What Would Jesus Do and Black Lives Matter

The other day a wise man I know referenced what "social justice Jesus" would do, and it really got me thinking. The Jesus of the Bible is in fact social justice Jesus and He always spoke against the super religious who got in the way of doing the Father's business. So how did we get to this passive, judgmental, white supremacist, Republican-worshipping version of Christ in America? That's a question for another day, but here is what I know:

Jesus retreated to be alone and pray, BUT he also acted. He knew that faith without works is dead and so he DID. He was a stone catcher when the uber religious wanted to kill a woman who was caught in adultery, and while this was a crime punishable by death at the time, he realized that just because something was permissible didn't make it right. He didn't retreat to pray this time; instead, He stepped in and stood for love and mercy for another human being.

He didn't stop there... When those in the temple were stealing and misusing funds he flipped the tables. When people were hungry or hurting he acted. Could he have just prayed and made it so? Yes! But he modeled a life of action over and over and over again.

And in the stories he told there was also a theme of social justice. Everything Jesus did was intentional, so I believe He wanted us to pay attention to His words as much as His actions. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a man is traveling on the seventeen mile journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. This man was robbed and and beaten and left to die on the side of the road in a "bad" part of town. Both a priest and a Levite (those similar to preachers and church staff of today) come along the road and see him- but each of them react in disgust, cross the street and walk away. Twice this man left for dead is offered a glimmer of hope seeing someone who should help him and twice he is rejected, betrayed. Twice a man of God is given a chance to empathize with someone different from them and sit with them in their hurt and discomfort, and twice they reject him. 

Finally, a Samaritan comes- a member of a people group often shunned and thought of as "half-breeds"- and he stops to help. But he does more than help a little: he binds up his wounds, anoints him with oil, loads him up on his mule, takes him to an inn and cares for him, going as far as to pay for his entire stay. Jesus asks those who are listening to the story which man took care of his neighbor as He commands, and is answered "the one who had mercy on him," to which Jesus replies, "Go and do likewise." 

And while our churches are willfully turning their backs on the poor and those seeking refuge from hard places... While we are abandoning those just trying to find a safe space to be who they are and who God created them to be... While our leaders are penning articles justifying why they voted for a man who stands for hatred and oppression... While our pews and staffs are filled with people who look and think just like us... While we pervert and twist the Bible to fit our narrative and leave out the parts that make us look bad... While we are watching as history repeats itself and men who are there to serve and protect all of us recklessly murder some of us... While we threaten to mow down protestors... While we speak from a place of hate and ignorance and use the Bible to excuse it. While we are doing that, people are watching us.

We are the priests. We are the Levites. 

But Jesus was the Samaritan- the misfit, the loud mouth, the reject, the bruised, the broken, the one that no one wanted. Jesus was the man of color executed by the state and called a criminal. He was the man whose life didn't matter to the religious because he upset their authority and disrupted their comfort.

And yet He commands us to have mercy. He commands us to love those that society rejects. He steps in when there is no justice and works to make it so. He models a life of both prayer *and* action. 

And I believe with all my heart that if Jesus lived today he would say that Black Lives Matter. He would fight to stop the injustices of things that are permissible but not right. He would be hated by officials and the super religious because His message of love and mercy wouldn't fit in with the rhetoric. He would do good, seek justice and help the oppressed as Isaiah spoke of. 

And when He was killed the folks of today would probably say, "He should have just done what He was told."

The Racial Symbolism and Genius of "Get Out"

Jordan Peele's directorial debut is one that has taken the country by storm. I am not, I repeat NOT, a horror movie person but this is not a horror film in any traditional sense. Get Out is more of a psychological thriller and the only truly scary part is that so many black folks in our country have lived these realities everyday. This is a movie you have to go into with an intellectual expectation, with your "third eye" open to really get the full experience, and it's one that I highly recommend.

Over the past few days I have read some incredible articles about Get Out. My favorites were this one by Buzzfeed about 22 secrets you may have missed, and this one from Esquire about why this is the best movie ever made about American slavery. I haven't found anything listing all the racial symbolism in this ridiculously well-made and deeply thought-out film, so while this list is not exhaustive (because I believe that literally every second was intentional in its depth and intelligence), these are the ideas that really stuck out to me.

(And before the white tears fall, keep in mind Jordan Peele is married to a white woman and was raised by a white mom, so in no way is this film an attack on whiteness. It is, however, an accurate representation of the exploitation and appropriation of black folks by white America for the entire history of our nation.)

  • The film opens in a white populated area with low hanging trees and a white guy steals a black man. Think plantation days, lynchings of Jim Crow.
  • The cop wanted his ID but Rose didn't want a paper trail. Rose looked like she had his back when really once again a white woman was exploiting the misfortune a black man for her benefit. 
  • When the crazy brother keeps referring to Chris' physical attributes, wanting to know if he was a good fighter and referred to him as a "beast."
  • Rose momentarily seemed to be awakened by her family's mistreatment of Chris, much like pieces of white America have suddenly seemed shocked the last few years by what's happened to Black Americans. 
  • Chris profusely apologizes for Rose feeling bad about her family, much like Black Americans have been made to cower and apologize for the discomfort of whites upon the realization of their own white people mistakes. 
  • Rose's dad rants about how large the deer population is and how he'd like to see them wiped out. “Black buck” was a racist slur in post-Reconstruction America for black men who refused to bow to white authority. He is later killed by the antlers of a deer.
  • The entire concept of a white woman hypnotizing and manipulating a black man. See: American history. 
  • When Chris confronts Walter outside while he's chopping wood and Walter tells him he likes to mind his own business and that he wants to do the work he's been given. Much like "higher level" slaves were made to feel "grateful".
  • The overt sexualization of the black man, especially when the white woman touched his arms and asked if sex with black men was really better, and continuing in various ways throughout the film including when the older woman made the younger black man her sex slave. This objectification of the black body is seen from the foundation of our country.
  • When the dad is giving the tour and brags what a privilege it is to experience other people’s cultures- a perfect example of white privilege taking advantage of cultural appropriation for their benefit.
  • The idea of hunting down black people as property, especially when Rose wore colonial hunting gear to go find Chris at the end. 
  • The fact that Chris had to pick cotton to stay alive. 
  • The fact that anytime a black person broke free or got ahead momentarily, the white person was there to bring them back down: when Chris went outside and was then hypnotized, when Chris got away from the house but was hunted down, when Logan broke out of his shell and told Chris to get out, etc.
  •  Rose separating her pure white milk from her colored cereal, but drinking the milk from a black straw. 
  • The overarching theme of using black bodies to get rich, get ahead, get what you want at any cost to them. The breaking of the black body for white use and power.
  • The silver spoon representing privilege and the tea cup being a way that white women used to summon house slaves. 
  • The sunken place representing the helpless and powerless feeling many Black Americans have experienced in a society controlled by whites where they are used for what they offer, but never allowed to embrace who they are. 
  • A camera exposing the brutality of a black body being taken. The flash representing when someone who has been oppressed finally "sees the light."
  • Georgina leaving the closet door opened, sacrificing her safety and fighting for the betterment of the black man. Then her single tear and forced smile, exemplifying her suppressed emotions as a black person- having to hide her pain and come off as strong and solid at all times. Both are common themes throughout all of American history.
  • The consistent talk and reference to black people being built biologically superior to whites in physical and athletic ability, but the white brain being better. When the dad brings up Jesse Owens beating the supposedly elite Aryan race in the Olympics, Rose picking through NBA stars to steal, the brother commenting on Chris' body being perfect for MMA, the ole white golf guy excitedly talking about Tiger Woods and asking to Chris' golf swing, etc. 
  • The blind man as white America being blind to the plight of black people, and not caring "what color" he was but being perfectly willing to steal his talent and his vision as long as it kept the white guy ahead. The fact that they stole black people with exceptional talents because when you take away a man's purpose you take away his dignity.
  • When a black person would snap out of the trance momentarily they were immediately told to rest because the opposite of asleep is *awake*- woke- and when they were briefly awake they were made to feel crazy and their behavior was diminished and disregarded. The "good", compliant blacks were praised by the white man and made to feel comfortable in white circles.
  • The one Asian man who has assimilated in with the whites. 
  • Andre/Logan being made to believe (and speak) that life is good as a black man in America- for him, and therefore everyone else.
  • Chris walking upstairs during the party and the entire party literally stopping. Because black folks have always been used for entertainment, and what would we do if they weren't around?
  • The stickers at the slave auction Bingo game being both red and blue, and Rose's parents being Obama-loving liberals. Because both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the plight of the Black American from the beginning and still today. 
  • The crazy brother playing the banjo as Chris and Rose come back in the house before they try to kill him. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in America, adapted from African instruments of similar design. 
  • The final scene of the movie with Rose in the woods. There was a massacre of black Americans in the early 1900s and the destruction of a city called Rosewood. 

And there were probably 100 more not listed here because every minute of this film was literal genius. I truly believe an entire college course could be taught on this material and there would still be topics left uncovered... It is just.so.good.

What were your favorite or most symbolic moments of Get Out?

Say Something

This blog was first published on thefreebirdsings.com on November 22, 2016.

The Holocaust. 

Native American genocide.

American slavery.

Jim Crow.

The Rwandan genocide.

The reign of Kony.

The list goes on... There have been countless numbers of events over thr course of time where white people have sat back and allowed or willfully participated in evil, destructive acts against other humans. People look back over history and wonder how so many people could have stayed silent during such perilous times, in the face of such injustice.

2016 has taught us how. We are watching history repeat itself and too many are saying nothing.

NOTHING.

"It's too controversial," they say. "I won't say the right thing" or "what good does my voice do?" rings out from the mouths who are willing to excuse it but not shut it down.

BUT IF YOU IGNORE IT, YOU ALLOW IT. IF YOU ALLOW IT, YOU CONDONE IT. AND IF YOU CONDONE IT, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT. WE DON'T JUST SPEAK UP TO CONDEMN THE OPPRESSOR, WE SPEAK UP TO LET THE OPPRESSED KNOW WE STAND WITH THEM.

So where are you? Will you speak out? Or will you continue to sit by and say nothing? The choice is yours. 

         "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -Dr. Martin                            Luther King, Jr.

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." -Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." -Desmond Tutu
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Never be afraid your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth." -William Faulkner
"What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us." -Gaton Bachelard
"Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly. -Mahatma Gandhi

 

The Power of Stories

This story was first published on thefreebirdsings.com on March 29, 2016.

At our church on Easter Sunday, a video was played of me telling my story. It was used as part of the message in demonstrating Christ's love for us, His redemption power, and the victory we have in Him. It was truly my honor to get to be a very, very small part of one of the most powerful church services I have ever experienced.  I told part of my story here on this blog two years ago and was floored by the response I got from people with similar stories. It was shared many times and it was my hope that somewhere out there a girl read it and realized that she wasn't alone and that she shouldn't be ashamed. 

After church on Sunday three other women came and spoke to me about their similar experience and thanked me for sharing. I couldn't believe that in our little church family, four of us have had to go through something like this, and that's just the few who felt comfortable talking to me about it. When Lady Gaga performed her song "Til It Happens to You" at the Oscars this year with a group of survivors of sexual assault, I was deeply moved. I was supremely affected by the act of a group of people bravely standing together, publicly sharing their stories. 

Storytelling is the rope of life that ties us together. Without it, we are just lone rangers out doing this thing alone without ever having empathy for one another. Our life experiences shape our viewpoints, so in the age of social media where we try to fit everything into tiny captions and status updates and tweets, it's easy not to understand where someone is coming from. It's easy to look at the man sitting on the curb in disheveled clothes with dirty hair and a sign asking for money and say he's lazy and should get up and get a job. But I am willing to bet if any one of us sat down next to that man and took the time to listen to his story, we would walk away with a lot more compassion and a lot less judgment. 

After church a friend came up to me and said that she was so grateful that I told my story- not because she shared a similar experience- but because she understood me so much better now. With the newness of relationship also comes the realization that these people- as incredible as they are- only know this one part of you. And I only know this one part of them. And the only way to change that is to tell our stories. 

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I recently shared online about a little boy named Roy that I fell in love with 13 years ago while serving our local inner city community. Any time I was around him I saw past what was sometimes a rough exterior and deeper into someone who was sweet and affectionate and truly very special. He was part of a family that we served for a long, long time and I watched him grow from a sweet little kid to the beginnings of a hardened teenager. We lost touch about 4 years ago and last I had heard he had been in trouble and spent some time in juvy. Earlier this year he was arrested for holding up a school bus at gunpoint, and a month later he was shot down in his front yard, calling out his mother's name right before he died. It would be very easy to look at this kid and see a statistic, a "thug", a high school drop-out involved in the wrong crowd who "got what was coming to him."

He was born into the type of poverty that most of us reading this post could never dream of. His great-grandma loved and cared for more kids than humanly imaginable and many of them slept piled up together on dirty mattresses strewn about on the floor of her tiny, dilapidated home. Eventually her body succumbed to the HIV infection she got from a blood transfusion and she left behind a trail of tears so long I'm convinced it would've wrapped all the way around the Earth. Roy's big sister had some developmental delays and medical issues and eventually Roy dropped out of school to help care for her. 

Did Roy get intro trouble? Absolutely. Was he an angel? Definitely not. But he saw the dark side of a life most of us will never be able to begin to understand. And Roy meant so much to his sister that within a week and a half of him being killed, she died of natural causes at twenty years old. That thug, that criminal was a kid who at the core was gentle and loving and caring. Had that same kid been born into a middle class white family and experienced life in a completely different way, I have a feeling things would have gone much differently for him. 

When we read newspaper articles very rarely do we see the whole story. When we read Facebook status updates it's very easy to judge (I am totally guilty). But when we tell stories, everything changes. Doors open, minds open, hearts open. We need to hear each others' stories. We need do go beyond surface level relationships and really get to know each other. 

I am so proud to be the director of the local production of a national show called Listen to Your Mother. It's a 90 minute live reading show where a cast of normal, everyday people share their stories of motherhood. Some are humorous, some are poignant, some are devastating, all are important. Through telling our stories we validate not only our own experiences, but the experiences of others. We gain empathy and compassion and love in a way that surface level relationships can never reach. 

You never know, your story may give someone else the courage to tell theirs. Their story could change a life. Stories matter.

So, what's your story?