The Power of Solitary Brooding

I was struck this week in reading how Howard Thurman talked about solitary brooding, and I realized I was there, brooding deeply. I find that because so much is going on, so many things that “were” seem to be on the verge of disappearing, that I brood more than I once did. 

When one broods, it can be a sign of being depressed, or it can mean that one is giving a situation deep thought, musing over something or some things that demand a deeper delve in order to understand. My brooding falls into the latter category. I am not depressed. Rather, I am trying to make sense out of what is going on and what it will mean for those who are already oppressed. I am engaged in what Howard Thurman called “solitary brooding,” and it feels like the absolutely right place to be right now.

            In my musings, I had a thought: that if the government continues its shift toward fascism, it won’t be so different a life for Black people. Black people brown and poor people, have always lived under absolute rule where the rulers have been more concerned about keeping themselves in power than in empowering “the least of these.” Black people in this country have learned to navigate the waters of fascism. “Making a way out of no way” has been about sidestepping the intentional barriers to life and dignity that this government has always put before us.

            Black people have learned to brood, and yet to survive. Oppressed people in general have learned that skill, but Black people, who have always been under the thumb of white supremacy have learned it in a unique way. Those who are supporting the move away from “democracy” have deluded themselves into believing that the people in power care about them and will go to extraordinary lengths to protect them, but they will not, and just as so many people whined about being told to wear face masks during the pandemic so as to protect others from getting sick, they will whine as they come to understand that their privilege will be sharply curtailed and controlled. They have not stopped to brood, or to think, about what is ahead of them. They are unable to see themselves being oppressed by power, and yet, it is before them.

            Thurman said “The test of life is often found in the amount of pain we can absorb without spoiling our joy.” Clearly, Black people in this country have passed that test over and over, in spite of the pain that has come just from being Black. In this country, we have often retreated to deep spiritual places, alone, so that we can brood and hear the voice of God. In our brooding, we allow ourselves to identify and then empty out the malignant despair that seeks to take us to depths from which we will not be able to emerge. We instinctively know that we cannot remain “there.” And so we listen to that voice, encouraging us in spite of us having to continually duck from the toxic darts of white supremacy. We inhale the Holy Spirit and exhale joy. In spite of all that this society deprives us of, it cannot take our joy. We celebrate life and make life happen in spite of the efforts of the society to make us stop believing that there is such a thing as victories against our foes. It is in our celebration that we regain our strength and resolve to go forth and that decision in turn feeds our capacity to celebrate. We live out the truth of the beatitude as recorded in the book of Luke: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” 

            It is in our brooding that we make room for the Holy Spirit to wash our muddied spirits and moisturize our dried out souls. In our brooding, we share the space with ancestors who lived before us and left us spiritual drops of hope and joy, gifts from God that they knew they would have to pass on to us. We must take the time to brood, to think about where we are and to remember that the God of our ancestors has never abandoned us. We must remind ourselves of that truth.

            Those who have never had to do that type of brooding are not able to understand why and how an aggrieved people can still laugh and shout and sing. When their privilege gets threatened, they are more apt to panic than to be still…and brood, and their inability to do that feeds their despair.

            We do not know what is before us, but we have a feeling that difficult days lie ahead. Would that we would continue to engage in solitary brooding so that we can connect with the Holy Spirit and be strengthened for the journey, whatever direction that journey may take us.

            Amen and amen.

How Do the Faithful Oppressed Pray?

            As many people, Black and white, but especially Black, are watching the trial of ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, it is safe to say that many are waiting with bated breath. The instances of white officers getting away with shooting and killing Black people have been too many; even in cases where videos have captured the actions of the accused officers, making many believe that the justice system would have no choice but to arrest, indict, and convict the accused, they have been acquitted or exonerated before even having to go to trial.

            It is not a sure thing that Chauvin will be convicted. If he is not, I was asked, what will happen?

            I don’t know, but I do know that internalized pain eventually erupts; one can only take so many hits to his or her concept of and need for justice before the pus that forms from the untreated wound caused by injustice pushes its way out.

            What, then, or how …do the faithful oppressed pray? What types of prayers are pastors of Black congregations offering to and sharing with their members? Or are they praying about it at all? Are they avoiding the elephant in the room because, frankly, they do not know what to say or how to say it?

            There has been a frustration that many Black pastors, theologians and scholars have grappled with for generations. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist? James Cone tackled the problem of a God whom the Bible says is no respecter of persons, but who has not interceded and stopped white supremacy – which supports the dehumanization and criminalization of Black people. Cone’s answer was the development of Black Liberation Theology. Black people  have wondered where God is and why, if and since God shows no favoritism, hasn’t God stopped the insanity called white supremacy?

            The frustration with God by leaders of oppressed people shows up in the Bible. Moses, pegged by Yahweh to lead the Israelites from Egyptian captivity to freedom, expresses the frustration in Exodus 5:22-23, saying, “Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people. (italics mine.) 

            Many Black faith leaders feel Moses’ frustration. God has, in fact, been manipulated to act as a protector and supporter of white supremacy. Throughout American history, white Christians – in both the North and the South – believed and preached that God was in favor of segregation and against the mixing of the races in any fashion, including education and burial, thus, they preached the rightness not only of segregation but of lynching as well. Many white Christian hailed their God as one who supported and ordained their cultural leanings.

            God looked the other way, it seems, during the violence carried out by whites against Black people during the Civil Rights Movement. In history, God has certainly either looked the other way or refused to see – and stop – the violent desecration and ruination of entire black communities perpetrated by white people who believed Black people did not and should not have the right to vote. “Good Christian” white people resonated with the words of one Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, who said, as he riled up white people to violent insurrection against black people and the government in Wilmington, North Carolina because the whites resented the power of the Black voting bloc and their considerable presence in state government, “Here in the most quiet and conservative of the original 13 states…we are reduced to the pitiful necessity of choosing whether we will live under the domination of Negroes…” (David Zucchino, The Wilmington Lie, p. 147) Whites in Wilmington did, in fact, succeed in murdering hundreds of Black people in that 1898 insurrection, destroyed Black homes, churches, and communities, and were successful in driving Black people out of office – and keeping them out until the early 1970s.

            As the Black residents of Wilmington saw what was going on, the religious leaders urged them to pray, assuring them that God would hear their prayer and stop the murderous rage of their white brothers, but to no avail. The riot and insurrection went on as planned – and in the end, the whites revised the story to read that it was Black people who had instigated the riot and that they had only retaliated to save their lives and the lives of their families.

            There are many accounts of Black people praying against those who oppressed them, but in spite of the prayers, the attacks and the oppression that is a part of an Empire run by white supremacists have continued.

            What, then, do the oppressed pray? How do the faithful oppressed have conversations with God and what is the desired outcome?

            It spite of the prayers of Black and other oppressed people, white supremacy has not disappeared and is not in danger of doing so. Do we pray for the ability to hold on? Do we pray for new vision and new tactics? Do we pray for new leaders? We have done all of that; we have held on and the nonviolent direct action taught by the Rev. James Lawson and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is probably the reason more Black people have not been killed by white supremacists with guns.

            But at the end of the day, what should be the corporate prayer of the faithful oppressed? What should we be praying now, in light of the quest for justice for George Floyd and unprecedented voter suppression laws being created? ? How do faith leaders train their people to handle their hurt, frustration, disappointment and anger over racial oppression that never ceases?

            Surely, there must be an answer and some specific words that can be codified and shared with us all as we wait, with bated breath, to see if a murderous police officer will be punished for what he has done.

America’s Underwear is Dirty

It is probably safe to say that all of us were told by our mothers when we were little that we should always make sure our underwear was clean. They said the reason was that we never know when or if we might be in an accident. “You don’t want anybody to see that you’ve got on dirty underwear,” my mother would say.

America, it seems, has never changed her underwear.

The entire debacle of ICE agents ripping children from the arms of their mothers, and of putting children in detention centers while concurrently sending their parents to jail is not a new thing. More accurately, America’s power elite have a history of separating children from their families.

When Africans were brought to this country, it was common for those purchasing Africans would buy a mother or father, leaving screaming and terrified children behind. In many cases, those parents never saw their children again.

It is America’s underwear.

What allows anyone to separate families, ignoring the screams of mothers and their children, is the presence of cognitive dissonance, defined as “holding onto contradictory ideas simultaneously,” according to Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”

            In America, she says, people hold onto the idea of freedom while doing something which is totally in opposition to that ideal. Thus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who would staunchly defend his belief in democracy and Christianity could and did defend the policy of separating families of people coming to America from Central America.

Mr. Sessions does not, cannot and will not allow himself to…consider that these people are human beings, parents who love their children and who would not even think of leaving a despotic political situation and leave their children behind.

He does not relate to the immigrants as human beings. He has disassociated himself from them and therefore cannot feel their pain and worse, cannot believe that they are capable of feeling the same pain as does he and others whose humanity he respects.

Heather Anderson Williams writes in “Compartmentalizing Slavery” that “most white slaveowners …would have only a limited sense of what enslaved people felt and they did not pause the morality of an institution that deprived humans of their liberty and wantonly destroyed their families.” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/how_white_people_justified_and_struggled_with_separating_slave_families.html)

Likewise, there was no sense of how Native Americans felt when the Europeans came to America, bringing with them diseases to which Native Americans had never been exposed which resulted in over 90 percent of the Native American population at that time dying off. Nor did they consider what Native Americans felt when their land was taken, or how they felt when Europeans ignored their humanity in the quest for power and control of this country.

Martin Luther King said that there is a phenomenon called “thingification.”  In an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he said, “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will thingify them – make them things. Therefore they will exploit them …”

That “thingification” has contributed to the oppression of blacks in this country for 300 years, for the decimation and genocide of Native Americans, for the oppression of women, members of the LGBTQ community,  for Muslims, and now, for the horrific treatment the current administration is meting out to immigrants coming to America seeking asylum.

Those ripping children from their parents have made these people “things” in the classic sense. Though they hear the children screaming for their parents, and the parents screaming back to their children, reaching for them, they have distanced themselves from the human tragedy in which they are engaged. Like the Europeans decimating the Native Americans, and like white people thinking only of ways to use black people to further their economic goals, these people today cannot conceive that the parents and children’s screams they are hearing are genuine.

They have dissociated. These people are not true human beings, capable of feeling as do the law enforcement officers and government working against them.

America’s underwear is dirty. She has never changed that part of her presence which was sullied and soiled from the moment the Europeans landed on these shores.

Sometimes, something is so dirty that it cannot be totally cleaned. There is a gray film over it and no amount of washing or bleaching fixes the problem.

This desire to protect whiteness, which is at the base of most of the oppression in this country, has sullied America’s underwear for hundreds of years. Attacking a group of people, ruining their families and causing a lifetime of hurt and pain, is part of what has stained the ideal of American democracy. It is a stain that was begun from the moment Europeans arrived here, and it continues to spread.

Were America taken to an emergency room, sick and in serious condition, it is a sure thing that those trying to treat her would see her dirty underwear, clearly never changed …and be appalled, judgmental and perhaps unconcerned. America’s poverty of humanity caused by her consistent “thingification” of people is leading her to a bad place, where her myth of being “the greatest nation in the world” will no longer stand up to scrutiny. Her dirty underwear will finally be completely exposed.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

In Gaza, Quest for Power Overrides Morality

When people are in positions of protected power, the result is unspeakable suffering on the part of others, with little accountability asked for.

It was Lord Acton who said, “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/absolute-power-corrupts-absolutely.html.

Haven’t we all seen it? Law enforcement officers, in this country and in others, have shown the truth of Acton’s statement.  Too many police in our country are brutes; it seems that, for too many of them, the uniform, badge and gun gives them an inflated sense of themselves. Instead of being protectors, too many of them are predators, preying on the weak, the poor and the disadvantaged. The recent incident involving Eric Garner and New York police is, unfortunately, a prime example of power being used to abuse another human being.  Garner is just one of too many black people who have succumbed to brute power disguising itself as righteousness in the form of law enforcement. Blacks lynched in this country were often taken to their deaths by law enforcement officers who hid behind their badges and guns to do their dirty work.

Today I am wrestling with what is going on in Israel. I am more than disturbed; I am heartbroken that the Palestinian people are suffering at the hands of what Israel calls its soldiers: “the most moral army in the world.” http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.577295 I see no morality at all in what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinian people in their quest to wipe out Hamas.  I know the propaganda: that Hamas brings about the deaths of its own people by housing its weapons in heavily populated areas … but something about decimating women and children at will seems morally corrupt. No. It IS morally corrupt. Israel has a strong army, fueled and funded by the United States; the Palestinians, I read, have no army at all, but, rather, have a militia. The Israelis “warn” the Palestinians when they are going to fire upon them; but the Palestinians have nowhere to go! So, these innocent women and children …and Palestinian men who are NOT part of Hamas, are being gunned down like flies. I am appalled.

Absolute power. It’s absolute power in action. Israel has great power, buoyed by world-wide support. The Palestinian people have little to no such support. They are being forced from their homes, from their neighborhoods…

It feels too familiar. I am an African-American. I know oppression. I know what it is like to live in a country where absolute power has its way economically, politically and socially. It is a tribute to the strength and faith of black people in this land that we have not simple disappeared under the pressure. Theologian James Cone, author of many books but most recently penning The Cross and the Lynching Tree, said in reflections offered at the Proctor Institute of Child Advocacy sponsored by the the Children’s Defense Fund, that he didn’t know how black people have survived the oppression, the cruelty, the brutality, the bullying heaped upon them by white people historically. Power corrupts, clearly. White people in America have used the privilege of being white to trample upon people who built this country…and they have never had to answer for it.

It is what I am seeing, or feeling, as concerns what is going on in Gaza. The Israelis are pummeling the Palestinian people, and too many “leaders” are endorsing and supporting their actions. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself …but this way? Seriously? Is it a fact that the only way Israel can defend itself against Hamas is by killing innocent Palestinians?

I heard Henry Seigman, a Jewish writer and scholar in this country, say that the conflict could be eliminated if 1) there was the development of two states in Israel (which he thinks is now impossible) or 2) there was the development of one state… with Palestinians being given full rights and full citizenship (of which now they have neither.)  Seigman said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will never agree to one state because he doesn’t want Israel to be such that there are more Arabs than Jews.

So, what? The massacre of the Palestinians continues? When (or if) the tunnels are all destroyed, then what? What will the powerful do as relates to those who have been decimated, dehumanized, and demoralized?

In this country, at least black people had the black church in which and from which to draw strength. We didn’t return fire for fire; we used God as the ultimate weapon. We fought, but not with weapons, because we knew we would never win that way. We saw power; white supremacy was and is our Goliath, and we certainly used “stones of faith” to fling against our oppressors.

Hamas, however, isn’t interested in stones. It wants to fight “man to man,” “missile to missile,” although it seems fairly obvious that such strategy is only resulting in the deaths of more and more Palestinians. Hamas is fighting the way Israel wants them to fight…and in this fight, there is no God, not from either side.

One more thing: the United States, in its quest for retention of power and respect, has shown no morality at all in supplying weapons to Israel with which to carry out its mission. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and America is complicit in the journey.

Power corrupts. Lord Acton was correct. In Gaza, the quest for retention of power is on the fast track, and when the race is over, I shudder to think of what will be left of the indigenous people, the Palestinians.

A candid observation …