Jacob’s Clothes

His body bears the evidence: seven holes pierced his flesh and paralyzed his legs. His clothing might be the determining factor of what was imposed on his body.

The outcome would have been different if Jacob Blake was clothed in his rights as a citizen of America. If Jacob walked to his car clothed in his rights as a citizen, then every effort would have been made to restrain him rather than stain the garment of his rights with his own blood. But Jacob wasn’t seen as a man whose dignity was covered with the honor of citizenship. He was seen as a man clothed in that hostile skin that America has deemed to be a problem from its origins. It’s skin that doesn’t cause one to pause before puncturing it with bullets. It’s a skin that is such a threat it’s better to act first and evaluate later.

Society will engage a public discourse to evaluate what happened. They will look to justify this violence by listing possible wrongs rather than stating his established rights. They will even reach far into his past for previous wrongs as if each one is tattooed to his skin as an identifier in the heat of the moment. It’s a society that will justify violence rather than uphold justice. The presumption is that the perceived wrongs validate seven shots, in close proximity, to the back of an American citizen.

Is disobedience all it takes to permit penetrating a soul with violent trauma?

This approach to justice is too often applied to Black people. Like the oppression of the generations pasts, we live in a society that declares, “Black people only received what they deserve.” They are incapable of being civilized so enslavement is for their benefit. They are too ignorant to know how to vote. They are too filthy to swim in our pools or drink from our fountains. They are too poor to be in our neighborhoods. Perspectives like these lead to practices like slavery, segregation, and redlining. The injustices are justified because the person receives what they deserve. This wardrobe of lies is the reason that injustice persists.

The truth is that at the birth of every American they are swaddled in the protection of citizenship. Every person is born embodying the warmth of their God given dignity. Stand tall and resolved in the garments you wear and the value you posses. Give the same honor to every conversation about Jacob Blake. Resist the inclination of a society that will be anxious to justify violence rather than pursue justice. Insist that the garments of citizenship, authority, and good intentions that society will cloak over Rusten Sheskey will also cover the wounded body of Jacob Blake. Justice will be determined by how we clothe Rusten and Jacob. Their clothing is critical to how we view their actions and how we determine any retribution.

My Sore Throat

“What amazed me was not what he said, but how on earth anybody had the courage to say it.”           Richard Wright 

It’s been eighteen months since I’ve written in this blog. I admit that in all the controversy and chaos in this world my voice got sore. My response was to walk and talk with those in my life; make a change where I am.

Though that’s a good intention, the truth is: I was lulled into silence. My voice grew weary because I had not realized the daunting task before us. With each gut-wrenching event that shook our country, the width of the chasm became clearer to me. I was disheartened to see people loosen their principles for a stronger grip on power. I was periodically tempted by the longing to go back to the days when we all got along but quickly realized it was only a mirage to give relief to an exhausted people parched by the scorching challenges of our time.

So I’ve examined powerful voices of the past to learn from their example. Their courage has been a balm to my strained voice and a buoy to my soul. Their example has taught me that silence is as much of a contribution to society as speaking. What I contribute is my choice and I prefer to speak.

So I’m writing again because I’ve found “the courage to say it.”

I’m writing again to encourage you to say it.

If you’ve been lulled into silence it is time for you to speak, to write, to create, and to dream. Resist the urge to make what you’re against the point of origin for your voice. Your voice is clearest and most profound when it emerges from your values, your purpose, and your identity.

Stay tuned for more posts in the future and I will be looking out for your courageous contribution too.

Just Off My Bookshelf: Lift Up Thy Voice

This book was a perfectly timed surprise. Lift Up Thy Voice tells the inspiring story of a family that participated in every significant justice movement for two generations. The Grimke sisters were born into a slaveholding family and matured into leaders of the abolitionist movement. Their journey from the plantations of South Carolina to the pulpits of Philadelphia introduces the reader to many abolitionists leaders whose courage, faith, and sacrifice are mostly forgotten. Near the end of their lives they learn that their deceased brother had three sons born of an enslaved women. Two of their nephews would grow into adulthood after the Civil War and work for civil rights with people like Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois. The witness of these radiant lives, in two eras of great difficulty, are an encouragement and example of how people from different walks of life can stand against the tide of injustice.

It was particularly insightful to see the conflict within Christianity during these times. The prevalent interpretation of scripture sanctioned the system of slavery and deemed any person who disagreed as a heretic who didn’t value the holiness of scripture. It was a time of intense conflict between political ideas and religious ideals. Naturally these dissenting voices for equality became prophetic. They were disowned by family members, dismissed from denominations, and lived in danger wherever they traveled.

The work, sacrifice, and message of people like the Grimke family is important to remember right now as many people look to find their footing in challenging times. This book is especially important for Christians who are discouraged by the dominant message that minimizes injustice. Lift Up Thy Voice reminds us that the dominant memory of Christianity in America excludes the voices of many prophets. I highly recommend this book that expands our memory by revealing the courageous lives of those who have been forgotten. Any recollection of faith in America would benefit from including names such as

Sarah and Angelina Grimke

Theodore Weld

Elijah Lovejoy

John Greenleaf Whittier

Benjamin Lundy

Lucretia Mott

The Lane Rebels

A Few Quotes from Lift Up Thy Voice

“The truth always irritates the proud, impenitent sinner”

“Men cannot imprison, or chain; or hang the soul.”

“I shall not hesitate to call things by their proper names, nor yet refrain from speaking the truth. Take right hold! Hold on! And never abandon an inch of ground after it has been taken.

“With an eye to posterity, he wrote the following inscription on the jailhouse wall: ‘William Lloyd Garrison was put in this cell on Wednesday afternoon, October 21, 1835, to save him from the violence of a ‘respectable and influential’ mob, who sought to destroy him for preaching the abominable and dangerous doctrine that ‘all men are created equal’ and that all oppression is odious in sight of God.’”

Looking For Prophets

The prophet’s voice is buried beneath the narrative of history. The prophet’s voice is muted in this moment when we desperately need the courage of their vision, content of their message, and convictions of their hearts.

This era needs the courage of William Lloyd Garrison who spoke against white supremacy even though angry mobs beat him and dragged him through the streets . Wendell Phillips witnessed one of these attacks and was compelled to become a witness for the same message. Boldly speaking out against white supremacy cost Phillips to lose many of his clients at his law practice but didn’t keep him from printing “Peace if possible. Justice at any rate” on his business cards as he committed to his new vocation. Today we could use people with the conviction of Representative Thaddeus Stevens who condemned the Andrew Johnson’s statement that America was a “white man’s Government” with the response that, “equal rights to all immortal being, no matter what the shape or color of their tabernacle which it inhabits.” His peer in the Senate, Charles Sumner, was steadfast in his criticism of slavery and it resulted in a violent attack in the Senate chambers.

There is a dominant narrative of faith and patriotism in our country that excludes the presence and contributions of people of color. It also excludes the prophetic voices of white leaders, compelled by faith, who plead for justice and equality for all people. This absence is our loss and we grapple to find a way forward without a stronger prophetic voice in our era.

The voice of the prophet has always endured resistance. The same resistance, denial, and abandonment will be experienced by the prophets of today. As long as your voices are silent, we cannot speak together. As long as your message is whispered rather than proclaimed, justice, equality, righteousness, and hope will remain beyond our reach. Unbury the testimony of previous prophets from the narrative of our shared history so that you can garner strength. Today, we look for prophets whose bold proclamations pierce through despair.

Sculpting Glaciers With Ice Picks

How much change can an ice pick impose on a glacier? That’s how it feels most days for people working for justice. The problems feel massive and the tools insufficient. The work is daunting and the progress is slow.

But the seemingly insufficent tools can be used to make slow yet significant progress. People in previous generations used similar tools in their tireless work to chip away at pervasive discrimination and injustice. There were rigid policies that defined second class citizens and determined where they could eat, live, work, play, and worship. It all felt inevitable and they still marched, lobbied, organized, prayed published, and litigated. It was because of the tireless work in each generation that the glacier of injustice isn’t as large today.

Before their work, change seemed impossible. Over time the obstacles gave way to their patience and determination. The glacier still remains with its usual rigid, daunting and cold resistance. Its imperceptible pace persuades the workers of justice that progress is impossible. Yet this generation must continue the work of bending the arc toward justice.

Sharron Frontiero’s experienced the slow bend of justice as a woman who received less compensation than her male counterparts in the military. Her demand to receive equal treatment and equal pay was denied. Many people, including a lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fought alongside Frontiero and finally convinced the Supreme Court to implement justice. This is one example of many long fought battles for justice. Frontiero responded, “we could have tried to change public opinion, but the law came in and changed reality”.

Reality has changed because of the courageous people committed to the long path toward justice. These are people with well used tools at their disposal and enlarged hearts filled with determination, faith, patience and hope. The tools often feel insufficient because the change is incremental. Remember that in time the ice pick shapes the glacier because of the burning heart that refuses to give up.

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” -Luke 18:8

A Rubber Band or Slippery Slope

A caution to change is frequently the warning of a slippery slope. The idea—or fear—is that a little change will morph into dangerous change. Therefore it’s better to remain in what’s familiar because though it has its problems it is better than the outcome of change. This idea—or fear—has not been the experience in America’s history of addressing race. Race in America has been more like a rubber band than a slippery slope.

Progress toward racial justice stretches the possibilities of freedom and suddenly contracts to it’s previous shape. A few observations of our history reveal the tendency to contract and resist change. The fight to vote during the Civil Rights movement is an example of how we shrink back from change. That fight was necessary because of the contraction that occurred in the 1880’s when Black men exercised their right to vote after the Civil War. The result of their voting appointed many Black men to political office, including Congress. Many people saw this as a dangerous change that would morph into something more intolerable. So violence, oppression, and strategy were used to diminish any progress toward full rights for the Black community. The fear that paralyzed the White community was aggressively used to stymy the Black community. Black people were not forced back to slavery but systems like sharecropping and injustices such as vagrancy laws, established a new form of bondage. The rubber band had snapped back.

History will likely reveal that the pinnacle of progress of racial justice in our time was the brutal murder of George Floyd. It was a moment where the brutality of racial injustice was visible for everyone to see. People who were previously hardened toward issues of race were willing to engage conversations, read books, watch documentaries, march on city streets, and listen to voices of the Black community. True to our history, it was only a matter of weeks before the fear of the slippery slope began to soften the conviction to press toward a more just world. What would we become if we gave too much focus on race? George Floyd shouldn’t have been killed but was he an innocent man? Sure there are some racist people but not systemic racism. If we say Black Lives Matter we are giving too much power to BLM and we will eventually become a communist country.

The slippery slope sounds rational until you’re one of the people at the bottom of the slope. When you’re there you realize what comes down isn’t change but crap. I try to imagine what Black people who were enslaved felt when change was replaced with anger. How did Frederick Douglass bear the disappointment of Jim Crow laws being implemented at the end of his life after tasting the refreshing nectar of change in 1865? How did Ella Baker and James Baldwin hold onto a sense of purpose in the 1970’s after prominent leaders were killed and national strategies were put in place to shrink the progress of the 1960’s?

I wonder if the ride on the slippery slope is as painful as the backlash of the rubber band? I know that the rubber band’s snap is swift and vicious. I feel it now as it leaves a sting on my soul and bitterness on my tongue. It’s a bitterness that refrains the lips from opening with words of hope and ridicules the heart for ever believing change was possible.

If the slippery slope actually exists in this country I sure would like to try it for once. It can’t be as painful as the rubber band.

Love Mercy & Act Justly

Last week the quiet suburb of Hunt Valley, MD was disturbed by a man wielding a knife and stabbing five people. Police quickly responded to the scene, encircled the man, and ended the standoff with him being shot to death. Thankfully none of the victims had life threatening injuries but the scar of trauma remained on the community. Incidents like these shouldn’t happen in places like this.

It was clear to me that what transpired was terrifying and that the man’s actions were wrong. But I was troubled with a lingering question that I silently weighed: Did he have to be killed?

He was potentially troubled in the mind or under the influence of some substance. Was it possible to end this situation without ending the man’s life?

I felt like I was the only person asking this question because everyone else seemed relieved that they “got him”. (Though the most accurate word would be they killed him) What act justifies the taking of a soul? The responses to this incident indicated that invading the safety of a community, injuring innocent people, and walking away from law enforcement was enough to justify death.

This week a woman was found guilty for entering a young man’s home, shooting him in the chest, and ending his life. Many people throughout the country were asking the same questions that people in Hunt Valley, MD asked: who has the right to violate someone’s space and traumatize an innocent person? Surely someone who commits such an act deserves the consequences that follow. That would be just.

Instead the nation witnessed an unfathomable act when a young man forgave the woman who murdered his brother. Such forgiveness is powerful and beyond comprehension. Many people felt this power when they witnessed this act of forgiveness. And many others felt the strong angst of injustice. Both feelings are valid.

Justice and forgiveness are two different entities that can coexist but accomplish different goals. It’s likely that the victim’s brother would have extended forgiveness even if the sentence was much longer. Forgiveness is powerful but it doesn’t absolve the need for justice.

There is a persistent injustice underlying this event. People are anxious for justice to declare, uphold and validate the value of a black person’s soul. There have been incidents where a black man was killed because of his actions (ex. knife wielding man) and in this incident an innocent black man was killed. What acts justify the taking of his soul and what punishment is adequate for the murder of his soul? Often the analysis of these situations exclude the consideration of the worth of a black person’s soul. The silent response to these questions give way to the pervasive echo heard for many generations: there is no value.

Those who follow Jesus believe that we have been forgiven for our sins but the wages of sin still had to be paid. Our world needs both forgiveness and justice. Justice seems to be more elusive to attain.

“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.” -Micah 6:8

Just off My Bookshelf: What You Have Heard Is True

I don’t read many memoirs or autobiographies. Blind spots are difficult to avoid when we tell our life stories from our perspective. I tend to enjoy biographies more because the writer weighs a person’s life, the thoughts of others, and the moment in history to shape the story of a life.

Yet I found myself engulfed in this book and unable to put it down. This book came to my attention when it was listed as a finalists for the National Book Award. It’s a rather quick read and the author slowly unfolds the story leaving you wondering what will happen next. Carolyn Forche takes readers through her journey of understanding the weight of oppression and the prevalence of corruption. Her story carries you along her journey and at the same time takes you on your own journey of how you can engage in the world around you. There are a few pages from this book that will remain with me for a long time.

Some quotes that stood out to me:

Try to see. Look at the world, he’d say, and not at the mirror.

Hope also nourishes us. Not the hope of fools. The other kind. Hope, when everything is clear. Awareness. 

It isn’t the risk of death and fear of danger that prevent people from rising up. It is numbness, acquiescence, and the defeat of the mind. Resistance to oppression begins when people realize deeply within themselves that something better is possible. 

You have to be able to see the world as it is, to see how it is put together, and you have to be able to say what you see. 

I believe with my life…how I live






Just Off My Bookshelf: Going Down Jericho Road

This was a fascinating read about Martin Luther King’s final campaign and his final days. There are plenty of books about King but this one makes a unique contribution in telling the often forgotten endeavor of King’s Poor People’s Campaign. This is a vivid telling of the struggle for economic equality which was often more challenging than the battle for civil rights.

The content covers a short period of time but thoroughly details the events, emotions, struggles, and hopes of the organized effort to achieve economic justice. Reading this book gives a deep sense of what it must have felt to be alive during these days of tension. It also reveals that the issues of class are still barriers of division–even among people committed to civil rights and reconciliation. Readers will find many heroes of action and a steady reminder of what if means to suffer in order to bring about change.

Five Quotes that stood out:

The battle in the South will continue to be black against white, instead of what it should be and what we can make it: a battle of people against poverty and injustice.

I’d rather be dead than afraid. You’ve got to get over being afraid of death. 

Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they’re going somewhere. Because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent. 

We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. 

Nothing could be more tragic than to stop at this point…We’ve got to see it through…either we go up together or we go down together. 

The Duty of Hope

When was the last time you stopped to behold beauty? A few nights ago I almost missed my opportunity to stop. I read about it in the news headlines but gave little attention to this event. Late that evening I was doing my duty of placing my recycle bin on the curb for pick-up the next morning. I happened to look up to the sky and saw this beautiful bright moon. I was stopped in my steps by the event I wanted to ignore. It was so radiant that I ran in the house, got my kids out of bed (that was crazy!) and brought them outside to take in this moment.

The moon had a stunning brightness that was difficult to ignore. I waited in anticipation with my kids for a break in the moving clouds. In the patches of clear sky we could see a glow emanating from the moon. There was something striking about the brightness placed in a dark sky that kept us memorized. But I almost missed it.

I wonder how much we miss the opportunity to bring a similar radiant hope in the middle of challenging times? I was recently challenged by a person’s response to a very turbulent time in the world. The person asked themselves: what was is the duty of hope ? That is a powerful question that causes the slumped shoulders to straighten out in strength. In dark and cloudy times what is the response of the advocate of hope? What words are we speaking, what narratives are we sharing, what actions are we taking, what dreams are we casting, what poems are we crafting, what ventures are we initiating, what communities are we nurturing? In turbulent times what is the responsibility of hope?

It is hope’s duty to shine brightest in the darkest and most clouded nights. Hope illuminates a path forward, mesmerizes in the patches of clarity, and proves that darkness will be conquered. Don’t miss the opportunity. The challenges you see may be the backdrop to behold something beautiful.