Marching in Synch with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

 

 

mlkdaymarchDenise and I attended the Springfield NAACP Martin Luther King Jr March and Celebration this morning.  The marchers gathered in the MediaCom Ice Park beforehand.  Making our way through the crowd I saw Steve Pokin a friend and reporter for the Springfield News-Leader.  I respect Steve so much and thoroughly enjoy his columns.

I stopped to say “Hello” and then saw that Steve had in his hands the tools of his trade: a pad and pen.  Merging friendship and work together, Steve, asked, “And why are you here?”  

I was caught off guard… After linking a few disjointed thoughts together, I shouted out to Denise who was talking to someone else, “Hey, Niese, look who’s here!  Steve Pokin.  He has something to ask you.”  

As we marched through downtown Springfield I thought more about Steve’s question:  “Why am I here?” 

I’m here because Dr. King and I have something in common.   Dr. King wrote about his early life, “I grew up in the church.  My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy’s brother is a preacher.  So I didn’t have a choice.”  

I too grew up in church.  My father, both grand-fathers, one great-grandfather, three uncles were preachers.   Preaching/Pastoring felt a bit like a family-business.  

I love his pastor’s heart.  I love that his drive toward social justice came from the spirit of Christ.  He heard Jesus say to him, “Stand up for justice.  Stand up for truth.  And lo, I will be with  you until the end of the world.”  

*  I’m here to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and to publicly align myself with his ideals – Love over hate.  In a sermon delivered to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, November 17, 1957, Dr. King expressed the heart of the movement in these words, ““To our most bitter opponents, we say, ‘Do to us what you will and we will continue to love you…Throw us in jail and we shall love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall love you…We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”

“We must meet hate with love” were his words then.  I want them to be my words now.

I’m here to express solidarity with others in the march.   I want to align myself with them as well.  In a sermon deliverd in 1954, Dr. King directed his words toward whites, “I have seen many white people who sincerely oppose segregation and discrimination.  But they never took a real stand against it because of fear of standing alone.”  

Denise and I weren’t alone this morning.  We stood and marched with a diverse group of people – diverse in color, income, religion – but united in love and the desire for justice.  

”The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruely by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,” Martin Luther King, Jr.  

I am not saying I am good and others are bad.  I am saying I do not want to be guilty of oppression, cruelty or silence.  I was there because I want to be:

  • A good person.
  • A vocal person. 

The official march came to an end about hour later…but Denise and I want to continue the march.  I’m reminded of a hymn we sang in the Baptist church of our childhoods, 

Come ye that love the Lord, and let your joys be known.

Join in a song with sweet accord, Join in a song with sweet accord.

We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God. 

Then let our songs abound and every tear be dry.

We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground.

To fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion

We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

We had joined people, in song, in sweet accord this morning.  Together we will continue to march to create a fairer world, a beautiful city of God, of shalom, fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that: 

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”  

Advertisements

From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali

Ali punch

I was confused.  I was 10 years old.

Why did Cassius Clay change his name to Muhammad Ali?

Why wasn’t he a Christian anymore?
And what is this Muslim religion he now followed?

Why would anyone walk away from Christianity?
Why were so many people mad at him?

There was a lot more to Muhammad Ali than a “jab.”  The May 5, 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated reported that Ali’s jab could smash a balsa board 16.5 inches away in 19/100 of a second.  It actually covered the distance in 4/100 of a second.

In the blink of an eye.

Ali was the fastest heavyweight ever.  Those lightening fast hands and a pair of legs that moved around the ring like Fred Astaire made him a three-time heavyweight champion of the world.  He made a total of 19 successful title defenses.

Your hands can’t hit

What your eyes can’t see

Float like a butterfly

Sting like a bee

Ali was a force in the ring and a force outside of it. It was outside of the ring that Ali stirred up so much controversy.

His anti-Vietnam war stance: 

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong…No Vietcong ever called me N – -r….they never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me…”
The Olympic gold medal Ali may or may not have thrown into the Ohio River: 

Ali was refused service in a Louisville restaurant after he won an Olympic gold medallion Rome. One story says that Ali got so mad he threw his medal into the Ohio River.  Later, Ali said he just lost it.  Ali recounted the story here:

“I done whipped the world for America.  I took my gold medal and said, ‘I know I’m going to get my people free now.  I’m the champion of the whole world. I know I can eat downtown now.’  And I went downtown that day, with my medal on, and went in arestaurant.  Things weren’t integrated then and black folks couldn’t eat in the restaurants downtown, and I sat down, and order a cup of coffee and a hamburger and the lady said, ‘We don’t serve Negroes.’  I was so mad, I said, ‘I don’t eat ‘em either. Just give me a cup of coffee and a hamburger.’  I told her, ‘I won the gold medal. I fought for this country and won.  I’m going to eat.’  She talked to the manager and I had to leave that restaurant in my hometown, where I went to their church and served in their Christianity, and daddy fought in all the wars, and could’t eat in their restaurants.  And I said, ‘Something’s wrong.’  And from then on, I’ve been a Muslim.’” 

There it is:  “And from then on, I’ve been a Muslim.”

Before he was a Muslim, Ali was a Christian, of the Baptist variety.  But he dropped Christianity and picked up Islam.

Being the son of a Baptist pastor and living in a world that revolved around Christianity and the church, this really bothered me.

  • “Why would he do that?”
  • “What’s wrong with him?”
  • “What’s wrong with Christianity that Ali would want to leave it?”
  • Ali, when he was Clay, was a Baptist.  I was a Baptist (at the time).
  • “What’s wrong with being a Baptist?”
  • “Why would he not want to be one anymore?”
  • “Why would a young man, raised in the Baptist tradition of the Christian faith, drop it and pick up something else?”

Rather than looking down at Ali, as was done, maybe we should be looking hard at ourselves.

Look hard at the racism in the southern Christian churches. The prevailing orthodoxy was that non-whites were inferior spiritually, morally, and mentally. Racism remained longest where Christian belief was the strongest.  It was not bishops or preachers but freethinkers, secularists, and atheists intellectuals who spread the idea that all should be treated equally.

Ali said, “I chose to follow the Islamic path because I never saw so much love, so much people hugging each other…As a Christian in America I couldn’t go to the white churches.”

At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, you will see this drawing by Ali, contrasting his experience of the difference between Islam and Christianity.  It speaks for itself:Ali-on-Christianity-1024x768

In the book, The Christ and the Indian Road, by E. Stanley Jones, the author tells about asking Gandhi how to naturalize Christianity into India.  Gandhi answered, “I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”

I wonder if the story of Cassius Clay would have been different had Christians lived more like Jesus Christ. I wonder if I’m pushing anyone away from Christianity because I’m not living like Jesus.

I’ve heard it called the United States of Amnesia.  We must not forget how our past, present and future are woven together.

  • Let’s remember Muhammad Ali.
  • Let’s remember the culture in which he lived.
  • Let’s repent of any attitudes and actions that don’t reflect Jesus.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded in 1845 after Baptists in the North and the South clashed on the issue of slavery.  The SBC has been known for backing slavery then and in more recent history, racism.  In 1995 the SBC apologized for supporting racial injustice, for “condoning and or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

  • Let’s use our memories of the past to motivate us to create a better present and future.

 

Healing in a Hug

cop-hugs-Devont-Hart

Healing in a Hug?

We know about “an apple a day” keeping the doctor away, but how about a “hug a day” keeping anger, bitterness, prejudices away?

Hugs are good. According to Psychotherapist Virginia Satir,

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival.

We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance.

We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

We need more hugs like the one between Sgt. Bret Barnum and 12-year-old Devonte Hart seen above. Devonte was one of several thousand people gathered in Portland Oregon to voice their opinions about the Ferguson, Mo incident. According to his adoptive parents, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, Devonte “ has a heart of gold but struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don’t understand the complexity of racism … in our society.”

With tears running down his cheeks, a “Free Hugs” sign hanging around his neck, Devonte stood in front of a police barricade. Officer Barnum noticed the boy and wondered what was wrong. He motioned the young protestor to come up to his motorcycle.

They shook hands.

They talked. About school. About summer activities. About favorite things to do.

Then there was this question from the Officer, “Why are you crying?
Devonte’s answer was an honest response about his fears regarding the level of police brutality towards young black kids.

The officer wasn’t defensive. He didn’t react. He didn’t give the boy a lecture.

He apologized. “Yes. I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

The tears stopped.

The 21-year police veteran and father of two teenagers, looked at the “Free Hugs” sign and asked, “May I have one of your hugs?”

The picture is the answer to the question.

Are there other answers in the action?

I think so.

Devonte’s mom, Jennifer, said the moment was about “listening to each other, facing fears with an open heart.”

Yesterday, I completed a series on “The Bible You’ve Never Known” with a teaching on taking a different look at what the Bible says about homosexuality. One take away from the message was Jennifer’s message: Listen to each other. Hear peoples’ stories. Seek to understand. Sympathize and empathize.

“Walk a mile in my shoes. Walk a mile in my shoes.

And before you abuse, criticize and accuse

Walk a mile in my shoes.”

It is said of Jesus that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…”

“Compassion” to feel with

“Compassion” to be moved in your gut

What difference would it make in our lives, our communities, if we “walked in other’s shoes,” if we looked with compassion? Is the answer to the ills of Ferguson as simple as a hug? As listening? As being compassionate?

I don’t know. But I think I’ll try it.

Martin Luther King Jr., Slavery, the Bible, and Us

Image

Today is the day we have set aside to give national recognition and much deserved  honor to Martin Luther King Jr.

The battle for civil rights was fought on many fronts.

Dr. King appealed to us as Americans, taking us back to our founding documents which declare  the “self-evident truths that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  Politically, Americans had to choose between being an American as defined by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence or being racist.

The civil rights movement was a spiritual movement.  Dr. King was also Rev. King. On this point, the matter gets more complicated.  You wouldn’t think so.  To our minds, slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racism, prejudice just don’t fit with the Christian life.    It was not always so.

Growing up in Little Rock, I am well aware of the stain of a segregation mentality. Growing up a Southern Baptist, I was not aware until sitting in a Baptist History class in a Southern Baptist college that the founding of the SBC was all about slavery.  Foreshadowing the Civil War, white Baptists in the South separated from their northern counterparts on May 10, 1845, and formed the Southern Baptist Convention  in order to defend the South’s practice of and dependency on slavery.

Slavery was biblical.  Abolition, therefore, was sinful.

On January 27, 1861, Ebenezer Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, delivered a sermon in which he said, “Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man.  Its institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible…The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject…It is necessary for ministers of the gospel…to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the Holy Spirit…Both Christianity and slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time …. Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life ….”

Wow.  Such a view, a view which its holder claims to be grounded in Scripture, staggers my mind. But he wasn’t alone.

All you history buffs may know Mark A. Noll.  He authored, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.
Great read.
Eye-opening.
Instructive for us in regard to Bible interpretation and application.  The book is a case study in hermeneutics.

It seems that pro-slavery pastors and Christians appealed to specific Scripture verses in support of their position, while anti-slavery pastors and Christians appealed to the general Biblical principles of justice, mercy, and love to support theirs.

Henry Van Dyke, Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn, wasn’t comfortable with the abolitionists hermeneutics.  Noll quotes him as saying, “When the abolitionists tell me that slave holding is sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record, and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.”

The problem was, the pro-slavery folks had a lot going for them in the way of proof-texts (Exodus 21:20-21; Deuteronomy 20:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:20,21; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1 to name a few).

The same verses and interpretation used to support slavery were used to support segregation a century after emancipation.

What then was the Biblical basis for Rev. King’s call to unity and equality?
What’s the Biblical basis for us making the same call?

The same basis used by the abolitionist…

Noll says that the abolitionists appealed to the “broad sweep of Scripture” moving away “from the Bible’s ‘letter‘ of sanction for slavery to its ‘spirit‘ of universal liberation.”  In 1861, abolitionist Gerrit Smith said, “The religion taught by Jesus is not a letter but a life.”

Do you see the dilemma?

Noll’s book is not just a look at history.  It’s a look at ourselves and how we use the Bible.

What Color is God’s Skin

“What Color is God’s Skin” is the title of a song from the folk era of the 60s, by the group Up With People. Yes, I remember the song well…

The color of God’s skin and Santa’s skin came up this week  on “The Kelly File” with Megyn Kelly.  Ms Kelly says that both Santa and Jesus are white.

Ms Kelly was responding to an article by Aisha Harris in “Slate” in which Ms Harris writes a personal account of her childhood feelings of exclusion brought on by the culturally created white Santa.  Ms Harris suggests a more inclusive Santa – a Penguin.

Ms Kelly and the panel didn’t think much of the idea.  You can see their discussion here.  Personally, I don’t have any trouble grasping a Penguin Claus.  Once you give a guy magical elves and the power to squeeze his roly-poly body down billions of chimneys in one night, anything is possible.

I do have a bit of trouble with Ms Kelly’s assertion that Jesus is white.  After presenting her view that Santa is white, she said, “Jesus was a white man, too.  It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that…”

Yes, our view of Santa comes courtesy of Coca Cola and Clement Moore, and Santa is white in those depictions.  No argument there.

But Jesus’ race?  Behold the power of pictures. European art throughout the centuries have shown Jesus as a white man.  It stuck.  Pick up one of those “Bible Story” books in a Sunday School classroom and you’ll see a white Jesus on the pages.  The baby Jesus in the manger of our Nativity on the buffet in our dining room is white, blond-haired, blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked.   Millions of people watched The History Channel’s The Bible and they saw a light-skinned Jesus.

Does it matter?  I think so.  It matters historically and theologically.
Christianity is an historical faith.  It is rooted in historically verifiable events.  We value that.  So, let’s value what history teaches us about Jesus’ race.  Jesus was Jewish.   Jesus lived in Palestine.  In 2001 a team of British anthropologists and forensic scientists created a hypothetical model of Jesus’ face based on the skull of a first century Jew.  Guess what.  He’s not white. Some people are uncomfortable with that? Wonder why?

Let’s be true to history.

Theologically, it matters. It’s interesting to me that every culture makes Jesus look like them.  African Jesus.  Asian Jesus.  Touchdown Jesus.  Why?  I think it has something to do with the incarnation – you know, what Christmas is all about.
God becoming one of us.
God connecting to, identifying with – becoming us!  WOW!
God-in-the-flesh.

These different portrayals of Jesus help us to get our hearts around the theological truth that God knows us, understands us, identifies with us.
He gets us.
Because He became us.  All of us.

So, what color is God’s skin?  I’m happy with the answer given in the rest of the song: It is black, brown, yellow, it is red and it is white.  Everyone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.

Do We Profile?

Image

Type “racial profiling meaning” in the Google Search Bar and you get this result:

“Noun –  The practice of substituting skin color for evidence as grounds for suspicion.”

I am not a lawyer.  I cannot and will not speak to Florida’s “stand your ground law,” nor to the complexities of the legal  definitions of “second-degree murder” and “manslaughter,” nor to the meaning of “self-defense” as found in the 27 page set of instructions given to the 6-member jury.

I will not pass judgment on the jury or on the lawyers on either side.

But on the night of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman passed judgment on 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. The grounds for judgment?  Skin color.

My younger son’s favorite snack growing up was Skittles.  My thoughts and emotions immediately went to him when I read that Trayvon was walking home from a convenience store where he had bought Arizona Iced-Tea and Skittles.  If that had been Devin out that night in that neighborhood, with Skittles in his pocket, he would have come back to his mom and dad unharmed.  Now, be honest.  We know this is true.  But when black 17year- old Trayvon Martin went out that night just to get a snack, he ended up dead.

Some people believe this case has nothing to do with race, that Trayvon’s Blackness was inconsequential to his death.  I wonder if that perception is held only by those who’ve not been on the receiving end of racism or profiling.  If you don’t buy the “color-connection” ask yourself: Why did Trayvon seem suspicious?  Why was his hoodie threatening to Zimmerman?  No one, to my knowledge, has been suspicious of Mark Zuckerberg in his hoodie.

Zimmerman’s own words are incriminating.  Remember his words to the police dispatcher when he called in to report seeing Trayvon walking in his neighborhood: “F-king punks.  These a**holes.  They always get away.”  Why would he think Trayvon was a “punk”?  Had Trayvon “gotten away” from something in that neighborhood?  When the defense put up as a witness a white woman who had been robbed by black men as central to why Zimmerman picked out Trayvon to follow and stalk – it says it all.  Was she robbed by Trayvon? No.  So why should he be suspect? Sounds like profiling, doesn’t it?

In a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder, he said a couple of things that we would do well to consider:

First, “Today I’d like to join President Obama in urging all Americans to recognize that, as he said, we are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken.”

Second, “The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year, and the discussions that have taken place since then, reminded me of my father’s words so many years ago and they brought me back to a number of experiences I had as a young man, when I was pulled over twice and my car was searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.   I was, at the time of that last incident, a federal prosecutor.  So Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me.  This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down.  But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to protect my boy.  I am his father, and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world that he must still confront.”

My dad never had such a conversation with me.  I never had such a conversation with my sons.  There was no need. Black parents have to teach their children not to wear hoodies.  But white people don’t need to have any such conversation.

Do we get it?  Do we know what it’s like to be a black youth?  To be under suspicion just because of how we look?  I don’t.  I don’t know what it’s like to walk down the aisle at the grocery store and see the lady coming toward me reach down and grab her purse that is sitting in her grocery cart – or meet a lady in the mall and see her move her purse to the shoulder farthest away from me.  Friends of mine in Springfield, MO do know what that’s like.  They aren’t white.

No, I can’t speak to the legal proceedings, reasonings and deliberations in the George Zimmerman trial. I don’t know if it was George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin who threw the first punch, or who was on top of whom. But without the profiling, there would have been no punch – no shot – no death.

“Lord, in what ways am I guilty of profiling?”

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among others. Proverbs 6:16-19

“Lord, I don’t want to be a Samuel.”

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely, this is the LORD’s anointed!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:6-7

I want to be, I need to be more like Jesus.  How about you?