This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).
In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)
Today’s Bible Reading
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30
More thoughts for meditation
“There is something more to be said about the inner equipment growing out of the great affirmation of Jesus that [one] is a child of God. If a man’s ego has been stabilized, resulting in a sure grounding of his sense of personal worth and dignity, then his is in a position to appraise his own intrinsic powers, gifts, talents, and abilities. He no longer views his equipment through the darkened lenses of those who are largely responsible for his social predicament. He can think of himself with some measure of detachment from the shackles of his immediate world.” (ibid., 43)
“In communities that were completely barren, with no apparent growing edge, without any point to provide light for the disadvantaged, I have seen children grow up without fear, with quiet dignity and such high purpose that the mark they set for themselves has even been transcended.
“The charge that such thinking is merely rationalizing cannot be made with easy or accepted grace by the man of basic advantage. It ill behooves the man who is not forced to live in a ghetto to tell those who must how to transcend its limitations. The awareness that a man is a child of God, who is at one and the same time the God of life, creates a profound faith in life that nothing can destroy.
“Nothing less than a great daring in the face of overwhelming odds can achieve the inner security in which fear cannot possibly survive. It is true that a man cannot be serene unless he possesses something about which to be serene. Here we reach the high water market of prophetic religion, and it is of the essence of the religion of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course God cares for the grass of the field, which lives a day and is no more, or the sparrow that falls unnoticed by the wayside. He also holds the stars in their appointed places, leaves his mark in every living thing. And he cares for me! To be assured of this becomes the answer to the threat of violence—yea, to violence itself. To the degree that a man knows this, he is unconquerable from within and without” (ibid., 45-46).
Suggestions for action
Thurman threads a delicate needle here. He is speaking about how oppression kills you on the inside, and submission to that death is allowing the oppressor victory over you. While he clearly believes that oppression is a material condition, it is also a psychological condition, or an interior condition, that can begin healing by understanding that one is a child of God. But he masterfully suggests that this is something for a victim of oppression to share with another victim of oppression as a matter of discipleship. Once again, “It ill behooves the man who is not forced to live in a ghetto to tell those who must how to transcend its limitations.” Thurman ends by using the passage from the Sermon on the Mount about. “And he cares for me!” Pray today that you see yourself as a child of god, “unconquerable from within and without.”