Conversations with Eboo: Nathan Stanton
In January of this historic year, I sat with my friend Reverend Nathan Stanton at a 7th Grade boys basketball game on the north side of Chicago (both of our sons play), and casually asked what he had planned for 2020. Nathan responded: “I think we’re going to blow this whole middle-class thing up.”
This is not a comment one hears very often amongst the corporate lawyers and strategy consultants who populate the chic neighborhoods that radiate out from Wrigley Field. But Nathan is not your average person. He’s an artist, a visionary, a minister, and a gentle, beautiful soul. Once, while we were chatting over coffee, I watched him paint pictures on a half dozen 4x6 notecards, one after the other.
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“Well, I figure there are about two and a half million people in the city of Chicago. I want to do a unique artwork for each one.”
“You like this piece?” he asked, holding up the notecard he’d just painted. He handed it to me. “It’s yours.” Then he added, “The world needs love.”
Over the past few months, Nathan (who is black) and his wife Liz (who is white) have sold their possessions and prepared for the next steps.
The plan is to take their family of seven on a year-long national tour focused on racial reconciliation. They will do ‘Forgive Us’ events all over the country, starting on the West Coast. The events open with an artist performing a work that offers a vision of what Nathan calls Jesus-flavored justice, and end with people signing a ‘Declaration of Forgiveness.' Nathan hopes these events will create enough momentum for there to be a large ‘Forgive Us’ festival in Washington DC, maybe in 2023, as part of the events that will commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
Nathan and I sat down in my front yard last week so I could hear more about the plan. I began by pointing out that this was maybe the most historic week of the last fifty years in the United States. Nathan pointed out all the home construction vans maneuvering into parking spots on our street. “The world is changing, but people in our neighborhood are still getting new kitchens, still picking out fixtures,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. We laugh, then we got down to business.
I start by asking where the vision came from.
Nathan says he’s known since he was twelve years old that he was supposed to do two things: preach the Gospel and bring the races together. But it wasn’t until 2015, specifically the atrocity at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, that he had an idea of how these things were connected.
Here’s how he explains it: “I had a vision of me with a scroll in my backpack, traveling. As I thought and prayed more on that vision, I realized that backpack meant me traveling and that scroll contained a declaration of forgiveness that people would sign at a creative event that would signify their intention to let go of harsh bitterness towards people who don’t look like they do.”
For Nathan, this kind of work is at the center of what it means to be a Christian and draws directly from the Bible.
He quotes Jeremiah 8:22 to me: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” And then points out the obvious: he saw the Stanton family journey as a balm for America, a bandage for a nation wounded by racism.
He hastens to add: “I by no means think this is the end-all, be-all. White folks still have a lot of work to do, to face the fact that this is a brutally violent country for people of color. But I think the spirit of what we need right now must be love and peace. You can speak the truth and say hard things to people in love and peace.”
As I mentioned before, Nathan and his family have been planning this for months. I had to ask the obvious question. Considering the events of the last few weeks – the police murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor – does his racial reconciliation road trip take on a different meaning?
“It shows us that the stakes are much higher than we could have ever imagined," says Nathan. "There’s this verse in Hebrews 12 that says: “Once more I will shake not only the earth but heaven as well.”
“I think that what God is doing right now is showing that every attitude of our heart, every system (including the church), every passion that we have that is not from Him needs to be shaken. It’s going to be painful, and there’s going to be grieving and mourning and loss such as this country has never experienced before, but what we’re going to be left with is the actual structure which was here from the beginning, which is love."
Nathan continues: “When God said, ‘Let there be light,' the three members of the Trinity got together and formed people from love. We need to be reminded of our true foundation and our true essence. It has nothing to do with political influence, wealth, racism, or status. Although God didn’t show us explicitly everything that was going to happen, He prepared us for it by putting a desire in our hearts that was greater than the possessions we had."
I tell Nathan that what he is doing requires courage. “Nah man,” he responds. “All prophetic figures are on the move. You hear a call from God, you gotta go. I just have more kids than most.”