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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: 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.

My Silent Protest

I was exposed to the NFL in the early 1990’s. My mom’s boyfriend was a Washington Redskins fan because of the success of Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. I became obsessed with the sport but Williams became an afterthought. I devoted eight years of my life competing in football in high school and in college.

But today my mind goes back to the significance of why my mom’s boyfriend watched NFL football. As an African-American male he was proud to witness the success of another African-American male competing in the best sports league in the most prestigious position. Today I’m also looking at the NFL through the lens of its treatment of another African-American quarterback and I’m no longer a fan.

Colin Kaepernick’s name is a lightning rod within the NFL and American culture. A mention of his name brings up the American flag and patriotism but rarely gets to the issue that drove Kaepernick to his knees–the death of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement. The same people that criticize Kaepernick’s silent protest also criticized the vociferous uprising that happened in cities like Baltimore. Many people don’t like how he protested but that’s the point of a protest–to make people feel the same discomfort one feels from injustices.

Colin Kaepernick is not being avoided because of a criminal record, an abusive incident, or drug charges. Throughout the years there have been multiple players with serious crimes in their past who were welcomed onto an NFL team. Was Colin’s protest so egregious that it is equal to these crimes? I don’t think that’s the case. I believe the incidents where NFL players hurt people are appalling to our society but Colin’s protest was offensive to many in our country. Teams hesitate to approach him because there is a large fan base who are personally offended by the act of one man. This reveals more about the moral compass of our culture than it says about the NFL. However, the NFL is stymied in their ability to view Kaepernick with objectivity because their filter is monetary impact more than moral courage.

I love this country and the value of democracy. Personally, I am offended by the confederate flag. As a black man I cannot disassociate the efforts of the people who marched to battle behind that flag during the Civil War. In this democratic country people have the right to place the image of this flag on their bumper or raise the flag from their home. Just don’t expect me to give you a hug when we first meet. There is more anger toward a man who knelt in front of the American flag than there is toward those who stand behind the confederate flag. But the issue with Colin Kaepernick has nothing to do with race just like the confederate flag and the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. Our country has the innate ability to shift people of color out of the conversation and focus on a different narrative.

People don’t have to agree with Colin. However, it’s very telling that the conversation around him has nothing to do with the lives of black people but everything to do with how he protested and if he is truly passionate about football. The same people who boldly speak against Kaepernick have yet to find the courage to speak as boldly against police brutality. As long as Kaepernick is absent from the NFL because of what he stands for, I will silently protest watching their product. My silent protest has nothing to do with the flag or Kaepernick’s knee and it has everything to do with the issue that Colin is standing for. The very issue that has disappeared from the conversation.

I know some will immediately respond with thoughts of black on black crime. This post is about one concern but I could write about the pain I feel for the murder rate, sex trafficking, and opiate overdoses in Baltimore. For now I’m focusing on this moral dilemma of why a person’s career is in jeopardy because he quietly knelt to bring attention to issues many of us quietly ignored.

“Something in human nature…gets contaminated with fear.”

-Branch Rickey, MLB owner who signed Jackie Robinson

 

 

Look Below Deck

To this day we give reverence to his writings. His hands wrote words that touch many hearts about the grandeur of God’s grace and the depth of our sin. The life of John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, is one of a sinner who encounters God and changes his behavior.

But Newton’s story, like most of ours, is much more complex. John Newton became a follower of Christ and continued to oversee ships that dragged slaves to multiple continents. In his next season of life he served as a pastor for many years before he wrote words that would decry the evil of slavery.

As the captain of his ship Newton wrote details of his day in his logbook as he traveled. In one entry he wrote:

“I will always take pleasure in ascribing to the helping of the God of peace…the remarkable good disposition of the men slaves…I was at first continually alarmed with their almost desperate attempt to make insurrections upon us…However from about the end of February they have behaved more like children in one family than slaves in chains and irons…”

It’s stunning to reflect on Newton’s ability to relish in his reverence for God and yet ignore the deplorable treatment of people created in the image of God. In this entry John Newton is content that the slaves are no longer disturbing his comfort. Their intentions to be free bothered him more than their bondage.

This still happens today. People rejoice in their high ideas of God while participating in or ignoring the degrading treatment of others. Take a moment to look below deck to look for stunning contradictions. Look for the places where your ideas are valued more than your neighbor or your comfort cherished more than someone’s dignity.

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” James 3:11

*Excerpt from Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild

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