It May Be Time to Shake Off the Dust

Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah,[c] because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. – Genesis: 31:48-49

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. – Matthew 10:14

A bit of drama from the Michigan state senate gained the national spotlight recently. In a campaign mailing, Lana Theis, the state senator from Brighton, implied that state senator Mallory McMorrow, of Royal Oak, was involved in “sexually grooming” children for a supposed pedophile ring and that furthermore, Senator McMorrow is supporting something called the “raced based” education of our children.

The first accusation carries serious legal implications and should not be taken lightly. One would think that an accusation of this magnitude, with dire implications for our children’s safety, should be shared with local, federal, state authorities rather than be included in a fundraising email.

The second accusation, that of supporting “raced based education”, is overly broad and open to interpretation covering a potential spectrum between The Honorable Elijah Mohammed and The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The major focus of the life’s work of both men had to do with race, yet from entirely different angles of approach.

Senator McMorrow did not take these accusations lying down. She stood in the Michigan chamber and delivered a powerful speech refuting Senator Theis’s lies and innuendo. Furthermore, McMorrow boldly stood up for the rights of citizens who are marginalized by Theis’s stance. The speech only lasted five minutes but it resounded around the globe as a long overdue response to the increasingly fascist, authoritarian, and racist public stance of the Republican party. Senator McMorrow has been rightly celebrated for the principles, passion and integrity exemplified in her comments. But her speech is not what I’d like to focus on today. It’s what she said after the speech. When asked if she would continue to work with Senator Theis in the senate, McMorrow stated that she had no interest in working with her further.

This would seem to run counter to the orthodoxy of a lot of politicians, including our current president, and many in the media, who urge Americans to find compromise with those with whom we disagree.

I’m here to suggest that it may be time to “shake the dust off our feet”.

When I was a teenager, we used to close our Baptist Youth Fellowship meetings at my home church in St. Louis with words taken our Old Testament text: “May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we’re absent, one from another.” We discontinued the practice after someone reviewed the text leading up to that scripture and put it in proper context. In short, it’s the story of the dissolution of the relationship between Jacob, the Patriarch, and his cousin, Laban, for whom Jacob had worked for 20 years. Jacob felt that Laban had not dealt fairly with him. In fact, Jacob had been ordered by God to take his household, consisting of two of Laban’s daughters, and his share of Laban’s flock – that he’d worked for – and leave. Once he’d learned of Jacob’s surreptitious departure, Laban pursued him.

He eventually caught up with Jacob and after a lot of back and forth and rehashing of grievances, we come to what amounts to a covenant between the two men that signifies the dissolution of their relationship. However, I do not interpret this as an amicable parting. For in verse 52 and 53 Laban further states: 52 “This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

These men will not be visiting each other for the holidays. They have irreconcilable differences. Jacob has taken a stand for himself and for what is right. To continue to associate with Laban would be foolhardy. Likewise, rightly, or wrongly Laban feels that he is the aggrieved party. For him to continue to ally with Jacob is pointless.

Turning to our New Testament scripture, we find Jesus instructing the disciples as he sends them out to preach and heal in his name. He has been very specific in his instructions, as one would think he’d be. These are his representatives. What strikes me is that Jesus makes the disciples completely reliant on the people they will be ministering to. He instructs them to take no coin with them, to not even take any extra clothes. “… for the worker is worth his keep,” he says.

This is vital because I believe it leads to the admonition to “shake off the dust.” If the people you are ministering to and working with don’t recognize your worth – and by extension, the worth of the God in you – move on. They aren’t worth the time. In similar fashion, Jacob, God’s anointed, had labored faithfully in Laban’s household. His worth was not reciprocated in kind, so God instructed Jacob to move on. When Laban caught up with Jacob after seven days, he chastised Jacob in bad faith for “abandoning” him. When it was obviously Jacob who had been mistreated.

All of this presumes that what one is trying to accomplish aligns with the will and purpose of God. But beloved, God does not want us to waste our efforts in alliance with those who would abuse us. We are to use discernment in our alliances. And while we are not to think too highly of ourselves, this is his mission after all, we are not allowed to waste God’s time. In verse sixteen Christ admonishes his disciples to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

So, I think Senator McMorrow was in order when she declared that she no longer intended to work with Senator Theis. There is an oft quoted epigram of Maya Angelou that says, “When people show you who they are the first time believe them.” Consider that the line is part of a larger quote that reads in part, “Live your life in truth. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You will survive anything if you live your life from the point of view of truth.” Or again, again, as the Savior said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”


“However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, & cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking a same language, governed in similar forms, & by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.” Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, November 24, 1801

“… nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on the surface.” Ironic, right? Because based on not so recent scholarship, Thomas Jefferson had little reservation about mixing with at least one of the “blots” on at least six different occasions.

As much as we like to believe the origins of the American character are forged in democracy & fraternity, we’d be negligent if we didn’t consider the very strong impulses toward imperialism and white supremacy ably carried by the vessel of “Manifest Destiny.” Jefferson’s letter to James Monroe, excerpted above, was written roughly three years before he commissioned Lewis and Clark to map the Northwest Territory which he’d just bought from France, ignoring the sovereignty of the many nations of indigenous people who’d already live on this continent for centuries.

Lewis & Clark set out from St. Louis, the very site of the Cahokians, the “Mound Builders” who had established a vast civilization some 800 years prior. They built a network of at least 70 mounds used for festivals, religious rituals, and observing the stars. I camped in the state park near the few remaining mounds as a Boy Scout. We were told that they were crude burial grounds. The area surrounding the park has been zoned for industrial and commercial use. The nearby exits look like just about every other off-ramp in America, a mixture of gas stations, big box stores, and fast food franchises. Which is, what it is, right? The new always supplants the old. Every city is built over the bones of earlier attempts at civilization.

But consider that Cahokia and the rest of the continental U.S. weren’t “settled” as much as taken by force. The civilizations already established on the land weren’t supplanted. They were obliterated. The bones of their prior cities ground to dust, or, as in the case of the Cahokia mounds, used to backfill the foundations of the new cities.

We’re Lying to You Most of The Time

“‘You’re acting all the time when you’re black’.” And it’s true. Black people are acting out roles every day in this country just to keep on getting by. If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” – Miles Davis, from “Miles – The Autobiography”

I offer this as an exhibit for anyone concerned about impediments to free speech as I believe the Times Editorial Board characterized it. I use it to remind myself once again that the concept of “cancel culture” is another tool of white supremacy. For black citizens it could mean your life. I’m thinking of Fred Hampton, MLK, & Malcolm X. They were “canceled” for just speaking the truth. For having the nerve to suggest that that full citizenship for black Americans, for the poor and marginalized, was long overdue. For just suggesting that America needed to change.

“If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” And when white people get scared, black people die. That’s why “lying to white folks” comes as natural to black people as breathing.

To be able to speak your mind without the threat of criticism, or even shame, is a privilege enjoyed at the expense of others. If the only threat to your ability to speak freely is criticism and shame, you’re still privileged.

Why, Black History

“The story of the master never wanted for narrators” – Frederick Douglass. My stock answer for whenever anybody comes after black history from now on.

The epigram, “History is written by the victors,” is often attributed to Churchill, which I’ve learned is not entirely true. For my part, I find that history is frequently misread as it is continually being re-intrerpreted and uncovered. History is like self discovery. It’s messy and often painful and, if you spend enough time with it, you realize that you cannot tell one pain from the other.

History is not a fixed point in time. It’s never really “settled”. It is a story that never finishes.


Frank 1

This is Frank Beard, my maternal grandmother’s father with his first wife. As far as I know, this is not a drawing. The picture was taken in black and white and then colored in after. We removed it from a frame that was as warped and weathered as the picture; a massive, heavy thing, ornately carved.

If I recall correctly, Frank was married 4 times. The woman pictured, his first wife. She bore him 2 sons before she died. His second was my grandmother’s mother who died when my grandmother was quite young. Frank’s 3rd wife treated my grandmother and her brothers very cruelly. The boys were beaten so severely they passed blood. This woman’s 2 daughters tormented my grandmother while the boys were in the field working alongside Frank. These “wicked stepsisters” dictated to my grandmother and her siblings how much they could eat. Consequently, they were underfed. My grandmother told stories of scrounging for scraps in the chicken yard.

Here’s the thing: Frank was evidently oblivious to all of this. It was not until he was alerted by a cousin, a woman who raised the alarm at the poor condition of his children, that he took action. He divorced Wife Number 3 and married a 4th time. Wife Number 4 proved to be a vast improvement.

I used to put off Frank’s neglect of his children to the times in which he lived. Caring for the brood was “women’s work” and none of his concern. He paid no real attention to the physical condition of his children. Made no notice of the interactions between them. Caught no signs of menace between his wife and her stepchildren. He had to attend to his farm. The day to day of his family passed his notice.

What are we allowing to pass our notice? Apparently quite a bit if the latest news is any indication. What does is say about the times in which we live? What is more important to us than addressing neglect and abuse in our very midst?

It’s said that, on her death bed, Wife Number 3 called Frank to her bedside. She claimed to see a finger writing on the wall so fast that she couldn’t read it. It was giving an accounting of her past sins.

No one knows if Frank forgave her.


He’s likely dead now since it was 36 years ago and I’d reckon him in his late 60’s/early 70’s then. I was 19, home from college. I was visiting as a favor to my mom. He’d been bugging her for months for me to stop over when I came home. He started giving me money when I was in high school; $5.00 here, $10.00 there, when our paths crossed. I didn’t make much of it.

My dad died when I was 13. I thought he was being kind.

“I’d kill a motherfucker over you!” he declared after I’d been sitting on the couch a while. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied, surprising myself at my calm. Pornographic material covered the coffee table. Not the high glossy Playboy magazines I’d snuck into the house when I lived at home. Rather it was some particularly raunchy, grainy black and white depictions of beastiality. Women in pointy coned bras whipping each other. Orgies.

I was surprised but not overly concerned for my safety. He scooted into the kitchen for cookies and koolaid. The juxtaposition threw me a bit. I passed on the koolaid. I may have taken a bite of a cookie.

Took me a minute but I put it together. “I have to go,” I said calmly, “I have a date.” Which was true. I’d timed the whole thing to give myself an excuse to leave, not knowing that I’d really need to leave.

He made pretext of “showing me something” in his bedroom before he’d unlock the deadbolt. The key was in his pocket. I firmly refused.

He tried to play coy. Cheerfully declaring that I wouldn’t be able to leave until he was “satisfied.” I calmly but firmly informed him that “if he didn’t open that goddam door, I’d put a chair through his front window” to leave. He actually looked hurt as he unlocked the front door. “When are you coming back?” he called as I walked down the porch steps.

I never saw him again. I now wish I’d reported him. But he had some standing in the community and I didn’t want trouble and I had some vague notion of not wanting to embarrass him further.

But what of his next “guest?” Perhaps someone who was not as confident as I was or as physically imposing. I towered over him. What if the next person was intimidated by the old man’s position in the community?

I put the whole episode behind me and moved on. But I’m reminded now as so many people come out to tell their stories of encounters with sexual predators that he could have tried it again. And that he could have been successful.

And that if he did harm someone, I’m complicit.