Black History Month: What’s there to remember, to celebrate, and to learn?

black-history-heroesThe year 2013 may have caught me off-guard with the number of headlines involving matters of race.

A white food network celebrity tries to plan a “plantation style” Southern wedding with Black servers acting as slaves.  An Hispanic white Florida neighborhood watch member is acquitted for shooting and killing a Black teenager carrying only an Arizona iced tea and a bag of skittles.  A white reality TV icon comments on the happiness of the black experience in Alabama during the 1960’s.

While these stories, causing tense and uncomfortable conversations, would not be the first of their kind, I noticed that social media now became a forum to discuss these issues and discover what our “Friends” or “Followers” really thought about the issue of race.  Social media creates, in a sense, a safety where one can possibly say or post what they please and easily “unfriend” those who disagree too boldly (or rudely).  So, all of our “feeds” (whether you personally commented or not) were full of blogs and comments with trending names like Deen, Zimmerman, and Robertson.  Not to mention the controversial comments written about this Cheerios commercial.

I learned this past year that, while we may agree we’ve made significant strides on race issues, there is a great deal of confusion on where we currently stand, and I’ve learned that place we stand tends to fall along the lines of race.

The month of February in our country and many others is the month we celebrate the history of the African diaspora, also known as Black History Month.  That we have a month dedicated to celebrating and remembering the history of a particular race may even cause some contention.  I propose, in light of the events this past year, for us to come to a place of understanding by looking back and remembering the events brought us to this point.

What’s there to remember?  What’s to celebrate?  What can we learn?

We remember human beings with intrinsic worth from their Creator were brought chained in ships, humiliated, in deplorable conditions and many died en route.

We remember men, women, and children were only considered to be three-fifths of a white person.

We remember that even blacks that were not slaves were not free.

We remember that after freedom from almost 300 years of slavery, started an emancipation process that has not ended and that continued suffering and injustice based on skin color.

We remember the process involved separate bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants, Jim Crow laws and other such laws to remind blacks that they were still inferior, even though not slaves.

We remember that, through out this time in history and even today, black men have been unjustly incarcerated, given the death penalty, and ultimately killed only to find later that they were innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.

When we remember, we honor those who suffered and we can grieve with those who grieve.

But we cannot honor without also pressing forward and redeeming the experiences of others.

We need to also acknowledge those who have accomplished justice and pressed on despite having to live in a dark place.

We need celebration.

We celebrate that God redeems even the most horrific of experiences and is still redeeming it today.

We celebrate the faith that grew out of a race of people, and that faith was the driving factor of their freedom.  Defeat did not win.

We celebrate the many white advocates along the way who risked their reputations, their livelihoods, and their lives because they could no longer bear the sight of injustice and would risk everything to see it stop.

We celebrate the many who have succeeded and overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve great things.

Remembering and celebrating, we honor our history and we can look toward the future.  What can we still learn and where do we grow from here? 

We learn that taking ownership of and defending our country’s history and its successes also means taking responsibility for its failures.  It also means that we acknowledge that our successes came, significantly, through the slave labor of blacks.

We learn that emancipation can be a process, rather than an event.  The event left blacks never having been compensated financially for the time they worked, nor for the time their ancestors worked.  It never fully validated their existence and their humanity.  Even if they had been compensated at that moment in 1865 for all the work they and their relatives had done, so much damage had taken place to their human existence on the basis of skin color that there would still exist an enormous emotional and spiritual deficit that would be need payment for generations to come.

We learn and acknowledge that we still live in this process today.

We learn that the advocates in power, who risked so much, are the advocates we need today to move the process forward from here.

Healing will require more of us – most of which requires courage to approach this outside of social media.

It requires honest conversations in coffee shops, in churches, in break rooms.

Healing requires we reach out to our co-worker and neighbor of a different color and get to know them for whom they really are.  It requires humility.  It requires time to learn about what we don’t know and why we don’t know it.

Why were these 2013 headlines so divisive?  What is it that we don’t know about the black minority experience?  Dialogue is key.  What are some of your thoughts about this?   How do you celebrate Black History?

“Is religion the only reason for your morality?”

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.53.43 AMThis question recently showed up on the feed of one of my Facebook friends. I love delving into these kinds of questions because they make me think deeper than what might be on the surface.

My answer to the question is yes…and no. This means, for me, yes for some morals, no for others, and both yes and no for a third category – with, of course, some overlap in between all of those.

I apologize for causing frustration to those who like the simple “yes” or “no”. I’m far from a black and white thinker.

(This is why it’s hard for me to step out of Daydream Land).

Let’s start with the “Non-religion” morals. A simple example of this would be traffic laws. The laws that govern motorists exist for the safety of society. When I approach a red light at a busy intersection, I’m not having a WWJD moment – at all. My main motivation is not getting killed, or seriously injured. Because our society has decided (rightly so) that if we all stop on red and go and green, we will be safe, I have no disagreement and will happily comply. Self-preservation is doing its job. Self-preservation continues even on the green light as I’m protecting myself (and possibly my children) from non-attentive drivers, drunk drivers, aggressive drivers, driving-and-texting drivers, etc. So I press the gas pedal cautiously to make sure all of us drivers are on the same page.

When I approach a sleepy intersection, my main motive for stopping is most likely 1) conditioning, 2) possibly still self-preservation in the event there is a sneaky cop somewhere looking to give me a ticket.  (This is especially the case with the annoying non-smart traffic lights that stay red forever with not a soul in sight), or 3) I may look to my faith morals more in the case where I really don’t think I would get caught if I did run the light – not really because of fear, but because I know integrity is an important part of representing as a Jesus-follower and what I do in hidden places could possibly affect what is done out in the open.  (That’s another discussion).

If I’m honest, I don’t really invite Jesus into these moments. Maybe I should somehow, but I don’t. But here’s a related situation where I might invite him to check my morals.

Jesus once said, “Love your enemies.”

So, at some point while driving, someone will cut me off, wave some hand gestures at me for driving too slow, honk at me, and those would just be for the times my boundaries were violated. There are even more unsavory reactions when I’m actually at fault.

Shocker.

Whatever the reason may be, I have been made or I made someone else an “enemy.” How I react next, and even how I FEEL next, is drawn directly from the well of where those words “Love your enemies” came. It’s actually an anti-self-preservation moral.

At least, initially.

This moral gnaws at my nature, at human nature. It defies my human addiction to superiority. It taunts my desire for instant gratification.

Yuck.

But what if it has the ability to radically change my heart – little by little – to rid me of my selfishness and pride, to fill me with authentic compassion and empathy, even in the seemingly insignificant (yet the most significant) moments? What if it has the ability to ultimately produce life? That was the central point of Jesus’ “morality” and also the great misunderstanding of Christians and, ultimately, those who experience us.

That’s our mistake sometimes. We like to be vocal about sexual morality, for example, adding to the confusion that our religion is based on external behavior, rather than internal thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes (which can lead to the external behavior). It’s like trying to ride your bike backwards.

Jesus loved his enemies all the way to His death. Anti-self-preservation.

The result was resurrection. LIFE. His acts and teaching were the precursor of the greater event.

I’m pretty sure that all morals are meant to lead to life in some way. As a Christian, I believe the source of all of those quirky not-common-to-all-belief-systems morals is belief in Jesus.

Thoughts?