Baltimore and A Country Divided by Race – A Lesson from Jesus

While I am no expert on the race issue, it is clear to me that it is very uncomfortable to have an open, honest and frank discussion about the race issue in America.  Either Black or White America becomes easily offended and/or aggravated, and in essence it becomes easier to sweep it under the carpet, hoping it will go away, but the reality is…it never does.

I recently read about how Ben Affleck went on a journey to discover his ancestry via PBS in a documentary called “Finding Your Roots” .  Affleck found out that one of his ancestors was a slave owner and chose to have that part of the documentary omitted (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/22/ben-affleck-embarrassment-hide-slave-owning-ancestor). While I understand that it is embarrassing to admit that your family was part of an ugly side of history, denial to me, is much worse. Denial is the foundation of a lie that allows abuse and injustice to continue.

Unless we seek to educate ourselves on the issue and history of racism, it is difficult to have an honest, open conversation.  Unfortunately, the system has already been created to deny the severity of the Black experience of racism in America.  America is a nation that is built on slavery and capitalism at the expense of Black people. During slavery, privileges were built in to favor and empower White people and which oppressed and dehumanized Black people. Sadly, the remnants of this capitalist system are alive and well today despite the abolition of slavery.  Even with the acknowledgement by science that race is a social not biological construct, race is still used as an excuse to discriminate and oppress.

Many people of all ethnicities are not educated in full about the history of slavery.  Much of this history is distorted or glossed over as “not being that bad” or that “Black people should get over it”.  But unless we start to educate everyone,  we cannot truly begin to understand an age old system of persistent inequities and prejudice.

US Marshals escorted Ruby Bridges to an “all-white” elementary school amidst violent outbursts by white people.

This is my simplistic experience of the educational system here in the US. The school curriculum that my children have been exposed to makes mention of the pilgrims and how they came over to the US. There a are wonderful “feel good stories” of Thanksgiving and how Native Americans and pilgrims shared a meal together. Stories of the civil rights movement with regards to Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks further add to the feel good factor of how people who experience difficulties can fight for a good cause which eventually leads to some people agreeing that segregation was bad and that equality was a good thing – Hhhhmmm!

Well, let’s examine this.  When you look back at the extent of the inequality / inequity / injustice, while I am grateful that slavery was abolished, it should never have happened in the first place! In the K – 12 educational curriculum, very few history classes, if any at all, explain why there was a racial divide in the first place. Teaching is sketchy regarding how and why Black people were brought to the US.  And it is only when  a student becomes an undergraduate, do they get the opportunity to take African-American Studies, a class generally attended by a majority of African-Americans.

It is almost as if the curriculum treats the civil rights movement as the history of Black America. I do not intend to discount the immeasurable contribution that Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks brought to the civil rights movement.  But, I do believe there is a relative comfort for teachers when discussing these aspects of the civil rights movement versus the harsh reality of the slavery that led to the movement.  On this basis, the educational system seems to be selective and bias towards the history of White America, being very careful not to portray the brutality of slavery which also used Christianity as an excuse to justify it.

Interestingly, as a side note, my children have learned much more about Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust that occurred during World War 2. While this is also a very important time during history that should be acknowledged, it would go a long way if African-American history was given the same attention.

Regardless, the educational system cannot deny slavery – it happened.  The educational system, as part of a capitalist society seems to be skewed towards ignoring this part of history, because it allows White America to continue to benefit from those built in privileges. Ultimately, everyone (or as many as possible) need to be educated to enable a frank conversation on the topic of slavery, capitalism and the injustice of racism as a consequence.

Many are quick to throw judgement on the people of Baltimore who rioted following the death of Freddie Gray after his arrest. Whatever the story behind the rioting and I do agree that there were many who were in it for selfish motives, I am more struck by a people who are just fed up and have had enough. A repeated cycle of hopelessness, fear, despair, poverty, injustice and abuse breeds people who are willing to fight for their cause, by any means necessary. Perhaps, if we understood Baltimore in the light of centuries of oppression, we would have a better understanding of the violence today.  I remember reading a couple of posts on social media, one said “violence is never the answer”, the other said “violence is almost always the answer”.

Jesus destroying the temple courtyard

When I think about Baltimore, I remember the story of Jesus as he walked through the temple watching the people buying and selling animals to make their sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 21:12-13). The Pharisees were making a lot of money exploiting people on this basis. Jesus was outraged, quite rightly, that the Pharisees were misusing the house of God for their own benefit. Jesus decided to take action and he overturned the tables, chasing the people out with a whip and destroying the temple area as he went.  Wasn’t Jesus, like the people of Baltimore, destroying a part of his own community? Bottom line, people get frustrated because they are not being heard. No matter how obvious and clear the message seems, the inequities, injustice and exploitation that was dished out by the Pharisees, and likewise by the judicial system of today was difficult to tolerate any more. Jesus, like the people of Baltimore became angry, rightfully so and in doing so, became violent. While I would not condone violence, it is apparent that violence does seem to communicate a message.

Right now, it would go a long, long way if the atrocities of the past were acknowledged as a precipitating factor to the injustice of the present. Those who fail to educate themselves and to stand up in the light of injustice and oppression ultimately choose to support this capitalist system of racial inequity. The reality is, one day those people will ultimately and inevitably reap the same injustice and oppression themselves, regardless of race.

No matter how divided this country is with regards to issues on race, we have to remember that the recent publicized slayings of Black men by White cops is not just an issue of race, but a human and civil rights issue.  I find it interesting to note that the 6 police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are Black and White. Can we truly say that the treatment of Freddie Gray was purely based on race alone? Where there is injustice – we are all potential victims. So do not be fooled, this is not entirely a White issue, or a Black issue, it’s a human rights as well as a civil rights issue.  As long as we remain divided by race, we will all be affected by the consequences of it… eventually.

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Jesus, though privileged by his position, advocated for the poor and oppressed.

Jesus could have conformed to the values of the society at the time, which believed the Pharisees were spiritually superior and righteous. Jesus could have sucked up to the Pharisees and enjoyed the privileges of religious protocols as they were practiced back then. But Jesus chose to hang out with the poor and oppressed, the used and abused.  Jesus chose to speak up against the Pharisees and advocate for justice and fair treatment of all regardless of race, gender or economic status.

I am aware that there have been many wonderful White people who have  been allies in the fight against racism such as John Jay, Susan B. Anthony and more recently Tim Wise (Click here to visit Tim Wise website).  We need more people like them.  We need to have allies of all colors stand up in their privilege and advocate for those who have been discriminated against in the same way that Jesus did for the oppressed.  Jesus took responsibility for the mess the Pharisees created on His behalf, Jesus owned it.  Jesus in his privileged position as the Son of God, stood up against the capitalist system that the Pharisees used to oppress people for their own selfish gain. In anger against the injustice, Jesus destroyed an area of the Pharisees temple that exploited people.  Those who experience this privileged position need to help destroy the parts of the system today that exploit people too.  Jesus made that difference – You can do the same!

solidarity2
Solidarity – One People.

To this end, I am encouraged by the outpouring of the increasing numbers of  people of all colors united to protest in Baltimore.  Solidarity is the solution and I urge people of all colors to to educate themselves about the real history of America – not just the civil rights movement.  No one race can resolve the race issue, with one side fighting against the other. Peoples of all nations, tribes and tongues must come together to resolve this issue and advocate for each other. I end with a quote from that great Civil Rights Leader,  Martin Luther King Jr., who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – he was right then… and he is still right today.

Love as Jesus Loved…

SCRIPTURE

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13 : 34, 35

OBSERVATION

When Jesus talks to us about something, it’s because He want us to grow and to learn new ways.  When Jesus referred to this commandment to love, was this really a new commandment?  I don’t think it was.  I think the newness Jesus was referring to was the new type of love He desired for us to learn and practice.  He said ‘love one another as I have loved you’.  The way that Jesus loved was extra-ordinary.

We are not talking about Hollywood, ‘fall in love’, but Agape love.

Jesus wants us to have a relationship with God first before we can truly relate to others.  When we have experienced the way in which God loves us, it is only then that we can truly understand how to love and respect ourselves and our bodies.  It is only when we have this relationship with God that we truly understand how to love another person.  We can treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of the way they treat us.  That does not mean that we become door mats, accepting any abusive behavior, for enabling someone is not love. But we should lovingly correct and encourage them to seek Godly insight just as Christ did.

Now… here is the remarkable part!!!  It is through the expression of this love that other people will know that we are His disciples, but only if we have love for one another.

APPLICATION

God’s love is unconditional meaning that His love for us is not performance-based.  God does not expect me to jump over ten hurdles perfectly to earn His love and if I fail, He withholds it. Neither should we expect others to complete tasks in order to earn our love.

God does require respect and so should we.  That same respect that we require, we should offer to others.   This means that our conduct, the way we talk, the tone we use, the things we say and do are tempered by the Holy Spirit.  This includes being able to give and receive loving and gentle correction.  Because of His love for us, God does admonish us from time to time when we need it and it’s only right that, without wrongful judgment, we help keep each other on the right path too.

This love that Jesus shared is not the worldly love that we know all too well.  It is different and because of this love, people were drawn to Christ. Wouldn’t it be awesome if people were drawn to God because of the love we expressed to each other?

PRAYER

Dear Father

Thank You for Your expression of True Love.  Thank You that we have been commanded to love each other as You have loved us.

Cast Your Holy Spirit amongst our families, friends, relationships, churches, spreading Your love and peace.  Help us to talk respectfully to each other, treating others with dignity and love, regardless of the way they treat us.  Help us to be committed to setting the example that Christ gave to us.   Admittedly, we do not always get this right but in our humble efforts, help us to glorify You and to draw others closer to You.

Thank You for hearing and answering our prayers.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen

Confessing Jesus is more than saying His Name…

SCRIPTURE

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;  for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. John 12: 42 – 43

OBSERVATION

It’s hard to stand up for Jesus.  He said it wouldn’t be easy. He said that people sought the praise of men rather than the praise of God, and it’s true, they still do today.  Back in the day, people could not confess Jesus in the synagogue, but they could confess Him outside.  Today, it’s the opposite, Jesus is freely confessed in the church, but you cannot mention His name outside.  But confessing Jesus doesn’t always mean calling on His name or saying He is the Son of God.  Sometimes confessing Jesus calls you to act in a way that makes you different and unpopular, especially with people in the church.

There are many people who confess the name of Jesus in the church, but at the same time are back-biting and divisive. In my humble opinion, those that stand by and watch such actions without standing firmly against it because they are ‘afraid’ of that brother or sister, are just as responsible as the ones perpetrating the behavior.

For example, if I am aware that someone appears to be gossiping or acting in a way which appears discriminatory, should I not question them in a non-accusatory way and ask them about the purpose of their conversation or actions?  Based on their response, should I not challenge them as to whether that is the behavior Jesus requires of us?

APPLICATION

I want to be brave enough to stand up for Jesus and for what is right.  There are times when it is difficult for us to accurately judge a situation, but there are other instances where we can protect the integrity of the church and what Jesus stood for.  I want to have the courage to challenge people on these issues in a way that is loving, but also letting them know that – “we just don’t do ‘that’ at this church”.  I will confess the name of Jesus in word and action, even if it means I lose the praise and approval of people within the church or outside.

PRAYER

Dear Father

We Bless Your Holy Name and thank You for another day of life.  I pray and ask you to help each and every one of us to stand up for You and for what is right, even though it may make us unpopular. Help us to seek Your approval, and not the approval of men.  It’s not easy, and it is often uncomfortable, but unless we experience difficulties, we will not grow in character and wisdom.  Teach us Your ways and help us to remember that we are not alone, because You promised You would be with us until the very end of the age.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen.

He Must Increase…

“Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3: 22 – 30

OBSERVATION

This scripture reminds me of the doctrinal differences that separate us as Christians into the various churches and denominations.   Unfortunately, we squabble between and within churches about whose doctrines are right or wrong and seek to win people over to our church on this basis. Jesus and his disciples were baptizing people.  John and his disciples were also baptizing people.  There was a dispute between John’s disciples and a Jew about what one could perceive as a doctrinal matter regarding purification (ceremonial washing).  The Jew then tried to undermine John’s conviction or understanding of purification by saying that all the people were going to Jesus to be baptized.

Rather than argue over the matter and cause division, John pledged allegiance to Christ under one body serving God.  John described himself as the friend of the Bridegroom (Jesus) who is just happy to see the bride (people/church) and the Bridegroom united, and on this basis his joy is fulfilled.  John showed the Jew that being joined to Christ is the most important matter.

APPLICATION

There will be times during my faith where people from different religions or denominations will question my beliefs.  Should I be able to explain what I believe?  Of course I should.  Nevertheless, John’s example suggests that doctrinal differences are not to be dwelt upon as they can become divisive.  Moreover, we must be careful that we do not indulge in our own selfish pride to win a theological battle. It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.  “He must increase, but I must decrease”.  As long as people have accepted Christ into their lives through baptism – our joy should be full.

It is also interesting to note that at the beginning of chapter 4, Jesus decides to retreat especially after the Pharisees knew Jesus baptized more people than John. “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John  (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples),  He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.” John 4:1.  If Jesus can be humble and selfless enough to retreat for the sake of unity under One God, I can too.

PRAYER

Father God, it is a blessing to read your Holy Word, I marvel at how relevant it is to our lives today.  Thank you Lord for leaving this Book of Wisdom with us so that we can learn to manage our lives according to Your Will.

I pray that you will help us not to draw attention to ourselves or doctrinal matters that are more likely to divide than unite and may have little bearing upon our salvation.  Help us to retreat and humble ourselves as Jesus did.  Teach us to rejoice and glorify You as John did when people find You, even if they do not join our church or denomination. They are not joining us or our church… they are joining You.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen

Have Faith in Jesus…Not the miracles…

SCRIPTURE

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men. John 2: 23 – 24

OBSERVATION

Jesus was able to read the hearts of people and He made a choice not to place any importance on the ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ that people had in Him because of the miracles He did.  It seems that Jesus thought their faith was superficial, I can only assume because it was faith by sight and people were more impressed with the miracle and not the Son of God.  Before the miracles – I wonder how those people viewed and treated Jesus?

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says that “there is nothing new under the sun”.  I wonder to what extent our faith in Christ has changed.  Do we treat Jesus poorly until He provides us with a miracle and then our attitudes change?  How much do we need charismatic preachers and entertaining Christian music artists to feel that God exists and is available to us?  How much importance do we place on charming preachers and melodious voices to enjoy church and feel connected to God?

APPLICATION

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a spirit-filled worship and praise session, if we take those things away, what do we have left? Will we still be able to connect with Jesus and be steadfast in our faith?  Or do we need to see or hear something as evidence or a reminder of His existence and power? I’m not saying that we should not use music, or sermons or feel blessed by His gifts of healing. I just want to be careful that my faith is in Jesus and not in His miracles.  As Job 1:21 says – The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  When God takes something away, what will I think of Him. Will I still respect Him?  I certainly hope I will.

PRAYER

Dear God

Thank You for being a Mighty Awesome God. Thank You for this opportunity to read and study and to seek new understanding. Lord, when You look into my heart, I want You to see someone who is desiring a new relationship with You, not based upon what I see or the miracles You perform in my life.  Even if You do no other miracle for me than allow me to breathe each day,  help my faith to be deep and grounded in You.

In Jesus’ Name

Amen

Let’s Spend Time in God’s Word…

Apparently it takes approximately three weeks to create a new habit regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative one.  We are nearing that wonderful time each year when we make promises for the New Year about how we are going to do things differently.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I need to re-create some new habits and I want to get in training now.  With busy schedules, it’s easy to put aside God’s Word, so whatever I do needs to be achievable.  So I’m making an accountability plan through this blog to spend time in God’s Word…daily.

On this basis, I’m inviting you to join me as I read one chapter of the Gospel of John each day, starting tomorrow.  This plan is not about the quantity of reading, but the quality of spiritual understanding and application to our lives. John happens to be my favorite Gospel and is an ideal place to learn more about the life of Christ.  Furthermore, it has 21 chapters, that’s exactly 3 weeks of training to create a new habit!

I will seek to update the blog daily with my thoughts by using the acronym S.O.A.P. which some of you may have used before:-

  • S – Scripture;
  • O – Observation about the scripture;
  • A – Application to my life;
  • P – Prayer of consecration.

Trust me, there are areas of my life that need S.O.A.P. and my prayer is that by the Grace of God, those areas will be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, for God has promised us all  “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:18.

Share this blog with your friends or perhaps you could study together.  However you choose to do it, I welcome your thoughts and comments as we embark upon this journey together.

God Bless.

The Power of Our Words…

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

A friend of mine told me how their child came home crying because another child had yet again said some cruel, nasty words to them. Their child said “Mommy – I would rather they hit me – I could deal with that better – words really hurt”.

Words do hurt. There have been many news stories about children who have been victims of bullies at school.  There have also been campaigns to educate people about the damaging effects of verbal bullying on children, particularly name-calling, put-downs, threats and insults, however the consequences of these actions continue to be sorely minimized. Angry outbursts of shouting, cursing, name calling, put-downs, threats, insults, a belittling tone, untrue accusations as well as the silent treatment, are in actual fact all different kinds of verbal abuse.  Verbal abuse is a continued attempt by a bully through the use of unkind words to gain and maintain control over a victim by destroying their self-esteem.  It is especially effective when there is no effort or desire by the bully to resolve the issues, but to prolong and manipulate the negative feelings of the victim, which usually gives the bully some sense of power.

Many people fail to recognize verbal abuse, suggesting that victims are just being over-sensitive and they need to toughen up. They underestimate the power of words to damage and undermine one’s sense of well-being.  People also seem to think that bullying ends when you leave school.  However, bullying continues to pervade the adult lives of many, and is usually known as domestic abuse. In fact, I have read that for many battered women the emotional and verbal abuse that they endured was worse than the physical abuse. Though their physical scars healed, the emotional scars continued to haunt them.

Words are important. Words have the ability to give life or death and can destroy children, adults, marriages and families. Verbal abuse over a long period of time cripples lives, and people often feel ashamed, confused and frustrated.  A sustained violent torrent of words causes devastating pain and though one’s physical body may live, the spirit begins to die.  Mental symptoms such as depression does manifest and the physical body is also affected with a variety of psycho-somatic illnesses due to the high conflict and stress.  In some cases these illnesses become terminal, because the continual emotional turmoil leaves the immune system compromised.  Sadly in some cases, children as well as adults choose to end their lives.

Words have power. God takes words seriously too and He does not under-estimate the impact that they can have on His children. Let’s not forget that God used words to create and speak life into His creation in Genesis – how incredible is that? We must also remember that Jesus is The Word who became flesh and dwelt amongst us. (John1:1 – 14).

Words can kill. Proverbs 18:21 says ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’, and the 6th commandment tells us in Exodus 20:13 ‘You shall not murder’, but somehow we fail to hold ourselves and others accountable for the words that fall out of their mouths.

Does verbal abuse exist in church families, between parents and children, husbands and wives and members? Of course it does. While everyone appears to be respectable and well-mannered at church, no one truly knows what goes on at home behind closed doors. Abuse, whether physical, verbal, emotional, and/or spiritual needs to be brought into the light and dealt with seriously by church leaders simply because hiding it only helps to destroys people and families. Church leaders should aim to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable, without seeking to blame the victim by telling them to submit, pray or meditate harder. Those that are abused need support, understanding, compassion and love.  They need to know that this is not their fault and they should seek whatever help is necessary to restore peace to their lives, which may include therapy as well as any necessary medications to help them cope.

As Christians, we need to be brave enough to speak up and tackle these unsavory issues on behalf of our oppressed children, brothers and sisters.  We should have confidence, knowing that God is with us, even if we receive resistance from our church.  After all, isn’t this the example that Jesus left for us?

From Breakdown to Breakthrough

Baking a cake requires a combination of specific ingredients in a particular way to ensure success. If the cake fails, I usually assume I did something wrong and I will need to make a change next time. When seeking an answer to my prayers, there is also a formula or recipe for success, such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, and faith. If the prayers go unanswered, once again I assume that I did something wrong and will need to do something different next time.

I confess that I have manipulated areas of my life to create a desired outcome, such as baking a simple cake – who hasn’t? Change your actions means you change the outcome – right? But is it possible that I unknowingly did the same with God? Was I trying to manipulate God to provide me with what I wanted, based on what I was doing?

As a Christian it is a message I have heard many times. If you want a breakthrough with the challenges in your life, whether it is good health, a restored marriage, job security, financial blessings, then you should seek to pray, recite scriptures, serve in church,  submit, forgive, sacrifice, wear the right clothes, send our children to Christian school, the list goes on.  The reverse of this message is, if your prayers go unanswered, it is because of something you failed to do, and if you are like me, you will try harder and do more to break through these walls.

Despite trying to complete my endless ‘to do’ list there was no breakthrough, until one day, I broke down. I was burned out. My heart ached, and in tears, I looked to God and said “What now?”God said:-

sunset picnic
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.

So I sat in God’s presence and rested.  Things fell apart around me. I rested.  My world and everything in it came crashing down. Still, I rested. During this time, I learned more about myself and the people around me. Relationships cracked, some people stayed, others left, some I chose to break, others were restored. Most importantly, God revealed to me that the area of my life I had been working so earnestly to fix, was not mine to fix – it was His. I had been trying to do God’s job.

I had to stop trying to influence Him, albeit subconsciously, and let Him do whatever He had to do in my life, even if it meant failing and losing the very things I valued. As He puts my broken life back together, I now see the breakthrough that I had been praying for. I literally had to ‘break’ – for these walls in my life to come tumbling down. I’m still walking ‘through’ to the other side – but to a different life that God has in store for me.  God had to ‘break me to make me’.

Though I am perplexed by His way, and the unexpected dynamics, I am trusting Him and feeling truly blessed.  I begin this journey with a renewed heart and desire to really know God and accept His Grace and Mercy. I finally believe that He does not bless me or answer my prayers because of what I do, but quite simply because He loves me – unconditionally. This is my testimony of Jesus Christ.

How did God bring you through a difficult time in your life?  Share your experiences or comments below…