Dear Christians, It’s Going To Get Worse. Here’s What To Do

Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence recently signed a “fix” to the religious freedom law that has sparked so much debate and insanity recently. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, seeing the intense backlash toward Indiana, sent their religious freedom law back to be “fixed” as well before he even signs it. The liberal hounds of diversity (read: uniformity) and tolerance (read: intolerance) have been loosed in record numbers. Things, especially to supporters of religious tolerance and freedom, look a little uneasy right now.

Christians, I hate to break it to you, but enjoy this while it lasts, because this will be as good as it gets for quite a while.

What we are seeing today and in the recent weeks is just a harbinger of what is to greet Christians in the future. Whether the Supreme Court forces gay marriage in all 50 states this summer or the state courts continue to strike down gay marriage bans via the equal protection clause, gay marriage will be in place throughout America at one point or another in the near future.

Christian values, once the standard of this nation and her people, are no longer as widely accepted, having been replaced by moral relativity and the fear of being called intolerant or judgmental. Christians, and especially our values, are looked at as quaint, old-fashioned and out of touch.

Opponents of the Indiana and Arkansas laws, despite their passage, scored a major victory. Their victory came with the “fix”. When both governors pushed for a “fix” to the religious freedom laws, they gave legitimacy to the argument that these laws, and by association, Christians, were discriminatory toward gays and unfortunately will perpetuate and legitimize the insulting notion of bigotry and hate within the Christian opposition to participating in gay marriages.

This is the reality that faces us, and that reality contains more of the demand for “tolerance” at the expense of your religious values and more of the societal and legal punishment for having the wrong point of view.

Welcome to your future, Christians. You might want to buckle up.

With the onslaught of names and attacks against our beliefs, many Christians will be wondering one simple thing – what do we do?

Many Christians, and rightly so, will have far more legal minded people than I come up with legal strategies and solutions to insulate and protect both churches and Christian-owned businesses from the coming tolerant diversity storm. They will be strategic, they will be future focused and they will ultimately fail.

The law is only as good as the people’s will to uphold it. For instance, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Would you say that we are following it more and more, or getting away from it more and more? Probably the latter. Why? The American people no longer demand it be upheld because they no longer value or truly understand it.

The same is happening with gay marriage.

The attitude of the American people has shifted dramatically and is continuing to shift. The law will not be far behind in elevating gay marriage over religious freedoms and has already made grave steps in doing so. Coming up with legal protections today to face a changing law tomorrow may work in the short term, but it will ultimately fail.

Besides this, much of the damage exacted upon Christian businesses and churches is done well outside of the legal framework. Just ask the former Mozilla CEO whether he was protected legally. Ask the Benham brothers about their canceled TV show and whether or not they were protected legally. Ask Memories Pizza about their legal protection and how much good it did when the threats started pouring in.

The strategy for Christians must be so much more than just coming up with a way to beat a legal battle.

So what do we do?

There are three major things that we, as Christians, need to do to prepare for what is coming our way.

The first is the campaign of love. We are labeled as homophobic, hateful, bigoted and who knows what else. It is a mistake to respond directly to these lazy and deceitful claims, you only lend them credibility by doing so. Instead, we simply love those who come against us, not as a direct response to their insults, but as a direct response to God’s commands.

We are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Whether we like it or not, those who despise us and our values are our neighbors and we should love them. Pray for them. Go to a bakery and buy them a cake that simply says “we love you”. Get them flowers with a card that says “God loves you and so do we”. Invite them to church, get to know them as people and rediscover the humanity that is buried underneath the animosity and bias. Have I mentioned the need to pray for them?

No matter how nasty it gets, no matter how personal it becomes, God loves them as much as he loves any of us and our actions must reflect that truth. In fact, the worse it gets, the more we should love.

The second is the pursuit of intimacy with God. Christians, in particular, are under attack partly because there are so many of us who don’t live our faith outside of Sunday church service. When the world sees us acting as well or as poorly as everyone else, it is no wonder why they are suspicious about the motive behind the hard line we draw on gay marriage.

It is easy to convince someone that our opposition to gay marriage is simply hate or bigotry cloaked in religion, rather than a true religious conviction, if it is the only sin that draws such staunch opposition. Until we feel as strongly about any sin; until we are as convicted about all sin and live our non-Sunday lives in that way, we will fall victim to this easy and dishonest attack and continue to lose the battle.

Beyond this, we need to pursue intimacy with God to be more in line with his will. We get so caught up in the events of the day that we sometimes forget who is ultimately in charge – God. I’m not saying that we should forget any earthly measures to this situation, but we need to keep the right perspective that our measures on earth will be far more effective and powerful if they are in line with His will.

Our pursuit of intimacy with God will bring the desires of his heart into ours and help keep our focus on the much larger picture that spans far beyond the next couple of years. In the end, we may lose friendships, jobs, relationships or livelihoods, but His will will be done.

Lastly, we need to decide our position now and band together. If you are outside of the blast radius that is Indiana, then you may not be directly affected by this latest brouhaha. Perhaps you haven’t had to make that awkward and potentially costly decision to decline service to a gay couple for their wedding. Perhaps you haven’t even given a lot of thought to what that decision would be when faced with the immediate consequences.

You should. Now.

Literally, right now. Make a decision on what you would do and stick with it. If you wait until that customer is at your counter; until the possible repercussions are running through your mind, then you will be more swayed by personal survival than by your convictions and principles. It’s human nature, just ask Peter. Make that decision with someone else and hold each other accountable.

As the Go Fund Me page for Memories Pizza shows in amazing fashion, we are so much better together than we are alone. Find other Christians, other businesses or other churches who will support you and who you will support if they or you are persecuted; who will stand strongly with you and you with them when that time comes to declare your position. That time will come, sooner or later, and we better be ready for it.

There are tough times ahead for Christians that will require incredible acts of both love and courage. The free exercise of our religion is no longer free. It will carry an ever increasing price tag on it. While many will look to this with fear and worry, understandably so, I see it as a great opportunity to show the love of God, to grow closer to each other and to grow closer to Him.

Now that I think about it, that’s no so bad…

The Easter Story

The jubilant shouts of the people echoed throughout his ears. He hated them. He hated the loud praises and he hated the worthless creatures that shouted them. He wanted to kill each and every single one of them but there were more important things at hand.

Here was the so-called Messiah, making his entrance into the Holy city, sitting on top of a donkey no less, and the people praised him! They are praising him out of foolishness, he thought. They are ignorant and weak.

He would have entered on a mighty horse decorated in gold and silver, clothed in the finest cloths and leading an army behind him. They would not have simply laid down cloths and palm branches for him, they would have laid down their very bodies in his path. That is how a king should enter his kingdom, not on a feeble donkey.

He sneered and turned his hate-filled eyes to Jesus. Everything in him despised this man. His defeat grew more and more bitter with every new shout of Hosanna! He raged inside, an inferno of hatred that consumed anything in its path.

As the branches continued to be laid down; as the worthless mongrels continued singing their praises; as Jesus made his way into the city, he promised himself one thing in a seething, quiet breath – “I will destroy you and destroy everyone you came to save.”

* * *

It was one thing to turn a man against another, he had done it with Cain in one of his earliest victories. That was a fairly easy task. People were prone to sin, prone to believe that which they were told if it was said with authority. People were quick to satisfy their desires and their desires revolved around themselves. Even large groups of men could be moved, it just took more time, for however malleable their wills and desires were, they were still a stubborn and stupid species that clung to notions of right and wrong; good and bad.

His time was running out though. The Son of Man would not be here forever and he felt his moment slipping away. It made his latest defeat all the more stinging. His thoughts continued to return to his enemy, Jesus.

All the things he taught his disciples, lies! The lessons he gave to the imbecilic people, more lies! He was a fraud! A weak “king” who would be defeated in the end and that end was drawing near. He could pray all he wanted to his Father in heaven but it would do him no good. Jesus was on earth now, in his kingdom and on his turf. He set the rules here and he commanded the people.

Our Father, who art in heaven? Yes, that was where he would remain too. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? No no no, this was his kingdom and it was his will that shall be fulfilled, not the will of his enemy. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

He smiled, a satisfied and bloodthirsty grin spread across an empty mouth. These miserable people could not be turned so quickly, so easily – he needed help. He repeated the line in the prayer, the line that was dedicated to him, and knew what he had to do – lead us into temptation and deliver him to evil.

* * *

He knew the scriptures just as well as any priest or angel – Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. It was a tactic he had used a million times before on men both big and small, pious and impure, and this was the way he could finally win.

He moved among the chief priests, sensing their thoughts and feeding off of their anxiety and fear. Pride goes before destruction.

You are the legitimate authority of God, he whispered to their hearts. It is you who should be consulted, it is you who should be revered among the people! You are the gatekeeper of wisdom and knowledge, of the desires of God himself! It is you who rule the people, not this man who comes on a donkey. He continued to speak to their souls sewing envy and jealousy in their hearts. If you let him continue, he will take away all that you have worked for, all that you have earned…all that God has given you! He claims to be the son of God. Who is he to say such things? He is blasphemous! He is a very offense to God himself! How dare he challenge the people that God himself has put into power!

He leaned in further, nearly touching the faces of the priests with his lying lips. He whispered one last command into their ear, almost hissing the words – He must be killed.

* * *

The people had gathered after hearing of Jesus’ arrest and “trial” at the hands of the priests and elders. They had beaten him and bound him and now here he was before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, standing trial. The priests accused him of blasphemy and leveled their charges once again at the bound and beaten Jesus.

Satan flowed through the crowd of onlookers, looking into the soul of every man and woman there. Even he stopped to listen to Jesus and how he would respond to their charges. Time and time again Jesus had the perfect response to the traps of the spiritual elite, and while he hated the man with every bit of his dark spirit, he couldn’t help but be in awe of Jesus’ wisdom and ability to disarm their traps with ease.

But he said nothing. Jesus remained silent, accepting his future as the bitter cup neared his lips. Pilate himself did not understand it and was amazed. The priests, hoping to further solidify their case, grew angry at his silence. The devil, however, began to smile. He was beginning to sense his victory. As each silent moment passed, Jesus was closer and closer to an all but certain death now. The lustful grin grew into a hideous smile.

“As is customary at the time of the feast, I shall release to you one prisoner,” Pilate called out. “Shall I release Jesus, the man you call the King of the Jews?”

The religious elite could never let that happen. They had won his conviction and pressed for his execution, he could not be released now.

“Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!” a priest shouted back. Several joined him immediately and within seconds, the crowd began clamoring for the return of Barabbas, a thief and murderer.

“And what would you have me do with Jesus?” Pilate asked the crowd. “What is to become of the King of the Jews?”

There was silence for that split second as the rushing tide of darkness, which had begun with just a few priests, was ready to envelope everything. Satan, who had moved among the crowd all morning, saw one man in particular. He saw anger in his eyes, hatred in his heart and suffering in his life. He was perfect. All he needed now was a simple suggestion. Leaning close to the man’s ear, the Destroyer whispered two simple words – crucify him.

Pilate was shocked. What had began as one man now grew into a chorus of shouts demanding the death of Jesus. The man had done nothing wrong! The people had just celebrated his arrival less than a week ago, and now they stand before him and yell for his execution? This couldn’t be! Pilate asked them one more time, making sure that he heard right.

“Crucify him!” The shouts started with the priests this time and the people echoed their calls for death. The prince of darkness had already turned the leaders and now the people had fallen to him as well. They wanted blood. They wanted death. They demanded his destruction as their dark and demonic words spewed from their frothing mouths – Crucify him! CRUCIFY HIM!

The angels stood at a distance and watched. Righteous anger burned in their eyes, their mouths tight with concern. They hated what was happening but understood that it needed to be. It didn’t make it any easier. Here was their King, their God being beaten, ridiculed, hated and now in grave danger.

They all felt powerless against the evil that washed over the city that week. What had been a triumphant day less than a week ago had turned into the darkest of moments. They would have given anything to stop it; done anything to save him. This, however, was to be, and as Jesus accepted the bitter cup that had been given to him just last night in the garden, then so shall they.

The devil laughed louder and louder, fueled by the lusty calls of a gruesome crucifixion from the crowd. Sure, he had seen thousands and thousands of deaths from the most mundane to the most evil. Executions bored him and he took merely a passing interest or glance at the occasion, enjoying the quick and simple pleasure of misery spreading throughout.

But this, this one would be different. He would savor every second of Jesus’ torture and long death. Every whip mark, every splinter, every nail, every piercing, every thorn, every insult or mockery hurled his way and every last anguished breath would give him the most intense pleasure he could know.

And as the Son of God breathed his last breath, uttering the words “it is finished”, the skies darkened and an earthquake shook the land. The devil remained where he was, enjoying every second of Jesus’ painful death. How ironic that the chosen people would sacrifice the cleanest animals to their God for his blessings and forgiveness of sins, and now here was Jesus being sacrificed to appease him, the god of the earth.

It was he who had triumphed, he who had won and now the God who had cast him out of heaven was giving a sacrifice to the prince of darkness, to please and appease him. Oh the pleasure of his victory, of the irony, of the brilliance of turning his bitter defeat into an ultimate victory, of finally ruining that which had been made pure and holy.

His evil joy would only last so long, his victory incomplete, for the Son of God would rise from the dead on the third day having triumphed over death, over hell and over sin, and he shall sit at the right hand of God almighty. Hosanna! Hosanna! Worthy is the lamb who was slain, and it is He that shall reign forever and ever.

The Milk Crate – Understanding Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is traveling to the United States this week to speak before Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner. His speech, focusing on the threat of Iran and their nuclear ambitions, has deeply divided Congress as Democrats in both houses rush to show their loyalty to President Obama and his policy of negotiation toward the often fiery and apocalyptic state.

Netanyahu, not easily swayed by the faux outrage and political pressure, makes this trip as relations with Israel have reached a low point and could very much grow colder by the end of this week. His resolve regarding this speech, in the face of so much pressure, mirrors his overall stance and conviction about Iran. It is firm; it is decisive; and it is shaped by a very personal knowledge of his enemy.

To better understand Benjamin Netanyahu’s firm conviction, and the man himself, you must know his brother – Yonatan Netanyahu.

Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was born in New York City in 1946 and spent a good portion of his childhood in a lush and sprawling town outside of Philadelphia. His childhood was filled not only with two younger brothers, but with plenty of good natured roughhousing. As the older brother, he would beat up on his younger brothers, especially Benjamin, to toughen them up.

In 1964, just after graduating from high school, Yoni joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and excelled as a soldier and student. He would soon be given command of a paratrooper company and led his troops in Sinai and the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967.

This first taste of war left his mouth bitter and he longed to remove himself from its effect and devastation. In the summer of that same year, shortly after marrying his girlfriend, Yoni moved back to America where he attended Harvard University to study philosophy and mathematics. This incredible dichotomy, a man split between the beauty of arts and the duty and horrors of war, would be a theme throughout his life and a constant struggle of the spirit.

After only a year at Harvard, he moved back to Israel where wars and constant fighting had become the norm not only for his own life, but for younger Benjamin’s as well who served in the IDF until 1973.

Over the next several years, Yoni would join and eventually lead the Sayeret Matkal, a special forces unit that specialized in counter terrorism and hostage rescue. He would receive medals for his wartime service that saw action in Syria, the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Yoni was a rising star in the Israeli military, respected for his ability and leadership. Yet despite this success, despite his ability for the unfortunate necessity of war, the internal struggle of a man shouldered with such an awful duty showed itself in his poetic letters home:

“On me, on us, the young men of Israel, rests the duty of keeping our country safe. This is a heavy responsibility, which matures us early… I do not regret what I have done and what I’m about to do. I’m convinced that what I am doing is right. I believe in myself, in my country and in my future”

“A kind of sadness has overtaken me which doesn’t leave me. I sense the cry and depth of sadness in others who came through the war with their bodies intact. That harmony that characterizes a young man’s world is not a part of me anymore. We’re young and we were not born for wars alone. I intend to go on with my studies but I can no longer see this as my main mission in life. Hence the sadness of young men destined for endless war.”

On June 27, 1976, Air France flight 139, originating in Tel Aviv and destined for Paris, made a stop in Athens where it picked up an additional 58 passengers. Among those 58 were four terrorists who would hijack the aircraft shortly after takeoff. Two of them were Palestinian, two were German.

The flight was immediately diverted to Benghazi, Libya. After a long delay in Benghazi and more than 24 hours after originally leaving Tel Aviv, flight 139 landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The terrorists were joined by others at the airport and had the full support of Idi Admin, Uganda’s President at the time.

They released their demands the same day: $5 million U.S. dollars and the release of 53 Palestinian militants. Israel, not known to negotiate with terrorists, had 3 days to comply before hostages would begin to be killed.

Showing their true nature and intent, the terrorists separated the hostages into two groups – Israeli/Jewish and other. All of the “others” would be released from capture without harm leaving only the Israeli citizens and Jewish people.

Behind the scenes, the military scrambled to figure out a plan of attack. Diplomatic channels through Idi Admin and through leaders in Egypt had proven unsuccessful. As the deadline approached and the pressure built from inside, Israel offered to negotiate with the terrorists and bought themselves three more days.

During this time, a plan for a raid was hatched. Using transport aircraft, Israel would fly down to Uganda and land at Entebbe in the middle of the night. After finally winning permission to land and refuel in Kenya, a decision that would cost a Kenyan official his life, Operation Thunderbolt was a go.

The leader of the assault force? Yoni Netanyahu.

After landing at Entebbe shortly before midnight, the assault force drove to the terminal in a black Mercedes flanked by Land Rovers, the typical motorcade of Idi Amin. Unfortunately for them, Amin had recently purchased a white Mercedes and so the soldiers guarding the terminal knew immediately that something was wrong.

The firefight soon started and the Israeli assault force quickly entered the terminal. In less than an hour, the entire operation was over.

Benjamin Netanyahu, half a world away at M.I.T in Massachusetts, had heard of the daring raid by the unit he had been a member of not long ago. He knew his brother would be there.

Of the 106 hostages, 102 were safely rescued. Every hijacker and terrorist had been killed along with over 40 Ugandan soldiers. The mission was an enormous success and would change Benjamin Netanyahu’s life forever. His brother, the artistic and poetic soul stuck in a world of war, was the only Israeli soldier killed in the raid.

Netanyahu’s conviction about the nature of terrorism and his resolve to crush it with strength was directly and profoundly affected by this life changing event. This is not a political position formed in the hallways of universities, shaped by the ever-changing polls or carefully planned by strategists, it is an understanding forged by sorrow and unforgettable loss at the hands of a very clear evil that now presents itself today in Iran.

While the Democrats in Congress and in the administration race to see who can proclaim their loyalty to President Obama’s policy the loudest, Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to take the slings and arrows for a duty and responsibility to protect his people and the nation of Israel.

As his late brother wrote in a letter back home – “Any compromise will simply hasten the end. As I don’t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode in thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.”

The Milk Crate – Black History – Incredible Inventors

We continue this week with more incredible figures in black history, focusing on just a few of the myriad of inventors who have made significant contributions to society and technology over the years. So often, the focus on black history revolves around those who have been involved in the fight for civil rights. While their contributions and victories have been heralded and admired, this nearly sole focus boxes in black history far too much.

We start with Sarah Goode. Sarah was born in 1850 into slavery, one of seven children. Very little, unfortunately, is known about her childhood, but shortly after the Civil War ended, she moved to Chicago at the age of 20.

Her father, Oliver Jacobs, was a carpenter. Her husband, who she met in Chicago, was a stair builder and upholsterer. Naturally, the couple opened up a furniture store in Chicago which did fairly well. Despite the fact that she was further north, the idea of a former slave, let alone a woman, running a store in a major city was still far from normal.

As the good business owner will always do, she listened to her customers and found a way to create things that suited their needs.

Apartments in Chicago, as many major cities still to this day share, had very little room for whoever lived there. Renters could not simply have a bed, a desk, a table and other furniture, they had to choose which one was most important to them.

Enter the folding cabinet bed. This bed was designed to be a sturdy roll-top desk during the day which could easily be converted to a bed by night complete with a mattress and spring support. This, for the space conscious customers of Chicago, was exactly what they needed.

On July 14, 1885, Sarah Goode was granted a patent for her invention. She was the first black woman to be given one.

Charles Drew may have saved your life.

Born in 1904 in Washington D.C., Drew grew up in an interracial neighborhood where the ideas of independence, education and responsibility were the cornerstones of his upbringing. He worked various jobs during his younger years, had people working for him by the age of 13 and excelled in athletics during his schooling far more so than academics.

In 1922, he went to Amherst College in Massachusetts on an athletic scholarship, continuing to excel in track and football. It was here, at Amherst, that his interest in medicine began due to the death of his oldest sister from tuberculosis and his own injuries related to sports.

Drew graduated in 1926 and though he wanted to attend medical school, he didn’t have the money for it. For that end, he moved to Baltimore and took a job as athletic director and a science instructor at Morgan College. After applying and getting either denied or deferred, Drew ended up enrolling at McGill University in Montreal Canada.

He continued to excel there as an athlete and now as a student as well. After graduation, he interned at the Montreal General Hospital, became an instructor at Howard University, did a surgery residency at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington and in 1938, accepted a fellowship at Columbia University in New York City.

It was here at Columbia that the breakthrough in blood storage and processing happened. During his research, Drew found that blood plasma was able to be dehydrated and then reconstituted much later when it was needed. Until this time, blood donations had a very limited shelf-life (somewhere around a week) and therefore needed to be used soon after being collected, severely limiting the blood transfusion and donation process.

With this new breakthrough, blood donations could be stored in a bank, shipped to wherever it was needed and used to save lives long after the donations occurred. This new idea of “Banked Blood,” the basis of his doctorate thesis, would be put into immediate effect.

As World War Two raged on, he headed up an effort to get blood donations here in the United States over to Britain, collecting nearly 15,000 pints of blood in the cause. In 1941, he worked for the American Red Cross to head up their blood bank to be used for American military members.

At that time, the military had a policy that any blood donated needed to be segregated by race. Blood from blacks would only go to blacks and the same for whites. Drew spoke out against this and asked many times for the policy to be changed. It wasn’t, and it led to his resignation from his post.

Charles Drew, the first black person to earn a doctorate from Columbia University, the father of the blood bank, died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1950. His work, his legacy and the importance of his discoveries reshaped the life-saving process of blood donations.

Alexander Graham Bell is known as the father of the telephone. Thomas Edison was the inventor of the light bulb. Lewis Latimer, the son of slaves who escaped to Massachusetts, was involved in both.

In 1842, George and Rebecca Latimer escaped their lives as slaves and fled north to Massachusetts. When George’s owner showed up, seeking to bring him back to Virginia, the abolitionist movement in that day sprung to action raising $400 to pay the slaveholder for George’s freedom. Six years after their escape, their youngest child, Lewis, was born.

After his father left the family, fearing a return to slavery after the Dred Scott decision, Lewis lied about his age in order to join the Navy. He was honorably discharged after two years of service and began working as an office boy at a patent law firm in Boston.

Using his natural talent and desire to learn, Lewis was later promoted from office boy to draftsman in the company, earning a much higher wage and far more prominent standing. Four years later, this new position led to his being hired by Alexander Graham Bell to draft the drawings and patent application for Bell’s design of the telephone, finishing and submitting the application mere hours before a competitor submitted theirs.

In 1879, Lewis and his family moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut where he took the position of assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, a competitor of Thomas Edison’s.

While Edison will always be credited with inventing the light bulb, it contained a weakness – the filament. The original filament in his bulb was made of paper, thread or bamboo and would burn out after only a few days time. This was the flaw that Lewis sought to improve.

And he did.

In 1881, Lewis figured out a way of encasing the filament that provided a much longer lasting bulb which in turn made the bulbs affordable and far more practical for the average household. This invention and subsequent patent would become one of the most important improvements to the light bulb ever.

Thanks for joining me as we continue to indulge in some of the wonderful and amazing stories that can be found in abundance with black history.

The Milk Crate – Black History – Alexander Augusta

Black History Month has once again arrived. This time of year gives us the opportunity to learn, marvel and celebrate the historic and fascinating characters within black history that, often, have had to endure incredible hardships only to make their triumphs so much greater.

Unfortunately, the cast of characters that are usually highlighted during February are a revolving door of the same people – Harriet Tubman, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, etc. While they are no less worthy than anyone of remembrance and celebration, it often makes this wonderful month far more stale than it ever should be.

There are so many incredible people that dot the hallway of black history, and today I bring to you Dr. Alexander Augusta.

Alexander was born free in 1825 in Norfolk, Virginia. At that time, blacks in Virginia, even free men, were forbidden, by law, to read. Despite this, he learned what he could from a local man in church named Daniel Payne and continued to learn while serving as an apprentice for a local barber.

While still a young man, he moved to Baltimore where he continued his work as a barber. His interest in knowledge and learning, begun at an early age, showed no signs of slowing down. It is unknown why he gravitated so strongly to the study of medicine, but it was here in Baltimore where that learning began under private tutors.

Hoping to formally study medicine at a university, Alexander moved to Philadelphia and applied to the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. Whether it was simply racism or not is unknown, but the university declined his application because of “inadequate preparation.”

Though his inability to gain admission to the university would be but one of many roadblocks, he caught the eye of a professor named William Gibson who was impressed with Augusta and took him under his wing. Studying in Gibson’s office, Alexander’s affection for medicine was cemented and would never wane.

He returned to Baltimore and in 1847, at the age of 21, married Mary Burgoin, a woman of Native American descent. Shortly after marrying, the couple moved to California to once again pursue Alexander’s dream of attending medical school. Three short years later, however, he was once again back in Philadelphia and back at square one.

In 1850, Alexander Augusta was accepted to the Medical College of the University of Toronto and by 1856 finally had his medical degree. He thrived in Toronto, being appointed the head of a city hospital, being put in charge of an industrial school and setting up a successful private practice in the city.

But America, his home country, was on the verge of war, and Alexander felt a sense of duty to return and help.

The Emancipation Proclamation, taking effect the very first day of 1863, is often known as the document that freed the slaves. While this assertion is not entirely correct by itself, the document had a far more important impact upon the war – it allowed black men to enter the fight on the side of the Union Army.

Less than a week after this important change, Alexander Augusta wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and offered his services as a surgeon:

“I was compelled to leave my native country, and come to this on account of prejudices against colour, for the purpose of obtaining knowledge of my profession; and having accomplished that object … I am now prepared to practice it, and would like to be in a position where I can be of use to my race.”

The Army Medical Board, having received the letter from Lincoln, turned down Augusta’s request to serve. Undeterred by this, as usual, Augusta traveled to Washington D.C. and personally appealed his case in front of the board, convincing them to overturn their decision.

By April of 1863, just a few months after sending his letter to the president, Alexander Augusta was the first black commissioned medical officer in the Union Army and was awarded the rank of major. Augusta was the very first of only eight black commissioned physicians and at the time, was the highest ranking black officer in the Union Army.

Despite his abilities and his successes, he faced terrible racism during his service. Not long after his initial appointment, Augusta was brutally attacked in Baltimore while in his officer’s uniform by a group of white men. Responding to his attack, he wrote this in a local newspaper:

“My position as an officer of the United States, entitles me to wear the insignia of my office, and if I am either afraid or ashamed to wear them, anywhere, I am not fit to hold my commission.”

But it did not stop there. On another occasion, several white officers, who ranked below him and were therefore his subordinates, complained about having to serve under a black man. Dr. Augusta would later be transferred to the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C. where he became the first black hospital administrator in American history.

Before eventually leaving military service, Augusta began to fight against the segregation on trains and streetcars in Baltimore and Washington D.C. His persistence, a theme throughout his life, would result in the eventual desegregation of trains. From a Boston newspaper in my possession called The Commonwealth, printed March 4, 1865, there is a small article on “Further Progress” that mentions his efforts:

“Surgeon Augusta of the 7th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, (remembered as being the first colored commissioned officer in the national service, and for the brutal assault made upon him in Baltimore,) writes to the Anglo-African that he has succeeded in getting the unjust rules and practices that have existed on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, with regard to the travel of colored passengers, between Baltimore and Washington, removed. Mrs. Augusta and a lady friend, being lately obliged to travel on that road in the smoking-car, with low-minded white persons as companions, who indulged in insulting language, he brought the matter to the attention of the president of the road, who at once gave orders that colored persons be allowed to take seats where they could find them, exactly like other passengers. It is said that there is now no difficulty, either at Baltimore or Washington, upon this point.”

After leaving military service in 1866, Augusta once again opened a private medical practice before accepting an appointment to the faculty of the medical department of Howard College. He was the first black person on the faculty of that school and the first black person in America to be on the faculty of any medical college.

Alexander Augusta’s life was filled with trials, triumphs and many firsts for black people in America. Even in death he would continue that legacy. After a long and storied career and life, Augusta died in 1890 in Washington D.C. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery receiving full military honors – the first black officer to be accorded this honor.

The Milk Crate – There Is No “But” In Free Speech

“I believe in free speech, I really do, and I would stand up for it, but I do believe there has to be certain limitations on it.”

We’ve all heard this before, right? There is someone trying to convince us that they truly believe in the idea of free speech and it is so vital and important to them, but the practice of it needs to be evaluated. There’s a time and a place for free speech, it’s not unlimited.

While this person tries to walk a moderate or “sensible” line about the rhetoric in our country, they take an impossible position to have – believing that speech should be free while at the same time desiring it to be restricted.

Free speech is much like being pregnant. You either are, or you’re not; there is no middle ground. You cannot be kind of pregnant, or partially pregnant just like you cannot believe in some free speech or free speech with restrictions.

There is no “but” in free speech.

Take Stevie Wonder for instance. In a recent funeral last week in Los Angeles, he said this:

“Yes, I truly believe in freedom of speech, I really really do believe in that, but I think if we don’t put some limits to us being able to give praise to that one that we hold sacred, we got a problem.”

Or how about more than 100 faculty and staff at Clemson University who have supported the prosecution of “defamatory speech committed by members of the Clemson University community.”

Perhaps the University of Kentucky could tell us how much they value free speech after allowing students to vote on where and how many free speech zones will be on the campus.

All of these people and institutions, if asked, would surely say they believe in the freedom of speech and perhaps even speak eloquently and at length about its importance and history in this nation and around the world. All of them, and so many others who hold the same untenable opinion, would undoubtedly defend their love for and dedication to free speech and even grow incensed when you point out that they indeed do not believe in it.

Free speech is quickly becoming a rare commodity, not just outside of the United States, where saying something derogatory about Islam will have police after you, but here at home as well. As the modern American age seems to dictate, saying anything non-supportive of gay marriage, homosexuality, climate change, gun control or Islam as a completely and totally peaceful religion will get you branded any one of a myriad of slurs.

You see, we believe in free speech, we really really do, but…

The inability to separate the right to free speech and the speech that is uttered because of it has caused this asinine position in many cases. I am perfectly fine supporting someone’s right to say something while at the same time being vehemently opposed to what they are saying. Support for the right does not translate to support of how it is exercised.

Ironically enough, the best way to combat speech that you disagree with is more speech of your own! This will not always work; you will not always win; and more often than not, it will end with both sides having moved little to none. This result, an impasse of ideas, is what generates the frustration that leads one to believe in free speech, but not really.

It is far easier to stop things from being said in the first place than to defeat them on the battlefield of wits and arguments. It is far easier to support only the speech that you agree with rather than debate the speech you don’t. It is far easier to pay lip service to the idea of free speech rather than defend the unfettered practice of it and the discomfort and offense that will inevitably follow.

I am no longer content with allowing this see-saw position to go unchallenged. I am no longer able to hear one position directly contradicted in the same sentence without correction.

If your belief in free speech contains a “but” in it, then you do not believe in free speech. It is that simple.

If your dedication to free speech only exists within specially designated zones, then you do not believe in free speech. It is still that simple.

If you pay lip service to the idea and right of free speech, but cannot seem to support its full practice, then you do not believe in free speech. It will always be that simple.

If you don’t like that, tough luck, it’s my right to say it…for now.

Goodbye For Now…Kind Of

This is a difficult post to write, but today it’s just a personal note and explanation from me to you. For over two and a half years, I have maintained the site, written almost every day and brought you news from around the world that impacts elections, foreign relations, economic issues and a myriad of other things. After adding in the talk show every Sunday, this venture became an every day informational source. I was proud of that, and I still am.

For over a year, however, I have struggled quite a bit with not only the time and energy commitments, but with the devotion as well. To those who don’t know me personally, I have a very wide variety of interests and passions that revolve around writing creatively, reading and learning, starting a business, starting a charity and so many other things. For the past two and a half years, I have had to put them and, in many ways, my own life aside to bring you all the news of the day and the analysis behind it.

After a lot of thinking and praying and talking with people I am close to, I have decided to stop posting every single day and also stop the talk show. The normal 5 stories post will no longer be sent out. The one aspect of the site that will remain is The Milk Crate, and this is where the remaining focus will go.

I have felt, from the start of the site, that it was my duty to bring people news and inform them of what is going on because as the motto of the site says – the knowledge of one day can affect the direction of a life. I have affected the direction of several lives and I am truly blessed and privileged to have done so and to continue to do so through The Milk Crate.

While I am sad to see the end of an era, I am excited for what is to come. Over and over I have said to you all that we need to start change with ourselves, that if America is to survive we need to have more people dreaming big and chasing those dreams. I have dreamt big for most of my life and now is no exception. It’s time for me to follow my own advice and start chasing them.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for sticking with the site and bringing new people in to get informed. It means a lot to me, far more than I could express through these words. The site isn’t going away, it’s just being trimmed down and focused more on one aspect. My time will be used to learn, to write more, to expand the reach of the Milk Crate and to reclaim some of my life once again to chase after those big dreams that continue to pile up inside my head. It is time for me to act more and talk less.

Thank you all again for everything. I am very optimistic about the future and what can be done and I hope you continue to be a part of it and continue to share it with others. Thank you for your support, your feedback and the stories of how this has affected you. Today is by no means an end, it is simply a new beginning.