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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Looking Back While Still Pressing Forward

I don’t know exactly at what age the veil of innocence was lifted, and I became aware that I was different from other people around me. The most vivid memory was when I was in the Third Grade.

We were playing this paper fortune-telling game. In the game, you would pick a series of numbers and then letters. Once that was complete, the paper fortune-teller would reveal your true love. What the heck, I was game. Let fate decide who my heart was swooning after. It landed on a young lady named Cindy. She was cute. Fate had done a decent job. Cindy was a very sweet little blonde cutie. So, I asked Cindy to be my girl, and she agreed. Fate had picked correctly. I was on cloud nine. I could not wait to get home and share the news with mom. When I did my mother, seemed less than, pleased. As a matter of fact, looking back on it the color sort of went out of her cheeks. She did not say much. I thought she would be as happy as I was, but that was not the case.

Maybe mom just did understand what a monumental event it was to have your first girlfriend. I knew my dad would understand. When dad came home, I repeated this story, and again, he seemed more excited. Then mom calls him into a closed-door meeting to discuss this situation. When he comes out from this executive session, his spirit looked downcast.

What could Mom have said to change his mood so quickly? He came out knelt and looked me straight in the eye and man to man he said, “Son, are you trying to get us killed?” I didn’t get it. I didn’t know that some girls were off-limits. My heart was shaken, but Cindy was unique enough that I was willing to buck the system. When she came back to school the next day her parents also had a similar response. Our young romance was short-lived. I discovered that day that color does matter. It was a hard lesson, a painful awakening. My innocent little world was shocked to the very core. It was the beginning of many lessons I would learn. There are divides, there were things that society did not accept or approve of.

This event took place in the early seventies. Now some of you might be thinking; this should not have been an issue. On July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Amendment was passed. That landmark piece of legislation granted these new provisions. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unfair practices in voter registration requirements. Racial segregation in schools, and at the workplace that serves

the general public. So why was this a problem? I was just trying to advance race relations. It was too soon I guess; the law does not change hearts I suppose. That event opened my eyes that day. The veil of innocence ripped off my eyes.

To be honest, at some point in our lives, the mask comes off all of our eyes. For some races, that unveiling accompanies some stronger realities. Once that veil comes off, I started to notice how many of my people live their lives daily in fear. Fear is a strange emotion to have to fight daily.

In an article on 10 Things Black people fear. Here is the opening of that section:

“When black people wake up and begin the day, we have a broad range of issues we have to think about before leaving our homes. Will a police officer kill us today? Or, will some George Zimmerman vigilante see us as a threat in our neighborhoods and kill us? We brace ourselves for those white colleagues who are pissed Barack Obama won both elections and took out their racist rage on us. When we drive our cars, we have to wonder if we’ll be pulled over because our cars look too expensive for a black person to be driving. If we’re poor and sick, we wonder if we'll be able to be treated for our illness. We have a lot on our minds, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.”

My eyes became open to the reality that people don’t see me as I see myself, a hard-working honest man, who like everyone else wants the best for my family. I have learned what it feels like to live every day of my life with a healthy dose of fear. I would encourage you to read the article by Terrell Star. You may want to argue with his points or his stats or just dismiss all this as ridiculous.

Let me share with you a typical experience I have when I walk into a department store, I get a lot of attention. The salespeople are too attentive to my needs. They come over every few minutes and ask if I need help.

They are never more than an arm’s length away just in case I have a need. If it appears as though I am struggling to decide on a sale, they are Johnnie-on-the-spot to offer help. Just to make sure I can get in and out of their store before they are the ones who must close. Coincidence? I think not. My wife, who is of German descent never noticed this until we went shopping together. I said to her, “You go over there, and watch this” What I just described happens time and time again. Is it any wonder, black people are fearful? People just assume we are up to no good.

They are waiting to catch us doing something.

Imagine living every day with that burden, that lack of trust, that degree of suspension. It is enough to make anyone crazy. Every day I discovered life for me on this planet was going to be twice as hard as my white counterpart the dance began. I know I must work twice as hard. In my vocation, I serve in one of the 35 districts in my tribe for twelve years. When that season ended, I wondered if my ministry career was over. Because there were not many people who looked like me. In my church body, there are 35 districts overseeing 6,105 member congregations around the United States. I am one of two African American pastors serving full-time on any of the 35 district staff. Of the nearly 6,000 pastors in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, there were only 100 black and African pastors in the church body.

I was always told by my educational institution's learned leaders that I could only serve in an urban black congregation. The transition from my last district position was a tough one. It was filled with uncertainty and fear. Were the experts right, was the church body not ready for someone like me?

That ministry season was over. Now a new season has begun in Iowa District West. The funny thing about Iowa it was one of those places they said I could write off. I guess the experts were wrong. This position while a huge blessing, the brothers in Iowa have restored my faith in the church.

The Numbers.

I know this is just my story. I thought I would back this up with some survey numbers.

In a Pew Research article. Here are some interesting trends in America in relation to Black Americans:

  • For the first time in U.S. history, 90% of Americans ages 25 and older have completed high school, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – and the share of blacks who have done so is also at the highest level on record. In 2017, 87% of blacks ages 25 and older had a high school diploma or equivalent. The share of blacks ages 25 and older who have completed four years of college or more has also roughly doubled during that span, from 12% in 1993 to 24% in 2017.

  • Immigrants are making up a growing number of the overall U.S. population – but the black immigrant population is growing twice as fast. There were 4.2 million black immigrants living in the U.S. in 2016, up from 816,000 in 1980, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. Since 2000 alone, the number of black immigrants in the U.S. has risen by 71%.

  • The wealth gap increased between middle-income black and white families but shrank between lower-income black and white families from 2007 to 2016. Much of the reduction in the wealth gap among lower-income families was driven by a sharp decrease in wealth for whites.

With all this progress in the black community that old ugly “R” word racism still keeps popping up.

  • In 2017, about eight-in-ten blacks (81%) said racism is a big problem in society today, up from 44% eight years prior. By comparison, about half of whites (52%) said racism is a big problem in our society, up from 22% in 2009.

  • In a CNN poll, 71% of Republicans say the nation has made “a lot” of progress with ensuring equal rights for all Americans but only 29% of Democrats agreed.

  • Black Americans are battling 'three pandemics,' new report finds: Black adults, however, were skeptical with just 19% saying the US had made a lot of progress and 64% saying the country has made a little progress. Conversely, the study found that 64% of White adults believe the nation has made a lot of progress.

  • There is also division in how the nation should achieve equality. According to the study, 58% of Black adults say most of the nation’s laws and major institutions need to be completely rebuilt compared to 18% of White adults.

Where Racism Really Causes Hurt.

An overwhelming majority of blacks (92%) say whites benefit at least a fair amount from advantages that blacks do not have. This includes nearly seven-in-ten blacks (68%) who say whites benefit a great deal. By comparison, 46% of whites say whites benefit at least a fair amount from advantages in society that blacks don’t have, with just 16% saying whites benefit a great deal.

This research revelation is one that hits home. When, because of the color of your skin and not based on your gifts and abilities, you rarely get the chance to be what God created you to be, that destroys the human spirit. At its core, racism is about assigning a value to people using labels.

They base those labels on impressions of what they believe a certain race of individuals is lacking. They do not design labels to build up and unite, they are in place to hold people down and limit what God designs. How to end racism? Change the narrative, change how we see people.

As Paul says, “regard no one according to the flesh.” Instead, see people through the eyes of God.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. “Psalm 139:14

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.“ 1 Peter 2:9

Defeat the labels placed on you by the world and remember God left a royal priesthood behind to be a light that shines brightly in the darkness. Be what God has chosen and redeemed you to be.

My prayer moving forward on this celebration of MLK day.

Dear Lord,

As this new week takes shape, it begins with the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am reminded that we all face labels, whether people see you as white and privileged, black, and dangerous, or Millennials that we label as entitled and self-centered. None of those labels define who we are, or who we were created to be.

If we stripped away all the factors that would identify us, our race, heritage, location, and GPA at our very core who are we? Apart from Christ, we are sinners in need of a Savior. The world and Satan designed labels to limit what God has planned for us to accomplish. Lord, help us not to let the world define others nor accept those definitions for ourselves. You have called us, your masterpiece. God, you have said we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Peter reminds us we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We belong to something with an eternal significance, our lives matter. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” You have set us apart for a divine purpose to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”1 Peter 2:9

Dear Jesus help us live as children of the light and shine brightly in the darkness. In the Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Resources used for this post.

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