It’s midnight. I’m nestled among my covers and pillows. The light on my side of the bed is on. My body is comfortable but my mind is uneasy. Pages are spread out over the top of the covers. I’m reading first hand accounts of slavery. Smallville is situated in the middle of cotton fields, fields that were once tended by slaves.
In the 1930s, historians realized that the number of people who had been held in bondage by the chains of slavery was dwindling. Interviewers circulated among the remaining ex-slaves and recorded their stories. Their voices come to life in my mind. I can picture old Turner crying, heartbroken over the death of a kind white woman. I close my eyes after reading about a slave whose hands and feet were nailed to a board after running away. Closed eyes do not shut out the image. Anna, the daughter of a slave and a slave owner’s son reminisces about the good old days. For Anna, slavery was better than freedom. Frank described how after the war his master was reluctant to let his father go. He saw his daddy whipped and chained to a tree. Frank remained by his father’s side for a week before the master relented and undid the chains.
The men and women who tell these stories share them matter-of-factly as if the lives they lived were ordinary. Political correctness and self-esteem had not yet been stamped on the hearts of African Americans in the 1930s. They refer to themselves and their fellow blacks as niggers and darkies. I find these words on almost every page. I am surprised to see how they appropriated the derogatory labels for themselves, how the men and women in my midnight reading dressed themselves with these words.
Labels. How easily we accept the names that others hold out to us. Ugly, stupid, shy, fat, divorcee, old maid, self-righteous, religious zealots… How easily we cling to mistakes and imperfections and call ourselves names that do not help us live a victorious life.
The children and I just read John 8. The Name Calling Chapter. The Pharisees will be satisfied with nothing less than the murder of Jesus. Jesus knows this, yet, at the height of the Feast of Tabernacles, six months before his crucifixion, he marches into enemy territory (the Temple) and sits down to teach the crowd and to provoke the religious leaders. He’s there to seal His doom. The religious elite call him an illegimate child, demon possessed and the most vile term they can think of…a Samaritan. This chapter does not show Jesus accepting these words and slinking off in defeat. "I tell you the truth," he declares, "before Abraham was born, I am!…My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me….I know where I came from and where I am going."
Jesus is confident. He does not rise up in anger or flee in tears because He knows who He is. So must we. When words are hurled at us…from family…from coworkers…from the media and even the words that we accuse ourselves with, we must fight back with truth. We must know who we are as Christians. We spend much time looking for the names of God in the Bible. And well we should, but, we should also know the names that God calls us.
Beloved of God, A Royal Priesthood, Disciple, Saint, Christian, My Chosen, Co-Heirs with Christ, Sons, Daughters, My People…
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.