An inspirational moment came during a protest in Michigan, when Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson put aside his riot gear and told a crowd of demonstrators that he’s there to listen and to help. When asked what they wanted him to do, they chanted, “Walk with us! Walk with us!”
Swanson and some of his deputies joined in the march. It showed how law enforcement officers are capable of compassionately relating on a human level and creatively deescalating a situation. It was a breath of fresh air to see officers high-fiving and hugging protestors after so many replays of African Americans crying out for police to let them breathe.
How far will Swanson and other officers walk/kneel with us?
Was this deputy truly joining their cause? Let’s revisit a phrase just prior to the “Walk With Us!” chant. “I want to turn this protest into a parade.” A light-hearted, well-meaning comment to break the ice, right? However, how can you transform a protest into a parade when no major victory has been won? How far are you willing to walk to bring such a transformation? If it’s no further than the cleverness of the moment, then you’re not walking with us – you’re co-opting us. That’s nothing to celebrate.
When we have St. Patrick’s Day parades, we celebrate a legendary figure, who evangelized Ireland in the 400s, used shamrocks to teach idol worshippers about the trinity, baptized thousands of people, ordained several priests and deacons, and supposedly chased all the snakes from the island into the sea. If we want to turn a time of mourning and protest of police brutality into a parade, officers need to do more than symbolically walk up the street with us. We need them to metaphorically walk with us into places we can’t go and chase away the snakes from within their precincts.
Why not have a Saint Swanson’s Day Parade, if he evangelizes his fellow officers to see every person as an image-bearer to God – from whom we all receive the breath of life? If Swanson and other law officers really want to walk with us, then they should walk into their city halls and county seats and use their authority to push for reforms of police departments and police unions. Walk with us by abolishing the blue code of silence. Walk with us by insisting on diversity and de-escalation training. Walk with us by submitting to civilian review of accusations of police misconduct, because there’s no accountability when the police police themselves.
For all the officers who courageously and humbly knelt down with protesters – Thank you! Now will you explain to the White House and the rest of the country what Kaepernick’s gesture was about? And will you kneel with us again when one of your own uses unnecessary force to kill or maim unarmed and/or subdued citizens? If you’ll honor those you’ve sworn to serve and protect the same way you honor other fallen officers, then we can all rest from the mutual suspicion, heated debates, protests, and riots. We know most of you are as exhausted as we are.
Will we walk with them?
When police show willingness to walk with us, will we walk with them? When they’re willing to drop their guard, will we respect them as much as when they’re geared up? Will we insist that the cities, counties, and states that employ them provide the training and counseling and other support systems they need? Will we challenge protestors to stay on message and not be abusive toward the police and destructive of property? Will we kneel for them? Will we remember them and their families and their fallen in our prayers?
Transforming protests into parades is reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision of when we’ll be able to turn our swords into plowshares (2:4). It is a worthy goal that takes more than a few high fives and hugs, although that’s a good start. It’s going to take the grace of God and the sustained, mutual determination of humanity. Ok, let’s walk!
The last day of 2019 was much more than the end of the year. As things have turned out, for me, it also marked the start of a countdown to my being sidelined in self-quarantine. On December 31, 2019, physicians in Wuhan, China, announced discovery of a perplexing new strain of pneumonia afflicting 41 patients with flu-like symptoms. Half listening to the news report, I worked the math out in my head. Forty-one people, in a city of 11 million, located in a nation populated by 1.4 billion. To my way of thinking, it was an unfortunate situation—overseas. So, no need to view that “breaking news” in a personal way.
However, the “Novel Coronavirus 2019” took only two months to transform my perspective. Following my trip home to Omaha for my eldest brother’s hip replacement surgery, that virus struck personally. Tommy came through surgery seemingly none the worse for wear. My three other siblings and I visited daily, submitting to screening each time. “Have you visited China recently?” “Have you been out of the country?”
Back in Southern California, I began hearing increasingly grim reports of sickness and death associated with COVID 19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Still, it wasn’t a personal issue, until my phone rang, three days later.
“Your brother, Thomas, has pneumonia and has tested positive for the coronavirus,” reported the Nebraska public health official. Suddenly, the coronavirus was very personal.
“How are you feeling? Have you had any symptoms? Fever? Cough? Shortness of breath?”
By then, the World Health Organization had made official what many had already suspected: planet earth was in the throes of a coronavirus pandemic. After talking with my own doctor, and with a packed freezer and pantry, I quarantined myself. What is happening?
Scenarios to Consider
As usual, social media tried to make sense of it all, and two religious sounding propositions stood out to me: 1. Coronavirus is one of the seven last plagues. And, 2. this COVID 19 pandemic is the “big one,” ushering in the end of the world.
Could the coronavirus be one of the seven last plagues? Of the two threads, this one seemed the easiest to address. As the first quarter of the 2020 calendar year drew to a close, the financial web site, Business Insider, reported hospitals in 200 countries were scrambling to treat 784,000 patients, while the death toll climbed past 38,000. The casualty rate was staggering. Furthermore, the pandemic’s growth rate gave every impression that a plague had been loosed on the earth.
We found our answer, but not in human theories. Our primary source was God’s Word.
The first question takes us to Revelation 16, where the seven last plagues are introduced. Revelation’s plagues remind us of the plagues immediately preceding the exodus, and a critical fact that there were two classes of people: those who chose obedience and worship of God, and those who rejected Him.
So, a question in response to the first question: When the ten plagues struck in Egypt, were they harmful to God’s people? Exodus 7-12 remind us that none of the plagues harmed God’s people. Why not? Exodus 12:13 provides insight: “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses …I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you….”
Protected by the blood of the lamb, the people of God suffered no harm. So, too, in the last days. The last plagues will not touch the people of God, because we are protected by the blood of the Lamb. Paul declared in Ephesians 1:7, “ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins…”
Since, believers have fallen victim to the coronavirus, too, we may be certain that it is not one of the last plagues.
Nonetheless, that leaves question #2, is Novel Coronavirus 2019 the “big one,” that portends the imminent arrival of the end of the world?
Have we reason to believe that we are nearing that point in time, that the Bible refers to as the last days? Absolutely! Luke 17:26-30 indicates that just as it was (sinful) business-as-usual when Noah climbed onboard the ark, and when Lot followed angels out of Sodom, before the Lord returns, those same conditions will be replicated. Paul also profiles the character of those living in the last days, who will reject God’s grace and be lost (in 2 Timothy 3:1-5), and it sounds very familiar. Jesus warned of false christs, wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24. Then, He adds the caveat, when those events take place, don’t alarm yourself, because the time of the end has not yet arrived. He goes on to point out that nations will battle, kingdoms will grapple and famines, pestilences and earthquakes will take place. Still, these are not the final events. The point is, a careful reading of God’s Word, especially Matthew chapter 24, reveals what the last days will be like.
Missing Piece of the Puzzle
We know for a certainty the last days will take place. However, don’t you find it a little curious that God offers no specificity regarding the exact date of the last days? He informs us there will be last days; but, He never says when they will be. Could it be that God withholds that information because He knows how we love to put things off? And, that being prone to last-minute ministries, thinking we still had plenty of time, we might not get to the assignment He has given us. So, we don’t have all the facts regarding the “last days.”
Instead, Jesus pointed out that neither men, nor angels know the exact time of the Lord’s return and of the last days, (Matthew 24:36). Paul echoed that the end shall arrive unannounced (1 Thessalonians 5:2). 2 Peter 3:10 is where we learn that the Lord’s promised return will take all of us by surprise, as does a thief who robs by night. And, Revelation 3:3 makes it plain that we will not know the hour our Lord comes for us.
Rather than give us the exact time of the end, because He knows how deadly our procrastination can be, God gives us our exact role in His plan of salvation. Preach the gospel, Matthew 24:14. Find the lost where they are and compel them to come to the Lord, Luke 14:23. Teach and baptize, Matthew 28:19, 20.
In verses 39, 40, 44, and 54 the promise from Jesus is that He will raise us up at the “last day.” It doesn’t get much more personal than that.
The personal nature of the coronavirus experience for me found my brother’s fever breaking at last, so that he could be discharged from the hospital. As for me, I remain symptom free, and long released from my self-quarantine. Now, it’s a matter of living, worshiping and serving until the “Last Day” arrives.
This article is part of our 2020 May / June Issue Subscribe –>
Never Forget Greenwood
In 1921 the Greenwood District in Oklahoma was one of the wealthiest black communities in all of America. It was described as the Black Wall Street. What an interesting name for the epicenter of black businesses, even though there were no brokerage houses. As history records, Greenwood was burned to ashes by a white mob. But I want to suggest to you today that it just wasn’t the businesses that were burned to the ground. I want to suggest that black America’s financial principles, financial literacy and management were burned to the ground and buried in mass economic graves for generations. Today, I’d like us to ask the question, what financial principles have we forgotten from Greenwood?
Support Black Businesses
The first and perhaps most critical factors which contributed to Greenwood’s success as black wall street, was that blacks supported black businesses. Close to 100 years later, black consumers celebrate Juneteenth oblivious to the economic reality that a dollar circulates 28 days in Asian communities, 19 days in Jewish communities but only six hours in African-American communities. Have you forgotten Greenwood?
The second most powerful principle is that blacks owned assets which would appreciate in value. Yes, they owned businesses, hotels, hospitals, land, and other maturing assets. Today, most of the black consumer spending power of 1.3 trillion dollars are spent on assets having little or no appreciable value such as clothes and cars. It’s one thing if the money was spent on such depreciable assets, but black consumers also had stock in the company, like Nike. But the truth is, most of black America does not even own stocks in the brands they purchase the most!
Black Spending Power
Black America’s spending power is an estimated 1.3 trillion dollars, yet black businesses are not supported and blacks don’t own assets which appreciate. How is it with your consumption and spending? It was James W. Frick who said, “Don’t tell me what your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money, and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” Where does your money go? Are you imitating the financial principles from Greenwood?
Hilly, Kobe, Healing: An Open Letter to Black People on Father’s Day 2020
“Embrace the “beautiful struggle” of our existence, persistence, and resistance.
Fourteen years ago this week, I became a father overnight. On Sunday, June 18, 2006, I said “I do” to my beautiful bride, Bobbie, and I also officially said “I will” to Jalen, our handsome 12-year-old son, who walked his mom down the aisle, with Bobbie’s father on her other side. It was a Father’s Day and I not only became a husband, but that day I publicly accepted the calling to be a dad to a young man who had tragically lost his father to cancer a few years prior.
It was an exciting day for Bobbie, Jalen and me as our new family formed, yet there was complexity, as is common with blended family transitions. Most of our complexity came from navigating the vitriol of those struggling to accept that Bobbie had found love again—and of all people, love again, with me.
Bobbie’s first husband and Jalen’s father, Mandell (affectionately known to many as ‘Hilly’) was an amazing man. His death had shaken many in our small community. Ironically, Hilly’s battle with cancer intersected with the tragedy and ‘shift’ of September 11th, 2001. After Hilly passed in 2003, the subsequent disillusionment and displacement that many in our small community felt was not entirely dissimilar to the shift that others may feel now as a result of Covid-19 and the uprisings for justice—a new normal was upon us and life would never be the same.
Our marriage—our new normal—ruffled feathers. It was a unique time in life, an odd season. I was young. I quickly learned the difference between relatives and family, friends and frien(d)emies. People literally asked me prior to our wedding if I felt I had to compete with Hilly. There were no comparisons to be made on our end. Just a new season.
I knew, loved, and missed Hilly too. Bobbie had cared for and loved Hilly in sickness and in health; over time, she had healed and accepted that she could only go as far as the grave with him. She was ready to love again, and she was grateful to again have a life partner to raise Jalen. She never wanted to raise a young black boy by herself.
Black Dad Anniversary
I never wanted a blended family; I knew blended families could work based on my own unique family
journey; but my dream was to have a “normal family,” consistent with my picket-fenced vision of all my children having the same last name. And I certainly didn’t want to set myself up for a young man to be able to say to me–as I once rudely said to my dad who adopted me– “you’re not my daddy!” But I loved Bobbie. I believed that she was the one that I had prayed for. And I loved Jalen and I knew I was called to do for Jalen what my dad did for me: to love, raise, and accept someone else’s son as my own. Many black men do this. Brothers, I see you. I appreciate you.
So my anniversary of marriage is also the anniversary of becoming a dad; my personal Father’s Day.
In addition to being the best husband I could be, I was determined to honor Hilly’s legacy by committing to do the best I could to raise his/ our son. Before the wedding, I took Jalen to visit his dad’s gravesite. We each picked three flowers at different points along the motorcycle ride to the grassy hill where his dad rests—one flower for his dad, one for Jalen, and one for me. It was there that we sat, we reflected, we prayed and we committed to each other one more time before he shared his mom with me and walked her down the aisle.
I was no longer “Ty” to him; he had chosen to give me the name “Daddy-O,” a name I loved from the start.
A lot has changed in 14 years. A lot has changed in 4 months! Jalen is finishing university and he is now a big brother to his doting little brother, Essien—our handsome 12 year old, and budding soccer player. Essien’s admiration for Jalen is such that when I recently asked him where he gets his athletic ability from—assuming he would proudly say ‘you, dad’ —he said “Jalen!”
So what does this have to do with Kobe Bryant?
Kobe, COVID, and Me
Well, January 26, 2020 was another one of those ‘shifting’ days for the world, for us, for sport, for fathers. Jalen’s 26th birthday was on January 26th. Bobbie, Essien, and I had already facetimed with him to celebrate his birthday! We are big sports fans in our house, especially soccer. Jalen and I are Lakers fans. We loved Kobe.
When Kobe’s helicopter tragically crashed on Sunday, January 26th, 2020, Jalen was the first person to call me to share the sad news. His deep manly voice could not conceal the concern. I instantly knew something was wrong.
“Daddy-O, did you hear about Kobe?”
“What happened to Kobe?” I retorted with alarm.
The news sucked the joy out of Jalen’s birthday and the restaurant I was in as news quickly spread. News of the passing of Gigi—Kobe’s daughter, and the others on the helicopter compounded our grief. Named after Jalen Rose like so many others of his generation, I could sense in my Jalen’s voice that Kobe’s death ‘hit different.’
This wasn’t just about the passing of a basketball legend; it was the loss of a #girldad, a husband, a beautifully, imperfect Black man who we got to see transition from youthful exuberance on the court to responsible satisfaction in life beyond basketball.
More than this, there were some airy parallels for Jalen’s loss of Kobe on his 26th birthday on the 26th. Hilly died at 41 and Kobe was 41. Kobe looked like Hilly, like seriously! The eyes, chiseled nose and all. Had Kobe lived beyond 41, Jalen probably could have gotten a glimpse of what his dad would have looked like in old age. But that was snatched away on his birthday.
Father’s Day That Hits Differently
So much has been taken from all of us since then, COVID-19 canceled much of our normal. We’ve lost Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and many others to the bullets and knees of racist police and systems that make it difficult for Black folks to breathe.
And yet, we are still here. Still strategizing. Still marching. Still fighting. Still demanding justice and systematic change. Still taking care of our children and “other people’s children” too, in the words of renown educator Lisa Delpit. We’ve had to homeschool and reorganize. We’ve had to share space, and wifi bandwidth, and extended time with our families—our Black families; and while it has been hard for many of us, we are still here. And we needed this time to remember that our ancestors endured so that we could be here.
This Father’s Day will likely ‘hit different’ than any other. It should. We’ve been through a lot. But I also hope it will be a Father’s Day that heals. A Father’s Day when we “Embrace the B.S.”—the “beautiful struggle” of our existence, persistence, and resistance. The “beautiful struggle” of our uniquely conjoined family arrangements, identities, accents and cultural accoutrements. The struggle of father loss, father gain, fatherhood, father strain, father pain, father joy.
The beauty of “I’m sorry,” of a text message to a distant dad, of forgiveness of self and others, of release from the wounds of long, life journeys. The beauty of a walk, of a talk, of a meal, of a smile, of silence—no violence, of hope, of healing. The beautiful struggle and gift of reflection, reconnection and resurrection of the possibility and promise that irrespective of whether your earthly father has been present, your Heavenly Father has always been with you!
This is the beautiful struggle of our individual and collective lives and existence; lives that matter—whether your father has been amazing and ‘there’ or whether the relationship has been a cause of despair. You matter. Black lives matter. Black fathers matter. Black mothers matter. Black children matter. Black families matter and we goin’ be alright!
RIP Kobe and Gigi…RIP Hilly. RIP to all our fathers and forefathers, whether they stood or were misunderstood. May God cover and comfort all of our children and families on this Father’s Day.
#Lamentations with Larry & Sandy Feldman
In the Jewish tradition, Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – is a fundamental responsibility. Today, our world is badly in need of repair.
Our hearts are breaking over the most recent in a long line of senseless killings of African-American men, women, and children by police officers. We pray for a clear understanding of what we can do to change this terrible reality and we pray for the strength to persevere in our efforts to bring about urgently needed social change.
Racism has been deeply embedded in the fabric of our nation for hundreds of years. Slavery, lynchings, segregation, prejudice, and discrimination have all taken a toll on people of color. Institutional and individual racism continue to have a devastating impact on Black and Brown America. Police brutality is one manifestation of the enduring legacy of racism in these “United” States.
Jewish theologian Martin Buber taught us that the Divine can be experienced through “I-Thou” relationships. When we recognize “the other” as a person created in the image of God, as an individual deserving of recognition, respect, and caring, we can feel the presence of the Divine. But when the “I-Thou” relationship is distorted by stereotypes and prejudice, “Thou” becomes “It” and “the other” is stripped of his or her humanity. When we enter into “I-It” relationships, terrible things can happen – exclusion, exploitation, discrimination, aggression, murder, genocide. Dr. King often cited the link between experiencing “the other” as an “It” and systemic racism.
In our prayers today, we ask for divine guidance to help us reject the kind of thinking that leads to “I-It” interactions, and to help us commit to recognizing the “Thou” in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.
In the Jewish faith, our most significant experience of fasting is during the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur. We abstain from eating and drinking from sunset the night before until the sun sets on the day itself. Fasting frees our mind to focus on introspection, on taking a spiritual inventory of how we’ve lived our lives in the year that just concluded. It also allows us to experience in a limited way the feelings of deprivation that are constant companions in the lives of marginalized people.
For all of us today, may our fasting help us to let go of our more superficial concerns and make room for a deep dive into the world of those whose lives are impacted by racism. May our fasting help us to honestly face our own implicit and explicit biases and to acknowledge institutional racism in every aspect of our society. May our fasting help us to make a strong and lasting commitment to do everything we can to eliminate racism in ourselves and in our institutions.
Consider the words of Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me. If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
What can we do today to help repair this broken world? We suggest the following possibilities:
When injustice occurs, speak out against it, loudly and persistently, privately and publicly, in our homes, our neighborhoods, our houses of worship, our work environments, and in the public square.
Insist on better pre-hiring evaluations, more effective training, and greater transparency for all police officers.
Join organizations that are committed to creating a more equitable and just world. Stay involved and stay active, commit for the long haul.
Work for the election of governmental officials, at every level, who are strong advocates for the elimination of racial injustice.
Communicate with your elected representatives and demand that they take action against injustice.
Systemic racism has plagued our nation for much too long. The time for Tikkun Olam, for repairing ourselves and our society, is now! Together, we can and must make this happen.
#Lamentations with Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart
“Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?'”
The world is being turned right side up which is what Jesus came to do. People across the globe are protesting for the right of black people to be seen as human beings who reflect the image of God. The question is how do we keep it going; how do we make this a Church priority; that the church joins Jesus in this confrontation of the powers that deny rights to which everyone is entitled? But, before we ask the church, we must ask ourselves, is this what we want for God’s sun-kissed people? Is this a priority for us? If it is, we must pray, pray that we have the strength to challenge the church to make it a priority and pray for ourselves for the strength to commit to the fight, to the struggle, for the long-haul. This is not a sprint; it is a marathon.
Then we fast; fast from negativity because advocating for equal rights is tiring and there are those who call themselves people of faith who deny Jesus by their actions. There are those who will tell us to “go slow” or that there has been enough change, after all, we’ve had a black man in the White House. Isn’t that enough? Well, no. We also fast from arguments because those whose minds are made up; those who want to maintain the status quo; who want to maintain what is considered normal; we will just have to leave them to God. We must also fast from prejudice because it is easy to prejudge those who might not agree with us.
Finally, we act. But act how? As we’ve seen, millions have taken to the streets calling for change in policing. Others are behind the scenes, meeting with governmental officials and legislators. Still others are creating programs where the police and the community can learn together. And then there are those who preach; who take the fight to their pulpits and risk everything to bring about God’s kingdom here, right now for those who have been marginalized, for those who have lamented, “How long, Lord; how long?” There are those who are marshalling resources so every one who can vote, will vote. If you’re going to follow Jesus, you must be political because is about the decision making process that allocates resources to people and since those resources are all part of God’s creation, those who follow Jesus must be involved in the decision making process of getting what is God’s to God’s people. Scripture says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-18). If we follow Jesus, our faith will be an active faith; one that shows the world that a better life can be had by all. This is a Kairos moment. It is full of chaos and opportunity. God creates out of chaos. Do not let this opportunity pass by. We cannot afford to let it pass by. If we do, the church, I’m afraid, will become an irrelevant social club. Keep the faith and keep it active.
#Lamentations with Ty Gibson
Knowing what prayer is, and what it’s not, motivates me to pray.
Jesus explained prayer as the intersection between at least four free agents:
“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
A convergence of four persons is on display here: Simon, Satan, God the Father, and Jesus. Satan is asking God for access to Simon (aka Peter), to destroy him. Jesus is countering Satan’s ask by praying for Peter. A spiritual war is underway over Peter’s soul. He is the target of satanic attack. But on the premise of his prayer for Peter, Jesus fully anticipates a significant effect to be had upon Peter. Peter will deny His Master, but he will return to Jesus.
When I have a clear mental image of what happens when the words of my prayers leave my lips or ascend from my heart, I cannot help but want to pray. It ceases to be a formal religious ritual and becomes a vital interaction between myself and all of the free will activity taking place around me.
Prayer is Not Pagan Magic
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, said, “God instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.”
Prayer is not pagan magic. God is not a heavenly vending machine. Rather, prayer is part of the science of free will. When I pray, I am leveraging the victory of Christ over the kingdom of darkness, taking back territory that rightfully belongs to Christ. Prayer is an intelligent and strategic exercise of my moral freedom on the battlefield of the great controversy between good and evil. Prayer is an act of war against the systems and structures of evil that compose the demonic empire.
During this present time of massive social upheaval in our nation and in our world, one of the most impactful things we can do to arrest the powers of evil and open access to the powers of good, is to pray out the realities we want our protest against racial injustice to produce.
What I’m Praying For
Today I am specifically praying for strategic conversations between myself and my white brothers and sisters who are operating in their opinions in a vacuum of knowledge and empathy. God help me to articulate the truth of the situation persuasively and open their hearts to feel your heart coming through my words.
What I’m Fasting From
Today I’ll be fasting from all solid foods, and keeping my energy level up with two green protein smoothies, one in the morning, and one in the late afternoon.
What I’m Doing and Encouraging You To Do
Today I will be reaching out to three specific white persons of influence in an effort to open the racial justice conversation with them and ask them to become vocal allies in the vital cause.
In Defense of Hope
A public bathroom was not the best place to engage one of my writing heroes in meaningful conversation.
Of course, it was not a completely random meeting—I had purchased a ticket to hear him speak at the event. And, to be fair, I recognized him in the bathroom but waited outside to say hi and express my appreciation of his work, even as someone from a different culture and the other side of the world.
I first read the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates when Between the World and Me was winning all its awards and critical acclaim, then went back to “The Case for Reparations”—his landmark 2014 essay in The Atlantic—as required reading for a graduate class in justice studies. Others of his books have since made their way onto my reading list—and now I had the brief opportunity to say thank you.
But what I really wanted to ask him about was his dismissal of hope, his prioritization of struggle and his assertion that “resistance must be its own reward, since resistance, at least within the life span of the resistors, almost always fails,” as recorded in his critically acclaimed book We Were Eight Years in Power. Of course, historically, it is hard to argue against his sentiment. In concluding his How To Be Antiracist, it seems Ibram Kendi would agree: “There is nothing I see in our world today, in our history, giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight.”
Hope is Hard
It is difficult to grow and sustain hope. More simply, it is hard to hope. Each headline, each murder, each injustice, each outrage, each tweet, each slight or shrug adds to a growing sense of futility and the temptation to despair. Too often, reality contradicts the possibility of hope.
And, too often, hope has been used as an excuse. Rather than addressing and working to overcome the injustice and racism in the world around us—so the argument goes—hope promotes passivity and urges its adherents to focus their efforts and attentions on some kind of other realm or possible afterlife. Like any cliché, there is a truth behind it. The hope offered by faith has been used as “the opium of the people”—to borrow Karl Marx’s infamous line—by those who have held power in various cultures and societies.
Hope as an Opiate
But, at times, a milquetoast hope has also been embraced by the oppressed people themselves who have used the consolations offered by religion as a way of shrugging their shoulders and grimly making the best of the status quo. Faced with the inevitabilities of life, death and all the injustices and sorrows in between, hope has been used to normalize tragedy, explain the inexcusable and cultivate complicity with injustice. And if this is all there is to hope, those who choose hope are rightful objects of criticism and even pity.
But using faith and hope in this way is difficult to maintain. The content of this hope undermines its abuse. This is why Cornel West states in his book Prophesy Deliverance that often in history the religion of the oppressor has sown the seeds of liberation and renewed the possibilities of hope, even when brandished in the hand of injustice. He writes,
“Christianity also is first and foremost a theodicy, a triumphant account of good over evil. The intellectual life of the African slaves in the United States—like that of all oppressed peoples—consisted primarily of reckoning with the dominant form of evil in their lives. The Christian emphasis on against-the-evidence hope for triumph over evil struck deep among many of them.”
The substance of such hope contradicts unjust reality.
Hope in Revelation
So as we confront a world torn by injustice and racism, with a tragic history and a rising tide of anger and despair, we need to remember the content of that hope and a particular picture offered by the visions of Revelation that offers an alternative perspective. Describing a group of people who have emerged from our troubled world, Revelation 7 details the different people groups who are represented equally and equitably (see verses 5–8), together comprising “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NLT). In a later vision, this crowd of humanity sings together a song of praise and victory, literally creating harmony in their God-created and God-honoring diversity (see Revelation 14:1–3).
We must not allow the poetic nature of this language to dull the revolutionary force of what it describes.
According to the Bible, this is the future of humanity—the pinnacle of our collective human endeavors. And the reality of the human family reconstituted in the presence of God is not merely a future fantasy; it is a beam of light shining into our present darkness. It is a call to live and work today, oriented toward this alternative vision of what it means to be human. It is a hope that can never be a pacifier or an excuse.
Assured by these promises of the future, we must work to resist the temptation to despair, recognizing that our hope is a unique attribute for living as the people of God, confronting injustice and overcoming evil in our world. In the words of Bryan Stevenson in A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law, “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. When you are fighting for justice you are fighting against hopelessness. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. So you have to see hopelessness as a kind of toxin that will kill your ability to make a difference. And the truth is, you’re either hopeful working toward justice, or you’re the problem. There’s nothing in between. You can’t be neutral.”
An overused expression in justice conversations is the call for a leader, commentator or other contributor to ensure they will be counted as “on the right side of history.” It is often a noble but hollow expression. From their perspective of history, writers such as Coates and Kendi are correct: justice is not inevitable, racism is not predestined to fade, oppression will not go out of business. Instead, they urge us to rejoin their struggle—and to that we bring our vision of an alternative future to which we can invite them and many more to stand “on the right side of the future.”
While we yet hear only hopeful echoes of those harmonious songs of praise and victory envisioned in Revelation, we join another chorus of psalmists, prophets and the oppressed across the millennia, singing and crying out, “How long?” Injustice and racism will be overthrown. Somehow their evils will be undone and their wounds will be healed. In the victorious resurrection of Jesus, they are already defeated. The question is no longer if, but when. And when we ask again, “How long?” we testify to the impermanence of injustice, and so sound again the call to listen and to speak, to act and to march, to shout and to vote, to love and to hope.
Of course, I couldn’t share all of that in my brief conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates—but my greater task is to listen and to hear his experiences, insights, anger and struggle, for which I was privileged to have the opportunity to say thank-you.
The Color of Money
The health pandemic has exposed economic racial disparities and systemic racism. While the government handed out an estimated three trillion dollars in relief to restore and support the economy, because of the structural barriers deeply rooted in our history of racial inequality, there is still a cost to being black. Pandemics, catastrophes and financial crisis only widens the wealth gap between black and white families in America. Here are some of the costs of being black.
FICO Score and Home Ownership
The African American unemployment rate has spiked as a result of the COVID lockdown. Mortgage lending standards usually tighten after a crisis which only widens the wealth gap making it increasingly more difficult for blacks to own homes. What’s the cost of being black? The average borrower FICO score at origination is 730. Due to high unemployment among blacks due to the virus, African Americans will have even lower FICO scores which will result in a severe decline in home ownership thereby expanding the wealth gap.
Assets and Income
During times of economic hardship or depression African Americans lose more wealth than their white counterparts. The median income gap between white and black families also widens during an economic downturn leading to blacks having less resources to draw on when things get really difficult. What’s the cost of being black? The cost is that when the economic downturn is over and the economy begins to grow, people of color are in a weakened economic condition and cannot benefit from the post recession economy and asset appreciation.
Tax and Savings
The U.S. tax code prioritizes savings in certain assets over other savings. Retirement savings accounts such as 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), as well as mortgage borrowing to finance a primary residence, receive preferential treatment under the tax code. Yet blacks are less likely to work in jobs that carry benefits such as retirement savings due to historical occupational segregation. What’s the cost of being black? These obstacles translate into fewer tax advantages and fewer chances to benefit from recent stock and housing market gains, resulting in significantly less wealth for blacks when compared to white Americans.
#Lamentations with Dr. Jaime Kowlessar
The urban scholar and poetic genius of the pavement Tupac Shakur, so eloquently said, “I suffered through the years, and shed so many tears Lord, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears.” The reality for many of us is that we have shed a lot of tears because we’ve lost so many peers. From Covid-19 to the recent untimely deaths of our brothers and sisters at the hands of law enforcement, it appears to be turning for the worse everyday. Just like Tupac, Jeremiah shed some tears as well. In the book of Lamentations 3:20 says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.”
When we lament, pray, and fast we are not only acknowledging pain and suffering, we are also saying that we believe that God can fix it.
Today we are asking you to fast. We are asking for all believers go ask God to give us the power to “Loose the Bands of Wickedness.” Isa. 58:6 says, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?”( KJV)
In America there are many in our country who are wrongly imprisoned. We arrest and warehouse more bodies in prisons than any other developed country. Our justice system is not equal. Today, I want you to pray for the end of mass incarceration. As we fast and pray that the bands of wickedness be released, I encourage you to call on God to remove the systemic structures and policies that hold black people back from living a full life. We are praying for just housing policies, community investment, change to infrastructure, and better funding for our schools.
After we have prayed and lamented, now it’s the time to act. There are so many ways that we can express our faith through charity and activism. We are asking you to joining a local nonprofit organization that shares your common interests and that is already fighting for systemic change. You can show up at your local city council meetings, and meet your elected representatives and ask them what they are doing for your community. Last, but definitely not least you can set up a courageous conversation with a group of friends and talk about the ways that God wants to use you to advocate for change.