“The Good Ship Jesus”

Slave Ship Jesus

 

One of the most popular church songs during my teen years had these lyrics:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that name.”

Master, Savior, Jesus; like the fragrance after the rain…”

The song was one of the hundreds of holy hits put out by the Gaithers – sung in churches all through the South.

The song reminded us of many attributes of Jesus.

Jesus:  Love, kindness, justice, gentleness, humility.  These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Jesus.

But how about these words?

Jesus:  Horror, suffering, injustice, slavery, torture.

The name of the first slave ship to kidnap Black Folks and take them to America was…are you ready?

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Yep, there was a slave ship named “Jesus.”  A place of suffering, injustice, slavery and torture, named after Jesus.

“The Good Ship Jesus” was captained by Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins was considered to be a “religious gentleman” who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another.”  Worship services were held on board twice a day.

I’m pulling out my hair, right now.

A “religious gentleman”?

“Serve God” by enslaving people?

“Love another” except people of another race, I guess.

That was 1562.

Let’s move forward 300 years and look at and listen to Frederick Douglass – America’s most famous abolitionist.  According to an article in the January/February 2018 issue of Christianity Today, Douglass escaped slavery when he was 20.  Standing on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay one Sunday morning he cried out, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God save me!”

“I will run away…God helping me, I will.”  He did.

Douglass settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1841 he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  His assignment was to convince the American public of the immorality of slavery and the necessity of the anti-slavery cause. Douglass had a catchphrase.  You know, a catch-phrase is a well-known statement or phrase from a famous person or character, like these:

Harry Carry – “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck – “That’s a Winner!”

The Terminator – “I’ll be Back.”

Han Solo – “May the Force Be With You”

Sheriff Brody in Jaws – “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Here is Douglass’ catch-phrase – a line he repeated in almost every address:

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible differences.”

In the Appendix of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass condemned “corrupt, slaveholding women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”

Quoting from the Christianity Today article, “As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent church goers. ‘The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.’”

Douglass continues with words that break my heart, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master…The slaveholder…covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass lays it out there pretty plainly doesn’t he?

Here’s our “come to Jesus” moment:

What “infernal business” are we covering with the “garb of Christianity”?

Is there a difference between our Christianity and the Christianity of Christ?

What are we doing that Jesus wouldn’t do?

What are we doing to which Jesus would never attach his name?

I’m pretty sure Jesus would not want a slave ship to be named after him.

How did people in the past, who called themselves “Christians,” do things that, today, we so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus?  Is anyone else besides me asking, “How could they have done that?!”

What things are we doing today, that people in the future will so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus? Will someone in the future ask about us, “How could they have done that?!”

Jesus gave us some pretty good guidelines, which if followed, will keep us from today’s version of naming a slave ship after Him.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

“Do not neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“…he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free…”

So, by our lives, by our values, by our words and actions, what characteristics do people who know us attach to the name of Jesus?

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Am I Racist?

Am I Racist

 

One thing I did to honor Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, was to take a test: The Implicit Association Test.  The test is designed to reveal how we really feel about certain topics.  The test-taker can pick from 14 topics.   I picked “Race IAT”.

The test took about 5 minutes.

“Are you a racist?” is a question that’s been in the news the last few days.  It’s a good question – a question I needed to ask myself, not just someone else.

Here’s what the test said about me:

“Our data suggests a slight automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.”

Really? That’s terrible!  That’s not what I expected – at all.

Maybe I’m just a bad test-taker.

Maybe I got distracted.

Maybe I didn’t understand the questions.

Maybe it’s a bad test.

Or maybe the test is accurate and I’m not as unbiased as I thought.

It got worse.  The test-givers had a series of questions the test-takers might ask.  Here was one of them: “What can I do about an implicit preference that I do not want?”

That’s me. I didn’t want that evaluation.  I didn’t like my test score.  There have been a lot of test scores in my education path I haven’t liked.   But these results mattered more.  They hurt.

I don’t want to have any bias toward any group over another.  But I guess some part of me does. In Thomas Merton’s terms, that part of me is “the false self.”  So, what can I do to change it?  Here’s the answer from the test-givers: “Nothing.”  Here’s what they specifically said:

“Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated.”

Well, that stinks.  I’m not going to accept that.  If I need to change, I will change.

I can be a “new person.”
“Old things have gone away, new things have come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That’s hopeful!

“Everyone thinks about changing the world but no one things about changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy   That’s challenging.

No one comes out of the womb a racist.  No ones born harboring hateful, prejudicial thoughts or views toward others.  But, that baby grows up, and like a sponge soaks up the liquid into which it is dipped, children soak up the attitudes and perspectives of those people into whose lives they are submerged.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to this when speaking of the Commissioners of Montgomery, Alabama who opposed him and his movement:

“They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they are taught these things.  From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior.  Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers taught them that…”
“because they are taught these things.”
It was gracious of Dr. King to chalk up the hateful, racist, murderous views and actions of people to their upbringing.

If he is right, then Yoda’s words to Luke are right, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”  If I unlearn what I’ve learned, what do I relearn?  Maybe Jesus offers me the education I need:

“Take my yoke upon you. Learn of me because I am gentle and humble in spirit…” (Matthew 11:29).  

Jesus invites me to learn a new way. It is the way of my identity in God – my “true self” – Thank you Thomas Merton.  The way of gentleness and humility, the way of love.

God creates us in God’s own image.  Take a moment to let that sink in.  That’s big.  Teresa of Avila says our soul refers to our God-given godly nature.  Our God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of us.  Since God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8), we are love.

Let’s learn to live out who we are – to live out love.

And then let me take the test again.