One of the most influential thinkers, economists, and historians of American history is Dr. W.E.B. Dubois. The first Black American to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard. In his influential text, The Souls of Black Folks, he offers a provoking critique and prophetic vision for Black life in America considering the direction of not only American Blacks but the whole race of persons in the twentieth century. “It is, then, the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth century to see that in the future competition of races the survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the beautiful, and the true; that we may be a able to preserve for future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong, and not continue to put a premium on greed and imprudence and cruelty” (Dubois, 1903; p.118).
America has always been a curious place to me. I have wondered about my place in this country as I read back over the founding of this nation, the ideals upon which it was founded, and I’ll admit with much curiosity, “What would the founders think about America today?” What would they have thought about the Civil War, women voting, public education, career politicians, and the numerous wars? What would they have thought about a Black man serving as the President for two terms?
Our American household has periodically demonstrated a schizophrenic mentality concerning human dignity socially and politically. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal….” Then I hear Public Enemy shout, “Picture us coolin’ out on the fourth of July, and if you heard we were celebrating that’s a world-wide lie” (Louder than a Bomb; 1988). A document written and stated the national independence of men by virtue of being ontologically equal simultaneously supported a social culture which practiced enslavement, disenfranchisement, and the legalization of dehumanization. America has always been a curious place to me as one part of the nation asserted liberty to own people while another part of the nation asserted liberty to free people but offered little to no assistance to those freedmen and women.
What is this American place to me? It is a place of powerful movements in our short history. Movements which seized upon those epic words about the equality of men and women to secure the vote, expand educational opportunities, increase access to better housing, and produce some great technological feats in recent memory. What is the American place to me? It is a house with a schizophrenic mind which has the address of 1776 Freedom Place but has so many locked away. It is a house which has children playing in the yard and learning to pursue life as so many Black babies are disproportionately aborted. It is a home which has prosperous dinners and the best furniture so one can pursue happiness and yet so many languish in poverty.
We are a diversity of people in this American place. Mr. Langston Hughes identified in this place called America the existence of a population of diverse and scarred people who were united by suffering. Yes different groups have tasted different degrees of suffering, many times at the hands of their own government, yet nonetheless, America is made up of people. People bound together by language, customs, and above all, the dream of opportunity.
Our American people have made great strides over the generations. We should celebrate those Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others who have seized opportunities to shape this place in a variety of ways. Yet there are still among us those persons Langston Hughes describes as fooled, scarred, disconnected from a home, and holding onto a thread of hope. What about the 13% of Americans in poverty and the 18.8% of Arkansans in poverty? So Dubois stands with Hughes. They both stand looking at this place called America and seek to provoke its people to practices which are good, beautiful, and true. Practices which will move people socially and politically towards activities which embrace what is noble and reject what is undignified.
We must practice living as a healthy family in one house. We are a family. We are a family of human beings with dignity, purpose, creativity, and the innate desire to be known as a human being. As human beings, we are a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, political ideologies, and other social distinctions. We must practice living as a healthy family in one house. We are a family. We are a family of human beings with dignity, purpose, creativity, and the innate desire to be known as a human being. As human beings, we are a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, political ideologies, and other social distinctions.
Secondly, we must practice good actions which are for the uplift of the individual and the greater society. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “What are the good actions which will serve others?” The economic situation of many in America reveals their impotency to make meaningful choices to impact their lives. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning and create new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. Therefore, shine like the sun in the lives of others.
Finally, in the 21st Century we can practice compassion by engaging socially with others. Our state has some relational tensions to address as it relates to race. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically, I can control how I perceive the other person. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us practice compassion and serve our “enemies”because we are members of the same household. We are a family in need of one another. We are in need of good acts. We must practice beautiful compassion towards the other.
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. Recommit yourself to work with persons of goodwill to find solutions 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.”
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
In the calendar, Christians mark this as the sixth week of the Easter season. These adherents believe they stand in the presence of a risen Savior Jesus Christ who triumphed over sin, death, and the grave. He triumphed in such a manner its impact will shape the universe, our city, and our humanity.
Revelation is the close of a religious text read by so many Christians around the world. This New Testament text provides descriptions of the culmination universal, human and salvation history as seen through the eyes of an elderly and exiled disciple, John. The Apostle John was the disciple whom Jesus loved in such a profound manner and John has been afforded the opportunity on the island of Patmos to look beyond the veil of time and space.
Revelation is the unveiling of mystery, the breaking of seals, the roar of thunderous trumpets, and the outpouring of God’s bowls of wrath. It is the period the saints of God have been anxiously waiting for and now, “Behold, God!”
The Apostle John sees Jesus “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Revelation 1:5)? “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5a). The Apostle offers a praise and announces an expectation, “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” because “he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev 1:7). If you do not believe John, I invite you to look with the eyes of an old man, exiled on island and see the where our life is headed. I want to invite you to hear and see our very existence which moves through so many triumphs, defeats, sufferings, and praises will arrive at a new reality in which the universe will be made ready to hold a city of people who live in the presence of God’s glory.
Change of the Universe
The Apostle John sees a change of the universe as the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. Genesis 1 lays out for us the creation of the first heaven, earth, and sea. It lays out for us the Trinitarian God establishing creation for the purpose of his glory. God in his great wisdom and creativity stands on the stage of eternity and like a profound spoken word artist, offers the poetry of creation. Every stanza begins with “Let there be…” and with an indescribable rhythm offers a poem which lays the groundwork for an even greater poetry. And what does the psalmist say about God’s creation of heaven, earth and sea filled with great lights, great creatures, and beautiful works? “You have set your glory above the heavens,” (Ps 8:2). “The heavens declared the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”(Ps 19:1).
Every wonderful poem has its end and John sees the removal of this current great creation and the arrival of a new heaven and new earth.
What is significant about this universal change? This new heaven and new earth, this new universe will reflect the infinite glory of God. No longer will the beauty of creation be obscured by sin. The universe in which we currently reside is unable to fully bend towards justice and have justice flow down like an overflowing stream. We have a hope this current creation will birth something far greater. Our universe resembles a woman in childbirth, anxious to bring forth a universe of freedom, joy, glory, and love. This is what John is seeing. A universe made ready to hold a city and a people who will enjoy the full love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.
What does this mean for the people of God? The new universe which is to come is meant to humanity. As written above, our current universe is unable in its own suffering to bring about the full revelation of justice. We anticipate a form of justice which men and women of various ethnic backgrounds will experience infinitely. A form of justice in which the life of man and womankind is equitable, matching the deepest longings of our souls. Therefore, we work today, in a variety of callings to make real the hope of this future form of justice. We work today in hope, for the redemption of human bodies and a life characterized as loving and just. We work today in hope, for the men and women to live in a manner which God is glorified and humanity displays the love of God to God and others.
Change of the City
John sees the universal change which will reflect the full glory of God who creates an environment of fully realized justice. Secondly, John sees the change of the city which can inspire us towards social, political, and economic change.
The new city is described as New Jerusalem. The city of peace is a gift from God descending from heaven to earth. The universe has been prepared similar to a new home and now the new city like a bride is brought to her new home. God as a good father presents his precious daughter precious daughter to live in her new home. The new city is perfect in shape, clothed with a variety of precious jewels, and radiates the glory of God. This city is not meant for our existing universe. This city could only be gifted to a new universe capable of holding such beauty and majesty. This new city will be a city of love, justice, joy, and freedom.
If we would reflect on our own city, we will observe the various social, political, and economic dynamics which exist. We live in a city in which citizens experience the difficulties of social alienation manifesting in depression, anxiety, anger, and in some cases the loss of life. What about our economic difficulties? I would ask you to remember the people of Brookside Trailer Park. My organization, The City of Hope Outreach (COHO) has served this community for seven years with education support, relational support, and community development. Recently residents were notified they have till June 30, 2019 to find new living accommodations. Men, women, and children who are on limited means, some disabled, and elderly, must now live elsewhere or be homeless. Think about our city. Are the political dynamics reflective of a city in which love, justice, joy, and freedom are supported?
The vision of John, seeing a new city which is marked by the glory and righteousness of God offers the people of God the present motivation to conduct acts of charity and justice on behalf of those who are experiencing social, political, and economic alienation. So you may be asking, “What would God have people do in the city now in preparation for this new city?” I would encourage you to read about another group of people who experienced alienation.
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare (peace)of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare (peace) you will find your welfare (peace)” (Jer 29:6-7).
Therefore, stand in solidarity with those in your city who are not like you, who do not vote as you do, or have the economic resources as you do. Love your neighbor as Jesus commanded us to do. This is the royal commandment. It is the executive order of the President Jesus Christ. When I mention solidarity, I am referring to the behavior of inter-dependence which any person of any age can demonstrate on a daily basis. Solidarity is the demonstration of a behavior which acknowledges my need for another human being to move forward in life and also the demonstration of a behavior of compassion with someone for the common good. Motivated by love, we would want to pursue what is best for other people while not taking advantage of them and creating a different type of injustice. When Christians demonstrate this behavior towards one another and to those who are not Christians, a great testimony of a living faith and hope pervades the city. When we as Christians behave in this manner, we are bringing a future hope into the present. A future hope for a new city which is like a beautiful bride marked by God. A city marked by love, peace, and solidarity for all.
Change of Humanity
Finally, John observes a third change. While the first two changes are seen with old eyes, the third change is heard with old ears. A change announced with a loud voice from the throne!
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
What has changed? God is dwelling with humanity. God in Jesus Christ has fulfilled his promised in Jesus Christ. The resurrected Jesus Christ who sits on the throne is dwelling with humanity forever. And what is the result of his presence with humanity?
Joy and life.
Human freedom and human flourishing.
Why is it important God dwells with humanity? It is important because our humanity is affirmed by the presence of God in Christ. The dehumanization of bodies and souls because of skin color and nationality will disappear. The dehumanization of bodies and souls because of we did not live up to the expectation of an abusive husband or wife will be eviscerated in God’s presence. No longer will the tears of young women saturate their pillows because they believed love would be found on Snapchat or Instagram. For young men, gone will be the pain of these small children in adult bodies who believed manhood is affirmed in violent activity. God dwelling with us is not based on whether or not men or women accept us on the basis of our ethnicity, economics, social standing, or politics.
The Good News is God dwells with humanity because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019