Saturday, February 16, 2008

Freedom and UnFreedom

Yesterday, my 11 yr. daughter Alison and I went to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Downtown Cincinnati. It opened a few years back but we hadn't had a chance to go. She wrote a research paper this year on Harriet Tubman and that really sparked her intererest. It was a great education, we did the audio tour and took about 4 hours to take it in. I found the whole topic to be very moving at times. Here are some hightlights:

1) Without question, one should give the suffering of African Americans through slavery time to let it sit in and feel the shame of the beginnings of American history. I was pretty emotional sitting in the slave holding house re-constructed in the center, you could hear the walls talking or I should say crying.
De-humanization is evil and it has always existed in humanity. African American slavery is certainly another example and I was moved to want to find someone of slave decent and just say that I was sorry. My ancestors came later from Northern Ireland to Philly and came after the Emancipation Proclamation and were not slave owners as far as I can tell. However, being a white male, we are yet responsible for racisms and prejudices in our culture.

2) One of the exhibits portrayed a Presbyterian minister named John Rankin who was a conductor on the underground railroad with his 13 children. They built a home across the Ohio River in Ripley, Ohio across from Kentucky and became a safe haven and passage for slaves escaping to freedom being hunted. It got me thinking because Rankin is my family name going back to Northern Ireland so I did some research. Without question we are from the same ancestry in Northern Ireland and originally from Scotland running from religious persecutions. There were 13 Rankins who immigrated to Philadelphia from Northern Ireland in the late 1700's and early 1800's and John's Dad and my known most distant relative were together at that time. Not sure of the relation, just the connection. When we were parking on our way into the museum, my daughter asked me if I thought we would have been a family that assisted on the underground railroad. I told her that I hoped we would and it turns out that we have distant relation to a family who did just that because of his convictions to see all people as children in the Kingdom of God. I love that connection.

3) The topic of freedom has many applications. The museum did a good job of ending the experience with issues of racism, poverty, injustice and slavery still in the world today. When I saw several mentions of Ghandi I couldn't help but sit and reflect on our friends Sunil and Pam Sardar and their present struggle in India trying to continue the work of freeing the Dalits (untouchable caste). They are facing the same evil systems fueled by greed that have enslaved so many in the past. It leaves you with a great deal of responsibility to do something with our life helping others in their struggle for freedom.

Galatians 5:13-15 (The Message)
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

Those of us who have freedom need to give it away in service to those yet experiencing Unfreedom.

peace to a Kingdom that is coming where freedom reigns for all,


steve lewis said...

Good words here Marshall. I've been reading a book on multiracial church congregations and thinking about all this stuff, and at the same time getting some plans together for a trip to work with Sunil and Pam in India this summer. I appreciate how you integrated those thoughts.

I hope all is well with the Cincy gang. Peace.

Bob said...


Don't know if you've read A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave or not but it is a very readable, first hand account of slavery in the US.

The one thing that Douglass brings out in his account is that slavery no only places the slave's status as "less than human" but it also takes a toll on the humanity of the slaveholder himself--making them "less than human" as well.

geo said...

Hello my old friend! Long time no comment.
Freedom is what the Cross was all about. It is the one thing that will set the captives free.


Timothy said...


As always, thought provoking, challenging, convicting. A very sweet, good friend of mine at work years ago put this topic in perspective for me (a white male, like you).

We were discussing some social issue and I came out with "Slavery has been abolished for some time and I have never owned a slave. We got to get over it some time.". To which my friend (a black lady) simply asked the question "Have you ever been spat upon simply because of the color of your skin? I have.".

She said it without rancor, just as a statement of fact. That was about 14 years ago and I've never forgotten it. I have never lost the image of sweet, kind, lovely Joanne being spat upon for ANY reason, let alone her skin tone.

I was never a racist, never hated anyone of another race. But I was guilty of listening to the coarse jesting and jokes and even overt racist attitudes of some in my own family. To remain silent is giving tacit approval to what is going on, something I was guilty of. Since that day so long ago, my tolerance of intolerance is much less.

We are all One Blood, bought by the blood of the One who could redeem us. If we hate what God loves, we don't love God.