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Category Archives: imagination

One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.
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Henry Sylvester Bobo is my late paternal grandfather.  To say, I adored and respected this man would be a gross understatement. I miss this man. When I think of him, and that’s often, I smile. He taught me much (and he still teaches me posthumously).  I observed him up close and personal and from a far (we stayed in Kansas City, MO; he and my grandmother lived in Kansas City, KS). I am people watcher. I am an observer (credit my engineering training and laboratory days). Watching and observing grandpa was a joy to me and a preoccupation of mine. What did I observe and/or learn from this honorable and illustrious man?

First, he taught me that it’s okay to have an imagination. My granddad was wildly creative.  His imagination manifested itself in the beautiful works he did with bricks, concrete and stone. He built fireplaces, patios, and walls.  He was an entrepreneur: a self-employed brickmason! And he was good. His imagination was evident with his “home made shoes.” Long story, but those shoes, they were a sight to behold!

Second, he was a tender, affectionate and gentle man. He was the first African-American man to say to me, “I love you.” The first man. Although I struggle to say those three words, I still remember my dear grandpa saying those words to me; I was a teenager I believe.

Third, he showed me husbandry.  He was not a perfect man (I am certain his kids would attest to that); however, from what I observed, he was a good husband to the late Willa Mae, his dear love and the former high kicking majorette at Sumner High School.  Theirs was the true Camelot marriage in my mind. I vividly remember my grandpa, the doting husband, would respond to Willa Mae’s inquiries by saying “yes, baby.” When she became a vulnerable and ‘weak lamb’ – when she grew ill and struggled with dementia – she would ask the same question repeatedly and yet, he would respond patiently, “yes, baby.”  When she was hospitalized, he stayed in the hospital room with her by sleeping on an uncomfortable couch. He loved his wife, Willa Mae.  When Willa Mae died, they had been married 67 years – yes, count them, 67 years!

Fourth, he was a man of few words. In a world where so many are talking and making unintelligible ‘blah, blah, blah’ noise, for him to be a man of few words was/is refreshing to me.

Fifth, he was not a TV watcher (or I don’t remember him being a TV watcher); he loved to ‘pittle’ in the yard.  I am not sure what he was always doing in the backyard, but he would be doing something; he would be pittling. Maybe that’s where I get my restlessness and my tendency to pittle.  Let’s just say that he was industrious and that his work ethnic was quite remarkable.

Sixth, he and my late grandmother, loved ‘fancy’ cars (at least they were fancy to me).  They loved the Ford Thunderbird, for example.  Once upon a time they had a convertible Thunderbird. Today, I have a convertible Ford Mustang. Yes, they influenced me with their flare for fashion and their taste, their eclecticism, their class and dignity and their adventure for cars.

Seventh, he served in WWII aboard a Navy Ship and while he did not talk about it, I am certain he suffered many indignities from his fellow white ship men.  He suffered indignities state side too as he lived during the overtly racist and insidious Jim Crow days. Yet, when I saw him, his head was proudly and confidently held up…he did not walk around like someone beat down.

Eighth, he was a brilliant man.  He invented several contractions (I regret not helping him getting some of these things patented).  He was truly a scholar-athlete in high school – lettering in football and basketball. Unbeknownst to me was his nickname in high school – ‘Betty Boop’; ironically, my daughter Briana, her nickname was ‘Betty Boop’.

Ninth, even as he got older, he was still fit…maybe because he pittled, maybe because of his work ethic.  He had a ‘six pack’ for all the years I known him.

Tenth, he was a Christian man. He taught Sunday School and sometimes he would walk to church (maybe another reason why he was fit); while we, my brother and grandmother and me, were typically and fashionably tardy. And as we came into Stranger’s Rest Baptist Church through the side door and took our normal spot, grandpa would smile and shake his head not in a condemning way but admirably toward his Willa Mae. You can tell he admired his beautiful and always fashionably stylish wife.

What a fine specimen of a man was Henry Sylvester Bobo!

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old little African-American boy, was shot and killed by an overzealous police officer in Ohio.  Rice was playing in the park with a pellet gun but when the officers arrived, protocol apparently was not followed (see http://tinyurl.com/h42y2ud). That is, he was not told to drop his weapon or get on the ground, etc.  Rather, within seconds of arriving on the scene an officer shot Rice in his abdomen. Young Rice, along with his dreams and along with his contributions to our society, died the next day.  The Grand Jury did not indict the overzealous police officer who killed this precious imago dei bearer.  However, I have great hopes for the church in America because after all God has ordained three human institutions for the sake of human flourishing: the human family, the civil government and the church.

As 2016 approaches my hopes for the bride of Christ in the upcoming new year are quite simple: 1) I hope there will be no more deaths like Rice in 2016; 2) I hope that the church in general and the white church in particular will wake up and see incidents like Rice not as a “racial issue but rather as a human issue” as friend and brother, Bryan Berry put it (we all share a common humanity with the likes of Rice); 3) I hope that the church will wake up and lead reform of the criminal justice system and actively, civilly and loudly speak out when injustices occur; and 4) I hope those in the church with privileges – which includes all of us – will use those privileges for the common good or for the sake of human flourishing for all.

I was invited to give a “TED like” talk at the Common Good (CG) Conference 2015 on October 3.  The organizers imaginatively and creatively titled this portion of the conference, “CG Talks.”  My talk is given below with a few tweaks.

‘Billboard’

Let me tell you what I plan to talk about: I need to define some terms, I plan to tell you a story and then I plan to share three (3) principles.

Define Terms

When talking about imagination, we need to distinguish it from the word, fantasy; first, to imagine means to think creatively of possibilities that are rooted in reality (the reality described on the pages of Scripture). Fantasy, on the other hand, is rooted in a made-up reality. Sorry fellows but “fantasy football” is rooted in a made-up reality. And not to leave the ladies out, this too is a fantasy: having two men at once, one cooking and one cleaning.

Now that we have our terms defined, let me tell you a story. This story takes place in Canada (the Promised Land as one of my seminary professors was fond of calling it). A 17 year old male is just getting off of work and he notices a couple nearby; and the man is hollering at the woman. Instead of walking away, this young man approaches the couple (all this reminds me of Jesus’ Good Samaritan Parable in Luke 10; the Priest and Levite were getting off of work too but they passed on to the other side leaving the injured man to die). Nonetheless, this young man quickly picks up on contextual clues that the woman was in trouble and he tells the couple that he is headed where there are and offers to buy them food, the man agrees…but this young man actually told a little white lie! (Google the young man’s name, Malyk Bonnet).

Is it okay to lie? Yes, I would submit to you that this is an instance this young man exercised his imagination – like the Hebrew midwives did in Exodus 1 who lied to Pharaoh; like Rahab who lied to the local Jericho police in Joshua 2; and like the Quakers did in helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad from the South to the North (‘Canaan’ or code for Canada.). All these people knew that it was okay to lie because a human life was at stake and the Hebrew midwives, Rahab and the Quakers knew what Augustine had apparently said, “an unjust law is no law at all and therefore we are not obligated to follow it.” This young man diverts the man’s attention long enough to call 911 on someone else’s phone because his phone died; the police soon arrive. This man who was berating this woman in public had a checkered past and was intending on abducting this woman.

Three (3) Principles

So what can we learn from this story, this weekend and the Bible. 3 principles:

  1. All people were made to flourish;
  2. We are called by God to help others flourish – regardless of the risks;
  3. To imagine is what it means to be human; otherwise, why would God say in Ephesians 3:20 (“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think [imagine], according to the power at work within us); so we all are capable of imagining possibilities for the other.

Conclusion

Finally, where did we see human flourishing in this story? One, the woman was allowed to flourish because this man wanted to abduct her; and two, the society-at-large flourished because this man who had many brushes with the law was taken off the streets – he would no longer be a menace to society.