Life is about story…the story people ascribe to themselves. The story that gives meaning to a people. Modern Jews have the Holocaust and their deliverance. It defines their identity and gives them a sense of purpose.
The Black American experience has also been a Exodus-type story. Dr. Albert J. Raboteau said that “No single story captures more clearly the distinctiveness of African-American Christianity than that of the Exodus.” Exodus gave our people hope that we would indeed “overcome some day.” From bondage in slavery to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, what you see in the arch of Black American History is the story of a people, delivered from bondage and oppression despite incredible odds and immense opposition.
Isn’t that true?
Look at Isaiah 64. We can see our own experience in this story. We’ve seen the fire burn up the adversaries. We’ve seen this nation and the nations disturbed by the presence of the Lord in the midst of Society. The glorious works He has done through us, for us and for the life of the world has made the very earth tremble.
And we saw it tremble. We can still see it tremble, when we watch a good documentary on the Civil Rights Movement.
And because of what we’ve seen and heard about the Black Experience in America, we know there is none other who got us through except Jesus Christ! The Black Experience in America bears witness to the mercy of God, given to those who do righteousness and remember His ways (Is. 64:4).
We know that mercy. The history books bear witness to that mercy. The documentaries bear witness to that mercy. The personal accounts of those who were there bear witness to that mercy.
Yet we sinned and went astray. We got comfortable…integrated, assimilated and forgot or disconnected.
We see Ferguson and we are faced with the reality that whatever remains of our Civil Rights legacy cannot protect our people from injustice. And so: we must march again…
The fact that Ferguson can happen shows us that all we can offer to God is like a filthy rag.
Isaiah 64:5 states: “We all are become as unclean, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag…”
And, wait until you understand what the filthy rag is…
You see: this “filthy rag” of which Isaiah speaks isn’t like a man who’s working on his car and brings into the house, a rag soiled by motor oil. Yea, the rag is filthy. And, you mightn’t put it on your white furniture…but you’re fine leaving it on the floor until you get around to the laundry. You’ll come home and leave, walking pass that filthy rag. You walk past that rag many times, and only be reminded that you need to take care of that rag when you do the laundry.
That’s not the filthy rag the Prophet Isaiah is describing.
The filthy rag is a menstrual rag…it’s a pad…a tampon. I doubt anyone would leave a a used menstrual pad or tampon lying around the house.
I can imagine some of you are appalled. And, that is Isaiah’s point! That is what the Lord thinks of the righteousness displayed by the people.
About that passage of Isaiah, St. Jerome says: “Whatever righteousness that we who are unclean in ourselves appears to possess may be compared with the rag of a menstruating woman.” Whatever righteousness we think we have is nothing more than a filthy rag of a menstruating woman.
On the same passage, St. John Cassian says: “…just as our goodness with regard to the goodness above becomes like evil, so our righteousness compared with divine righteousness is like menstrual rags.” Whatever righteous deeds we might enjoy bragging about is like menstrual rags when compared to the righteousness God requires.
Ferguson is a nationwide failure. As we see, cities across the nation are responding to Ferguson out of their overall frustration with an oppressive system.
Some will want to shift the discussion to our failure of educating, mentoring and etc. They’ll want to talk about single parent homes and the lack of male role models…high incarceration rates, joblessness and crime. Others will want to talk about what the system hasn’t done. They’ll talk about laws that haven’t been enforced, or those that need to be removed from the books. They’ll put up all sorts of excuses.
Yet, the reality of Ferguson is a glaring indictment that we have failed to finish the Movement. Clearly, we must have stopped short of the goal, right? This couldn’t be what the fight was about!
But, we – the Black Bourgeoisie (or, “blackish”) – will keep talking about the crisis of Black youth: Blacks in the Inner City have yet to learn how to not give “the man” an excuse. They keep expecting handouts from Society. Or they have completely given up on a Society that has completely given up on them.
We believe that because we have seen the door to escape oppression that everyone would be able to make it out, when many of them can’t even see the door – much less reach it. But their failure to escape as we (think) we have ultimately threatens our own “blackish” security. Now, we’re uneasy while sitting with our White colleagues trying to reassure them that we aren’t as angry as those protesting in the streets.
We’ve detached from our community: physically, politically, economically. Physically, politically or economically, we have no stake in our community. And mentally, we’ve found ways to justify our tangible detachment.
But I can prove this detachment in a simple practical sense: Black organizations no longer meet at the Church.
We have detached ourselves from the only vessel (the Church) that can confront the power structure and effectively protect the “least of these.”
The Church was an actively engaged part of the Civil Rights Movement. We can romanticize that fact with all we read in books, see in film and hear from oral tradition. But, the real reason the Church was so involved was because the Church was the only place we could gather freely. It was the only place that was ours…that we controlled.
And, there was something about gathering as the Body of Christ. Even if it wasn’t planned…even if it were simply by chance: there was something about Black organizations gathering at the Church that gave them spirit-filled power to defy the odds.
Yet, we abandoned that legacy and now meet where convenient. If we live in the suburbs, we meet in the suburbs. Now that legal segregation is over, we are free to meet in libraries, recreational centers, schools and etc. We don’t have to meet at the Church. And, our struggle has lost its power.
So all we can do is watch…
As we see Ferguson in upheaval…as cities across the nation are in upheaval, all we can do is watch. Even those of us who feel the injustice and know that something must be done can only watch and react, with no direct and effective impact.
The Church – as the Church – has no active presence in the struggle. And, like Bob Marley said: there’s gonna be burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight.
And all we can do is march again…
Unlike the Jews coming out of the Holocaust, we weren’t serious about “never again.” So, Negroes will march 120 miles from Ferguson, MO to the Missouri State Capital for a press conference at the governor’s mansion.
Really?!? One Hundred and Twenty Miles! We can’t just drop by? We can’t just make a phone call? We have to march…still? One hundred and twenty miles?!?!?
Ferguson is the Failure of the Black Elite
Ferguson is our failure.
Because if we remember the goal of the Civil Rights Movement at all, how can we not admit that we have failed when faced with the reality of Ferguson?
The fact that Ferguson can happen shows us that all we can offer to God is like a filthy rag.
We may have monuments, holidays, movies, books and yearly conventions. But, all of that is a legacy of great accomplishment that no longer strikes fear in the system. As important as those accomplishments are, they don’t matter much in the face of the reality we now see on TV.
We want someone to “take us to the King,” but, this filthy rag is all we have to bring. So, we must realize that nothing we can do will improve our situation. When we view the results of our witness of the evening news, we know there’s no reason for God to come to our aid, than the fact that we are His creation. God should restore us, simply because we are His people.
We must admit that we’ve dropped the ball. The torch was either passed and dropped, or not passed and burnt out. But the reality of all that’s happened in Ferguson from August until now proves that we have failed.
So like the Psalmist says, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Isn’t that what we want? To be restored? To be converted?
When we look at Ferguson, we must want to be changed…no? Don’t we?
And the change we seek is Incarnation: for Christ to be born among us. We want to again see everything as part of our Journey to the Promised Land. We need to reconnect the struggle to the faith…not with “religious leaders” who have left the Church. We need to struggle as part of the Church, don’t you think?
The Church is the gathering place for the people of God…the Body of Christ. It is the seat of Grace, giving grace to all who enter. There is something about being connected to the Church that gave the Movement a spirit-filled power to defy incredible odds.
Ferguson is Our Clarion Call
Black & Civic organizations should begin to hold their meetings at the Church again, so that the work of those organizations might be blessed by the presence of the Spirit, and we might be saved from the discord and strife we see in Ferguson and beyond. The reality of Ferguson should make it clear that the Movement has not reached its end. Clearly, the work isn’t finished…right?
We know how to do this. Our history is battle tested for doing this. So, it is time to pull our armor from under the bed, in the back of the closet, and the other places we stash our memories. We must dust off that armor, for the fight is not complete. Through the Church, with the Church and as the Church, Black Americans brought an oppressive Society to its knees for repentance. Is it not time for society to repent again?