Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

Hitting the Jackpot*

* All Bible citations are NIV

What would you do if suddenly you became very wealthy?  What, you say you’re already very wealthy?  Then I urge you to read on anyway. Imagine hitting a big jackpot.  Maybe you pull the arm on a slot machine in Las Vegas and suddenly the grand prize lights start flashing and bells start ringing. Or could it be that the white Publishers Clearing House van turns into your driveway carrying a very large check with your name on it. Perhaps you hit all the numbers in the Powerball drawing.  Or maybe you won the multimillion dollar “Dream House” giveaway on the HGTV network.

I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to hit it big.  With no more concerns for my personal financial needs, I’d share some of the winnings with family members to pay off mortgages, car loans, student debt and such.  Then I’d set up a nonprofit foundation to help the needy and give it all away.  What fun it would be to help change lives for the better. How easy it would be to give away money from an abundance of wealth.  Jesus commented on this to his disciples in the story of the Widow’s Mite.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  –Mark 12:41-44

I’ve wondered how being rich might change me.  Would I become more materialistic and spend on a massive house (or houses) and expensive cars?  Would I travel the world? Would I suddenly doubt the motives of people who tried to be friendly with me?  Would I change my phone number, delete this blog, delete my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, and seek anonymity? Would I play the stock market and try to make even more money?  How much more would I need to satisfy me? Would I become miserly and try to hold on to all my wealth? Jesus cautioned about hoarding wealth in what is sometimes called as the parable of the Rich Fool.

And he (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  –Luke 12:16-21

An abundance of wealth can make one feel very content, very secure, and very self-reliant. How easy would it be to lose touch with God in such circumstances—to forgo daily communion with God through prayer and the reading of the Word? If all my worldly needs were already provided for, would I still be inclined to pray to the Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Perhaps that’s why Jesus taught his disciples:

“Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

It is a blessing to kneel and sincerely ask God to provide for one’s daily needs.  I am an Anglican. Anglicans follow a Christian tradition that evolved out of the practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England following the Protestant Reformation. It should come as no surprise that the fastest growing group of Anglicans in the world are in the African churches—places like Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa. Many African Anglicans have suffered terribly from poverty, disease, famine, ethnic cleansing, and multiple forms of discrimination. Some were forced from their homes and lived for a time as displaced persons in their own countries or even spent long periods in refugee camps in a neighboring country.  

Many of these people became believers when they discovered hope in God when they had little else remaining. For many of them, losing everything led to a deep-rooted faith in God. How sweet it is to depend upon the Father for one’s daily needs.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:28-34

Do we expect God to come to us with His blessings and save us? He says, “Look to Me, and be saved….” The greatest difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and His blessings are what make it so difficult. Troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings tend to divert our attention elsewhere. The basic lesson of the Sermon on the Mount is to narrow all your interests until your mind, heart, and body are focused on Jesus Christ. –Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. – 1964 at the Jasper city pool

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I grew up in Louisville, a beautiful city situated along the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky.  Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War.  As such, it shares characteristics of both the north and the south.  Louisville is more Midwestern than southern and has much in common with the Ohio River cities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  From Louisville, traveling only 80 miles eastward to the city of Lexington, where I attended the University of Kentucky, transports one into the Deep South.   The contrast is remarkable.

My parents divorced when I was five.  Shortly afterwards, my older brother went to live with mom’s parents in southeastern Kentucky.  I stayed with mom, whose earnings as a nurse’s aide barely kept us afloat.  During the summer, when school was out, I was shipped off to spend several weeks with family. My summers were split between visiting my grandparents in southeastern Kentucky and staying with family in northern Alabama.

In the little town of Jasper, Alabama, I could enjoy time with my cousins under the loving eye of my mom’s older sister, Aunt Bette.  I have many fond memories of the warm summer days there, fishing, digging in the large vegetable garden, playing ball and frolicking with my cousin Philip.  Philip and I spent  many a day at Jasper’s city swimming pool, only a few blocks from Aunt Bette’s house.  To me, life in Jasper was something akin to living in television’s fanciful town of Mayberry.  The image will resonate for those who remember the Andy Griffith Show.

Traveling to Alabama was a fascinating experience for a young boy.  I usually went by train on the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad.  My maternal grandmother Myrtle would accompany me back and forth.  My granddad Jim was a locomotive engineer for the L&N, so he and granny enjoyed free travel by rail.

Union Station in Louisville was a behemoth mixture of wrought iron,  granite, polished marble and stained glass—a magnificent structure. There we boarded the Pan American express for our journey.  The ride to Alabama took us through Nashville to our final stop in Birmingham.  Aunt Bette’s husband, my dear Uncle John, would meet us at the Birmingham station.  From there it was a short drive to Jasper and my summer residence.

The contrast between Midwest and Deep South was remarkable, even for a young lad.  It was immediately evident upon entering the train station in Birmingham.  Unlike the station in Louisville, Birmingham’s was filled with the signs of a racially segregated south.  There were separate drinking fountains, restrooms and waiting areas marked “whites only” and “colored only.”  The first time I walked into the Birmingham station, my Midwestern mind didn’t get it. Granny tried to explain to me what segregation was all about, but the cruelty of what I was seeing didn’t register with my young brain.

Outside the station was more evidence.  There were cabs for “coloreds” along with movie theaters, restaurants, bars, barber shops, benches at the bus stops, and dozens of other examples.  As I would later find out, there were also schools and yes—even swimming pools designated for “colored only.”

Unbeknownst to me, the city pool in Jasper was for white people only.  At least that’s how it was during my first two summers there.  This changed on July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.  I was much too young to understand the full impact of what was going on, but I was fortunate to witness firsthand a piece of history in the making. I still remember it clearly.

I was at the city pool when the first test of the new Civil Rights Act occurred.   On a sunny afternoon in August, a lone young black man wearing a t-shirt and swimming trunks entered the pool area.  With many of the whites staring in various states of confusion and disbelief, the man walked to the grassy area at the deep end of the pool where he spread out his towel on the ground

No one knew it at the time, but the brave man who dared venture into the formerly whites only swimming pool was handpicked for the task.  After removing his shirt and sandals, he headed straight for the high dive.  He climbed the ladder, confidently walked towards the end of the diving board and proceeded to perform a perfect one and one-half somersault into the water.  Swimming to the ladder, he exited the water and made another beeline for the diving board.

Over the next few minutes, the young man put on a mesmerizing display of diving, with each twisting and turning dive seeming more difficult than the preceding one.  While the young man was performing, everyone watching (myself included) seemed unaware of the dozen or more young blacks entering the pool area. Everyone was enjoying the show.  When the show finally ended, everyone simply went back to what they were doing before.  Amazing!

It was in this simple way that segregation peacefully ended at the city pool in Jasper, Alabama.  At least that’s how I remember it.  Unfortunately, desegregation didn’t occur as smoothly in many other places.  Fifty years later, I’m glad to live in a country where a person’s color isn’t as important as the “content of their character.”1 We still have much room for improvement, but we have steadily advanced the cause that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave so much for—even his life.  May our nation never turn back!

“We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  —Oswald Chambers

1”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.”   —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.