1. For Black History Month today, I watched The Rosa Parks Story (2002) and To Kill a Mockingbird.
As I watched The Rosa Parks Story, with its emphasis on maintaining one’s self-respect in the midst of a culture that treats one as an inferior, I was reminded of the wikipedia article on Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor then Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. It states the following about her childhood in the Jim Crow South, and how her parents raised her to overcome racism and not to limit herself:
Rice experienced firsthand the injustices of Birmingham’s discriminatory laws and attitudes. She was instructed to walk proudly in public and to use the facilities at home rather than subject herself to the indignity of “colored” facilities in town. As Rice recalls of her parents and their peers, “they refused to allow the limits and injustices of their time to limit our horizons.”
However, Rice recalls various times in which she suffered discrimination on account of her race, which included being relegated to a storage room at a department store instead of a regular dressing room, being barred from going to the circus or the local amusement park, being denied hotel rooms, and even being given bad food at restaurants. Also, while Rice was mostly kept by her parents from areas where she might face discrimination, she was very aware of the civil rights struggle and the problems of Jim Crow Birmingham. A neighbor, Juliemma Smith, described how “[Condi] used to call me and say things like, ‘Did you see what Bull Connor did today?’ She was just a little girl and she did that all the time. I would have to read the newspaper thoroughly because I wouldn’t know what she was going to talk about.” Rice herself said of the segregation era: “Those terrible events burned into my consciousness. I missed many days at my segregated school because of the frequent bomb threats.”
During the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, [her father] Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house while Condoleezza practiced the piano inside. According to J.L. Chestnut, Reverend Rice called local civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth and his followers “uneducated, misguided Negroes.” Also, Reverend Rice instilled in his daughter and students that black people would have to prove themselves worthy of advancement, and would simply have to be “twice as good” to overcome injustices built into the system. Rice said “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.” While the Rices supported the goals of the civil rights movement, they did not agree with the idea of putting their child in harm’s way.
Rice was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963…Rice states that growing up during racial segregation taught her determination against adversity, and the need to be “twice as good” as non-minorities. Segregation also hardened her stance on the right to bear arms; Rice has said in interviews that if gun registration had been mandatory, her father’s weapons would have been confiscated, leaving them defenseless against Ku Klux Klan nightriders.
On To Kill a Mockingbird, I appreciated the role of Boo Radley more this time around. Boo was a recluse who was viewed as a “boogy man” by his neighbors, yet he had a protective attitude towards the children, Scout and Jem.
A scene that sticks out to me is the one where Cal, the black housekeeper, rebukes Scout for criticizing her guest’s mannerism of putting syrup on his dinner. In the movie, Cal takes the place of the child’s mother, who has died. That reminds me of what I saw on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (in which Collin Wilcox of To Kill of Mockingbird plays a role), where the white lord of the manor tells the elderly Miss Jane that she practically raised him, so he’s reluctant to threaten her for her decision to drink from the “whites only” drinking fountain. The old South baffles me. Whites could have affection towards African-Americans, yet they could turn around and smile and jeer when a lynching was taking place, as if they were at a picnic (as pictures of lynchings document).
But there could be exceptions. In the fictional work, To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s Atticus Finch, and also the white sheriff, who is fair-minded and laments that a black man died “for no reason.” Are people shaped by their culture? If so, then how could Harper Lee conceive of white characters who thought outside of their culture, who chose to treat African-Americans fairly rather than as inferiors? And how could African-Americans choose not to interiorize the insults of their society, to see themselves as people of dignity who are deserving of rights?
2. For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 16. I thought about issues of providence and free will. Vv 18-19 brought this issue to my attention. There, Zimri, the new king of Israel who has just assassinated the previous king, burns down his own house while he’s inside of it. Zimri is worried because Omri, the commander of Israel’s army, has just been appointed king of Israel, so he’s coming to Zimri to lay claim to his position, by force if necessary. And v 19 says that this happened because of Zimri’s sins, in walking after the path of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin.
This baffles some people, for Zimri only ruled Israel for seven days. How could the Deuteronomist make such a judgment about Zimri’s short career? He didn’t exactly have time to be righteous or wicked, right?
But the Deuteronomist may be criticizing Zimri because he went with the flow. He didn’t protest against the idolatry that Jeroboam had established. He wasn’t an Atticus Finch. Or, more to our topic, he’s not Abijah in rabbinic literature, or Tobit, who went to Jerusalem to worship, even though their Northern Israelite culture didn’t think highly of that.
But here’s where providence and free-will come in. Omri chose to leave the Philistine battlefield where the Israelite army then was to go to Tirzah (the capitol of Northern Israel) and lay claim to the kingship. Zimri chose to burn down his house with himself inside of it, afraid of what Omri would do to him. These people are acting according to their free-will, as it is shaped by their carnal impulses of spite, greed, or fear. Yet, the biblical author asserts that God is at work in all of this, accomplishing his just purposes. Is God causing the characters to act in this way? Are they making their own decisions? The answer to both may be “yes.”
Yet, here’s something else that’s weird. In I Kings 15-16, God lifted Baasha from the dust so that he could become king of Northern Israel in place of Jeroboam’s dynasty. Yet, v 7 says that God punished Baasha because he killed the person representing the house of Jeroboam, King Nadab, Jeroboam’s son. Just because God appoints a person king, that doesn’t mean he has the right to murder the person who is currently in charge. David recognized that when he was on the run from Saul. Jeroboam didn’t kill King Rehoboam (though, to be fair, God didn’t promise Jeroboam that he’d have Rehoboam’s dominion, Southern Israel). But God could make exceptions on this policy, for God commanded Jehu to kill Ahab’s house as punishment for its murder of God’s prophets (II Kings 9:7).
So maybe God has plans, which he executes in response to our decisions. But he desires for us to behave righteously in the course of his plans—he predicted that Baasha would be king, yet he didn’t want Baasha to kill the current king, but rather to trust God to work things out. Yet, even when people misbehave out of their carnal desires, God can use that to fulfill his just desires. Does God cause them to make their bad decisions? Perhaps God’s working with the carnality that’s there—not creating it, but working with it, or pointing it in a certain direction. “Hey, Omri, now’s a good time for you to become king! I know it’s what you’ve always wanted!”