“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.

 

 

Karma and the DMV

patricia_belcher_geico-1

I had a great time at the DMV this week.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I had a great time at the DMV this week.

“Great time” and the DMV don’t usually go together.

Frustration and the DMV

Irritation and the DMV

Annoyance and the DMV

Time Vacuum and the DMV

But not “Great Time” and the DMV.

I was late, by 8 months, in renewing the tags on my 1973 VW Super Beetle.  I know.  I feel ashamed.  I was prepared for a big fine and a big lecture – or at least a condescending look.

On top of being late, when I handed my insurance document to the DMV clerk, she informed me that It was missing the VW’s VIN.  Rats!!! Maxwell the Geico pig in the above pic, had all the pertinents.  I didn’t.  I knew what that meant.    No renewal tags for me.  Time wasted.  Frustration. Irritation.

I had a choice.  How will I respond?  I thought before I spoke – which doesn’t happen a lot!

I have been studying “Karma.”   I know, a lot of Christians blow a Bible gasket when karma is mentioned.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because the word comes from faith expressions they think as wrong.  But is it wrong?

Karma means action.  It’s the old, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” law of Newton.

“Karma” is defined by Urban Dictionary as “getting what you give” or “reaping what you sow.”  Whoa.  Urban Dictionary is using the Bible to define karma.  Hmmmm.

“Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the spirit, from the spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10).

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.  Forgive others, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37).  

And then, the part of this passage that most preachers read right before the offering, while skipping the most convicting part above:

“Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).  

Jesus applies the “karma” principle to how we treat people.  How we treat others is how we’ll be treated.  I tried it at the DMV.

“Thank you for being so thorough,” I told the clerk.  “You’re good at what you do.”

I intentionally chose against irritation in favor of appreciation.

The result?  The clerk said, “You’re a nice guy.  We can figure out a way to make this work.”

I walked out with the new stickers for my old Beetle.

Did Karma work?  Was she nice to me because I was nice to her?
I don’t know.  Maybe she was jus a nice gal.

But, I do know that being nice made me feel better inside.

Being nice may be its own reward.

Call it Karma.  Don’t call it Karma.  But be kind.

Trying to Live in the Now

Garth Live in the Now

 

“If we don’t call you in a week, that means the biopsies came back clear.  We now only call if the biopsies come back as melanoma.”

So I’m waiting.  It will be a week tomorrow.

This is nothing  new to me.   Every 3-6 months for the last five years, I’ve waited for a call.

Five years ago I had a melanoma removed from my arm.  Four months ago I had a melanoma removed from my face.  “Scarface” is my new nickname.  The doctor says that eventually the scar won’t even be noticeable.  He’s good at what he does so he’s probably right.  Although, honestly, I wouldn’t mind having a bit of a scar.  It adds some character. Makes me feel tough.

They used to call whether the news was good or bad.  Now they only call if it’s bad.  I get that.  Calling takes a lot of time because there are a lot of patients.

It used to be that when I saw their number pop up I wondered, “What will it be?” Now, if it pops up, I’ll know without even talking to them.”

So I’m waiting.

I’m watching the phone.

I’m wondering.

And yes, I’m worrying.

I know I shouldn’t worry.  So I’m also worrying about worrying!

I’m remembering Garth’s advice.  I’m reading The Power of the Now by Eckart Tolle.  Tolle nails it, “This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.  You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap.”   You think?

“You can always cope with the present moment,  but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.”  

“Now” is the key to the dimension of peace.

Then there are the sayings in the Bible.  I’ve preached them more times than I can count! But I haven’t learned to practice them.  I haven’t moved into that dimension of transformation.  I want to.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (Matthew 6:34 The Message).  

“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today – at the latest, tomorrow – we’re off to such and such a city for the year.  We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money’  You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.  You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.  Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’  As it is,  you are full of your grandiose selves.  All such vaunting self-importance is evil.  In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for  you, is evil” (James 4:13-17 The Message).  

Did you catch the drift?

“Give your attention to what God is doing Right Now…”

“You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow…do the right thing now. If I don’t do now what I know is right, that is sin (Yes, I paraphrased it).

What is happening now?  What is God saying and doing now?  What is the right thing to do now?  I don’t know tomorrow.  I don’t know the next minute.  So I will live now.  I will love now.  I will do right and do good now.  At least I want to.

Oh, that phone call?  Believe it or not, I forgot about it while I was writing.  That’s good.  Maybe I’m making progress.