A vocation which involves constantly observing and hearing the difficulties of an individual or communities life can be daunting. The individual serving as a case manager, resource specialist, or average volunteer, if consistent in his or her participation, will eventually experience some level of psychological, emotional, or physical impact. Suffering prompts internal reflections on a very difficult world. We begin to ask questions on “Why did this happen to her and not me?” The emotionally intuitive will suffer under the weight of his own gift of being able to easily empathize with the suffering of another, internalizing a sadness or even a bitterness which was never his own. Suffering which is external and not deserved can have a significant impact on the life of another. Yet difficulty can also serve as a tool to sharpen and refine the character and skill of a human being.
Am I not a man and brother?
Ought I not, then, to be free?
Sell me not to one another,
Take not thus my liberty.
Christ our Savior, Christ our Savior,
Died for me as well as thee.
Am I not a man and brother?
Have I not a soul to save?
Oh, do not my spirit smother,
Making me a wretched slave;
God of mercy, God of mercy,
Let me fill a freeman's grave!
As I reflect over the words of the proclamation carried by General Granger, these words standout to me. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” Encapsulated in this order was the medicine needed for a racially sick country which held people as product. A country whose body was torn apart by a cancer of racism and revealed itself in a destructive Civil War. A change was moving throughout the nation and the answer to the question, “Am I not a man and brother” was to be answered.
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship as the freedman and woman were to be viewed as possessing equality in terms of existence and ownership. We are unique and unrepeatable human beings. We are human beings marked with royalty and the potentiality to live remarkably. This is an absolute quality which can not be diminished by any legislation, incarceration, or dehumanization. Juneteenth marks a celebration in which the ears of black and white skinned human beings would hear an absolute truth, “You are equal.”
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship between masters and slaves. Previous to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation the relationship between these persons was one of White personhood and Black commodity. White personhood was able to participate freely in the economic, social, and political development of the small infantile nation. Whereas Black bodies were commodities, bought, trade, and sold to accomplish the development, cultivation, and sustainment of the new Egypt. Black bodies and White personhood related to one another in the form of a transaction in which White personhood extracted the emotional, physical, and spiritual capital from Black bodies to create a structure which would benefit the power of White Egypt. With the announcement on Juneteenth, Black bodies experienced a change of relationship as they heard they were qualitatively the same as their White counterparts. We are not commodities and cattle to be auctioned. We are creatures and a collective mass of human beings who can create, labor and earn a wage.
General Order #3 finally announced a change in relationship as participants in the market place. General Granger’s Order #3 impacts approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas according to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. The impact of a quarter of a million persons learning they would no longer be existing and functioning as free labor is without measure. Consider for a moment if 10% of these persons now have the opportunity to work, negotiate a price for labor, and receive compensation for that labor. The terms of slave and master begin to erode in Texas and the South for our common terms of employer and laborer. These persons now have the opportunity to function as laborers and dare we say new entrepreneurs who would lay the foundations for great enterprise efforts such Black Wall Street, Madame Cj Walker, and others. Our participation in the marketplace requires a reevaluation of our economic education and the support of more entrepreneurs who will own businesses and not simply patronize a business.
This qualitative change in relationship among Whites and Blacks, the labor context, and market place did not come without its challenges. There was and there would be opposition. Sharecropping, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow were all forms of opposition to the good news “We are human beings.” Opposition arises from those who benefit from the status quo. The beneficiaries of the status quo act out of fear over the loss of security, comfort, and affluence. Fear created the unjust economic practice of sharecropping. Fear created the inequitable practice of the Homestead Act in the which the federal government supported White brothers and sisters seeking to make a new life West while Black freedmen and women struggled to move freely with economic shackles still around their ankles. Yet it is the steady rain of heavenly plagues which begin to wash away the existing reality and reveal a fresh soil of new landscapes for many to enjoy.
We are men, women, brothers and sisters. Juneteenth only affirms what is already in each and everyone of us. We are powerful and remarkable image bearers of God. We are men and women who have a long lineage which does not begin in chains and the bowels of slave ships. Our lives begin on West African shores, North African landscapes, and in the shadow of great pyramids. We have the intellect of kings, queens, scientist, theologians, and entrepreneurs. Thus our relationship to one another should be one of persons who are actively pursuing opportunities and partnerships which uplift the wellbeing of one another. We have come from different families. We have ancestors from different plantations but we are here now…together. We are here now. And just as our forefathers and foremothers huddled together for comfort and courage in dark fields to sing praises to God in whose image they were made. We need to rally together around common economic interest to achieve economic goals for the common good. Leave this place with an commitment to find your way to improve the social, economic, political, and religious situation of your fellow African American brother and sister. But not only them…let us commit to being a people who provide such an influence to the state of Arkansas and our nation all people will rise up and say with one loud voice…
“We are men. We are women. We are sisters. We are brothers. We will all die free.”
The situation of men and women who are experiencing homeless in our state and across the nation has become more apparent since the pandemic of 2020. Individuals and families have fallen from situations of housing stability resulting from increased housing costs, medical problems, and an inability to find work commensurate to what was previously earned pre-pandemic. Men and women from various backgrounds are now in the lived experience of homelessness. In the state of Arkansas, 2,459 persons experience homelessness, finding some form of relief within either emergency shelters or transitional housing (HUD 2022, Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program Data). The lived experience of homelessness is a touch point regardless of gender, ethnicity, or health situation.
Persons who are experiencing homelessness possess what John F. Crosby describes as being “persons who are unrepeatable” (Crosby, 2019). Individual persons who have found themselves standing on street corners to secure coins for hotel stays, who are accessing various local nonprofit and faith based services in our county, or sitting in a public school, are not to be lost in the category of homelessness. These individual persons can not be replaced as objects nor ignored to satisfy our individual comforts. Rather, these persons possess an outstanding unrepeatable quality which translates into 2,459 individual stories and experiences. Individuals who possess a dignity and richness which is obscured by our focus on the experience and the associated stereotypes. Crosby asks each of us to take a moment and look beneath the tired eyes, the aroma, and the disruptive classroom behavior to see the unique quality of the person before our eyes.
I was particularly moved the events in Memphis but I was not surprised. The duly elected men of Memphis were charged with the authority and responsibility to serve as agents to reinforce safety and offer protection acted in manners which resembled hyenas descending upon a vulnerable cub. Even now in my description, I have ventured into the realm of dehumanization. The event was not surprising but has actually startled me as a growing empathy was for those who left their own humanity for reasons we have yet to fully comprehend.
A thriving pluralistic society depends on healthy interactions between individuals who are similar yet different. In our society, we are similar and I believe this to be so on the basis of our shared humanity. Human beings possessing the imago Dei and as such are persons. Romano Guardini, stated, “ “person” means that I cannot replaced by anyone else, that I am unique.” Individuals traversing our world are unique persons who are invaluable and possess a place in this vast adventure of life. Simultaneously, individuals are different. I am unique. You are unique. You and I diverge on the road of life to pursue interests, ideas, loves, and passions to discover purpose and meaning. The beauty of the human experience occurs when individuals with shared attributes and dissimilar interest come together to accomplish small and great feats. A more important feat occurs when individuals establish a relationship of mutuality and trust. I would hope individuals would see humanity in one another.
Our nation, and I really do not want to sound hyperbolic, is facing a crisis of humanity. There is a strong possibility this crisis has a strong correlation to the events of the past few years. Separation, millions confronting mortality, and increased mental health difficulties, have obscured our vision of the individual next door. The necessity of healthy social relationships have proved beneficial to the flourishing of a human being, yet when interrupted or threatened, problems can arise. Our perception of the individual who shares not only DNA but the fundamental character of being can not be clearly seen and as such, individuals choose to respond in ways, which in the long term, can prove detrimental.
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Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005) noted personalist philosopher, who was canonized as Pope Saint John Paul II from 1978-2005, committed himself to the affirmation of the dignity and worth of human beings. Human beings created in the image of God who are called to full fellowship in the life of our generous God. Wojtyla identifies the moral actions of a person cultivate experiences of growth in him or herself. The human experience is a combination of an individual acting and acting upon another. The person discovers the core of who he or she is by freely acting in accordance with truth and the reality of our world.
Now as human beings we experience our individual existence in the context of some type of organization. Human flourishing depends on interpersonal relationships which include the free exchange of information and material. As image bearers of God we live in a tension between unique individuality and shared participation within some type of organized group. The individual recognizes his or her unique existence and chooses to offer unique contributions in support of the group, more acutely in support of the flourishing of the other. Human beings freely acting for personal and group benefit maintains "the attitude that allows man to find the fulfillment of himself in complementing others" (Wojtyla, p. 284-285).
This coming year as you attend your daily activities, reflect on the dignity you possess as a human being created in the image of God. The capacity you possess to act in manners which correspond to truth can have significant ramifications on the growth of your personal life and equally shape how you view men and women who are experiencing the most difficult of circumstances. Pope Saint John Paul II reminds individuals of a significant truth regarding our existence as human beings and prayerfully, I hope this truth would stir the reader to act in ways which demonstrate growth in the and the promotion of generosity to those less fortunate wherever you live.
Wojtyla, K. (1979). The Acting Person. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.
It is mid-April and I have recently come to grips with a level of anxiety which I find my mind existing. I wake up and initiate my usual routine and at some point in the day I recognize I am existing mentally at a level which is fully of anxiety and heaviness. This anxiety is responding to something which is in the shadows and the awareness of its existence has only now provoked within me the courage to name this shadowy and monstrous figure.
In the depths where I find myself at some point during the day, the monster whispers out of the darkness, “It will not matter,” “Speak and write whatever your hearts desire.. I will consume your words immediately.” There are moments I call into question my own purpose. All of the readings, dissection of information and communicating on podcast and videos prompt me to ask in my isolation, “Will this actually make any difference in the long run?” I am simultaneously fearful and angry when I find myself in this mental space. I am angry because I know who I am, what my purpose is, and those words which call me to be courageous in the face of fear. Yet the fear evoked by despair is present, influencing me to believe all of my efforts are for nothing.
One day while in my monthly visits to the local bookstore, I purchased David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. I am as familiar with Mr. Douglass as I am with a close friend. I have read his autobiography and shared it with young people I mentor. This time though in the pages of Blight, the prophet’s voice came to me as a strong friend in the depth of despair. In the moment he assisted me in naming the monster in the darkness. The monster I see in the darkness with its foul breath and piercing eyes, “You are slavery!”
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Our world possesses so many great works of artistic expression. There are musical pieces, paintings, pottery pieces which have stood the test of time influencing the development of whole academic courses around a singular artist or time period. I view particular comic book issues in a similar fashion. There are some issues such as Action Comics #1 with the first appearance of Superman, Detective Comics #27 with the first appearance of Batman, or the panel imagery of Captain America facing off against Iron Man at the height of Marvel Comics Civil War, all creating indelible impressions within the comic book universe but also touch real life.
An artist painstakingly offers her present self to produce some item which gives insight into her. He or she has committed him or herself to a craft, which over time, produces a work of art which is the culmination of who they are and what he or she observes in the world. This is not a task to be taken lightly as he or she must assess what present pleasure is worth offering so a more valuable outcome justifies the present release. The creation of something beautiful will make a demand and each of us must determine if we are capable and willing to make the exchange.
Now you may not be an artist. Your personality and disposition may lead you to some other type of vocation or calling which is not necessarily related to the subjectivity of art, music, or writing. You're “artistic” expression may be the home, as an entrepreneur, academic, or athlete. Whatever the case, each of us possess an opportunity by the simple reason of our individual existence to take hold of a series of elements and create something which can influence someone to become his or her better self. This “something” can be a beautiful expression of who we are as individuals and how we observe the world. I am offering myself and this will be difficult as I must reach within myself and bring into reality what I have determined to be precious. To create and live out our individual purposes will be challenging and it will never be without cost.
Focus on the present. The Jewish teacher said tomorrow has its own problems. Pay attention to the work of your hands and how you feel as you work on that one thing of beauty. Pay attention to how you respond in the moment of a finished detail. Creating something of beauty and worthwhile which is the expression of who you are in this life speaks volumes about the individual you are becoming in this world. The demands, again if you are willing, will be great but also consider like all great works of art, those demands will purchase a creation of your hards which can be meaningful and inspiring.
Reach your hands into the clay like a potter. You're digits will be sullied and calloused shaping a work of art which will offer an opportunity to those who pass by to say, "That is beautiful."
The last two years have admittedly been difficult. Individuals from all walks of live have experienced varying levels of difficulty regarding sickness, financial challenges, occupational difficulties, and social interactions. In my estimation, I would not seek to compare nor weigh which difficulty was greater than the other. Individuals for a number of reasons confront difficulties in different ways but what is clear, individuals experience suffering.
Suffering impacts the physical, emotional, and internal self. An individual in the experience of suffering faces the dark night of the soul, taking the moment or long moments to assess him or herself. I may not like what I see within myself. The thoughts swirling in my head may be negative working to pull me further down into this seeming ocean of difficulty. At the same time, I may find within myself a determination which I did not know existed within me. It is this second revelation I want to offer as a precious find.
Suffering is hard. It is rough and such items can act as a serving instrument to reveal what is underneath. The rough and rugged experience of suffering acts in service to our individual lives to reveal what has always existed. What can be revealed is determination, patience, boldness, or a number of other human characteristics which exemplify the beauty of the human soul.
Life is hard. It sounds so cliche but I believe it is important to acknowledge your anxiety, your tiredness, and frustration. I completely understand all of these emotions because these are emotions I have wrestled with in my own life. So you are not alone. You, like my self, are fellow travelers on this difficult and hard road called life. A life filled with disappointing politicians, social situations which have divided family members, friends, co-workers, and even the oldest of religions are not exempt. These are difficult times in our state but I need to tell you even in the oppressive atmosphere which weighs heavily on our hearts and minds, I believe better things.
Believing better things means we need to have courage. Courage is acknowledge the hardness of our situation but also having the courage to stand up and meet these hard situations head on. We have to stand up, walk out, and meet these concerns of tyranny, oppressive governments, divisive motivations and meet them with courage. These need to remember our names and these shadowy experiences need to know first hand these dehumanizing attempts to restrict our flourishing as human beings will not go unchallenged. So I believe better things because it not only requires courage but also hope.
Hope that what is near to human beings is not the dark, oppressive, and anxiety inducing experiences which seek to order life but hoping in a future in which the light of our courage and the hope there are more individuals who want to be free and live and love outside of coercion and shame. A courage and hope the shadowy places of the human experience will not prevail but what will warm the faces of your heart and mind, as well as mine, is the bright day in which we can tell future generations, “I was there. I was there with courage and hope and we won the day.”