Posted by: morgan1965 | January 15, 2021

Character Matters: A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Angels play a significant role in biblical history. What are angels? It is clear from a biblical perspective that angels possess greater ability and power than any human (See I Peter 2:11). God uses angels to help people in the ordinary facets of life. Angels have always been employed to accomplish God’s will.

The angels were joyous on the occasion of Jesus’ birth and they conveyed their joy to humankind. We know from reading John 3:16 that there is a great truth: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. This Jesus died for our sins in an effort to reconcile us to the God who created us. This Jesus invites us to walk in the Way, following Jesus, the light of the world.

We are witnessing today political division, religious division, family division and personal turmoil. Where are our leaders who possess sound character and manifest high moral standards and a commitment to ethical decisions based on fairness and justice? In this perilous time, I am reminded of a quote from James Madison which is contained in Federalist Paper No. 51.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control government; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

Much is required of all people who are in leadership positions – both public, private and religious. Howard Thurman made the cogent point that “life is saved by the singing of angels.” When Abraham Lincoln was first elected, there were those who would divide the nation. Near the close of his first inaugural address, Lincoln said:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Annually on January 18th we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year as we celebrate we are witnesses to a divided nation.

Dr. King was one of God’s angels who appealed to the better angels of our nature. He sang the song of God’s love. In his book, “The Measure of a Man,” King allows one to peak into his personhood when he outlines “The Dimensions of a Complete Life.”  First, is the length of life. An individual gives attention to the development of one’s inner strength (“inner powers”). Second, one’s concern for others is the fabric of the breadth of life. It is a humanitarian concern. Third, we must do more than develop our strength and love humanity. This vertical dimension is the personal effort to be in relationship with God. These three characteristics constitute the dimensions of a complete life. These dimensions form the dimensions of our character.

We honor Dr. King as a civil rights leader who helped to turn the nation upside down through direct nonviolent action. He taught love and led nonviolent peaceful demonstrations. He gave his life for peace and justice, believing that We Shall Overcome. He was God’s angel and we continue to be encouraged by his angelic presence.

Lincoln also said this: Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. All around us in our nation we see men and women in power who have failed the test of character.

In troubled times God always sends a prophetic message while maintaining an angelic presence. Representative James Clyburn provided an angelic presence during the South Carolina democratic primary. Stacy Abrams provided an angelic presence during the recent Georgia Senatorial runoff. The vice president elect, Joe Biden, is providing an angelic presence during the lame duck days leading up to his January 20, 2021 inauguration.

If men (and women) were angels, no government would be necessary. Where are the women and men of character?

Think About It!

Posted by: morgan1965 | January 1, 2021

Some Reflections on Starting the New Year 2021

It surely is a blessing from God to be a witness to the beginning of the New Year 2021. The start of a New Year is a time of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance and a time of rejoicing as we praise Almighty God for God’s grace and mercy.

Every calendar year has a beginning and an ending. At the end of a year there is a strong desire to look back and review the year ending to make an assessment as to what the year was really like. To be sure, each year is freighted with the best of times and the worst of times. The year 2020 will be a memorable year. It was the year of the Covid-19 pandemic and the mandatory global quarantine. It was the year of economic upheaval and a racism pandemic manifested in Black Lives Matter protests. These protests were triggered by the police-involved killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breona Taylor. On the political side of the ledger, there was the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the defeat of President Trump by Joe Biden, and the victory of Kamala Harris, an African American, as vice president. We have witnessed the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. But we also have experienced the deaths of more than 340,000 fellow Americans due to the Covid-19 virus.

The New Year provides an opportunity for us to be welcome recipients of God’s fresh beginnings. The introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine will provide a means of conquering the pandemic that is raging in the world. The Covid-19 vaccine gives us a shot of hope at the beginning of this new year. The election of a new president of the United states will provide new leadership and a renewed sense of decency in the oval office. In addition, we need to look for signs of God’s fresh beginnings in our families, our communities, our churches, our nation and our world.

Thomas Jefferson once said, I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. It is okay to review 2020, but we must not dwell there and conjure up feelings of misery and sorrow. Rather, we must look to the future and seize the opportunities to dream and to do something new with joy. Consider the text from Isaiah 43:19 – I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert. This text reminds us that God is always at work in God’s world, doing new things.

So, let us dream of new things as did Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birthday we will celebrate in a few weeks. King said in his I Have a Dream speech: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. King wanted a better future for all people.

King’s ministry was informed by Jesus who was always looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. Jesus did not dwell on the Law, rather, he brought the people grace, truth and love. In other words, Jesus provides for all people the opportunity for new life in Christ. Jesus demonstrated the Way, taught the Truth, and lived an abundant Life. His ministry was characterized by preaching, teaching and healing; and his total ministry was wrapped in prayer and it was always future oriented.

With Jesus on your mind, look toward the future that is laden with God’s fresh beginnings, and dream. Be enlightened and inspired by God’s surprises.

Think About It!

Posted by: morgan1965 | December 25, 2020

A Prayer On Christmas Day

Giving God, on this Christmas Day 2020, we give thanks and praise as we rejoice in receiving the Gift of Love, Jesus Christ. You have allowed us to witness the waning days of a very difficult and challenging year. Never before have we experienced a holiday season like this – a Covid-19 pandemic, economic upheaval, and a racism pandemic. We call on you loving God to steady our feet as we walk with you and give thanks for Jesus.

We gather around tables where there might be vacant chairs because of missing loved ones – some who have died, some who are hospitalized, and others who have chosen not to travel because of the raging pandemic. But Jesus is with us.

We pause to count our many blessings – the Gift of Love, Jesus; the gift of family and friends; the gift of life itself; the gift of newly created COVID-19 vaccines. We can stand and declare in word and song that we are yet alive. For this, we are so thankful.

In the midst of despair, disappointment, sickness, loneliness, economic distress and death, Loving God grant us courage to wrest joy from our seeming hopelessness. We will light candles of joy.

Ever faithful God, grant us the patience to continue our living, knowing that you are always on time. We light our candles this Christmas for we are thankful for all God’s goodness, mercy and love. 

God of Hope, we thank you for the many candles that yet flicker in our lives – joy, peace, hope, courage, grace, truth, wonder and love. Lord, we want to illuminate the darkness as we continue the journey into the brilliant light of a New Year. Amen

Posted by: morgan1965 | December 19, 2020

Stay Woke

Jesus called his disciples one by one and welcomed them into his three-year in-service ministerial training experience. Together with Jesus, they ministered to people who were in a variety of crises: hunger, health, death, and mental health. Jesus was concerned about his pastoral ministry on a daily basis.  Jesus, however, utilized his practical ministry as a vehicle for teaching the disciples and others about God’s Kingdom work that was required of him as the Son of God. This was a difficult lesson for them to comprehend. Discipleship requires the faithful disciple to consider the cost of discipleship which demands the commitment of one’s body, mind and soul.

The commitment of one’s self to discipleship also requires a person to be attentive to the mission and ministry at all times. On one occasion, Jesus went to the disciples and they were sleeping. Jesus inquired of Peter why they could not stay awake just one hour. He wanted them to stay awake at that time. Jesus realized, however, that their spirit was willing but their body was weak. After going away to pray for a time, Jesus came back and found the disciples still sleeping; so, he went away and prayed a third time. This was a critical time for Jesus. (See Matthew 26:40-44)

These are times that test the souls of women and men – the Covid-19 pandemic is raging; the economic upheaval is devastating families; and the racism pandemic is thriving in America. It is difficult to navigate in this tumultuous life. On the other hand, it is a good time to be in ministry with all of God’s people. In times like this, Jesus wants us to stay awake so that we can be faithful stewards of the Gospel.

The danger that confronts the church is that today’s disciples run the risk of being lulled into a sleep that neglects and negates God’s kingdom work. There is a lot of hustle and bustle in our lives. There are so many distractions. There are times when we are just plain tired, yet, there is kingdom work that needs our undivided attention.

Advent calls us to stop, look and listen. First, we can stop doing non-essential things that have little to do with the ministry and mission that Jesus calls us to engage in.  We can stop cluttering our lives with junk and make some room for Jesus. Second, we can look and see what ministry needs to be done in the name of Jesus. Do we see the poverty, injustice and pain in our midst? Third, we can hear the cries of the disinherited when we listen. Listen with open eyes, ears and heart. Advent is a spiritual wake-up call to all church folk.

The Advent season beckons us to wake up (stop, look and listen) and enter into an awareness of God’s presence in our personal lives and the world which is confronted with multiple pandemics. Jesus not only wants his disciples (you and me) to wake up, he wants us to stay woke. Paul says, “let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (I Thessalonians 5:5b). The challenge invitation is to pay attention to one’s spiritual life while giving attention to the world’s social issues. So, my friends, I urge you to stay woke and live as a disciple who is woke. That’s what it means to be woke.

Think About It!

And, STAY WOKE!!!

Posted by: morgan1965 | December 19, 2020

If Babies Could Vote

The Constitution of the United States Of America says that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age (Amendment 26). On Tuesday, November 3, 2020 American citizens who are registered to vote will go to the election poles and complete the 2020 presidential election cycle. Early voting has enabled tens of millions of people to vote prior to election day.

The main ballot issue is the presidential election. There will be state and local issues on different ballots across the nation. There are some folk, however, who have postulated their belief about what is really on the ballot. One conclusion is that the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts Roe v. Wade on the ballot, the case that established a national right to abortion. Another point of view is that the Affordable Care Act is on the ballot. This act is commonly referred to as Obama Care, and it currently provides affordable health insurance for more than twenty million citizens.

There are a variety of opinions about what issues the nation might face, depending on who is elected to the office of president of the United states. Some people say that police reform is on the ballot. There is a push to curb violence by law enforcement. Yet another ballot issue is the Covid-19 pandemic. How and when will the nation gain control over the virus? How will we overcome the economic fallout from the pandemic?

The two major campaigns have differing points of view about what is on the ballot and why their candidate should be elected.  The Democratic campaign says that “this is our opportunity to build back better than ever.” The campaign opts to “unite for a better future.” In other words, American democracy is on the ballot.

The Republican campaign has as its theme, “Make America Great Again.” Apparently, the campaign believes that although the Republicans have controlled the White House and the Senate for four years, they still need four more years to make America great again.

Various constituencies have their own ideas about what is or should be on the ballot. Consider a few such constituencies: youth, young adults, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, women and a myriad of other groups. These groups have many valid concerns that need to be addressed on a national level. Each group has its own ideas about what should be on the ballot.

People under the age of eighteen cannot vote according to the constitution. So, this eliminates teenagers and the preteens from voting. Nevertheless, they have ideas about what should be on the ballot. But what about babies. If babies could vote, what would they put on the ballot?

Babies want to be well and happy. This is a matter of good healthcare.

Babies want to be fed when they are hungry. This is a matter of ending poverty.

Babies want to be warm when it is cold and cool when it is hot. They enjoy soothing music and a safe play area. That is an environmental issue.

Babies are encouraged and inspired by human presence – a loving mother and father, as well as other family members and friends. This is a matter of good relationships, peace and cooperation.

Babies want to learn, so they look, listen and explore. This is an educational matter.

Babies want to grow up and have an opportunity to prosper as an American citizen.

That is a matter of an equal opportunity, peace and justice.

If babies could vote, I imagine that these are some of the items that they would like to see on the ballot.

What do you want on the ballot?

Think About It!

(Originally posted on FB, 11/2/20)

Posted by: morgan1965 | October 7, 2020

In The Shadow of Evil

We live in a world that is ever changing culturally and technologically. Digital watches have replaced the alarm clock. Cell phones are displacing the land line. The rolodex, the fax machine and printed phone books are now obsolete. In store shopping is now on-line shopping. Objects that were familiar to me as a child would not be recognized by my grandchildren. Also, during these years of transition in my lifetime, there have been shifts in human understanding and acceptance of certain moral and ethical standards.

More than four decades ago, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book titled, “Whatever Became of Sin?” He argued that sin is still prominent in human activity, but there are some actions and activities that we no longer call sin. We rename it and even dignify it. A classic example would be the various iterations of the word hooker – prostitute, or call girl; however, in today’s polite society the name is escort. Menninger relates sin, and guilt.  Sin is the act while guilt is the emotional consequence. The name of an act might change, but the consequence remains the same. Sin and guilt ultimately destroy a person emotionally and psychologically. Sin and guilt corrupt culture and the result is moral decay in a nation.

There is another force that we would rather not talk about, even in religious circles. There is the human dynamic that can lead to sin and we call it evil. In simple terms, evil is anything that is morally wrong or bad or wicked.

The well-known Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr, in 2019 wrote a book about evil. The title of the book poses a pertinent question for our conversation about evil – “What Do We Do With Evil?” Rohr says: “Sin is evil, but sin is also defined and legitimated differently by each group; real sin is often well-hidden and must be located beyond the isolated individual.” Evil can be contained only if it is named precisely. Rohr further contends that “because evil is corporate before it is individual, it can only be substantially overcome by corporate good.”

The main character in the old radio show called “The Shadow” use to say: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Shakespeare’s character Julius Caesar once said: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.  He thinks too much, such men are dangerous.” There are a variety of things that the mind can conjure up such as evil thoughts, evil speech, evil desires, greed, worldliness, selfish ambition (Tower of Babel), and a desire to ape God (Thinking that we are greater than God).

Individual sins can lead to corporate evil.

The late John Lewis said: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something.”

We can never acquiesce and decide to live in the shadows of evil. Such a decision can be destructive to all concerned people. The German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller in a post-war confessional commented on the failure of the German intellectuals and certain clergy including himself to address the Nazis’s rise to power and their outrageous behavior and terror. Consider what he said:

“First, they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.”

It is often fear that causes people to live and function in the shadow of evil as though there was nothing wrong. Barbara Garrison’s words are apropos: “Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our minds. Compassion grows out of the things we are, and lives in our hearts.” Good people must call out evil and condemn it wherever it is uncovered whether in the church, government, the work place, educational institutions, or the family circle.

Finally, please consider this passage of scripture as you strive to discern your way of living and thinking in the shadow of evil: “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” – Romans 8:13 [NIV] Let’s live.

Think About It!

Posted by: morgan1965 | September 2, 2020

The Crisis of Truth

Is there a crisis of truth in the American culture, or is this merely a myth perpetrated by the fake news syndrome? To be sure, there is a seeming shortage of truth tellers when it comes to political concerns, economic trends, climate change, the issue of racism, as well as other dynamics. Michael Eric Dyson entitled his recent book, What Truth Sounds Like which is a conversation about race in America. In the matter of race, one notes that truth depends on one’s point of view or what side of the argument one chooses to uphold. We have different views of truth no matter what the subject. A genuine quest for truth requires the truth seeker to listen to what you really do not want to hear or consider. Perhaps there is no crisis in truth, but a crisis in our willingness and our ability to listen to each other.

When I read my Bible right side up, it reveals to me a Jesus who is described as “full of grace and truth” by John’s gospel (John 1:14). It can be said that Jesus brought love [grace] and reality [truth]. This Jesus teaches us to love God and neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus invites us to enter into and dwell in a sphere of reality when he says “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” This invitation is the guide that enables us to navigate in the real world that now is plagued by the coronavirus pandemic and the racism pandemic. Unfortunately, we do not always hear the truth about these two pandemics; instead, we too often hear lies.

Jesus made a statement regarding “true disciples.” He said: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31b-32). The Word sets us free from sin and Jesus makes us “free indeed.”

In considering truth, Joan Chittiser raises a timely question in her article titled, “The Mortal end of truth: when leadership becomes nothing but lies” (National Catholic Reporter, August 20, 2020). She expresses her distress about the change in how we value truth. She suggests that we might have taken truth for granted. She asks, “when will we begin to hear from our churches that political lies are a moral attack on the country?” Chittister then makes a chilling observation: “Perhaps, most important of all, is our own blasé approach to the effect of public lying our own immoral complicity in a public sin? And if so, how much time will it take before it undercuts the character of the whole nation?”

President Obama in a recent speech called for “fidelity to facts and science and logic and not making up stuff.” In his August newsletter for the Clergy Letter Project, an endeavor designed to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science, Michael Zimmerman said this: “Perhaps I’ve not been cynical enough over the 45 years since I entered my Ph.D. program. I’ve trusted the process of science and scientific method. I’ve believed that science consistently brings us closer to the truth – even as we discover what we don’t know and modify how we view the world.”

It seems that truth is under siege. Is there an effort to sequester truth, squelch truth, or discredit truth? “Truth, like oil, will in time rise to the surface” (Charlie Chan, fictional Honolulu police detective).

My parents always taught their children to tell the truth – at all times. Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth; yet, sometimes a witness lies. Lies reflect our character, and serve to shape the character of folk who digest these lies over time. A failure to tell the truth has negative consequences for all concerned parties. We must confront the growing proliferation of lying in our culture.

God’s truth as embodied in Jesus Christ marches on when we simply tell the truth. The crisis rests in our failure to tell the truth. We need to hear and tell the truth about COVID-19. We need to hear and tell the truth about the ravages of racism in U.S. America. We need truth tellers. As I ponder the crisis of truth, I am reminded of Howard A. Walter’s words:

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

Think About It!

Posted by: morgan1965 | August 12, 2020

A Prayer For Teachers

God of wisdom and knowledge, we enter into your school house with a deep and abiding concern for our children whose education is at risk because of the coronavirus pandemic. Please grant wisdom and courage to school boards and administrators who are grappling with the decision as to opening their schools on time, or postponing the start of the school year.

Holy Teacher, as we struggle to educate our children, our hearts are full of thanksgiving and praise for their teachers. Enlighten these women and men as they strive to impart wisdom and knowledge to their students. Grant them an artistic potter’s skill as they labor to shape the lives of their students into meaningful and beautiful expressions of their potential. We pray that you would rekindle their love for the children, and stoke their students with a renewed passion for learning and a sense of wonder. Resource their pedagogy with imagination and creativity in this season of virtual reality.

God of Comfort, because we truly care we pray for the safety and well-being of the classroom teachers and all the people who support the educational enterprise – principals, teacher aides, administrative staff, custodians, cafeteria workers, nurses, bus drivers and their aides, school crossing guards, and volunteers. We pray that all schools – public, parochial, private, college – will be a safe haven for the students and faculty, free from all diseases.

Parenting God, we pray for the parents of school children, for they too must make decisions about the education of their children. Help them to make informed and sound decisions about the welfare of their children. Teach us to appreciate and love the work that our teachers engage in with their students. Bless our teachers and children so that they might be safe while they continue to engage the educational process in this Covid-19 environment. AMEN

Posted by: morgan1965 | July 20, 2020

Rep. John Lewis Had Heart

The concept of “heart” often surfaces in my conversations in recent days as the nation grapples with the dynamics of racism and white privilege. My research tells me that the word heart has at least two definitions. The human heart is the center of both physical activity and emotional, ethical and moral activities. First, the heart is the organ that pumps blood to all parts of a person’s body. No one can function without a heart. One becomes acutely aware of the heart’s function when exerting oneself physically. Second, from a biblical perspective the heart is viewed as the moral and ethical center of one’s life. Our common understanding suggests that the heart shelters a variety of human emotions. “Men and women look at the outward appearance,” Samuel says, “but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart to give to all according to their ways according to the fruit of their doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).

Jesus told a parable about a tree and its fruit that reveals a biblical understanding of the heart. A good tree produces good fruit, while a bad tree produces bad fruit. A tree is known by its fruit. Jesus questioned his hearers as to how they could speak good things when they were evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure” (Matthew 12:33-37).  The point is that the heart’s secrets are betrayed by a person’s mouth and what they say and do.

The Psalmist says this about the heart: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name” (Psalm 86:11). An undivided heart clings to the truth that Jesus teaches us, and walks in this truth. A clean heart stays on the path with Jesus.

In my conversations about racism, I have suggested that the idea of “dismantling racism” will not ultimately eliminate racism. Racism can only be eliminated fully when there is a change in people’s hearts. A transformed heart changes a person’s attitude. Negative attitudes are couched in one’s mind. It is the racist attitudes that perpetuate the injustices of racism and white privilege. In the spirit of Ashe Wednesday, Margaret P. Douroux’s song gives us hope:

“Give me a clean heart

so I may serve thee.

Lord, fix my heart so that I

may be used by thee.

For I’m not worthy

of all these blessings.

Give me a clean heart,

and I’ll follow thee.”

This prayer begs the question as to what kind of heart, a hard heart or a soft heart.

I am reminded of a once popular song: “You’ve gotta have heart. All you really need is heart.”

Yes, we need to have heart, a clean heart. We need a heart that is bathed in faith. We need a heart that is buoyed by abundant hope. We need a heart that pumps love and floods all boundaries with that love.  Remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

When faced with club wielding policemen, flash bang grenades, tear gas and armored vehicles it is difficult to have a soft heart. But we pray that God will help us to remain pure in heart as John Lewis did when he was beaten and jailed, chastised, and brutalized.

Unless the hearts of people are changed, racism will persist in America. Rep. John Lewis had heart, a good heart, a clean heart, a soft heart, a heart full of love. That in part is why he is known as “the conscience of the Congress.”  John Lewis was a moral compass who risked his life for justice, because he had heart. Perhaps his heart will be a lasting bridge in the transition from racism and white privilege to the reality of “the beloved community.” We have recently mourned the loss of others in the struggle who were full of “heart” like C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy, Elijah Cummings, Joseph Lowery, et al. The continuing struggle to end racism must be conducted by men and women with heart.

Hearts are changed through prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, education and agitation. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” (Rep. John Lewis, June 27, 2018)

Think About It!

Posted by: morgan1965 | July 4, 2020

Whose Fourth of July?

Independence Day, or Fourth of July, is observed annually as a national holiday. This popular summer holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States which was signed on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject to British rule. These colonies were now free and independent states. This is a holiday that is celebrated with a variety of festivities such as parades, fireworks, picnics, family gatherings, and food festivals.

The Declaration of Independence was penned by Thomas Jefferson a slave holder. One oft quoted line from the Declarations says: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Black people were not included in this notion; rather, they were excluded. Women were not included either.

What was Thomas Jefferson’s chief ideal expressed in the document? Jon Mecham, a noted presidential historian, observed that Jefferson’s “ideal is one of human equality.” This noble ideal was not in effect then and it has not been achieved yet. The Declaration of Independence is a flawed document that was written by a flawed man and signed by men who themselves were flawed, yet striving to establish a new order of freedom.

Let’s turn to the speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, made by Frederick Douglas and delivered before a crowd in Rochester, N.Y. on July 5, 1852. Douglas noted that “the point from which I am compelled to view them (the signers) is not, certainly, the most favorable.” “They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.” Douglas joined in the celebratory observance, but with a certain reservation that he clearly articulated.

Douglas went on to ask why he was asked to speak on the Fourth of July. He asked: Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, extended to us? The answer to such a question was no. Douglas boldly exclaimed: The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Douglas in his speech refused to be mocked by the historical circumstances.

Then, Douglas asked a provocative question: What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

One hundred and sixty-eight years later, we are observing the 2020 July Fourth celebration. Frederick Douglas’ speech is as apropos today as it was then. Think about it, look around you, open your eyes and ears. Instead of the word slavery, Douglas might substitute the word racism or white privilege.

In America today we see that the sin of racism is ever present. The advantages of white privilege are rampant. Black lives do matter. During the course of American history, black lives have not mattered. Black men and women are still being lynched (Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, et al,) in the streets of America.

In concluding his speech, Douglas said: Allow me to say…notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. To be sure, Douglas was encouraged by the Declaration of Independence. He believed in God and he was buoyed by hope that slavery would one day end. Slavery ended after a bloody civil war, however, it was followed by the Black codes, sharecropping, the Ku Klux Klan, segregation, lynching, racism and white privilege.

Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was a devout Christian and a determined patriot. So then, let us join in unison with James Weldon Johnson and sing,”

Lift every voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

(U.M. Hymnal, #519)

 

Think About It.

Sing About It.

Then Do Something About It!

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