The African American experience from its earliest days was characterized by the Exodus narrative. From the African slaves to the Negros who struggled with Civil Rights, these men and women looked to the events of the Israelite deliverance and found in that historical narrative an experience which expressed hope in a God who hears, an event known as liberation, and a long march to the Promise Land of equality. The African American grounded his or her experiences in song, long groans, prayers, and the expectation that the foreign land in which he or she dwelt would be transformed into a land flowing with milk and honey.
In the middle of the Israelites long journey from the darkness of Egyptian slavery to dwelling in the bright shining light of God’s presence, the nation’s disobedience took them around a mountain. Forty years, God disciplined the people through wanderings in a wilderness and circles around a mountain. Imagine day after day, year after year, seeing the same bush, observing the same landmark, never arriving at the destination you heard so long ago. “Where is this place the prophet spoke of?” “Have we come out here only to die?!” “How many times must we go around this mountain?”
Last Saturday, a young Michael Brown tragically lost his life at the hands of a police officer. I can’t imagine what his parents are experiencing. As a father of a young African American male, I know I would be sad, angry, and full of questions. Beyond that, I can only sympathize with the Brown family and pray that God’s healing grace would envelope them. As with all previous events in which an African American male has been killed by a non-African American, the usual statements begin to erupt that America hates blacks, cops want to kill blacks, so on and so forth. Surely we’ve seen it before. Surely we have heard it again and again. We only see and smell this bush when one of our own is killed by another ethnic group. And strangely, we remain silent (including myself) when there is interracial violence. We will see angst and despair in Ferguson and within two weeks move on.
We will travel around this mountain and never reach our destination.
I debated putting data and citations in this post concerning interracial violence as it relates to African Americans and contrasting those numbers with how many African Americans are killed by cops and non-African Americans. Why? People don’t want to hear objective data right now. A person only wants to read data that confirms his or her presuppositions. What needs to happen is a dissection of our hearts. What happened on the streets of Ferguson and what happens on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles or here in the last two months in Conway simply reflects one person’s disregard for the life of another. We continue to wander around this mountain, as media promulgates a narrative that seeks to divide ethnic groups. We wander around this mountain, as persons advocate for riots and agitate a sensitive situation. We wander around this mountain, as police play a role in excessive force. We continue to travel around this mountain and we don’t realize we are being hustled by the sinful desires of our own hearts.
The Israelites were hustled by their desires for Egypt, food, drink, and idols. These men and women had tasted the first fruits of deliverance and started what should have been a short journey to the Promise Land. Instead, they complained, rebelled, and made a god of their own liking which contributed to their wandering. African American people I ask, “Are we any different?” We long for and affirm so many things which have been detrimental to our progress. We are angry about the violence of Michael Brown or Trayvon? When will we demand Worldstar HipHop to stop broadcasting our sons and daughters beating one another? We are angry about violence? When will we stop sharing violent videos on Facebook? We are angry about how African Americans are viewed, when will we demand of our own artists to stop portraying themselves as whores and misogynistic pimps? Do we truly regard ourselves as people to be valued?
God has been gracious to us. He gave us a prophet who led us to seize a dream. We have seen many of our people become business owners, professors, Secretaries of State, and yes, the President. At the same time, we have forgotten the Prophet. The singular person whose name characterized our ancestors hope through the long suffering of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement was Jesus Christ himself. When will we stop traveling around this mountain? When we heed his voice “to turn northward” and proceed up to the freedom he has prepared for us.
When we turn northward and follow after him what will we do?
Let’s stop going around this mountain and move northward up the mountain. For on this mountain is a luxurious feast prepared for all people. It is a feast of rich food and rich wine for all to enjoy. It is on the top of this mountain that we have circled around for generations where our sorrow will be wiped away and we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
If you live in Conway join me Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at Simon Park and Kris Allen Stage where we will pray for our own city, our citizens, law enforcement, and all authorities.