She Was Clever and Tenacious

She Was Clever and Tenacious

There is no way to sugarcoat this, so I’m going to tell you upfront: my dad was a racist.

Born in 1916, Dad grew up largely unsupervised on a hardscrabble farm with no electricity or running water, the fifth of twelve children.

When he was still a child, he was sent out to work, first for a local farmer as a field hand, then to his aunt and uncle in Philadelphia, selling crabcakes made in their restaurant from a cart on a street corner.

Clever and tenacious, Dad had two lucky breaks early in life.

First, two unmarried aunts took a special interest in him and offered to pay for his college tuition. Dad supplemented their largesse with money he won playing poker and got his teaching degree in three years.

Second, Dad played semi-professional baseball in the summer. In the leagues where he played, the pitchers and catchers got paid from cash collected by passing a hat among the fans. The rest of the players did not get paid. Dad was a catcher.

He once told me a story about how he was the only white player on an otherwise all-Black baseball team.

Their regular catcher got hurt during a game with my dad’s team, right before the all-Black team was to set off on a lucrative tour of Maryland and Northern Virginia.

They asked Dad if he wanted to fill in as their catcher and he agreed, touring with a Black baseball team. In the 1930s. In the American South.

They were a great bunch of guys,” was the only report I got from him on his time with the team.

She Was Clever and Tenacious

One story I always struggled with from the Bible was the story of the woman who asked Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.

I read many articles, interpretations of the chapter in Matthew where the story is found, trying to make sense of its meaning, but none of them rang true. Here is the story:

A Canaanite woman approached Jesus, crying out and begging him to heal her afflicted child.

Jesus did not answer.

His disciples, however, urged him to get rid of this annoying, nagging woman. They had been on the road for a while and I imagine they were tired. They had important things to take care of – logistics to discuss, plans to make.

Jesus finally tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.

The woman was from the wrong group of people. She was a Gentile, a foreigner, from a region called Tyre and Sidon, who the Jews hated because they fought on opposite sides in an ancient war.

And she was a woman, bothering important men who had other plans.

But she was clever and tenacious. She persisted in asking Jesus for his help.

The response of gentle Jesus, whose compelling message of love and forgiveness has endured for centuries? “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Did he really just call this woman a dog?

Was he that callous? That heartless? That cruel?

Did he do it so as not to lose face with his boys, the disciples?

As I said, however, the woman was clever and tenacious. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” she responded.

And then. I can just imagine Jesus smiling at her boldness, at her faith that he was the one who could help her daughter, at her desperate hope. He relented.

Her daughter was healed.

I think we just witnessed Jesus’ growth. Yes, he was divine, but he was fully human too, capable of being challenged and of learning. His attitude toward Gentiles changed forever on that day because of one clever and tenacious woman.

I finally understood the point of the story.

As Austin Steelman says in The Harvard Ichthus, “Jesus shows us in this story that inheriting bias is inevitable, but holding onto it is a choice.

It is hard to hate people up close.

Jesus couldn’t do it. The Canaanite woman, who belonged to an ethnic group despised by his people, ultimately got what she asked for and changed Jesus’ perception of non-Jews forever.

I wish my dad could have been so enlightened.

Dad viewed his teammates as an aberration. Most Blacks (other than the ones he played baseball with, of course) were, he felt, somehow inferior. I’m not sure exactly how or why he thought this, but he did.

Dad, unlike Jesus, made the choice to hold on to the bias he inherited. He squandered his opportunity for growth.

Meditations in MotionWe have an opportunity here, in this country we love, now, in this moment of history. Let’s not squander it, let’s embrace it.

Let’s be clever and tenacious.

Let’s ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?

Let’s choose growth.

 

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66 comments

  1. I don’t know much about the bible but I have often wondered what my friend talks about with her bible study group. I guess I better understand now. Not every story in there is clear, and it’s certainly told from a different time. I agree that we should all choose to be clever and tenacious and think about – and act on – what is the right thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a lot of different interpretations of many things in the Bible. I guess that’s why there are so many Christian denominations. No one has the corner on the “right” interpretation! 🙂

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  2. Laurie, first of all, thank you for sharing your all-to-honest story about your father- that takes courage! Secondly, bias and racism is definitely learned. We are not programmed genetically to hate our fellow human beings. I’ve always looked at this story of Jesus and the Gentile woman as yes, He is realizing His mission is first for the Jews and others later, but we also need to remember the context of the times. Women were, at best, second class citizens, and outsiders were worse. That He extended grace to her in healing her daughter, all that goes beyond cultural bias, is nothing short of miraculous. May we all be the first to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing our brothers and sisters and children of God.
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I love your interpretation of the story. Women, especially foreign women, were definitely second-class citizens in that time. We are indeed all children of God.

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  3. A good story and a good message. The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a favorite of mine, too. I’ve wondered if Jesus, with his language, was trying to draw the Hebrew crowd in so He could shock them all with the punch line. And you hit the nail on the head: It is hard to hate people up close.

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  4. An interesting interpretation Laurie. I think there is something that runs through most of us where we feel a suspicion or distrust for those we don’t understand or for what we’ve seen on TV. I know that racism was always the “norm” in some small degree for my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, much less so for mine and even less in my children. I think as the world gets smaller, we start to see the similarities more – but I just wish we could get there without the riots and the vitriole.

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    • That’s a great point, Leanne. I hope we are seeing the similarities more and more. I know when I was a kid, interracial marriage was uncommon but now it’s not. I wish we could get there without the hate too.

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  5. It’s always so hard to look at the failures and flaws of our parents, Laurie, especially when they lived in such inspiring ways alongside the racist choices. I bet his good far outweighed his bad. He sounds like a very interesting and accomplished man too! Thanks for sharing his story and for inspiring us to be gracious and compassionate like Jesus was in that story as well! Hugs to you!

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    • Yes, despite his racist views, I don’t think my dad was an evil man. He had a lot of qualities I admire – his honesty, his ability to make friends, his love of the outdoors. Thank you, Beth.

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  6. I know Dad saw affirmation action at work. They would hire workers who were not qualified for the job according to him. But individually like with the baseball players they were fine. Frank and I often wonder what our fathers would think of Trump. He always said you vote for the party not the candidate. I just don’t understand how anyone could vote for him. We will try to vote by mail in Florida. Maybe our votes will make more of a difference in Florida than they did in RI.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can remember him talking about coworkers at The Bell who were unqualified too. I wonder too what Dad would think of Trump. I know there are some Republicans who don’t like him and are speaking out. Maybe that would have given Dad “permission” to be against him. Good thinking about making your votes count!

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  7. wonderful parable Laurie… indeed let’s choose growth. And stop squandering all the riches that come from being in a society where each person is allowed to give their abilities to the group.
    I like the choice quote a lot.
    I was adopted into a very racist family, and learned by negative example how I wanted to be part of a diverse world. They seemed so limited to me.
    LeeAnna

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  8. Laurie, I so appreciate your candid delivery here–and with no apologies or excuses about ‘those were the times.’ I’m finishing up Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and it kept coming up as I read this post. I think that if Jesus were here right now, he’d be going after policy to fight systemic racism!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m almost finished–but I printed it from PDF form and started reading it in June! I’m marking it up pretty good. I know how I read–if I zip through it, I’ll retain nothing. I need to real slowly, reread many sentences, then sit with it. I’ve heard others say they’re taking it slow…I don’t know how anyone couldn’t!

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  9. Laurie,
    Thank you for sharing such an honest and poignant post. I remember being appalled at my parents comments when my daughter – their granddaughter was dating a young black man. But, before I am too quick to judge, I have been coming face to face with my own latent biases. Fear is born out of ignorance…get to truly know someone and the fear and bias begin to disappear.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am sure we all have biases of some sort, Bev. The important thing is to recognize that and work to shed them. You are so right – fear is born out of ignorance and anger is born out of fear. Working to change that is helping to build God’s kingdom here on earth!

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  10. I echo all that others have said. My father too, though it never made sense to me. He was born just 6 years before your dad, so very close generationally. He was a first generation American and if you look at pictures of his dad, you would assume African and not be all wrong. Cape Verdean. Yet, in whatever desire the family had to ignore or deny their roots and fit in, he was pretty prejudiced, to my teenage mortification. I have a slightly different view of the story of Jesus and the woman, though I agree his words to her were and are shocking. It always seems to be people who would be classified other, that Jesus engaged in conversation. The Samaritan Woman, the Canaanite Woman, the Roman Centurion. And it was among those people he seemed to find the strongest expressions of faith, in direct contrast to the response of the majority of Pharisees, etc. I think too of the wonderful song from South Pacific, by Rogers and Hammerstein, ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught….to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught!” There are times I quote Oscar Hammerstein II as one of my favorite theologians. From Sound of Music, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, ‘Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, love isn’t love till you give it away.” Best and blessings, M

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can remember in the 1960s my sister was in college and she called my dad out on a racist statement he made. I was 13 years younger than my sister and shocked at her boldness against my father. She was right, though.

      I agree with you – Jesus tended to have connections with people who would definitely be considered outsiders by Jews at that time. My mom used to direct the high school and community plays and musicals when I was a kid. Thinking about some of those old songs brings back great memories. I never thought about Hammerstein being a theologian before but he does have some pretty powerful things to say through his lyrics, doesn’t he?

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  11. My father, as you know, was also a racist (he was born in 1913), and as a matter of principle hated anybody from a different ethnic group, most especially Black people — except, that is, for the ones he knew personally. The time is ripe to revisit the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Our country has come to an agonizing but necessary decision point: do we finally acknowledge and deal with the most vicious aspects of our history, which percolate into our present and will continue to wound us in the future? Or do we turn out attention elsewhere and hope “things settle down” even though we know from experience that’s (1) wrong and (2) impossible. I’m reading Isabelle Wilkerson’s “Caste” right now, and it is truly life-changing — highly, urgently recommend it!

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  12. I appreciate you sharing this story, Laurie. I’m sure many of us have racist relatives in our past (and some, even in our present). I’m with you on this: “We have an opportunity here, in this country we love, now, in this moment of history. Let’s not squander it, let’s embrace it….Let’s choose growth.”

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  13. Well my parents were not only racist but disliked anyone that was Gentile.

    Yes I was raised Jewish.

    Fortunately I am not like them at all. I married a non Jew and have a very close friend who is Black.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for sharing your story. We all need to know how things have been and now how they could be. The trouble with ‘being white’ is the privilege it seems to offer. I know I have thought long and hard about this. I was brought up white and middle classed. However, my parents came from working class roots and wanted the best for us kids. It’s something that I am at least more aware of than I used to be and I am grateful for the conversations we can have now.

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek and next week the optional prompt is 35/51 Share Your Snaps #7 31.8.2020 and I hope to see you there too. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Denyse and I hope your surgery went well and you are on the road to healing.

      I am grateful that meaningful conversations concerning race have been the result of all the turmoil in this country. Thanks also for hosting and see you next week.

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  15. Laurie, I’m so glad we are neighbors today at Recharge Wednesday. Such an interesting story of your dad’s life. And I love the Harvard Ichthus quote, powerful words! I pray to not only be clever and tenacious but to also never hold on to bias.

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  16. Thank you for your honesty here. I like the Ichthus quote you shared. It’s a shame that some choose to hold on to the bias. May we always ask “What would Jesus do?” and embrace every opportunity for growth.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My dad was somewhat similar. He would say he wasn’t racist, that a black man saved his life in the service. But then he used the “n” word and other derogatory words for other races. I don’t know how he didn’t comprehend that as racist. Once a bagger in our grocery story was a black teen who was on the local high school football team. My dad really liked him. This guy wrote a letter to the editor asking people not to call black guys “boy,” describing how that made him feel. Because the letter came from this guy my dad liked, he received it favorably and said, “I never thought about it that way before.” But if we kids tried to point out something he did or said that we thought wrong, we would have gotten in big trouble for “sassing.”

    I’ve always taken that partuclar story of Jesus to mean He was testing her faith–and not just for her sake but for those listening. He would have been echoing the common sentiment toward Gentiles, I think probably more to show up the other listeners: “You think of this woman as a ‘dog,” but look at the great faith she has”–greater than those who knew His Word and should have known who He was. I read a book somewhere (I’d have to do some digging to find the title) that traced how all through the Bible, God’s plan was to include Gentiles. Jesus made it a point to seek out the marginalized of that day, often amazing the disciples and onlookers when He talked with people that they wouldn’t have. I was an adult before it hit me that the main point of the Good Samaritan wasn’t that a kindly stranger helped someone who had been injured–it was that they were from races who were enemies, yet he still did everything he could to help the man. And I’ve often pondered how Christians for so long missed the fact that Jesus’s actions and stories crossed racial barriers. It took the disciples until the book of Acts to get it, but it has taken most of the Christian church much longer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It took me until I was an adult to get the main point of the Good Samaritan too. Jesus leads by example. I think some Christians still miss how he shows us to seek out, befriend, and have empathy for the marginalized, without using race as a consideration. Maybe we are in a period now in this country of growth, but deep-seated bias is hard to let go of, just as our fathers showed us.

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