A Holiday I’ve Missed-But Won’t Ever Again

Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth.

I’m 2 weeks shy of being 62 years old, and I’ve never heard of Juneteenth.  Have you?

What does my ignorance of this day say about me? About our culture? 

July 4, 1776, celebrates the day white Americans became free.  Enslaved black Americans were not free on that day.  Abolitionist and formerly slaved American, Frederick Douglas pointed out the exclusionary and elitist nature of the Declaration of Independence in these words, in a speech delivered at 4th of July celebration on July 5, 1852:

 “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer – a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham;  your boasted liberty, an unholy license,  your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless…your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Wow.  Here were a bunch of white people gathered for hot dogs and ice-cream – or the 1852 version of 4th of July foods – ready to bask in the glory of their country’s birthday! Everyone is having a good time.  So proud.

Then Frederick Douglass’s gave this speech.  Talk about “raining on someone’s parade.” 

Notice his use of the word, “Your.” 

“Your celebration…”

“Your national greatness…”

“Your shout of liberty and equality…”

“Your prayers, hymns, sermons, religious parade…”

Douglass, in the custom of all prophets, revealed the truth.  He placed before people who had chosen not to see, whose culture had created a blindness, a stark image of the way it really was.  His audience knew only their side of the Greatest Experiment of Freedom, known as the United States of America.  He showed them another side.  He showed them that they did not really believe that “all were created equal.”  The land of the free was their’s, not his.  People like him were not free.

It was almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that on January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, eliminating slavery (at least legally – certainly not practically).

It was a full two years later that the word of freedom got around to the enslaved.  

Was the delay due simply to the fact that they didn’t have Apple News?

Or was the reason for the delay a bit more nefarious?  Did the slave owners keep the news hidden?  “Let’s not tell them they are free.”

It’s a question worth asking.

On June 19, 1865, slaves in bondage in the South got the news when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers landed in Galveston, TX to spread the word that slavery had officially ended in America.  

Do the math.  Face the facts.

White America is celebrating 242 years of freedom this year.

Black America is celebrating 153 years of freedom:

64 years of freedom from legalized segregation,

54 years of legalized freedom from legalized discrimination.

I write “legalized” because segregation and discrimination have not been eradicated from our hearts or communities.

Open our eyes.  Open our ears. 

See and hear what’s happening around us – outside of our bubble.

Feel something as you read the story of Langston Glaude.

Ask, “Am I as blind to what is going on around me as were the people addressed by Frederick Douglass?

Are we, as a nation, treating others “with liberty and justice for all?”

Celebrate July 4.  But also celebrate today, June 19, “Juneteenth.”

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“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?