The Sleeping Giant
Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (Attributed to Isoroku Yamamoto after the bombing of Pearl Harbor)
Ferguson, Missouri is still in an uproar, and rightfully so, after the shooting death of Michael Brown. For everyone who has tried to downplay the outrage, I offer this: What if he was your son? Would that stir you to action? Take off all of the filters that have been placed on this incident to distort our vision – he was a bully, he was a robbery suspect, he was young and black (therefore, likely a troublemaker) – and replace them with the only one that matters. He was human. A life has been ended once again – whether by the hands of police, vigilantes, or each other – it’s just wrong. We have come to devalue life and it is accepted as normal. And there are those who would add to the killing, eye for an eye, as if that would solve the problem.
Once upon a time, our nation was filled with hope for the future of our country. We shall overcome, was sung hand in hand. Marches for freedom and equality were made. Instead of taking up arms, we took each others’ arms. All races worked side by side to fix the problem. The goal was to leave a better world for the next generation. I’m too young to have been part of that movement but I was raised on the stories and the accounts in the news. I recall visions of Coretta Scott-King at the funeral of her husband. And that he had a dream. “One day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” Oh, but it was a great dream! But, sadly, even with the advent of an African American president, it has not yet been realized.
We have been divided into two camps, those who support the officer, and those who denounce his actions. Let me say that I have the utmost respect for police officers. They do what many of us would not, could not do. They are warriors on our streets, some of them having served in our military. We honor them for that. But we cannot paint them all with a broad brush. They are neither all right, nor all wrong. They are individuals, people with spotty pasts, sometimes causing them to make bad decisions for which they should be held accountable. Same with Mike Brown. He was neither villain nor saint. He was an imperfect person. Regardless to how we try to justify what was done, what followed afterwards only makes the whole event more questionable. We have video of him lying in the street. For hours. Horrendous.
What we have, I believe, is not a race issue but a human issue. I think we can justify what is done to others because it’s not been done to us. God forbid and help us all that we should only care if it touches us directly. I, myself, have been guilty of sitting in my suburban cul de sac and thinking, “I’m glad I don’t live in Chicago,” when I hear of another shooting. Peace and safety, we think, from the comfort of our homes. But the Bible says that is when destruction is certain to come. We have become a nation of “Us” and “Them.” We distance ourselves. “That’s their problem,” we think. But it’s our problem. Not just a black problem. It’s a people problem. If we don’t care for them, their calamity may one day spill out and over into our own streets. Indeed, it’s already happening. Our suburbs are not so reliably safe anymore.
So what will it take, if not the death of Mike Brown to wake us up and stir us to action? To make us realize that we are one? That we stand or fall together? What affects one, will eventually affect us all. Our humanity lies in identifying with the struggle, not in distancing ourselves. So I say, yes, let us take up arms, but not against each other. As defenders of this great country, let us stoke that fire, the smoldering embers that have caused us to take offense for our brothers’ and sisters’ sake, our fellow human beings, and make right what has been wrong for so long. We are that same giant that has risen to the defense of the hapless and maltreated across the planet. It’s a sad day when Egypt and Iraq can condemn America, and Amnesty International has reported to the scene to insure that our human rights are not being violated. Defender of the world called on the carpet for the mistreatment of our own citizens. Wow.
We can do better America. We must. The eyes of the world are on us. I’m calling on all that is noble in each of us to respond and to awaken that apathetic sleeper in all of us. We must care what happens to our fellow Americans. I find encouragement from those who have had their own inner giant stirred to action. I see not only black faces but white faces in the crowd, protesting, fed up, as they should be. I’ve heard stories of residents who’ve banded together to protect stores from looting and helped to put back together the businesses that have been ransacked. And the 90 year old holocaust survivor who showed up for the demonstration and was arrested – how cool was that? May God grant me that same fire and resolve when I am her age! People are protesting peacefully together against injustice, instead of being divided into us and them. Because it’s just wrong. We all know it.
In the words of Dr. King, “Now is the time to change racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice ring out for all of God’s children.” I have hope that good can come from all of this and that maybe the dream is not so out of reach.
All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4:28-30
“Good thing you’re staying humble,” my friends have remarked to me since the release of my book, Touched. But I think to myself, “How could I be otherwise?” The success of this book has little to do with me. It’s kind of on autopilot. Every time I think I’m done, another opportunity arises, another door opens. As far as the debut of my book goes, I have all that a brand new author could wish to have. Except pride.
As a child, I remember watching Shirley Temple dance across our little screen and thinking, “I’d love to do that!” Years later, I watched Janet Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes, recalling when she was little Penny on Good Times and thought, “Man! Wish I could do that!” Then there was Fame, the movie AND the television series – dancing in the streets, bursting into song at any given moment, living the dream of running towards greatness. YEAH! I wanted that to be me.
But along the way, I watched as child actors crashed and burned. I read about singers who forgot their lowly start and began to have tantrums and make outrageous demands – Cristal champagne in their dressing rooms, $100 bottles of water and such. The tabloids became full of reports on actors who publicly imploded under the pressure. Wow. I began to dread that type of success for fear of what it would do to me. I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t lose control. I no longer sought fame and fortune. Lord, I prayed, don’t let it happen until I can handle it. Until I know it won’t change me.
Nebuchadnezzar. Now, there’s a mouthful. The jury is still out on how it’s pronounced. I’ve heard a few versions, putting more emphasis here or there, alternating between the ch and a hard k sound. But the most familiar and most fun way to say it is how I remember it as a child: Nebah-ka-nezzah. Say that a few times and see if I’m right! Fun, huh? The prophet Daniel served under King Nebuchadnezzar while Israel (really only a remnant of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi) was exiled in Babylon. The king had a disturbing dream and Daniel delivered the interpretation: one day, you’re gonna lose it! BIG TIME! I mean, completely lose your mind! Eating grass in the field like a beast, lose it! Daniel urged the king to turn from his sin and suggested he treat the poor well in order to buy himself more time. In other words, this was a certain thing. God had already determined it.
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king, but even more so in his own mind. I tend to think it was because God had given the king charge over His people. He blessed the ruler and in doing so, also blessed the remnant of Israel. But Nebuchadnezzar saw his accomplishments, his achievements as his own. He became proud. A year after Daniel’s prophecy, he looked around and took credit for everything, leaving no room (and thus, no glory) for God. Doom followed immediately thereafter. The same God that elevated him to king debased him, took his mental faculties and left him to wander as a beast in the field for seven years. That’s a long time to be lost. I’m sure Robert Downey, Jr. and many other celebrities can attest to the long road back from madness to sobriety. When the king recovered, he was careful to give God the glory. He admitted that all power came from God, who had the ability to exalt, as well as abase.
“Are you ready?” A friend asked after reading my book. I nodded with surety. “Really ready?” She prodded, again. This time I gulped and widened my eyes in response. The old fear of success and what it could bring crept in. “You’d better get ready!” Was I ready? Truly ready? Could I withstand the pressure? Would it cause me to fail? Would I exalt myself and think more highly of myself than I ought? Could I do this? My prayer from so long ago came to mind. I relaxed as the thought occurred to me: You asked God to make sure you could handle it before it came to you. And so he will. And so he has.
At the end of the day, I realize, like little Max in Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s tale, Where the Wild Things Are, I choose to return home. Not only to the familiarity of my comfortable bed and a hot, home cooked meal, but to who I am truly, at my core. Even though, like Max, I might be king elsewhere, I’ll go back to where my family and friends can keep me grounded so that I don’t lose myself. True, my friends and family celebrate me, but it is just that celebration which keeps me humble because I realize they don’t have to. Every blessing, even the support of family and friends, is not something that I take for granted. No one owes me their support. So I am grateful and I give God all the credit. All of the glory. It’s the only way I can make it through this. It’s the only way I can accept any accolade. I know that it comes from Him. So I no longer fear the wild thing I could become. I choose to remain me.