The Creative Power of Words

Words create worldsWords matter. 

Words have power.

Words are creative.

 

The poetry of the Bible colorfully expresses the creative power of words:

And God said, Let there be light… (Genesis 1:3).

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made  (Psalm 33:6).

…the worlds have been prepared by the spoken word of God (Hebrews 11:3).

 

With our words, we create worlds.  

 

I had a phone conversation yesterday with someone very close to Denise and me.  The call was on speaker so Denise and I could both participate. We are both involved in the sad, tragic situation which was the topic of the conversation.  The voice on the other end of the call told me that he was “done with me,” that I am, “dead to him,” that as far as he is concerned, I “no longer exist.”  

 

When the “goodbyes” were said. Denise and I looked at each other – in a state of disbelief – and she asked, “Does your stomach hurt?”  “Like a mother,” I answered. 

 

Words wrecked my world – at least my stomach. 

 

We create worlds with our words.  Maybe our words are not just a response to the world around us.  Maybe the world around us is a response to our words.

 

What kind of worlds are we creating with our words?  

 

A lot has been said and written since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton about our “environment of hate and racism” – our “world of hate and racism”.

 

Here’s my question:  

Have words created this world of hate and racism?

 

Yes. How can that be denied?  

Just read the manifesto of the shooter involved in the El Paso massacre.  

In it are words.  

Words of hate and racism. 

He refers to Latino/a immigrants as “invaders” who could only be stopped by deadly force.  He argues that interracial relationships are a reason to “send them back,” referring to second and third genertion Mexican-Americans.  

 

His words were fueled by hate.  His actions were fueled by words.  

 

Luke records the story of another terrorist in the 1st century who was fueled by hate.  The objects of his hate, the victims of his hate, were people of the Way – the Way of Jesus. Christ-followers.

Luke writes in Acts 9:1 that Saul was breathing threats and murder. The Greek word for “breathing” is “empnueo” from “en” and “pnueuo” – “in breath.”

 

Saul breathed the air of hate. He breathed it in. He breathed it out.

Inhale hate.

Exhale hate.

Commit acts of terror. 

 

Saul was a terrorist who lived in an atmosphere of hate.  His atmosphere changed when he “was blinded by the light” (Acts 9:3).

 

Whenever we speak we put words in the air.  

We create the air that others breathe.  

There are homes, schools, places of business and houses of government and worship where the air is polluted with hateful words. 

 

We can change the air quality.  We can create a better world.  Shed a little light. 

Yes, I am a master at mixing metaphors.  But you get the idea. 

 

Remember, this is not so much about the other guy as it is about me.  As it is about you. What are you and I doing to create with our words a better world?  

 

A Call to Love in a Culture of Hate

Shootings

I went to bed Saturday night after having read the news of the shooting in El Paso, Texas.  I awoke Sunday morning to news about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. As a pastor, I felt a responsibility and an urge to talk with the Sunday morning congregation about the events. It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t part of the “order of service” that had already been set and sent out to the team.  

 

But neither had we planned on these shootings.

 

So, before I arrived at Sunday Morning Venues, I wrote these thoughts and then shared them during our services:   

 

Today we mourn over our country that has once again witnessed the evil of hate. 

We grieve over the state of our land. 

We humbly open ourselves to the real possibility that we have ignited  the flames of hate. As James writes, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”  (James 3:5-6).

We confess our sin. 

We long for the day seen by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in the Christ we see in Jesus, when, “Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end. Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there (Isaiah 60:18).

We express our hope.

As children of God we accept the call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We renounce every expression of violence.  

Violence of the tongue.  Violence of the gun.  

Violence in the heart.  Violence with the hand.  

Violence with a post.  Violence with a text.  

Instead, today, our mouths will speak blessings not cursings;  love not hate. (James 3:9-10).  

Today, …our feet will move to spread the good news of peace (Isaiah 52:7). 

Lunch Buddy to Life Buddy

 

Water slide

This is the last week of school for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

This is the last week for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

He’s graduating from 5th grade this Friday. The Lunch Buddy program stops at 5th grade.

I always liked the last week and day of school.  Not so much this year. 

He and I were matched his first year at Robberson. He was in Kindergarten. We’ve been “buddies” for 6 years.  

We’ve gone from me pushing him on a swing and him trying to push me and having to call his friends for help, to just walking around the school yard or sitting on a bench talking.  His choice.

I was at his school yesterday. We had been sitting on a bench for about 20 minutes engaged in a good conversation. Other kids were on the grounds playing. His 5th grade class was eating pizza and ice-cream – a special treat for the graduates! Thinking he might be bored and wishing I’d leave so he could go play, I did my best to give him an out: “You know,” I said, “we’ve been talking a while and it’s been good, but if you want to go play with the other kids or go grab some pizza, that’s cool.”  

“No,” he answered, “I’d rather just sit here and talk with you.”

We’ve grown.  We’ve talked over the years about:

-what hurts us and what scares us.  

-what makes us laugh and what makes us sad.

Each time, no exception, over the 6 years, I’ve left Robberson a better person for having spent time with my buddy.

I’ve learned from him generosity – every single time he offered to me some of his lunch.  When I would bring  him a bag of candy he would share with his friends. Everytime.

I’ve learned from him kindness.  His life may not be easy. But his spirit is strong and sweet.

I’ve gotten in trouble some at the school.  Kind of a lot. I brought a football one time to toss around with the kids, only to be told that there are no footballs allowed.  Football might lead to tackling.

I led the kids in the old-fashioned game of “Red Rover,” and was confronted by the playground supervisor telling me that that too was not allowed.  The game I grew up playing was too rough.

I developed a reputation of not always playing by the rules.  Imagine that.

I started taking “Reeses Cups” to her as penance.  It worked.

Yesterday was “Water-Slide Day” for the 5th graders.  After lunch, the kids lined up to take their turn. I stood with two teachers watching the fun.  Each time a kid would climb the steps to slide down the other side, the other kids would chant their name.  

The kid would slide down amidst the chants into a pool of water sending  sprays over the shrieking, happy kids waiting their turn.

I watched my buddy slide down, gave him a hug and left.  I signed out at the office, walked outside toward my car but took a right turn at the edge of the school building instead.  

I wanted to slide.  Was this another breaking of the rules?  I checked with the two adults still standing there – “Is it OK if I slide?” I asked them.  

“Sure!”  No rules against silly adults sliding down the water-slide.  So, with the kids chanting “Phillip, Phillip…” I climbed the steps and in my best cannon-ball tuck, went down the slide.

“Come on, Phillip.  You’re 62 years old.”  I know. to me, that’s even more reason to go down the slide.  As Pablo Neruda said, “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”

Being a Lunch Buddy for 6 years has given me the opportunity to play again, to cultivate a “beginner’s mind,” a mind that sees things, hears things, experiences things as if for the first time, like a child.  A beginner’s mind leaves me open to learn new things or to think about old things in a new way.

When I left Robberson School, my lunch buddy asked, “Can you go with me to my new school?”

I wish that were possible.  Maybe it is. One thing is sure, he is more than a lunch buddy.  He is a life buddy.

 

Good-bye Doris Day

Doris Day And Rock Hudson In 'Send Me No Flowers' Doris Day Rock Hudson 2

Depending on your age, the death of Doris Day is either a “meh” moment or an “sds” (so damn sad) moment.  

Here’s why her death matters to all of us.

The impact of Doris Day’s life has its roots in the “rom-com” days of my childhood.

Who is your favorite “rom-com” couple?

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan   (Sleepless in Seattle; You’ve Got Mail)?

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (Birdcage)?

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (Pretty Woman)?

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)?

How about Doris Day and Rock Hudson?

Doris Day  and Rock Hudson were the “it” couple in late 50s and early 60s, starring in movies like “Pillow Talk” (for which she received an Oscar nomination), “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers.”  

While I was too young to see these films in their first-run theatre releases, they were the “go to” movies we would watch on TV or early VHS tapes.  

Doris Day was a movie blonde.  Not in the Marilyn Monroe sense, but in the “girl next door” sense.  She knew this and embraced it. She said,

“My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness…An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it.”

Oscar Levant, the musician and humorist had this one liner about Doris Day, “I knew Doris before she was a virgin.”  The line reminds us of the distinction between movies and reality.

Here’s what was real in their movies:

The chemistry between them – not a romantic chemistry, but a genuine friendship chemistry.  Hudson said, “Doris and I became terrific friends.  She’s a dynamo – a strong lady. And boy, what a comedienne she is! The trouble we had was trying not to laugh.  Doris and I couldn’t look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you’re not supposed to? That’s what we had.”

Here’s what was not real in their movies:

Rock Hudson’s sexuality.  Rock was gay. All of those romantic sparks between their characters?  Not real. Not even close.

Rock played the role of American heterosexuality and he played it well – better than the rest. He hid who he was.  He had to.

Remember the times.  These were the 50s and 60s.  

For Rock Hudson to come out would have shattered  his career. No questions asked.

The public did not know about Rock Hudson’s sexuality until 1985.  That’s where Doris Day steps in. Doris Day had launched a show on the Christian Broadcasting Network and had invited her old movie co-star Hudson to be her first guest.  But Hudson had contracted the AIDS virus. He was in a fight for his life and was keeping the fight secret.

Until, that is, his good friend, Doris Day, extended the invitation.  He couldn’t say “No.” What America saw that day was an unrecognizable, frail, emaciated Rock Hudson. There was a collective gasp. A few days later at a press conference it was announced:

Rock Hudson, the Heterosexual Hunk, was gay and was dying of AIDS.

Yes, Rock Hudson, like many gay men had concealed his sexual orientation from the public.  AIDS was referred to in those days as “Gay Cancer.” The Christian world chimed in with phrases like “God’s judgment.”  In 2001, a Barna Study discovered that only 8% of Americans were willing to donate to organizations that worked toward the education and prevention of AIDS.  Among evangelicals? Only 3%.

In the 80s AIDS victims were treated as if they had a plague.  Charlton Heston called for a “kissing” ban for people in a “high risk group.”  But on that day on that show, Doris Day hugged and kissed her friend.

 Barriers began to break.  Minds began to change. Judgments began turning to understanding. Doris Day helped us grow.  Doris Day helped us be human.

Three months after his appearance with his friend, Rock Hudson died. It was October 2, 1985.  He was 59.

About  that appearance on her show in July, Doris Day said, “He was very sick.  But I just brushed that off and I came out and put my arms around him and said, ‘Am I glad to see you.'”  

I think that yesterday Rock Hudson greeted Doris Day with the same words, “Am I glad to see you.”  The rom-com couple, the co-stars, the friends are together again.   

 

Hate in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mr Rogers_BowersI read yesterday that the hate-filled act Saturday was committed in the neighborhood in which Fred Rogers had lived.  His home was three blocks from Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.  It was there, in his Squirrel Hill home, where Mr. Rogers chose to die.  

It was there, in this neighborhood, that Robert Bowers chose to take the lives of as many worshippers as he could.  Eleven people died.  

Two men.  Two ways of living.  Both basing their ways on Scripture.

Robert Bowers’ profile page included this bit of Scripture, commentary and doctrinal statement:  “jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”  (Does he not realize that Jesus was a Jew?)

How many times do we see people use Scripture to justify hate or hateful actions? How much hurt has been inflicted on others in the name of Jesus?

Mister Rogers also included  Scripture in his life.  He followed Jesus and built his life on the love of Jesus, “…the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”  Mr. Rogers’ theological messages could be traced to Jesus’ idea of neighbor.  

It was a radical idea.  We find it in his story of the Good Samaritan.

It’s about being kind. 

It’s about helping people in need.

It’s about sacrificing for others.

But it’s about SO MUCH MORE!!

It’s about loving instead of hating.  It’s about:

being kind to,  

helping people who, 

sacrificing for, 

the ones who are hated.  

Robert Bowers hates Jews.

In Jesus’ day, Samaritans hated Jews and Jews hated Samaritans.  

To the Jews, there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.”  It’s like there’s no such thing as bad chocolate.

In the chapter before Luke’s record of Jesus’ story of neighbors and neighborhood, he writes about James and John suggesting to Jesus that they call down consuming fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56).  Jesus rebuked them.  That’s not how Jesus rolls.  

The very Samaritans the disciples wanted to kill, are held up in Jesus’ story as role models on how to live. The ones who were hated were the ones, Jesus said, had it right – had eternal life.  

Jesus’ neighborhood is different.  

Jesus told this story as an answer to a question posed by an expert in the Law of Moses:  “Who is my neighbor?”  At the end of the story, Jesus turned it around by asking the expert, “Which of these three (the two religious leaders or the Samaritan) proved to be a neighbor to the man in need?”  

I’d love to have seen the look on the expert’s face as he had to state the obvious, “The one who showed him mercy (compassion).”  The Message translates it like this: “The one who treated him kindly.”    

Kindness.  Mister Rogers invites us to dream:  “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

In the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill we see two men.  Two ways of living.  Two ways of seeing and treating others.

Mister Rogers and Robert Bowers.

It’s easy to love Mister Rogers more than we love Robert Bowers.  How would Mister Rogers treat Robert Bowers?  Would Mister Rogers follow his own philosophy and help Bowers know that he is loved and is capable of loving?   I think so.

A dear friend and wise woman gave me a note Sunday after service in which she said,  “I am reminded daily that God loves the man who killed 11 Jews just as much as me.”  

She’s a good neighbor.

I want a neighbor like that.  I want to be a neighbor like that.

 

 

“You Smell Good”

Smelling

 

“You smell good.”

 … is what the little girl told me.

My time with my lunch buddy was over.   As I walked out of the school building I saw, among some students eating their lunches outside, a 4th grade girl who attends the church I pastor. So I stopped by to say “Hi!”   I sat across the table from her. We talked school, Halloween costumes, her hair (“She did it herself!” chimed in a girl sitting next to her). I wasn’t surprised.  Her grandmother is a hairstylist.  

 While we were talking I felt something on my left arm.  I looked over and saw that the girl I was sitting by had her face pressed against my shirt.

She looked up and said, “You smell good,” and put her nose back on my arm.  

“Well, thank you,” I said.  “You’re a very nice person.  I’m glad I smell good.”

I love so many things about that.

A kid’s honesty.

A kid’s unreserved expression.

And, I love that I smelled good – not sure if it was my cologne or laundry detergent. But, with her honesty, I don’t think she would have hesitated to tell me if I didn’t smell good.  

I talked Sunday about:

– “sin as the violation of shalom” (Cornelius Plantiga, Jr, Phd; Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).”

  • sin as the failure to do “good” – “kalon” – “good” – It means “that which is beautiful.”   

“If anyone, then, knows the good (kalon) they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Sin is failing:

to do the beautiful thing,

to say the beautiful thing,

to think the beautiful thing.  

“Good” is how God described creation (Genesis 1:31).  It was  “shalom” – it was how God wanted things to be. 

“Good” is what God has shown us to do (Micah 6:8).  The “good” that God has shown us is to act with justice (fairness), to love mercy and to walk in humility with our God.

“Good” is how God wants us to smell. 

Beautiful.

Beautiful not in clothes or cologne, but in 

Character and 

Conduct and 

Conversation.

Yes, I’m glad that something about me smelled good.  I left the school hoping that the most important things did too.  

My Lunch Buddy’s Story in a Movie

Lunch-Buddy1

I had lunch with my “Lunch Buddy” today.  He was standing in line in the school lunch room when he saw me walking toward him with a McDonald’s sack in my hand.  He hugged me and said, “I’m so glad to see you!

I know.  What kid would not be glad to see a guy with a McDonald’s sack?
We went to the library where he opened the sack to find his favorite meal – A Double Cheese-Burger and French Fries with Sweet ‘n Sour Sauce.  On most days when I hang out with him, he finishes his lunch and we go outside to play.  Not today.  He wanted to stay inside.  

He pulled the “Sorry” game from the cabinet and as he ate, I set up the board.

We talked.  I asked him what movie he’d seen lately.  

“I saw one that reminded me of my mom and dad,” he answered.

“Oh really,” I said, “What was the movie?”

“I Can Only Imagine,” he answered.

I had not seen the movie.  I didn’t even know the story.  I knew the song by that title.  “I Can Only Imagine”  is sung at almost every funeral I conduct.  So I didn’t immediately see the connection between the movie and his parents.  So, I asked.

“What is there about the movie that makes you think of your parents?”

Those of you who have seen the movie know where he went…I Googled it when I got home.

Bart Miller, the writer of the song, had a tough childhood.  His dad was any kid’s worst nightmare.  He was consumed by anger and rage. Bart often felt the leather strap and paddle. “As I became a mischievous toddler,” he recalls, “my spankings slowly escalated from normal discipline to verbal and physical abuse.” Arthur once smashed a dinner plate over Bart’s head. Eventually physical abuse morphed into silence and indifference.

There’s the connection.  

My lunch buddy put it very simply,  “My mom and dad aren’t very nice. I shouldn’t say it, but I don’t like them very much.”  

“That’s why I’m with my Poppy and Grandma,” he explained.  

“Do you feel like the kid in the movie?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I do, “ he answered. “Except my dad didn’t die.”  

“I am so sorry you have been hurt, but I am so glad your Grandma and Poppy love you,” I  said. 

The website for the Council of Churches of the Ozarks has this heading, “They Need You in Their Story.”

I’m glad my lunch buddy’s grandparents are in his story.

I’m glad to be in his story.

I’m glad he’s in my story.  He enriches my life.  He makes me a better person. 

We didn’t finish our game.  As I was putting the pieces back into the box, he said, “Phillip, you were ahead so let’s just say you won.”  

I called him by name and said, “The game isn’t over…you never know what might have happened.  You could have made a big comeback.  You are a winner to me.”  

We walked out of the library.  He turned down a hallway that led to his class.  I turned toward the exit. He looked back and said, “I love you, Phillip.”

His story is being written everyday.  I truly believe it will include a big comeback.  I can only imagine.  

Mother’s Day: Protests, Pacifism, Peacemaking

Mother's PeaceYesterday was Mother’s Day.  Cook mom breakfast. Clean up the kitchen. Treat her to brunch.  Give flowers and cards in hopes that it makes up for all the trouble you caused her the rest of the year.    

Good times. 

Mother’s Day, though, was born out of bad times.  Three names are associated with the birth of Mother’s Day: 

Anna Jarvis

Ann Reeves Jarvis 

Julia Ward Howe

Each one an activist.

Anna Jarvis is credited as the “official” founder of Mother’s Day in the United States. She did it to honor her mom, Ann Reeves Jarvis.   

Ann Reeves Jarvis and her husband lived in the Appalachian mountains of Western Virginia where Ann gave birth to 12 children.  Due to terribly unhealthy conditions in the area, only 4 of her kids survived to adulthood.  

Something had to change and Ann was going to make the change happen.  She became a crusader for public health, establishing in churches across the area “Mother’s Day Work Clubs.”  These weren’t book clubs or bridge clubs.  These were “make our world better” clubs.  These crusading women would visit local families to provide information and education on sanitation, nutrition and overall health.  The clubs raised money to help families who needed assistance covering medical costs.  

After the Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis became a force for reconciliation between the North and South.  In 1868, despite threats of violence, club members held a “Mother’s Day of Friendship” for veterans from both sides of the war.  The women arranged for the band to play first the Confederate ballad, “Dixie,” then the Union’s “Star Spangled Banner.”  The song-fest ended with the entire community joining together to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” 

Anna said, “Thanks Mom” and “Thanks to all the activist moms” who worked for physical and national healing.  

The third woman is Julia Ward Howe.  Most of us know her as the author of the Union’s anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,”  a rallying cry for the North. 

She wrote the lyrics to that anthem in 1861 – just before the beginning the Civil War.  

In 1870, she wrote these words as part of what was called the “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” later known as “Mother’s Day Proclamation,”

Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.  Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience…From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm!  The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! 

We could call it a “Pacifist Manifesto.”

How did Ms Howe go from cheerleader for war to anti-war activism?

  Maybe it was the 625,000 soldiers on both sides slaughtered (⅔ of them killed by disease).  

Maybe it was the thousands of widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides for whom she cared.

Maybe she saw that the effects of war go beyond the killing of soldiers in battle.

Maybe she heard these words from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, 

I confess without shame that I am sick and tired of war.  Its glory is all moonshine.  It is only those who have never heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.  War is Hell.”  

Whatever her reasons, Julia Ward Howe became a passionate pacifist.   Ms Howe did not have much confidence in men’s ability to stop war – male pride and all – so she directed her call to women and intensified her efforts to extend to women the right to vote. 

 

Ann Reeves Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe:

Moms

Activists

World-changers

Peacemakers

Children of God

“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called ‘children of God.’”  Jesus, Matthew 5:9

Let’s make every day Mother’s Day by living in the light of these activists: Ms Jarvis, Ms Howe, and Jesus.

The Best Word

Scrabble Word

“Oxyphenbutazone” is theoretically, the highest-scoring word in Scrabble.  Placed a certain way on the board, it would earn a whopping 1,778 points.

The best word.

I was on the playground today with my Lunch Buddy, when I saw a 5 or 6 year old boy kneeling in the grass, broken piece of orange chalk in hand, drawing a picture on a pizza slice-sized rock. 

“What a cool design you’re making on that rock!” I said as my Buddy and I stopped.

The little fella looked up at me, looked back at the rock, looked at me again,  and asked, 

“It is?”  

“It certainly is.  You are so creative to think of making a picture on a rock.”

“I am?”  

“You sure are.  You’re turning that rock into something really special. You’re a good artist!”
A big smile crossed his face as he stood up a little straighter, and he beamed:

“Yeah, I think I’m an artist!” 

“Keep it up, Picasso,” I said as my Buddy and I went on our way.  

He may not know who Picasso is.  But maybe he will.  When I called him “Picasso,”  I was thinking of this statement by Picasso, 

“My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier,  you will become a general.  If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”  

I’m not sure if Picasso’s success was due to his mom’s positive words, but I have to think that her words didn’t hurt.  He believed in himself and I think his mom’s words made that happen.  

Deepak Chopra said, “Language creates reality.  Words have power.  Speak always to create joy.”  

People speak in one of two ways.  They either speak life or they speak death (Proverbs 18:21).

“The Message” puts it like this: 

Words kill, words give life; 

they’re either poison or fruit –  you choose.”

The conversation with that budding artist took less than 2 minutes.   I’m hoping the positive effect will be a lifetime.  

“I know words.  I have the best words,” said then candidate Trump back in 2015.  I like that. 

We all know words.  We have in our vocabulary the best words and the worst words.  

I saw today again the power of “best” words.  

“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?