February ushers us into Black History Month, a period where we celebrate the African American and the African American experience. It is, for me, a period where highlighting the African American experience may not necessarily be enough; rather, engaging each other in a way that heals and mends the many wounds that African Americans carry becomes a cause that we can individually champion.
I am sure you have heard of the idiomatic expression “If you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones.” I wonder about that often. I think of many people who have taken up the African American’s cause, championing that cause, fighting for that cause, advocating for that cause - throwing stones while living in glass houses. I get the feeling that the sense of urgency of those people wasn’t because the metaphorical houses in which they lived didn’t offer the security that they needed for themselves and their families, but it was because they realized that there was more to life than the safety of being in those glass houses.
There was more to life than any material comfort that those glass houses offered, and there was more to life than subjugating those who didn’t live in the glass house but who worked to support those who did. There was more to life than denigrating those who cleaned the glass houses. There was more to life than being full when those who cooked in the glass houses were running empty. There was more to life than any comfort we may seek for ourselves and our kin. There was more to life than simply being indifferent.
I wonder if those individuals who lived in glass houses and threw stones heard or read the story about the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who was clothed in fine linen and fed sumptuously every day - a glass house of sorts. There was a poor man, Lazarus, who sat by his gate and desired to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table - living outside the glass house. (Read the full story in Luke 16:19-31). The condemnation of the rich man was not because of his wealth, but it was because of the indifference that he showed to Lazarus. How could he be indifferent in the face of Lazarus’ plight? It feels akin to burying your head in the sand like an ostrich, and assuming that your entire body is also covered in sand. That’s the curse of being indifferent.
In my mind, to reject the invitation and attraction of indifference is to fully embrace the wisdom of living in a glass house and throwing stones, not with the goal of damaging the house - although sometimes some situations may call for that - it is about transforming the house into what it needs to be or look like. It is about transforming those who live in those glass houses and pretend that they don’t see beyond the glass, and it is less about transforming minds and more about transforming hearts.
Is your heart ready to be transformed?
A few days ago, I read a story about an African American woman, Lucy Higgs Nichols. She was born into slavery in Tennessee, but during the Civil War, she managed to escape and found her way to the 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment which was encamped nearby. She stayed with the regiment and worked as a nurse throughout the war.
After the war, she moved north with the regiment and settled in Indiana, where she found work with some of the veterans of the 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment.
She applied for a pension after Congress passed the Army Nurses Pension Act of 1892 which allowed Civil War nurses to draw pensions for their service. The War Department had no record of her, so her pension was denied. Fifty-five surviving veterans of the 23rd petitioned Congress for the pension they felt she had rightfully earned, and it was granted.
I was so moved by the story. It was so emotional reading and looking at the picture of Ms. Nichols and members of the 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment. I thought to myself, what would have happened if these soldiers had shown any kind of indifference towards Ms. Nichols? What would have happened if these soldiers had ignored Ms. Nichols's work for them and with them? What would have happened if they had turned their backs on her? What would have happened if they had declined to throw stones in the glass house for fear of upsetting the apple cart? What would have happened if, in spite of what they knew about Ms. Nichols, they had refused to advocate for her? One thing is for sure... Ms. Nichols would not have received her benefits for work already done.
The problem is we have a lot of Ms. Nichols among us. They live in our neighborhoods, and they shop with us at the same grocery store. They, too, have gotten infected with COVID just like a good number of us have so far. They worship in our churches, and they do the sort of work that we may not be able to do ourselves - like Ms. Nichols.
The solution is we need a lot more people like the members of the 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment among us, people who would advocate for all that is right, just, and fair.
I believe that for real healing and mending to occur, we will continually need people like the members of the 23rd Indiana Infantry Regiment to advocate for the likes of Ms. Nichols. We will need you to throw stones in glass houses for their sake.