Black Like Me

My mother was black.

Well, technically, I suppose she was multi-ethnic. Her father, James Acker, was a young black man when he was shot to death by the police during a shoot out in Houston, Texas. He had just escaped from Huntsville prison, where I was later in the prison ministry for several years. It took my Mom many years to find her father’s grave. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Houston. My mother was seven months old at the time. She never got to meet her dad, who would have been my grandfather.

Back to Mom. She passed for white as a young woman. But her mother, and likely her stepfather, knew the truth. It was the Big Dark Secret.

I met her stepfather several times. Covey Clay was the most evil, racist, ignorant man I have ever known. He terrified me. Most of all because he terrified my mom. Given that my mom was what Covey would have called a “little nigra girl”, and given the attitudes that he expressed to me more times than I can recall, I have no doubt about my mom’s fate as she grew up in that house.

She was raped. Probably daily, or at least very frequently, by her stepfather.

In the light of this knowledge (I only recently figured this out), I can understand my mother better. When I was growing up, she was pretty much crazy. I never had a single conversation with my mother that I was not acutely aware that she was ┬ánot all there. (The famous quip from Ace Ventura comes to mind: “The engine is running, but no one is behind the wheel.” That was my mom.)

Periodically, my mother’s dysfunction would take a much darker turn. She would become extremely depressed, withdrawn and moody. Her connection to reality would shred. She would become very delusional, having many conversations with people who were not there. Eventually, she would attempt suicide, but always unsuccessfully. I never understood if she was genuinely trying to kill herself, crying out for attention, or simply out of control of her actions.

In the light of her childhood trauma, much of my mother’s bizarre life makes more sense. My parents repeatedly told me the story about how they met when my Mom was only seven, and my father was only 14. According to both of them, they decided to get married within a few minutes of meeting each other. That seems creepy now. A 14 year old proposing to a 7 year old? That would never pass muster today.

In the light of the times (the Great Depression), and the incredibly dark story of my mother’s racial background, that kind of makes sense. It took my dad 7 years to get her out of there, but eventually he did marry my mom when she was only 14. He was 21.

During their early years together, my mom passed as a white woman. Thus, I was raised racially and culturally white. We were taught as kids to hate one group in particular: Rednecks. Bigots, Racists. Men like my step-grandfather.

Eventually, by the time she died, my mother looked completely African. I almost outed her as a middle aged woman when we were living in Taiwan and my dad was a U.S. Air Force officer. I asked her if her father was black. (I had met my grandmother and knew that she was white.) She was completely flustered by my question. Eventually, she got my dad involved, who insisted that, no, my mother’s father was white. (Which is obviously a lie, given my mother’s appearance by the time she died. Whatever.) Even then, I told my mom I did not believe her. Her distinctly African features were already beginning to emerge.

So how does that affect me? I no longer self-identify as white or caucasian. I am a multi-ethnic person. I am beginning to embrace the African American side of my heritage. I have become much more interested in current African American culture such as rap, hip-hop and the like. I still look pretty much like a white guy, but the black man is leaking out.

More later.

The Law of God

My friend Ray and I have been having an interesting discussion on the Old Testament law. You see, the Christian gospel relies upon the OT law to establish the standard of sin. The basic elements of the Christian gospel are as follows:

  • God exists, has a personal interest in each of us humans, and also has a standard of behavior which He has prescribed for us, commonly known in the bible as the law (in Greek usually the word logos, and in Hebrew almost universally the word torah).
  • Because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in violating the law of God, sin entered into mankind, and we fell. Sin is defined as missing the mark, i.e., meaning failing to meet the standard laid down by God, again the OT law.
  • Jesus Christ is the solution to this problem! God the Father decided to sacrifice his own son, Jesus, so that the OT law could be abolished, and we could enter into a relationship with God, free from the constraints of the law.

There you have it. Note that God must meet three requirements in order for this gospel to be true:

  1. He / She must exist. I actually do believe in God most of the time, more on this later.
  2. He / She must be capable of communicating with us humans, and care about our affairs. I refer to this as God being personal. This is not actually as trivial as it sounds. Many intelligent folks (including Thomas Jefferson, for example) have long believed in a God who exists, but is not capable of communicating with us. Christians generally ascribe all sorts of human-style emotions to God. (God is grieved by the state of moral decline in our country, etc.) Other religions frequently consider Christianity to be a form of idolatry for this reason. More on this later. Many physicists believe that if God does exist, He / She would be completely outside of our normal space / time. Thus, the likelihood of something that great having concern for us is not a trivial question, like I said. Nonetheless, Christians do believe generally that God has intimate concern and awareness of our every action, including our thoughts.
  3. He / She must have an opinion about human behavior and morality. I call this God being moral. This one is a big stretch, actually, but if you buy the general idea of God having a standard of behavior for us humans, then you have to deal with the core issue of this post, which is:

Does the law of the Old Testament qualify for something you would regard as divinely prescribed?

And this question is very important to Christianity because, again, the law is the standard which is raised by God in order to define the concept of sin. As Paul pointed out, without the law, there is no awareness of sin. Also, of course, the Old Testament is replete with praise and adulation for the law. (Many examples could be cited, but Psalm 119 pretty much says it all.) Thus, certainly, most conservative Christians would agree that the law as laid down in the Old Testament is the standard of God which defines the concept of sin.

Thus I propose to examine the Old Testament law and determine (at least in my own mind) whether it qualifies as a candidate for a divinely prescribed law. I will begin with the law of rape, which is contained largely in Deuteronomy 22. Here is the basic gist:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV)

OK, let me get this straight. A man rapes a woman who is a virgin and not engaged. For this he has to pay her father 50 coins and then marry her? In other words, a woman is required to marry her rapist, and live with him for the rest of her life?

No wonder rape is not included in the proscriptions in the 10 commandments. In the Old Testament law, rape is simply not considered to be a very serious crime!

So there you have it. Do you consider this law of rape to be divinely prescribed? Would you live in a society in which this was the law?

As usual, comments are welcome.