Archive for Christianity

Free in DC For MOW 50: What Happened To God?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2013 by Free Smith

MLK Cross

 

 

Malcolm Mecca

The impact of the spiritual community on the Civil Rights Movement cannot be overstated. Many of its leaders were religious leaders, and the love and peacefulness that helped define the Movement are deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Author of King’s Vision of Justice: Rooted in the Bible, David J. Lull wrote, “Dr. King often pointed out that it was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that inspired the ‘dignified social action’ of the civil rights movement. His notion of “creative suffering” – borne by civil rights activists who endured persecution and police brutality – came from his Christian faith in the redemptive suffering of Jesus.”

Usage of scriptural innuendoes was favored rhetorical practice for King, especially hopes for “God’s children” he pled for in the “I Have A Dream” speech. Even his ominous, final speech was closed with the biblical allusion of being at the “mountaintop” and seeing the “Promised Land” referencing Moses who, as a punishment from God, could only see the Hebrews’ “Promised Land” from Mount Nebo where he died. Use of this passage evidenced that King sensed his impending death, which was the next day.

Furthermore, Dr. King saw the Church as a microcosm of racism in America. According to Aldon Morris, sociologist at Northwestern University and writer of The Origins of the Civil Right Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, cited King’s labeling of Sunday church services as “the most segregated hour in America.” “He felt the church hadn’t stood up enough and supported the movement.  They were needing allies from many different groups, and with the movement rooted in moral and religious precepts it made a great deal of sense to reach out to various religious groups.”

In his book, Gospel of Freedom, author John Rieder examined King’s moving “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” expressed that King’s letter (also strewn with biblical references) helped to highlight the contradiction of Jim Crow to religious values held by institutions and spurred them to action, creating a “confluence of a major part of the black movement with the larger ferment in American Christianity and Judaism.”

Other some of  King’s more radical counterparts also used spirituality as a foundation to their fight. Muslim doctrine and his post as head voice of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam heavily influenced Malcolm X’s noble campaign. In his quest to liberate Blacks in America, founder of the UNIA, counterpart to W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP, Marcus Garvey, put his separatist mission in a religious context, “As the Jew is held together by his religion… so likewise the Negro must be united in one grand racial hierarchy…Like the great Church of Rome, Negroes the world over must practice one faith, that of Confidence in themselves, with One God! One Aim! One Destiny! Let no religious scruples, no political machination divide us, but let us hold together under all climes and in every country, making among ourselves a Racial Empire upon which ’the sun shall never set.’”

Seeing how spirituality and faith were so influential in the Civil Rights Movement, one might wonder, what happened? Today, the leaders of thought in the Black community are predominately entertainers, replacing the ministers who led during times of oppression. According to Yeadon’s Rev. Dr. Harold Dean Trulear (“Uncle Dean” to me), reputable director of Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Reentry Initiative and professor at Howard University, “Media has taken center stage and it’s so powerful that it creates more of a sense of being a spectator and being more passive. The action is up front on the screen. The spiritual people on television are giving more of a message of individual prosperity and individual solutions to social problems than they are looking at the collective.” This focus on the self has been said to be a somewhat destructive imposition of feudalistic, European ideals foreign and incompatible to Black/African culture (stemming from a lesson I learned from Howard University’s Dr. Gregory Carr in his “Black Aesthetics” course). Trulear partially jested, “If Rosa Parks came to church to today and said she’d been discriminated against on the bus, somebody would’ve told her to ask God for a car.” He continued, “That’s an individual solution to social problem, that people overcome individually rather than transform society itself.”

Trulear calls this plight, “uncritical integration,” which he attributes to the Black community’s replication of “rampant individualism”, imperialistic mindsets and discrimination against subsets. “If the society was sick, then you don’t want to integrate into a sick society. You want to transform it. There’s plenty of stuff that we just took a from a very sick society,” he surmised. He deems that Black people have “uncritically adopted” a “flawed” American Dream. “There are number of things we do as Americans that is not the medicine. Rather than challenging the status quo about everything, we just got our piece of the pie.”

Since Blacks got their “piece of the pie, Trulear says revolutionary attitudes in the church have been tamed referencing H. Richard Niebuhr’s 1929 text, The Social Sources of Denominations, “I do think that Black churches have done what all churches have done which is the more affluent the congregation becomes, the less likely it is that they be involved in activism. They become more integrated in the mainstream society.”

Trulear also pointed out that, at the time, fellow Morehouse alum, Dr. King was not a pastor of a church. For six years, he was a senior pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, but his responsibilities hindered his leadership of the SCLC. “He couldn’t do it. There wasn’t enough time, so when he goes back to Atlanta as co-pastor (of Ebenezer Baptist Church) he has very different duties that allow him to spend time on a movement that he could have had he been confined to one church,” explained Trulear. He credited the work of the organizations’ full-time staffs with helping King and other leaders by “doing the organizing work on the ground.“

Trulear gave his blueprint to attaining “The Dream,” heavily influenced by  Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”): “One thing you can do is refuse to allow society to define you by the fact that you’re homeless or have a criminal record and then you can work with other people who have accepted that and help turn their lives around. That includes accepting the designation of subhuman because you’re Black or gay and because you’re an ex-convict or sitting in a homeless shelter. The situation doesn’t define me, I’m defined by Christ and because I’m defined by Christ, I can handle all situations.”

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The Send-Off

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by Free Smith

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The phone rang and aroused Robin from her sleep. She looked at the caller ID and saw that it was Mary calling. It was time. She answered and said, “Hello, Mary.”

The voice on the other end said, “Hello, Robin. It’s time to come see him off.”

Robin answered, “OK. I’m getting ready,” and hung up the phone.

She pushed aside the collection of unreleased Shakespearian works laying on the bed, tossed off her shimmering sheets made of the golden silk and gave a big stretch coupled with a yawn. She looked about her room stocked floor to ceiling with books on top of books on high shelves and saw the eternal light shining through her window. She smiled and felt excitement flutter from her stomach to her head. As soon as her feet hit the floor, the orchestra started playing “Ave Maria” on her sound stage as the great Luciano Pavarotti dove into his flawless aria. She smiled even more, still amazed by the fact that her favorite singer on earth was now her personal crooner.

 She walked over to the bathroom and cleansed herself in the pure waters of her white, marble bathtub with golden fixtures. When finished she got out of the tub, dried off and started through the mansion perusing the paintings, sculptures and tapestries too beautiful for the earthly mind to fathom that adorned the hallways, high ceilings and floors. She reached the front door and her champagne-colored Jaguar was waiting outside. She walked out, got into the car and uttered, “OK, I’m ready,” and the car coasted off down the golden street towards the departure area.

Robin rode along, smiling the whole while thinking of meeting her grandson. She praised the Almighty for blessing her earthly family with a little more longevity and joy. She waved to the people scattered along the rode in front of their mansions. Some she knew as family and friends in her previous life. Some were prominent and famous people that she knew of and admired before (they now held her in high esteem due to her righteous and giving existence on earth). Others were strangers, but all reciprocated her smiles and waves. The car took a turn down the main road and passed by the crystal sea before the Throne from which the light emanated. A thrill ignited in her as she watched the elders incessantly praising the Almighty and casting their crowns at his feet. Robin was now realizing the wondrous images and words that she studied so diligently on earth. She wished that she could show her awaiting grandson the wonders that eternity held in store for believers.

She reached the pearl gates of the departure area, got out of the car, walked to the gate and it opened. When she entered, she was escorted to his room by a cherub on duty.  She knocked and there he was. When he turned around from his seat and looked into her eyes, an emotion overcame Robin that she could not describe, even with the vast wisdom that she attained during her short time in the Kingdom. Tearfully, she walked over and embraced him warmly saying, “Hello, my love.”

Muffled by her arms, he replied, “Hello, Grandma.” Robin clung to him for a bit longer and released. Both stood gazing at each other, eyes pregnant with the seeds of adoration, awe and wonderment that flowed through their minds. An electrical current of emotion passed between the two that tingled the senses. After a few more moments, they both sat Indian style on the ground facing one another. 

Before Robin could say anything he started, “I was watching a big ceremony that they were having for you down there not too long ago.  What was that?”

Robin replied, “That was my funeral, love. That’s what they do for people where you’re going when their earthly body shuts down and can’t go on anymore.”

He continued his query, “I couldn’t understand what was going on. There were a lot of people in that place and there was singing and people spoke, but all the while, people had their heads down with water coming out of their eyes. What does that mean?”

She answered, “That’s called crying. When people are sad there, that’s what they do.”

He said, “Sad? What is that?”

She replied, “Sad is the complete opposite feeling of everything that we feel here, my love. Here we experience nothing but comfort and joy and have no reason to be sad. Where you’re going, there’s still happiness and comfort, but sadness is abundant.”

He continued, “Oh. So why were they feeling that way?”

She answered, “Because they knew they’d never see me there again and they miss me. It was also because of the way that I left. I suffered much pain.”

He inquired, “Pain? I keep hearing about that. Yesterday in orientation, Jesus spoke about pain. He said that he felt a lot of pain to his body, but he also spoke of emotional feelings of pain. What is it exactly?”

Robin replied, “Well, love, there’s physical pain and emotional pain. Physical pain is something that hurts your body. I pray that you won’t feel that for a while, but you’ll probably feel it first when your teeth come in or when you fall or bump your head while you’re getting used to your human body. Jesus felt serious physical pain before he left. Emotional pain is sadness like we talked about before. There’s no way that I can really describe either to you in a way you can understand because neither of them exist here, but where you’re going, it’s abundant. Anyway, how was your orientation? I’m glad that I could get you into Jesus’ session.”

The boy replied, “It was alright.”

Robin giggled, “You sound like my son, your soon-to-be uncle, Ryan. He always gave the short answer. It drove me crazy!”

Now motivated to elaborate, he said, “I mean, he just told us about his life and some of the things that he experienced. Some of the others were in sessions run by Moses, Muhammad, Buddha and others. I wish I could’ve heard what they all had to say, too. Why did you choose Jesus as my lecturer?”

She said, “Because that’s who I followed while I was on earth, love. They all have many followers, but Jesus was my guide here and I wanted you to hear from him.”

The boy said simply, “OK,” then he continued onto the next topic, “You spoke of my uncle, Ryan. Who is that and who are the others that I’m going to meet?”

Robin replied, “Ryan and your future father, Carl, were my sons. They both came to me at the same time a while ago. Didn’t you read my book? You should know.”

The boy said, “I started it, but I only got up to the part where you came to a place called Pennsylvania from another place called Washington, DC. What should I know about them? What kind of people are they?”

Robin gathered her thoughts and said, “Well, your father, Carl, is an extremely talented artist with great ambition. He’s good with his hands and is very creative. He can be surly at times and he’s headstrong, but I know he’ll never treat you badly. I just don’t like the decisions he makes sometimes. As a matter of fact, if I was still there on Earth when you came, I would be upset with him because he’s not living the way that I wanted him to and he’s not ready for a child. I don’t know too much about your mother, Jen. I didn’t really want to while I was there because I thought that they were living in sin and didn’t approve. Nevertheless, I now know that they’ll both do all that they can for you. Carl and Ryan’s father chose not to be a part of their lives and I know that that’ll drive Carl to be the best father that he can. However, the void that their father left in their lives left them very confused as to what manhood actually meant. I pray that you will teach both of them, but especially Carl, what it means to be a man.”

            The boy nodded and said, “OK, what about this Ryan character?”

            Robin replied, “Ryan is a sweetheart when he wants to be. He was my soft child. He is very caring and will love you to death. He has his own problems though. His mind is a little afflicted with an earthly ailment and his moods change. He can be just as mean as he can be nice and he’s also made some bad decisions in life. He’s very confused and still isn’t where he wants to be in life. He is a great example of a sad person. In fact, when I left, I wasn’t very pleased with either of them. They are both very intelligent individuals, but don’t do the right thing all the time. Nevertheless, you can teach him a new lesson in love and bring him a bit of the happiness that has been eluding him. I know that you’ll bring some joy into his life.

             In fact, you’ll bring joy to many, especially my mother, your great-grandmother. She’s gone through some of the worst emotional pain known to the world. She had to watch me die and bury me. Ask around and people will tell you that that is the absolute worst trauma for a parent; to lose a child. My Godson, RJ, who will be like your big brother has already done good work of bringing love and joy to the family when he went there not too long ago. I could see that firsthand”

            The boy inquired, “Love. Something else I’ve heard a lot about. What is that?”

            Robin thought for a moment and said, “Love is another very difficult thing to explain. What you feel here is love. It’s a tenderness that you feel for someone or something. It’s affection and dedication. While it may not feel like it, there’s an abundance of love where you’re going, too.”
            The boy took in the information and said, “OK. I’m a little nervous now. These sound like some crazy people that I’m about to meet.”

            Robin laughed, “Don’t be nervous, love. I just pointed out their faults because those are what you should be aware of. The majority of the time that you spend with them will be pleasant I’m sure. I didn’t raise any monsters.” The boy laughed too.

            She spent the next moments telling him about her life as an educator, religious instructor and youth choir director. She also spoke of her life growing up, falling in and out of love with her husband and other mere observations and analyses that she had on different aspects of life on Earth the way that her father did with her before she went there many years earlier. When she told him all that she could think to tell, she knew that the time had come and closed with, “No matter what happens, no matter what the people of the world tell you, just know that your goal in life is to make it back here. Some lose sight of that and don’t return. I’ll be with you always the way that I am with your father, uncle and great-grandmother. You won’t see me. You may not even remember me, but I’ll always be there, love.” With that, she notified the cherub in charge that they were finished. He came to the door and led them both out of the room.

            Robin and the boy walked silently hand-in-hand to the general area. They were silent, but the touching of their palms and the gentle stroke of her thumb over his knuckles communicated more than any words could. When they were about to split, grandmother and grandson threw their arms around each other again and Robin kissed the boy. She whispered in his ear, “Remember, love, I’m always going to be with you. I’ll be watching.” She kissed him again and as they walked away from each other, she turned and called over to him with a smirk, “Also remember, love, no smoking! You’ll save yourself a lot of pain if you never pick up that habit.” The boy then smiled back and said, “Alright, Grandma.” Then he turned and continued to his destination with the cherub. Robin watched until she couldn’t see him anymore. Then she got back in the car and drove off back down the golden road.