When We Stop Deceiving Ourselves

 

 

            The trembling in my soul that began leading up to the observance of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has not yet stopped. I shuddered at the thought of hearing people who hated and still hate what Dr. King did to dismantle the capitalistic, white supremacist system that caused and still causes so many people to suffer offer flowery words of tribute. For what purpose? Only to bolster their objectives of continued racial oppression. by twisting and manipulating a few words that he said. 

            Were he alive today, they would be attacking him. As it is, though Dr. King was murdered in 1968 it wasn’t until 1983 that Congress approved a holiday in his honor and it took three more years for the holiday actually to be celebrated. 

            We live in a society that thrives on deception. The powers that be from the very beginning created a myth of American exceptionalism. They decided from the beginning that some people were more worthy than others, and they wrote those beliefs into the Constitution. This country was never meant to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave;” too many people were excluded from human and humane treatment from the beginning. 

            The deception with which this country was founded, and the deception that continues to be an identifiable element of our society can make one tremble with rage. Do the people in power know they are being deceptive? And if they do, do they care? Howard Thurman, though, makes an observation about deception – saying that it is “perhaps the oldest of all the techniques by which the weak have protected themselves against the strong.” The disinherited have survived by practicing deception, i.e. acting like everything is OK when that is far from the truth. The words of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask” comes to mind: 

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes 

This debt we pay to human guile; 

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,  

And mouth with myriad subtleties. 

Why should the world be over-wise 

In counting all our tears and sighs? 

Nay, let them only see us, while  

We wear the mask. 

We smile, but O great Christ our cries 

To thee from tortured souls arise. 

We sing, but oh the clay is vile 

Beneath our feet and long the mile; 

But let the world dream otherwise, 

We wear the mask! 

            If Thurman’s observation is accurate that deception is that which the weak use to survive, then we have to lift up the possibility that this country, which has touted and boasted about its strength, is actually very weak. It has created a narrative that has enabled it to survive against nations, principles, and ideas that are much stronger than anyone cares to admit. 

            But on an individual level, we deceive ourselves if we do not admit to ourselves that this entire debacle called Americanism grieves us to our souls. It causes us to tremble. Every time we have to swallow our pain and anger because of one more assault, we tremble. We dare not show it for fear of being castigated, fired, or worse, but it is inside of us. Thurman says that the “question of deception is not academic, but profoundly ethical and spiritual, going to the very heart of all human relations. For it raises the issue of honesty, integrity, and the consequences thereof over against duplicity and deception and the attendant consequences.” 

            We must admit and own the trembling within us. We must not fall prey to the narrative presented by the deceptive American society and government that criticizes the anger that the disinherited rightfully feel. This American government is not good for “the least of these,” and Thurman says we cannot continue to call a lie the truth.” He writes, “the penalty of deception is to become a deception.” That is not acceptable. We cannot be in true relationship with God – who is Truth – if we submit to a deceptive narrative that was created to steal our joy, our hope, and our faith. Thurman says, “sincerity in human relations is equal to sincerity to God.” 

            I got through the day by refusing to listen to any of the “tributes” to Dr. King that were offered by people who are actively trying to destroy everything he and other Civil Rights leaders did. They are not only trying to destroy what he and the Movement accomplished; they are also trying to dismantle and destroy the entire country.

It may be that it will not only be Black people will be wearing masks to hide their pain at what is going on in this country because the attack on liberty, constitutional rights, honesty, integrity, and principles will affect a lot of people. Were Dr. King alive, he would be mortified.

As well we should all be.

A candid observation …a

On Being a Sunday School Kind of Girl

When You’re a Sunday School Kind of Girl

            When I was a child, I loved Sunday School. I loved hearing about Jesus and how Jesus loved everybody and talked to everybody and healed so many people. Had Jesus not been the son of God, I probably would have said, when adults asked, as they always did, what I wanted to be when I grew up, “I want to be Jesus.”

            What I would have meant was, “I want to be like Jesus. I thought it was remarkable that Jesus cared for people that nobody else cared for, and, being a Black child in a white world, I was slowly learning what it was like to be despised, disrespected, and shunned because of who you were. 

            Even as a child, that surprised me, because so many of the white kids I knew went to Sunday School, too, and while some of them were nice, there were others who were just mean. One of my “friends” told me on a summer day when we were both playing on the monkey bars that her mother had told her she couldn’t play with me anymore because I was Black.

            “You’re Black,” she said. “Plain, old, ugly Black.”

            I wrote a children’s book about that experience, and for sure I, as have all Black people, have had my share of race-based experiences. But I confess that I am confused as to why this is the case, seeing as how there was but one Jesus and there is but one Bible that contains the teachings of Jesus.  

            That feeling of confusion arose in me again when the people who were storming the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, stopped to pray. They called on the name of Jesus. What Jesus was that? It was a Jesus with whom I have become familiar, because of all of the racism in this country, but it wasn’t my Sunday School Jesus. This Jesus was the same one who was OK with people burning crosses in the name of white supremacy, the same Jesus who seemed not to care that really religious people saw nothing wrong with praying and fasting before going out to lynch a Black person. This Jesus was one who did not care about social justice; indeed, if the Rev. John McArthur is to be believed, “social justice is nowhere included in the Bible.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ix_eHfGYuA)

            While the Jesus of my Sunday School lessons clearly had Jesus tending to “the least of these,” i.e., those who had been marginalized by society, the Jesus of McArthur and many who call themselves followers of the Christ stands for no such thing. McArthur suggested that the marginalized have made themselves victims; in the victim group, he includes women, the poor, ethnic groups, and the “sexually deviant” – his term, not mine. But …in my Sunday School lessons, Jesus attended precisely to those whom McArthur has labeled victims. 

            According to McArthur, the Gospel is the stumbling block of victims – because, he said, “victims hate the Gospel.” And, he said in the sermon cited above, “if you acknowledge that something bad has happened in history, you’ve indicted God.” 

            I keep thinking that white people are from Venus and Black people are from Mars, that there is no way there will ever be a spiritually safe intersection between those whose Sunday School lessons were apparently radically different from mine, and people like me. What did Jesus do, what did Jesus stand for, if it wasn’t for fairness and equity and dignity of all people? Apparently, there are at least two schools of thought.

            We are in the season of Lent, where we are supposed to be working on repentance – i.e., moving closer to God, but there is a problem. It seems that white and Black people are moving toward – if they are doing that at all – two different Gods. 

            And if that is the case, I shudder to think about what’s ahead for all of us.

            What all of the political and spiritual chaos has cemented in me is my resolve to remain a Sunday School kind of girl – but I also now realize that all Sunday School lessons are not the same.

            That is disturbing, as we confess that there is one Lord one faith, one baptism.

            Apparently, not so much.

A candid observation…

The Day Before Thanksgiving, 2021

            It is the day before Thanksgiving, and Black people, not only in the United States but all over the world, are holding a vigil, praying for justice in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

            Arbery is the 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was followed, harassed, and shot to death by three white men who decided they didn’t like it that he was running in a predominantly white neighborhood in 2020.

            The jury deciding their fate is made up of 11 white people, and one Black. (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/11/07/ahmaud-arbery-trial-jury-what-we-know/6269841001/)

            And this trial is happening in Georgia.

            In a trial that ended last week, Black people were not surprised that Kyle Rittenhouse, the young white teen who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin because he heard about protests going on in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers was completely exonerated. From the outset of that trial, as the judge ruled that the two men who were killed – white men, mind you – could not be called victims, Black people knew we were on the battlefield on injustice once again. The judge seemed unimpressed and was unmoved by the fact that Rittenhouse had traveled to this city, with his gun, and according to reports was the aggressor of the two men he killed. They had guns, but they did not attempt to shoot Rittenhouse. It was Rittenhouse who opened fire and then walked through the streets carrying his AR-47, unbothered by police.

            He said he was defending himself. That is always the go-to defense. All a white person has to say is “I was in fear for my life” and he/she generally gets off. In this case, it wasn’t Black people who were posing a threat, but white sympathizers, and that fact apparently gave the court justification for Rittenhouse’ actions. From what reports I read, one of the victims used a skateboard to try to knock the gun out of Rittenhouse’s hand as he aimed it at them.

            It seems that the now-dead were trying to defend and protect themselves.

            But we knew. We knew from the spirit of that trial. We knew because of the rancidly racist spirit of this country that Rittenhouse would get off.  He was released and is being hailed as a hero. The former president called him a “nice young man,” and several Republican members of Congress are supposedly considering him a good candidate to be a congressional intern.

            As we awaited that verdict, we exhaled. We swallowed the all-too-familiar lump in our throats that comes every time a Black person is shot and killed and the justice system – supported by a community of white people – does not care. Rittenhouse’s victims were white, but they were on the wrong side of the racial divide.

            But here we are, not a full week later, waiting to see what this jury will do. In spite of a brilliant case argued by the prosecution, the attorneys for the three white men have played the race card unashamedly. They have gone so far as to claim that their clients have been intimidated by the presence of Black pastors sitting in the courtroom in support of Arbery’s family. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/11/us/ahmaud-arbery-trial-defense-attorney-black-pastors/index.html)

            The message is clear: the attorneys for the white men who killed the unarmed Black man are the victims. It is a message that will resonate with a huge swath of the white community.

            When we as Black people have yet another one of these cases floating around, the years of internalized trauma caused both by racialized violence and a lack of justice take their toll. The stress is almost unbearable, as is the pre-verdict anxiety. We pray- certainly we pray because that is all we have been able to do as we challenge the systemic injustice of this country which is a part of “who we are” in spite of people saying that the history of our racial rot and the stench from it is not who we are. We pray, but we wonder about the presence of God. We, like Gideon about whom we read in the Hebrew scriptures, wonder where God is and to the statement that some will offer that “God is good,” we lean toward asking God to clarify what God’s “goodness” looks like for Black people.

            Meanwhile, we learn that for many whites, God is not about justice for all people, but is concerned about justice for people in power. God, and God’s son Jesus, are “strongmen,” and as such have little time for the whimpering of people against whom power wields its power. Many believe that “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. Jesus came to take over.” ( Jeff Sharlet. The Family) Therefore, their Jesus approved of the attempt to take down the government, and Jesus is in support of a justice system which protects the rights of the wealthy and powerful and does all he can to keep them there.

            So it is against powers and principalities which do not care one iota about the injustice that we wrestle with as we wait for this verdict. Those who feast on their belief in their right to take down Black people and who do so with impunity because they know the chances of them being held accountable are slim to none are waiting for an acquittal so they can wave their Confederate flags honoring another white supremacist victory. They do not care that a Black mother is grieving, that a Black community is sitting on edge, and that Black children are understanding – again – that being Black in America makes one a hated and easy target.

            So yes, on this day before Thanksgiving, we are holding vigil. We are muttering prayers and softly humming hymns that bring some relief from the stress of being Black in this country. According to Sharlet, the so-called Christians who lift up the name of Jesus do so as an acknowledgement of Jesus being one of the first “strongmen” in this country. They believe he was a capitalist and that he sought to push capitalism as the principle we ought all to follow. Their Jesus, or what Sharlet calls “the American Jesus,” is not concerned with the cries of people who have never known justice, fairness, or full rights as American citizens. 

            This Jesus is no more concerned about justice for Ahmaud Arbery than were the pilgrims who landed here in the 1600s and decided that it was their godly duty to take out Indigenous Americans, who were here long before white people stepped out of their ships.

            We hold vigil, and we pray. It is what we have had to do – and have to do, still, in order to survive in a country that is content to use us but remains totally uninterested in treating us as human beings who desire justice like any white person.

            A candid observation…

Will Racism in this Country Ever be Gone?

Someone asked me recently if racism will ever be gone from this country.

After pausing, I said, “I doubt it.”

I have watched the venom called racism bubble up and spill over into every aspect of our lives over the past four years. It was always there; its bubbling up just indicated that there had been enough holes made in the veneer of respectability and tolerance for the venom to spill out.

It has been awful and will get even worse. Those who have lived in their own quiet halls and hells stuffed with their resentment of Black people have come out. Some are calling for civil war. One teacher said to her class that if it weren’t for the U.S. Constitution, Black students would be her “field slaves. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-teacher-accused-telling-black-students-they-could-be-n1281164). White parents see nothing wrong with their children calling Black children “nigger,” and worry instead that if their children are taught too much Black history, it will teach them to hate their white skin. (https://www.chalkbeat.org/2021/5/18/22441106/critical-race-theory-teaching-about-racism). They put their complaints within the arguments against teaching children Critical Race Theory – which is a course taught in college – saying that they don’t want anything taught that makes white people look bad; it is divisive, they say. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/).

Meanwhile, we who are Black continue to struggle against oppressive practices and policies that have always been a barrier for us to enjoy full American citizenship.

It is difficult to accept or even to listen to these complaints; it is infuriating to hear white parents talk about how they don’t want even the story of Ruby Bridges, who integrated the William Frantz Elementary School in 1959 and was made to sit in a classroom by herself for a year – just because she was Black, or to read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that he wrote during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

They don’t want their children to learn about how “law enforcement” lynched Black people just because they could; they don’t want their children to learn how Black people built this country; they don’t want their children to learn how Black men who fought in this country’s wars were ineligible for many of the veteran benefits afforded to white men – just because they were Black.

They have concocted a god who supports white supremacy, a god who will not condemn them for what their race has done. Many of their preachers uphold the belief that white supremacy is of god and from god, and some argued during the 60s that to fight for the civil (and human) rights of Black people was to put their own salvation in jeopardy.

Despite using the name “Christian” in their goings-on, the truth is nothing that many of these people practice and ascribe to is in alignment with what Jesus the Christ taught. Jesus’ strength, or a big part of it, was his capacity to include and embrace all people. His message was that God wanted community, not chaos, and that all people were worthy of being in community. Racism and the support of white supremacy – which includes not only racism but sexism as well – was not a part of his message, not a part of the “Good News,” so when I hear rabid racists declare that they are Christian, my very soul recoils. The late Rev. CT Vivian said it best, “You cannot be a racist and be a Christian.”

Using the name of God to rubber-stamp hatred and bigotry, and to effect policies that are so detrimental to so many people, is offensive to me. It feels like a violation of the commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Using the name of Jesus to justify racial hatred is like spreading a deadly rumor.

What I see is a group of people who are disgruntled with their own privilege; though they bristle when it is mentioned that they have privilege, the truth is that they feel like their privilege has been affected and compromised by too many Black people “getting too much.” Instead of hearts filled with the type of agape love preached by the Christ, their hearts seem to be filled with this resentment, which feeds their hatred for and paranoia about the progress that Black people have made in spite of everything that has put in place to prevent it. Their belief in their superiority has kept them afloat even when they have internally known that that claim is bogus; what they have always been able to do is fall back on their go-to “blessed assurance,” “at least I’m not Black.”

Jesus the Christ says to love those who persecute you. And forgive them. Those lessons have probably kept Black people alive in spite of the heinous treatment they/we have endured because the people who hate us have had access to friendly and biased courts, police departments, and policies. They have had – and have used – weapons of mass social destruction. Black people have held on and remained on the battlefield because the lessons of love and forgiveness work; they replace feelings of hatred with the spirit of God that the world did not give and which the world cannot take away.

But this fight is exhausting. White people want a civil war; I would guess that many want Black people – and all of the immigrants of color whom they do not like – to be put “in their place” and thus, “Make America great again.” We as Black people move and live knowing that there is no entity that protects us – not the police, not the lawmakers (who are actually lawbreakers), and certainly not the courts. We move and love knowing that the only peg on which to hang our hope is the belief that Jesus the Christ hears us and will continue to strengthen us. Our refusal to run and crumble will only feed the rabid anger and resentment of white people, whose privilege is not enough to make them whole.

Belief in their supremacy because of their race has damaged their spirits, but they are not willing to admit it and therefore, will not be healed. A problem cannot be fixed unless and until it is acknowledged, and our white brothers and sisters are unwilling to do neither.

Racism in this country will not end, then, because that unwillingness to admit the problems is blocking the healing. The whole world knows about America’s illness and has used it to get into our lives and interfere with our government. It is happening now.

And it will not end well.

A candid observation …

We Who Are Black and Christian

 

We who are Black and Christian wonder why God doesn’t do something, why God won’t stop the hatred and bigotry, why God is allowing politicians to use God’s name to create, manage and perpetuate policies that will push Black people back to the starting line.

            Again.

            We struggle – or at least some of us do. I have had plenty of people remind me that “God is in control,” saying it in such a way that I understand that I’m being told to stop voicing discontent with God during this time.

            But I cannot keep silent, and I cannot stop wondering where God is!!! God wants community, not confusion. God wants us to love each other, not lynch each other, verbally, physically, or politically. Right?

            Why doesn’t God stop people who are using His/Her name to justify their hatred? 

            Are we looking for answers in the wrong way? The wrong place? We as African Americans have been calling on God to help us not only get justice but to keep it, but the same issues, undergirded by the same racism, keep coming up. Neither we, in our fight for justice, nor God have been successful in stamping racism out. 

            The believers in racism and white supremacy say God sanctions and agrees with them, that, in fact, God created the races, intending that they be separated from each other.

            So that means that white people violated the will of God when they went to Africa and brought Africans, against their will, to the white world? And that means that God saw it but God allowed it? So does that mean that God didn’t intend for the races to be separate?

            Although white nationalists say they are Christian, they are not Christian as defined and described in the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is not a bigot. Jesus is not a soldier, looking to conquer other people and nations, by force or otherwise. The Jesus of the Bible insists on building community.

            That Jesus is not the Jesus being claimed by people who kill, maim, lynch, discriminate against, and terrorize Black people. 

            I have had conversations with many Black people – young and old – who are struggling with the lack of a smack-down by God of those who are terrorizing Black people, and they are struggling because they cannot find God in what is going on. They ask if God is a white supremacist? Or, as the late Rev. William R. Jones wrote, Is God a White Racist?” Those are not questions you can ask or even have a discussion about in the midst of “the saints.” You will be shot down and chastised for not having faith.

            But the query begs an answer. Black people have held onto God with a fury. If nothing else, God has kept us and “brought us from a mighty long way.” But, say some who are struggling, God has not made it so that the “long way” is not erased by periodic explosions of white rage and resentment. 

            One friend of mine said recently, “I just can’t do it anymore. I just can’t hold onto my hope that God will change the hearts of these people who want nothing more than to keep us in our place by any means necessary. I cannot hold onto my hope that God will produce a harvest of changed hearts in people who have lived all their lives in their whiteness, making life miserable for Black people and not caring about it, or even thinking about it, for that matter.”

            Dante Stewart, a writer, and student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology said that the historic Black Church “didn’t only save our souls. It saved our bodies.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/08/13/future-black-church-dancing-streets/?fbclid=IwAR1J04U9jAXpj4VCH7ysEGgmlLTx3JE3W87Vcka3At6QwvPbBJoNYsibqcM) We found comfort in the physical church from the fellowship and community. If we struggled with God’s action in the public square, we could and did struggle together in community. The problems didn’t seem so insurmountable.

            But with the pandemic having changed everything so radically, we no longer have church like we used to. And so the struggle is different. How we do and must do “church” has to be different, but we must have it. The experience of “church” has saved us even as we have struggled with wondering why God has not stopped the madness. As we have worshipped and shouted and lifted our voices in song, some of us have looked for evidence of divine intervention and even divine interest in what is going on but when we have not seen it, the thread that bound us in community, that helped us screech out the pain of being Black in this country kept us looking up and holding onto hope.

            The power of Jesus the Christ was his ability and intention to love, honor, and respect everyone, including and especially those whom society scorned and shunned. The people committing violent insurrection and passing equally as violent voter suppression laws, the people who are railing against anything and anyone who is not white, heterosexual, wealthy, and male are not calling on the Jesus of the Bible. And we who are Black and Christian, some of us, wonder why God doesn’t …do something.