Can you believe it?  We are already into February of the new year!  As you know, February has been set aside as African-American History month.  A time to reflect on the immense contributions, and suffering, our African-American sisters and brothers have made and been through.

There are those who question why we set aside a month for promoting a particular group’s history.  In one way, I would agree.  I would agree we shouldn’t have to set aside a month; every month, every day, we should celebrate the history of all people.  Had our shared history not been filled with subjugating a group of people so that another group could prosper; If our shared history did not include slavery of our brothers and sisters since 1619 to 1865, and segregation from 1865 to until the late 1960’s; and a continuing pattern of under cover practices which has the effect of subverting the goal of equality and racial justice, we would not have to have a designated time to celebrate and remember the experience of African-Americans.

When we lift up one person, we are all lifted up.  John Kennedy reminded us “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  We must acknowledge and remember our history, because it is OUR history.  The atrocities, the prejudices, the strife of the past is our history.  We cannot sweep it under the rug, we cannot wash it away, we cannot deny it.  It is ours, all of ours collectively.  In Acts 17:26 Paul writes, “and He made from one person every nation of humankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation”.  In other words, we are each one a part of the other.  All of us are in this thing called life together, God made us all.  In Malachi 2:10 we are asked, ““Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against another so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?”  Treating one another contemptuously or without regard is anathema to what it means to be a part of the family of God.  And in Galatians 3:28 Paul asserts, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We are all one!

So, African-American history is OUR history.  We should celebrate it, we should learn from it, and we should share it.

The World Federation of Science Journalists have said, “The vast majority of discussions on the origins of science include only the Greeks, Romans and other Western populations.In fact, evidence shows that most of those discoveries came thousands of years after similar African developments. From the Nok civilizations of West Africa to the Buganda in the East, from the Great Kongo people of central Africa to the Mutapa Empire in the South, Africa is home to the world’s earliest form of mathematical thinking and the first known use of measuring and calculation, confirming the continent as the birthplace of both basic and advanced mathematics. While the remarkable black civilizations of Egypt remain alluring, there was sophistication and impressive inventions throughout ancient sub-Saharan Africa as well. Numerous discoveries in architecture, medicine, engineering and astronomy originate from the continent.”

Much of what we know and do today is a direct result of contributions of our ancestors in Africa.  We should celebrate the genius and the contributions to all from the cradle of civilization.  When Africans were brought to the shores of the United States, their lives of servitude and the historical abominations linked to slavery did not decimate them.  They rose to the challenge and excelled in every way.  We have untold contributions and achievements to celebrate with our sisters and brothers.  Yes, it is a history born of pain, born of atrocity, born of prejudice and oppression.  Through it all though, African-Americans are part of all of us.  We would not enjoy the freedoms we have, we would not have the standard of living we have, we would not have the diversity of culture we have without what they have given us all.

My own story of coming back to the church is centered in experiences of 2 African-American congregations.  My friend Hadley was pastoring Hollowell United Methodist Church in Midland, Texas when I met him.  He invited me to his church and I went.  I’d never been to a predominately African-American church.  I eased in and sat on the back row.  The people were so kind and so welcoming.  It took me by surprise.  Given the history, they had every reason to not be such, and yet they were exhibiting Christ-like behavior.  When I moved to Dallas, Hadley kept up with me and where I was going to church.  Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere.  He gave me a whole list of churches to visit.  I finally found my way to Highland Hills UMC in the southern sector of Dallas.  From the moment I walked in, the pastor and members made me feel at home.  I remember I had visited for about 4 weeks when the lay leader, Mr. Raymond Williams, came to where I was sitting and took me by the arm and told me it was time I joined.  This church formed me into who I am today.  They didn’t have to love me.  They didn’t have to trust me.  They didn’t have to encourage me.  They pulled me into the choir, although I couldn’t sing.  They asked me to teach an adult Sunday school class, even though I had never done that.  They elected me president of the United Methodist Men, though I’d only been there a year or so.  None of this did they have to do, but they did. It was this church of people who I didn’t look like or have history with, that approved me for candidacy for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

The history of all that my sisters and brothers have endured serves to inform me, to help make me a better person, a better example of who God calls all of us to be.  History is rich, it is full of ups and downs, good and bad, awful and joyful.  We cannot erase it or pretend it didn’t happen.  We learn from it, so we can become a people who love ALL people, because that’s who God has made us to be.  I copied this from a post on FaceBook, but I found it so profound I wanted to share it with you. 

“One of the gifts of the Old Testament is how faithful Israel was in recordingtheir unfaithfulness.  Israel could’ve erased all their sins, but they recordedtheir idolatry, oppression of others, and when they put words in God’smouth. Erasing a nation’s sins isn’t Biblical.”

I hope you will join me in this month of celebrating and remembering the history of African-Americans, after all, its OUR history too.

Your fellow traveler on the Way,

Pastor Tom

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