Guest Blog from Doug Manning, The Happy Heretic
When Dr. Martin Luther King was killed my first thought was that the African Americans had lost their Moses. Then as my thoughts began to clear I realized all of us had lost our Moses. Then as my heart began to break, I realized I had lost my Moses. Who would lead me through the seeming-less inborn prejudice carried over from my childhood? Who would skin my eyes so I could see the beauty of a remarkable people and culture? When will I ever hear words with the same power as the “I have a dream” speech?
I was pastor of a church in Tulsa at the time and a memorial service was held to honor our Moses. I went with the normal white man’s attitude that I would support those in need of my presence. Found out I had many needs myself. I needed to learn some very vital lessons. If worship can also mean worth-ship I worshipped that night. I discovered so much of the true worth of some wonderful people willing to be my friend in spite of eyes that still needed skinning.
There was a youth choir composed of singers from several of the black churches in Tulsa lead by Dr. Elmer Davis and named “The Chorus of Angels.” and they were not misnamed. They had performed in my church on several, but not near enough, occasions and I loved to hear them. I was thrilled when they filed on stage that night to sing for Dr. King’s memorial. Dr. Davis introduced the song by saying.
“When word came that Dr. King was dead,
one song came to my heart and seemed to say that
it must be sung in his honor.”
The song began with the words. “I stood on the banks of the river Jordan and watched that ship go sailing over, and all I could do was stand there and watch that ship sail by.”
That set off so many responses in me I do not think I heard any of the speeches that followed. My first response was to feel the arrogance fade from within me. I was witnessing a far superior concept of death than anything I knew. Death was release, death was victory, the lucky person was the man on the boat getting to take the trip. I thought of the titles of so many Negro spirituals and realized how many of them had this same concept to death.
But I also had a thought on the other side of that equation. I was tired of the constant idea of hope being based only on the “sweet by and by”. It seemed to me that our concept was that this world was hopeless and did not matter, all we were here for was to get our tickets punched so we could get into heaven and we could just ignore the present, it is supposed to be bad. That concept had led us to tolerate and do nothing to meet the needs of the here and now. Hope always had a “when” attached.
After the service I went backstage to meet with the choir and thank them for their presentation. They welcomed me with open arms. A white man had killed their hero, but they loved me anyhow. It was evident that they felt crushed and broken-hearted over the death of Dr. King and the feeling of “What will happen now? Who will lead us? Does this mean defeat?” seemed to permeate the room but they formed a circle and invited me to join them and we all sang “We Shall Overcome Someday.” In the midst of the tears, the heartbreak and the pain I was witnessing hope.
My friends Dave and Arlene Fuller are kind enough to have dinner with me most Tuesday nights. After dinner we go to my apartment and discuss whatever comes up for an hour or so. We call it our church. Recently Dave said he wished I would write a blog about hope and I really had very little to say other than it seemed to me that the religious approach was “sweet by and by” so I really was not sure I knew what to say about hope. Remembering that memorial service created a flow of ideas.
Hope is not some mental exercise of believing in the impossible. Nor buying into some “prosperity gospel” preachers promise of planted seeds creating guaranteed wealth. Hope is an inside job. Hope comes from inside of us and is the result of our perception, how we see life its own self. It is not the absence of problems or pain. It is not created by what happens to us, it is created by how we react to what happens to us.
I saw a girl named Barbara Maddox on my college campus and told my roommate I had seen the girl I was going to marry. A few days later, I met her and told my roommate I had met the girl I was going to marry. The next week we had our first date and started a journey of becoming one that lasted fifty-seven years. Forty-seven of those years she suffered from an intense case of Rheumatoid Arthritis which crippled her piano playing hands and turned walking into agony. She had too many surgeries to count and lived in pain every day. For forty-seven years I saw hope lived out in front of my eyes. She never let the pain stop her. She never let it make her bitter. She never gave into pity or depression. She was the same person I first saw and met for her whole life. She bore four daughters and sewed most of their clothes until they were grown. She taught piano to more people than I can count. We traveled by car to every state in the Union except Alaska and Hawaii, but did go to both, and every province of Canada except Newfoundland and she never complained nor gave up. I do not know whether keeping on going gave her hope or hope let her keep on going, but one thing is certain hope was the result of how she saw life, her perception.
Hope is not something we attain it is something we maintain through thick and thin. Hope keeps life worth the struggle.
We cannot give or create hope in others. Our efforts usually end up in platitudes or holy sounding but unfounded promises. Our presence and comfort can help others to find the strength to hold on to their hope perhaps by a very thin thread, but still there.
Granted, holding on is harder for some than it is for others. We are born with hope in our hearts and minds, but some folks have that stomped out of them while still a child. Abusive parents, prejudiced families, constant exposure to toxic negative thinking, and the traumas of life can leave us looking at God, others, and ourselves with no sense of hope.
It is not easy, but we can change the way we think, feel and react to life. I call it tracing our bruises. Often, we bump ourselves and in time a bruise appears. By the time it does we have forgotten what caused the bruise and we are left wondering how it happened. Bumps happen in our lives and we have certain thoughts certain feelings and certain reactions to those events or traumas. Over time the thoughts, feelings and reactions separate from the events that cause them and become just the way we think, feel, and react. I know some beautiful women who think they are not attractive at all and when I asked them why they think that, they have no idea it is just the way they have always thought.
If we can go back and figure out where our thoughts, feelings, and reactions started and reconnect them to the events then we can begin to change.
For years I thought I was ugly which lead to me thinking I was also dumb. Inferior feelings and thoughts made me react to life negatively and expect the worse. I traced my bruises back and realized I was programed to think I was ugly by my family who had no idea they were doing anything bad to me and would have never done so on purpose. My older brother must have been one of the prettiest babies ever born and I must have been the ugliest. Every time the family got together someone would tell me that story, but no one ever said I got over being ugly. I have a picture of my brother and me when he was six and I was four. That picture was stored in a closet when I was a teen and I would stare at it trying to figure out why they thought I was so ugly. I did not date much in high school because of being afraid of rejection thinking no one would want to date someone like me. I flunked out of college because I was convinced I was too dumb to pass the course and refused to study because if I studied and failed that would prove I was a dumb.
When I connected my thoughts, feelings and reactions to their source and realized why I thought, felt and reacted the way I did I could begin to catch myself as those thoughts started appearing and realize that was yesterday’s thinking. Change was slow but change did come, and with it came a new way to look at life with hope, joy, and gratitude. That brought back the hope I could depend and lean on.
Two men looked through the self-same bars, one saw mud the other saw stars. Hope depends on how we see what we see.