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We are all afraid of something. We are able to manage some fears, but other fears take hold of us and will not let us go. When I was a child, I was taken by the story of “Peter Pan,” but the crocodile in the story caused me much angst. I had a bit bed – given to us by someone, I think -which was very high off the floor, and for some reason, I believed that a crocodile – as scary as the one which was in the story of Peter Pan – was hiding under that bed-only at night. (I felt that because I could see, of course, in the morning, that it wasn’t there.) My fear prompted me to make up a story about how it got under my bed, sneaking in when it was dark, waiting for me to put my feet on the floor so that it could devour me.
I was petrified and sure that it was under my bed. When I would awaken at night to have to go to the bathroom, I would break out into a sweat. I would squirm and wiggle, hoping my movement would make the invisible and fantastical threat go away, but because I couldn’t see the crocodile, I assumed he was braver than I thought.
It happened one night that I couldn’t squirm myself back to sleep and so I was forced to get out of bed. I literally prayed for I made the mad escape. When I got back to my room, I stood there for a long, long time, believing the crocodile was in a strategic position, waiting. I finally took a breath and ran as hard as I could to my bed, jumping up to safety. After that, though I was still worried about the crocodile, I at least believed I could outrun it. It took some time for me to believe that the crocodile was gone. I don’t think I believed had never been there. I just think I believed I had frustrated his efforts to eat me up.
If the opposite of love is fear, we are seeing that belief play out in the present day. Though we might think that what we are seeing in terms of racial tension is worse than it has ever been, that is not the case. White fear is their crocodile and much of what is going on now was predicted a century ago. W.E.B. DuBois said, referring to a poem entitled “Resistance” by Rudyard Kipling that referred to non-white people as “lesser breeds without the law: “In 1918, in order to win the war,” he said, “ we had to make Germans into Huns. In order to win the South had to make Negroes into thieves, monsters, and idiots. Tomorrow we must make Latins, South-eastern Europeans, and other Asiatics into actual “lesser breeds without the law.”
The crocodile haunting many whites was the fear of the “rising tide of color” in this country. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, was seen to be a narrative and expose about how affluent whites believed that their beloved white race was under attack. One distressed reader said everyone ought to read Gatsby and said, “The idea is that if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific and it’s all been proved.” (Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, pp. 116-117)
We are all seeing the repercussions of irrational fear. The fight to “make America great again” is clearly a fight to put things back into place, where white people and hatred based on fear of people of color, including immigrants and Muslims, is in full gear. Many believe that the populist movement in which we are now treading water is necessary to “save America” from those who they believe do not belong here. People who are not white feel like intruders, objects which are “infesting” this country with their very presence. To them, this crocodile feels like a genuine threat, like my imagined crocodile felt to me. There was nothing anybody could say that could make me believe that my fears were unfounded. I was sure the crocodile was there. Likewise, much of the white culture is sure their power, attained by using people of color, violating their rights and attacking their dignity, is under attack. They are stuck in their beds in the middle of a night which never ends for them, having to go to the bathroom, but cannot get up. Their fear has paralyzed them.
The question is, “what do we do?” as we watch and experience what is going on? Rev. Debyii Sababu Thomas, years ago at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, preached a sermon entitled, “What Do We Do While We Wait?” The fact that people of color always seem to be the ones waiting, under attack, feared and despised, yet used, is problematic. And yet, we wait, even as we pray and organize and fight back. What we cannot do is become as paralyzed as are they.
The fact is, we are in our beds as well. We are weary of fighting; we want to rest and believe that everything is all right, but we cannot. White supremacy is our crocodile, not an imagined evil, but very real. White supremacists have worked and continue to work to destroy us, those whom they fear. But over our frustration, disappointment, anger, and resentment at what they do, we have to get up and continue to make mad dashes toward freedom and justice. To “them” we, people of color, are crocodiles. To “us,” they, white supremacists, under the thumb of the white supremacist system, are crocodiles as well, captains who have stolen command of ships that were not theirs to steer. They are usurpers of a power that is not theirs. We are not afraid of them; we are tired of them.
In our battle against this evil system, we call on the God of all of us, the true bearer of power, the One who has heard people cry out for centuries. We are to “hold onto God’s unchanging hand,” looking up as we push back, determined that we will not be conquered or destroyed.
Amen and amen.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel gives a definition of human beings which gives reason to pause. He says that the Bible has “given the world a new concept of God. What is not realized is the fact that the Bible has given the world a new vision of man. The bible (sic) is not a book about God; it is a book about man.”
Heschel’s words bring to mind the words of the late Dr. Peter Gomes, who charged that people worship the Bible, not God. This he calls “bibliolatry,” and suggests that humans, in our endeavor to be “holy,” end up worshiping the book and not God. But if the Bible is really a book about man, what are we working with?
Heschel goes on to say that man (human) is a being who is in travail with God’s dreams and designs, with God’s dream of a world redeemed, of reconciliation of heaven and earth, of a mankind which is truly His image, reflecting His wisdom, justice, and compassion.”
No wonder the world is in such turmoil.
In trying to understand the pervasiveness of evil, the lack of clarity about why such evil exists in spite of God becomes clearer. If we, in fact, worship the Bible and not God, and if we are at odds with what God wants, and if, in fact, the text upon which we depend for direction is about humans and not God, then it is easier to grasp the fact that too often we find ourselves in a quagmire of unanswerable questions.
How many of us are actually struggling against God and God’s will for our lives? How many of us are in travail with God’s dreams?”We strive to be independent; we do not want anyone – including God – to tell us what to do. We want to do what we want to do, the way we want to do it, and when. We reject any intrusion upon our independence, regardless of what our lack of direction might mean for us or for those around us. We have to find our way, regardless of the cost.
Watching toddlers is a window into how we act throughout our lives. Pediatricians call toddlerhood the “first adolescence.” During those years, the human who was once a helpless babe in arms begins to embrace his or her sense of self. Though they need their parents, they reject their parents in almost every way possible. The lessons learned must be their own, ingested and digested because they want to, not because of what any grown person might say, even if that person is the parent. When my daughter was a toddler, she not only insisted upon dressing herself, as toddlers are wont to do but also insisted on picking out her own clothes! I tried at first to guide her to what I wanted her to wear, but she staunchly rejected my choices and would erupt into a fit of tears if I intruded on her freedom and independence. I cringed with the color combinations, the backward tee-shirts, and pants which were also put on backward. We bought little feet stickers to put on her shoes so she wouldn’t put them on the wrong feet, but she ignored them. So, picture this beautiful little girl with the most wretched outfits on, shirts on backward, pants as well, with shoes on the wrong feet. I was mortified and a little afraid; I had to take her to daycare and didn’t want the folks there to think I was a negligent mother.
But over my angst, I noticed her face; she was so pleased with herself. She needed to find her worth, her gifts, her direction. I was there only to help if needed and requested. I later wanted her to be a dancer as I had been. She hated it. She was in travail with my dreams, and I had to let her be.
God lets us be; God lets us find our way, and we feel some sort of power in our independence from God, but oh, how the world suffers! God created us for the purpose of making life “on earth as it is in heaven.” We reject God’s dreams for the most part, and walk through our lives with “clothes that don’t match.” We view God out of the corners of our eyes, knowing that God is there when we want and need Herbut for the most part, we are content to ignore God and go our own way.
Our independence keeps God’s world away from its ideal. Without direction from God, we fall into base human behavior, denying love, compassion and care to others, causing conflicts, ignoring the poverty and suffering of others. Because we are in travail with God’s dreams, social systems and ideologies evolve, like Nazism, racism, and sexism. We oppress each other and think nothing of it. We do not and cannot see God’s dreams because we maintain our estrangement from God in order to keep on acting, doing, and believing as we desire.
God allows us to be. God embraces us if or when we turn to God and stop fighting, and God stands ready to embrace us even when we turn away. But God mourns. God worries as we fight with God’s dreams and purposes for us on this earth. There are too many of us walking around with our tee-shirts on backward, causing God’s dreams to become secondary to our own.
What would this world be like if more of us were in alignment with God’s dreams? Surely, God is waiting for us to realize that God’s ways are better than our ways. God’s desire is for us to know how much we are missing as we turn from Her, but God will wait, and perhaps, as evil goes on its merry way, gleeful that we are more interested in our own will than with the will of God, some of us will realize that we need to change course and stop fighting with God, lest we, like the Israelites, end up by a river called Babylon, remorseful that we did not listen and trust God when we had a chance.
Amen and amen.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on those who are desperately trying to change their lives but who are having real difficulty. Fall fresh on those who are fighting against their worst enemy – themselves. Fall fresh on Your children who realize that they must change but do not know how to do it. A sprinkling of Your holy spirit is a blessing because it penetrates our stubbornness. It releases us from holding onto something or someone or some memory which is not good for us or to us. Your holy spirit helps loosen the crust from our eyes that keep us from seeing what we must see within ourselves in order to get as close to you as we must. When we internalize Your holy spirit, we can no longer live in denial; You force us to see what You have always seen. But seeing what is within us is only the first step toward changing, dropping those things which have hampered us and kept us back. When we are in a season of change, we are losing spiritual infections which require a regular dosing of Your holy spirit. The spiritual germs which have infected us are stubborn and are resistant to being challenged. God come and help us open ourselves to You. Help us not to fret if we do not see an immediate change but keep us steadfast in our determination to be all that You created us to be. Help us to seek the sprinkling of Your holy spirit all day long. Create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us so that Your holy spirit can do what only it can do. Help us to expose to You our emotional baggage which has poisoned our very beings, baggage which includes anger, bitterness, the desire for revenge, jealousy, envy…Lord, You know. And so we ask that You allow Your holy spirit to fall fresh today on those who are desperately trying to change and even more on those who do not yet realize that they must.