President’s Blog – Good and Evil: Our Constant Companions and Instructors
November 5, 2018
President’s Blog 2
Good and Evil: Our Constant Companions and Instructors
I don’t have simple answers to the difficult questions regarding good and evil. As with all of us, they have been my constant companions for many years.
Early in my life, my mother taught me about the intimate relationship between good and evil when my father surrendered to his PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and abandoned his wife and seven children. For years, I wanted to blame my father for leaving us in a terrible situation, surrounded by poverty, drugs and crime.
But my mother would always say, “Micah, your father was a great man! He has demons, but he also has angels and will forever be my angel.” Those words did not make sense to me then, but as I struggled toward manhood as the oldest child of James McCreary, as I struggled every morning when I looked in the mirror and was confronted by his facial characteristics and physical structure, my mother’s insight had a powerful and profound, if not brilliant, impact. Mom helped me realize that while my father had demons afflicting him, angels still protected him, and she would always love him.
While I struggled to understand her compassion, I simultaneously wrestled with the good and evil taking place in the world around me. I will never forget the pain, trauma and loss I experienced over the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Jr.; Malcom X; Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. However, I also will never forget the speech that John Kennedy made about agency, Malcom X about the “ballot or the bullet,” Dr. King about the “drum major instinct,” and Bobby Kennedy about the pain of losing his brother to ideological violence.
I will never forget the race riots in my native Detroit, Michigan; Watts, California; Newark, New Jersey, and many other American cities; nor the March for Jobs in Washington D.C. in 1964; the march for the right to protest from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965; the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign in Chicago in 1968, or the Million Man March in Washington D.C. in 1995. I also have witnessed the “flipping” of the U.S. House of Representatives – in 1994, 2006 and 2010.
My point here is that at every juncture, I have seen good and evil at work simultaneously in our world. I can only attempt to explain good and can only attempt to make sense of the idea of evil through illustration and conversation.
I still remember when, like many first-generation college students, I was told by a white counselor that I would never graduate from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. I now believe he meant his comment to be motivational; but of course I received it as racist, and it became a barrier to my success. I felt like a failure and I began to act as a failure.
Fortunately, during a local Sunday School class in which I was teaching youths, we studied the story of young David and King Saul. As David volunteered to fight the Philistine giant Goliath, the King instructed him to wear his armor, and David refused. I realized that like David, I had to reject the armor of the King and use the training I had received as a shepherd in Detroit, Michigan.
I reflected on my adolescence in Detroit where I learned to read situations and people; worked at McDonald’s in the evenings; earned excellent grades in school; played first trumpet in the band and orchestra, and was a standout athlete. I beat the odds of the streets by staying focused, working hard, engaging in physical activities and “zoning out” into my music. These were my ways, my rituals and my values.
I also recalled my mother’s honoring of my father, even in the face of his evil actions, and how her illustration in words allowed me to forgive, reconcile and eventually understand my father’s struggles and mistakes. I walked away from my college distractions and “re-embraced” the discipline and devotion to justice, mercy and walking with God (Micah 6:8) that had sustained me since my adolescence. (And eventually, later in life, my mother’s words motivated me to find my father, discover our common strengthens, minimize our common weaknesses and reconcile our broken relationship.)
As we approach another Election Day, I hope we all can reflect on the good that has come out of the bad seasons, experiences and encounters in our lives. Just this morning, I saw news and social media reports featuring Congressman John Lewis, in which he reminded the audience before which he stood that he gave blood on what was dubbed Bloody Sunday back in March 1965, just so people of all kinds today would have the right to vote, to stand up for good. He declared that he was not asking his audience to give blood. Instead, he challenged them to vote as if their lives (all of our lives) are dependent upon it.
Good and evil have been my companions, as they are yours. They are present in every situation and in every human being. Let us wisely use our relationship with good to combat the evil that is always lurking nearby. Tomorrow, on Election Day 2018, don’t miss your chance to stand for good. Take the opportunity afforded to you and vote intelligently.
In Joy and In Justice!
Micah L. McCreary,
President, New Brunswick Theological Seminary