Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Am I Trayvon Martin?

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

In the public witness actions regarding the case of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin, many people have carried signs reading, “I am Trayvon Martin.” This brings me to the question which I use to headline this post.

This case has triggered something deep in much of the African-American population in the United States. I have heard from a number of whites whose response is to analyze the case. This I think is missing the point. In some ways, the case is not ideal as a frame for looking at the larger issues. But Zimmerman’s relationships with African-Americans and the way Martin responded when he felt threatened by Zimmerman should not be the focus of our national discussion. Rather, we should be looking at why this case causes such deep reactions among our African-American brothers and sisters, and how we can address these underlying issues. I think the President’s comments to the nation on July 19 provide a more useful framework.

My personal reaction not surprisingly is closely related to my personal experience. Due to the unique circumstances of my life, my perspective is informed in the way that the perspective of most Americans of European heritage is not.

Martin died when he was a 17-year-old high school student. So I think back to when I was a 17-year-old high school student - which is 48 years ago for me. The year I turned 17 my family moved to a small Southern town where my father taught at an African-American college, and we lived on the campus. This was my senior year of high school. This was the first year of token integration in that rural county.

The school system didn’t decide until the last minute how to handle the buses. They communicated bus information to students by telephone. My family did not have telephone service because the local office of the phone company (this was the days of phone company monopoly) didn’t want to serve “n****r lovers” (the asterisks were filled in in their case), and it took months for the appeal to go through to get our telephone. As a result, they were unable to notify me of what bus to use.

Because I had not been told what bus to use, I went with a kid three doors down on campus who was going to the same school. He was African-American. The bus driver was quite surprised to see me, but I was allowed on the bus. The buses were segregated. Our bus served its dozen students after it dropped off students at the black high school in the morning and before it picked them up in the afternoon. As a result we got to school late each day and left early each day.

Only one white student at the school would talk to me with other than insults. Since I was the only senior on the bus, I was isolated most of the day. I remember being really scared for my safety when one time the science teacher sent the class off to lab and didn’t come with us. During that lab, one student (President of Youth for Goldwater) remarked loudly to another student, “If there’s one thing I hate worse than a n****r, it’s a n****r lover.” Fortunately I was not physically attacked, but I always felt in danger.

The whites in town knew me as “that n****r lover in the high school.” When I walked down the streets of that tiny town, I saw each white person on the street as a potential threat to me, and each African-American as a friend. This perspective was realistic. This was my experience for a year, and only when I was in that town. So this was only a taste of what African-Americans experience every day wherever they are. They are always marked persons in the larger American society.

What white people in this country need to understand is how it feels for a person of color - and most dramatically for a young African-American male - to be a marked person viewed suspiciously by many others when they are in the larger society environment. If whites can achieve some understanding of what that feels like, they can begin to understand the emotional reaction of African-Americans to the case. It isn’t just about one person in Sanford, Florida. It’s about all who have experienced being regarded as suspicious simply for who they are. The “I am Trayvon Martin” signs express a deep truth about them also being treated as suspicious for who they are.

So I am Trayvon Martin, or at least I was Trayvon Martin. And with my African-American brothers and sisters, I yearn for the day when no one is treated as suspicious just because of the color of their skin, and perhaps combined with their age, their gender and what they happen to be wearing. I yearn for a day when each person regards each other person as a brother and sister worthy of dignity and respect across the boundaries of ethnicity, culture, age, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and anything else which divides us artificially.

-Bill Samuel

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I Am Thankful

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

We are on the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, where it is a major holiday. I believe in having an attitude of gratitude.

I could go on at great length with things I have to be thankful for, but I will just list a few today:

  • I am thankful for my Lord, Savior, Teacher and Friend Jesus Christ, in whom I live, move and have my being.
  • I am thankful for my sweet, loving wife Young, who brings me so much joy.
  • I am thankful for being raised by loving parents who showed me by example how to live.
  • I am thankful for Cedar Ridge Community Church, a loving faith community dedicated to growing in discipleship.
  • I am thankful for the several small groups of which I am a part, places of spiritual growth and friendship.
  • I am thankful for my work situation, in which I can do meaningful work as part of a team of great people.
  • I am thankful for my colleagues on the Board of Consistent Life, a delightful group with which to work for a world in which all human life is treated with respect and dignity.

Who have you thanked today?

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Reflections After a Water Emergency

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

On Sunday evening, a 48-inch water main in our area broke. Our water authority gots lots of calls from people with no water or very low water pressure, but it took several hours to find the break since it was in park land down a ravine.

They then imposed mandatory water restrictions - no outside watering, no laundry, no dish washing, etc. They also issued a boil water advisory to last at least three days. Residents were advised to boil water (or use bottled water) used for drinking, preparing or cooking food, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

All restaurants - several hundred - in the area were ordered to close, and other businesses (groceries, convenience stores, etc.) selling prepared food were prohibited from selling food prepared after the incident. On the first day, government offices in the area closed. A number of camps and schools also closed.

By late Monday, they had isolated the pipes in the area of the break, and restored water service to the area and lifted the mandatory water restrictions. Restoration did not depend upon repairs, which will take longer. They even had to build a small road in order to get equipment down to the site.

Results from the first round of water testing became available Tuesday evening. None of the samples had any bacterial contamination. Good news, but the State requires two successive rounds of testing with no findings of contamination before a boil water advisory can be lifted. The State and County did decide to allow restaurants to re-open, but under a rather severe set of requirements with tap water, unless boiled, not usable for cooking, cleaning of table services or anything else, hand washing, etc.

On Wednesday evening, the second round of water testing confirmed the absence of bacterial contamination, and the boil water advisory was lifted. The water emergency was over.

All this was quite an inconvenience. But we ourselves never completely lost water. And we use bottled water for drinking, so that was not an issue.

This incident caused me to reflect on our privileged status. Most of the time, we have ample clean water for all purposes, right in our own home. So many do not.

Our situation at the height of our water emergency was much better than the every day situation of a substantial portion of the world’s population. They would be so grateful to be able to live under that kind of situation.

More than one billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water - not for a brief interlude due to a water main break but every day year round. And 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, mostly as a result of drinking contaminated water. Even many who do have access to reasonably safe drinking water have to haul it by hand some distance from their homes.

There is a vast difference in the lives of those of us who live in the world’s more affluent nations in reasonable comfort, and billions who live in poverty. Our status is not due to us being better or more moral than those in poverty. It is a matter of circumstance. Causes of the misery of so many include greed, wars, economic exploitation, and racism. Our profligate lifestyles definitely contribute to the problem.

What are some of the lessons I take away from this?

  1. Be thankful for my many blessings.
  2. Consider the implications of my lifestyle, and how that might change.
  3. Be in prayer for those facing extremely difficult life circumstances.
  4. Use some of my relatively abundant material resources to help those in need.
  5. Work to change national priorities away from militarism towards meeting human needs and increasing equity.

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Why I am evangelical but not an Evangelical

Friday, May 16th, 2008

The catalyst for this post was An Evangelical Manifesto, which I reflected upon in my last post. And my perspective on the subject is deeply informed by two traditions/movements within the Christian church with which I have been heavily involved. One is Quakerism in which I spent much of my life. Another is what is often referred to as the Emerging Church conversation or movement. While I have only formally been a member of an Emerging Church for three years, I was part of a group which had much of the same perspective long before the term Emerging Church had been dreamed of. That little spiritual community which became known as Friends in Christ melded Quaker and what now would be called Emerging Church perspectives in a way that could be called an early precursor of the loose Convergent Friends movement of today. Here I will note that in the long list of Manifesto signatories I could not identify any Quakers or any of the prominent public faces in the Emerging Church conversation.

As I indicated in my earlier post, I fully identify with the definition in An Evangelical Manifesto: “Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.” Playing off that document’s insistence on capitalizing Evangelical, I am saying I am evangelical in terms of the root meaning of that word expressed in that Manifesto definition, but I’m not comfortable with some other aspects of the description of Evangelical, in which the Manifesto is faithful to the tradition of that part of the Christian church. That leads me to seeing myself as fitting the term if left lower case, but not really accurately defined when it is upper case.

The Bible and Authority

The Manifesto, and here it is indeed representative of Evangelicalism, refers to sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), the “supreme authority of the Bible,” and “the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.” It claims this is shown by “Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude.” This is a Manifesto, not an apology, and it doesn’t do references, so I’m not sure what they rely on for that.

I find Jesus saying in scripture that I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6, NIV) This is a radical statement, and one hard for us humans to accept because we want to be able to package up truth in a neat, rational box. Jesus tells us this impulse is wrong. The people that he had such conflict with are precisely the religious leaders of his day who wanted to tie up faith in a neat little box. Relying on purely the written word of the Bible as the Truth doesn’t really quite succeed in achieving the goal of the neat little box, but the urge to make the book supreme is an attempt to move in that direction. Evangelicals also proclaim Christ is Lord, but their emphasis on the written word as the sole determiner of Truth tends to contradict that. I am not an Evangelical because, in the end, I’m not sure that Evangelicalism is really centered on Jesus Christ.

I believe the premier Quaker apologist, Robert Barclay, put this question of authority well in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity. He states that the scriptures do contain revelations of God to the saints, but notes that, “because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” Barclay notes “that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth” and goes on to make this key argument:

If by the Spirit we can only come to the true knowledge of God; if by the Spirit we are to be led into all Truth, and so be taught of all things; then the Spirit, and not the Scriptures, is the foundation and ground of all Truth and knowledge, and the primary rule of faith and manners

I find Barclay’s arguments convincing. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)

My immersion into the Emerging Church conversation has provided me with further insights into understanding the scriptures. I have learned about narrative theology. To me, this provides a way to better explore the richness of the scriptures than a doctrinally centered theology. I can observe that Jesus taught largely by telling stories, and by the story of what he did. Looking at the whole Bible, I can see that it is predominantly stories. By taking the narrative approach rather than a literalist approach, we are better able to explore the many facets of the stories in the scripture and to translate them into lessons for how we can live more faithfully.

The narrative approach sees the narrative as continuing, not stopped at some point in time with what’s in the canon, which is consistent with the early Quaker reluctance to embrace the idea of a fixed canon. When I participated in the Journey Seminar, the membership class for Cedar Ridge Community Church, I appreciated the approach of a journey which included what was recorded in scripture, the history of the Christian church in its many variations, and the life of this particular local faith community. It gave me both a sense of the “cloud of witnesses” and of the importance of the continuing spiritual journey in which I can participate. At the end, to become a member, I signed a sheet of paper that was committing myself to principles of living out the journey with Christ within the context of this particular community, but did not contain doctrinal propositions. This felt right to me.

Protestant?

While what I have just written about is the primary reason for my reluctance to consider myself an Evangelical, there is another (albeit related) concern. Evangelicals hold strongly to being Protestant, in contrast with the alternatives of being Catholic or Orthodox. I feel a reluctance to limit my Christian understanding to just one of the main divisions of the Christian church. This view, too, has been heavily impacted by my involvement in both Quakerism and the Emerging Church conversation.

There has been a debate about whether or not Quakers are Protestants. (See Are Quakers Protestant?) Early Quakers contrasted themselves with both Catholics and Protestants (Orthodox were simply not a part of the religious conversation in 17th century Britain where the Quaker movement started, but I’m sure Quakers would also have contrasted themselves with the Orthodox if they had been), essentially regarding both streams as apostate. In some areas, they saw Protestants as having moved from part of the errors of Catholicism, but not all the way. As regards the scriptures, their argument was in fact primarily with Protestantism.

While identifying with the Quaker reluctance to put themselves in one of the big boxes of Christianity, I became increasingly reluctant to see that solely as rejecting those major streams. My participation (1993-94) in the Spiritual Nurturer Program of the School of the Spirit greatly contributed to that. While the Program was Quaker, the majority of the readings were from the monastic tradition, which has been writing in depth about spiritual nurture for many centuries. I found that I really identified with most of what I read from the monastic tradition. That did not make me want to convert to Catholicism, but it did result in a great appreciation for the spiritual richness within that tradition.

At Cedar Ridge, the teachings and practices draw from all three major divisions of the Christian church. All are seen as part of the story in which we see ourselves. While in the Emerging Church conversation we recognize many ways in which all three traditions have gone astray at various points in history, we don’t have the unrelenting negativism towards them that marked the early Quakers. We also see a lot of spiritual vitality in all of these streams of Christianity. I identify with this perspective.

* * * * * * * * * *

This post may be too long, but I hope it gave you some food for thought. I would welcome comments on it.

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Monday, May 12th, 2008

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Welcome to my new blog

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

I have had a Bravenet blog for several years, to which I have posted sporadically. At the time I started it, I kept my personal Web files in space provided by my Web service provider.

Last year, I needed to upgrade my hosting account at HostNexus (outstanding customer service, excellent reliability, reasonable prices) because my sites had outgrown my old plan. With the new plan came a free domain. Thus began BillSamuel.net, the new place to put my personal Web files. I realized then that it might be best to have a blog directly on this domain, but I didn’t get around to actually doing it until now.

HostNexus offers WordPress, one of the most popular blog formats, in its programs repository with simple one-button installation. So I installed it. Then I realized it was an old version. So I upgraded to the current version, which is very easy with the simple 3-step guide provided on the WordPress site.

So I now have this spiffy new blog. I hope you will visit it frequently, and feel free to add your comments to my posts. I can’t promise to post any more regularly than in the past My old blog will remain available, so if there are any nuggets of wisdom there, they are still available.

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