Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Christmas Story, Chapter 9, Incarnation

By: Mike Furches

James didn't normally mind mowing the church property on the riding tractor mower the church had. It was an opportunity to catch up on his community service hours requirements and pick up a few extra dollars the church paid him for the work above and beyond the community service. Today was different though. James was frustrated to the point of getting angry at the smallest things and it wasn't even noon yet. It was hot at 102 degrees despite James mowing early in the day to escape the even hotter temperatures expected during the afternoon. It wasn't the temperature that was causing him to have a tough morning thought, it was the news reports he was listening to through his headphones as he mowed.
"A New York City Grand Jury has refused to place formal charges against the city police department in the death of New York City resident James McKnight, an African American male in his late 50's. McKnight was choked to death while being subdued by 5 NYPD police officers after a dispute where he, McKnight, was accused of selling unlicensed and untaxed cigarettes. Witnesses on the scene recorded the tragic event with cell phones. The videos show McKnight pleading his case, stating that he had done nothing wrong. It also shows one officers taking McKnight down, placing him in a choke hold to the point he was claiming he couldn't breathe. At least 2 other officers initially held McKnight down, additional officers arriving moments later also lay over McKnight. The officers on the scene also tased McKnight after he was apparently unconscious. The hold in question is disallowed in many police departments around the country and was under dispute within the NYPD which claimed the hold was not a choke hold. Others on scene and investigating the video disputed that claim."
"Witnesses on the scene claimed that over the last months McKnight had been harassed by the police department and that he had done nothing to bring about the actions of the police during this particular situation. This incident has brought about national concern as numerous civil rights leaders were still fresh on the heals of protesting the failure to indict a police officer in Memphis Tennessee who had shot and killed an unarmed man who he claimed attacked him. Unlike the case in New York there was no police footage of the incident in Memphis, thus having police forces across the country being urged to provide body cameras for police officers which would record the police actions. While cost has been a factor as to why many forces have not provided cameras, other forces say the savings from various litigated cases justify the cost not to mention the insurance that the public is served and placed in no danger."
The more James listened, the angrier he got. It seemed as if society didn't understand the plight of blacks. Many blacks were becoming more and more convinced that it was open season on blacks in America. While Sergeant Mike Jackson was right in previous conversations with James, a lot of people had sacrificed a great deal to bring about changes for Blacks, it seemed to James as if at times, there would be 2 or 3 steps forward only to be jerked back 2 or 3 more steps. While there was progress, there were always those ignorant people who kept that progress from proceeding at any appropriate pace, at least that is how many Blacks saw it. There was a belief from many Blacks that yes indeed, many Whites were offended, afraid, and prejudiced towards them. It didn't take much of an effort in most of the communities surrounding Tulsa to see that while there was some progress in better jobs, careers and so forth, Tulsa like many other communities still had a dividing line that separated the races, certainly the financial classes of people. While economics played a part in it, James couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't  more to the problem.
It was approaching the lunch hour and Charlie and Tayra would be arriving soon to take James out to one of his favorite barbeque joints in North Tulsa, Stuts. After the morning James was having he was praying the radio in the car wouldn't be tuned onto one of those conservative talk shows that Charlie liked to listen to. James never listened to the programs much due to his work schedule but what he had heard infuriated him. It seemed as if many of the right wingers had little concern and compassion for the poor, especially poor blacks. Despite what many said, based on what he had heard from others, there were some who were racists.
Charlie and Tayra arrived a little early to pick James up from the church. He was putting the lawnmower into the churches garage and was wiping it down when Charlie walked in, "Hey there youngster you ready for lunch?"
"Sure!" James responded, not showing much, if any, emotion.
Charlie knew something was eating at James by his demeanor and brief response. Charlie chose not to push it though and simply asked, "Well how does some Barbeque sound? I was thinking of going to Trails End in Owasso. I know it is the stuff made by White folks and won't be as good as Stuts but it is still pretty good, how does that sound?"
James gave a look as he thought to himself, 'There you go, making everything about race like Blacks are supposed to be all about real Barbeque comes from Blacks or something like that.' While James didn't say it, he certainly thought it. He did respond in a somewhat confrontational tone, "Well if that's what you want, I guess it will be fine with me."
Charlie, not sure of what was going on, but knowing something was bothering James simply said, 'Well," after a brief pause, "I guess it's Trails End then."
As the two got in the car Tayra was sitting there listening to the radio, shaking her head.
"What's up honey?" Charlie asked.
"It's all those darned protests going on regarding the recent shooting and choking deaths of those Black guys. I don't know how it is that people can't sometimes give the police a break. Rush Limbaugh was just talking about it and one of the callers really got me ticked off blasting the police." Tayra responded with some agitation.
"Yeah, it's crazy isn't it." Charlie responded, "I wonder what Sergeant Jackson would say about all of this with him being Black and all."
Meanwhile in the back seat James sat there thinking to himself while listening to the sounds of Limbaugh go on all around him through the car speakers, 'give me a break, like you know what it is like just to be suspected of something because of the color of your skin. If you only knew.' While he was thinking this, he knew he wasn't at the place where he could say it without causing all kinds of problems.
James blocked out the conversation going on between Charlie and Tayra. It was something he knew better than to engage in. Charlie and Tayra were certainly aware of James in the back seat but assumed he saw and thought about the recent news events the way they did, after all, James had become friends with both a White police officer, Detective Hay and a Black policeman, Sergeant Jackson. Becoming to some extent friends with these two didn't change reality for James though. He had seen and heard the police numerous times in his part of town. The sirens blaring and the use of the N word by so many White policemen was something that disturbed him. It seemed like fewer and fewer Whites understood the conditions that put Blacks into so many of the situations they were in.
Poor paying jobs, the influx of gangs and the lack of development in black communities among many other social economic reasons were things that many people didn't take seriously when looking at the plight of Blacks and poor Whites in many communities. People seemed to look at the end results but didn't take seriously how to change the situations that put them into the places to often make poor or bad decisions. It was easy for example to speak out against abortion but was done with an attitude that seemed to refuse to address issues that ignored children raising children, raising children in poverty situations and on top of that making it almost impossible for single parents to provide and get the appropriate care needed for a child in its early developmental stages. Many in the Black community knew that even the roads in their neighborhoods were among the last to get treated in the ice and snow storms.
It was clear that what development that had come into the Black community came at the expense of saving money and making sacrifices. When it came to the economic development so easily seen in the South Tulsa and Broken Arrow communities, the Black communities North of the railroad tracks and Turley had not been seen by those living in those communities. James was convinced this was because of the racial prejudice that still existed. Much of America didn't like a Black president, and they didn't care about helping the Black community. While this wasn't the case for all Whites, it was the view many in the predominantly Black communities, including many poor Whites had seen.
Unfortunately, the opinion of The Hamm's had been influenced by the discussions on Talk Radio. It seemed as if the overwhelming majority of times in the car to James and others that they were listening to political talk, often times addressed and targeting anyone who wanted to see some change come about for those in poorer situations. James had heard the discussion on talk radio talk so much about God, even at times having the hosts trying to promote what they stated was Christian concepts. James as a young Black man had noticeably experienced this even from the Hamm's. It was like they were talking to him and presenting ideas like the radio talk show hosts had done to their audiences. James could see the influences though that had mixed a faith which on the surface looked good to intertwining politics which seemed to not be consistent with the faith being stated. James wasn't a Biblical scholar though, all he knew was what he had seen. What he had seen was something he didn't like. It didn't take him or his friends, family, or community seriously.
James knew though, if it wasn't talk radio for The Hamm's and others he had heard, it was watching Fox News and the Right leaning aspect of some of the programs there or politically slanted newspapers, magazines or other sources of information. It was one of the reasons James chose to spend more time, what little time he had, playing games with Sammy instead of sitting in front of the television with the family where it seemed Charlie and Tayra watched political programming more than any other form of programming. While he was appreciative of what The Hamm's were doing for him, there were still more times than not that he felt like a fish out of water. It seemed as if it was his responsibility to fit in and he thought, that if anything, those who were trying to help him, should at least try to be like Jesus and try to find ways they could fit in with him, his culture, and his surroundings. There were too many token references made by Whites, like Blacks liking and preferring Barbeque made by other Blacks. They also likely thought he wanted watermelon with every meal. He wasn't an old southern slave, wasn't a boy, didn't have a Mammy and didn't eat finger licking fried chicken all of the time. He was his own unique individual whose opinions were based more on his experiences than they were the color of his skin.
The three of them finally arrived at the barbeque joint. Truth is while it wasn't as good as Stuts, it was still pretty good barbeque, especially the potato salad and chopped beef sandwich and a side of ribs. There was one difference though, here, James was the only Black person in the restaurant, it would have likely been that Charlie and Tayra were the only white people in the place if they had gone to Stuts. Both places had good barbeque but there was no denying, even in the case of good food, segregation and lack of understanding existed.
Sammy, Charlie and James were going out for a guys night out. They were going to take a drive out in the country, take some photos, which is something they had come to enjoy doing together and spend time talking. As was normally the case, Charlie went to turn on the radio, it wasn't long before he turned it off of the talk radio station to another radio station playing music. Some of the late night talk radio hosts were too much for Charlie. While he leaned to the right of center, some of those late night hosts were extreme whackos as far as Charlie was concerned. At first James was pleased that Charlie was changing the station but it wasn't long before Charlie, trying to understand Blacks more and showing his empathy turned the station to a Hip Hop station. Charlie thought it was a station James would like mainly because he was Black.
After a song or two James asked, "Could you please change the station? I hate this stuff."
"You hate it? I thought this was your kind of music." Charlie responded as Sammy rolled his eyes, knowing that James actually preferred Country Music.
James became a little confrontational and replied, "Yeah I hate it, not all Blacks are alike just as not all White's are alike. I have a ton of friends who hate this stuff."
Trying to be nice and break the attitude Charlie responded, "Well excuuuusssseeeeee me!  What would you prefer to listen to Mr. Briscoe?"
While Charlie may have been surprised, Sammy wasn't, when James responded somewhat sarcastically "Well Sir, I would prefer Big Country Radio 99.5! After all I know all of you White folks around here seem to love Country."
Sammy sitting back trying to prevent a possible argument that he could sense was happening responded, "Hey, I have an idea, I've been listening to this program on a streaming station that plays a little bit of everything and is pretty good, can we listen to that?" Sammy in his wisdom, not saying anything prior to this was received well by Charlie and James at his request.
"Sure," Charlie responded. 
"I don't have a problem with it." James replied.
"Hook it up and go to your station." Charlie said to Sammy.
Sammy quickly set the cars radio settings to auxiliary and hooked up his phone to the sound system. After pushing a few buttons the program started playing on the cars stereo system.
"You're listening to Mike Furches and the Lightshine program here at Bacon Rock. That last song was Faces in Cabs by the late, great, Mark Heard. I had the honor of getting to know Mark a little back in college and it was tragic that he died so young. It was right after performing at the Cornerstone Festival in Chicago some years ago now that he passed. I especially enjoyed the fact that Mark understood the importance of getting to know people, knowing where they came from. Mark understood incarnation of Christ we read about in scripture. It is a concept Mark understood quite well. We have to be around others, share in life with them to get to know them and them us. People are more than just faces in cabs, they have issues and experiences that we may not be aware of when we make the judgments we often make." The radio host Mike Furches continued.
"Up next is a song from one of my favorite Canadians that kind of follows up on the themes of the Mark Heard song Faces in Cabs. The artist is Bruce Cockburn and the song is 'The Trouble with Normal.' Listen to the lyrics as Bruce sings about how the trouble with normal is it always seems right. The reality is, our expectations and views are often not reality. Certainly not on a world wide political front. Certainly not on an even more complicated individual and personal point. Think about all of that as the song starts up and remember, it really is hard to understand another's life unless we have walked in their shoes. Until you have done that, stop, listen, respect, and above all, love. Again, thanks for listening to Mike Furches and Lightshine here on the Bacon Rock Network and now let's let the music do the preaching." The song in a rhythmic rock and roll form started its haunting tune, reflecting in large on much of what the host had just stated but in a way that had the listener thinking about its meaning consciously and for some, even subconsciously but all the time, none the less, listening to a specific point of thought that had to do with listening and understanding another, despite what differences there may be
Charlie, Sammy and James continued on their night listening to the radio and the message being presented on the program much more than normal. The program had a way of addressing themes, preaching if you will in a format they enjoyed, using all kinds of music, from all kinds of artists, some Christian some not to address various points that were clearly designed to get one to think. Charlie could see why Sammy knew of the program and liked it. Charlie and James thought about the content of the dialog and as fascinating as it was, the subtle hints as to the meanings of the songs in a teaching, seed, thought provoking kind of way from the dialog of the shows host.
As the radio program came to an end, the host said something that resonated with everyone in the car, especially, James.  "In closing tonight's program I want you to think about something. It is something we try to get you to think about through the show but I wrap on at the end of it. You know, it really is all about Jesus. It is sad that some who say they are his followers and others who are openly not his followers get so caught up in judging the actions of those who say they are followers of Jesus. They making the judgments like to often point to how many Christians don't live up to the expectations they expect. Each of us making those judgments needs to make sure that if judging Christianity, that we look to the person of Jesus, nothing else. We need to see the Son of God who loved the world so much that He gave up His life so that we may find our lives and a place of peace, purpose and meaning. Thankfully Jesus rose from the dead and those who have committed to Him as Forgiver and Leader or Lord and Savior can rediscover life not from just a Heavenly perspective but a life that begins to experience aspects of Heaven now. Jesus chose to incarnate to get to know us so that we could better get to know Him. Remember that as you get to know those around you and the people you come into contact with, whether they be, Red or Yellow, Black or White or any combination thereof, we are all precious in God's sight. This is your humble host saying good night and God bless."
James and Charles were reminded of a conversation they had earlier with Detective Hay and Sergeant Jackson. A conversation where the four of them spoke about the importance of spending time together, getting to know each others culture, not just each other. Detective Hay and Sergeant Jackson, especially Sergeant Jackson made it clear that ones environment played a huge part in who each person was. Who had raised them, friends and the community all played a part of each persons identity. If you grew up in an environment where your family had money for video games, you would be different in many ways than a family with no money. The one with no money was often molded by the community; so if basketball was all there was to do, it would be a part of who a person was. Then again, if your friends did drugs, that would be a part of who you were. The programs one watched on television, listened to on the radio had more of an impact on ones identity than most realized.
This was an issue Sergeant Jackson and Detective Hay understood all too well because their work helped them to understand it as they dealt with cultures from various places and had learned to be cautious of the judgments of the individuals they worked with. There was often far more to the story than one realized and they had seen this far too often. They also understood that with the differences between The Hamm's and James there would ultimately be some issues. It was clear in the minds of both James and Charles, that some of those issues were not only now occurring, they had been happening for some time. It was inevitable there would be conflict, the seriousness of the conflict was yet to be determined.
Even with the discussions and advice from Detective Hay and Sergeant Jackson in the minds of Charlie, Tayra and James, things would get worse before they got better. James continued meeting his obligations to the church, living with the Hamm's through the week, going to church, spending time with his brothers and sisters on weekends with Sergeant Jackson and being as nice as possible but the relationship and understanding needed between a Black young man and a White family required more than a desire to get along and understand each other, James just didn't know exactly how to get there and unfortunately, neither did the Hamm's.
Several months had passed since the victim restitution plan had gone into effect. While there was only 2 months left for James in the program, there were still questions. What would happen with his brothers and sisters when the whole process was over? What would happen to him? He knew he was still a minor and the state of Oklahoma would not let him remain in charge of his family in any way. He also knew a state hearing would be taking place the week after his time was up for serving out the punishment he was serving. These thoughts, on top of everything else only caused James to be under more duress. While Thanksgiving was soon approaching, James seemed to have more questions than reasons to be thankful. That attitude would come to full head later on. James would soon discover, just like in many so called good families, that the Holidays could create stress just as easily as joy. It was a reality that was never fun and James would quickly learn that all too well.
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