“Our first mistake was that we thought of freedom as a place, rather than as a continuation of a struggle.
Tyranny never sleeps.
Our second mistake was that we thought of freedom as a goal, rather than a launching pad from which to reach our goals.
Without purposes, freedom hardly matters.
Our third mistake was that we thought that freedom made us free. That however,is license-not freedom at all.
Freedom is being shackled to identity, purpose and direction and being in constant pursuit.”
-Asa G. Hillard III
The Book of Psalms are the songs of God’s people expressing our faith in God as our provider, and as a governing force that is trust worthy and constant. The Psalms are beautiful expressions of the human relationship with God, exposing our joy, our anger, our fear and our frustration from life’s experiences. A good example of this can be found in 23th Psalms “The Lord is my Shepard I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pasture, he leads me beside the still waters.” This Psalms expresses the authors faith that God is the source of all things. It goes on to express a sense of gratitude and a renewed commitment to God. On the other hand, when we experience hardships and struggles we lament and express our fears and frustrations. A good example of this can be found the 22nd Psalms, the one before. “Oh God why has though forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why have you ignored my cries for help”?
The 22nd Psalms expresses a time of darkness. God is believed nowhere to be found. But by the 23 Psalms God has returned. At times we show our gratitude and at times we lament our frustrations. Even Jesus sites the 22nd Palms on the cross “My God, My God why has though forsaken me?” So, what this tells us is that lamenting is also part of the human experience. We can and should express our gratitude and we talk about that often, but we cannot overlook the importance of expressing our pain, anger and frustrations to God. Allowing ourselves the experience of the emotions. This is what you find in the Psalms, a shifting of emotions.
These shifts are the changing seasons human spirit. Theologian and Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, refers to these seasons as Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation. The Orientation is a faithful commitment to the governance of a God Supreme that is reliable and trustworthy. This is what creates happiness. Everything make sense in our lives. In the Disorientation, there is a perceived absence of God. Nothing is in divine order. We are not demonstrating God’s expressions of love, mercy and grace. Things no longer make sense. So we lament. “My God, My God, Why has though forsaken me”, How Long, When will this be over. It seem like every time we take One Step forward two steps back.” In the New Orientation, we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit of disorder. We are in a new place full of gratitude aware of our lives and our God.
The Spirituals are the Psalms of the African American. There we can find expressions of gratitude and sorrow. The Spirituals express suffering of the enslaved and their commitment to God. They were a way for our ancestors to reclaim some of the dignity loss to the senseless abuse and violence they experience. Spirituals were power for the powerless. It was their way of gaining some sense of orientation in a system designed to keep them disoriented. The Negro Spiritual “There is a balm in Gilead” is a good example:
“There is a balm in Gilead To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged, And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again. . . .”
This song is referring to a healing of the spirit. Something that the enslaved did have control over when being oppressed. The singer is looking to a source greater than itself. The song reinforces the notion that God heals. This gave power two the powerless. Another African American Psalm is “Hold On”:
“Keep your hand on the plow
Hold on! Hold on!
Nora, Nora let me come in
Doors all fasten and the windows pinned
Keep your hand on the plow
Hold on! Hold on!
Nora said, You lost your track
Can’t plow straight and keep looking’ back
If you wanna get to Heaven, let me tell you how
Just keep your hand on the Gospel plow
If that plow stays in your hand
It’ll land you straight into the promised land. . . .”
This Spiritual empowered Holy Spirit of the enslaved to keep going and not quit. It gave them the faith to hold on even in times when their spirit was lost. But it also was an expression or hope that they would someday find something better then where they were: A Heaven.
So where are we in this season? We are in a season of disorientation. We have been there for some time. As beautiful as it can be, our American Democracy has been a humiliation since its inception. A government that was created, at least in words, to promote the welfare of the people and provide domestic tranquility, and secure blessing of liberty has always been disoriented, it acted as a government that promoted hate, created racial division and oppressed it’s poor. Do I hate our Democratic Republic? No. I just expect it to grow into its true self.
What is hindering America’s growth? People holding on to ideas that have passed. Each time we find some form of new orientation there has been a reaction by the Klan, or some white supremist group. Reconstruction introduced a rise in the Klan. When African American Soldier returning from WWI and WWII there was rise in the Klan. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was a rise in the Klan membership. The election of Barack Obama in 2008, yes, a rise in the Klan membership and White supremist groups.
The Constitution was signed by men who owned slaves.
After passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments which gave citizenship and voting rights to African Americans, blacks were disfranchised for the vote, black codes were created and segregation became the law of the land. At the same time, a penal labor system comprised mostly of African American males was used to replace free enslaved labor. It was known as Convict Leasing and was implemented mostly in the southern states. In 1889 73% of Alabama’s entire annual revenue came from convict leasing. Humiliation!
If you have not seen the documentary “Slavery by Another Name,” I strongly recommend it.
The first anti-lynching campaign to make lynching a federal crime was in 1898 by Ida B. Wells, and fell on the death ears of President McKinley. Some 4,000 African American’s were lynched between 1877-1950. Now an anti-lynching bill his being held up by one man in the Senate. Humiliation!
Another humiliation African Americans faced was Redlining. From the 1930s to the 1970s the government legally denied home owning opportunities to African Americans. In-turn, this denied them an opportunity to build any form of wealth in America. American’s Democracy is a humiliation and the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery has caused more Americans to see it. This had been the track record of the American Democracy.
So where does this leave us in our faith in God and America becoming a true democracy? If we understand the seasons of the Psalms we understand what is happening. The Psalms are here to strengthen our faith. The more we hold God’s promises of blessing and the more we hold to the ideas that America can become a true democracy our faith becomes stronger. We must continue to push for good. All religions in America all atheist in America and all Agnostics in America must continue to hold our government and it’s representative accountable for the good of American Democracy. Our purpose is to build a more perfect union. We are here to establish the justice for all that is promised in the 14th amendment. We will protect the life and liberty of our brothers and sister. We recognizes that the senseless killing African American is not a Black issue. It is an American issue. We the people will up hold our government to the constitution of the United States. My God, my God, a republic of justice and peace. The only agenda is God’s love, and God’s grace.
We are shifting to a truer democracy. Some are holding on to a time that is no more. The good news is that their reactions of hate have no dominion over us. Because the kingdom of heaven is within. Our dignity our power comes from the Divine not from another person. “Keep your hand on the plow people. Hold On!”