I Admit It | July 18, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
The true meaning of the ethical is “to help God by loving his creation in his creatures….”
– Martin Buber
I admit it! I was disgusted with Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson’s trip into space and commercial media’s celebration of it while millions in this nation starve and are without adequate housing. Often coupled with the stories of this venture was the challenge by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to go even higher in space. The New York Times reported that a person who had paid $28 million for a seat on Jeff Bezos’ light to the edge of space will not be able to go because of a scheduling conflict. His seat will be taken by Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student. Is something wrong with this picture? Do we need to cheer these plans to foul space and other planets while our own earth teeters on the brink of extinction? Do we need to continue to flaunt someone’s obscene wealth when many people struggle each day just to stay alive?
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
– Luke 16:19-31
I share this scripture with you not to say that Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos will end up being tormented in hell. No, that is not my purpose nor my prerogative. The purpose is to help us to seize the opportunities presented to us every day to make a difference in the life of someone who stands before us in need – those often spit upon.
This opportunity or obligation is part of our religious heritage. It is very much a part of Jewish religious law to provide aid to the poor just as it is in Islam and the Religion of Jesus. The point of the story is not even what the mythical character Lazarus did not do. The question being raised is what are we doing with the opportunities before us to be good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed, set imprisoned free and proclaim a new day in the land? How are we being good neighbors?
Any modicum of sensitivity should indicate that something is wrong with the relationship of Lazarus and Dives. Something is wrong with the relationship of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to the dispossessed. Branson and Bezos are possessed by their wealth and should do something about that.
We can see the glaring juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in the parable. The relationship is not only unjust; but also bereft of compassion.
Our story, however, is not just about Branson and Bezos. They are symptomatic of the extreme wealth in this nation and the extreme poverty. Our nation is both Lazarus and Dives. Our national leadership has the opportunity before it to speak to the needs of our time, not only domestically but globally. How many nations have been impoverished by our greed?
There is also something wrong when we and the nation do not respond in a positive way to the demands that life makes. How does our wealth in various forms – knowledge, work, talent, insights, material resources, faith journeys, artistic expressions – speak to the needs of the disinherited?
Teilhard de Chardin wrote:
We imagine perhaps that creation was finished long ago. This is not true. It continues more graciously than ever . . . and we serve to complete it, even with the humblest work of our hand…. In each of our works we labor, in a very minute but real way, to build the Pleroma…. In action I adhere to the creative power of God; I coincide with it.
It seemed that we had a movement during the last year to at least see more clearly the inequities that plague our society. The Black Lives Matter Movement catalyzed many to stand up against the constant death dealing actions against Black bodies, Black lives. A revived spirit and consciousness emerged in the streets of our nation. The BLM reiterated the value of Black lives and determined how we would engage society in different ways, creating our own history and future rather than responding to the polluted dominant defeating narratives that always lead to a soiled future.
This initiative played a major role in the rising of so many demanding that Derek Chauvin be held accountable for his murder of George Floyd. I wonder sometimes if the conviction of the individual, Derek Chauvin, has led to a feeling that the system works, that the bad cop was punished. However, the bad system that produced Chauvin was not. It is, with some reform in some places, basically intact.
Yet, the Movement was successful in putting forth a clear analysis, a succinct message of the dilemma, the urgency to address it, and possible alternatives to the present situation. That should be applauded. That was what was needed and as a result many were able to draw upon the inherent strength and power within themselves to demand the transformation of the death dealing system. This is a noble beginning.
Martin Buber instructs us:
In a true sense man is really helping God when, for love for his fellow man and inspired by the vision of a new earth, he becomes involved through his actions in the task of transforming the world of today into the new earth of tomorrow.
Buber’s understanding clearly supports the idea that God is not through either with creation or us. Creation has invested in us hope and creativity because what is now is not the end of this continuous unfolding of life possibilities. The BLM does not merely critique what is. It is an invitation to us to produce dividends with the investments deposited in our lives.
What is sad for me is that both Branson and Bezos have been brought into life to be part of the continuing re-creation. They certainly have imagination, imagination critical to creating something marvelously empowering for the future. They both possess wonderful skills that could be used to broaden the security of many who live on the precipice of extinction. They and we are presented daily with the option to choose whom we shall serve.
Rubem Alves writes:
He (The human being) is an unfinished experiment. Although conditioned by his past, he is not condemned to go on repeating and reenacting it in rigidly repetitive fashion. He has the unique possibility of using his past as a tool for the creation of a qualitatively new future. Man’s physical nature does not mean, therefore, that he is determined by his organism. His body is creative. It has the power to go beyond itself and give birth to something that did not exist before….
How wonderful it would be if we could “go into space” that separates the masses of people from those with masses of money! This would indeed be the birth of something new and needed, something that would be a blessing to all. It would be bringing of the Realm of Heaven or the Beloved Community in hand and what a wonderful world that would be.
Pierre Further explains, the goal is no longer to make sure that the space already conquered remains as it is,… but rather to temporalize the space. I become aware that the space where I live will be shaped by what I do. If the space tells me that the universe preexists my discovery of it, the temporalization of the space proves that this created universe is still unfinished.
Unfinished, it is waiting for us, you and me, to add our flavor to it. Not only is the creation, the universe, not finished, neither are we. We have dreams to dream, work to do, and transforming lives to live.
Allan Knight Chalmers, a contemporary of Dr. Howard Thurman and teacher of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shares these insights.
Victor Hugo in the French Revolution section of Les Miserables pictures the silent city as the people hid behind their shut doors. He describes the silence as being more than the silence of emptiness. To keep from making noise the people held their breath behind those locked doors.
The leaders lost for an instant their courage. It was a case of every man for himself. They, too, were about to scatter for their lives. In that moment, the men on the barricade heard a voice:
Be it so! Let us raise the barricades and let us all remain within it. Let us give the authorities the protests of our corpses. Let us show them that though the people may abandon the Republic. The Republicans do not abandon the people.
The name of the man who spoke thus was never known. He was some unknown blouse-wearer. A common man. That great anonymous always present in human crises and social geneses, who utters the important word in a supreme fashion and then fades away into darkness having represented for a moment, as in a lightning flash, the people and God.
Chalmers adds: Beside the idea, “I don’t have to succeed, let me add a corollary, But I do have to try.” It does matter what I do.
QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE
“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
Long before I was born God was at work
Creating life, nature and the world of men and things.
The worlds were ideas in the mind of God
that have been realizing themselves through the ages.
God is not through with creation —
God is not through with me.
– Howard Thurman
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. – Karl Marx