Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Frederick Douglass and Religion.

A week ago, we sang the Frederick Douglass song I wrote. The video will be available soon. And just when I thought I was done...

I performed a speech of Frederick Douglass' in church this past Sunday. I hadn't planned it. It was the speech about slavery and religion -- and how the religious leaders of the time -- so blithely accepted discrimination with a Biblical defense. And I spent the whole week memorizing it.

Christian leaders were on the forefront of maintaining this cruelty. But... many were not.

He used Christianity as one of his main sources for arguing, logically, for the end of slavery. He also knew the Constitution and used it in his arguments. He was a devout Christian.

So why bring up slavery and religion? Aren't we nicely over it? I can tell you why. It's in the DNA of our country and our faith. Until I read Douglass, slavery wasn't real to me. Yes, I had seen images of floggings, etc. I understood the human physical suffering.

It's the mental anguish that is the true torturer. A whipping ends. The mind endures. The shame, humiliation, degradation. When you read the words in the mind of an ex-slave, you may not have been through his experience, but you will know those feelings, if you are a creature with any kind of compassion.

We have all felt those things. Now, imagine them going on all day, every day. Never could I have told my family, back when I was in the closet, what was going through my head. They probably just thought I was weird or selfish (which I am, too, but that's not today's topic).

I felt from another world entirely, but I was dancing in this one. Desperately trying not to get found out. It was the 60s and 70s. Though much had changed, acceptance and understanding for those "of my kind" simply didn't exist in the bubble of east Texas.

Not blaming anyone. Not shaming anyone. None of you (back then) could have known. I was a very good liar because I used religion to enforce the lie. It's a type of self-help thing attached to the idea of miracles. If you live the "miracle" "as if" it were true, then it would become true. So, it wasn't a lie if I "stepped out on faith." I just pretended.

It's not the same thing as slavery. It's not the same thing as racial prejudice.

So when I get into the mind of a brilliant thinker who began as a slave, I get as close as I can get. Only a fool, I would tell myself, would turn away from this kind of insight, wisdom and knowledge.

What makes the Douglass journey so rewarding is that he handled it all with genuine wit. He could laugh at it while slicing it into ribbons. He could triumph because he had the mind to triumph.

He was free because he never accepted himself as anything but a full human being. A free mind can do anything. Once I let the chains of whatever is holding me back in my head loose; once they are cleared out, then suddenly there is clarity.

Just being inside his mind has changed me. And it's going to go on changing me because, as is written on a site dedicated to him "Every Month is Black History Month." And even more piercing, every month is also white history month. We are all the products of history.

So, I thank 45 for bringing him back to me. And for those of you who read this far, thanks for letting me occupy your mindspace with my thoughts.
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New article in Arts & Understanding (with amazing photos)

http://aumag.org/2017/05/10/steve-schalchlin-advocate/