“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty.  Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper…. education and slavery were incompatible with one another.” – Frederick Douglas

“I am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” – Melvin B. Tolson (The Great Debaters)

Today is Presidents Day, and in honor of the holiday and the month (February is Black History Month) it seemed appropriate to post on a relevant theme and to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past couple of weeks my sons and I have been watching inspirational movies about the African American experience, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, The Great debaters, Booty Call (okay, kidding on that last one; just seeing if you were paying attention).  As I watched these movies and other programs, certain themes were consistent, mainly the ongoing role education and faith play in the pursuit of liberty.  So it got me praying and thinking about slavery, literally, figuratively (of the mind), and it’s expression in the church.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the Old South there were three main tenets regarding slaves and learning.  They were brutally enforced, and history says that overseers were trained to adhere to these tenets. 

  • Slaves were to be kept ignorant and uneducated.
  • Slaves must never presume to be smarter than their masters or overseers.  If they were, they never showed it.
  • Slaves must never be self-directed, that is, presume to freely choose or act in their own best interest without the approval or permission of their overseer.

“The power to enslave another class of people rests solely on the ability to bind them in ignorance.” – High School Teacher

Why would slave owners discourage literacy?  Because knowledge is power.  A smart slave was “trouble”.  They were less compliant because they were less ignorant and therefore not as willing to submit to exploitation.  When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, many slave owners withheld this information from them so that they would continue harvesting the fields for their masters. 

Though illiteracy and ignorance are not synonymous, knowing how to read and think critically helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and empowers an individual.  The one place a “slave” needs to be set free is in their thinking.  Reading is liberating to the mind, and in one sense this “truth” can help  set people free from the mind-set of a slave.  

“Nigga, who taught you Octagon?!” – Chris Rock (comedy sketch on slavery and reading)

Educated slaves, had to hide their learning from their masters and overseers.  The overseers, many of whom were themselves uneducated foreman who could barely read, would subject a slave who could read to unspeakable cruelty.  Their learning could spread to other slaves, instilling hope, a sense of accomplishment and worth, and belief that they too could attain their God-given destiny.  Such thinking would upset the status quo so, a slave caught reading would be severely whipped, or have some of their fingers cut off.  So, educating oneself was a perilous adventure that required great courage (and still does),  because for a slave to accidentally reveal that he could read or out think his “master” was a potential death sentence: 

“So think about the poor slave who could read, but was scared to teach their kids to read for fear they would be killing their kids. Think about the poor slave that rode to town every week. Think about the poor slave who rode the buggy to town every week. Riding the buggy…riding the buggy, And he could read, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. And up ahead he sees a busy intersection, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. Then he sees a STOP sign, —-. Now he’s in a big dilemma. “If I go through this intersection I’m a have a accident, If I stop, these crackers will kill me.” And he’s riding the buggy and in the last minute he says ‘**** it’ goes through the intersection has a big ol’ accident. Almost kills somebody. Then the police come; “Nigga what is wrong with you, Nigga what the **** is wrong with you. You could have killed somebody Nigga. Didn’t you see that stop sign?” “Oh I don’t know what you talking ’bout.” “You didn’t see that stop sign, that stop sign back there?” “Oh you mean that OCTAGON thing.”  “Nigga, who taught you octagon?” – Chris Rock

 

Day to day, in all sorts of circumstances, people (black, white, or purple) are still taught to hide their learning, or are made to feel ashamed for being smarter than their “overseers”, even in the church I might add, as if ignorance is a virtue.  Never does a week go by that I am not confronted with this “dilemma” at work or worship, with friends or strangers.  Knowledge is power, and the suppression of it is a power-play.  I’ve had to tell my sons recently, no “friend” who mocks and shames you for your love of learning, or seeks to intimidate you into hiding your intelligence, is a true friend; they do not have your best interest at heart.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)

The freedom to choose is so related to liberty and freedom that even God Himself leaves us the freedom to choose whether or not we will obey Him and His commands.  It is so integral to our spiritual formation and identity, that to take away a person’s freedom to choose or act according to his will, keeps them in such a state of immaturity, that strong character and a worthwhile sense of identity is never formed.  The dependency this creates keeps one bound to their “master” and unable to see their own preferences as viable options or possibilities.  This is why Jesus himself commanded his disciples to not call their leaders master, rabbi, or father.  Only “One was their Father”.  In Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem, we encounter a world where all individuality, and freedom to choose ones own preferences has been programatically suppressed out of the human race.  There is only the collective “we” and the major sin is to have a preference apart from the group identity or, or which hasn’t already been pre-determined by the elders.  They could not even choose their life’s vocation.  Even that was determined by those in authority, and according to their predetermined “grouping” or status in life.  To presume otherwise, to even “think it” was a  “Transgression of Preference”, and they, “Asked so many questions that the teachers forbade it”.  Until their souls were awakened, they had no idea that they were functional slaves.  They lived within a box where they did only that which they were expressly told was legally allowed by the elders, “And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”  That is not liberty.  We are free to serve God by faith working in love, as our conscience dictates (against such there is no law). 

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1Cor. 7:23 

It’s easy to look back at our history (Black History is America’s History) and see slavery for the shameful thing that it is.  But can we look at the past and see vestiges of slavery in our own lives even today?  In our thinking, our work, our places of worship?  In scripture, darkness is equated with ignorance and error.  Knowledge and truth with light.  We have one Father, one Lord, the Father of lights who has, “delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” a Kingdom where:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal. 3:28

Peace,

Ron

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