Tag Archives: Frederick Douglass

Here’s a thought and a prayer

I went to bed thinking about the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  There was talk of a racist manifesto and the murderer writing about the “invasion of Hispanics.”  El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told reporters, “(It has) a nexus to potential hate crime.”  #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism was trending on Twitter.  This morning, #TrumpsTerrorists has replaced it.  Not surprisingly, persons are linking the 250th mass shooting in America to Trump’s racist rhetoric and the racists chants that followed from the crowd at a North Carolina rally.

The investigation is only beginning.  We don’t even know the names of his victims.  In fact, we know more about the gun he used.  And of course, there are “thoughts and prayers” being offered to the victims and their families.  This word combination has become problematic for many, representing inaction and more of the same from political leaders regarding gun laws.  All talk and no action.

Before persons were finished formulating their responses, finishing up their interviews on local and national news outlets regarding the shooting in El Paso, I wake up to news of yet another in Dayton, Ohio.  It is mass shooting number 251 in 216 days.  We are killing more than days we are living.  And these murders are not the only thing that is on the rise.  Time magazine wrote that white supremacist attacks are increasing in March of this year after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand where at least 50 people were murdered.

White supremacy.  George Frederickson wrote in his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, “White supremacy refers to the attitudes, ideologies and policies associated with the rise of blatant forms of white or European dominance over ‘nonwhite’ populations.  In other words, it involves making the invidious distinctions of a socially crucial kind that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on physical characteristics and ancestry. … It suggests systematic and self- conscious efforts to make race or color a qualification for membership in the civil community ” (Frederickson, xi).  Let me stop here and give you a few thoughts.

Ian Haney Lopez writes in White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race in an introduction titled “Notes on Whiteness, “Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant and ultimately social. … Whiteness (is) a complex, falsely homogenizing term” (Haney Lopez, xxi).  He writes later in a chapter titled “White Lines,” “Appearances and origins are not White or non- White in any natural or pre- social way.  Rather, White is a figure of speech, a social convention read from looks.  As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, ‘Who has seen a black or red person, a white, yellow or brown?  These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality'” (Haney Lopez, 12).

David Roediger writes in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, “White labor does not just receive and resist racist ideas but embraces, adopts, and at times, murderously acts upon those ideas.  The problem is not just that the white working class is at critical junctures manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white” (Roediger, 12).

Nell Painter writes in The History of White People, “Were there ‘whites’ in antiquity? … No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of ‘white’ people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning” (Painter, 1).

James Baldwin pointedly says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”   He also said this in The Price of a Ticket in 1985, “The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself.”

Whatever is true and liberating, whatever is authentic and facilitates our wholeness, whatever makes peace and increases our fellowship, whatever keeps the lies of whiteness and race away, let us think on these things.  And then let us pray like Frederick Douglass who said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Keep it moving.  Amen.

Sending word

See the source imageLife is filled with false starts, abrupt stops, detours and wrong turns. We didn’t know it would take this long to come to ourselves, that there were so many copies to choose from, that being original is harder than it looks, that it is easier to repeat, to nod in agreement with the majority, that in going along to get along, we never find ourselves. We wake up one day and question aloud, “How did I get here?”

“Stop this ride; I want to get off.” I told Jesus to take the wheel so why do I feel like I want throw up? Hands in the air, we sing, “I surrender all.” But today, I worry about what I will have left.

When will things go right? When will all things come together to work for my good? When will this all make sense and come into focus? Because I can’t see what’s up ahead; I’m just tired of these raindrops falling on my head.

Tearstained faces, life is not a commissioned pretty picture and we don’t hold the paintbrush. We receive the brush strokes like everyone else—sickness and death, depression and debt, heartbreak and pain. In the course of our days, life can get ugly. And what we say in those moments can make or break us.

Henry David Thoreau said, “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate in us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”

We are a collection of words. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Language is a form of life.” Whether we know it or not, we are a spoken word, words that both define us and diminish us, question and answer us, love and hate us, attack and defend us. We are who we say we are. This is why we must choose our words carefully.

Because words can make you or break you. Because one wrong word can cause you to lose your place. Because one word can set us back and set us up for failure. Because the world capitalizes on us forgetting ourselves, on losing ourselves around here somewhere. They squeeze out our voice so that we can’t get a word in edgewise. Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Because “life and death are in the power of our tongue.”[1] Because I learned a long time ago, good words are hard to come by. So, I carry my own. I call them journey words.

Some people collect rare stamps and coins, dolls and cars. I carry a deck of 3×5 cards that remind me of who I am, what I believe, what my work is and where I am going. When I cannot find the words or my way, they take me to where I belong. They are words of commission and calling. They are words of clarity and certainty. They are words of direction, pointing me back to the track I sometimes I get off of. Tripping on the tongue of others, they have picked me up on more than one occasion.

They are my conversation partners, my guides. They are words from the living and the dead. They are words past, present and future, words outside of me, that call me inwardly, words behind me that propel me forward, words that I desperately wanted to hear as a child, words that I listen out for as an adult.

They are words that sound like me, the woman I have heard of but have yet to meet.   They are words like:

“Voyager, there are no bridges; one builds as one walks” (Gloria Anzaldua).

And—

“I must see my understandings produce results in human experience. Productivity is my first value. I must make and mold and build life. As an artist, I must shape human relationships. To me, life itself is the greatest material. I would far rather build a man than form a book. My whole being is devoted to making my small area of existence a work of art. I am building a world” (Jean Toomer).

And—

“The time is always right to do what is right” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

And—

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the world” (Archimedes).

And—

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul” (Mark Twain).

And—

“Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

And—

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV).

And—

“Do the work your soul must have” (Katie Geneva Cannon).

Zora Neale Hurston coaches me, struts alongside me saying, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” Frederick Douglas is with her and chimes in, saying, “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and incur my own abhorrence.” Thomas Merton nods in agreement, adding, “To be a saint means to be myself.” Less I be tempted to lose myself in the crowd, James Baldwin tugs on me, saying, “The effort not to know what one knows is the most corrupting effort one can make.”

Because it is easier to walk away, to take what is offered and leave ourselves on the table, on the cutting board, to erase the image emerging on the drawing board. Because we have reached our word limit and “if they say one more word…” This is why we need words like Abraham Joshua Heschel’s who declared, “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. … To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Because what you say will determine what you see. Because in the words of Mary Anne Evans, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Jesus’s words are a journey in themselves. We cannot read them and not be moved. And if we carry them, they will carry us home to our true selves, our new selves in him.

____________________

End notes|

[1] Proverb 18.21

 

Memorial Day: To Celebrate on Sunday or Monday?

Image result for memorial day imagesHow shall we honor the fallen and our veterans?  Patriotism and with it, nationalism are problematic words for they carry at least two meanings and several sides to the story of our democracy.  We need only look to Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” to realize our differences of opinion.  Add to this, the tension felt in the fact that symbols of the Confederacy, of those eleven states whose members chose to secede to remain slave- holding, are now being removed from government buildings and public spaces.  Then, perhaps, you will understand that our pride in America is problematic.

It would be easy to suggest that the current White House administration has created this distinction.  However, if we are honest with ourselves, we can admit that this division has been there all along.  In fact, it is a part of our nation’s history.  The demonstration and defense of one’s pride in our nation has always be expressed in a myriad of ways to include unyielding resistance and undying support.

For some, being “on the battlefield for my Lord” as the hymnist declared and fighting for my country have been synonymous.  But, historically, divinizing one’s position while defending the country has meant killing in the name of God and for God’s kingdom on earth.  However, blurring the lines between the two has produced some of history’s greatest atrocities.  Unsure if “laying down one’s life for a friend” means going to war for him, some churches will struggle with how to honor those who served in the armed forces (John 15.13).  But, any discussion about Memorial Day must acknowledge, wrestle with and find some compromise with these realities.

In addition to those who have been negatively impacted by racialized expressions of nationalistic pride, there are who oppose war.  The Just War theory, the belief that war is rarely justified, is the position of many Christians.  This view has been supported by Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek” (Mark 5.39), his pacifist nature when confronted by the cross and his challenge to Peter to put away his sword (Matthew 26.52).  Inspired by this passage or in support of the early church’s position, Tertullian wrote, “Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord abolished the sword.”  Yet, there is also the challenge to respond to injustice, to protect the marginalized and vulnerable people of our world.

Like our varied expressions of patriotism, the recognition of those who have served and died in the armed forces will vary.  For some churches, there is a separation between church and government, perhaps inspired by the exchange between Pilate and the religious leaders.  They will not include a tribute to veterans, deeming it inappropriate or inapplicable for Sunday morning worship.  They will praise God on Sunday and wave at the parade participants on Monday.  For others, if no formal program, then an acknowledgement of veterans will be offered.  They will be asked to stand and members will be invited to applaud them for their self-less service.  Also, churches often use Memorial Day to honor church members who have died, offering tributes and services of remembrance for family and friends.

But, there are others who see no conflict, recognizing that veterans have souls too and attend church on a regular basis.  Consequently, these pastors will use the sermon as an opportunity to focus on the needs of veterans, highlighting disparities in access to healthcare and employment opportunities.  They will challenge their congregations to address the issues of mental illness and homelessness that affect veterans at a disproportionate rate.  Congregants will be invited to sing patriotic hymns and the service may include a special tribute.

To be sure, war is a touchy subject.  Persons have given their lives, their limbs and lost time with their family to ensure the freedoms that we enjoy and so often take for granted.  There are families that have served for generations and feel it their solemn duty.  Still, love of God and country should not be in competition.

Instead, there should be a healthy distance between them.  Because the American flag does not represent the God of all nations.  Its primary colors should not be confused with the blood- stained banner of Christ.  The song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” speaks only of America when Christ died to save the world and could suggest that to be Christian is to be American.  Besides, in a world that is growing increasingly diverse, we must be mindful of the messages we attach to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, there is a reason why Memorial Day is celebrated on Monday.

No Deal

Good Morning Race-less but Christ-filled People,

Tomorrow, I will lead a spiritual retreat on “Leading the Race-less Life” for members of a spiritual support group at the Servant Leadership School in Washington, D.C. I began the blog this past March and to now have an opportunity to share with others the work of The Daily Race in this setting is encouraging. I am grateful to Mr. Harold Vines for the invitation to serve.

So, today, I thought that I would offer you a snippet of what persons at the retreat will be experiencing and discussing or perhaps some thoughts that are on my mind this morning that I may take to tomorrow’s presentation.

It has been my experience that often persons agree to something before they understand it. We sign papers before we have read them. We enter into agreements before we understand the terms of the commitment or their costs. And we do this with our lives.

Race is a term that we agree to and accept without reading the fine print, without asking questions as to how our acceptance of race as an identity will affect our lives and determine its outcome, without asking to see something different. Is this all that society has to offer? All you have to give me, the only thing that I can be is a race?

And I don’t choose my race but based on my appearance, you will assign to me a color, a prejudice and a stereotype. This is what I am signing up for? I cannot return it; I cannot exchange it. I cannot get my life back if I don’t like it. There is no redemption; there is no reassigning of the position. This is the agreement of race. Take it or leave it.

As the old spiritual says, “Give me, Jesus” because I’m going to leave it and claim the words of Frederick Douglass as the reason for my decision: “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than be false and incur my own abhorrence.” No deal.