Black History Month and a celebration of unselfishness

A Christian Science perspective.

It takes only a few minutes of watching television to see that people seek recognition, often confusing notoriety with greatness. Greatness is actually found in unselfed love, by disregarding one’s mere personal advantage over that of another. Those who allow pride and ambition to mistake unselfed love for weakness deprive themselves of the very power to be great, for unselfed love is what connects us to the infinite power of the universe we call God, divine Love, the intelligent source of life.

Such spiritual power is proved practical. To me, the unjustly accused Daniel was safe in the lions’ den because he accepted the power of God’s love and rejected self-righteous resentment. And Christ Jesus proved the power of unselfed love to overcome death. Despite the agony of rejection, Jesus replaced revenge with charity in his prayer to forgive those who falsely accused him and nailed him to the cross in their failed attempt to silence his influence.

Honoring God as the source of all good, and understanding that the goodness each of us has is God reflected in unselfed love, is our means to use this spiritual power ourselves. Individuals can draw upon their inherent power to be great by understanding that God is the source of greatness. Just as the sunbeam shows the light, warmth, and energy of the sun, so God’s sons and daughters reflect the intelligence, action, and power of God.

Fear of losing our identity may prevent us from acknowledging that God is the source of our ability. But we cannot be lost or absorbed in our Creator. Just as the sunbeam is evidence of the sun, so we individualize the power of God.

Putting down the personal, limited “me” and “mine” of self-will, self-justification, and self-love – seen in hatred, revenge, lust, and deceit – opens the glories of infinite Love. The Apostle Paul said, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans 12:10).

This month – Black History Month here in the United States – has caused me to reflect once again on some of the stunning examples of that biblical admonition made practical by blacks throughout history despite the oppression they faced. Booker T. Washington, for example, echoed that biblical axiom when he wrote in his autobiography, “I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him” (“Up from Slavery,” p. 165). 

Washington was a successful educator, author, and political leader. While he was taking a walk one day after becoming president of his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a woman stopped him and asked him to chop some wood for her. He did so, and stacked it for her. A little girl recognized him and later told the woman who he was. The woman went to his office to apologize, and he replied, “It’s perfectly all right, madam. Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend” (Gary Chapman, “Love As a Way of Life: Seven Keys to Transforming Every Aspect of Your Life,” p. 108).

What makes this generous, neighborly act notable is that Washington had been born into slavery, and the woman was white. This took place during the age of Jim Crow segregation, long before Alabama and other states acknowledged human rights as belonging to people of all races.

So what can explain how, despite the unspeakable evil of slavery and discrimination, Washington prospered? He loved, choosing to put down a limited sense of self that might rile pride and ambition, to help others. This statement from Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, for me sheds light on his actions. She explained: “He who is afraid of being too generous has lost the power of being magnanimous. The best man or woman is the most unselfed” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 165).

Washington gave much more than a pile of wood. By his unselfed love, the woman was in some degree freed from the limitations and small-mindedness of judging others based on skin color. Learning from his example, she became more unselfish, evidenced by her large donation to the Tuskegee Institute and her work to persuade some of her wealthy acquaintances to donate also.

Washington and others showed that we are great as we are good, clad in the garment of unselfed love.

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