Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz
Several months ago, I found The Autobiography of Malcolm X on a shelf in my parents' house. It once belonged to my Aunt Alison - one of my favorite people, and a true lover of books - who passed away a few years ago. It was an autographed copy (signed by Alex Haley, who pieced together Malcolm's thoughts to create the book), and a typed sheet found inside told the story of how she had been the first to bound onto the stage for the autograph after hearing Haley speak at an event...despite her previous embarrassment of gushing her love for his work, mistakingly, to the man introducing Haley instead of Haley himself. This encounter was mentioned during the introduction for the evening, and got a big laugh from the audience...but my aunt was never one to let her embarrassment stand in the way. She loved life, and lived fully to the end.
Because of my love for my aunt, and the fact that the book was briefly held by the man who sat for years with Malcolm to create it, I read the book as carefully as I could. However, it was an aged paperback, and the spine separated from the cover and fell apart in chunks as I read it.
The piece that struck me the most, recounted by Malcolm speaking as he would at the time as a rigid member of The Nation of Islam: "The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that's his God, the white man's God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we're dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!"
Over the past several years, my theology and my relationship with Christianity as a religion has separated from the spine and fallen apart in chunks in my hands. Some pieces I have kept and hold dearly, some pieces I have burned, others I hold loosely with questions. Many within the Christian faith would call this a sacrilege - to sift through, to choose truth from "the ultimate and unchanging Truth"...if indeed this exists.
But I think that within any faith or religion this is what we must do to follow the Spirit: to sift, to weigh, to hold and to let go, to be open to new understandings. Jesus often began: "You have heard this, but I tell you this..."
Throughout history, religion (certainly the Christian religion) has been used to justify the unjustifiable. The Bible and Christianity has historically been manipulated and twisted by the powerful to provide moral foundation for genocide, colonialism, slavery, theft of land and resources...essentially the gamut of all injustices - from deeply personal to the scope of all humanity. And simultaneously, in the name of Christ, the world has received an outpouring of love and deeds that have changed the very foundations of the earth. As my friend Dominic Laing writes, "A hammer can build a home or crack a skull. It’s all in how you use it."
And I believe where the misuse and the dark manipulation of religion begins is at the point when we believe to have arrived at ultimate truth...when we have tasted the apple and begin to form God in our own image. This is perhaps quite easy for the powerful: to believe that they were given their status through the desires of the Divine, and to act and speak with that authority. It's easy to create a White Jesus preoccupied with punishing and enslaving those without power, a White Jesus preoccupied with the afterlife to avoid the injustices taking place here and now.
Jesus was lynched on a tree.
I invite you to let that sink in a bit.
A crucifixion is ancient, barbaric, and holds little meaning in the present day. A lynching is a fresh wound in the span of our history. Jesus was lynched on a tree. That wording changes something inside of me. It changes my view of Jesus. It changes my view of Christianity.
Jesus was lynched on a tree for being a threat to the religious leaders (following rigidly the first books of the modern Bible) and the powerful, for claiming to be the Son of God...when at the time this was believed of Caesar - the ruler of men.
If Jesus was lynched on a tree a hundred years ago in America, who would have comprised the threatened religious establishment? Who would his followers be? Who would have done the lynching? Who would have shouted for his death, and who would have watched?
What about today?
I pose the question because I believe that the great majority of the Religious Institution of the current White American Church, and those holding power, would be as hell-bent on the destruction of the life and message of Jesus as the political and religious leaders were at the time of his crucifixion...his lynching.
For the past couple of months, I've been recording "Family X": a collection of songs that are the overflow of my wrestlings with injustice - historic and current - as a white, American, male. Historically speaking, I have been given a great amount of power simply by being born.
My heart breaks for the injustices taking place both in America and around the world, but I often feel like injustices such as racism and the plight of those in crippling poverty and slavery are not my story to tell...that I am not welcome in the march for freedom. It almost feels a perversion, for I know that (at the very least indirectly) my place of power and comfort requires the back of the "other" in poverty, the slave, the alien.
And yet, deep in my soul - and even logically - as a white, privileged, American male, my silence is the greater perversion. I don't wish to give scraps from my table to ease my conscience or to soothe White guilt, but to be a part of the growing revolution for true justice and brotherhood.
Malcolm Little changed his surname to X, the X representing the unknown name of his African ancestors and their culture that had been lost during slavery. The title "Family X" pays homage to this loss, but also eludes to the oneness of all life outside of our constructed borders of what 'family' denotes. Through our borders and exclusion is where injustice begins.
The cover art for the album is a photograph taken by my grandfather of his children - Aunt Alison is front and center, my mother in the right corner holding the doll. This photograph is a mirror of myself, the womb from which I was born.
I cannot, and would not, change my heritage or family. I cannot, and would not, change the color of my skin or my upbringing. I personally hold little besides love and gratitude.
But acknowledging the perceptions and expectations that are knowingly and unknowingly placed on my shoulders for what I cannot control, how can I live in a way that gives life instead of robbing it? How have I consciously or unconsciously "othered" a people group to consciously or unconsciously elevate myself? How have my personal choices prolonged the narrative of oppression for people of color, people of different sexual orientation, the immigrant, the planet itself?
I invite you to personally pose these same questions. For those within the American church, I invite you to critically question where your faith is producing life and fruit, and where it is contributing to oppression for the outsider.
The bridge of the title track, "Family X", from the view of the Creator, the good Father, the Spirit-Mother to all of humanity, ends:
I'm in the borders of the refugee
I'm in chains with those in slavery
But I'm not caged in your theology
You cannot rob my grace from me
For you have waged wars in my name
And crippled my children with shame
Divided with fire and flame
The son of man rises again
You cannot rob my grace from me
You cannot take away my family
Malcolm X was gunned down during a speech by members of The Nation of Islam, the organization for which Malcolm gave much of his life, until he disbanded and made public the falsities and abuses of power found within. It was clear that at the end of his life Malcolm knew that he would be killed, either by assassination through the FBI or The Nation of Islam. He continued speaking out, and died for what he believed.
"Family X" is set to release on February 21, the anniversary of Malcolm's death. My hope is that these songs continue his fight for truth and justice...but foremost my hope is that these songs point to the teachings of the true Christ, who first died for us as the human embodiment of the character and heart of the Creator. We are all the sons and daughters of the Creator, and I believe family to be the revolution. Where there is true family there is no "other", no outsider.
When attempting to write this post, it first came out in poetic form...before my longwinded fingers caught up with the rest. I'd like to share it below. Thanks for being on this journey with me, and for listening. I hope that I can step on your toes, and that you can step on mine, but at the end of the day we can break out the bread and wine together.
Jesus Was a Black Man
Jesus did not stand
When the flag of the empire
He was a threat
To the kingdoms of earth
To the masters of slaves
Jesus was a revolutionary
Who was lynched on a tree
And I looked on
And I didn't say a word
I didn't say a goddamned word.
I didn't drive the nails into his hands
Or press the thorns in his brow
I just looked on
And I didn't say a word
But I can't shake the dream
That I'm shouting
That my white hands
Are stained red with his blood
Back of the bus
God hates fags
Build the wall
Make the empire
And I wake
And I don't know what is real
Or a dream
Is my silence
Or is my silence
Jesus, rise from the dead
Roll away the stone
Of my own whitewashed tomb
Wash me not white as snow
Make me black as fertile soil
Open my ears
To the song of the oppressed
Teach me to sing
And I will open my mouth
Guide me to the tree
And I, too, will lay down my life
For my brother
For my Mother