hate & violence come in all colors & causes

On Saturday, August 12, in response to the violence that beset Charlottesville, Virginia, involving clashes between white supremacist demonstrators and counter-protesters, President Donald Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”[1]

Yesterday, August 27, in Berkeley, California, over a thousand demonstrators gathered at an anti-hate rally. Their principally peaceful protest was disrupted when scores of self-described anti-fa[2] anarchists, masked and adorned in black clothing, stormed the assembly. These interlopers, many, for me, excruciatingly ironically, wielding shields inscribed with the words “no hate”, physically assaulted Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, a conservative group that supports the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution[3] and others who could be identified as pro-Trump supporters.

I am a 65-year old African American. I was born and raised during the formal Civil Rights Era.[4] I was tutored at the knee of my Baptist maternal grandmother, Audia Mae Hoard Roberts, who seamlessly wove the Exodus story of Hebrew emancipation from Egyptian bondage with the Negro’s striving for freedom. I followed her, my maternal aunt, Evelyn Hoard Roberts, and my parents, William and Lolita Abernathy, in their involvement in the work of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I also am an advocate of the teachings and practices of those I revere and affectionately call the 3Ms – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Therefore, I believe in protest. Peaceful protest. I hate hate and violence. Whatever the group. Whatever the cause.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The phrase “on many sides” coupled with Mr. Trump’s then omission of referring by name to the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and other alt-right groups, hastened a backlash of criticism accusing him of establishing a moral equivalence between those factions and the counter-protestors. I heard and understood the president’s remarks that way (see my previous blog post, moral inequivalence, August 19).

[2] Anti-fascist

[3] Patriot Prayer, accused of being a magnet for white nationalists, though Mr. Gibson has disavowed racism and denounced white supremacy, had cancelled a free speech rally on Saturday, August 26, due to threats of violence by leftist counter-protestors.

[4] 1954-1968

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On the air

There are 300 or so FCC[1]-licensed radio stations in South Carolina. Of them, 50 or so or a healthy 16% of market share are religious (read: Christian);[2] their perspectives tending, trending toward the conservative evangelical end of the theological continuum. The programming runs the gamut of biblical studies, sacred music, both traditional and largely contemporary, church services, especially sermons, and religious oriented talk and news formats, covering topics of local, national, and international interest.

Since February 2015, retiring to South Carolina from Washington, DC (the last nearly 17 years spent on Capitol Hill where everything was within walking distance[3]), I have done more driving. Lots more.

I describe myself (well, one of my self-descriptions) as a religious progressive. I am more suspicious of certainties or declarations of certainty and more trusting in life’s ambiguities. I believe most, perhaps all things are open to doubt and question, even the existence of God and, if not, then, given my ceaseless wrestling with the reality of evil in this world, God’s benevolence. (In all of this, I also believe that if or as God is God, then God can handle, perhaps even welcome my wonderments!) In league with my native (for I’ve been this way for as long as I can recall) propensity to think, then rethink, then think again about any and all things, I once described myself as “flamingly liberal” by which I meant and mean that the older I get my list of “negotiables”, things that are open to review and revision, gets longer and my list of “non-negotiables” grows shorter.

All this is to say that, as I drive, I listen to religious radio, especially those stations whose raison d’être it is to espouse a bedrock of unassailable belief in an immutable God. Why? My reasons, at least those of which I am conscious, are legion.

Mini interior

In the unswerving articulation of Christian conviction, I am confronted, at times convicted in my bewilderments and called to rethink my questions…

In the fundamentalist interpretations of biblical texts, I find myself deepening in my admiration and respect for what I consider a purity of understanding and application of foundational truths. I also marvel at how a text can be interpreted in myriad ways…

In listening to the sacred music, especially olden gospel tunes, I, remembering the melodies taught by my stalwart, sanctified Baptist grandmother, give full-throated assent in song; sometimes, in the face of my doubts, yearning to reclaim what I wish I used to believe…

In a word, I’m happy for the existence and happier still to listen to the many religious radio stations.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Federal Communications Commission

[2] In South Carolina, oft it is said that to throw a rock in any direction is to hit a church building. So, it seems is true of the radio dial, nearly every turn, whether clockwise or counterclockwise, tuning into a religious broadcast.

[3] By “everything, I mean everything – homes and apartments, stores and shops of all sorts, markets and restaurants, doctors and dentists, lawyers and realtors, banks and financial centers, post offices and commercial shipping offices, and in proverbial accord with that 18th century English nursery rhyme, “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers”, and, when occasion necessitated, two stations on the fine Metro subway system that stretched throughout the DC and near Maryland and near northern Virginia region.

the penance of penitence

thinking

I closed my most recent blog post (February 21, 2017: to bear or not to bear) with these words – Lent is my life…My life is Lent – by which I meant that the penitential character of this annual pre-Easter season resounds within my soul, boring down to the core of my viscera. Since then, I’ve been given, called by some inner urging to ponder why. Today, reflecting on some aspects of my life that I believe I have known and some new insights, which arose as I pushed, punished myself through at least one sleepless night to discern something, anything new, I write…

I was raised in a household encompassed about by the expanse and limitations of American history (true, of course, for any person or family, though each and all, by necessity, I think, need define the nature and range of each)…

lolita-william-c-1940

My father, William John Abernathy, discouraged by a society and his family, each and both constrained by racism, to pursue his dream of becoming a mathematician (as he was possessed of a highly analytical mind), for the sake of providing for his family, settled for being a postal clerk. Moreover, his father, my paternal grandfather, Pedro Silva, was Cuban; that identification, evidenced outwardly in my father’s dark complexion and straight black hair added to his exclusion from circles white and black. My father lived a frustrated, melancholy, and angry life; his essential and volatile ire fueled by his alcoholism (also a symptom of his essential ire). He also was a deeply religious man, given to daily Bible study and prayer (his pietism and alcoholism being, for me, two contrary dimensions of existence that were difficult, well-nigh impossible for me, as a child, to comprehend; though, as an adult, I can conceive and, in my own life, perceive a similar discomfiting coalescence of contradictory elements of human ontology)…

My mother, Clara Lolita Roberts, raised in an austere Baptist household, a schoolteacher by vocation and by avocation, under the strict tutelage of her mother, my grandmother, Audia Hoard Roberts, always to be a saint-on-earth-in-training, was, in her quiet and reserved, but no less demonstrative way, a puritanical disciplinarian.

To these two folk, I was born. Each, in his and her abiding care and near constant reminders that I be upright in my behavior, my doing (though, in my view, much less, indeed, seemingly little concerned for who  I was, my being) held for me a certain awe, in reverence and in fear.

My father, raised a Methodist, and my mother, believing the adage that “a family that prays together stays together”, determined that the Episcopal Church, with its ordered liturgy built on a biblical foundation, was a fair, middle-way compromise.[1] All Saints’, St. Louis, was our parish home; during my youth, a vibrant community and the largest African American Episcopal Church west of the Mississippi River. There, I was tutored in The Book of Common Prayer 1928, through which I was steeped in the annual custom of a 70-not-40-day Lenten season beginning not on Ash Wednesday, but including the three prior Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima,[2] by which, my parents having instilled in me that I was defined by my good-doing (which never would amount to enough that I might become good), I found an oddly discomfiting solace, indeed, likeness. Penitence was my life. My life was penitence.

soren-aabye-kierkegaard-unfinished-sketch-by-his-cousin-niels-christian-kierkegaard-c-1840

As I reflect, long possessed of (by!) a brooding spirit, it is little surprise to me that I, seeking to see and to know myself as a self, gravitated toward the discipline of existentialism with its central concern for the meaning of existence and its core questions of identity (Who am I?) and destiny (Where am I going?). It surprises me less that, in my ongoing pilgrimage toward my understanding of life and myself, one of my chosen companions, verily, champions is Søren Kierkegaard;[3] philosopher, poet, theologian, considered the Father of Existentialism (and, along with Hamlet, a melancholy Dane!) whose life’s vocation was his apprehension of individual truth and whose life’s journey was that of always becoming a Christian.

I am a follower of Jesus through the story of his life and ministry, death and resurrection. A story made my own, revealed to me and incarnate in me through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. A story I daily strive and fail to live fully, for which I am grateful for the grace of the correction and the consolation of penitence.

 

Illustration: Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, unfinished sketch by his cousin, Niels Christian Kierkegaard, c. 1840

Footnotes:

[1] Earlier and during my parent’s era, The Episcopal Church, historically the church of many of America’s “founding fathers”, also for some middle class (both aspiring and having arrived) black folk was “a destination church” (long before that term became popular to describe a religious community’s raison d’être to fill a particular cultural/societal or theological/liturgical niche).

[2] Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, derived from the Latin meaning “seventieth”, “sixtieth”, and “fiftieth”, respectively, were the names given to the Sundays coming seventy, sixty, and fifty days before Easter Day. Because of this, for most, esoteric knowledge, I recall handily winning an elementary school Spelling Bee when the final word was Quinquagesima!

[3] Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

African American History Month

(Personal Note: In recognition of African American History Month, I republish my blog post of February 1, 2015. Characteriologically, I am a person who, in regard to nearly every subject, great and small, upon initial and second thought, consideration and reconsideration, changes his mind, at times, multiply within short spans of time. However, the following word still rings true in my mind and heart, soul and spirit…)

In 1976, as a part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration, African American or Black History Month (AAHM) was recognized by the federal government as an annual occasion, in the words of then President Gerald Ford, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

AAHM’s forerunner, Negro History Week (NHW), was established in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Observed in the second week of February, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, February 12 and 14, respectively, dates since the late 19th century held in honor in black communities, NHW focused on advancing the teaching and study in public schools of the history of American blacks.

I am a 62-year old African American educated in St. Louis public schools. I remember the dearth of system-authorized black history instruction; a glaring deficiency addressed in content and assuaged in spirit by the committed efforts of my nuclear and extended families and my elementary school teachers, all who, in collaboration conscious or unawares, fulfilled my grandmother Audia’s proclamation, “Paul, to know yourself, you must know your people’s history.” Hence, I have an elemental, perhaps eternal affinity for AAHM. More expansively, for America – which, I believe, has still to incarnate the dream of Langston Hughes, who, speaking for all peoples, native and immigrant, white and black, said, “O, let America be America again; the land that never has been yet, and yet must be; the land where every man is free” – to know herself, she must know her black people’s history.

Still, as a pluralist who rejoices in our racial diversity and as an inclusivist who equally relishes our common humanity, my inner inquisitor wonders, worries about AAHM. How fair is it to the concept of our universal humanness to dedicate any period – a day, a week, a month, a year or more – to the history of any one race? And how fair is it to relegate the study of black history to any period when my people’s history, a vivid, inerasable thread in the rich tapestry of our national being and becoming, is American history? (My aunt, Evelyn Hoard Roberts, a college English professor, so cherishing the idea, the ideal of interdisciplinary and interracial, in other words shared, not separate approaches to education, in 1977, published American Literature and the Arts Including Black Expression.)

Yet, as Langston’s prophecy remains to be fulfilled, I continue to pray in his words: O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

As I believe that true equality is achieved in real part when all of us know the histories of each of us, I will commemorate and celebrate AAHM.

African American History Month – reflection 3

As a part of my commemoration of African American History Month, I remember those whose living witness shaped me as a person of love and justice.

Audia Mae Hoard Roberts (1890-1979). My maternal grandmother. Ever vibrant. Not the proverbial “force of nature,” but, in her intentional, incarnational living in the spirit of the God she believed and knew, verily, she was nature itself. When my older brother Wayne, and then I was born, she made it clear in her kindly, though firmly matriarchal way that she didn’t desire to be called “grand”, asking that all refer to her as “Mom.” So, we did!

Mom, Baptist born and bred, from the moment she learned to read was a Bible student and, until her dying day, an adult class teacher. Many a Sunday, I accompanied her to First Baptist Church on the corner of Cardinal and Bell Avenues in St. Louis. I, in the deference of my youth, sat in the rear pew of her well-subscribed class, awed at her scholarship and appreciative of her encouragement of questions from the attendees, always assuring that “we, in the end, can have no certain answers, for only God knows.” In her personal tutelage, during my brother’s and my much anticipated weekend stays, Mom would have us read aloud a selected Bible passage, invite us to memorize and recite it, offer commentary on its context (“lest we fall,” she admonished, “into the proof-texting pit of error”), and then, ask, “Now, how do you interpret it?” (My cradle-born Episcopal Church liturgies are laden with scripture, but I truly learned the Bible at my grandmother’s knee!)

In 1970, during the post-Civil Rights Era and the beginning of the Black Power movement, I entered high school. At a time when I (thought I) knew everything and, in my omniscience, felt self-assured of the docility of my elders regarding matters of advancements in the cause of racial equality, my mother quietly encouraged me to “talk to Mom.” I did, learning an invaluable lesson, one that has borne resonance within me to this day, though at the time I didn’t know how and possibly couldn’t know how much.

Mom was strikingly fair-skinned. She could have passed for white (in those days, an attribute for blacks who hungered to taste the fruits of the equalities of the then dominant race). She didn’t. Proudly claiming her black heritage (though clearly with ancestors born to master-slave conscribed concupiscence), she, never one of a retiring spirit, took early part in civil rights activism. For more than fifty years, through the St. Louis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), first as a membership recruitment division leader, and then as an executive committee member, she shared in strategizing and public protests against inequalities in education, housing, and political (minority voter) disenfranchisement.

Looking back, I am ashamed that I, in my youthful arrogance and ignorance,  discounted her humble recount of her times and her experiences as not enough; for how could the world, my then current world still be as awful as I perceived it to be if she and others had done all they could have done? Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut, who I quoted in the previous blog post, is right. Even when we humans remember our history, we, as an ineluctable aspect of being alive, will repeat it. For here I stand, having reached my retirement, looking at a church I love and have served for nearly 40 years still riddled with tenacious inequalities regarding age, gender, race, and sexuality. Clearly I didn’t do all I could have done.

Perhaps, then, that is why African American History Month is (and all sacred observances are) fitting and faithful, for they can remind us of our higher vocations of love and justice, the clamor of which our daily preoccupations and predilections often make mute.