dictate what we do, or we can choose to keep our eyes open to what God is doing around us.  In the Message, Eugene Peterson interprets Hebrews 10:24 to say, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”  This is the way that we live out the two Greatest Commandments to love God and love others.  We must keep our eyes open so that we can love others and help them when they are in need.

Keep Hope Alive

The fourth lesson is to keep hope alive.  I’m sorry to say, but life does not get easier after high school.  It gets harder.  Life is going to throw you curveballs, but you cannot give up hope. There have been plenty of times in my life when things seemed pretty bleak.  I really did not know how God was going to pull me out. But I trust in His promises. The Bible is a book of promises, written to His children.  Anytime we see a promise written to someone else, we can substitute their name with our name.  God’s promises are eternal, and we must trust that He always makes good on His promise.  If He promises provision, He will provide.  If He promises comfort, He will comfort.  If He promises that He will never leave us, then we must trust that He never will.  I love what Eugene Peterson writes for Hebrews 10:22:  “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promise that keeps us going.  He always keeps His word.”  He always keeps His word.  God will always bring us through, no matter what.

So, I encourage you today to begin to find a way to apply these lessons in your own life:  keep God close, keep in touch, keep your eyes open, and keep hope alive.

Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright

Right now, many of us are separated from those we love. Because of various shelter in place/stay at home/safer at home orders in our communities, we have isolated ourselves from our friends and possibly some of our family members for fear of contracting COVID-19 or potentially passing it on to someone else. Even those of us who are introverts are having a difficult time with this new reality, and we might be starting to rebel against some of these orders.

This is Memorial Day weekend in the United States, a time when many of us get together for backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, and boat rides on the lake. We use this time of remembrance of those who have died for our freedom as a way to remember the importance of family and friends. However, this year some of our Memorial Day plans are very different. Some of us are at home with our immediate families, trying to create new memories in a very different reality. And some of us are so tired of the stay at home orders that we have ventured outside our homes to enjoy the beach, the lake, or the park. And some of us have broken the orders by having backyard barbecues despite the warnings against them. These all demonstrate our deep need for relationships. We need one another in order to live, to thrive.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Currently, I am reading Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness, which describes the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of apartheid in South Africa. Throughout the book, Tutu discusses the harsh reality of apartheid in South Africa, including the various ways in which whites tortured and maimed blacks under the inhumane regime. However, along with these examples of human depravity, he also highlights the amazing ways in which human beings are able to demonstrate forgiveness and grace even in the face of human evil. Toward the end of the book, he discusses the way in which the example of South Africa has encouraged people to seek forgiveness and reconciliation in places like Rwanda and Ireland. He beautifully explains:

There is a movement, not easily discernible, at the heart of things to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility, and disharmony. God has set in motion a centripetal process, a moving toward the center, toward unity, harmony, goodness, peace, and justice, a process that removes barriers

Tutu, Demond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Doubleday, 1999, p. 265.

This sense of unity, this desire for reconciliation is throughout scripture and throughout popular culture. In Romans 12:9-10, Paul encourages,

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other

New Living Translation

And I don’t think that it is coincidence that as I began to write this morning, Bob Marley’s “One Love/People Get Ready” started playing on Amazon Music. Sure, the song was written during a difficult political period of Jamaica’s history. However, it is clear that Marley was greatly influenced by themes of love and reconciliation, just like we see in scripture: “One love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel alright.

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

We are all crying out to be with one another again. We are all craving human connection. That is why we are using Zoom, Meet, and FaceTime to see our friends and family members. That is why we are driving up to our friend’s house and sitting in the back of our car as they sit on the porch, just so we can talk.

But in the midst of this crisis, let us also remember that some of us need reconciliation with family members and friends. Some of us need to remember that we are all in this together. Let’s reach out across the various lines that we have in society, seek unity in one cause, and love one another deeply. God has placed this desire within our hearts, regardless of our political leanings or our religious beliefs. We are one, so let’s get together and feel alright.