Hey guys! Welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast. So for today's episode we're going to go back to the high school yearbook superlative series that has been kicked off, and I think that the most fitting superlative for today's episode is “Most Likely to be a Revolutionary.” The reason I think that this is so fitting is because with it being Black History Month, it only makes sense to talk about revolutionary people and revolutionary ideas.
Revolutionaries defined black culture and the way black people exist in the Americas today. A revolutionary is some who is not afraid to go out and to fight for a radical change—whether it's in policy for the government or whether it's just in society as a whole and how we operate and treat one another. And that's exactly what had to happen in the Civil Rights Movement and Abolitionist Movement and in all of the movements that have been taking place within the United States and within the Americas as a whole, as regards to black people specifically, but also in terms of other immigrants and other non-whites that have been in the country, as well. And so I thought that it was definitely fitting to talk about how that is also being played out in the Bible.
Interestingly, at the heart of revolutionary movements, and at the heart of most of the people who are fighting for rights—not just for black people but for all people of every color and every creed that exists within our country—the heart of these matters is justice, social justice for all people. And holding those in charge accountable for their actions and for how they're treating those who either have no voice or have little power to give to their voice. And the Bible is very, very specific about that specific topic, even though we don't talk about it that often.
So in the beginning I read for you guys Matthew 23:23. So in that verse, Jesus is pointing out that one of the most important parts of the law is justice. He talks about mercy and faithfulness but what He really points out is justice. And when He points this out, He's actually chastising the Pharisees and the scribes because they're able to diligently give their tithe but they're not so diligently attending to other matters of the law—the ones that are more important. And part of why those things are more important is because the scribes and the Pharisees would have been in the upper echelon of the Israelite society. Giving 10% of their finances was not a hardship.
In our society today some of us are struggling. We’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and sparing an extra 10% of our income is very, very difficult for us. We don't necessarily have the financial means to provide for ourselves, so handing over that 10% is terrifying, but for many people in our society—particularly the 1%—10% of their income is more than some people make all year, all their lives to be honest, and that's just a drop in the hat. It doesn't take anything away from their lifestyle to lose that money. So it's very easy for them to give it and to not even think about it. It doesn't hurt them. It doesn't require them to do any extra work. And it takes nothing out of their day-to-day life or anything like that. And so, it's a mindless activity and Jesus is pointing out that’s not how he wants us to go through life.
He wants us to be actively doing things for the good of mankind, and when we are in those positions where we can give that freely, we have an even greater responsibility to give in the appropriate manner, which as he points out is through justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And I never really paid this verse that much attention before last year.
So at the end of last year, sometime in the fall of 2018, the pastor at my church—or one of the pastors at my church actually gave a sermon on social justice—and I'm going to link it in the transcripts that will be on the website, because it was a very powerful sermon and I think if you should listen to it as well. I've never actually been to a church where the pastor actually stops to talk about social justice and how the church has a responsibility to take part in social justice. So it was a really great experience for me. It just made me respect that pastor more as a person and as a pastor, to get up there and to point out something that should be obvious but generally isn't obvious to people.
And when he did this it was also a call to action. So the church that I attend has started a Justice Ministry, and in that Justice Ministry, they are partnering with a larger organization within our county that brings together multiple congregations to affect change and social justice. And the ideology behind it is that the more people you have, the more power you have, because in our world you either have money or you have people power. People who have a lot of money can get things done. Most of us don't have a lot of money so we need to have a lot of voices to be heard, and that was mainly the idea behind this ministry. And as I got involved with this ministry and started talking to people from the larger organization and seeing how it functions and how they are modeling it.
So they're modeling their entire organization after one particular person and that person I think deserves the title of Most Likely to be a Revolutionary. That person is Nehemiah. So a little bit of back story on Nehemiah and what was going on at the time that Nehemiah was on the scene. This was after the decree that allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. So they'd been in captivity in Babylon, Persia had conquered Babylon, and the Persian king Cyrus had issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home and start to rebuild Jerusalem. So some people had gone back; some people were still in Persia.
Nehemiah was in Persia; he was serving the king, and he had gotten permission to go back to Jerusalem to see how it was going with rebuilding the city. When we get to chapter 5 of the book of Nehemiah, this is where we really see him go and fight social injustice. And the situation in that particular chapter is that while the Jews were in captivity, you know, there were a conquered people. So basically they had nothing. Similarly, how black people when we were brought over to the United States and all of the surrounding areas, we were stripped of everything that we had before we were brought over here. So at the moment that the slaves were granted freedom, our ancestors didn't have anything. And so in order for them to get anything—that's how most people became sharecroppers, and a lot of people went into debt because they would have to borrow before they actually had anything to plant things, 'cause they didn't have anything to begin with. And so similarly, a lot of the Jews dug themselves kind of into debt while they were in captivity because they didn't have anything, and part of Jewish law dictated that if there were people within the Israelite community that could redeem those people, they were supposed to.
So the Israelites who did have money were supposed to buy out the debt of their fellow Israelites to lessen the burden, and of course they were supposed to treat them better than the Persians, or the Babylonians, or whoever had enslaved these people. But as often is the case, they treated them just as bad. And they were basically charging exorbitant fees and causing massive interest, basically exploiting their fellow Israelites for the sake of greed. That's a common problem throughout history; it was no different with the Israelites.
So when Nehemiah gets to the city and sees what's going on, he is furious. I mean here are his people trying to do better, trying to work, trying to put this city back together, and the Jews who have money are basically walking all over these people and treating them just as bad as the Persian and the Babylonians had treated them. This is not what they had fought for, and so Nehemiah could have just vented to himself. He could have vented it to his wife and his kids, whatever, but that's not what he did—or rather he might have done that, too, but more importantly he took a stance, and he went about trying to undo this wrong.
So he calls together a great assembly of all the people: the people who are being wronged and the people who are doing the wronging. And he calls them together and gives this grand speech where he tells them that they're wrong, and he addresses the issue. He talks about what's right, what's wrong, and calls for an action that these injustices be dealt with. At the end of this assembly not only has he pointed out the injustice and told the people how to fix it, he is also holding the priests and those who have the money and have the power accountable, by making them sign an oath to do better and to stop doing the things that they had been doing.
Justice Today (00:12:17)
Now that is a powerful, powerful story. I don't think I really have to dictate how that parallels to our society today. I don't care what culture you're in, what group you belong to. Any and all people have a tendency to do the same thing, where you have external people or external forces that are fighting against you but yet there are internal things that fight against us, as well. So me being a part of the black community, I've seen this firsthand. Yes, there is racism and we face you know systemic racist issues all the time, and luckily there are less barriers than there were when my parents were growing up, when my grandparents were growing up, my great-great-grandparents, but they're still there. And yet just as you're trying to take a break from those and you think you get a reprieve from those, you end up with conflict with in our community, and you find us fighting each other for trivial things that we should not be fighting each other about. And that happens within the female community, I'm pretty sure it happens within the male community. It happens within the church. It happens everywhere! Any and all things that you can think of that bring us together as groups, you will find other things pulling us apart.
And so, these are not the things that we're supposed to focus on. Obviously, we're supposed to be trying to build each other up, and that's exactly what Nehemiah did. He basically pressed the pause button, and said, "Hey guys, wait. Wait! This is not how God has called us to operate; this is wrong, and what we need to do is fix this. These are the steps to fix it. This is how I'm going to address the issue, and I'm going to confront the people who are responsible and hold them responsible, and hold them accountable for their actions."
Now in Nehemiah's case, and in the case of the organization that my church is working with, they're looking at mass problems—usually things that are systematic, things where you need somebody in "high positions" of power to evoke change, right. So in some cases, the problem is a law, and you need you know a governor or you know, the senate or the supreme court or somebody to overturn it. And the more... The larger it is, the bigger, the more systematic it is, the more power you need to get this to change. The more voices you need, right? So as individuals, a lot of times when we see issues we just kind of shy away from them, because we don't know what to do. Because they're so much bigger than us, and we have no idea how to fight injustice.
Compassion in Compassion-less Places (00:15:19)
But sometimes the issues are not that big; they're simple tiny issues that we should be standing up for as individuals. And so the first example that I want to give to you guys, that happened to me in my own personal life, occurred when I was very young. So it started when I was in middle school. In middle school I used to ride the bus home from school, and there was this girl that rode the bus with me that was, I guess, the poster child for the unpopular kid. She was not well-liked, I guess. I don't ever remember having a conversation with her. I don't even know her name—that's says a lot right there. She wasn't really part of any particular group, like she didn't have any friends on the bus or anything like that. I mean I got picked out on the bus, some of my friends got picked on on the bus, but we were like a group of people that at least I know these people have my back. She didn't have anybody. I don't ever remember her being with anyone else. And so one day she gets on the bus and she has gone to I guess a hair salon and gotten this dye job in her hair, where she had gotten these highlights. I guess they were supposed to be highlights. It looked extremely not correct. And of course with it looking the way it looked, kids started to pick on her—and I should add that I went to a high school where, I meant I went to a middle school where the middle school and the high school were together, and so there were both high school and middle school kids on this bus, and all of them were picking at this poor girl.
Now I would love to be like, "Yeah and so I stood up, and I was like stop picking her. That's mean," but that's not what I did. Like most of the kids I probably laughed when somebody said something about her hair, because I'm admitting it I thought it looked awful too. I don't think I ever said anything directly to her, but I also didn't stop the other kids from picking at her.
Now obviously when you're a child you don't ever think about the fact that you could be the person to stand up and help these people. And if you pay attention to the news, there are so many kids, particularly today's society, that are out committing suicide because of bullying and because of how they're treated. And we could be that one voice, that one friend that tells them that they're loved. And that could be one day that that kid is getting on the bus, and they could have had the worst dat at school ever. They could be thinking suicidal thoughts. They're getting picked at on the bus, and you could have stood up and said "Hey, don't pick on that person. I think they're cool. I'm friends with them. I'm going to stand with them." And you could have changed their life—you could have saved their life.
Now fortunately, I'm not 'bout to tell y'all some heinous story about how she went home and killed herself, and I feel like it was my fault. No that's not what happened. She's still alive, thank God. But what did happen is a few years later when I was working at the water park, the local water park, my boss came up to me, and he was showing me these photos—because I work at the cash register and it was a special event. It was kind of like a Make-A-Wish day, and they were trying to do something really positive and really nice for this family in the community who had this child that, I don't know if they were dying or if they were just, you know, in a really bad situation. Basically there was a kid that had like a medical condition, and the family was very poor, and they couldn't really afford anything. So I'm not really sure what the exact details were, but the company had decided to bring them to the water park, and let them have everything for free to just enjoy and relax and all of that in light of what was going on within their family. And so obviously, because I was a cashier they were bringing me this picture and informing me that if I saw the people from this family not to charge them, and to, you know, make sure that I was pleasant and polite to them so that they could enjoy the day. When this family actually came in, you know, they told me they just showed me like a picture of the mom and the dad and the child at the disability, but they did tell me that there were more than more kids; they just didn't show me pictures of them. I didn't see them until the family actually came to the register, and included in this family was that same girl that had been picked on on my bus.
And guys I felt all of 2 inches tall. My heart was so broken that I had never stood up for this girl, because what she had to have been going through at home all of this time had to have been so rough. I was like she needed a friend, and I was not that person. And that is not how I would ever want to be remembered, and unfortunately that is exactly how she will always remember me and everyone else that rode on that bus those years ago.
That is exactly what Jesus was chastising the Pharisees about. I went to church. I read my Bible, and I was professing to be a believer in Christ, but I was not doing the thing that he was calling me to do—and that is justice. I did not stand up for justice, in that moment. And that is something that is not a major obstruction. It's not a systemic issue. It's not something where I need to get an audience with the most powerful person in my community, and convince them with facts and figures and numbers. All I had to do was stand up to a bunch of kids. In fact, I didn't even have to really get them to stop picking at her, I just needed to be a friend to her in that moment, and attempt to get them to stop picking her. That's all. And in that moment, had I stood up, who knows? One of my friends might have stood with me, and one of their friends might have stood with them, and before you knew it the whole bus might have been standing with her instead of against her. But that's not what happened, and I learned from that.
Now, I can't say that I've always stood up. I still struggle with standing and speaking up when I should. That is a major problem in our society as a whole. We have bystander effect on lock in America. If you turn on the news right now, I guarantee you there's something crazy happening, there's always something crazy on the news. And they always have a video of it. Not too long ago everywhere on social media and on the news they were playing this video of this man who had come into McDonald's and basically just punched this woman in the face, and he is start attacking her and she was fighting back. And people videotaped it but nobody was stepping in to help her. I mean, it took a while before people were actually trying to pull them apart, and I'm like so you just going to stand there and record this, right? Like, how many videos have you seen where there are people harassing people because of their race, because their religion, because of their sexuality or their sexual orientation, whatever the case may be, and somebody is recording it, but they're not intervening—they're not stopping to try to make that person treat that person like the human being that they are. That's a problem. That is what we need to be doing as individuals. Because that is something we can do as individuals.
A Light in Dark Places (00:23:35)
And sometimes it's not even that obvious. It's not even that confrontational, or that wild. It's not somebody being obnoxiously rude to people. Sometimes it's about unconscious biases that we see happening, and we let slide. A lot of people hate to hear the word "privilege" particularly when the word is attached to white people. White people hate to hear the phrase "white privilege," because a lot of times they feel like something is being taken away from them, or that they've worked hard to get what they've gotten, and they feel like they're being attacked in being told they have some sort of privilege. And then of course there are also the white people who are poor and don't feel like they have privilege. The reason I brought this up is for my second example of social injustice where I could have made a difference then. I did not, even though I should have, and once again I was younger and unsure of what to do or how to bring about that change.
And it's all about privilege—it's not about white privilege, because I'm black, but there are different types of privilege, and admitting that you have some privilege, it's a hard step but it's the first step in being conscious and aware and being able to stand up for social injustice. This privilege has to do with financial privilege or wealth and economics. So when I was in high school, one of my best friends did not have a computer at home. I know guys I'm telling you my age right now. This was the era when personal computers at home was pseudo-common; all of the rich kids had them, most of the middle-class kids, not so much in the lower-income families, and like I said was hit or miss within the middle class. It just wasn't a standard thing, however, the schools were starting to adopt the ideas of using computers within the classroom for everything. So suddenly a lot of our assignments were required to be typed, but they couldn't quite hold that as a rule, because like I said some kids did not have computers. So the alternative was to hand write your assignment. So it was back in the day where you had to write in pen and it had to be in cursive, and so, the kids who didn't have computers were required to do that. And a lot of times that's what my best friend did, because she didn't have a computer at home and she didn't have access to staying after school to use the school computers, because her parents worked.
So one day we had got this assignment, and it was kind of like, I want to say it was like some sort of like book thing, like maybe like a poetry book, or something that we were supposed to create. And I spent so much time on this project. I had gotten this really neat software, and it allowed you to basically do kind of like a scrapbooking layout. There was a lot of like really cool graphics. There were tons of cool fonts, and I spent a ton of time making this beautiful. This was like, it was like I was creating a document that I was going to give for an interview to be on like the yearbook staff or something. I made this thing look beautiful, and I spent so much time on it. I pulled all-nighters. I ended up having to use multiple computers to get it done, because I think one of the fonts I downloaded, might have had a virus that like blew up my computer. So my dad had to let me use his computer at his job, and it was just like a whole thing. And I would put so much effort into it.
So when I got my grade back, and I'd gotten like an A on it, I was ecstatic. I was blown away because I was just so happy, 'cause I put this work in. I got the grade, and that's what we're all striving for, right? But when I looked at my best friend's work, she had had to hand write it because she didn't have a computer. So obviously, it didn't look as polished, or as, you know, fanciful or grandiose as mine did, but when I actually started to read what she had written, the writing was a lot better, because she didn't have typos in it. See, I had spent so much time trying to make mine pretty, that I had missed a lot of the typos within my poems or whatever it was that I was supposed to have written, but she actually got a lower grade than me. Now I think that she still got an A or B or something that was a fairly good grade, but in that moment I realized that I had gotten a benefit of the doubt for my project looking pretty, or rather I think my teacher had given me extra credit for the project looking pretty, which is what boosted my grade. Even though she had taken off points for the typos, she added points for the fact that it was pretty. My best friend didn't have any typos. She didn't have any errors, and you got to stop and think about the fact that for her to have hers hand written in pen with no errors, that means when she did make a mistake—because let's be real, you can't write that much and not make a mistake—she had to rewrite the whole page! All I had to do was hit the backspace button. And yet, she didn't get any extra points for putting in that diligence or for handwriting that much stuff, which is way more effort than me just typing it. 00:29:40 And I realized, as I started to look at all of the things that we're going on around me not just in that situation with me and my best friend but as I looked at schools across our county, how those schools operated versus the school that I attended, which was heavily populated with some of the rich kids. So the best teachers had come to our school, and we had the newest equipment, and the best of the top of the line stuff. Most scholarship money was coming into our school, because of the fact that there was more money in the school. And so while we had teachers that were willing to go out and spend money to buy fancy things to make our classes more exciting, and to make sure that we had top-of-the-line equipment to learn with, the other schools didn't have that, and they didn't have the same opportunities. And as I got into college, I saw the same pattern and the same trend.
Now, that's a systematic issue that I could not have fixed the system of that, right? I couldn't have bought my friend of computer. I couldn't have fixed the fact that money is not equally distributed amongst all of the schools, or the fact that the best teachers all want to go to the rich high school and teach the quote-unquote good kids. Meanwhile the kids that need them are struggling and getting teachers who don't care about them. That's not a fight that I could have fixed, definitely not at that age, but even as an individual, it would take more power to get that fight resolved. However, I could have said something to the teacher about the way she had graded that paper. Whether that would have actually done something, or whether it would have just made matters worse, or hurt me—I'm not really sure, but it definitely shaped the way I view privilege, and the way I look at my day-to-day life today.
Wrap Up (00:31:51)
While we're out in today's society, we should be aware of both of these aspects of social injustice. Sometimes all it takes is one person to stand up. Yes sometimes it takes a lot, but sometimes all it takes is one person to say "Hey that's not right." And that one person should be us, because Jesus told us that that's how we're supposed to be, and Nehemiah showed us how to do it. So we have no excuse not to do it. So as you go through your day, as you go through your weeks, and as you continue in life and in your journey with Christ, I am asking you to be more attentive to the situations around you. And when you see social injustice happening, don't be afraid to speak up. Remember as you speak up, other people who are also thinking it's wrong will speak up with you, because if we're all speaking up then we will have that loud voice, we will have that multitude that has the power to make our society a just society, and that's why God called us to do that.
So thank you guys for listening in. I'm sorry that this episode was a little bit longer than usual. I guess I just had a lot to say. I hope you still enjoyed it, and I hope it touched your heart, and moved you to do something for those around you. You can find a transcript for this particular episode at www.psalmstogod.com/revolutionary. I hope that if you have not subscribed to the podcast that you will subscribe now. You can also subscribe to the website for additional content. Look me up on Instagram shiree.hughes and tell me what you think. And I will see you guys next time. Bye.
References and Footnotes
- "Revolutionary". Merriam Webster Dictionary; visited February 2019
- Clayborne Carson. "American Civil Rights Movement. Encylopædia Brittanica. December 10, 2018
- "Abolitionism". Encylopædia Brittanica. February 8, 2019
- Ok, so maybe the emphasis is in my head, but He did list it first!
- Pastor Andrew Nugent. "Living for JUST THIS or JUSTICE". Plantation Seventh Day Adventist Church. July 21, 2018
- Nehemiah 1
- I wasn't feeling well and had taken Tylenol Extra Strength PM before recording this; that's why I sound so off. What I was trying to say here is that because initially the slaves didn't have property or money to start farms or businesses, so they had to borrow money (from their oppressors) to get started. This meant they were always in debt because whatever they earned, they already owed someone.
- John London. "Another tragedy at Walnut Hills school puts suicide back in spotlight". WLWT5. February 18, 2019
- Christina Zdanowicz. "A man attacked a McDonald's employee over a straw and she fought back". CNN. January 4, 2019
- This is the type of issue that the justice ministry is bringing people together for. Just like Nehemiah called all of the people together to hold authority figures accountable for the issue.
- Future me has seen so many think pieces and opinions on Christianity and social justice that I want to add a disclaimer that here I was referencing Biblical justice for everyone, but in particular the oppressed (that’s who the Bible focuses on).