“Learning from a Movie”
In the previous post about Black History Month, I mentioned the movie, “Something the Lord Made.” I further mentioned that the father and both of his sons viewed and approached their lives differently, with each having something to teach us. The father wasn’t blind to the racist attitudes in his world, but he was very grateful for progress. Life for the black man, in spite of its sad deficiencies, had improved greatly since his grandfather had been a slave. We all have things in our lives that are good and we all have things in our lives that are bad. If we focus exclusively only on one extreme, we are going to miss the big picture and fail to find the spiritual balance that God would have us find.
What Do We Learn From the Father?
As individual disciples, if we focus only on what is not to our liking, we will remain frustrated and miserable. Some choose this path in spite of the multiple biblical passages that tell us to keep our main focus on our blessings. On the other hand, if we don’t deal with the things that are not good in our lives and in the lives of others, we fail to experience change and growth in ourselves and we fail to help others with their burdens. Reality is, well, real. It must be faced but faced with God’s help and by his directions. As a follower of Jesus, I am very thankful that I am not what I once was, but at the same time, I am not satisfied to remain where I am. I’ve a lot of growth yet to experience in becoming more like Jesus. Thus, I am grateful for my progress, and content today, but not content to remain where I am. I am intent on making much more progress in the future.
Has the black person’s plight improved in America? For many, yes ─ like the father in the movie, certainly in comparison to slave days and even what followed them. More and more black people are improving their status in life through education and hard work, and I can assure you that for many, it is much improved since my youth. Many African Americans are famous people, primarily in the entertainment industry and in the sports world, but more and more are moving up the ladder, so to speak, in their lives generally. In fact, it has become politically quite incorrect to show overt racism, especially voiced in racial slurs, and a person can lose their job if they demonstrate such in the workplace. So yes, progress has clearly been made.
Progress, and Yet…
However, the large majority of black folks are not enjoying this improved status, and even those who are have to consistently face racist attitudes, even if they are now expressed with more subtlety. My black brothers share with me how being racially profiled leads to being pulled over by policemen for no other reason than DWB (driving while black), and being followed in upscale stores to make sure they don’t shoplift. If they are what others consider successful in life, they may escape this subtle and not-so-subtle racism as known figures in the environment in which they enjoy that success, but in public where their status is not known, they know that they are not simply viewed by many as just another human being. Their color still matters, and not in a good way.
Challenges Are Color-Blind
That being said, it is still important to be grateful for the gradual changes taking place in spite of the huge need for more changes to yet take place. That is the general attitude all Christians need to have, regardless of their color. We are fellow humans, and as such, we all have our own brand of challenges in life, challenges which we can embrace with grace because of Christ. I may not have racism to contend with personally, but I do face my own brand of prejudices aimed in my direction, some of which are actually based on color (since some black folks disdain white folks ─ prejudices indeed go in both directions) and others of which are based on my fundamental beliefs in the moral standards expressed in the Bible.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to practice Ephesians 5:11 in our society: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Many disciples are too fearful to speak up about the growing number of blatant sins in our world that are totally accepted by the majority of our citizens. Speaking up will attract persecution, rejection and ridicule. Too many disciples have drunk from the foul cup of maintaining political correctness at all costs. My point is that all of us are going to have difficulties in life, some of them very hurtful, but as disciples we are charged by Christ to not only endure them, but to rejoice in the midst of them (James 1:2-3).
What Do We Learn From the Older Brother?
What about the schoolteacher brother in the movie? He was surely viewed as a militant by many in the society of which he was a part, and almost the same way by his own father. How much should African American disciples be involved in striving for rights in society outside the church? That’s a good question and it likely has a complex answer. Most of the answer likely involves how we define “striving,” how we are doing it and for whom we are doing it.
Consider the words of Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” But what may well be the other side of the same coin is expressed in Proverbs 31:8-9 as follows: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” In combining these two passages, it would seem correct to contend for the rights of others, yet incorrect to contend for one’s own personal rights. In the case of the brother in the movie, after he had achieved what he wanted, equal pay for all teachers regardless of color, he decided to quit teaching because that wasn’t his real goal in life. In his case, it appeared to be much less of a personal issue than an issue of justice generally.
Then we come to the issue of how we are attempting to promote social justice. With his permission, I am including two paragraphs from Michael Burns’ soon-to-be-published (April 2017 hopefully) in a section about going the way of the cross. Read and meditate on it carefully.
In his biography, A Long Walk to Freedom, famed Apartheid activist Nelson Mandela describes a time when the anti-Apartheid movement was not gaining much traction despite a great deal of effort. Mandela was a young man and still formulating his beliefs and tactics. He describes a speech in 1952 in which Chief Albert Luthuli put forth important principles. The speech was entitled “The Road to Freedom is Via the Cross”. Luthuli was a deeply religious man who ingrained this simple truth into Mandela. It was at this time that Mandela began to realize what was wrong with the freedom movement in South Africa. The leaders had not been willing to sacrifice. They wanted freedom without self-sacrifice. Mandela learned the same lesson that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., among others had learned well: In order to obtain freedom from oppression, you must be willing to take the suffering on yourself rather than trying to push it to others.
This is the precise problem with many of the political movements today that want to impact the world, relieve the suffering of the oppressed, end racism, and many other worthy causes. They want victory, but they don’t want the pain. They want to make others feel the agony and discomfort. They want to transfer the hurt back to those that they feel have caused it, or to the masses that are not directly responsible but have remained silent in hope that transferring some discomfort onto to them will induce them to act on behalf of their cause. It will not work. It never has. Putting the pain onto others rarely, if ever, results in large and lasting change. The reason is fairly simple. Pain usually causes a negative backlash. If you hurt me, my instinct will be to hurt you back. The cycle of violence and hurt then continues on and on until one side is simply destroyed and can no longer hurt back. This is the power of the sword in full effect.
1 Corinthians 7:21-23 is another passage worth considering. “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.” In the first century, slaves in certain situations had legal ways of obtaining their freedom and Paul urged them to do it. In the last part of verse 23, when he said not to become slaves of human beings, I doubt that he was speaking literally. I believe he was addressing attitudes, and forbidding disciples to become slaves in their thinking by adopting the views of those in the world around them. This is very good advice regarding our issue under discussion.
Race, Politics and the Bible
That is where my concern about tying race and politics together tightly comes in. I can (and am) dealing with race and biblical principles in combination but not race and politics. Some disciples who post on social media seem to be entirely incapable of making what I believe to be the proper distinction. We cannot force society to be righteous in areas of race or in any other area. We can as disciples follow the Bible in a way that influences many in society. Thus, striving to change society can be done perhaps in two ways. The first and most effective is always going to be through demonstrating Jesus in our lives in his Body, the church.
A second possible way is to participate in legal activities such as peaceful demonstrations ─ if and when they are done correctly. Marching alongside angry, bitter people who are calling for the deaths of white policemen and/or white people is hardly a correct, permissible demonstration for a true Christian. It seems to me obvious that most protesters of any issues in our day are not in harmony with Dr. King’s approach of overcoming evil with good (the biblical approach). At least, peaceful demonstrations are entirely legal (if they remain peaceful).
A Knotty Problem Indeed!
For me personally, I have difficulty in knowing just where to land on the subject of protest marches. I find myself admiring the Civil Rights Movement as it was led by Martin Luther King. He differed from the NAACP leaders of his day, who wanted to fight injustices to blacks primarily through the court system. Dr. King felt that action had to be taken in the form of peaceful protests, and the main eight protests that occurred under his direction were aimed at various types of injustices and ended up being very effective.
That being said, he and his followers definitely broke some laws in order to do what they did. Of course, the legal system of the white population were breaking laws themselves in fighting to maintain segregation in spite of laws to the contrary. But two wrongs don’t make a right. However, I cannot find it in myself to condemn those who willingly suffered emotionally and physically to further the cause of the equality of all colors of people. As I say, it is a difficult and complex issue when trying to harmonize all of it with the Bible’s teaching. While it is true that the inspired apostles said that “We must obey God rather than human beings,” (Acts 5:29), they said it in the context of being forbidden to preach the gospel. It quickly becomes an opinion matter when considering how broadly to apply the principle to other areas.
What About My Rights and Fair Treatment?
Here is a good question to lead us into biblical teaching. I gave up my rights to Christ when I made him the Lord of my life. Scriptures could be multiplied that demonstrate this principle. Here are but a few of the many:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
1 Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
1 Peter 2:21-23
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
Keep in mind that this last passage was addressed to slaves, some of whom had kind masters and some of whom had harsh masters (look at the context). Biblically, we gave up our personal rights to Christ and must trust him and his hand in our lives in any and all circumstances. Is this easy? Far, far from it. It is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do in my life, which is why I wrote a book entitled The Victory of Surrender, and continue to read it periodically. Surrendering to God and all that he allows or causes in my life is the challenge of a lifetime; there is none greater.
If you have a deeply ingrained “fairness” doctrine, you are in for a rough ride in this journey we call life. Life on this earth is not fair, and even for someone like Jesus who only did good and never bad, life was clearly and consistently unfair to him. His solution to this and all such problems? We’ve just read it in 1 Peter 2:23 ─ “he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Having said that, justice and fairness are to be a part of God’s family. Striving for those qualities is a noble task, and because we are saved yet sinful humans, we will never achieve these qualities in the church perfectly. However, that must be our goal, and it is certainly my goal in writing about our need to understand our racial diversity better, to be able to feel safe in addressing the subject interracially, and to make consistent progress. God will certainly help us accomplish these things if we listen to him and quit listening to the world. Will we do that?
Politics, the Ongoing Challenge
Herein lies the challenge of politics for the disciple. How much can we be involved and yet be faithful to the passages we’ve just read and to the example of Jesus himself? I have said repeatedly that we have as American citizens the freedom to exercise our political rights and we also have the same freedom to not get involved at all. The challenge is how much can we be involved before we become “entangled in civilian affairs” (2 Timothy 2:4)? I have become discouraged reading Facebook (my only form of social media outside email, and a recent experience for me at that) when I see those claiming to be Christians who appear to be obsessed with politics (or nearly so, giving them a huge benefit of the doubt).
In researching how various news media are rated on the liberal/conservative scale, we have the extremes at both ends and most falling somewhere in between. Some people read or watch one extreme or the other, but for two different reasons. Some look at only what supports their present views, which makes them feel more “right” and justified in their views. Some look a lot at what is opposite their present views, just to have something to be angry about and comment about. In that case, they are really not considering the views being presented (listening with closed ears).
I do not watch news on TV unless a storm is coming and I want to stay out of the path of tornados, which are common to the part of the country in which I live. I do look briefly at the news overall on a daily basis just to be aware of what is going on in the world, but I mainly look at one of the more neutral news sources on my computer or smart phone. That approach is helpful for both my blood pressure and my Christianity.
The world is a mess and it’s going to stay a mess until the end of time. You cannot come to any other conclusion from reading the Bible. Non-Christians are going to hate and be hated by one another (Titus 3:3) because 1 John 5:19 could not make it clearer: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” God has the ultimate control, but for his reasons unknown to us humans, he has given much control to Satan. If Satan controls our world, he controls our government. I am not going to waste my time focused on something I know is ultimately based on lies (whether easily seen or mostly hidden).
God’s Clearest Way of Changing the World
What I am trying to do with my blog is help those in the church, and hopefully through the light that our examples generate, help those in the world. How do we help those in the world? One at a time, one at a time, and yet simple math is designed by God to become multiplication.
One man awake, awakens another.
The second awakens his next-door brother.
The three awake can rouse a town,
By turning the whole place upside down.
The many awake can make such a fuss,
It finally awakens the rest of us.
One man up with dawn in his eyes, multiplies.
What Do We Learn From the Younger Brother?
Obviously, we are going to learn the most from him ─ after all, he was the star of the show! He lived in a better world than had his great-grandfather, to be sure, but he lived in a racist world. As a black man, he had to abide by the rules of society to stay out of trouble and/or out of jail. He was a medical prodigy, born with a God-given gift that few could equal then or since then.
Even after experiencing some great accomplishments, he quit working for the white surgeon because he was never given public credit for what he had contributed to the overall accomplishments shared by him and the surgeon. His pride was hurt and he let his feelings win the day (until he received needed help). His wife saw him and life more clearly. She basically said, “This is what you love to do. Swallow your pride, go back and apologize and ask for your old job back.” He listened to her. Good on him!
God Rewards Humility!
Years later, his gifts and accomplishments could no longer be denied. He personally trained many of the world’s greatest surgeons, who began to call him “Sir” out of respect, and later received an honorary doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Then he could legitimately be called “Doctor,” and was. Today, his portrait hangs in the entrance hall of that great institution along with the portraits of the greatest medical heroes of modern times.
How did he handle life with its injustices, lack of fairness and racism in many forms? Pretty much like 1 Peter 2 says we should. Ultimately, God is going to resist the proud and exalt the humble. Whatever our lot in life and whatever evils we may endure, humility will ultimately be blessed. We can fight for our rights, as the world tells us to do in every way possible, or we can live the surrendered life and trust the God of the universe to care for us. Bottom line, it all boils down to which world we are living for. As the old song says (and Hebrews 11 shouts):
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore