God’s Ways…are NOT Our Ways

A few days ago I was reading the story of John the Baptist, holed up in prison for having irritated Herod because “The Baptist” disapproved of  Antipas’ marriage to his own brother’s former wife, and Herod feared an uprising, according to the historian Josephus. John the Baptist had apparently said, out loud, that he disapproved of Herod’s marriage “to your brother’s former wife.” That woman, then, named Herodias, hated “The Baptist,” and when her daughter Salome danced for her and Herod, Herod was so inspired that he said to Salome, “whatever you want, ask, and I will get it for you.” Herodias saw her chance, conspired with Salome, and with her mother’s prodding, asked for the head of John the Baptist’ head, delivered to her mother on a platter.

As I read that story, and talked about it with a few students, I asked them what they thought about what this story tells us about “God‘s ways.” Here sat John in prison, for doing what his loyalty to God and belief in God’s command to him to “speak truth to power,” and he apparently was not feeling the presence of God. His situation so bothered him that he sent some of his friends to Jesus, who was nearby, to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for someone else?” That meant, to me at least, that John was feeling the absence of God when he needed to feel the presence of God most. His unasked question seemed to be, “would God really let this happen to me? Would God not send his son Jesus, who has done so much good for people he hasn’t even known, to rescue me or save me, at least, from death?”

Jesus answered, telling John’s “people” to remind “The Baptist” of how he healed the sick, made the blind see, helped the deaf to hear …basically giving a review of all he had done and was doing, which was not news to John. He knew that. His immediate unasked but internalized question, though, went unanswered. “Aren’t you going to save me?”

The answer was no. “The Baptist” was beheaded later that month, according to historian Josephus. God’s ways are NOT our ways.

There is value in studying God’s ways, even when or especially when, we do not understand something that is going on in our own lives. I would imagine that some of the parents of the children who were shot and killed in Newtown in December 2012 asked God something like, “Would God really have allowed this to happen?” I would imagine that the tragedy that left former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to be shot and severely injured left someone asking, “Would God have allowed this to happen?” So many times, in so many situations, personal and public, things happen that make people who believe in God scratch their divine-leaning hearts and ask, “Where was God? Why didn’t God stop this?”

Richard Rohr wrote that we cannot think our way into doing something different; we must do some things to get ourselves into another way of thinking. I am still pondering that thought. How would doing that make us more ably handle the things that happen to us that we do not understand, and that either are unfair or certainly feel unfair? And if we were able to do that, when we would find ourselves in a prison of pain or confusion or grief so deep that we cannot reach the bottom, would there be a peace about us, making us know that our ways truly are not God’s ways?

The truth is, sometimes, perhaps many times, God DOES allow bad things to happen to us or in our lives. God allowed Joseph to be terrorized by his brothers, left for dead. God allowed Job to lose everything except his own miserable life. God allowed the children to die in Newtown, God has allowed racism and sexism and homophobia to exist, alongside white supremacy. God allowed the storm in Joplin, Missouri, that killed so many and caused so much destruction; God allowed Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, storms which absolute wreaked havoc on innocent people, many of them too poor to be able to even jump in a car and get out of harm’s way.  God allowed the Holocaust and the Inquisition and Crusades. God allows rampant gun violence in urban areas, responsible for the deaths of way too many children and young adults, but we don’t dare talk about ways to get handguns off the streets and out of the markets! God is allowing scores of children in our United States to suffer from hunger, even though it is said this country grows enough food so that nobody has to go hungry. God has allowed and does allow bad things to happen to really good people, and as we can see from the John the Baptist story, this tendency of God is not a new thing.

In a strange way, knowing that can give comfort. At least we know that this is really the same God that has always existed. Jesus’ answer to John, and God’s answer to Job, were not particularly comforting, in that neither God nor Jesus gave the hard, quick, direct answers that those men and we who have read their stories wanted. No, both deities recited all the divine work they were doing and had done…and apparently, freeing and saving John or giving Job an answer for his dilemma, was not in the Divine Planner.

And yet, these two men believed, as have countless people who have been in a fire of some sort and either come out burned or not come out at all. God blessed Job once his wager with The Adversary was done; John didn’t fare so well. But it is apparent that John, once he received Jesus’ answer about what he was going and had done, calmed down and rested in his faith.

So, since we will never understand God’s ways, we have an assignment to learn all we can about how to live in faith, regardless of what is going on in our lives. We still fight for what is right and just, because injustice is and always has been, a major problem in this world…but we fight for it because it IS the right thing to do, not because we think we are going to get a nice, succinct answer from God on why things are as they are, why they are so slow to change, or why God allows suffering to exist. We do it because by doing it it shows we are “righteous,” that is, in right relationship with God, and that has its own rewards.

A candid observation …

 

Black Men, Dying

Some time ago, the late playwright James Chapmyn wrote a play entitled, Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care. The play highlights the struggles African-American men face in this country and shows how it affects their very psyches, their spirits, their will to go on …

I thought about that as I read about the latest incident of a black man being shot and killed in Chicago. The 30-year old father was sitting in his home when a shot rang out from a passing car. It went through a window of his home, hitting him in the head and instantly killing him.

Ironically, his mother was visiting a friend not too far away. The two of them were talking about another son of hers who in April of this year was killed by gunfire. He was 25 years old. When she heard the shots fired while she was visiting her friend, she immediately bolted out to see what had happened. To her horror, her second son lay dead.

The rate of black men dying by homicide is high and has always been high; the homicide rate in the city of Chicago for the month of November was 49 percent. Black men are dying, either on the streets or in prisons, and nobody seems to care.

There has been legitimate outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, allegedly by George Zimmerman earlier this year, and just a couple of weeks ago, a young, unarmed African-American teen, Jordan Davis, was shot after a white man, irritated because the music in the SUV in which a  group of young black men were riding was too loud, allegedly fired eight shots into the vehicle, killing Davis. Again, there is outrage as the accused man, Michael Dunn, may try to use the same “stand your ground” law that Zimmerman is using as justification for his actions and that outrage is legitimate.

But where is the outrage over the fact that black people keep killing…black people? Is there outrage and the media simply does not cover it, or has the African-American community grown numb to the widespread violence in so many of its communities?

There are a few isolated souls who protest against the violence that rips through too many African-American communities. Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church. leads an annual march against violence in Chicago. Other pastors have been known to lead protests and hold conferences to address the issue.

But their efforts get little national attention. It is as though the country has fallen asleep on this issue, not caring about the young men, dying…

This issue is difficult to even write about. Dr. Robert Franklin, the outgoing president of Morehouse College, said in passing last week that our young black men need much help. Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund, has identified the so-called “cradle to prison” syndrome. Tony Harris, a former CNN anchor, recently did a documentary about the plight of young black men living in Baltimore. He, too, said that there is so much to be done.

Violence often comes, writes Dr. Joy Degruy Leary in Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America‘s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, because of anger, and anger in African-Americans is directly linked to legacy of chattel slavery in this country. She asks, “Why is it that anger is such a large part of the experience of most African-Americans?”   Her answer, quoting Dr. James Samuels, is that “anger is the normal response to a blocked goal. Often, if a person’s goal remains blocked over time, they will begin to consider the possibility of failure and so experience fear, and when we are fearful, we also lash out with anger.”

Young African-Americans are faced with feeling “less than” and “not worthy” early on in their lives. They are parented by parents who wrestle with feelings of failure, and then they go to school which are often in bad physical shape, with substandard teachers, huge classes, outdated books, and far too little of what they need to receive a quality education. Jonathon Kozol writes that he has seen little black children enter school excited about being there, but by third grade, their excitement is gone; they have internalized that they are “not so special.” They stop trying. They fall into a mindset that is ripe for the anger that produces violence.

Dr. Leary says that African-American parents continue to raise their children “in the face of a multitude to indignities, disrespect and blocked goals. Their frustration is passed on to their children…

And so, black men, black youth, black boys are dying, either on the streets, or they end up in prisons and die spiritually while they are caged up.

More of us need to care.  The 49 percent homicide rate in Chicago for the month of November is scary, and Chicago is not the only major urban area experiencing this kind of violence.  If we in the African-American community have fallen asleep in order to numb ourselves to the constant pain of our young men, dying, we need to wake up and look at the issue in a new way…and do something. White America needs to understand that much of the violence in our country is due to young people feeling hopeless and frustrated due to the shock waves of slavery and its child, racism; Michael Dunn, accused of shooting and killing Jordan Davis, is a victim of racism, too.  Nobody, black or white, can afford to ignore  or escape the problem.

Author James Baldwin said in an interview with Studs Terkel in 1961 that he was no longer angry with America. He said he is very worried about it…because the “country has no notion whatever of what it has done to itself.” The price of keeping blacks and whites separated, stepping on one race while lifting up the other, has had disastrous effects on both races. Both races are violent.

But the violence in urban communities comes too often from black people hurting black people. Too many African-American communities are sleeping and too many white communities are point accusatory fingers and shaking their heads about “those people.”

There is not “those people.” There is “us people,” and “us people” need to all be concerned and working against the epidemic of black men, dying.

A candid observation …