At These Crossroads

Faust is a German cautionary tale of one who makes a deal with the devil to get unattainable knowledge and temporary powers. It teaches the folly of trading something of supreme moral importance for power, riches or satisfaction.

In America, white people inherited privilege that was obtained by very public evils which harmed many others.  As individuals, we must decide how to respond, but also as a nation, the pathways of how best to proceed must be decided.

In 1995, Bishop Charles Blake appointed me to pastor a small church in rural Littlerock, CA. We attempted something rare, to have a Christ centered, ethnically diverse church in an area only recently desegregated. The Aryan Nations had left nearby Lancaster for Idaho several years earlier. The Klan still met nearby.

All issues are not ours. But some causes are so right, so important, they compel us. So, when a local school board met to consider a high school’s continued use of the Confederate battle flag as part of its sports and school culture, (Johnny Reb was mascot), I invited the church to the board meeting as our first social action.

Arriving early, I was introduced to some Black people who seemed hesitant to shake my hand. Diversity is a fragile, complicated reality. The place was packed with a cross section of community, some with Confederate flags on their arms.

Public comments were invited, a line went to the back of the meeting hall, around the wall. There were emotional arguments. One said the flag was historic, another contended it was already in place. Current students complained they were not racists and hadn’t chosen this symbol.

When my turn, I didn’t tell them this was America’s swastika, the specific symbol of a violent enforcement of white supremacy. I said I’d been in the South and seen this offensive flag, and was on LA’s Crenshaw when the uprising erupted over the first King verdicts.  

I spoke about the power of symbols. “When white people saw Rodney King being beaten, they could say, ‘That’s bad.’  But when Black people saw the same video, (especially since LAPD could pull a kid of color into an alley, rough him up and no one get on video), they could say, ‘That could be my brother. That could be my father or son. That could be me…and in a symbolic sense, it IS me!’ That flag is a historic symbol. It’s a symbol of oppression and disrespect. You need to let it die.”

Pointing to the U.S. flag, I reminded them we’d pledged, “with liberty and justice for all.” Then I challenged them: “By the symbolic act of removing this offensive symbol, let there be liberty and justice for ALL!”  

The place went up. Folks wanted to shake my hand. We got the flag decision.

Later, in the parking area, a group of students approached me, asking, “What should we do?” Good question. “You may become the teachers of those who preceded you,” and we left in peace.

Christian/white nationalism, prominent in the violent January 6 attack on America, revealed wildly misinformed beliefs and fears that exploded with rage and chaos. But who had they frequently listened to? Who misinformed their beliefs? Who manipulated and repeatedly told them they were being replaced? And, at these crossroads, who will America continue to hear?

It is remarkable that the story of Dr. Faust, born in the 1400s, has almost identical elements as some Yoruba and African diaspora cautionaries, with almost precise equivalence. In those stories, Eleguá, (sometimes called Èṣù-Ẹlẹ́gbára, and other names), is considered the orisha/lord of crossroads. January 6th is one of Eleguá’s special days.

In some forms, Eleguá is crafty, a trickster who creates chaos. Deals at crossroads may involve sex, power and more. One leaves that exchange with a desire gotten, but at greater, unexpected and sometimes tragic cost.

A derivative legend says, at a midnight crossroads, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for blues guitar success. Johnson died at age 27.

Crossroads are visible in the flat Mississippi Delta. Vehicles must slow down to stop before proceeding forward or turning. This creates opportunities for hitchhikers. Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” considers the late day as he tries to get a ride. With sundown towns, lynching and vagrancy laws, (pressing many into chain-gang labor), those crossroads have a lot going on:

I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above, "Have mercy, save poor Bob if you please.

God is rich in mercy. But there is an unholy spirit at work. “The prince of the power of the air,” is influential among our aggrieved, deceived and privileged neighbors. At these crossroads, love truth. Confess truth. Don’t sell the truth. Hate lies. Reject lies. Don’t follow lies. Find mercy instead.

By Frank Robinson

2 thoughts on “At These Crossroads

  1. I love Frank’s commentary, as a Black woman growing up with Frank,, he was a good friend that loved and got along with everybody, no matter the shade of their skin. I was not brought up in prejudices, but my sons was. I could go on about this world, but it would take too long. As Black boys growing up, I did not know what they went through, until they became men. It made me angry, but I prayed to God and he rescued them and me. Frank keep writing your you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such touching words, Vicky. I remember a night in our youth I was not doing well and you walked with me. At least one person spoke to me in amazement at that, as that person assumed you hated people who looked like me. But that is the nature of ignorant assumptions. A friend loves at all times, and I want to thank you for that. Maybe we can leave this world better than we found it, or at least, leave knowing that we did our part to make it a better, safer & more just place than it was, for your children and mine. and for those who follow after.


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