Author: Hopewell

My father drove the van around for what had to be hours. We drove and drove, never arriving at any particular destination. Eventually, he parked in the lot at his job, Borden Dairies (he was a milk truck driver/delivery man, in addition to being a preacher and carpet cleaner at that time). I woke up the next morning just as my dad did, saw him kiss my mother and walk inside. I was a kid and we were homeless.

These are the experiences that are most prominent in my mind as I reflect on my childhood. Were there fun games I played? Sure. Were there good meals I ate? Absolutely. Yet my mind is most bombarded by images like the one above. I automatically revert to the Christmas mornings when my father was watching our reactions but unbeknownst to him, I was intently discerning the pain in his eyes because as a grown man he couldn’t provide Christmas miracles for his children. These are the images that will never leave. More importantly, those images carry pain and although they are not present realities, the scars linger.

Last night I was on the phone with a friend and somehow my childhood came up. Without thinking, I automatically offered the story about sleeping in our van. That is an indication that my childhood still haunts me. Those scars manifest when I attend corporate events and everyone knows what to do except me. They manifest when I’m on a date and the lady opposite of me has to explain how to eat the dish we’ve ordered. They manifest when a client begins to share their vacation experiences and I have little to contribute to the conversation. They manifested when I was afraid to ask questions in class at the major universities I attended for fear that I, one of the few black faces, would appear to validate every stereotype about blacks- especially the not “well to do” ones. This very blog posting is a manifestation. The pain lingers.

It is a private pain, a pain you don’t feel free to discuss. It’s hard enough just trying to blend into the crowd and not do anything to completely humiliate yourself out of your ignorance. Who wants to add to that the ostracism that would follow for appearing “soft” because as a grown man, you’re still trapped in hurts from your boyhood? Hurts not stemming from sexual or physical abuse but hurts that stem simply from what you didn’t have, experience or know and how those things periodically handicap you in your adulthood. As a man, it is expected that you will be hard, tough, aloof and unmoved by anything internal. Would it ever be safe to admit that you are damaged by the things you’ve overcome?

To be fair, not everyone handles poverty in the same way. Frankly, my three siblings never internalized things to the degree I did. My father was the first to make that observation and he’s earnestly pleaded with me many times over to somehow get over the past and my “fear of poverty.” Even so, it is safe to say that poverty does have far reaching consequences, beyond those that can be empirically verified. They can be quite damaging and indeed those who suffer often do so in silence. Knowing this, I feel it imperative to offer my voice on behalf of those who are suffering.

It seems that in America, “patriotism” is defined not as love for country but blind allegiance to and worship for it. To question or display hesitation toward anything “America” does quickly earns a person the label “unpatriotic.” When the nation attempted to draft Muhammad Ali into service during the Vietnam War, Ali objected on religious grounds but also made it quite clear that he was unconvinced of the legitimacy of the war, particularly as a black man. He said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali was quickly labeled unpatriotic.

In addition to not blindly supporting atrocities and military aggression, one can quickly be labeled unpatriotic for failing to worship the Constitution. The Tea Party’s rise highlighted this in a fresh way. Their obsession with the Constitution even prompted House Republicans to propose it be read in its entirety from the House floor in early 2011. The unbridled worship of the Constitution has been a constant theme during the Obama presidency. The casual observer will notice that just about every criticism leveled at him has been accompanied by some reference to how he does not regard the Constitution; more like worship, I would say.

I find it troubling that any thinking individual could give blind allegiance to any governing body or find it improper to challenge and critique it. If history is any indication, governments left unchecked tend toward corruption and oppression. Also, any allegiance- blind included- must be rooted in trust. For black people, that trust is still wanting.  

The quest for trust and belonging is deeply complicated when you are not only a misfit but are in fact pushed out. This has been the black experience in America.  The infamous 1958 “Kissing Case in Monroe, North Carolina, serves as but one of millions of examples. In it, two black boys- ages 7 and 9- were pursued by townspeople with shotguns, arrested and beaten in a lower-level cell of a police station, denied legal counsel and told they might be freed when they were 21 years old. Their crime? The nine year old allowed a white girl to kiss him on the cheek during a kissing game. 

Trust is further retarded when we’ve given the country our ultimate sacrifice- our blood- and received insult in return. We served in World War I while lynchings were still common at home. Even so, the U.S pressured its French allies to issue a memorandum, the infamous “Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops.” It warned that French attitudes toward blacks were a threat to the U.S social order and instructed the French on how to treat blacks. In it, French officers were warned to keep their distance from black troops, avoid praising them and to keep them away from French women. More insulting, black soldiers returning from the war were lynched in their uniforms.

So no, sufficient trust does not exist to render blind allegiance and say amen to every action of the country, domestic or foreign. It has been proven over and over that there must be loving critique. No, I cannot worship a document, the Constitution, which defines me as 3/5 of a man. If those are the prerequisites to pass the patriotism test, I gladly flunk that exam.

I had an epiphany last week, one like never before. Now is a good time. I’m moving up the ladder, leaving behind once and for all the hard times I was born and nurtured in. I’m contemplating a couple of offers; offers I did not seek after but was sought for. Yet the thought occurred to me that although I’m climbing, my potential has a cap. There’s a ceiling on how high I can climb without the right woman.

Although I wrestle with my religious beliefs and very publicly, I cannot escape my foundation of classical Pentecostalism and the Bible I was inundated with as a youth and seminarian. I reflect often on the creation account of Adam and Eve when considering the topic of marriage. Adam was created and placed in a garden of extravagance and beauty. He was charged with taking care of it. At some point, God determined that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Further, it was determined by deity that a suitable helper was needed for Adam to fulfill all he was charged with. At that point, Eve was created.

I’m fully aware of how the word “helper” has been stigmatized and can even be interpreted as insulting. I’m also aware of how this passage borders on anti-feminist. Even so, stick with me. It hit me last week that yes things are good and will get better. However, without the right person beside me, perhaps I’ll never reach great. Adam could have continued alone but there was more to be accomplished with Eve. I find it interesting that in chapter 1 of the Genesis story, the charge to “rule” and “subdue” was given to male and female. Perhaps you can only reach that level- the level beyond taking care of a garden and actually ruling and subduing the planet- with the right one.

I believe the larger point here is that Adam could never reach that next level without Eve. In the same way I believe, based on this story (and plain old logic), that if you are married you should be accomplishing more than you could by yourself. Sadly, most married people I observe actually accomplish far less than they could alone. I find this problematic. There is obviously something wrong with a union in which one or two individuals are actually held back from reaching their full potential because of their spouse and could do better alone. That’s certainly not what I’m looking for. I’m already moving toward really good, the question is who the right individual to push it to great is.

Playtime is over. I’ve not dated much over the past four years. I’m not terribly anxious to hit the dating scene now. I did have this epiphany though and for the first time I feel a desire to be connected to the right person, for these reasons. This is new. I’m still much unpolished in certain areas, still raw in others and unbalanced in a few more. Maybe I’ll work some of that out alone; perhaps I’ll need some help. I’m looking to go from good to great, playtime is indeed over.

UNITED STATES - October 5: The American flag flies at half staff in honor of the school shooting at Umpqua Community College last week in Roseburg, Ore., in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, on Monday, October 5, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

It was obvious to me growing up that there were at least two Americas: the one CNN talked about and the one I lived in. Many on the left are ecstatic these days because the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of “Obamacare.” They all  feel that this was such a huge win for Obama’s administration, the Democratic Party and the American people, ultimately. Thing is, not much has changed in my neighborhood and I haven’t heard much talk about the whole matter lately, either.

Sturbuck Community Church. Address: 113 Front St. Starbuck, Washington 99359. Taken by Steven Pavlov.

This is 2012. I haven’t regularly attended a church since 2004.  Eight years. Eight years of being home on Sundays, watching NFL pregame shows and catching up on laundry neglected throughout the week. That’s been my life these eight years but it wasn’t always that way. I grew up going to church EVERY Sunday, Wednesday etc. All that’s changed now and people routinely ask about it. I’ll never forget the reaction my aunt had when she found out.

TAIYUAN, CHINA - MAY 08:  (CHINA OUT) Allen Iverson attends a press conference ahead of a match during the US Pro-ball Legend China Tour 2012 at Kangzhuang Hotel on May 8, 2012 in Taiyuan, China.  (Photo by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Growing up, the lights were off here and there. I remember nights we prayed for food. I even recall sleeping in our car. Things stayed tough once I was grown. After completing a masters degree and starting a doctorate, I was unemployed three years: I mean McDonald’s wouldn’t even hire me. It got so bad that I contemplated taking my life, several times. I thank God that things are different now. I work in the political world, meet a lot of interesting people, run campaigns, manage a staff and never hurt for work. Thing is, at times, I wonder whether this is actually harder than being broke was.

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I remember attending a predominantly white church one week as a high school student. This was a rare event. As Fannie Lou Hamer is credited with saying, the most segregated place on earth is America on Sunday morning. While sitting in a completely routine Sunday school class at this particular church, the teacher began talking about how to get the most out of a Roth IRA. Pause.

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You may have noticed lately that I’ve been “going in”‘ on the American church. Since evangelicals are the largest Protestant group in America, I’ve particularly taken aim at them. I’ve highlighted its indifference to human suffering, racist roots that helped foster that indifference and questioned how the evangelical church can act this way when it claims to be lead by and filled with the Holy Spirit. So why am I doing all of this?

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When you see a church completely indifferent to human suffering, it’s disturbing. When that indifference seems to be so deeply rooted in racism, a completely separate set of concerns must be raised. I am left to wonder, given how deeply the evangelical church claims to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whether they truly have encountered the same Holy Spirit their Bible speaks of.

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When we left off last time, the conversation was around the evangelical church’s indifference toward pressing issues and real life suffering. At this point it’s worth examining why that is. Why are they so silent on anything that matters? Why do their preachers offer their flock a theology that allows them to avoid the critical matters of life, ignoring the problems afflicting the population on a day to day basis? Well, if you’re curious about how a tree came to exist, it’s worth studying the roots.