Martin Luther King, Jr. and my Cushite daughter

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  While this holiday has been observed for most of my adult life, even in Arizona, it has new meaning this year.  Aseres is from Ethiopia and is blessed with beautiful, black skin.  We will bring her home soon as our adopted child with all the same rights and privileges as Owen, Roni or Connor, but she will arrive on the same shores where Africans were brought in chains three hundred short years ago.  Greed brought Africans here as slaves and prompted millions of my ancestors to risk death in a war to keep Aseres’ ancestors in bondage (save me the states rights crap).  Even after slavery was defeated, an entire system of laws replaced it and put new chains of bondage upon the newly “freed” people.  In 1896, separate but equal rail cars (and schools) were upheld as constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson, which kept another generation in a different sort of chains.  John Harlan (for whom Connor takes his middle name) dissented and wrote:

We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor atone for the wrong this day done.

This system remained into the mid-20th century when Rosa Parks got on a bus in Birmingham.  She was simply too tired to move to the back of the bus as the law forced, so she went to jail.  And it fell to an unknown minister to rally against this oppression.  Dr. King fought against the system of separate but equal, and fought so that someday my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter could drink of the same water fountain, ride the same bus, go the same school and sleep in the same motel room.  His story and the stories of all who marched and fought with him are the most amazing tale in American history.  They fought without weapons against dogs, water cannons, police, the government and the church (his letter from a Birmingham jail was in response to eight Christian pastors who discounted his actions as “impatient”).

Today, America is still racially divided and the dream of Dr. King has not been fully realized.  The laws now mandate legal equality, but legislation does not change hearts.  Every school may allow blacks or hispanics to attend, but not every parent allows their children to go to the same schools where the blacks and hispanics are concentrated.  They may blame it on the test scores or something else, but the effect of isolation is just as damning to our kids generation as the legal isolation imposed on our grandparents.  And a good number of the people who congratulate Marissa and I on our adoption of Aseres will not allow their own child to consider marrying our black daughter when they are both older.  John Piper says that “opposition to interracial marriage is one of the deepest roots of racial distance, disrepect and hostility in the world.” (J. Piper, Bloodlines, p. 213 — click for free access to book) This lingering discrimination effects everything — no marriage then no dating, no dating then be careful of common friends, less common friends means less interaction and before you know we have rebuilt walls we thought our parents tore down.  I remember when I was ten, my pastor preached a whole sermon against interracial marriage.  I wish I knew then to ask him to reconcile that Jesus descended from the marriage of Boaz, a Jew, and Ruth, a Moabite, or that God struck Miriam with leprosy for speaking out against Moses marrying a Cushite woman — a woman apparently from very near where Aseres was born who likely looked a lot like her.  At least the arrows Marissa and I have endured for our own marriage position us well to walk Aseres through other people’s ignorance.  We can tell her that opposition to interracial marriage is racism and racism is sin, and we can pray with her for reconciliation.

But there is even less obvious racism that I myself have been guilty of in the past — silence in the face of a “joke” or a derogatory term or an offensive stereotype.  Why didn’t I stand up and say “no” to a bad joke or at least pray for the other person’s prideful ignorance?  Then there is not reaching out to those who live separate and apart on account of race or poverty.  Why have I had so few black friends in my home, or so few from the other side of town?  For my sins, I have found forgiveness through repentance which means I am resolved against a replay of my prior inaction and omissions, because we are all sons of Adam with the same gifts from God and same promise of salvation.

And so today, we marched down MLK street in San Marcos with our kids, our friends and our pastor (no, not that one).  I felt ashamed that our town’s 23rd annual march was the first one I made, but it will not be the last.  Next year, Aseres will join us and the next and the next, and we will patiently endure with her and her oppression will be our oppression, until God breaks every chain.

Melkam Ganna, Aseres

Aseres - January 2012 (standing now)

Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, so the birth of Christ, or “Ganna,” is celebrated today, January 7th.  Ethiopian orthodox Christians fast the day before Ganna and then go to worship at 4 a.m.  There are no gifts exchanged other than a single item of clothing which some children receive.  Twelve days after Ganna, Ethiopians commemorate “Timkat” or Christ’s baptism, which is a a three day celebration.  Each is accompanied with a lot of pomp and religious circumstance, including specific foods and attire.

I am not posting an endorsement of the orthodox church, because the intersection of religion and the government was one of the most uncomfortable things I saw in Ethiopia.  I grew up in the American, liberal tradition which views the intersection of church and state as very dangerous for faith and government.  First come the religious, then come the fascists as the thinking goes, but I did not see any indications of such challenges in Ethiopia.  Instead I saw a very religious people, and a religion that had a lot of observances well-rooted in my understanding of the gospel.  And I saw a country that has lived in relative peace for 3,000 years, save a decade or two when the Italians and the Communists tried limiting their independence.  And I saw a country which is 51% Christian and 49% Muslim, yet peaceful and harmonious.  Matter of fact, the deeper orthodox pockets of the country resist adoption of children born in their region not on account of the children going to Muslim homes, but on the chance they might be adopted by Protestants.

As for Christmas vs. Ganna, I think I will go advantage Ethiopia.  We got back into town in early December, and day after day we were assaulted by the commercial end of Christmas.  I couldn’t get to Roni’s school without sifting through thousands of cars streaming into the outlet mall buying a bunch of crap they likely didn’t need.  We finally bought the kids some gifts on the 23rd and even then it really wasn’t much.  But we did spend every minute we could with the kids throughout the season; we’d rather give them that than stuff.  Marissa and I didn’t decorate our tree until Christmas Eve, a few hours before family arrived to celebrate.

It isn’t that Christmas was different this year than in years prior; it was more that Marissa and I are different.  We saw kids without homes living on the street, an orphanage of boys without families or shoes, a plastic tarp serving as home for six boys under five on the side of a road winding up Entoto Mountain, and dozens of other pictures with us every day.  Yet everywhere we looked in Ethiopia was absolute joy, and the Spirit was present and out in the open.  Everywhere we encountered commercial Christmas we saw dead zombies going through the motions.  We didn’t have trouble buying into Christmas because we were angry with Americans or anything like that; we felt sorry for them and us.  All we pile up will vanish in a moment, yet the focus and the drive to pile it up blinds us to the Spirit.  Some of our family thought the lack of buy-in for Christmas might be a reason to seek some counseling and others hoped we would outgrow it.  I am kind of afraid we will, but I don’t want to.

But that isn’t the post; it isn’t about us and American Christmas.  Instead, we want to wish our beautiful angel in Addis a Melkam Ganna.  The word became flesh for you 2011 years ago a few hundred miles from the foster center where you celebrate his birth today.  God is with you today, and soon, very soon, God will send us to bring you into the home we are preparing for you.  Mom, Dad, Owen, Roni and Connor love you, sweet baby.  Melkam Ganna, Aseres!

[In case we haven’t told you, we are praying that our file is submitted to the US Embassy this Thursday.  As long as that happens, we should hear from the embassy around the 26th.  We will hear at that time that we can go get Aseres as quick as we can get there or that there will be additional investigation into her background which could bring significant delays.  Praying for good news the rest of the way, until she is home]