Notes on current series:
1. You can read previous installments of this series below.  Please feel free to engage me in conversation on any of these topics.  I have enjoyed and benefited from dialogue that has emerged to date.  It’s healthy to seek God’s heart and wisdom in community!  In this series I am seeking to establish a link between the two century-spanning stories I shared in my first installment.  If you’re new to reading this, it would be helpful to read those stories to give context to what follows.
2.  When we’re tempted to react to some of the public demonstrations, including the property damage and other demonstrations of outrage, let’s remember the wise words of Father Gregory Boyle, “We are more upset with how the poor carry their poverty, than the actual poverty itself.”  We can substitute poor with, “We get more upset with how Black America carries their trauma, than the actual trauma itself.”  This is why it is vital that we educate ourselves with what Black America has experienced for the past 400 years.  They know their history all too well, but what about us?
3.  Acknowledging and understanding the outrage currently being expressed is not the same thing as condoning violence or the damaging of private property.  It’s simply following Jesus’ call to “take the plank out of our own eyes before we can begin to take a speck out of our brother or sister’s eye.”  It begins with a posture of humility.  Let’s take another peek into some of that history, asking God to give us His heart as we read…
Lynching in America
 
There are a number of theories on the origin of the word lynching here in America.  Without exploring those here, there is agreement on what the word came to represent.  According to Robert L. Zangrando in The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950 (1980), “lynching is the practice whereby a mob–usually several dozen or several hundred persons–takes the law into its own hands in order to injure and kill a person accused of some wrongdoing. The alleged offense can range from a serious crime like theft or murder to a mere violation of local customs and sensibilities. The issue of the victim’s guilt is usually secondary, since the mob serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Due process yields to momentary passions and expedient objectives.”
 
Bryan Stevenson has done remarkable research on the lynching of blacks in America.  According to his Equal Justice Initiative which visited 160 sites during a 5 year study, they found 3,959 victims of what they call “racial terror lynchings” from 1877-1950.
Here’s a link to their study: Lynching in America
 
But lynchings didn’t stop in 1950.  After the Supreme Court decision of Brown v Board of Education in 1954, life as it was known in the Jim Crow south was even more threatened.  What came to be known as Massive Resistance began to emerge often with violence and intimidation.
 
A story… Let me share with you one story that happened after this, in 1955.  A 14 yr. old boy named Emmett Till lived in Chicago with his mother.  His great-uncle had come up to visit during that summer and told him stories of the Mississippi Delta where he lived.  Emmett begged for permission to go back with his uncle for the summer to see it for himself.  His mother relented and let Emmett go.  One day in August of that summer, Emmett and his cousin were in a local grocery store, when according to his cousin, Emmett whistled at 21 yr old Carolyn Bryant who was the wife of the proprietor of the store.  She told her husband Roy about the encounter.  A few days later, Roy and his half-brother, JW Milam abducted Emmett from his great-uncle’s house.  They beat him, mutilated him, shot him in the head and sunk his body in the Tallahatchie River.  It was reported by witnesses that the beating and torture went on for hours and they told of Emmett crying out for mercy and for his mother.  Three days later his body was found in the river.  Bryant and Milam were arrested and put on trial for murder.  During the trial, Carolyn Bryant said that Emmett had grabbed her by the waist and said obscene things to her.  The all-white jury acquitted the men.  Because ‘double jeopardy’ was in play, the following year the two men admitted to the murder in a Look Magazine interview.  In a 2008 interview, Carolyn Bryant admitted that she had lied about being grabbed by the waist and the obscenities.  Even writing this seems absurd as if anything would have justified Emmett’s death.   Emmett’s mother brought his mutilated and bloated body back to Chicago after the local police tried several times to bury him in Mississippi.  She insisted on an open casket so that the world could see the reality and horror of life as a black person in the south.  I’m not showing his body here, but there is a picture below of his mother at the casket.  The outrage that followed helped give momentum to the Civil Rights movement.  Do you realize that this lynching happened less than two years before I was born.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem very long ago.  I’d love to think that this is ancient history, things we read about in history books from long ago.  But I can’t help but believe that the close proximity in time may be reason to pause and give some thought to how trauma affects humans and the time it takes for healing to truly occur.  For example, if you experienced a traumatic event in your personal life, such as your parents divorcing or perhaps the death of a parent.  Maybe it was sexual assault or a betrayal by someone.  Let’s say that occurred 20 or 30 years ago. Can you still feel the pain?   Healing can occur, but it’s not something that can be rushed or we just ‘get over it.’  It takes time, it takes acknowledging the pain and suffering, it takes truth telling.  So, why do we think that we can just ‘get over’ the decades and centuries of injustices imposed upon an entire people group?  I believe this begins with truth telling, acknowledgment of pain and injustice and God’s Kingdom breaking in with reconciliation and healing.  It is possible, but it takes work and intentionality.  Let me leave you with a few questions to ponder to help move us in that direction. 
 
Could there be a thread of this type of hatred, fear and injustice still woven into the fabric of our nation, in people’s hearts?
  
How would this type of intimidation and terror (lynchings) affect the psyche and soul of a person, of a people group? 
 
Could there be reason for suspicion, fear and resentment to be present in the lives of black Americans today?  
 
Here are a few pics from the story…
 
Emmett in 1954
                                   Emmett’s mother at his casket
           Emmett’s home in Chicago

                  The Grocery Store building where the whistling occurred

I’m Learning to listen, (at least I want to).  How about you?

Message Series:  Spanning the Centuries of Racial Injustice
 
In a previous blog, I shared with you two stories that spanned two centuries.  In this series, I’m exploring the link between the two stories. (If you didn’t read them, I’ll post them at the end of today’s topic so that you’ll have the context).  I’ve spoken of the horrors of slavery and how our history has too often told a sanitized version, as if that was even possible.  Last time, I unpacked some of the consequences for newly freed African-Americans because of a clause in the 13th Amendment which allowed for slavery to continue as a punishment for those who were convicted of crimes (like vagrancy or loitering).  Today I want to continue the span across the centuries to briefly touch on the segregation that was imposed through what came to be known as Jim Crow.  What follows is a brief synopsis.
The name Jim Crow was most likely taken from a minstrel song called “Jump Jim Crow”.  The performer was a white person using blackface.  The term Jim Crow came to represent the legal segregation of blacks following the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.  This segregation continued through the Civil Rights movement until 1965.  Jim Crow laws of segregation were upheld by the United States Supreme Court with the “Separate but Equal” doctrine for African-Americans.  
Here are a few examples of Jim Crow laws that existed during this period of our history:
    • Marriage – “All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.” (Florida law)
    • Marriage – “All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mulattos, Mongolians, or Malaya hereafter contracted in the State of Wyoming are and shall be illegal and void.” (Wyoming law)
    • Hospitalization – “The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients [in a mental hospital], so that in no cases shall Negroes and white persons be together.” (Georgia law)
    • Nursing – “No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms or hospitals, either public or private, where negro men are placed.” (Alabama law)
    • Barbering – “No colored person shall serve as a barber [to] white women or girls.” (Georgia law)
    • Toilets – “Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities.” (Alabama law)
    • Buses – “All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races.” (Alabama law)
    • Restaurants – “It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment.” (Alabama law)
    • Beer and Wine – “All persons licensed to conduct the business of selling beer or wine…shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to two races within the same room at any time.” (Georgia law)
    • Amateur Baseball – “It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race.” (Georgia law)
    • Burial – “The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons.” (Georgia law)
    • Libraries – “The state librarian is directed to fit up and maintain a separate place for the use of the colored people who may come to the library for the purpose of reading books or periodicals.” (North Carolina law)
    • Teaching – “Any instructor who shall teach in any school, college or institution where members of the white and colored races are received and enrolled as pupils for instruction shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined…” (Oklahoma law)
    • Schools – “Separate rooms [shall] be provided for the teaching of pupils of African descent, and [when] said rooms are provided, such pupils may not be admitted to the school rooms occupied and used by pupils of Caucasian or other descent.” (New Mexico law)
    • Schools – “[The County Board of Education] shall provide schools of two kinds; those for white children and those for colored children.” (Texas law)

YourDictionary definition and usage example. Copyright © 2018 by LoveToKnow Corp

How about Virginia?   “It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this act, the term “white person” shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasian blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this act.”
It took a brave couple to challenge this.  On January 6, 1959, Mildred and Richard Loving pled guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”  Even though they had been married in DC, it was not recognized in Virginia.  They were sentenced to 1 year in jail, suspended if they left the Commonwealth and didn’t return for 25 years.  They moved to DC.  Their conviction was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967.      
While court challenges and civil rights protests eventually overturned these laws, it has taken years to undo much of the deeply entrenched systems established during this significantly dark period of our nation’s history.  There is still much to unravel.  As an aside, when much of the African-American community had a visceral reaction to President Donald Trumps campaign of “Make America Great Again”, it was to their question, “When was America great for us to begin with?”  A legitimate question in light of their history?  Aren’t laws created to give authority to enforce what we want and desire for our communities?  What was behind the Jim Crow laws?  Was it not to maintain the status quo of keeping the African-Americans ‘in their place’ and not allow the dominant race/culture to lose control?  I have to believe that fear was a driving factor in the origin of such laws and perhaps it’s fear that continues to divide us today.  Let me conclude with one story where I witnessed this fear play itself out in recent times (2013).  I had purchased a Christmas gift for our family in 2012.  It was a membership to a swimming pool adjacent to our neighborhood.  One thing that became obvious to me after a couple of visits to the pool was that this was a predominantly white if not exclusively white membership.  Now, I’m sure African-Americans were able to obtain membership and perhaps some did.  I just never saw them.  One day, my son had his best friend (who is African-American) over to spend the day.  We decided to go to the pool and swim.  As we arrived, the pool was relatively crowded as was typical during the hot days of summer.  My son and his friend quickly hit the water as I settled into a book I had brought along.  Although I was somewhat aware of his friend being the only minority, I didn’t think too much about it.  As the boys swam, dived and generally had a great time, I occasionally looked up from my book to check on them.  Each time I glanced up, I became increasingly aware of the crowd dwindling.  Within about 30 minutes, my son and his friend were the only ones left swimming.  I joined them and we proceeded to have a great time, enjoying our exclusive swimming experience with our own personal lifeguards.  After a while, the staff eventually began to close up shop…a bit early.  This was 7 years ago!  Could the thinning of the crowd and the closing up early been completely innocent?  It’s possible, but… do you believe we still have a little work to do?
 
STORY #1

 Josiah HensonThe Life of Josiah Henson (1849)

Josiah Henson was born a slave on 15th June, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. He was sold three times before he reached the age of eighteen. By 1830, Henson had saved up $350 to purchase his freedom. After giving his master the money he was told that the price had increased to $1,000.

Cheated of his money, Henson decided to escape with his wife and four children. After reaching Canada, Henson formed a community where he taught other ex-slaves how to be successful farmers.

“We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground. Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question. We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description. Our beds were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering. Our favourite way of sleeping, however, was on a plank, our heads raised on an old jacket and our feet toasting before the smouldering fire. The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig- sty. Such were our houses. In these wretched hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born and the sick – neglected.”

STORY #2

Last Friday morning I was picking up 3 of our Reading Club kids to take them to school.  They have been homeless for the past few months.  First they were living in cheap motels along Midlothian Tpke.  Now they are staying in someone else’s apartment in a local public housing complex.  The mom opened the door as the 3 boys were obviously roused by my knocking.  One gets up off of his sleeping bag on the floor and the other two off of their air mattress.  There is no furniture in sight.  Wearing the same clothes they slept in, they throw on their shoes and follow me out the door.  They slowly come to life as I cruise toward their elementary school hoping they are on time so they can eat some breakfast before class begins.  As I pull to a stop, I say a quick prayer to a chorus of ‘amens’ from the back seat before they jump out and run for the front door.  Just a typical day in their life…

What is the link between these 2 stories that span 2 centuries?

Resources:
401 years of systemic racism summed up in 60 facts
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, forward by Lecrae (Book- Zondervan)
13th Amendment
In my previous 2 posts, I shared with you two stories that spanned two centuries.  In this series, I’m exploring the link between these two stories. I began last time speaking about the horrors of slavery and how our history has too often told a sanitized version of it, as if that was even possible.  Slavery would continue in this country for nearly 250 years before the Emancipation Proclamation would be heard, the 13th Amendment adopted and the surrender of the Confederacy would bring slavery to its bloody conclusion…or did it?
In 1864, the Civil War was in its third year, with a number of battles being fought without clear victories, and with huge numbers of casualties.  President Lincoln’s popularity was beginning to wane as the war dragged on and the number of dead and maimed young men was mounting.  Former Union general George McClellan was opposing Lincoln in a re-election bid.  McClellan, though a northerner, was sympathetic to the economy of slavery.  If he defeated Lincoln, he was likely to negotiate an end to the war rather than pursue it to victory…very possibly leaving slavery intact.  He would have most likely revoked the Emancipation Proclamation heralded by Lincoln on January 1, 1863.  It was during the summer of 1864 that General Sherman captured Atlanta and pushed eastward to Savannah.  With his decisive victories, hope of finally concluding the war was rekindled and Lincoln’s popularity climbed and his re-election ensued.  Could this have been the hand of Providence?  The end of the war was in sight…and with it, the freeing of nearly 4 million slaves, 12.5 percent of our population.
On January 31st, 1865, Congress passed the 13th amendment to the constitution abolishing slavery.  It was ratified on December 6, 1865.  Section 1 reads as follows:  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United Staes, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  This was good news for the African-Americans, right?  Justice had finally come after more than 2 centuries of forced servitude and a long, bloody civil war to win their freedom.  There was jubilation as word spread among the enslaved.  Their prayers had finally been answered.  Their songs rose to the heavens.  Hope was invigorated.  They dreamed about joyful possibilities the future might hold.  No more selling away of family members, no more fear of beatings or worse, perhaps they could experience land ownership, money to establish a home and family.  Could it be?  Do they dare dream?
Not so fast!  It was this highlighted clause that would eventually be used to subjugate as many as 200,000 African-Americans to slavery once again, just under a different name and through another legal means.  Once federal troops withdrew during reconstruction, their protection disappeared overnight.  They would soon be arrested for petty crimes like loitering and vagrancy, which were criminalized actions.  They would be ‘duly convicted’, given jail sentences and then put back in the fields to work as the South was trying to rebuild its economy.  As W.E.B. Du Bois said, “Slaves went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” 
 
It appears that our reunited nation was not ready for a truly united country.  Fear, Ignorance and lies have a way of corrupting the human heart leading to the degrading of fellow human beings, made in the Imago Dei (the image of God).  The very sad reality is that this continues to this very day…it just takes on different forms.
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s website, we read, “By the middle of the 20th century, states abandoned convict leasing due to industrialization and political pressure and extended slavery through chain gangs and prison farms. This legacy continues to influence the criminal justice system today, in places like Louisiana State Penitentiary. Named “Angola” after the provenance of the enslaved people who worked the same land when it was a plantation, the prison requires incarcerated men to work in the fields. Eighty percent of Angola’s imprisoned men are Black, and its warden compares the grounds to “a big plantation in days gone by.”
Last year I had a conversation with an inmate at Nottoway Correctional Center here in Virginia.  He had a job in the prison making around 55 cents an hour and has reached the top of the pay grade after years of working.  They have a wood shop in this facility where they make furniture for the State of Virginia.  This includes furniture for some state offices and dorm rooms in state colleges.  That’s pretty cheap labor…but at what cost?

Here’s the question I would leave us with:  While their fellow citizens, the African-Americans, were once again being enslaved through the criminal justice system, what were the followers of Jesus doing…or perhaps equally important, what are we doing?

Resources for further study:
Film:  13th- on Netflix  https://www.netflix.com/watch/80091741
Book: The New Jim Crow  https://newjimcrow.com/

One thing I have discovered  in my journey with Jesus is that when I pay attention to what He is doing and I join Him in it, I see fruit emerge.  What is He doing now?  I believe He is opening eyes and hearts to the years of injustice and oppression visited upon our African-American brothers and sisters.  I have had numerous people reach out to me in the last few weeks with a genuine interest in learning things that they had never really given much thought to.  Could this be a precursor to an awakening here in our country?  Why don’t we join Him and see?  Last week I introduced this by sharing two stories that spanned 2 centuries.

STORY #1  Circa 1818 AD

Josiah HensonThe Life of Josiah Henson (1849)

Josiah Henson was born a slave on 15th June, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. He was sold three times before he reached the age of eighteen. By 1830, Henson had saved up $350 to purchase his freedom. After giving his master the money he was told that the price had increased to $1,000.  Cheated out of his money, Henson decided to escape with his wife and four children. After reaching Canada, Henson formed a community where he taught other ex-slaves how to be successful farmers.

“We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground. Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question. We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description. Our beds were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering. Our favourite way of sleeping, however, was on a plank, our heads raised on an old jacket and our feet toasting before the smouldering fire. The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig- sty. Such were our houses. In these wretched hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born and the sick – neglected.”

STORY #2   2018 AD

One morning, two years ago, I was picking up 3 of our Reading Club kids to take them to school.  They had been homeless for the previous few months.  At first they were living in cheap motels along Midlothian Tpke.  Then they were staying in someone’s apartment in a local public housing complex.  On this particular morning, mom was not responding to my text that I was outside waiting on them.  Finally, I climbed the stairs and began knocking on the door.  Eventually, the door slowly opened as someone was obviously roused by my knocking.  As I’m allowed a glimpse into the living room, I am shocked at what I see.  The room is full of sleeping adolescents and teens.  One is on a twin air mattress.  Another is sleeping propped up on a loveseat.  Six are sleeping end to end on another air mattress and one of the boys I was picking up was sound asleep in an upright chair.  Who knows who was sleeping in the other rooms.  Wearing the same clothes they slept in, my three boys throw on their shoes and follow me out the door.  They slowly come to life as I cruise toward their elementary school hoping they are on time so they can eat some breakfast before class begins.  As I pull to a stop, I say a quick prayer to a chorus of ‘amens’ from the back seat before they jump out and run for the front door.  I’m left pondering what I had just witnessed.

 

What is the link between these 2 stories that span 2 centuries?

 

Over the next few posts, I will share with you a timeline that I believe links them.  My purpose in this exercise is to bring a truthful, historical narrative that will help us pursue justice and righteousness in 2020.  While cultural norms may change over the years, God’s definition of justice & righteousness doesn’t.  May He continue to open our eyes to the injustices that exist right before us today.  What I am sharing is a simple, introductory timeline of racial injustice as it relates to African-Americans in our nation.  There is so much more to this story, but I want to give us a taste…albeit a bitter one.  I’ll begin with the slave trade.

Slavery began as indentured servitude following the establishment of Jamestown in 1607.  The newly arrived settlers had a need for laborers.  The passage to the new country was expensive, so the promise of passage, room and board and land after completing 4-7 years of service was an enticing offer for many poor whites back in England.  As much as one-half to three-fourths of the initial population was indentured servants. The first black Africans arrived in 1619 and were treated initially as indentured servants.  Due to the desire for cheap labor, slave laws were passed in 1641 in Massachusetts and 1661 in Virginia.  Soon, it became a profitable commerce and resulted in a triangle of nefarious business involving Africa, Liverpool(financing) and the Americas.   Around 388,000 Africans were transported directly to the U.S.  Of those brought here, typically 25% would be children.  A voyage would take on average 2 months.  Between 12 & 13% would not survive the trip.  In 1808, the importation of slaves was constitutionally halted by Congress.  However, by 1860, there were approximately 3.9 million African slaves in the U.S., comprising about 12 1/2 % of the total population.  In Virginia, there were approximately 550,000 slaves making up one-third of the population.  After the import ban, slaves were bred and often sold, usually when a land owner had financial hardship.  Other slaves were passed on from generation to generation through inheritance.  Here in Richmond, Va., many were sold and shipped down the James River and on to southern plantations.  In 1860, the Richmond City directory listed 18 ‘Negro traders’, 18 ‘agents, general collecting’ and 33 ‘auctioneers’.  During this time period there were nearly daily advertisements in the press that from “25-50 Negroes would be sold.”  Families were broken up, fathers shipped south and children left crying for their daddy.  Would you pause for a moment and consider the following question?  What lasting effects (generationally) could possibly come from this inhumane treatment of human beings who were made in the image of God just like you and me?  

And then there’s my 7th grade Virginia history book which told me that slaves were ‘generally happy’ .  That’s called a lie at best and intentional brainwashing at worst!  Or perhaps it was a way to make the unimaginable palatable.  The regrettable thing is that much of the church of that day was complicit, not challenging the ‘cultural norm.’  There were notable exceptions, but they stand out in light of the norm.   Here’s one more question to consider:  How is the Church complicit today as it relates to race relations?  

Eventually, their freedom was won through the bloody civil war of 1861-1865.  However, freedom turned out to be anything but that for many!  We’ll explore that topic next time…

It was a long time before I could bring myself to watch the video of George Floyd with a knee on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds as his life slowly ebbed from his body.  I just couldn’t bear it.  I didn’t want to see it.  I can’t help but notice the similarity of the way many of us have been unwilling to take an honest look at the plight of the African-Americans and the oppression they’ve experienced for the past 401 years.  The visual of the officer’s knee on George’s neck is a very visceral image of this multi-generational oppression.  Subjugated by a knee on the neck, yet by God’s Grace and the strength of the African American spirit, there is remains Hope.  In the midst of the noise and chaos, I am seeing something beautiful emerge.  I am witnessing an awakening among many to the African-American struggle.  I am continually being asked to meet with individuals and groups to discuss this.  It’s almost like scales are falling off of people’s eyes.  I pray that this hunger for righteousness will continue to sweep across our country pointing to the true righteousness found in and through Jesus Christ.  This post is kicking off a series that will span the centuries between slavery and present day.  It begins with 2 stories that span the past 2 centuries.  One that I read about and one that I participated in.  As we begin this exploration, try and place yourself in each story…
STORY #1  circa 1818 AD
 

Josiah Henson was born a slave on 15th June, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. He was sold three times before he reached the age of eighteen. By 1830, Henson had saved up $350 to purchase his freedom. After giving his master the money he was told that the price had increased to $1,000.  Cheated out of his money, Henson decided to escape with his wife and four children. After reaching Canada, Henson formed a community where he taught other ex-slaves how to be successful farmers.  The following is a description of his life in slave quarters…

“We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground. Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question. We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description. Our beds were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering. Our favorite way of sleeping, however, was on a plank, our heads raised on an old jacket and our feet toasting before the smoldering fire. The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig- sty. Such were our houses. In these wretched hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born and the sick – neglected.”  Josiah HensonThe Life of Josiah Henson (1849)

STORY #2   2018 AD

One morning, two years ago, I was picking up 3 of our Reading Club kids to take them to school.  They had been homeless for the previous few months.  At first they were living in cheap motels along Midlothian Tpke.  Then they were staying in someone’s apartment in a local public housing complex.  On this particular morning, mom was not responding to my text that I was outside waiting on them.  Finally, I climbed the stairs and began knocking on the door.  Eventually, the door slowly opened as someone was obviously roused by my knocking.  As I’m allowed a glimpse into the living room, I am shocked at what I see.  The room is full of sleeping adolescents and teens.  One is on a twin air mattress.  Another is sleeping propped up on a loveseat.  Six are sleeping toe to toe on another air mattress and one of the boys I was picking up was sound asleep in an upright chair.  Who knows who was sleeping in the other rooms.  Wearing the same clothes they slept in, my three boys throw on their shoes and follow me out the door.  They slowly come to life as I cruise toward their elementary school hoping they are on time so they can eat some breakfast before class begins.  As I pull to a stop, I say a quick prayer to a chorus of ‘amens’ from the back seat before they jump out and run for the front door.  I’m left pondering what I had just witnessed.

 

What is the link between these 2 stories that span 2 centuries?  Over the next few weeks, I will explore this connection.  But first, let me preface the series with a few thoughts…

First, I am only giving a VERY brief synopsis of a long, complicated and divisive subject.  We can follow this thread of systemic injustice from slavery, through the Jim Crow era, lynching, redlining, drug laws, mass incarceration, school to prison pipeline and more.   I believe it is our charge to educate ourselves on African-American history.  We must be careful in asking our African-American brothers and sisters to educate us until we have done some of the heavy lifting ourselves.  There is much resource available for those who are willing to pursue more awareness.  I will be making some available as we take this journey together.  Secondly, this is a journey I have been on for a number of years and continue to pursue, both educationally and relationally.  I am also aware that there are many who are new to this subject as to its factual history.  It is primarily a matter of our upbringing and what our parents, guardians and educators chose to teach us.  Here’s an excerpt from my 7th grade Virginia history book.  “Life among the Negroes of Virginia was generally happy.  The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked.” No wonder there is such implicit bias at work in us.  Now, I am aware that there are assumptions I may make and conclusions I have come to that you may not agree with or have come to yourself.  That is OK!  I love dialogue.  I have blind spots and a good deal of ignorance left to inform.  My desire and hope is that by looking truthfully and objectively at our collective history, we can at the very least empathize more deeply with our fellow human beings and even more so be moved by compassion to make meaningful change.  My prayer is that God will give us eyes to see and ears to hear His voice!  We live in a VERY divided country and as followers of Jesus, it is imperative that we listen to our Father, understand His word and His ways and intersect with our culture from that place.  There are many other voices trying to inform us of what is right and just.  We must be diligent in how much we allow this to happen.  We are and will be formed in our views and actions either way.  In other words, we will be discipled by someone or something.  Why not let the One who is Just lead the way…Jesus.  One last thing.  It is also possible to start to feel fatigued with this subject.  It is here that we must ask God to strengthen us and give us clarity for the journey.  Our weariness on this topic pales in comparison to the weariness of injustices experienced by our African-American brothers and sisters.  
We want a just society, don’t we?  While I never personally held slaves nor know of any ancestors who did, I have benefited from systems that heavily favored my race (including me personally) to the detriment of our fellow black citizens. This is called ‘white privilege.’  I believe justice can begin reality when we are honest with ourselves…when we call injustice for what it was, recognizing the residual effects that continue to this day and are moved to do something about it.  Now that’s a revival I’m longing to see!  I believe we are currently witnessing an ‘Awakening’ in our nation as to the centuries of injustices perpetrated upon my African-American brothers and sisters.  My prayer is that our eyes & hearts would be open to what God is seeing and feeling…and we would be moved to action!  To this end, I first RECOGNIZE the false narratives that shaped me and many others of my generation.  Then, I work toward justice to undo systemic wrongs and see God’s kingdom come ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’  I believe that out of what appears to be chaotic and confusing times, God is desiring to birth something beautiful!  He has a history of doing just that!  We will begin with the initial enslavement of Africans here in America.

 

I will pick that up next time…

 

How do we make sense of the times we’re in?  And, while there are SO MANY voices vying for our attention, I’ll venture to share with you some of what I’ve been prayerfully sitting with.  If you choose to read the following, please do so prayerfully and with grace.  I’m also seeking God’s heart and perspective on these times in which we live, understanding that this is our watch and we all have a role to play.  It’s no accident that we were born for such a time as this…

We were all trying to navigate Covid-19 when suddenly an image crossed the screens and sensibilities of America.  Only the most calloused heart could witness the videoed killing of George Floyd and not be affected in some way.  Perhaps you chose not to view it, wanting to protect yourself from the trauma.  I can understand that.  I did the same thing initially.  But, since then, I have seen enough of it…heard enough testimony…read enough accounts…to. say, My God!  And for the past week we have witnessed the outcry here in America, with scenes of protest, some peaceful…some violent…and everything in between.  Social media has been filled with tears of lament, personal stories of prejudice and racism, much anger and outrage, deep expressions of grief, calls for change and so much more.  I have listened a lot this past week to my friends of color as they have shared their hearts and tears.  I’ve witnessed many of my caucasian friends respond with sentiments of solidarity, well intentioned…yet sometimes sounding distant or hollow in the context of the years of struggle.  I’ve seen other posts and commentary, i believe mostly motivated by fear and resentment, condemning those voicing their outrage on the streets of our city and nation.   How can we make sense of this?  How can we respond?  What can I do to change anything?  How do I reconcile my confusion over the violence and destruction I’ve witnessed, my sympathies toward George Floyd and his family along with my concern for the safety of my son-in-law who is a Richmond Police officer?  I haven’t said much.  I’ve been sitting with this, mostly trying to listen to people of color…and to God. 

Tuesday, I watched the meeting our mayor and police chief had with a large group of people who had been tear-gassed the night before prior to the curfew taking place.  The mayor came out to apologize.  It was a long time before he could get a word out of his mouth because the crowd was shouting him down, calling for his resignation.  One particular individual was especially vocal, cutting him off every time he tried to speak.  I found myself saying aloud, “Let him speak!”  It was difficult to watch.  I felt sorry for the mayor.  I felt a visceral reaction to this woman screaming profanities at him, shouting him down.  I thought, “Someone should remove her from the crowd, but who?  This won’t accomplish anything!  Where are the police…oh that’s right.”  Yet, I knew I was missing something.  But what?  I began to process this with the Lord, asking why was I having such a strong reaction to this woman and the crowd, being so far removed from the scene, and sitting comfortably and safely on my sofa.  And then it hit me.  My guttural reaction was in response to a much stronger and scopious cry of pain that I was hardly hearing and mostly misunderstanding.  I started to reflect on our city, on how many young men and women of color have died violently over the years and the collective pain and grief from  the loss of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins.  I felt like the abrasive screaming I was hearing from many in the crowd had morphed into me hearing the blood of the ground crying out.  We’ve had personal experience here in South Richmond.  3 yrs ago this Sunday, we were sitting on our porch when we heard the gunshots that took the life of one our Reading Club kids…15 yrs old.  Him and his best friend, sixteen, were murdered on Decatur street, left in a pool of blood.  No one has been charged in these murders.  His blood cries out!  It reminds me of the scripture in Genesis 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel.  “The Lord said, ‘What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Not long ago, Becky asked her Reading Club group of teenage girls if they had a friend who had been killed.  4 raised their hands, several in response to the young man I just mentioned.  One of the girls went on to say that she had 5 family members who had been killed.  How do you process that kind of pain and grief?  This suffering can be multiplied multi-fold throughout our community.  So much loss…So many tears shed or stuffed.  Then I went on to think about the past 400 years here in America.  How much pain and grief has been absorbed in the African-American community.  Truly, only God knows…and He knows.  You see, I believe the screams of the woman I heard were an embodiment of the blood crying out from centuries of oppression, from Slavery, Jim Crow, Massive Resistance, Mass Incarceration and all of the residual consequences from a systemic oppression of a people made in the image of God.  A cry from a place unimaginable.  And here’s the thing…guttural screams of deep anguish are not pleasant to hear.  They can be frightening!  I can still remember as a young boy witnessing my dad cry uncontrollably.  Evidently, he and mom had been in a serious conflict and he broke down and it seemed to me that years of pent up emotion came spewing out.  I had never witnessed him cry in my life that I remember.  I wanted to run from it.  It scared me.  Is it possible that these expressions of protest, violence, screams, profanity and threats are coming from generations of pent up pain and anguish, crying out for justice…How Long, Oh Lord?  Certainly not all of the actions we’re witnessing are righteous or just or helpful, but that doesn’t delegitimize the pain, the grief, the oppression that is crying out for redemption!  And yes, there are others who would hijack a legitimate protest for nefarious purposes.  I witnessed some last night on a FaceBook live stream from the Museum.  There were Black Blocs Anarchists there stirring up the crowd…not helpful!   But the question remains… What is God’s agenda?
Here’s the Good News!  God hears their cry!  Scripture is replete with examples of God hearing the cries of people and coming to their rescue.  Here’s an example.  The Israelites were under heavy bondage to Pharaoh’s Kingdom.  They spent their days making bricks to feed the insatiable ego of Pharaoh.  One day Moses (an Israelite being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter) witnessed the hard labor and then saw one of the slaves being beaten by an overseer.  Moses killed him and buried him in the sand.  When this was discovered, he fled and settled in another place where he married and tended the flock of his father-in-law.  Exodus 2:23-25 says, “During that long period, the king of Egypt died.  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  I wonder what their groaning and crying out sounded like?  Do you think it was all righteous?  Peaceful?  Orderly?  Soft spoken cries?  For those of us who read the bible, we often have a tendency to sanitize the scriptures or to read them without their raw human expressions, preferring rather to spiritualize or analogize them.  The story goes on to tell us that during this time, God appeared to Moses (the one who had killed the Egyptian, btw).  He called out to Moses from a Burning Bush.  We read in Exodus 3:7-8, “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land,…”  Then God said in vs 10, “So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  God called this place, Holy Ground.
 
So, what can we do?  You may think, how can I change anything?  I can’t change policing policy.  I can’t change the criminal justice system or the disproportionate school systems…so many systemic issues, what can we do?  We can listen for God’s voice.  There are plenty of other voices telling us what’s what.  What is God’s agenda in this?  What is your part in that agenda?  This is Holy Ground stuff.  Their blood cries out from the ground.  God hears it.  He’s calling to us on Holy Ground to Go!  Are we listening?  I can’t give God’s specific agenda for you, but I can give a couple of suggestions that may help you hear it…
  • Make the choice to listen from your heart and hear the pain, the hurt being expressed regardless of the form it takes…without judging or condemning or even commenting.
  • Listen for God’s heart and get His directive for action that will facilitate His agenda.  Through prayerful, unsanitized scripture reading (Matthew 5-7 is a good starting place), ask God what He would have you do…and then do it.  You’ll be surprised at what opens up when you approach God with this humble willingness.
  • Educate yourself on the past 400 years experienced by people of color.  Don’t ask a person of color to educate you.  They are tired.  Let’s do the heavy lifting ourselves.  Here are a couple of literary suggestions to get us started.
  1. The New Jim Crow (Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) by Michelle Alexander,
  2. It’s the Little Things (Everyday Interactions that anger, annoy and divide the races) by Lena Williams
  3. Tattoos on the Heart (The Power of Boundless Compassion) by Gregory Boyle
  4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
  5. A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne
  6. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (also now available on video)
I would love to dialogue with anyone who wants to further their understanding of these issues.  I’ve learned a few things and I can benefit from learning a lot more.  Would love to process with you.
During our morning walk today, we exited our alleyway onto 34th St.  As we passed in front of the public housing where one of our Reading Club kids lives, what struck me was the freshness of the morning air.  Becky and I nearly exclaimed at the same time, “What a beautiful day!”  And while this was a somewhat paced exercise in healthy living, we encountered many enjoyable surprises along the way.  As we continued our walk down Midlothian Tpke, we saw Mr K’s convenient store freshly painted with vibrant expressive colors and across the street the fence in front of Swansboro Elementary School decorated with large purple linen letters saying, “We Love Our Teachers!”.  We simultaneously found pennies that we added to our vacation bank, we saw flowers appearing in unusual places and squirrels chasing each other along a wooden fence top and all the while being serenaded by a chorus of birds.  Here’s a picture of one such joy I captured…roses growing through a fence.
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To me, this image speaks of God…and His loving presence in our lives.  He is the one of whom scripture says brings light into the darkness.  Speaking of Jesus, we read in John 1:3-5 Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.  What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”  This fence is man-made and is actually a bit dilapidated.  It’s easy to stumble upon this fence and simply see it’s ugliness and disrepair.  And yet there is a reminder of something beautiful, something living, of something that will not be contained behind the confined intention of this structure.  While this fence was built to keep things out and keep other things in, God’s beauty emerges and brings surprising joy to those who don’t rush past it.  In some ways it’s analogous of the current situation where we may find ourselves confined.  Perhaps it’s the physical confinement of sheltering at home, having completed all of Netflix.and now going stir crazy.   Maybe it’s a mental confinement with thoughts seemingly going in a million different directions, keeping you awake at night pondering…What if?  What if?  Or perhaps you’re experiencing emotions you’ve never felt before or certainly not this depth of sadness, anger or grief and you’re feeling alone in them, with no one to process with…Zoom’s not cutting it.  Maybe you’re having some of your spiritual bedrocks challenged, experiencing doubts that you’ve kept at bay over the years.  Or it might be hitting you financially and the uncertainty of the future is creating an anxiety that is concerning to you.  What can we do with these thoughts, feelings and concerns?
 
While there are varying opinions on the origin of this virus and plenty of blame being passed around, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have an enemy of our soul who wants to use this season of confinement to try and suffocate us…challenge our faith, lose or lessen our relationships, and steal our Hope.  And Yet…there’s God!   There’s a great truth to encourage us found in Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This present pandemic may have come on suddenly and rocked our world a bit, but it is no exception to this truth.  God has a track record of turning things that seemed devastating into great good.  Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery and then being imprisoned falsely, yet being able to say years later, You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened.”  And Satan thought he had defeated Jesus on the cross…but the resurrection!
God is at work TODAY in ways that we can easily miss if our eyes aren’t open to Him and His ways.  It might just be that He’s bringing you an invitation to reevaluate your life’s values, your calling, your career path, etc.  Could it possibly be that this hour of ‘forced pause’ might just be an opportunity to step out of the hustle, bustle of routine life and see a bigger, more expansive view from God’s perspective?  Maybe it can lead to a more measured, intentional pace of life once things do begin to open back up.  Let me encourage you to resist the temptation to ‘get back to normal life’, to just endure or survive this season.  Let’s take a journey together into seeing where God is at work.  We can begin this by simply looking for the joy and beauty of what is lasting, of what transcends our circumstances, of what speaks of eternity.  Kind of like priming the pump, so to speak.  It can be as simple as taking a moment to appreciate the smile on someone’s face or the kindness in their voice when they hand you the Chick-Fil-A or Zaxby’s meal through the window.  Or stepping outside, looking up and taking delight in what you see…a hawk, a seagull or a cloud formation that brings a smile to your face.  You just may experience the Joy of The Father smiling over you…finding renewed strength and hearing His voice afresh! 
 
You are loved and you are not alone!

 

After this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I am left attempting to understand what exactly I witnessed and how to think rightly about it.  While many are dogmatic about its origin, its meaning and what the outcome should be, I find myself trying to make some sense of it all, desiring something concrete to focus on.  From a distance, there appear to be multi-faceted motivations for the expressions of bigotry and hatred and not just limited to the historical black and white divide here in America.  However, with that said and understanding that ultimately it’s a heart issue, it’s my opinion this black & white divide is the overarching and reoccurring theme that continues to divide our nation…and demand our attention.  Over the past several years we have witnessed events in various cities across the nation that have precipitated protests.  Baltimore comes to mind.  Can you name some of the others?  If we’re honest with ourselves we are glad to forget & move on and we feel safer when things “settle down”, at least for a while.  We put them behind us…until the next one.  It’s just a matter of time before we’re facing the same issue again, possibly right here in Richmond (the former capital of the confederacy) along with the tension, emotion and confusion that comes with it.  I believe events of this nature will continue until there is an honest acknowledgment of racism and prejudice that has permeated our nation for generations.  I am not without hope, though.  I believe we are witnessing an awakening in our country to centuries of injustices in the black community. While some in our caucasian race have been growing in this awareness and making some heroic attempts (often behind the scenes) to bring justice, there are many others who are just now having their eyes opened to the depth and scope of racial oppression and inequality.  That’s a positive development.

Here’s the rub.  When these events erupt on our landscape, I see several potential outcomes (or reactions).  For one, it raises awareness of generational injustices and more people have their racial naivety and prejudices exposed.  That’s a positive!  But, what we do with that matters.  And that’s a BIG ISSUE!  The problem is that we don’t know what to do with it.  We can post our opinions on social media, express our outrage, perhaps join the next protest (if it’s nearby and convenient) or our default is usually to just feel guilty about it and try not to think about it much. 

Or…

perhaps we get outraged at the reaction of the black community or others representing them.  We assuage our guilt by focusing on the seemingly overreaction by those protesting.  We end up pointing the finger and saying, “See!  They’re just as at fault!”  And, what gets lost in this are the very real issues of racism and injustice.We get distracted from the real culprit (or perhaps by the real culprit) of pride and hatred.

Here is where I’d like to offer something that I believe will be helpful in bridging this great divide in our local context.  If we’re just looking at the big picture, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Let me give you an analogy that might be helpful.  When our family moved into a predominately black neighborhood in 1997, I had a somewhat grandiose vision of bringing racial reconciliation to Richmond.  It didn’t take me too long to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the longstanding issues of racism and hatred.  Can you spell Naivety?  That was me with a capital ‘N’.  So, what happened?  God brought this 7 year old black kid named Devin to our door.  He came into our life and in many ways opened our eyes to the challenges faced by people of color…and he opened our hearts to love him.  Since then, we have been able to work with other kids from the neighborhood and touch other lives, but the point I’m making is that it’s crucial that we don’t get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the racial problem in America that we just duck our heads and ignore what we can do.  It matters!  Once, when Jesus was making a point about condemnation, he used an analogy about blindness.  He said,  “Why do you stare at the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but ignore the plank in your own?  How can you say to your neighbor, “Here – let me get that splinter out of your eye,” when you’ve got the plank in your own? You’re just play-acting! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you’ll see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye”.  I believe we all have a ‘plank of prejudice’ in our eye.  By prejudice, I simply mean our preconceived way of seeing people of color that, while perhaps not racist in intent, was birthed in racism from years past.  We see people of color differently than we see ourselves…and often not in a positive light.  Perhaps, we are just accustomed to it, it’s just how we see things.  It’s our normal.  I contend that it’s generational, as we grew up seeing through the eyes of those who helped form and shape us to varying degrees of prejudice.  And, while the size of our ‘plank of prejudice’ will vary, it’s to our detriment to ignore it.  What if instead, when we witness an event like this past weekend in Cville or the next event, we see it as an invitation of sorts…an invitation to remove that ‘plank of prejudice’ from our eye and lay it down as a ‘plank of humility’ across the great divide of prejudice and racism and begin to build a bridge…at the very least a bridge of understanding and compassion.  This could have the very real possibility of informing our actions in a helpful way.  And…what if those possessing the biggest planks were to have an awakening?  Can you imagine the progress they will make on this bridge with the sheer size of their plank!  Let me leave you with something very concrete you can do to move in this direction, something that has the potential to awaken us to our own planks, to loosen them and perhaps begin to remove them from our eyes…and with humility lay them down.  Here it is:  Sometime this week, ask a person of color (someone that you know and hopefully trusts you a bit) what it’s been like for them as a person of color to grow up here in America…and then Just Listen!  Just Listen!  Put a clip on your lips if necessary and Just Listen!  No justifications, no excuses, no offering of solutions, no changing the subject (no matter how uncomfortable it is)…Just Listening!   I suspect you will be surprised.  It has the very real potential to begin a process of healing, for both.  I have been on this journey myself for the past 20 years and have thought of myself as somewhat astute when it comes to racial issues (did I mention that pride might be an issue for me? 🙂   I recently asked this question of a black friend who I felt might be vulnerable enough to go there with me (Don’t assume this).  I was surprised at what this person shared with me, some of his negative experiences on his college campus and with local authorities.  I’m thinking to myself, ‘are you kidding me!’  I believe it was helpful for him to share this with me, however, I’m making a big assumption with that and don’t want to presume.  I know it was helpful for me!  And, that is where it has to begin.  You see, it’s not about us ‘fixing them’. It’s about allowing God to have His way with us.  Then, we’ll see…

#thebridgerva

#blackandwhitebridge

He’s a young father who has just walked his two daughters several blocks to our Wednesday Reading Club.  As he steps into the noisy, crowded foyer of our home, the first impression that hits me is his long dreadlocks and the pungent aroma of alcohol from his breath.  After signing the girls in, he turns to leave and says, “This is a good thing y’all are doing.  We need more of these, you feel me?”  I knowingly smile!  Why, yes we do!

We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ because first impressions can be deceiving.  This is true in this father’s case.  Here’s a man who loves his children and is trying to do right by them, to give them a future.  Yet, I know that if many of my caucasian friends were to pass this young father on the sidewalk there would be a sense of caution or even outright fear.  There would be assumptions made and stereotypical thoughts.  How do I know this?  Because I’m that person too!  I’d like to think I’ve moved beyond the prejudicial attitudes, that I’m an enlightened person who has severed all ties to the generational racism of my ancestors.  There are times when I present myself that way.  However, if I am completely honest, a more apt description would be that at best I am a recovering prejudiced person.  While I still have a long way to go in this journey of recovery, I am learning a few things along the way.  The following analogy has proved helpful.

In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on prenatal care for expectant mothers.  The human womb is designed to be one of the safest and most nurturing environments on the planet.  When a pregnant woman is instructed in prenatal care, the desired outcome is a healthy, viable child delivered at full term with the opportunity to flourish.  It has been documented that mothers who take good care of themselves during pregnancy, greatly enhance these odds.      

 I believe this picture of the human womb as a place of physical development can be an instructive analogy in understanding and appreciating much of the civil unrest we’ve witnessed in our nation recently.  We have seen a rise in the volume of racial rhetoric and the depth of our racial divide has been revealed and taken center stage.   We’ve witnessed disturbing images cross our television screens of protests, both peaceful and occasionally violent.  Exactly what was disturbing about the images depends on who you ask and typically, though certainly not always, falls along racial lines.  What has emerged is a movement called Black Lives Matter, which has also proved to be predictably divisive.   In response to this, signs go up  ‘All Lives Matter’, ‘White Lives Matter’, ‘Police Lives Matter’, ‘__________ Lives Matter’, fill in the blank.  It’s an understandable reaction given our country’s racial history.  But, as is often the case in our racial monologues, these responses miss the point.  

If we can hit the ‘pause button’ for a moment on our first impressions and visceral reactions, I believe we can begin to understand some of what is behind the anger we are witnessing and hopefully move toward more constructive dialogue and conciliation.  You see, there is another womb…the womb of the inner city.  This is a womb where thousands of children find themselves today.  Through no choice of their own, they are growing up in a toxic environment that threatens their ability to emerge into adulthood physically, emotionally and mentally healthy.   For example, they find their young lives exposed to violence on a regular basis.  Some experience parental neglect & abuse.  Many have incarcerated, absent or dead parents.  They are often subjected to poor nutrition and even real hunger.  Lack of affordable housing options results in multiple relocations by families.  They are stereotyped because of color or economic class.  If that isn’t enough, they are often judged on how they handle this enormous challenge.  Tragically, some do not make it to adulthood at all. 

Now, I know that some will look on this from a distance and say that this population has the same freedom and opportunity afforded every American citizen.  It’s simply not true.  Admittedly, there are also challenging issues in suburbia including the heroin epidemic, but in our inner-cities there is layer upon layer of issues that in and of themselves would be enough cause for alarm.  We often affix blame on the parents and in some cases, rightly so.  You might be surprised, though, at the level of love and support faithfully present in the parents of many of these children…wanting the best for them, yet working as if they have one arm tied behind their back.  In my opinion, it’s only by the grace of God and an incredible tenacity and faithfulness forged in the fires of adversity that help deliver these children to adulthood and some on to success.  Even if you have a hard time seeing past some of the self-inflicted situations the parents find themselves in, could you stop for a moment and consider the children.  They are the ones who have no choice in their environment.  They are simply recipients of another’s choice and might I add…enabled by our society’s years of turning a blind eye.  I think we can rightly call this ‘The Womb of Injustice.” 

What might be the crucial ingredient in helping us move toward a society where justice is a reality and not just a cliche or an unfulfilled dream?  I believe it begins with seeing things rightly, seeing this ‘womb of injustice.’  It would serve us well to heed Father Gregory Boyle’s advice, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”  This begs the question, ‘what does this look like practically?’  It begins with seeing rightly.  The next time you cross paths with the father I mentioned at the beginning (or someone who looks like him), perhaps consider that he might be one of these children as well.   He most likely grew up in this womb of injustice.  You could smile, speak a word of encouragement, listen to him, or perhaps even follow a biblical adage that says, “mourn with those who mourn.”  From this place of empathy, a compassion may emerge and you just may be moved to action.  You may be moved to help remedy a situation, to change a life-trajectory and begin to see justice birthed…where the womb of the inner city is becoming a healthier, safer environment and its children can be born into adulthood with the opportunity to flourish.  This I believe will be a birthday we can celebrate for years to come.