Words

 

The July 20th edition of the Charlotte Observer printed a story by Mark Price discussing  President Trump’s speech at East Carolina University. Price writes how West Virginia State Senator Paul Hardesty sent a letter to Trump rebuking his taking of the Lord’s name in vain—twice. The article used the word twice in writing of Trump’s language and that one commentator on FreeRepublic.com criticized Trumps swearing. All other media it seems wrote about the chant, “Send her back,’ that was shouted out many times during the rally and how awful that was.

The chant is a racist one, and Trump, no matter his  Oval Office denial, urges followers to reveal that ugly streak of our Nation. Racism is alive and well in America, regardless of Obama being elected twice. We know that Trump is a liar and racist and more. Yet, what I don’t understand is where is the outcry against Trump taking the Lord’s name in vain? Is not our money stamped with, “In God We Trust”; do we not argue in courts that the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be carved above an entrance to any courthouse; did the Supreme Court not just rule that a cross is allowed to remain on public property in Maryland?

But, the President of the United States uses the word “goddamn” twice in a speech and few in our Christian nation object. Perhaps we are not as Christian as we think. After all, next Sunday take a count of the number of folks in any local shopping mall and compare that number with the attendance in a local church. Also, consider that the Charlotte Observer prints goddamn more than once in its article. If  the Observer is willing to print the word goddamn, is it willing to print the word nigger? I think the printing of the word used by Trump shows how fallen we are, and I wish the paper had chosen to treat it as it does the other offensive one.

In his 1942 novel, Mud on the Stars, William Bradford Huie, writes in explaining the unjust execution of a black man, “Complacency is a cancerous disease. Neither a man nor a nation can stand by silently and watch a great injustice done without having his own faith and self-respect impaired….I don’t believe that dogs and apes can destroy the great dream of liberty and justice and dignity. But they can devour the dead carcasses of men and nations whose strength has been sapped by complacency and concession.”

Huie uses his words in a novel, but he knew the hearts of folk, and if we do not shout to the rooftops for Trump to cease his use of racist and vulgar language, then we condone his words which reveal his thinking and character. We then accept his  ways.

I have heard Christians say in defending Trump, “The Lord has used bad men before to make changes.” Or, “We are all sinners, we live in a fallen world.” True. You are free to believe what you want, but if you accept this type of rhetoric then brace for what is to follow.

 

This Day

 

 

Everything of this day is as yesterday and tomorrow. It is scorching, dry, and brittle. Birds eat at the feeders and the lake rests between its shores just like yesterday and tomorrow.

But it is different in that it is a day that has anticipated for months. A day that has been known by the marks on the calendar. Since its planned choosing, this day has been thought of a few times, but mostly it has been tucked away to be avoided. Now, however, like several other days of distinction in life, it must be experienced in a self-chosen manner of respect, sadness, grief, remorse, or  any other of a multitude of emotion. And, its sudden appearance alarms one because the clock is now stopped, not some distant time. The day demands a response.

Yet, while I will go about my actions, I am still emotionally untied. Some part of me is pleased that Mother’s death will be finalized by our placing her ashes in a hole held by her beloved Sandhills. She will be placed next to her mother and father, her wish. But, is any death ever final?

Our family will place the small box holding her ashes. Mary Ann and I will then drive to Woodward Mill to walk in her childhood steps. We will look at the dark water of the pond, the old grist mill, and collapsed house. But Woodward Mill is just that—place with buildings that now belongs to another family. Yet, I will walk about searching for a lost nail or small piece of wood or some other reminder that, no, her death does not finalize her life. It’s just another step in her journey.

In the Shadow Still

 

A popular commercial for a sports drink shows a soccer player dribbling past defenders before she shoots a rocket into the net. The soccer player epitomizes the form and shape of an athlete. Not only is she built, but she is good. The commercial ends with her smiling and drinking the sports drink, but the commercial is not over. The scene cuts to another athlete draped in sweat and a towel around the neck. Looking at a phone, a smile breaks over this one’s neck at what is shown—the soccer player’s score. The commercial ends with the second athlete slamming a bottle of the  favored sports’ drink onto a stool.

Yesterday the American women defeated England in the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup. The score of 2-1 is indicative of how close the match was. America’s goalie blocked three penalty kicks, and the entire team played with heart, as did the English women. For me, it was a game where, in a way, I didn’t think either team should lose. However, I am happy that the women’s team is going, once again, to the finals of  the  World Cup for the third straight time.

The game was fast, well played, and for some fans it was considered worthy of being the finals match. I could not watch much of it directly, but I read a feed from the Washington Post, which was as good a feed as possible. However, as I read updates about the stellar play of Alyssa Naeher, Christne Press, Alex Morgan, and all the other players-both British and American—I noticed a tweet on the feed. The tweet was a silly remark by the golfer Phil Michelson who wrote how he liked soccer as a youngster, but not the running involved. Goodness!

A commercial feathering a buff, female soccer player and, one of the  semi-final games of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. But both events have men who seem to take the role of giving approval. In the commercial, the second athlete is a sweaty male who watches on his phone as the female scores, gives a nodding grin of approval, and then the drink bottle is slammed onto the stool. The United States female soccer team is defeating England, is winning again in the lofty atmosphere of world cup soccer, and a major newspaper shows a comment by a male about his soccer experience as a child.

One could argue that I make a mountain out of a molehill, but I see both situations as how far we still must go for gender equality in sports. One does not have to even  consider the question of pay for our female and male soccer teams, just examine the use of a tweet by an aged, male golfer and a crusty male. Both are used to grant approval  as if the women do not accomplish enough on their own.

I offer that no female athlete who is serious in her training need the voice of males. They are capable enough on their own. We men may or may not support female athletes, but we must never patronize them.

 

Thurman’s Normal

In his 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited,  Pastor Howard Thurman writes “Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal–normal, then correct; if correct then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions.”

In order to fully appreciate Pastor Thurman’s observation, we need to understand that Pastor Thurman is writing during segregation, when Jim Crow ruled where he lived, when whites could go to  a black church, but no black could go to a white church. Whites could sit in any train car, but blacks had to sit in a designated car, even the porters when they were not working. The normal ways of Jim Crow decreed that a black person had to step aside for a white person to pass. All of this and more was normal in Pastor Thurman’s world in the United States in 1949.

In 2019 America likes to think that it is way past such days. We brag how we have elected a black man president—twice. We bask in our good economy. Our normal is viewed as good, even righteous. However, we may be living just as King David lived after his sins against Bathsheba and Joab, then the murder of Uriah. For King David, he was now living a normal life because he had “hidden” his sin against Bathsheba by using Joab to murder Uriah. All was well.

Then came the prophet Nathan who used a simple story to show King David his normal was, in fact, quite sinful. Nathan’s story of a poor family who owed one lamb which had become a pet revealed David’s sinful ways and demonstrated that, while his ways may be normal to him, they were not correct or moral or religious. Nathan’s metaphorical story helped David see his sin before Nathan and God. He acknowledged the wrong of  his normal.

Nathan was a brave adviser to King David because he spoke truth. He was the type of friend and adviser we all need. Not a toady, he cared not to please, but to speak honestly regardless of consequences. His name means “God has given”, and he was given to King  David to help him see that his normal was the committing of multiple sins.

The normal of today’s America needs, I think, a Nathan who will speak truth to us causing  a close examination of our normal to see if it is correct, moral, and religious. If we find that it is, then religion will be our defender and guarantor of all that is just and good. But if not, our self-proclaimed religion is a pit trapping us.

 

 

 

Reparations

 

When asked about reparations, Senator Mitch McConnell answered that he did not see any way for that to happen and reparations had been discussed before in the Senate and we had, after all, elected a black president and fought a Civil War to end slavery. These latter words came from the man who  said, after President Obama was elected, “We will spend the next four years making certain that he is  not re-elected.” How little this “leader” understands.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I tire of hearing that the election and re-election of Mr. Obama shows that we are no longer a racist country. Other events, such as the recent and sad event in Phoenix by police because a child had taken a doll from a store without payment, strongly suggest that we, as a nation, carry our racism still. But our racism is, mostly, more subtle than that of plantations and the pulling of seventy-two police officers in Philadelphia for alleged anti-Muslim and racist posts on social media. It is hidden under a gleam of laws and regulations that have made some improvements to end racism. However, I think any black person can tell of experiencing bias behavior in many ways.

I don’t know how any reparation can make-up for or lessen the pain of our years of slavery, when the chattel from Africa built much of this nation with their backs and hands. How do we re-pay for all the rapes of black women? Is there any price for the destruction of Rosewood, Florida or Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa? A new museum exhibits all the names of lynched blacks and in the county where the crime was committed. What amount pays for that?

Yea, we elected a black man president, but what of the young black men shot in the back by a policeman? What price is he worth?

As a Jesus follower, I  struggle with the sin of racism in my country—the past racism and the ever-present racism. As a 72 year old white male, I have never suffered the bite of a particularly nasty word, and nor have I been followed around in a store while shopping, nor do I hear an audible “click” when I walk past a car being driven by another white person. I intellectually know of these things, but I do not experience them, and none of my family has or does share these experiences. As a Jesus following citizen, I see that we, as a white nation, have only one way to make reparations for our past, and when powerful men such as Senator McConnel make such asinine statements as he did, the “proof is in the pudding.” We must make amends and in Psalm 51, the Psalm King David wrote after his adultery with Bathsheba and his killing of Uriah, her husband,  shows us the way.

Dr. Ellen Davis, in her examination of Psalm 51, uses the word contrition. She admits it is a word no longer in fashion, but it is exactly what we must feel for our sin of racism. Being contrite means that we are honestly sorry for our sin(s) and ask forgiveness. Being contrite is difficult because it arrives after an individual has examined herself to see and take ownership of her sin. Just as many blacks in America are descendants of slaves, many whites are descendants of the white class that enslaved human beings. We are all in it together, and the whites had the power, and yes, even fought an awful war to keep slavery alive.

My favorite Gospel story is in John 4 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He, a male Jew, talks with a woman who is Samaritan. That alone reveals much of Jesus’ character. However, after their encounter, He spends three day there with her and her village. She, the wife of five men, is forgiven her sins, but as usual, Jesus adds these words, “ Go and sin no more.” Ouch. He forgives us but says we can’t sin anymore. That is, in my mind, the difficult part of contrition. Not continuing our sin.

Our racism cannot be locked away in the bad old days of plantations, rapes, whippings, Jim Crow, and lynchings. We were racist then, and we are racist now. If Mitch McConnell thinks otherwise, he should have a conversation with author Keith S. Wilson who  grew up in Covington, Kentucky, the home of Nick Sanderman. If McConnell listens to Wilson, he will hear how alive racism is in his state, and all the others. But so many white folk want to beg out of the issue by believing and saying that it is an old issue, long-ago settled. Too many white folk agree with the words of McConnell. He, and they, need lessons in our history and our current culture.

I see any type of reparation without cultural change as meaningless. Our government makes reparations, and the McConnells continue on their way, not heeding those words, “Sin no  more.”

This country needs citizens, black, brown, white, all skin-tones, to learn about and integrate into our emotional and intellectual lives, the histories of racism in America. Learn the horrors of the Rosewoods. Feel the sting of the whip. Know the cruelty of watching the child had by your master being sold. Don’t dismiss it as an event in ancient history but learn it on a personal level. Then find a Keith Wilson and hear his words and experiences. See his Covington, Kentucky. Ponder why a policeman needed to shoot a fleeing black teenager in the back.

Scream out against a culture of racism as exhibited by police in Philadelphia. Take ownership for this sin in our country because, yes, we are our  brother’s keeper.

After we know our sin, be contrite and full of remorse and ask  forgiveness from the black citizens who descending from this shame. And, if you are religious, ask your god for forgiveness. But prepare yourself for the difficult part of making reparations: we can no longer commit the sin. We must stop being  racist and allowing it in our country. It is a sin that will, like any destroy us. We must end it or be sufferers of it.

Alternatives

 

 

In the mid-1990’s, Earl Shorris met Viniece Walker in the Bedford Hills Prison. Shorris was there researching for a book on poverty, but Ms. Walker gave him more than he was prepared for.

As I read about and hear discussions in Charlotte concerning a planned tax to support “the arts”, I thought of Walker and Shorris and her comment to him about the importance of the humanities or the arts as a way of helping poor people.

As Shorris talked with Walker and other women in Bedford Hills, he asked Walker why she thought people were poor. She answered quickly, “Because they don’t have the moral life of downtown.” Shorris thought she was speaking of religion, but Walker went on to explain, “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children. And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures, where they can  learn the moral life of downtown.” When asked by Shorris if she meant the humanities, she answered, “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”  Her words led him to begin the first Clemente Center where poor citizens could read and study humanities in order to have a part of the “moral life of downtown.”

As a prisoner serving a life sentence in Bedford Hills, a  female with AIDS, and with a past of abuse and violence, Walker had arrived too late to the power of what we call the arts or humanities. She knew that if poor children are exposed to concerts, museums, and lectures, they will see that they have an  alternative to a life of violence and its brother poverty.

Just this week, three boys-ages 15, 16, and 17 have been charged with the murder of a 17-year-old female during an attempted robbery. One of the charged boys is not old enough to have his photograph shown in the media. Old enough to possibly murder another teenager, but not old enough for his photograph to be printed in the media. Sadly, this is not such an unusual situation  for Charlotte and other locations in our country. For decades our government has thrown resources at poverty and all that it breeds. But all our efforts have not done so well in the battle to help the poor rise and enjoy better lives.

When I  reflect on my life as one of six children in a single parent home, living on the Mill  Hill, I see the “moral life” advantages I had: a loving and supportive mother; a church, and teachers/coaches who encouraged. Yes, I was a white boy in a segregated world and that gave me the advantage of skin color. However, being poor did not keep me from reading and seeing a wider world. Not a good or serious student, I  did, however, know that education in some degree was the way out of my poverty. The supports in my life made me aware that there were alternatives to hard shifts in a cotton mill, and the summer jobs in the weave rooms convinced me that there was more to aim for. I  didn’t know Walker or her words, but I knew that I wanted the “moral life of downtown.”

I am not a fan of rap music, but it is a viable alternative for talented but poor youth. And what once was dismissed as “graffiti” is now an accepted and highly revered art form no longer relegated to box cars. By participating in one of these art forms or any of the others available, a person will learn the discipling required by these artistic expressions. As a youth works harder to be better at say, rap, he or she will build on each successful note and line. She will see that with the work and discipline comes the ‘moral life of downtown.” And with that new life of the downtown comes influence and even power, which is an avenue to make change in our society.

Children born into families with means have alternatives because they are exposed to the humanities. That exposure leads to exposure to better schools, teachers, mentors, and a higher quality of life. This is not to say that their lives are free of worries or problems, but by being exposed to the arts, they have an advantage over the poor children, and that advantage can be played out in the realm of influence (power).

We owe it to our poor children and our society to help them elevate to lives that are more than guns, drugs, and violence. We need to give of ourselves, not just our dollars, and show poor children all around us that there is a better way of living. Violence is its own end, but the poor child sees it as a way of life respecting no one or nothing, not even itself.

Shorris writes of receiving a phone call late one night from a Clemente Center student. Shorris expected the worse from the student who  was on parole for violent behaviors and prepared himself to listen, then go bail the student out of jail. The student told Shorris that a co-worker had angered him in the restaurant kitchen where he washed dishes. Bracing himself, Shorris was ready to hear how he had lost his temper, then attacked the co-worker. However, his student said, “I then thought, ‘What would Socrates do?’”

When we show all poor children the beauty of the arts and humanities, we all will improve.

 

Chickadees and Christians

Chickadees and Christians

Yesterday morning while cleaning the yard of pinecones and sticks, I heard a clattering that appeared to be coming from the bird box attached to the side of the shop. The sound was such that it caused me to “turn aside” to see the sight. While not a burning bush, the chirping and fluttering on the ground under the box was a fine, late-spring gift. On the ground was a small Carolina chickadee that made a racket worthy of much larger birds. It fluttered its new wings attempting to fly, cried out to its parents for food, and flapped itself all about the yard. At times it would stop while waiting for a parent to deliver food or to gather new energy to fuel its fluttering bounces through the grass. But it was not to be deterred on its first day out of the nesting box. No heat, seemingly tall grasses, lack of parental feeding, or its Tom Thumb size kept it from travelling across our front lawn. That small life was on its way. I eventually lost sight of its emerging form but knew its location because I would notice a parent bird landing to feed it. Returning to my task, I once again heard spring music coming from the same nesting box. Turning aside, I saw a curious black and white head looking out from the entrance hole, surveying what its frightened, black eyes saw. Interested, but not wanting to confuse the youngster, I continued to move about the yard, gathering and cleaning the yard, but thankful for the late spring confirmation of life’s renewal.

Since witnessing the two fledglings emerge from the safety and comfort of their nesting box, I have thought of the Christian’s task and how we would be better Followers of Christ if we could be like the chickadee moving across the front lawn. Yes, I am aware that the little bird was acting on instinct; however,  as Christians should we not have an “instinct” that is our faith. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 5:7 that we are to walk by faith, not sight. If we truly believe those words, we will go out like the fledgling and walk into the tall grass of life. We will follow in faith that God knows best. We will be obedient, having faith in His Sermon from the Mount. Faithful, we will seek justice and aid the widows.

But do our actions reflect our words, “In God we trust”? I have my doubts for several reasons, but one worth mentioning is that in the North Carolina county where I live, Iredell, one of every four children is food deficient. Now, that is a nice way of saying that too many of our children are hungry. Ponder that fact: in an affluent county where Christianity is used for religious self-identification, one of every four children is hungry. How can such a circumstance exist in the midst of Christian wealth?

Barclay writes that unless a Christian is on the way, he or she is in the way. Are you a chickadee Christian or one who talks but does not walk?