by Robert Earl Houston
Ever since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the words “We need to take our country back” has been the deafening mantra of the political right-wing of this nation. As a pastor of an African-American congregation in the upper regions of the Bible Belt, I want to offer a perspective of those words and why I and many in this nation despise the use of this phrase.
First off, the right wing and sadly, right wing evangelicals are not owners of this country. You may own houses, lands, businesses and at one time, people – but you have no exclusive claim on this nation. We are all shareholders. We are all part owners of this great land of the USA. When I was pastoring in California, one of the women of our church gave a speech during church anniversary and she likened the church to the porch of her childhood home. She said that her family could identify when each plank was laid down and they were plankowners. We are all plankowners, disrespective of our political views.
Secondly, it insinuates that illegal means were used to elect our president. You can disagree with policy. You have that right. But this is a country of laws. The president was duly elected TWICE. He did not, as some like to say, usurp anyone to be elected. He did not illegally gain votes. He did not force anyone to vote for him. He was, just as EVERY PRESIDENT BEFORE HIM, duly elected into office. I’m surprised at evangelicals especially – because for people who allegedly know the Word of God, and know that we have an obligation to pray for those in leadership, how can you contrast that with a hatred that seems to go beyond political ideology and appears to be misguided at best and hints of racism at worst.
Thirdly, it suggests that others don’t belong here. Listen, there are groups I have problems with theologically, ideologically – but this land is big enough for all of us to co-exist. According to their mantra, they don’t believe that people of color should be here, that people with different lifestyles should be here (or even alive), that people who are elderly and sick should still be allowed to be here, that people who cannot find a job should pay taxes on money they don’t posses – while forgetting that the colonists usurped the authority of the native American Indians by taking over their lands, wiping out their culture – all in the name of a ridiculous theory of “manifest destiny” while bringing over slaves of black, brown and asian hues to create commerce and infrastructure. I believe all of us belong here.
So, when another political party wins, the nation is not “there’s” it’s still belongs to all of us. Otherwise, that kind of thinking will result in people doing stupid things. This government is not President Obama’s government – it belongs to all of us. Mitt Romney had it wrong – corporations are not people; government is people – for it and by it. Our democracy is built upon the fact that we can co-exist. After 200 plus years, it seems to me that we should be able to stand on that principle.
by Robert Earl Houston
Every week I have a standing appointment with my barber. This week was different because I’m trying a new old look – I’m wearing a beard for a few weeks.
As I was sitting there, I normally watch what’s on TV, engage him in conversation about sports (he’s an Eagles fan, I’m a Cowboys fan, he’s a Michigan State man, I’m an Oregon Ducks man, etc., etc.), I took note of the atmosphere. And I appreciate the atmosphere of that barber shop. You don’t have to worry about walking in “clean” and walking out smelling like cigarettes, cigars or weed. Plus, you don’t hear all of the cursing, gossip, etc. that seems to permeate some barber shops.
As he cut my hair, I looked down and maybe it’s been like that for a while and I hadn’t noticed, there were more gray hairs on the black sheath than black hairs! I’m no spring chicken (52) but it kinda freaked me out for a minute. I wanted to run out and buy some “help” for this condition. By Sunday morning, it will all be a brief memory and I will have JET BLACK hair for the weekend! I can color my mustache, my new beard, my eyebrows (if necessary) and fight back!
Then I thought about it, gray hair was preaching to me! Here’s what my gray hair theologically said to me:
First, my gray hair is a reminder of longevity. In the past few weeks I have seen friends and acquaintances and church members who have died in my age group, in the 45 to 54 category that appears on most web sites. But gray hair said, “child of God, you’re still here. You have longevity.” I never thought about 52 as longevity but when you consider those who die in early years, the teenagers, the youthful young adults, the thirty somethings, the forties, and I’ve crossed over a threshold that many talk about but some don’t arrive to, it is a reminder of longevity. I realize I have more years behind me than before me and most African-American men never make it to 65, but for now, I’m still here.
Second, my gray hair is a reminder of survival. Gray hair reminded me, “Houston, we’ve been through a lot together. I was on your head through the good days and the bad days.” Amen! I have been a survivor. A product of a broken-home because of divorce. A survivor of divorce. A survivor of bad situations. A survivor of health challenges. A survivor of bad relationships. A survivor of dumb decisions. A survivor of lies and gossip. A survivor of painful woundings of the heart. A survivor of self-inflicted circumstances. A survivor of personal tragedies. A survivor of economic realities. A survivor of the geo-political process. Yes, Lord! I am a survivor. My gray hair was there in my weakest moments and my greatest triumphs. I have survived.
Third, my gray hair is a reminder of loss. Gray hair showed me something. Gray hair said that sometimes not only do you lose hair, but you sometimes you have to cut back what you already have in order to look better. In other words, gray hair, walking back and forth across the pulpit of my lap, reminded me that sometimes you have to cut off, cut back, cut away some friends, acquaintances, circumstances, involvements, and relationships in order to personally look better. There are some things I’ve had to cut away. I’m glad I stopped smoking cigarettes at a young age. I’m glad that I’ve made some decisions to leave some jobs. I’m glad that I’ve stopped associating with some people. I’m glad that I’ve learned how to ignore some dangerous people. I’m glad that I’ve decided to disassociate myself from some groups. I’m glad that I’ve decided to move away from some individuals. Just like the blades of the clippers rounded my head, sometimes you’ve got to pull out your spiritual clippers and say to some parts of your life, “you are no longer necessary for me to grow.” I have experienced wonderful loss.
As gray hair closed, for those who are not familiar with that term “closed” it is used by black preachers to tell the audience they are winding up the sermon, but it also is a caveat and silent plea for more time – gray hair did a run, which is extended allegory, to my soul:
“You see me falling all over the place!
But don’t you worry about me!
What you see is only a part of me.
I’m still rooted and grounded in your head!
Just like you Brother Houston and all in this place!
Sometimes we rise, sometimes we fall!
But thank you Lord, we’re still rooted in Jesus!
My roots are not what you see!
My roots are not the gray falling down!
My roots are not my black cousins on the other side of your head!
Oh my roots, are not visible.
I’ve come to tell you, Houston, your roots – are not visible.
Somewhere, where others can’t see . . .
Your roots are in Jesus . . .
Jesus – our Savior!
Jesus – our Lord!
Jesus – who died on a Cross!
Jesus – who rose with all power in his hand!
Uh, Uh, Uh . . . Jesus! “