Reflections of Christmas Past and Present

Reflections of Christmas Past and Present

I never left milk and cookies out for Santa Claus… I never stayed up late to hear Rudolph on the roof… and I never begged my parents to put out the fire so Santa wouldn’t burn his buns when he came down my chimney… LOL! But it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in him, because I did (at least for the first five years of my life). Thinking back though, I don’t remember my parents teaching me about Santa Claus. I guess I believed in him because of all the songs I sang in preschool like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and all the cartoons I watched during the Christmas season. I was only 4 or 5 when my older friends and cousins told me he wasn’t real.


In these polarized times, even a prayer could be up for debate

In these polarized times, even a prayer could be up for debate

After struggling over wording in the prayer, one ecumenical organization is developing new tools to address divides within its own network.

Attendees of the Christian Churches Together annual forum participate in a prayer pilgrimage starting at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis during the October 2022 meeting. Photo courtesy of CCT

(RNS) — In October, Christian Churches Together, an ecumenical group of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, gathered for its annual forum to address a topic that has plagued the church and society beyond it: polarization.

They sought to answer the question “Who Does Jesus Call Our Christian Churches to Be in a Polarized Society?” But they found that polarization within their own ranks made it hard to move forward with a response. Two months later, on Dec. 9, they released a prayer.

“In the power of the Holy Spirit that blows where it will, remove the divisions and historical inequities between Christians and in society — between those who strive to follow you and between us who raise this prayer,” it reads. “Show us new ways to be your churches in these troubled, polarized times. Give us fresh vision to respond in love to a world consumed by hate and fear.”

Christian Churches Together logo. Courtesy image

Christian Churches Together logo. Courtesy image

Reaching prayerful words that might seem to outsiders to be relatively innocuous required some heated discussion.

“We did have challenging moments in that conversation about the prayer, I think because prayer is such a central part of our common tradition, Christian tradition, that there were strong feelings around how we should pray and how we should end the prayer,” said Monica Schaap Pierce, CCT’s executive director.

“And so when that kind of came to a head, we decided to have a cover letter to explain the diversity of approaches to prayer.”

The letter, addressed to its participating churches, gave three options for ending the prayer: “Ashe,” a closing used by some historic Black churches that is rooted in many African contexts; “in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,” used in Catholic and Orthodox settings; or another ending chosen by the person saying the prayer.

Since the meeting, after struggling over wording in the prayer, the organization has taken steps to develop new tools to address divides within its own network.

Monica Schaap Pierce. Photo courtesy of CCT

Monica Schaap Pierce. Photo courtesy of CCT

Schaap Pierce, a former CCT steering committee member who served for four years as the ecumenical officer of the Reformed Church in America, said letters and other statements — on racism, poverty and immigration reform — have been produced by the ecumenical organization since its founding two decades ago. But they often take time and debate.

“There is a lot of conversation that leads up to the decision and it often is a bit heated and challenging, but we do come to consensus,” a decision-making mode she says “can honor all the voices in the room,” with many perspectives across generations, denominations and socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

The organization, founded in 2001, includes 34 communions and Christian organizations that Schaap Pierce says represent 57 million American Christians. It includes five “families”: Catholic, Orthodox, historic Black Protestant, mainline Protestant and evangelical/Pentecostal.

She said the organization is seeking to address polarization within and among those Christian subgroups even as it hopes to eventually extend what it learns to broader communities. At its October forum in Indianapolis, following a process used by the World Council of Churches, several dozen people raised orange or blue cards as they sought to gather consensus, with the colors showing they were “warm” or “cool” to an idea being discussed.

Some of the attendees responded to an invitation to foster understanding among themselves in a new way a month later.

In November, dozens of CCT participant group members and observers devoted four and a half hours over two days to a workshop conducted by Resetting the Table, a nonprofit that teaches listening exercises designed to reduce polarization.

Resetting The Table logo. Courtesy image

Resetting The Table logo. Courtesy image

“The million-dollar question is how can we shift ourselves and others from the usual rigidity of how we listen across differences and how we listen in general,” facilitator Eyal Rabinovitch said at the start of the second online session after a get-to-know you gathering two days earlier.

“Can we support people to move beyond their confirmation bias so that they can actually take in information, take in views and people that they might otherwise dismiss out of hand?”

In one instance, two men who had different responses to a hypothetical statement about voting — “We should automatically register all eligible citizens to vote” — spent time in a Zoom small group coming to understand the side each was on.

Anthony Elenbaas, a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, was all-in, seeing the increasing barriers to voting across the U.S. as “antithetical to the founding principles of the country.”

Dana Wiser, a participant from an Anabaptist background, opposed the statement, recalling how his father was interred in work camps for his conscientious objection to the draft during World War II.

Christian Churches Together participant group members attend a workshop conducted by Resetting The Table in Nov. 2022. Screen grab courtesy of RTT

Christian Churches Together participant group members attend a workshop conducted by Resetting The Table in November 2022. Screen grab courtesy of RTT

They achieved what Rabinovitch called “getting to bull’s-eye” — or gaining an understanding of each other’s views — by stating not just what each said to the other but what they were communicating — which could be different.

Wiser told the overall group afterward that though he and Elenbaas started out on opposite extremes of the discussion question they found similarities in their overall views and “also discovered nuances of our positions that we would have completely missed if we had rushed to judgment.”

Added Elenbaas in a later discussion: “It kind of sharpens both your ability to speak but also to hear.”

Religion scholar J. Gordon Melton, who recently retired from Baylor University, was not surprised to hear of the challenges CCT has faced in determining what its representatives could agree to say jointly.

“All Christians want to fellowship with as broad a body as they can but their lines in the sand are drawn on different issues, so as long as you don’t talk about the issue I draw my line in the sand on, we’re great,” he said in an interview. “For different groups the issue that breaks the agreement is different. And ecumenical groups have to learn to do that.”

The Christian Churches Together annual forum was held in Indianapolis in Oct. 2022 meeting. Photo courtesy of CCT

The Christian Churches Together annual forum was held in Indianapolis in October 2022. Photo courtesy of CCT

Schaap Pierce said the workshop gave her and CCT’s other leaders effective means to continue their consensus methods “in ways that are maybe not as heated and emotionally charged as they have been in the past” even as they consider using the lessons gained in personal as well as professional circles.

“Our faith leaders within CCT who were at the workshop talked about bringing these tools back to their own denominations to share either at the denominational staff level or with a church board,” she said. “Or just even with their family members in order to better understand one another. And to really seek a unity that goes beyond uniformity.”

Kick Up Some Dust: An Interview with Bernie Marcus

Bernie Marcus is known today as the successful co-founder of one of the most recognizable companies in the country: Home Depot. He is an author with his book Kick Up Some Dust: Thinking Big, Giving Back, and Doing It Yourself.  But his journey has been filled with obstacles and opportunities that brought him to this place. He overcame poverty, failures, setbacks, and antisemitism to become the successful business leader and philanthropist he is today. He worked with award winning biographer Catherine Lewis to tell his story and sat down with UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura to share his wisdom. The full interview is above, more about the book is below.


The start of Home Depot sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: Two Jews and an Italian decide to build a new kind of hardware store… In 1978, Bernie Marcus’s livelihood depended on just such a scenario. Having been fired at the age of forty-nine, he teamed up with Arthur Blank and Ken Langone on a bold new endeavor. Their first day in business was so disastrous that the next morning, Marcus’s wife wouldn’t let him shave because she didn’t want a razor in his hands. But the last laugh would be theirs, as the business partners grew Home Depot into the world’s largest home improvement retailer, empowering millions of Americans to “do it yourself.”

The same energy that made Home Depot successful has helped Bernie give away more than $2 billion and pioneer a new model for philanthropy, transforming millions of lives. There is no single, winning formula for trying to make the world a better place, but Bernie shares what he’s learned—that the skills needed to build a Fortune 500 company are the same ones that can help cure cancer, treat veterans with PTSD, and transform autism treatment. And it doesn’t take a fortune to make a big difference in your community.

Kick Up Some Dust will inspire you to dream, build, and give—and, maybe, change the world.

A pilgrimage in the footsteps of Lott Carey’s pioneering mission to Africa

A pilgrimage in the footsteps of Lott Carey’s pioneering mission to Africa

A journey ‘home’ to a place my ancestors never saw again.

The Legacy Pilgrimage to Africa delegation at the original sanctuary of the Providence Baptist Church established by Rev. Lott Carey in 1822 in Monrovia, Liberia. Courtesy photo

(RNS) — Two months ago, I stood in Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, listening to the stories of Africans and Americans — the latter freed from slavery in the United States — who had banded together to establish the first republic on the continent of Africa two centuries before.

Providence, the oldest Baptist church in the West African country and the second oldest on the continent, was founded in 1822 by the Rev. Lott Carey, who had come as a missionary to the fledgling country and had brought a team of African American settlers home. Now, 200 years later, the Rev. Emmett L. Dunn, CEO of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, had brought a team of African Americans home.

I have traveled to several countries in Africa, and each one is imprinted on my heart in a special way. But hearing the stories of the African American settlers was cause to pause. I connected with the history of Liberia in a way I didn’t expect. I felt blessed beyond measure.

Landing in Liberia my spirit leaped like the baby in Elizabeth’s belly when greeting Mary, the mother of Jesus. The sights and sounds of Liberia greeted my senses, sending my head and my heart into overwhelming joy.

The Rev. Lott Carey. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The Rev. Lott Carey. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

In Liberia, I was at home. Home in the land of my ancestors on World Communion Sunday. Home, where a sense of “double consciousness” —  a concept coined by W.E.B. DuBois to describe African Americans’ sense of dislocation from Africa and ourselves — liberated my thoughts and linked them to my theology in a free-spirited dance of deliverance.

It’s often said we must step back before we step forward. Walking in the footsteps of Lott Carey in the motherland afforded us the opportunity to do just that.

Born enslaved in 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia, Carey became a disciple of Jesus in 1807, purchased his freedom in 1813, and led the first Baptist missionaries to Africa from the United States in 1821.

After settling in Liberia, Carey and his pioneering missionary team engaged in evangelism, education and health care. He served as a missional and civic leader until his death in 1828.

Our pilgrimage relived aspects of this journey and the experiences of his team. We explored Providence Island, where Carey landed in Liberia in early 1822. Before we landed in Liberia, Dunn told us, “We expect that this journey into the past will bring home to us the love and sacrifice of those who walked this journey before us.”

The Door of Return at the Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. It was once dubbed “The Door of No Return,” signaling the last time enslaved persons would see their homeland. Courtesy photo

The Door of Return at the Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. It was once dubbed “The Door of No Return,” signaling the last time enslaved persons would see their homeland. Courtesy photo

Our next stop in Africa took us nearly 1,000 miles east along the coast of the Assin Manso Slave River and the Cape Coast castle in Ghana, unofficially dubbed “the Door of No Return” by our Ghanian sisters and brothers, through which so many of our ancestors were shackled and shipped into the slave trade in the New World. It has become a portal for African Americans, pulling us back to Ghana.

Before walking to the Slave River, where my ancestors received their first bath after being captured and their last bath before being carted off to the Americas, we held a ceremony of protection over Lott Carey’s life. In my sanctified imagination, my African ancestors’ prayers came to fruition in the proclamation made that day. What was meant for evil, God had used for good some 400 years later.

How ironic is it? In a whitewashed slave castle used to destroy the African spirit, a group of spirited African Americans reconnected with a long-lost history, historically whitewashed in American culture and the church universal.

My Bible says, “Be steadfast and persevering, my beloved sisters and brothers, fully engaged in the work of Jesus. You know that your work is not in vain when it is done in Jesus’ name.”

It was in that spirit that the last leg of our journey in homage to Lott Carey ended with saluting our ancestors on the same shores where they passed, returning where no return was promised. In the Twi language of Ghana, “sankofa” is a word meaning “go back and get it.” We did.

(The Rev. Angelita Clifton is president of Women in Service Everywhere and an associate minister at Fountain Baptist Church in Summit, New Jersey. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Aspire for More: An Interview with Angela Cannon

Aspire for More: An Interview with Angela Cannon

Angela Cannon was on the edge of the transition to streaming content as she led the efforts by the UP Entertainment to grow its streaming channel UP Faith & Family. But she has often found herself at the forefront of industry shifts. She is now taking over management of AspireTV and is SVP of Multicultural Networks and Strategy for UP Entertainment.

UrbanFaith sat down with Angela to discuss her career journey, the importance of mentoring, and how she finds herself as a trailblazer.

7 Tips for Success from Mark Cuban (EXCLUSIVE)

7 Tips for Success from Mark Cuban (EXCLUSIVE)

Q & A

1. When you look back at your life, what are two leadership traits that have served you well?

Mark Cuban: I think caring about people and curiousity, always trying to learn more to be better

2. What should young adults look for, when deciding on a career?

MC: I don’t think they need to find careers.  I think they need to find a job and start learning and see where it takes you. I think that everyone should be a free agent, always looking for a way to put themselves in a better situation. If you end up with the same company for 30 years that’s great. But it’s not a necessity

3. When deciding who to work or partner with, what are some nonnegotiable’s for you?

MC: Being nice. Being inclusive.  Being knowledgeable. Loving your product so much you are the best salesperson for it

4. You are a man of conviction and character, why is maintaining that important to you?

MC: It’s so much easier when you do the right thing

5. What advice, do you give young investors who want to start investing? What should they look for?

MC: Pay off your credit cards.  They suck your savings dry. Save enough to be able to live off of for at least 6 months first.  Things go wrong. You want to have that rainy day money available. Then find a low cost SPX mutual fund and take a percent of your salary and invest it every month and then forget it’s there.  The longer you can go without touching it, the richer you will be

6. What advice, would you give younger Mark Cuban?

MC: Don’t screw it up. It turns out pretty good 🙂

7. How important is your faith?

MC: I try to never take this life for granted.  It’s a gift and I try to enjoy it with my family every single day