By Bren Dubay
A time long, long ago and far, far away from racial equality, when I was a little girl in Texas, I heard about Juneteenth. I was told that on June 19, 1865 people enslaved in Texas learned that they were free – two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. I remember feeling sad that it took so long for word to reach Texas. As a child, I imagined what it would have been like if the people had those two and half years of freedom that they missed. I was naïve. Innocent. I had no idea of the long, long history of slavery. I had no idea how many years people had been enslaved.
Until I found out differently as young adult, I thought Juneteenth was only celebrated in Texas – I believed that freedom had come much earlier in the rest of the states. I was naïve. Innocent. I had no idea. Have we achieved freedom? For all?
This year June 19 fell on a Sunday and the Gospel reading was about five loaves and two fish. So, at Koinonia’s Gathered Worship, we were able to celebrate that Juneteenth is now a national holiday and we were able to think about multiplication. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is good to celebrate but we have much, much further to go. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody is free until everybody is free.” Is there anything in that parable about bread and fish that can help us go further?
I recalled a story.
It was one of those sharecropper shacks — the kind that dotted the rural Georgia landscape even though the Civil War had been over for a hundred years.
It was winter and it was raining. The little girl stuffed newspaper in the cracks of the walls. She was giving it her all to keep that cold wind from howling through. It didn’t work. The rain turned the paper to paste.
She found another dry stack and kept pushing pieces of it into the cracks anyway. All the while, she sang to her baby brother. Still, he cried. He was sick, real sick.
It wasn’t long before the rain came dripping through the holes in the ceiling soaking the thin bed covers near the baby. Soon he’d be soaked, too. His sister, straining and tugging, tried to pull the bed somewhere, anywhere in the room away from the frigid water.
The baby’s high fever had alarmed their mother and she had gone out in the storm to search for medicine — anything to bring his fever down.
All the pulling had not moved the bed very far. The little girl wasn’t very strong.
“Hurry, mama,” she thought. There was an urgency in her — the kind of urgency you feel when desperately praying to God.
A neighbor told me this story from her childhood. She went on to share what neighbors were like when she was a child.
“Peoples didn’t have much, but we helped each other. Whether you needed a little bit a sugar or some home-brewed medicine, we was neighbors then. Not like that today. I knew my mama would be invited in out of the rain. She’d get some kind of medicine and, if it wasn’t too late, my baby brother wasn’t going to die. If I could just keep him dry. That wind and rain was cold.”
The baby boy lived. And the little girl, her baby brother, and her mama eventually made it out of that leaky house.
“A tall skinny white-man came walking down our dirt road one day. He came right up to my mama. Looked friendly, was smiling, but we was still scared.
He asked mama, ‘Would you like a new house?’
My mama looked at him, and excuse the language, said, ‘What the hell do you think?’”
That man was Millard Fuller and Koinonia’s partnership housing was on the move.
None of us would deny that building that little girl a house was a good thing but what she said next gave me something to think about and I still think about it to this day.
“Folks loved each other back then. Not like today. It’s like we fell outa love with each other and instead, started loving our stuff. Lock our houses now. Never would a done that back then. Well, most of us didn’t have locks and those that did, well, the locks didn’t work no way. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t know; we’ve become real jealous. Always want what other people has. We aren’t happy for each other the way we was happy for each other when we was getting out of them shacks moving into decent places. We care more about our stuff than we care about people. Don’t get me wrong, I like having nice stuff. Wish I had more, but it’s sad what we lost. We lost love. The Good Lord said to love our neighbor. We did once. Don’t much love each other no more though.”
Take this woman back to that time even knowing what she knows today and she’d still want that new house.
But she knew then what she knows now – when we share what we have, it has a way of multiplying. It also has a way of making us happier. The world teaches us to worry if we don’t have a savings account; if our retirement account isn’t big enough especially in these days when [some] people are living so much longer. The world even teaches us to share our gifts and talents only with those of whom we approve. What foolish person would look for where the greatest need is and share them there? One can be as selfish with one’s gifts and talents as one is with one’s money. What about sharing our freedom and our privilege? Are we selfish with our privilege and freedom, too? Do we hoard those and what is the result when we do?
Radical sharing. Giving what you have.
A friend of mine tells a story about growing up in a poor neighborhood, a neighborhood where you could always count on having a birthday cake. Not one family could make the cake alone but, somehow, one neighbor would have the eggs you needed, another the sugar, another a jar of icing, and still another would have the candles. They may be half burnt but you had candles for your cake.
When will we all be free? When everyone is free. And how will we get there? Maybe by being the kind of neighbors who don’t think twice about sharing that cup of sugar, that home-brewed medicine, or that privilege and freedom.