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4 BIG Questions. Do you have any answers?

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been consumed with learning. I’m in a season of having more questions than answers. Even still, I know I need to push beyond my introvert boundaries and invite others into the questions in my mind.

Here’s an excerpt from a book I’m reading and some questions that I have wrestled with. I would benefit from hearing your (respectful) thoughts.

“Ministers led the way in justifying the English violence and atrocities aimed at the original inhabitants. Warfare against the Indians, Reverend Cotton Mather explained, was a conflict between the Devil and God…”

  1. Why do ministers now refrain from leading the way in justice if we were the ones who led the way toward injustice?
  2. If the “Indians” were savages–filled with the devil, then how do we spiritually define the brutality Europeans imposed on various people groups over the next 400 years? Were these Europeans filled with the devil or with God?
  3. How do these mindsets still influence our relationships today? Especially in the Church
  4. How do we address these significant issues?

 

*Excerpt is taken from: A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki

Just Off My Bookshelf: Stamped From The Beginning

The ideas of this book don’t simply add to the conversation about race, it reshapes the boundaries of the conversation. There are many profound points but the point that resonated for me was the emphasis on the humanity of all people. Ibra Kendi deconstructs the race ideas the people of all races have imbedded in our thinking while writing a fascinating and well documented account of American history. It will be difficult for any reader of this book to avoid the process of searching their hearts for some imbedded ideas of race.

There are ideas that I would disagree with in the book. Primarily the idea that there is little hope of convincing people of the issues of race. I’m an optimist that is always hopeful, especially because of the work of Jesus. But there is so many thought provoking and perspective shaping points found in this book.

Here are a few quotes (out of many) that stood out to me:

Many believe that ignorance/hate leads to racist ideas leads to discrimination. Kendi argues that racial discrimination leads to racist ideas leads to ignorance/hate 

“And it was Perkins’s claim of equal souls and unequal bodies that led Puritan preachers like Cotton Mather to minister to African souls and not challenge the enslavement of their bodies.”

“It is one antiracist thing to say discrimination treated Black people like they were barbarians. It is yet another racist thing to say the discrimination actually transformed Black people into barbarians.”

“There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves.”

 

Out of Bounds?

I once read that “history doesn’t repeat itself, people do.” And the more I read history the more I realize people have encountered similar challenges, in different times, with the same fervor. You may not like Trump but he’s not the antiChrist. You may not have liked Obama but he isn’t the antiChrist. It’s highly possible that Trump is simply the 45th president and we’re all living in this time of history for a purpose. Trusting God is not only about accepting the new president, it’s more about accepting that He has placed each of us here for a time such as this.

This moment is not beyond the boundaries of human history or of God’s work among people. Consider the times and lives of people like Benjamin Banneker, Hans Asperger,  Richard Randolph, Jane Jacobs. Have the challenges of this generation been greater than those that preceded us? It’s not the end of the world, this is the middle of God’s work in history. I hope you’re up to the task of courageously loving your enemy, fervently praying, boldly living out your purpose, and speaking the truth in love.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; 

there is nothing new under the sun. -Ecclesiastes 1:9

Too Big To Change

I’m afraid that we look at the current trials of our day and deem them Too Big To Change. When something is too big to change then we are also too insignificant to do anything. I’m hopeful that we will find courage equal to that of Frederick Douglass, John Rankin, Ida B. Wells, John Doar, and Charles Young. These are people who lived in difficult times but worked diligently for a better future. I’m hopeful we will not remain stuck in our steps helplessly watching the inevitable future unfold but get our hands dirty in shaping the outcome.

Societies have been changed throughout history by the clashing of ideas. During the infancy of our country John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe constantly clashed about the direction of the country. The Civil Rights movement was full of a flurry of ideas from SNCC, SCLC, NAACP, MLK, Malcolm X and many more. Time and time again there have been a diversity of ideas that sharpen each other and shape the future.

The world  continues to spin like fresh clay on the turntable. It will be shaped by pressure being applied from all sides. If no pressure is applied, then it will unravel into chaos. This moment in our world and our country isn’t too big for us to change. It simply needs hands of faith, grit, and endurance to press against what is, in order to shape what can be. What does it mean for you to put your hands to work?

“Even hope may seem but futile,
    When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
    Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
    Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
    See it through!”
-See It Through by Edgar Guest

Final First Day of Summer

There are many people who are not with us to experience this first day of summer. I keep wondering if I knew this was my last summer, would I treat it differently. Would I complain about the heat or appreciate a day of warmth that followed a cloudy May? If this is my final first day of summer, would I someday miss the same experience that I’m complaining about today?

These questions stick with me because they push aside the mental muck and reignite a passion to seize the day with purpose and gratefulness. My days are limited…numbered. I’m learning to value each day because of how scarce they are in my life time. If I had an infinite amount of days then I could afford to squander some. My prayer has become,“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” -Psalm 39:4

I want to be intentional in how I spend the days of my life. I want to spend my days with a Godly purpose, with enduring hope, and unquenching love. I want to feel the heat of the sun, the joy of reaching goals and the disappointment of broken plans. I’m alive and I want to fully embrace all that the Lord has for me today. 

Maybe this isn’t my final summer but I’m certain that there will be a final summer for me someday. This is true for all of us. Death’s reality demands that we fully live today, for tomorrow isn’t promised. Anything worth doing tomorrow is worth doing today.  

He was going to be all that a mortal should be 

Tomorrow.

No one should be kinder or braver than he

Tomorrow.

A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,

Who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too;

On him he would call and see what he could do

Tomorrow.


Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write

Tomorrow.

And thought of the folks he would fill with delight

Tomorrow.

It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,

And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;

More time he would have to give others, he’d say

Tomorrow.
The greatest of workers this man would have been

Tomorrow.

The world would have known him, had he ever seen

Tomorrow.

But the fact is he died and he faded from view,

And all that he left here when living was through

Was a mountain of things he intended to do

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow by Edgar Guest

Don’t Be Shy

50 lives were violently taken today. 53 additional people were injured. Again the tragedies have become a point of debate more than a moment to grieve.  Stalin’s words are becoming evident that, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” And we often struggle with what to do in the midst of such prevalent hatred and violence.

I think a good place to start is to grieve the tragedy of the lives stolen in Orlando and in our own communities.  Then consider how we will live. People who endeavor to do good must be equally as bold in their acts as those who seek to do evil. There are so many good people who are timid and shy about their purpose. As a result there are so many books unwritten, music unsung, verses unspoken, sermons not preached, art not created, voices unheard, and art unseen. The world needs to witness the good work you have yet to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10).

Don’t be shy in your endeavor to do good.

Be bold, courageous, full of hope and yet willing to fail. Your contribution is necessary. Put the pen to the paper, compel your heart to find its voice, devote your hands to perfecting their craft, invoke your mind toward innovative solutions, and resolve to be poured out rather than rust out.

As Benjamin Mays said, “Every man and woman is born into the world to do something unique and something distinctive and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done.”

I look forward to the day where the world is frequently stunned by bold acts of love. Until then, I will grieve the tragedy today and work toward unabashedly making my contribution toward a better tomorrow.

Just Off My Bookshelf: The American Slave Coast

With every book I open I learn something new that enhances my perspective. The  prominent idea of this book is how the transport of slaves from Africa to America was not banned for moral reasons but for monetary reasons. The demand for slaves to work the newly acquired land of Louisiana, raised the prices of slaves along the east coast (Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, etc). So stopping supply from Africa was to the benefit of slaveowners on the east coast. That’s why Ned and Constance Sublette named this book the American Slave Coast.

There are many gruesome accounts to read and harsh realities to understand. But understanding them give insight into the underlying issues of power, money, and oppression. This book is lengthy and very informative. You’re guaranteed to walk away with a new perspective of the past and a more informed approach to working for a better future.

Some quotes I underlined:

“When we speak of ‘branding’ today, we should remember that it was at one time literal: with a hot iron pressed against human flesh. York literally  put his name on his merchandise…”

“You see real misery and apparent luxury, insulting each other.”

“Capital was money that made more money, and slaves were property who made more property–including more slaves, who could be used as money when the need arose.”

“When it was time to sail, the captives were marched under cover of predawn darkness out of his complex, located near present-day Oriole Park, down seven or so blocks to Fell’s Point.”

“Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor–both black and white, both here and abroad.” -MLK

Just Off My Bookshelf: Bolivar

It’s important for me to read books about different cultures and different eras. I didn’t know much about Simon Bolivar before picking up this book. I learned about his leadership, his courage and South American countries in reading this book. Marie Arana does a great job describing his character and the various challenges of his time. If you are interested in learning about the history of independence in South America, I would recommend this as book.

Some quotes I underlined:

“The art of victory is learned in failure.”

This quote reminds me that people have been brutal throughout history and many different lands: “They dragged Ribas into town, killed him, dismembered him, fried his head in a lot of bubbling oil, and transported it in an orange cage to Caracas, where it was displayed…”

“But beyond the notion that equal rights demanded equal sacrifices, Bolivar believed in the inherent logic of liberty: ‘any free government that commits the folly of allowing slavery can expect to be punished by revolution.'”

“My hope is that our republics–less nations than sisters–will unite according to the bonds that have always united us, with the difference that in centuries past we obeyed the same tyrant, whereas now we will embrace a shared freedom.”

A Soulful Sound

“‘The words were simple enough’ Botume gasped, but when ‘chanted by 3,000 people the effect was electrical.’ It was, as Thomas Wentworth Higginson exclaimed on first hearing the spirituals, like ‘the choked voice of a race at last unloosed.'” -Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet

These words were written by people who witnessed slaves celebrate their freedom. I read this excerpt this morning and immediately began to contemplate what it must have been like to hear the united voices of 3,000 people singing songs of freedom. The sound must have been beautiful. The sound didn’t need to be on key or have the perfect harmony. There is something powerfully beautiful about the choked voice finally having freedom to be heard.

I wish I could hear those voices. I wish I could witness the depth of the soul of this sound.

Then I realized that I am hearing this sound today. I’m not hearing a few voices that represent an entire race. There isn’t a person like MLK or Malcolm X. No. Instead I hear a multitude–thousands–of voices of a generation that finally speak for themselves rather than having people speak on their behalf.

Don’t get distracted if the message is off key. Maybe the presentation isn’t a smooth melody. Too much focus on these components loses sight of the fact that this is the rich and soulful sound of “the choked voice of a race at last unloosed.”

Just listen.

Listen. And you’ll hear that it’s a cry for freedom.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.
-Excerpt from Caged Bird
by Maya Angelou

Cold Lessons

Another year, another winter, another snow storm. These were the words I spoke to myself as I embalmed myself with layers of clothes to prepare for the tedious work of shoveling snow. I’ve been through this before.

There was one difference this time around. Behind me were the sets of footprints for three small people. My children were ‘helping’ me to clear our walkway and four of our neighbors. Their help made the process much longer. They would help me by scooping snow from the tall mounds and placing it in the empty place that I had just cleared.

I was exhausted from the labor of moving so much snow and I had a decision to make. My decision depended on my perspective. I could view this through the lens of addition:

Me + my kids = me working longer   

Which means…

Me – my kids = me working faster

My other option was was the lens of multiplication:

Me x my kids = four people serving their neighbors (one day in the future)

I chose multiplication.

This reminded me of a truth in leadership. It’s easier to work by yourself. No one gets in the way and you don’t have to wait for someone to catch up. But this perspective has its limits. The end result is that what you’ve started by yourself you will finish by yourself.

Effective leaders don’t attract followers, they develop leaders. Taking the time to invite someone else into the work with you will require patience (sometimes long-suffering) and sacrifices in the present for what’s to be gained in the future. But it’s worth it because the work doesn’t end with us.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -African Proverb